Tomorrow is International Men’s Day and so this morning I had the pleasure of going to a secondary school in Didsbury to talk to a group of year 8’s and year 9’s about the Crisis of Masculinity. It went really well, they all listened brilliantly, they enjoyed the bit of the show that I performed for them, ‘How to Hug’ and at the end they asked a lot of really interesting and insightful questions.
I thought I might share the transcript of what I said to them. It is a simple explanation of what I mean when I talk about masculinity, what the crisis of masculinity is, how it affects people and finally some thoughts on what we can do about it. If you’re ever in a situation and you need to explain, in fairly simple terms, what the crisis of masculinity is then maybe this will help.
“My name is Jon, I am a theatre maker and performer. For the last two years I have been making and touring a solo performance called “How to be a Man”, which is a response to the crisis of masculinity. Tomorrow is International Men’s Day and so I was asked to come in and talk to you about what the crisis of masculinity is, what caused it, how it affects you and what we can do about it.
So first off I’m going to explain what I mean by masculinity, because it doesn’t mean being a man, it has nothing to do with your sex or your sexuality. Essentially it’s the unwritten rules of how men should behave, what jobs they can have, how they should dress and who they can be in a relationship. It’s what says that men can’t talk about their feelings. Masculinity is one half of what is called a ‘binary gender system’ – which is the idea that there are men and women and they are completely different and that difference is a natural. Actually that isn’t true, the differences have been entirely made, for example, we all know that the colour for boys is blue and the colour for girls is pink. Well in Victorian times pink was the colour for boys, because red was the colour for men and pink was a lighter version of red. But when I talk about the crisis of masculinity, what I mean by masculinity is the rules about how you are supposed to be a man.
The crisis of masculinity is a realisation that the idea of masculinity is out of date, old fashioned. It doesn’t apply any more. The idea that you all have to dress in a certain way to be a man, the idea that there is a certain way that you are allowed to hug your friends, that you have to have a certain type of job, these things don’t fit with the way the world actually works. The reason for that is that masculinity was created hundreds of years ago, and it meant that certain people could have more power and privilege than others. As society has developed we realised that it wasn’t fair that women couldn’t work, or vote, or own property or make their own choices. And it wasn’t just woman that were disadvantaged by masculinity, there are so many groups, people who are gay, bisexual or transgender and people of different races have suffered because of it, so we began to change things. But we didn’t change masculinity. There is a big section of society that is trying to insist that masculinity does still apply because it gives them power and privilege. So the crisis of masculinity is pretty much a contest between the old fashioned idea of masculinity and reality.
That’s just an abstract concept though, so how does it affect you? Well for men between the ages of 14 and 49, the most common cause of death is suicide. Just think about that for a minute. That means that it is more likely that a man within that age group is more likely to die by killing themselves than by being hit by a car or getting cancer. Men between those same ages are also more likely than women of the same age to commit a violent crime. The link between that and masculinity is that men, according to masculinity, aren’t allowed to talk about their feelings, if you can’t tak about your feelings then you bottle them up, they eat away at you and eventually they will find a way out, that tends to result in either depression or anger. There are other ways it affects men. So my day job, outside of my theatre work, is working for a homeless charity. We are currently working with over 100 people who are homeless, unemployed, have mental illnesses or are recovering from addiction. More than half of the people that come to us are men. They have been left behind because they were forced to try and conform to the idea of masculinity, to be someone they aren’t.
So what do we do about it?
That’s a hard question to answer, because no one really knows for certain. One thing we can’t do is send society backwards. We need to keep progressing, we need to keep pushing for more and more equality. That means everyone, men and woman, people who are transgender, people of sexualities, religions and skin colour need to. To gain equality it means that men need to make sacrifices, we are incredibly privileged, and we need to let go of that. We need to see other people as the same as us, because they are. They all have things that they’re worried about, things that scare them, things that they love. We need to remember that everyone we see is the same as us. Trying to loosen the grip of masculinity doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to completely reject it, you don’t all have to start wearing dresses, but the point is you should be able to if you want to. If you want to wear a dress, do it. If you see some other guy wearing a dress, let him. Be yourself, and let other people be themselves. It doesn’t matter how weird you think it is, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt you.
By moving towards complete equality, we can move through the crisis of masculinity and hopefully come out on the other side with everyone in a much better place.”
So yeah, that’s that. I hope you enjoy it.
Next up I’m heading over to Newcastle for the last three performances of How to be a Man in 2016 at Alphabetti Theatre. If you’re able to join me, it’d be great.