Liz Plank was a student at the London School of Economics when she got her first taste of the power of journalism. During the 2012 Olympics, she started a petition to revoke a rule that female boxers had to compete in skirts, and the press piled on. Eventually, her campaign helped get the rule overturned, and Plank was hooked. Since then, she has used her platform to chip away at gender inequality through award-winning video series and viral memes. She also produced and hosted 2016ish, an acclaimed series about the 2016 presidential election. Most recently, she wrote a book, For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity. Here, she talks about stumbling into her career, writing a book while working full-time, and speaking up when thousands of people on Twitter are telling her not to.
I FIND IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO SEPARATE MYSELF FROM MY WORK. Sometimes it happens when Ive been in a deep meditation or had a really good therapy session, but for the most part, its very hard for me to disassociate from what I do, because its who I am. But I also feel like myself when Im working. Ive never tried to hide any parts of myself at work or put on a performancewhich is good, because Im a terrible actress. In that sense, Im very lucky.
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ONE OF MY GUIDING PRINCIPLES is to stay connected to my inner child. When I dont listen to her, thats when Im the least happy. As a kid, I was very opinionated and strong in what I knew was right or wrong. I was raised in a household where empathy was important, and I just never got over the fact that the world is so unfair. My mom is a huge feminist, and also a survivor of incest. It was very formative for me to learn about the awful things that happened to the person I love most in the world, and it made me want to dedicate my life to trying to prevent those types of things from happening to other people. I wanted to create a different future for girls, and Ive realized that a big part of that is helping and supporting boys and men. We dont often think about how supporting boys actually helps us support girls and keep them safe.
A FEW YEARS AGO, I BECAME REALLY FRUSTRATED by the fact that I was going on MSNBC or CNN every single week to talk about the latest developments in the #MeToo movement and all the awful things that men have done to women. I got sick of all-female panels where I had to reiterate the same thing over and over again: why women were people. I kept getting asked, Why would men do these terrible things? And I was like, I dont know, maybe a man should be here. Maybe you should ask a guy. Why arent men answering these questions? It seemed like women were expected to fix the problem that men were creating. Part of the equation wasnt there.
I UNDERSTAND THAT SOME WOMEN ARE UPSET that Im talking about helping men when its women who bear the brunt of these problems. But at the same time, I think its very short-sighted to think that women wouldnt be better off when the men in their lives are able to manage their emotions, can process their feelings, and are given permission to be full human beings in the world. I am convinced that we need a paradigm shift in the way that we talk about gender equality and that the conversation needs to involve men.
I GOT INTERESTED IN JOURNALISM when I was getting my masters degree in London during the 2012 Olympics. I had taken up boxing at the time, and I noticed that female Olympic boxers were being forced to wear skirts while competing in the ring. So I started a petition to protest it. That was the first article that I ever wrote, and it went viral. There I was, at 25, seeing my name in the newspapers. The skirts rule was overturned, and that was my point of entry into the power of social media and seeing how I could impact these things I was passionate about. Journalism really chose me. I was a womens studies major, and I was researching gender and social policy, but I didnt know where that would lead me. When I started publishing articles and tying my knowledge of gender and feminism into current events, I realized that could be my full-time job.
THE FACT THAT I GET TO WORK IN NEW YORK MEDIA still baffles me. When I moved here, I got an internship at a start-up and worked my way up to senior writer. I started going on TV pretty early in my careerI think far too early, actually. I was a real wreck. The first time I went on air, I pretty much blacked out.
I TRY TO APPROACH THINGS WITH A BEGINNERS MIND, and I think thats helped me carve out a different space in video journalism. When I first started doing video, everything else was more serious and reporter-y, or fun comedy. We decided to embrace being a little bit of both, and we got a really positive reception and a lot of engagement. Then a lot of people started trying to copy us, and thats the ultimate form of flattery.
