THE MAN CASE: Unpacking Masculinity

discussion around the man case

When I could tear myself away from enlightening talks and the like, I spent my time at Being A Man Festival conducting somewhat of a social experiment. I invited unknowing attendees (men and women) to rummage through a rusty old suitcase filled with ‘manly’ paraphernalia, the Man Case. I then asked them one simple question:

“What, to you, is the manliest thing in this case?”

What’s in the Man Case?

man case contents

– Can of beer
– Steak (real, bloody and raw)
– Suit jacket and tie
– Pair of goalkeepers (football) gloves – well worn
– Karma sutra ‘sex tips’ book
– Pingpong bat
– Plectrums (CALM ones of course)
– Bottle opener
– Hip-flask
– Book of facts
– Shin pad
– Baseball cap
– DVDs (Green Street, Rock n Rolla, Essex Boys)
– Remote control car controller

My findings

Many picked out the goalie gloves as the most manly, which surprised me. It was partly their worn-away, tattiness that people identified with. One chap, Davy, said that the gloves reminded him of manual labourers shifting barrows with calloused hands on construction sites – quite a manly thing to be doing. He then admitted that he probably didn’t look after his hands so well, and that he probably should. Others said that the gloves reminded them of being back in the macho environment of a muddy PE changing room after a football lesson.

It was common for participants to hark back to memories of school and sporting events. Lee has been playing football all his life, he dismissed the gloves but said it was the shin-pads that were the manliest thing for him, in terms of practicality. On a pitch with 21 other men, all wanting to win, preparation is everything. As a man (he says) you have to make sure you’re protected, so that you can give it your all during the game, meaning that when you come off the field afterwards, you win the respect of your team mates. Lee felt most like a man when winning the ball in a tackle, winning headers and being physical.

Opening up the man case

Steak was very popular as well; one man, John said that many of his mates seem to identify manliness with the food they eat. There seems to be a trait of fetishising a raw steak as a way of tapping into the hunter-gatherer/ cave-man. We agreed there doesn’t seem to be the same expectation on women. As much as John does eat steak rarely, he recognised that men seem more obliged to order steak when out with other men.

Lexy is a vegetarian. He said his father pressures him to order a steak whenever they go for a meal together. This is something which he finds challenging to deal with… Does meat maketh the man?

man picks item out of man case

Seems to be the case that we identify objects as masculine if they remind us of times when we were around other groups of men. The hip-flask, for instance was a popular choice; one saying that it reminded him of a time when he was on a stag do, and everyone in the group was given a hip-flask for the weekend. A token of the vanguard, so to speak.

Although the karma sutra sex tips book wasn’t a very popular choice as the most manly item, Simon shared a very interesting perspective: when being intimate in the bedroom with a partner, he is at his most vulnerable and most ‘himself’, and therefore at his manliest. Interesting.

discussion around the man case

Presenting my Case

I now ask you reader, to think about whether eating steak or drinking beer or wearing football gloves makes you feel any less, or more of a man. With Christmas on its way, as we all rush to the shops to panic-purchase for our often estranged family members, think about what sort of gifts we are buying each other, and what messages and stereotypes we are reinforcing with those choices.

The ‘Man Case’ really gave us the chance to ‘unpack’ some of the ideas we have around masculinity; where these ideas come from and why they influence us today. It lead to some really interesting conversations about the baggage we unknowingly carry around and the load we place on others. And it turns out to be the case that manliness means many different things to many different people.

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As printed in the latest edition of the CALMZine (December 2016). Photos courtesy of the heart-warming Hannah Goodwin.

Your Mental Health Awareness To-Do List

Prince William CALM

“You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.” – F.Kafka

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May 2016) I put together a neat list of ways you can get involved whilst making a positive impact to your network of family, relationships and the wider community.

1) Check yourself

Popular physical health campaigns, like breast/ testicular cancer awareness, encourage you to “get checked”. We should be approaching mental health with the same kind of thinking. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have you noticed that you have been feeling low for longer periods than normal?
  • At times when you are feeling low, do you feel worse than what you would consider is normal?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping?
  • Have you been experiencing panic attacks?
  • Do you angrily lash out at the smallest things?
  • Do you ever have thoughts of suicide?
  • Are you isolating yourself from your friends and family?

