In 2004 I embarked, somewhat foolishly and naively, on a journey to write a trilogy of books about masculinity. In 2013 the third book was published, I sighed in relief, they had consumed nine years of my life. During the writing hiatuses I would tour a one-man show in which I experimented with concepts and ideas for the books. Those were tough times.
It was about 2005 when I gave a talk, probably titled 'Male Rites of Passage' at a Mind Body Spirit event in Swansea. I was due on at three in the afternoon, and with about five minutes to go I walked up to my allocated room and looked in the door. There were over 60 people, my heart skipped a beat. I'd never had more than 5 before. I stepped confidently into the room, only to realise that the previous presenter had overrun. She was talking about crystals and angels, and apologised for my inconvenience. Hurriedly finishing, she smiled shyly as she wrapped crystals in cloths. The audience rose and left whilst she packed away. They drained out of the room. Finally, she was ready, and at 5 minutes past three, I was left with no one in the auditorium. I was alone. As she exited she gave me an inquisitive look and asked 'what are you giving a talk about?' 'Masculinity' I replied, 'Oh', she sucked on her teeth as she quietly shut the door. I sat down and inspected the empty rows.
In those days, as illustrated, not many people were interested in masculinity or manhood. Most men behaved either like tyrants or wimps, and most women happily or unhappily blamed men for ruining their lives. I know, generalisation of massive proportions, but these premises were often reflected in the simplistic arguments had at my early talks. That was if someone turned up.
Now, in 2014, some people, both women and men, are interested in these issues, and a much more complex and comprehensive discussion is being had. I recently gave a talk, titled 'Understand Men', to an audience of 45 in Stroud and over 50 in Birmingham. Interestingly over 50 per cent of the audiences were men. When I first started these talks they were almost exclusively to women.
It may be that my fame and fortune (as if) now goes before me, and I am attracting the crowds because they've read the books (I don't think so, book sales figures don't support that). I truly think there is now a genuine openness to the idea that we need to re-shape and re-define masculinity, and that this is something which is of value. Interestingly, I think it also reflects the belief that men are open to such change, and they are not intransigently obstructing gender issues in the way they used to, as Emma Watson sought to illustrate.
Ten years on I still give talks, but I'm now branching out into all day conferences, that's how confident I am that people want to discuss these issues. So, come to the first pop-up conference in November in Stroud, UK. Please come to the conference. No, please do come to the conference. I don't want to be Billy No Mates any more.