OBVIOUSLY, IM SENSITIVE TO PEOPLES OPINIONS. I care about how many likes a post is getting, and I hope that people like what Im making. But my biggest goal is to have an impact. It goes back to that boxing petitionwe helped create change. And Im more focused on that than what are people going to think about me.
I KNOW TONS OF PEOPLE DONT LIKE ME. Tons of people want me to shut up, especially with this book. At one point, I was really anxious and starting to censor myself. I could tell that I was afraid to share my perspective because it was different from what people expected. I knew it was also going to make some people upsetpeople I really respectedand I made the decision to do it anyway. I have learned that the people-pleaser in all of us is usually not helpful in any way. I am still trying to unlearn those instincts. What helped me the most was to remain connected to the message. This book isnt about me. Its bigger than that. When I stay connected to something larger, thats when I do my best work. I think thats when everyone does their best work.
WE OVERCOMPLICATE THE PROCESS OF BEING TRUE TO OURSELVES. Ive found that my body knows and my gut knows. Ive never trusted my gut and then regretted it. Its usually the opposite. When I have a tingly feeling about something or someone, and my body is sending me alarm bells, I try to listen to that indicator.
MY BOOK IS NOT ABOUT TELLING MEN HOW TO BE MEN. Im not interested in doing that at all, even though lots of people think that I am. I keep reiterating that thats nowhere in the book. Instead, its about having empathy for the process of becoming a man in our society. Its about having compassion for how it can be an uphill battle to be a good person and a good man when you have to constantly prove that youre a real man.
I MANAGED TO WRITE A BOOK WITH A LOT OF COFFEE, constant anxiety, and no weekends off, which I would not recommend to anyone. I never want to do that again. I would get up really early every morning, try to write for two hours, and then go to work. Im pretty foggy after about 3:00PM, so I try not to work in the evenings. I would just work out and go to bed really early. And then I would write all weekend. I wrote every day. I also had to put a lot of boundaries around myself and be clear with my friends and family about what I was available to do. I felt guilty the whole time, and I wish I felt less guilty. It was a pretty lonely experience.
I OFTEN GET OVERWHELMED WHEN IM GETTING DRESSED. I hate that I have to think about what Im wearing when I have so many other things to worry about. Im very lucky to have a hair and makeup person when Im on camera, and thats immensely helpful. And the fact is, I do love expressing myself through my clothes. Im not an all-black kind of person; I gravitate toward weird and colorful things that make a statement. I have a favorite coat right now thats leopard. When I put it on, I feel like myself.
IM AT MY WORST when I take myself too seriously and trying to play a part. Sometimes I need to dress a certain way because Im going to an important meeting or Im speaking somewhere, but even then Ill put on a little unicorn pin or something. Its a way to keep my inner child close to me. What would she want me to wear? It keeps me rooted in who I am.
I FEEL LOST IN MY CAREER EVERY DAY. I think its important to acknowledge that, and I dont take any of it for granted. From the very moment that I moved to New York, Ive known that Im not entitled to this career, and it could go away tomorrow. Media and politics are very unstable places. The job that Im doing didnt exist when I was in high school. So maybe theres another job that doesnt exist yet that Ill be doing ten years from now. I dont know, but I think its important to let myself be a little bit lost so that I can explore.
WHEN IM FEELING INSECURE, I try to go back in time and see the world through my eyes a year ago or ten years ago. Then I can look at everything Ive done and think, Wow, thats amazing. Some days when I walk into my office at Vox, for example, Ill pretend its my first time there so that I stop and think, Wow, I get to work here, thats so cool. I always suggest taking a photo of yourself on your first day of your job, and hanging it up somewhere so that youre reminded of how far youve come. My other life hack is to remember to look upliterally. Were all on our phones so much now that its easy to keep your head down all the time, and it makes you lose perspective. When Im biking somewhere and I stop at a red light, I tilt my head back and look at the sky for a few moments. It helps keep me grounded.