As many as 1 in 4 people suffer from mental ill-health at some point in their lifetime. If left untreated, mental health problems like depression and anxiety can often get worse and more debilitating over time. If the answer to any of the questions above is yes, then that’s OK; there are people who can help you. Arrange an appointment with your doctor and begin exploring ways you could feel better about yourself and the world around you.

Mental Illness Myth
One of the many common misconceptions surrounding mental illness: time-to-change.org.uk

Did you know that under the wonderful NHS you are entitled to at least 6 sessions of 1 to 1 counselling? In some areas you can go via your local Mind to receive this service, the waiting times can often be shorter.

2) Start up a conversation

I am privileged enough to work in a position where people often open up to me for the first time about their mental health issues. As much as I do feel really honoured by that, it shouldn’t actually be happening. If we normalise the conversation around mental health, we can remove the stigma associated with it. That way people are less likely to feel ashamed or embarrassed by their condition, and are then more likely to talk openly about it.

As I’ve said above, as many as a quarter of us have experienced or will experience some form of mental health issue, so you will likely know someone or something about it. Start up a chat at work or with your friends and family. You never know who you might be helping.

Prince William CALM
Prince William talking Mental Health this week. Paul Deaville

3) Donate your time

Charities are generally always on the hunt for enthusiastic new volunteers. Whether you can spare a couple of hours to help out in their offices or want to help out ‘front-line’ services, your effort would always be welcomed. Below are some great charities who would love to hear from you:

CALM – From magazine drops, manning stalls or making tea at festivals, CALM has an awesome volunteer programme with the aim of raising awareness of our national male suicide crisis. Suicide is currently the biggest killer of men aged 20-45 in the UK.

Mind – Want to work directly with mental health professionals in your community? Mind has mentoring programmes and always could do with assistance in running their weekly drop-in sessions. Find your local Mind here.

The Mix – These guys provide a wide range of online and offline support for young people coping with mental health problems. They rely on other young people to help engage with their client base. See how you can get involved.

Best Beginnings – Many mental health issues stem from childhood. Best Beginnings work to support parents in giving their children the best possible start in life. Whether you’re a healthcare professional, keen photographer or just happy to help, they are looking for help now.

Check out the CharityJobs website for thousands of other volunteer opportunities.

It is impossible to describe just how it feels to do something that is so rewarding. If anything the good feels and amazing experiences that I’ve had from volunteering have certainly made me feel happier and more aware of what’s going on in the world. You also get to meet a lot of like-minded people. Do it!

CALM SGP 2015 Team
SGP 2015 – Good Times. Courtesy of Hannah Goodwin

4) Get political

As I highlighted in a previous blog post, funding for vital mental health support services has been disastrously cut back under the current government. Despite promises for further investment, frontline services are still not receiving the support they need and the government are refusing to publish their figures on mental health spend. Given that demand for mental health services has increased by 20% in the last 5 years, it’s time our parliamentary representatives pulled their fingers out.

All research shows that cutting mental health support is a false economy as those who don’t receive the mental health support they need will often go on to be reliant on public services in other ways. Contact your MP and add your voice to the growing public pressure that says that cutting back on mental health services is not acceptable or necessary.

Mental Health Revolution

We are all searching for happiness. We all don’t want to suffer. The moment we decide to spend time working on improving our own mental health is the moment we stop telling ourselves about how worthless we are. We breakdown the ideas that we are unworthy of happiness, based on some blinkered philosophy that this form of ‘disciplined’ attitude might spur us to get ahead in life.

By becoming proficient at caring for our individual mental health, i.e. being compassionate to ourselves, this quality then tends to spill out effecting our relationships with others. How we see ourselves is usually reflected in how we see the world around us. Once we have all made this discovery, just imagine how this could change the world. Better times.

PDP_1231
‘Keep it Simple’ Paul Deaville.

Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week here.

Memories of Kathmandu – One year on

Kathmandu Devastation

We took refuge from the spitting rain in the doorway of a dank block of flats, underneath a corrugated iron canopy. The building loomed over us in the black night sky.

It was risky, but our reasoning was that it hadn’t taken any damage from the earlier earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) so the chances of it buckling on top of us whilst we slept seemed unlikely, IF we slept. We only had to wait a few hours until morning, and then everything would be OK. I propped a 2 litre water bottle under my head and lay still, flat on my back. The street would have to be our resting place for the night.

DCIM144GOPRO
What remained of our hotel, we had only been out for an hour or so.

I took refuge from the paralysing fear in the company and soft words of my friend. We talked and kept each other close on the dusty street of a broken city. We had everything we owned on our person.

