Rom-coms have long relied on the sassy best friend character to dole out the blunt advice the protagonist needs to find their way to love. In 2012’s Think Like a Man, the sassy best friend is regrettably Steve Harvey, who serves up bad advice that pits men and women against one another, enforces sexist ideals, and encourages women to treat their “cookie” as an auto-industry benefits package.
Based on Harvey’s 2009 bestseller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the film pulls from the Family Feud host’s relationship advice to tell the story of six bros who encompass male types—The Dreamer, The Player, The Non-Committer, The Mama’s Boy, The Happily Married Guy, and The Happier Divorced Guy—and the archetypal women they’re pursuing or in a relationship with—The Woman Who is Her Own Man, The Single Mom, The Girl Who Wants the Ring, and The 90-Day Rule Girl.
Frustrated with their love lives, the women are dealing with fuckboys, a loving manchild, a dude whose mom still does his laundry, their own too-high expectations, and other dating woes. But through the teachings of mustachioed expert Harvey, they draw a line in the sand to set new standards for themselves. When the guys catch wind of the women strategizing with the help of the new dating Bible, they set out to beat them at the game of love. Except, shockingly, they find that actually meeting women halfway on needs and expectations yields a happier union. Crazy, right? Once the ladies realize the dudes are just pretending to step up, the men find themselves kicked to the curb until they realize actually caring and working with their partners ain’t so bad.
The Hell No’s
Let’s give this 2-hour commercial for Harvey’s book some props first. The large, star-studded (and mostly very hot) ensemble cast, which includes Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union, Jerry Ferrara (who you may know as Turtle from Entourage), Romany Malco, Regina Hall, and Michael Ealy, bring heart and humor to their respective roles. The flick is a legitimately funny (despite some tasteless homophobic and transphobic jokes) dive into the messy business of dating, with tons of lines that elicit an audible cackle, mostly from Hart who is on his A-game here. It’s a definite plus to see a cast this diverse in such a notoriously white genre, with both Black and interracial love getting screen time. Traditionally Black rom-coms have long had to fight for space, and while stacking the cast with so many heavy hitters from Black Hollywood certainly makes the film more appealing, it’s worth asking if it was necessary to sell the movie. The film does offer a few solid relationship tips in the muck of questionable advice, like that women should establish expectations directly and honestly early on in a relationship.
Even so, the advice Harvey touts encourages women to appease men in order to be rewarded with love. If we’re to believe the Tao of Harvey, it’s up to women to understand how men operate or they’ll “never win with us.” Women have to be tricksters, manipulating men to get what they want or granting them control to preserve their fragile egos. Men will also “respect women who have standards” when it comes to who they have sex with and when. And when a woman acts too much “like a man,” tossing out a good broke guy for another more successful one with little concern (as is seen with Henson’s character Lauren), she then is cruel. The film, in effect, teaches that women need to infiltrate through the crusted copy of FHM magazine known as dudes’ minds to figure them out and meet them where they are in the hopes that it will coax them into being good partners.
And This Is a Problem Because…?
As much as Steve Harvey knows about oversized suits and destroying the hopes and dreams of Miss Colombia, his idea of what constitutes a “good” romantic partnership and who deserves to have one is rife with patriarchal and sexist beliefs. While I’d like to hope with three marriages, an alleged Kris Jenner affair, and an accusation of “soul murder” under his belt, Harvey has learned a few things about making a relationship work, it’s clear his advice is all about what works for men. Women? Not so much.
In Think Like a Man, women are unreasonable harpies, nagging about every little thing. Relationships are warfare, a space where men historically had the “home court advantage” but are now losing their stronghold because women have become too demanding. This is some 1950’s-level Ozzie and Harriet shit. Is Harvey also going to tell a pregnant lady smoking cigarettes will help her indigestion too?
In the movie, a woman’s sexual autonomy is likened to the benefits package at the Ford Motor Co., where one has to work 90 days before being granted access to benefits. That’s quite possibly the grossest, capitalistic metaphor for sex as a transactional reward I’ve ever heard. This is why people unionize.
Think Like a Man is full of contradictory teachings, such as: when women don’t get what they want it’s their fault for not requiring it; Men only change if the woman is worthy of changing for; and women should think of men as dogs who need petting. Dogs would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.
Think Like a Man is solid in the laughs department, but every bit of advice should be taken with a fistful of salt. There’s a lot to respect about the career Harvey built, and he can wear the hell out of pastels, but maybe he’s not the dude to go to for relationship counseling. If anything, it might be worth watching with a new partner to gauge how they react to some of the relationship tips touted in the film. At the very least you can stop wasting your time on someone who isn’t worthy of your benefits package, and get an actual dog.