I feel honoured to have contributed to an amazing book called Pioneering Stories about Men and Boys. The book, which has just been launched, is a collection of essays from a very diverse and talented range of writers.
The book was collated and edited by Glen Poole and Dan Bell, the dynamic duo behind the InsideMAN website. Its aim is to shed light on a masculinity and a number of issues that affect men.
All too often equality is considered a women’s issue. It’s important to stress this book doesn’t down play the importance of the challenges women face.
Nonetheless, it highlights challenges that guys are dealing with in the modern era. It’s been put together in easy to read, bite-size chunks and is hard to put down once you get going.
Issues tackled in the book include:
• male infertility
• eating disorders among men
• circumcision (see below)
• dealing with miscarriage (this contribution have been written by my blogging chum Al Ferguson of The Dad Network)
• men’s mental health (see below)
• living as a gay man.
A highlight for me was a chapter exploring whether there is a masculinity crisis called Crisis? What Crisis? This was written by Mark Simpson, a writer and journalist widely credited for coining the phrase ‘metrosexual’. Other highlights include a highly personal account from a man who didn’t want his son circumcised in opposition to his wife, and the damage it did to his relationship. If you read it and don’t have a lump in your throat by the end then you have no soul.
The Ancient Rules of Masculinity by consultant clinical psychologist Martin Seager explores mental health and suicide, vital subjects considering the lack of mental health support available to men and a suicide rate three times higher than women’s. Chris Good, who describes himself as a “writer, musician and father of four” provides a self-explanatory contribution called Breaking the Silence of Male Victims of Domestic Violence.
My own contribution is called The Privilege and Sacrifice of Being a Stay at Home Dad. In it I highlight how I enjoy the role, but outline the struggles I sometimes face to be taken seriously in this traditionally female role.
By all means accuse me of being biased, but if you have an interest in equalities, I’d recommend reading this book. Other commentators have said it is essential reading for anyone with sons. I’ll leave you to make your own mind up on that point, but it’s not an unhealthy suggestion!
Not only was I honoured to contribute to the book, I was also one of five people asked to speak at its launch party on Friday night. The other speakers were Mark Simpson, journalist and former editor of Loaded magazine Martin Daubney, parental alienation specialist Karen Woodall and Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz, a personal development consultant.
The event took place at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in Central London (to clarify, the event was secular). We each had six minutes to answer the question; If masculinity is in crisis, who needs to change; men or society? It was followed by a Q&A session involving all of us speakers.
If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to tell you a little story. Back in 2013 I accepted an invitation to speak at the annual BritMums Live conference blogging conference. I had only been blogging a few months so was very surprised to receive this invitation.
While at the podium, I made a passing comment, and it was no more than a passing comment, questioning why mum bloggers seemed reluctant to write about feminism. That may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but the previous day someone at the conference had spoken about feminism and there was a noticeable response on social media from those in the audience saying they wouldn’t touch the subject.
Move forward to 2015 and as the launch event for Pioneering Stories about Men and Boys neared, I realised why there was such resistance to writing about equalities and gender issues. The uncomfortable truth is that gender and gender equality are the hottest of hot potatoes. It dawned on me that whatever I was going to say would meet with disagreement from at least some in the audience. Was I mad or foolhardy to have agreed to this speaking engagement?
There was no way I was going to back out, but I was very nervous. I wrote some notes, but wasn’t sure whether to tone down what I was going to say. In the end I decided not to. The purpose of this event was to create debate and if a few people disagreed with me, well, that was part of the territory.
In short I said there is a masculinity crisis. I said that men could no longer rely on superior physical strength to give them a place in society and that the ‘hunter gather’ and ‘provider’ stereotypes are a historical anomaly. The traditionally male world of work and traditionally male occupations had been opened up to women. Conversely, the domestic sphere and traditionally female occupations had not been opened up to men in the same way (IE the early year’s childcare workforce which is 98% female).
I concluded by saying men needed to be more willing to give up, or ‘downgrade’ careers to look after family and home and that women should be prepared to step back so men could take on more childcare and homemaking responsibilities. I also said society needed to accept that masculinity was changing. Responsibility always was, and remains, an important part of masculinity. A man could run the family home and look after the kids as well as any women and society needed to accept this.
While I received a lot of positive feedback, not everyone in the audience was in complete agreement with what I said. Even so, it was a fun experience and I’m still on a high now and delighted to have taken part.
Even between us speakers there was a healthy range of opinions. Karen Woodall was not convinced there was a masculinity crisis and said feminism had not always been a force for good. Mark Simpson said the masculinity crisis had happened 20-30 years ago, society just didn’t know how to respond to modern men.
Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz gave a very personal insight talking about his own masculinity crisis and how he dealt with it. Martin Daubney, meanwhile, stressed the inequalities men face. He said men were unable to create ‘safe spaces’ to discuss men’s issues. He gave the example of universities that are happy to accommodate women’s groups, but fail to endorse men’s groups wishing to discuss issues such as mental health and suicide.
I’m glad I did it. It was truly an honour to be asked to speak and to contribute to the book. At the end of the day I don’t actually care about people agreeing or disagreeing with my point of view. These discussions have go to be had so that men and women and create a better world for ourselves and our sons and daughters.
My advice ‘though; do buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.
To get your copy of Pioneering Stories About Men and Boys, follow this link. It costs £8 for the ebook, £12 for paperback and £21 for hardback.