Steve Harvey is a man of many talents. The self-proclaimed “King of Comedy” is also an actor, television and radio personality, and best-selling author.
Yet he has been dogged by controversy. Last year, Harvey’s ex-wife, Mary Shackelford, aired the couple’s dirty linen in a series of YouTube rants, where she candidly talks about her former husband cheating on her throughout their 10 years of marriage.
In addition, the veteran comedian received a backlash from fans over for his debut book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Despite spending 64 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, Harvey’s self-help guide to “unlocking the male mind” has been criticized for sexist and misogynistic views on love and marriage.
Critics dismiss his advice as little more than a collection of rehashed stereotypes. In simplistic terms, he embraces the notion that men are players and game-playing is the key to success in relationships.
Arielle Schechtman, spokeswoman for BlackSingles.com, an online dating site for African-Americans, however, says “relationships shouldn’t be about games; it’s crucial for both men and women to look beyond their own wants and needs in a relationship, and consider their partner’s feelings as well.”
Many readers, especially women, take issue the premise of the book: romantic relationships will only work when women conform to traditional gender roles.
“The book is sexist, stereotyping all men into knuckle-dragging, sports-loving hunters that just need a little sex to keep them happy,” wrote one Amazon.com reviewer.
“The book is addressed to women, telling them to dress better, accept that the guy won’t talk much, and give sex more often in order to keep their guy from straying,” adds the writer.
There has even been controversy over how Harvey came up with the idea. Sharon P. Carson, a little-known author who already had a self-published book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, out in 2003, claims the comedian-turned-author, took her idea and theme for the book.
Others put the spotlight on Harvey’s own personal failures. They wonder aloud what qualifies a man who has been married three times to dish out advice on how to sustain a loving and committed black-on-black heterosexual relationship.
In fact, his second divorce, which has been the subject of unflattering headlines, has led some to say Harvey may well need his own lessons on how to understand the mind of a disgruntled woman.
Harvey, himself, admits he is no relationship expert, though. In a recent interview with Reuters he said, “People say, ‘He’s a relationship expert,’ but the expertise that I have is that I’m an expert on how men think. If I was an expert at relationships, I wouldn’t be in my third marriage!”
He does, nevertheless, say that he wants to empower women. “All I’m telling you to do is to be smart about it,” writes Harvey. “Know that if this man isn’t looking for a serious relationship, you’re not going to change his mind just because you two are going on dates and being intimate.”
Jeffery Gardare, a psychologist and relationship expert, agrees with Harvey. “Women should absolutely learn to think like a man so that they can understand how men think, perceive and operate,” he says. “Men and women are created equally, but are wired and think different.”
“The woman who has the better understanding of a man’s mind will have a better outcome with him,” he adds. “Just because a woman learns to think like a man doesn’t mean she should act like one.”
“I think it can be useful for a woman to think like a man so she can spot trouble long before it becomes a full blown crisis,” says Jeffrey McGill, author of Whispers of Betrayal: Black Women in Crisis, which explores interracial relationships.
Three years after the publication of Harvey’s 2009 best-seller, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment, the book gets the big screen treatment in a romantic comedy on Friday. Harvey, who executive-produces the film, has a small role as himself.
The movie follows four couples, who all have their own relationship dilemmas. When the women start reading Harvey’s book to improve things, the men find out and try to turn the tables.
One a positive note, it is rare to see an all-star cast of mostly African-Americans in a mainstream romantic comedy. They include the mama’s boy (Terrence J), who becomes involved with single mom Candace (Regina Hall); and the dreamer (Michael Ealy), who stumbles into a liaison with Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a successful businesswoman who wants a man equally well situated.
Then there is the non-committer (Jerry Ferrara) and his longtime girlfriend (Gabrielle Union); and the player (Romany Malco), and Mya, The 90-day-rule girl (Meagan Good). Finally, there’s Cedric (comedian Kevin Hart), the divorced guy who keeps entertaining the group with stories about his ex-wife,
So far the movie has received mixed reviews, with some film buffs crediting the chemistry between the cast, while others criticize the predicable storyline.
“The film opens a dialogue around the benefits of putting oneself in the other’s shoes (regardless of gender), which is a valuable exercise to ultimately reach compromise and develop a successful relationship” Schechtman tells theGrio.com.
Only time will tell if Think Like a Man becomes a hit with moviegoers. But one thing is for sure, Harvey has achieved a public relations coup: the film is a feature-length advertisement for his relationship advice book.
Think Like a Man opens nationwide on Friday, April 20, 2012.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti