Those of us based in London or other major cities are living among the youngest, most affluent populations in the country. Life amongst urbanites has its perks: forward thinking, inventiveness, acceptance, open-mindedness to an evolving moral backdrop - a partisan view, I know. Cities are the spots where subcultures form and thrive, where square pegs find their holes or even other likeminded pegs in new, undiscovered shapes. What an ideal place for men, from politicians to the everyman, to see and be seen as men with awareness and gall to redefine what is expected of them. I wonder how the men and boys of the UK's outskirts are marginalised by their communities and the weight of domestic expectation.
I grew up in a rural Devon town with a population of a few thousand. While our rural communities can certainly be idyllic and protective, the climate can undeniably be conservative and aged. This means that differences or perceived vulnerabilities often seem spot-lit and magnified, ripe fodder for gossip, particularly when the shopkeeper, the mayor, the lollipop lady and the town tramp all seem to be on first name terms with your Mum. The near total lack of anonymity certainly poses challenges to men in provincial areas, particularly, I feel in that expectation to adhere to masculine stereotypes is perhaps more resolute than in cities - a norm which is more than presumed. I simply could not have become a poet, a sexual being, a feminist, or a man who cries in the hyper-accountable town context I come from, at least not overtly. It felt like survival of the stoic and unremarkable.
Access to certain types of education, to the arts, to multiculturalism and the varied experience of women is, for various reasons, comparatively limited in the UK's extremities. I suspect this impacts greatly upon the types of men that rural young men and boys feel they can become. We are all impressionable, and I wonder about the impact of mainstream culture on young men with no other consumable alternative. I now live in London, but when I visit home the heightened presence of 'neo lad culture' is palpable; an image led, subversive movement with little accommodation for the gentler, beta male. Young men I know to be socially conscious are masquerading in a social culture which has intolerant and well-worn tendencies. With sadness I acknowledge that I feel safer in South East London's streets than I do in Devon's.
The diluted prevalence of a varied culture may also impact on industry. I know many people who were discouraged from pursuing education and whisked into the world of work (a valid, laudable and productive pathway, of course). But Devon's industrial cocktail consists largely of the utilities, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing - all male-led industries, reliant on physicality. Where many opportunities for paid work come from seasonal or family enterprise, how can we ensure that our traits and diversity are if accepted, at least as protected and supported as they are in corporate environments? Who will challenge the mind set and rights of the agricultural community which is profoundly affected by economic, environmental and consumer volatility? The shocking evidence of agricultural suicide is not just anecdotal. Re-evaluation of the way we perceive labouring men and struggling men (as two intrinsically different entities) is paramount.
There are times I feel stunted by where I grew up. I ponder that the glare of my surroundings led to the formation of a paler identity, one in which my knowledge, ambition, politics and sexuality were curated to fall safely within an acceptable realm. I hope it does not disparage my hometown to say that my exposure to London's imperforate anonymity led me to branch out and construct a more honest moral framework. I'm polarised by the knowledge that a rural lifestyle is an affordable, sustainable and leisurely one), but one which the trickledown of gender role evolution could be somewhat delayed and unwelcome. Without wanting to sound overly Millenial, London costs the Earth, but at what price comes a progressive existence?
It would be an injustice to fail to acknowledge that beyond the UK's greener parts, there are people living in regimes which repress, and call upon men to repress. I feel under qualified to discuss this at length, but I urge us to handle the thought that we mustn't curtail our forward leaps in questioning manhood by focusing open forums entirely on cosmopolitan areas, and perhaps the leaps made will be colossal in magnitude. Those of us who define culture must ensure it extends its reach to those who need it most in order for modern man to evolve without barriers.