It should come as no surprise that Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man took the number one spot at the box office this weekend. After all, the movie is based on a wildly successful book. But please beware that this movie’s success comes at a hefty cultural and social price.
Don’t get me wrong. The book and the movie express some well-regarded relationship wisdom in a comical manner. Both the book and movie advise women of the following:
1) Be diligent in imposing requirements. Dr. Phil has been telling viewers for years that you should train people about how to treat you.
2) “We need to talk” are the most dreaded words that a man can hear from a woman, because criticism often follows that phrase. Indeed, relationship therapist Dr. Steven Stosny asserts that women’s criticism causes men to feel intense physical displeasure due to the stress hormone cortisol.
3) A man may express his love by financially supporting and protecting his family rather than speaking words of love. This point is thoroughly elucidated in Dr. Gary Chapman’s book entitled The Five Love Languages.
4) Women should directly and openly communicate their desires, because men can’t read minds. Well, you could have heard that from your mother, brother and best friend, too.
Sadly, this is about where the actual wisdom ends and the grossly anachronistic and chauvinistic “guidance” of Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man begins. One central theme in the book is that men value themselves according to their title or status in life and the amount of money that they make. Encouraging this definition of masculinity, in my view, is highly problematic given the black male education gap, the “mancession” that has produced high unemployment for African-American men, and the record incarceration rates that are depriving generations of “street entrepreneurs” of their freedom and relegating them to second-class citizenship upon their release.
Perhaps due to these phenomena, Steve Harvey understands that men can’t always be the main breadwinner. So he advises his female readers to “keep up the charade” of men being essential to the household — instead of advising women to promote relationship equality and shared responsibility.
“Don’t try to fix the sink, car, toilet or anything else,” “don’t do any of the heavy lifting,” and “don’t be afraid to make a meal” are among Steve Harvey’s “sage” words of advice with respect to “how to be a girl around the house.” This perspective completely undermines the cultural progress that has been made with respect to gender norms. Some women are better at fixing things than some men and likewise, some men are better at cooking than some women. I would hope that we are moving towards a division of labor that is based on ability, talent, desire and circumstance rather than one’s sex organs.
The book and movie prescribe that women should wait 90 days before having sex because the Ford Motor Plant required that their workers labor for 90 days before receiving health benefits. This advice seems idiotic because a sexual act is strikingly dissimilar from a Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance card. Sex is hopefully a mutually beneficial experience. A woman who is empowered with respect to her own sexuality will likely decide to have sex based on the level of emotional intimacy shared and not the date on a calendar.
Further, Harvey amorally cautions women to understand that that if they are not giving up the “cookie” frequently and with a bow on it, her male partner will likely feel no qualms about getting “tightened up” elsewhere. Last, the fact that the book warns that a woman should wrap her “cookie” in sexy lingerie and has no similar warning with respect to making sure that a man’s “ding dong” is wrapped in a condom, or that he has been tested for diseases, is highly disturbing in this day of rampant STDs including HIV/AIDS, antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, and throat/cervical cancer causing HPV.
It has recently been reported that black women have HIV rates in many major metro areas that are close to the epidemic levels found in Africa — heterosexual black women who caught the disease from men. Funny that Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man as a book doesn’t see asking men to use condoms as a central piece of dating advice.
I was relieved that the movie softens the atrocious advice given in the book through its male characters. The “happy married man” tells his male gang that he is going home to cook for his wife, not because he has to but because he wants to. One male character is seen taking out his condom before he realizes that his female prey is observing the 90 day rule and a night cap, is exactly that, a drink at night. Additionally, all of the main male characters eventually realize that they really love the women in their lives, with even the “happier divorced man” breaking down in tears as he begs his ex-wife to allow him to come home. But sadly, this softening is not enough to dismantle the damage done through the most potent themes of the book and movie.
It’s good that the movie went “off book” to improve on some of the sexual and gender messages found in the bestseller — but the black community needs much more trailblazing advice to cope with the realities underlying our community’s relationship issues, which are much more pressing than those of the couples portrayed in the film.
So the question remains for those of you who have not yet seen the movie: Should you go?
Many people will tell you not to see it. By seeing it, you would be supporting Kevin Hart who once tweeted, “Light skinned women usually have better credit than [sic] dark-skinned women… Broke @$$ dark hoes…lol” — and then responded to his detractors by saying that he is just a comedian and that dark-skinned women should stop being so sensitive.
Others will warn you not to see the movie, because it is predictable and stereotypical and we have a right as black film goers to demand more while reserving our support for movies that show a more nuanced depiction of African-Americans, such as Pariah and I Will Follow.
You might believe there are countervailing positive aspects of the movie, such as the cast of Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, which most reviewers have aptly described as stunningly beautiful, exceedingly talented and criminally under-employed.
A big hope is that by supporting this movie, we’ll help Hollywood understand that black audiences are interested in more than the Tyler Perry genre. These are all positive things.
And the film is hilarious. Judging by the raucous laughter of the packed theater that I was in, the jokes are worth the cost of admission. But please note that these jokes are expensive because antiquated gender norms and disempowered sexual decision-making are mentalities that the black community cannot afford.
Ama Yawson is a co-founder of Loveessence.com, a romantic networking site for black women who are ready for love and men of all races who are ready to love them in return. A former banking regulator, telecom investment banking analyst and movie business-manager, Ms. Yawson was inspired to create loveessence.com because of her own experiences in discovering romantic love. Ms. Yawson earned a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from the Wharton School and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Brooklyn , NY with her husband and son.