HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
As I sit at my desk furiously stroking my own face, I start to think about which style of moustache is achievable for me within this month of #Movember. This time of year is one in which my wife hates, as I increasingly look 'older' and 'less kissable'. But it is also a time of year where lots of men around the globe are talking about themselves and other men. For many, this remains a battle of upper lip machismo, however for others it is a period where talking about health and wellbeing becomes commonplace. Now while facial hair is nothing new (the hipsters are testament to that), men talking about what it means to be a man is still seen as a rare beast. It is a point not lost on #Movember and I agree that men need to talk more in order to tackle some shocking Mental Health statistics. Just last year, through the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM report 2014) it emerged that suicide had become the biggest cause of death for men (aged 20-49) in England and Wales. The year before, the Samaritans (2013) told us that rates of suicide among men is on average three to five times higher than for women. On these health grounds, certainly the 'crisis in masculinity' holds credence.
The problem I have with the 'crisis in masculinity' however is that it implies that what was there before was stable, secure and acceptable. This is simply false. Equally it places blame at the feet women's 'success' as well as a disproportionate focus on the problems of young working class men. Labelling events as 'crises' is politically convenient as it deflects responsibility. The absolution of responsibility exists as an absolution of blame and guilt. When considering masculinity (and drawing a parallel to austerity) the discourse of 'crisis' become the focal point of blame. It can be nobody's fault but that of the situation. The situation itself becomes unavoidable and its impacts, inevitable. Young men can't be blamed for misogyny, the only jobs left are women's work... so the narrative goes.
But none of this accounts for the existence of lad culture on university campuses. Here we see homophobia, misogyny and a culture of rape as banter. These are men who are not suffering from women's successes nor are many of these men working class. Yet neither are they men in crisis. Instead of problematic young men who need help, the headline should read: 'campus relations prove continual relevance of feminism'. Instead of sending the emergency services of political rhetoric and moral panic we need to look at intimate reactions and responses to change as well as the cultures within which these behaviours exist.
If masculinity was such a passive victim of crisis would #Movember be mainstream and successful? Does anyone remember the really successful women's equivalent #Decembush? No, neither do I. Yes we have problems and we do need to talk about them, so let's start with an easy one: instead of telling me that your 'tache is bigger than my 'tache, ask me how I am feeling today. And let's forget this crisis nonsense once and for all.