Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Unmade Bed" by Stephen Marche

I picked up "The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the 21st Century" by Stephen Marche because of (a) the intriguing cover (both text & design) an (b) the intriguing prospect of getting a glimpse of what we in blogland have called "the elusive male perspective" on the rapidly evolving state of male-female relationships in the early 21st century.

As promised on the cover, Marche's wife, Sarah Fulford, editor of Toronto Life magazine, adds a running (and often tart) commentary in the footnotes, expanding on her husband's observations and sometimes offering an alternative opinon or version of events as he described them. ;)  ("The best thing about Stephen Marche’s new book on gender politics is his wife," says Maureen O'Connor in The Cut. "The second best thing is that he knows it.")  I found myself wishing there had been more of her comments included. A "he said, she said" book with alternating viewpoints might have been a more interesting way to tackle this subject.

It's not a long book, a little over 200 well spaced pages of text in a readably large font, plus footnotes -- and yet it took me a while to wade through  because the prose in some parts got pretty dense. As Elizabeth Renzetti summarizes in her Globe & Mail review of the book (with footnotes from her spouse, Doug Saunders!): 
Marche’s central thesis, told through eight linked essays, is that men and women have come to an impasse of sorts, where women’s power is increasing, but not quickly enough, and men’s power is crumbling, and not in ways they fully understand or like. The project for men, as they suffer through crises of loneliness, undereducation and shifting power dynamics, is “how to be a proud man without being an asshole about it.”
The book starts off with a discussion of mansplaining (Marche makes the wry observation that he's mansplaining about mansplaining) and the idea that men and women cannot understand each other. Further topics discussed include what Marche called "the hollow patriarchy," modern fatherhood, gender differences and hyper-masculinity, personal politics/political correctness & outrage, and the differences in raising boys vs girls. And then there's a chapter on porn that actually made my eyes glaze over (I'm still not entirely sure what point he was trying to make). The final chapter takes on that most contentious of subjects: who does the housework. (And if you need a hint as to what Marche thinks about it all, the title of the chapter is "The Case for Living in Filth.")

(As an aside, re: the book's title:  I remember Mel once asked her readers if they made the bed every day. I was absolutely dumbfounded by how many people said they didn't. To me, a room with an unmade bed looks messy... and there is nothing nicer than climbing into a bed that's been made up, versus wrinkled, rumpled up sheets & blankets. It just feels so much nicer. Even better when the sheets have been freshly laundered...!)(Of course, I was brought up by a woman who went to nursing school and insisted our beds be made daily before we went to school in the morning -- WITH hospital corners, lol.)(Fortunately for me, dh is equally in favour of making the bed daily -- albeit considerably less enthusiastic about hospital corners, lol.)

There were some thought-provoking points made throughout the book, and I marked a couple of passages with post-it notes. From a childless-not-by-choice perspective, I was intrigued by Marche's theory that
The prevalence of the absent father distorts, in turn the perception of mothers. As fathers become symbolically vital  but physically absent, mothers are exalted beyond all reason and degraded beyond all sense:  the exaltation begins early, raising mothers to vertiginous, nauseating heights... (pp. 57-58) (emphasis mine)      
Final verdict: It was interesting in parts, dragged in others. The addition of Fulford's side commentary was an interesting touch, but I would have liked more of it. I gave it three out of five stars on Goodreads.

This was book #9 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 38% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  Apparently that makes me 2 books behind schedule. :p  ;)  


  1. It does sound interesting. A few things there that intrigued me or made me cringe. I like the idea of a he said/she said book. You should have been his editor!

    I'm impressed that yore ahead on your reading challenge. I'm way behind this year!

    1. According to Goodreads, I'm actually two books behind! But, vacation is coming up...! ;) I often catch up then.