If you are a Christian woman and you are thinking about reading a thoughtful book about male/female relationships, Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment is not the book for you.
I was introduced to Harvey when The Steve Harvey Show premiered on the WB back in 1996. The running gags, high-school setting, and ridiculousness of Cedric the Entertainer attracted me to the show. The negative element of the show, however, was Harvey’s over-sexualized expressions of manhood. Since then, he has been involved in a variety of works, including movies, a morning radio show, the Original Kings of Comedy tour, and a “clean” comedy tour in honor of his mother. Most recently, he has dipped into literature — well, popular writing.
I have to admit, when I picked up Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man I wasn’t expecting a transformational read; the author is a comedian, after all. But from the popular fervor surrounding the book — including a spot on Oprah and top rankings on the bestseller lists — I decided I should check it out. Unfortunately, my initial misgivings were on target; the book is a stale, ill-tasting jambalaya. It features traces of good commentary, but they’re infused with cliché’, stereotype, and mashed religiosity — which is a residual of the “pop Christianity” that infects a lot of mainstream African American culture. I wanted to like it, I really did. Alas, I just couldn’t get it down.
In my opinion, most self-help books are better left on the shelf. They typically offer glib, shallow advice and are focused on selfish motivations. Act Like a Lady Think Like a Man is no different. Despite the popularity of his morning radio show, Harvey is a street-smart comedian, not a source of great wisdom.
Harvey begins his dating guidebook by expositing “The Mind-Set of a Man.”
No matter if a man is a CEO, a CON, or both, everything he does is filtered through his title (who he is), how he gets that title (what he does), and the reward he gets for that title (how much he makes).
These motivators focus on primarily earthly things and obviously should not be the basis of what drives a Christian man. But Harvey is not speaking in ideal — Christian or otherwise; he is revealing reality. If most men are honest about it, these three elements play, or have played, motivating roles in their lives. This represents perhaps Harvey’s greatest gift, and probably why the book is such a massive hit: He has an uncanny talent of “telling it how it is,” even if what he shares speaks of a squalid, fallen reality.
This unabashed truth-telling is also representative of a great weakness. Harvey’s insights, which border on satire, do not call men and women to better relationships. They are simply commentary, which relegate relationships and sex to the more trivial categories of “games” and “sport.”
The chapters “First Things First: He Wants to Sleep with You” and “Sports Fish vs. Keepers: How Men Distinguish Between the Marrying Types and the Playthings” are in the “Why Men Do What They Do” section of Harvey’s book. If they sound somewhat simplistic and offensive, they are. Harvey sees men simply as counterparts to the complex woman. Men can be reduced to primal, sexual creatures:
. . . a man always wants something. Always. And when it comes to women, [his] plan is always to find out two things: (1) if you’re willing to sleep with him, and (2) if you are, how much [relationally/emotionally] it will cost to get you to sleep with him.
In the “Playbook,” which is the last section of the book, Harvey gets more serious and partially redeems his previous commentary. The comedian encourages women to have standards, be forthright with family situations (e.g., if they have kids), be concerned with the maturity and not solely the physical attractiveness of a man, and to be vulnerable. Though I have some issues with how he expresses his ideas, especially his suggestion that sex is and should be a natural part of a dating relationship, I would consider this the strongest section of Harvey’s book.
Particularly, Harvey’s chapter “Strong, Independent — and Lonely — Women” offers some good advice. Harvey does not say anything that would have the National Organization of Women on his doorstep, but he does address the issue of black women being so brazenly independent to the point that they are unattractive to potential suitors and unrealistic in their expectations for a relationship. To his credit, Harvey avoids misogyny by pleading that women respect but not be subjugated to the demands of a man:
We understand and can handle strong women. In fact, we’re the product of strong women . . . Don’t give up your money, or your job, or your education, or the pride and dignity that comes with all that. Just be a lady.
Harvey forgoes going into detail about the complexity of what this relational equality should look like, but he does suggest that women who are so embittered by generations of male chauvinism and neglect have turned their femininity into a weakness rather than strength. This is one of the intermittent occasions where I actually agree with Harvey. I would similarly argue that the hard shell of female resentment is allowing male chauvinism to win and may actually enable men — particularly black men — to shirk responsibility.
Personally, the most disturbing element of Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man is not found in specific words or phrases. It is found in the culture and depiction of black folk. I realize Harvey’s main goal is to go for laughs, but this is delicate territory for any high-profile communicator — especially one who is ostensibly delivering expert advice. Although the book isn’t only for African Americans, all signs lead one to believe that Harvey’s primary audience is black and that the ideology in the book depicts relationships in African American culture. This, combined with the hyper-sexualized, suggestive language, and the reductionism of men, gives lifeblood to misconceptions of blacks as physical, oversexed creatures rather than intellectual, moral beings. Parallel to stereotypical African American hip-hop culture, the undergirding elements of Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man further pigeonhole the African American experience.
Harvey’s intentions were to write a book that honestly spoke about what goes on in the dating world. He is funny and personable, but the entire book feels like a conversation with your crazy, yet beloved uncle who knows everything about women. Although your uncle is the funniest guy at the family reunion, once his comments are boiled down, they are little more than frivolous chatter; lacking bona fide elements of wisdom, encouragement, or challenge.
If you are content with playing the “game” of relationships, Harvey’s book may be a good choice. If you wish to have better, stronger, and more mature male/female relationships, listen to Harvey on the radio but find something else to read.