Written and designed by Oli Bentley, this book is a fictional guide into the nuanced world of the White Man™ ‘s identity, which sells itself as simple. It is a satirical exploration into the fragile pillars of masculinity, in the form of a minimalist manual.
Reminiscent of the style of “Cards Against Humanity” this book is both shocking in appearance and impact. It features a repeated motif of a humanoid figure that is largely identifiable from bathroom doors. The figure visually illustrates the ubiquitous nature of the white male identity “brand” and serves as a striking visual contrast to “challenger identities” (POC and women) that are explored within the book.
The book toes the line between exposing funny, and somewhat harmless, white male stereotypes such as, the “safe zone” , a physical space which men establish between each other for comfort, juxtaposed with some harder hitting issues such as suicide and racism. Every issue is covered in the same corporate tone, somehow both jolly and sterile. The language cleverly mimics what one might find in a work training manual, where words are selected with an almost insidious precision.
From a social justice perspective, this book is an interesting experiment. Although it is helpful to have open discussions about the patriarchy in society, as a reader there are moments where the “marketing” feels very real. In the section where various “brand pillars” are broken down (i.e. Stability, Legitimacy, Civility), the book begins to take on a slightly sinister turn. Each pillar had its own slogan, such as – “The White Man™ is strong”, “It isn’t the White Man™’s fault”. This is the section where reality and fiction coexist and can hit quite personally depending on the reader. It felt like I was uncovering evidence of a conspiracy theory something not meant for me, as a woman, to see.
Reading the following section titled “Identity Persona”, was a breath of fresh air in comparison. The tension was broken by a series of costumed figures, illustrating various desirable and unacceptable attributes of the white man. This section was more lighthearted because it was more clearly joking. An underwear-clad figure representing virility, a figure at a whiteboard representing mansplaining.
The “Placement” section near the end of the book features real images of where whiteness and maleness are used as a “standard” in everyday life. The colour of plasters, gender of astronauts, even the whitewashing of Jesus is presented in this section. The choice of pictures are very compelling, forcing the reader to face the realities of white male supremacy on a worldwide scale.
White Man™ Identity Standards Manual is a book that anticipates its own criticisms in a two part epilogue. The epilogue is written in a different style to the rest of the book, addressing potential reader complaints in a genuine and well researched manner.
When I first heard about this book, incels and pickup artists came to mind. I was anticipating a non-fiction guide to navigating what is known as “the sexual marketplace” (read at your own risk). Here, fears and ‘solutions’ relating to male inadequacy are discussed, using formal, pseudo-scientific language.
However, White Man™ Identity Standards Manual exists not in a vacuum, but as a parallel to the literature of this alarming subculture. A Venn diagram, even.
The epilogue addresses this point in passing, that there is genuine “…fear of playing into the hands of actors on the far right, gifting them fuel for their gaslights.”
I believe this is a bigger concern than virtue signalling or the simplification of privilege. This concern is addressed in part one of the epilogue – “The white man in this book is a 2D caricature” and “The man in this book is not a real man”. To some, these statements might appear redundant. Surely no one would take the fictional messages in this book seriously! Right?
I would argue that these explicit statements are vital, and possibly carry more weight than the rest of the epilogue, due to the existence of the incel subculture.
“White Man™ Identity Standards Manual” is a well made but inevitably polarising work. Regardless of the nuanced intentions behind the book, the political leanings and identities of its readership will be the deciding factor as to the subsequent social impact it will have. I would highly recommend it to White Men™ and “Challenger Identities” alike, as there is much to unpack for all of us.
The book is available to buy here.