The Nepali government had issued some kind of reverse curfew, ruling that we were not allowed to be inside any building before 7am the following morning, reducing the likeliness of further casualties if another earthquake was to hit.

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People lined the streets ensuring emergency services could navigate through the panic

We took refuge from our hunger, a local family offered us food and comforting conversation, they like many others were forced to camp out for the night.

Tremors and aftershocks reminded us every half an hour or so that we weren’t safe yet, that there still could be more to come. Even the small shakes and movements beneath us caused the same panicked reaction; we scanned each other’s faces, silently asking “did you feel it too?”

DCIM144GOPRO
A football pitch where families started to gather

The next morning we found the British Embassy. Some Canadians who had taken refuge overnight were being asked to leave, in order to find their own consulate. Having heard our story, they quickly opened their rucksacks, offering us clean clothes to wear.

We checked into the Embassy and registered our presence with the authorities. The Embassy complex was grand and clean. We ate porridge, showered off the smell of piss that we must have slept in and dressed the cut on my leg.

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The British Army and the Ghurkas who kept us safe

Within hours we, along with 300 or so other Brits, were bussed to the Gurkha Headquarters in Kathmandu. We took refuge there for 4 days and planned our journey home. In that time we slept comfortably and were fed well. We even had access to doctors and an internet connection. We made friends with some amazing people and heard each others stories, sharing the burden of our horrific experiences. We cried, we laughed and we knew that we were saved.

Safe in the Ghurka HQ with new friends.
In the Ghurka HQ with new friends

Out of no choice or fault of our own, we witnessed the physical collapse of a city and suffered with it. Over 8,000 people lost their lives and millions were forced from their homes to camp out in makeshift tents on the streets, busy roundabouts and in public parks. I still had a home to look forward to returning to.

I felt the very best of humanity that day, and in the days that followed. It’s kindest, most merciful and generous form. In a time of chaos and desperation I was shown how natural it is for human beings to come together in order to survive.

Love conquers fear, always.

Give what you can to those who are forced to take refuge:

World Poetry Day – My contribution

Akala - The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company

“By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness.” – Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

A few months ago I was lucky enough to participate in a creative workshop facilitated by UK rapper, activist and academic, Akala founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company (THSC).

For our final exercise of an invigorating afternoon, we were given the task of taking a famous Shakespearian or hip-hop line and using it as the opening for a poem or short story. In my case I drew an Eminem line. We had 12 minutes.

Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit,
Maybe it’s because I’m lacking Love and hatred is my limit.
Maybe I had Love once, maybe I let it be lost,
Maybe I spend my days trying to justify the cost.

Maybe it’s Love I need, maybe I’ll find it again,
Maybe I’ll look back, happy that these days all had an end.

Maybe I’ll break free from my mind,
and from this Freedom I’ll find
That ‘maybes’ are just ‘maybes’ and Love was biding it’s time. 

THSC is a musical theatre production company that co-ordinates and runs education programmes, live music events and music theatre productions to engage young people, particularly those who are considered “hard to reach” and push them toward artistic excellence.

Why Londoners Stand up to Racism

Stand up to racism

On Saturday 19th March 2016, I joined some 20,000 protestors in London to “Stand up to Racism” marching in light of recent hateful and divisive messages that have surfaced from populist right-wing movements here in the UK and abroad.

Everyone has their own reasons to take to the streets in protest. I wanted to find out what drives others who choose to physically take a stand. Below are just a few examples of some of the amazing people, young and old, who you could meet on such an occasion.

Anthony

Anthony Stand up to Racism

What has brought you here?

My life. I am 70 years old. In the ‘60s I was a street radical, lefty. A lot of the early stuff I was involved with was actually about anti-racism then, but it was also much broader “leftist” stuff. I have been lucky enough to spend most of my life in higher education, perpetual student I guess in a sense and where I was able to work theoretically, conceptually, empirically on all the inequality issues. I joined the Labour Party itself having never joined any party up until that point in 1979, basically thinking “Oh fuck, something has got to be done.” I was disillusioned with the whole damn thing of the Labour Party within 10 years and I left. They weren’t doing it for me. I just carried on with my professional work and doing bits and pieces here and there.

Not to put to finer point on it, but I have been re-energised by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and the whole extraordinary thing that has happened recently, and I have rejoined The Labour Party. I now spend a lot of my time as a happily retired lefty, doing these kind of things, working locally, whatever. That is why I am here.

