Hopping on the tube home from work, I pick up a copy of a free men’s lifestyle magazine that I often enjoy reading.
The cover image shows two pints clinking together with the headline ‘Cheers, mate’ and underneath the caption ‘Male friendship - why you really should go for that pint’
My heart sinks a bit. I feel disappointed by the blatant link they’re making between male friendship and alcohol.
On the one hand, I get it; pubs have long been socially acceptable spaces for men to gather, bond and share. But isn’t promoting this model of male friendship possibly a bit out of date? Or at the very least, limited?
How helpful is it to still be affirming this story that men need a few pints under their belt in order to (be allowed to) connect with one another? Is this really the best we can do? Really the ‘front page’ story we want to be perpetuating?
Am I being overly sensitive? Possibly. But I’d like to think we can do better than this! And I think we really need to...
Ideas around masculinity are currently undergoing a major shake up. As more men struggle with their mental health and suicide rates in young men continue to rise, how helpful is it to be promoting alcohol (a depressant) as a way for men to connect with one another?
Loneliness in men is also much more prevalent than is often talked about. I think there’s a great need at this time for men to feel a sense of tribe and belonging and also to know that drinking alcohol isn’t a prerequisite for friendship.
What about men who don’t drink at all, what is this cover saying to them? It’s making no suggestions as to what their forum for friendship might be.
Why are we still telling men that friendship equals pint, that opening up equals pub? This is just one of many examples of stories, ultimately about ideas of masculinity, that I see day-in, day-out and I’m struggling to view them as helpful or progressive.
To be clear, I’m not condemning the idea of catching up with a friend over a drink (of course I’m not saying that) - I just think we need better and more varied stories around this stuff. The publication in question has the biggest circulation of any men’s lifestyle magazine in Britain. I can’t help but feel they therefore not only have a responsibility, but also a golden opportunity to present alternative narratives and suggestions for what male friendship might look like.
I think this magazine massively missed a trick with their cover messaging; Rather than encouraging their readers to go for a pint, they could have used this as a chance to highlight broader options for male friendship. Even choosing to flip the whole idea of male friendship/drinking on it’s head and instead opt to give their cover over to some more varied suggestions. I would have been delighted to read something along the lines of: ‘Gone are the days when men were only allowed to bond down boozer or befriend at the footy – modern man has tons of options for maintaining his tribe! Here’s our pick of the top male bonding grounds for the 21st century bloke...’ This could have been followed by a list of things such as mens groups, activities, climbing centres, common interest meet-up groups and so on.
I can easily anticipate some dismissal of my pondering on this as me being overly sensitive, needing to lighten up and not take it so seriously etc.
But I think this is serious. Stories are really powerful and conditioning runs deep.
If we’re talking about masculinity, male friendship, alcohol - I want to see better, more varied stories on our front pages.
I think men deserve better and I think we can all do better.