Masculinity, hey? What’s that all about? Friend, I will tell you what it’s all about.
It’s standing on a Tube platform, staring at an advert for a “tiredness prevention supplement” featuring a suited model who looks like an implausible cross between a silver-fox newsreader and a Chippendale.
It’s opting out of five-a-side because you’re not in the mood for an apoplectic bloke from marketing screaming “WHERE ARE MY RUNS?” at you for 60 minutes. And it’s shrugging off the banterful homosexual slur that comes your way on WhatsApp when you say you can’t play.
It’s being told by your boss that he and you are going for a pint after work and not being able to say no because extracurricular drinking is essentially contractual in your line of work.
It’s only talking to your friends at work about sex or money. It’s standing amid a hailstorm of distressingly contradictory marketing messages that suggest you should drink beer but also have a six-pack; work a high-paid job but also spend your evenings hanging out with your (equally successful) friends; constantly watch sport on enormous televisions but also raising a happy family.
It’s wanting to tilt your head back, eyes shut tight, to scream, “Being a man is shit.” But, crucially, not doing it. Because part of the problem is that men don’t verbalise their feelings. We internalise them until it kills us.
“Society is starting to realise that previous behaviours and attitudes considered ‘masculine’ haven’t served the male of the species well, nor the world around them,”
The consequences of our emotional straitjackets are severe. Deaths relating to alcohol and drug addiction are higher among men. We die in car crashes with greater frequency and are more likely to be the victims of violent crime. And yes, famously, we commit suicide a lot (three times more than women in the UK, in fact). Despite all of this, only 36 per cent of mental health referrals are men. We need help, but we won’t seek it out.
“Society is starting to realise that previous behaviours and attitudes considered ‘masculine’ haven’t served the male of the species well, nor the world around them,” says Fernando Desouches. “Many men were raised being told not to express certain emotions as to do so was not considered masculine. With time, many of the young boys who initially consciously refrained from expressing emotions may have made that repression unconscious.”
There can be no doubt that bad attitudes lead to bad choices. “Abuse of drugs and alcohol is often a result of these older attitudes, as are overwork, sex addiction and using sport to mask your emotions,” says Desouches. “If men are performing their lives rigidly to conform to an idea of success that is narrow and materialistic – despite how they feel – they will crack and have a breakdown. This is one of the reasons why depression and anxiety are growing.”
ShortList wants to help liquidise harmful male norms. The ManKind campaign represents a year’s worth of stuff that shows men are capable of more than grunting, punning, drinking and suppressing multiple decades’ worth of undesirable emotion. It’s time to promote a different kind of masculinity.
Society tells us that men, in emotional terms, are incapable of anything more than banter and essentially allergic to our own feelings. The demographical image of men that exists across Britain is repellent: someone who only spends time with his wife because he’ll earn “brownie points”, allowing him to stay out with his real friends at a later date. He’s bored by “chick flicks”, gets excited by sports cars, loves a blonde, wants bigger arms, is motivated by the urge to conquer and is utterly incapable of sincerity.
The good news is that things are changing. You don’t have to look hard in 2018 to find male role-models who have traditionally atypical male qualities such as niceness, sensitivity and warmth at the heart of their personas. Yes, Anthony Joshua punches people in the head for a living, but he does it while being nice to his mum. The Rock could easily scrunch up my entire body like an empty bag of crisps but instead, he chooses to talk earnestly and sensitively about mental health. Even footballers, as evinced by our recent Jesse Lingard ShortList cover, have begun to embrace a sort of Luxury Wholesomeness, where hashtags are life-affirming, fitness is paramount and the underlying vibe is one of positivity and gratefulness.
“Change is underway but it will require a massive social adjustment in terms of what we consider masculine and how we define success,” says Fernando Desouches. “It will require changes in brand communication, entertainment, media, education and politics. The current media portrayal of men reinforces the male incapacity to express oneself. It’s important that men can communicate who they really are rather than trying to mimic a caricature.
We want ShortList to be part of this change. Since I took over as Editor I’ve taken immense satisfaction in helping this team put out a magazine that’s brighter, more vibrant and more positive than anything else out there. Now it’s time to take the next step. ShortList will be a place where modern men are celebrated and outmoded masculinity is called out. We won’t feature people who seem incompatible with our views or promote attitudes and practices that hinder our gender’s development.
Anyone not feeling all of this would do well to disembark the Good Ship ShortList now. Everyone else: welcome aboard!