Good morning on this locked down International Men’s Day.
And welcome to our new weekly blog: #Men-Debate.
One of the three themes this year’s International Men’s Day is promoting a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity. With this in mind MensCraft has been asking the views of various people who either work with men or who’s work involves them with issues/themes around masculinity. We begin today with the thoughts of Sam Ruddock.
Each week we will publish a couple more.
What are your views? We’d like to hear the thoughts of our readers, men and women alike, to create a local conversation about the issues and challenges all kinds of men face and that society faces about all kinds of men.
Among Sam’s many roles he is a Director of Story Machine Productions and Gatehouse Press. With James McDermott he produces the MANTOR podcast which aims “to try to understand masculinity and what it means to be a man and a human”.
What are the messages boys and men get from society about how a man should be?
I think boys and men grow up to believe that if they aren’t the strongest, the most talented, the bravest, the most sexually attractive etc that it is a comment on their masculinity. We do it to ourselves, individually, and through the way we police each other. Because masculinity is often depicted culturally as being uber macho and heroic, we intuit that that’s the only way to be a man. I remember being at school even age 6 or 7 and hearing things like ‘that’s gay’ or ‘be a man’ and it was other boys saying things like that. I said them to other boys as well.
I compare myself unfavourably to what I assume being a man should be. Everything that I don’t like about myself always becomes ‘I’m not man/masculine enough’ and becomes a thing to feel sad about. We put ‘being a man’ on a pedestal and never feel like we reach it. But we need to recognise that as men we have made society in our image. We are responsible for the limited and simplistic view of masculinity that we see and embody.
In your view what are the characteristics of manhood? Do you regard some of these as positive and some as negative?
I honestly don’t think there are any. There are lots that we assume as characteristics of manhood, but none of them are actually a characteristic of manhood. None of these are positive or negative, though they can lead to aspects of both.
They might include:
– strength – physical, of character, emotional, etc. This can be a positive, but if it stops you embracing vulnerability and weakness as well then it is quite negative. Most crime comes from feeling powerless or too strong – both can be problematic.
– independence – of mind and of self-sufficiency. A can-do attitude; practical and focussed. This can be a great strength and leads to some amazing things. But it can also be arrogance and limit our willingness to listen and learn from others, to challenge ourselves, or lead to becoming a lone wolf and rejecting community, which often has negative repercussions and leads to depression and addictions and offending behaviour etc etc.
– a need for power/agency; including a high drive to protect and defend. Can be a loving, nurturing thing, but can also lead to becoming dictatorial, controlling, and exercising that power for its own sake rather than the good of others.
– a high sexual/procreative drive. This isn’t a negative, though if it becomes a focus beyond anything else it can become coopted into the other characteristics and make them all much worse.
Writing this I’m struck by the notion that masculinity is really often the opposite of humility. It is blowing yourself up big and hoping people believe you are big. Rather than recognising that we are small, that that is okay, and that we can be safe and successful small.
What do you think about the current debate in society about masculinity – do you tend to think that generally its (men are) being unjustly criticised or do you tend towards the view that generally its toxic?
Like most societal debates, it is often presented in binary terms – either it is toxic and must be challenged at every step, or it is unfairly maligned and should go unquestioned. But masculinity is nuanced and complex and multi-faceted. I tend to think that the stats on offending (95% of prisoners in the UK are male; 74% of all violent crime is perpetrated by males), social disconnection (84% of rough sleepers and hidden homeless are male), suicide (75% are male), education (underperform against girls at every age) etc suggest that something isn’t working for boys and men in the world we live in. And even the staunchest men’s rights activists are angry with the boxes they feel they are put into.
We have to welcome and recognise that something isn’t working and try to move forward. The word ‘debate’ is part of the problem. We aren’t trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. We should be trying to work together to move forward and help each of us find a healthier relationship with ourselves and each other.
For you what would be the characteristics of a healthy masculinity?
There are two, I think. And they would be characteristics of healthy humanity rather than masculinity, I think.
– Authenticity. That means knowing and being able to share exactly what we are feeling, honestly and directly. It means not trying to get one thing by being another thing (manipulation) and not denying ourselves anything because we feel it is ‘wrong’. It means owning ourselves and being able to say: ‘I am angry,’ ‘I am hurt’, ‘I feel worthless’, ‘I feel horny’ etc without seeking to escape them through behaviour or denying them until they burst out in destructive ways. It means communication with ourselves and others.
– Humility and security. Being healthy means recognising that we aren’t ever going to be the biggest, the smartest, the best, the toughest, the best looking, etc. And that that is okay. That we can be vulnerable and still worthwhile. That our weakness can be a strength, a point of connection, a joy. It is so exhausting always needing to be the tough/good guy.
Within this humility it is also okay to be good at things, to celebrate that, and use that to create things in the world. We don’t have to be meek, but we have to recognise that pedestals and power corrupt us. We are all already good. We don’t need to be the best to be good.
Sam Ruddock identifies as a cis-gender man.