Why is it important to be here and not just watch it from home?

It’s absolutely vital that we take to the streets. It’s a vital form of liberty and political expression of the progressive mass. You’ve got to take to the streets on a regular basis for positive progressive things, and there are a whole load of them, a whole spectrum of them. You have got to show your presence out there, you can’t do it just watching the tele. I know that social media is brilliant, but you have got to do this, this physical stuff. You get to enjoy it as well.

How do you feel when you are here?

I feel like a happy person. Very much so. I was thinking coming here, specifically today, I used to be involved in a thing called the All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism, ALTARF, so I chose this banner which kind of reminds me of the struggle then. And it’s still the same bloody struggle and it will go on longer than I will.

Afua – Black Lives Matter

Afua Stand up to Racism

Why are you here today?

I am here because there is an injustice which is happening right in front of our faces. We can’t just act like it’s not happening. And if we all come together, that’s how its going to end, instead of just standing there and waiting for something to happen.

There is this quote, “Only evil can prevail, when good people stand and do nothing.” So us as good people, have to do something about it. Me and my friends are the next generation, so we have to make a statement and say why we are here. We have to make our voices heard.

What was significant about this rally that meant that you had to come here today?

Well Black Lives Matter is really close to my heart, I have been talking about it all over the internet, on my Tumblr, my Instagram, made a statement on social media, but I feel like I need to make a statement in person and dedicate myself [to it].

Black Lives Matter

Can you tell me a bit about this campaign and what it means to you?

Racism today isn’t about going up to someone and calling them a nigger, it’s the institutional racism that we experience in our schools and the government, it’s all around us. We need to make it stop.

Carol – Football Against Apartheid

Football Against Apartheid

Why are you here supporting Football Against Apartheid?

I am from Jewish heritage, even though I am personally an atheist. I believe that Israel should or must be expelled from FIFA, because apartheid is apartheid. There is absolutely no difference from what happened in South Africa, and what’s happening now. And to use the anti-semitism excuse, [to] every right minded person is absolutely abhorrent. It’s all very well saying it’s anti-semitism and is against Judaism, no it isn’t. It’s Zionism that we object to, we think that Zionism is a manufactured thing. The whole thing about a Jewish state is an artificial concept, and I think Israel are playing on it. As for using the holocaust as an excuse it is indefensible.

What is the connection with football?

Yes because South Africa used cricket to start the process to end apartheid, we are using football. It’s universal, it’s always in the news. We think it’s a good focus, and it’s growing.

And can I ask, why personally is it important for you to be here, to be part of this movement?

My parents came here, they were refugees. I think for the sake of human dignity, we are all the same. We are all in one race, the human race. Any organisation or group of people who don’t think that, I have no time for. I have an obligation, as my parents survived the holocaust to come here and support all refugees, support all people in the struggle. That’s why I am here.

All photography courtesy of the very talented and marvellous, Paul Deaville.

London Bernin’ on Super Tuesday

Sanders large crowd

With the race heating up for the 2016 US Presidential Election I took the opportunity to attend a live WebEx with US Presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, in London last week.

This year’s US Presidential election is set to be the most explosive for a generation. It all kicks into gear this Tuesday March 1st, aka Super Tuesday, when the leading candidates for the Democrats and Republicans go head to head over 11 primaries and caucuses (plus other territory votes).

Wait, what?

As you may be aware, the main US political parties select their candidates by holding a series of state elections (primaries and caucuses) so that their party supporters can choose their best bet to win the General Election in November this year. Starting in February (although campaigning started last year) and continuing on ’til mid June, these elections act as a 5 month long public job interview, with relentless media scrutiny. Candidates get the chance to share their ideals and even go head to head in public debates with their opponents, all of which you may have seen over the last few of months.

Trump at Republican Debate
The Republican Party debates have been somewhat entertaining (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Believe the Hype

Never before have we seen such a gulf in ideologies between the front running candidates. On the Republican side you have the outrageous Donald Trump leading the field, whose far-right “policies” have included building a giant wall along the US/Mexican border to stop “drug-dealers and rapists” and banning all Muslims entering the United States.

