I don't watch a hunk of television and, when I do, I'm pretty selective. There was no question that the three-part documentary Grayson Perry: All Man, a fascinating insight into modern-day manhood was high on my list.
As The Women's Empowerment Specialist, I work a lot around, obviously, female empowerment but why and how men empower themselves holds an equal fascination for me. Grayson Perry, a British artist, husband, father and crossdresser, narrates his findings on what men of today feel they have to be in order to look like men. He talks to cage fighters, ex-prisoners, gang members and city traders to try and tap into what's going on in their heads and in men's society today.
I've found the series both compelling and sad. Sad because what's apparent is the yearning for these men to have an identity, to be seen and heard and to belong. No different for women but for men, it's whatever that takes. As the mother of a young male adult, I know how important it is for any human being, regardless of their sex, to experience the giving and receiving of love. For many young men, being a family member of a gang is the only 'family' they physically have, or feel they have. They want to feel a part of 'something' rather than nothing, even if that means losing their life or the life of a 'brother' in the process. Feudal society is nothing new; it's taken place for centuries and probably always will. It's just the location and the decade that changes. Territorial terror over a patch of earth or living the wrong side of an invisible but invincible line can spark gang warfare as easy as lighting a match.
But if you were to get inside the head and, more importantly, the heart of these young men, what would you really see and what would they really tell you? Behind the gear they wear, the 'uniform' that identifies and labels them, what would you find behind their covered faces? Probably a young guy who hides from the world, peeping out at a society he doesn't belong to in a world he doesn't understand. Lost, bewildered, frightened and cloaked in a comfort blanket of machoism because that's all he knows and, after all, it's what's expected of him.
Other men seek their salvation in the ring by punching seven bells out of a component to not only prove their manliness, but to release their own pain of losing a father to suicide. Who would want to argue whether its sweat or tears rolling off his rippled body?
That wrenches at my heart on two counts. To lose a father, the role model in a man's life must, to most men, be shattering. To have no role model to look up to for guidance and support must feel like floating aimlessly in black space. Your umbilical chord entangles around your oxygen chord and your need for survival numbs your judgement about who or what, to plug your chord into.
To lose someone of either sex to suicide is devastating. The suicide rate in the UK alone where 4,630 men killed themselves in 2014, signifies that men are nearly four times more likely to kill themselves than women with 13 men dying from suicide every day. Every day.
The number one question for those left behind is 'Why?' Why would someone who seems to have everything going for them wish to end the precious life they have? The only one who can truly answer has gone.
Let's high five the men who are bold enough to open up, who are able to look after their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing; let's give a huge leg up for those that can't and who suffer in silence and let's open our hearts to those that considered life too painful. The cost can be too great for a man having to 'prove' himself as the bread winner, the leader, the role model, the successful entrepreneur, the man.
There seems to be a common thread running through the veins of how historical and contemporary masculinity shapes the lives and expectations of men in Britain today and that's one of cloaking their fear. The city traders dwell in their towers of power, each trying to dominate the next in a city of glass phalluses. Whether it's fear of failure, fear of loss of money or fear of loss of face, they mask and cloak themselves like a modern day Dick Turpin for, if that's the only thing that defines them in the city, the ring or on the street, then they can't afford to fail.
I don't care if a man cries in front of me. In fact, I embrace it. It shows that he's human, that he has emotions and feelings and is vulnerable just like me. He's willing to show me all sides of him, good, bad or downright ugly.
I don't care whether he owns a ferret or a Ferrari. Let me see him. Really see him.
International Men's Day is on 19th November. Check here for more information and to see how you can get involved
Cross-post from http://www.tanadawn.com/#!HE'S-THE-MAN/c1dnz/57433c490cf293b1a4c759f0