THE BLOG

It's Time to Have a Different Kind of Conversation About Men and Boys

19/11/2014 09:59 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Many years ago, when I was just starting out as a journalist, I witnessed an exchange in an editorial meeting that spoke volumes about the way people tend to respond if you say you are interested in writing about the issues that affect men and boys.

I was working as an intern for The Nation magazine in New York, one of America's longest-standing left-leaning political magazines, when Cindy Sheehan, a mother whose son had been killed in Iraq, was invited to come and speak about the Mothers For Peace anti-war campaign.

As she was addressing the room of editors, she mentioned in passing that dead soldiers' fathers had also asked to take part in their campaign. The moment she said this, an audible series of sniggers and snorts of derision went around the room, as if to say: "Typical! Bloody men again, trying to muscle-in on a women's campaign! Don't they already control everything else?"

'Why do men need a voice?'

I can still clearly remember how astonished I was at that reaction - fathers being excluded from a campaign to end military deaths and suffering experienced almost solely by young men, many of whom would themselves be fathers. What made the response even more breath-taking to me, was that the fathers who weren't in the room, but at whom these sniggers were directed, would themselves have been part of the generation of men drafted for the Vietnam War. If there was anyone who had a right to be a part of an anti-war campaign, it was surely them.

As a young trainee journalist I just sat and kept my mouth shut, far too intimidated by the room full of high-powered - and predominantly female - editors to question their reaction. But that exchange has not only stayed with me ever since, it's also one I have seen versions of played out in editorial meetings at every publication I have worked for consequently.

When I mention that I am interested in finding ways to give men and boys a voice, one of the first reactions is often, "why do men need a voice? Aren't virtually all powerful and public voices already male?" But in my experience, men are rarely given the opportunity to speak publicly about the issues that affect them as men. There may be plenty of male politicians, pundits and journalists, but to speak out as men, is to risk being labelled a whinging bully, or worse.

Let's push things forward

All of this is a very roundabout way of explaining why I am so excited to have just worked on the #100Voices4Men and boys project with insideMAN, a new online magazine that offers a platform for the voices of men and boys in all their diversity. As part of this mission and to mark International Men's Day, we commissioned a series of 100 articles from men and women addressing the enormous range of issues and experiences that face men in the UK today.

There are insights from young men into how they feel about feminism, on what it's like for a father to lose a child through his wife's miscarriage, how a gay Methodist minister reconciles his sexuality with his religion, the views of a campaigner against male circumcision and the story of a former boxer who uses his tough upbringing to inspire young men.

What's really great, is that more and more publications are realising the need to engage in a much wider and more sophisticated discussion about men and masculinity. It's fantastic that Huffington Post Men is the latest publication to join the conversation, alongside Telegraph Men and BBC Radio's Men's Hour, these are offering a vital counterbalance to what at times can seem like a relentlessly negative and one-dimensional way in which we talk about men. Let's break some new ground and move the conversation forward.