Whilst on the Democratic side we have US Secretary of State and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, who was initially favourite to win at the beginning of the campaign. She’s fighting off democratic socialist Senator, Bernie Sanders, who claims to be the only presidential candidate who has never accepted a corporate donation or Super-PAC. He pledges to end corporate “Wall Street greed” and bring about egalitarian social justice, including free healthcare and fixing the legal system which currently imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

Sanders large crowd
Bernie Sanders has found favour with the underserved working class (Jay Paul/ Reuters)

The Democrats Abroad

The Democrats arranged a worldwide WebEx for the Democrats Abroad constituency; “The Global Town Hall”, which screened in 65 countries across the globe. The population of American expatriates living abroad (8.7 million) is treated as separate “constituency”. They will have opportunities to vote over the course of the next week. UK based Americans will have various opportunities to vote in the next week or so, follow this link for more information on voting centres and dates. So this is an opportune time for presidential candidates to address the needs of the 200,000 that live in Britain. The Republican Party does not consider the votes of expatriates in their candidate selection process.

London Bernin’

The Priory Tavern, in Kilburn, gradually filled with American voices, all finding seats aimed towards the TV, hooked up to a laptop in the corner. Bemused Londoners peered in for a gander, expecting us to be watching a major sporting event. The idle chatter and beer swilling continued through the Q+A of Madeleine Albright on a faulty internet connection, a half an hour endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Her perspective focussed on the fact that no-one understands international issues as well as U.S. Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton. She also discussed questions of Hillary’s integrity, which has been a recent theme in the Democratic debate.

The atmosphere intensified with anticipation as Bernie Sanders was introduced, the obvious crowd favourite. Indeed a show of hands half way through proceedings highlighted that out of all attendees (30-40 or so) only 2 were not Sanders supporters. Given that he was happy to dedicate his own time to addressing the expat communities, this was hardly a surprise.

Bernie in London
Bernie Sanders live on video call with Democrats Abroad (Paulie Deaville)

Sanders delivered the key messages in his mandate as he has persistently done so throughout his campaign; highlighting the need for a political revolution that would ensure that most Americans, including the poor, were represented in Washington – not just the wealthy. On foreign affairs, he highlighted that the Obama administration had made progress given the state that was inherited after the previous government. He continued to say that there was a lot more that could be done, given issues facing the world with extremism and climate change.

What can we learn from this in the UK?

I have heard the US election processes criticised by some for being a long drawn-out form of entertainment, which focuses a lot on the individual character and not policy, there are actually a lot positive aspects of this kind of process that we can learn from:

  1. It is arguably more democratic than our current systems. All members (and in some cases non-members) are invited to vote for their party representative and then of course, again in the election.
  2. It gives candidates a chance to voice their policies direct to voters, and on many occasions, making media “spin” less likely and more obvious. Our media is often criticised for pushing an agenda on its readers rather than conveying facts (see below).
  3. It ensures political transparency and accountability. The candidates in these elections have been open to extraordinary levels of press and public scrutiny. The public gets to dissect arguments and policy to form an accurate opinion of their potential leaders. NowThis has been an excellent source for exposing the discrepancies and hypocrisies of candidates, particularly voting histories and misquotes.
  4. It broadens the debate. Candidates are often accused of stealing each others arguments. As much as this may be unfair, it means that the winning candidate could go into the general election race with an improved mandate, based on the collective pressure and support of their party.
  5. It increases interest and electorate participation. With everyone talking about the election all the time, whether it be Trump’s latest gaffe or Sander’s most inspiring speech, people are sharing and talking about the election.
The Sun does politics
The UK’s largest national selling newspaper does “politics”

Could it work here?

The Conservative Party has already used primaries when selecting their new MPs, which they say has proven to be somewhat successful, although these campaigns were small and at local level (obviously). The Labour Party has discussed using primaries, but abandoned it for the mayoral candidacy campaigns. We saw some improvement in the leadership election last year when the party adopted a “one member, one vote” (OMOV) system. However, campaigning lasted for only one month and there was no sense of dividing the electorate into constituencies. It meant that chances to see the potential leaders was minimal and the narrative was dictated by the media channels which covered it. Perhaps this is something that could change in the future.

What next?

If you’re an American Democrat residing in the UK, tomorrow (1st) is your chance to vote for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton in London, Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh. Polling stations will also be open on March 5th (this coming Saturday) in London and St Andrew’s. There is also a rally tomorrow evening in Parliament Square for Bernie Sanders supporters. Well worth checking out.

So what do you think. Should we start making our politicians more accountable and answerable to the public, especially during election campaigns? Do you think this kind of politics would increase voter participation in the UK?