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.

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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.

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.

Why I went “mental” at Oliver Letwin, MP

“Anger is a fuel. Anger is meant to be listened to, Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because Anger is a map. Anger shows us where our boundaries are. It lets us see where we have been and let’s us know where we want to go. Anger points the way, not the finger. Anger is meant to be acted upon, not acted out.” Julia Cameron, 1993.

On Wednesday 20th January 2016, I attended an evening featuring a keynote speech by Mr Oliver Letwin, MP for Dorset West, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and responsible for the oversight of the Cabinet Office. I decided to use the opportunity to once again raise the call for mental health.

Oliver-Letwin

The event, hosted by Tory-funded ‘liberal conservative pressure group’ Bright Blue, was billed as a discussion focussing on “Opportunity For All”. When booking my tickets, I assumed (correctly) that the event was likely to involve examples of how the government was working to ensure equal opportunities for all people regardless of background. This was undoubtedly organised as a way of winning over middle ground voters, and maybe even as part of an effort to clean up Mr Letwin’s recently marred public image.

Ideology first

The 45 minute speech on conservative ideals was an eye opener to me, as I had never heard it straight from the source. If you aren’t aware, the concept is that we should all be striving to write the “story of our own lives” and that no-one should be held back from achieving their dreams and thus we “liberate the human spirit”. I agree, working hard and being ambitious is awesome, however, I find it even more liberating when I am also conscious to the many incredible “stories” being written around me, and indeed the greater story that we play a small part of. Conservatism, I discovered, is a little too ego-centric for my liking. I guess that makes me “left-leaning”?

Oliver Letwin speech

Takin’ it to the man

After this speech, I was the first of the audience to raise my hand to ask a question. I put it to Mr Letwin that the government was failing to deal with our rising mental health issues. Despite the government’s numerous promises for increased investment, all the evidence (below) is showing us that vital funding and support is not being made available to mental health services on the NHS, and that these issues are being largely neglected. That combined with the fact that the government has now stopped publishing how much it spends and where this spend is allocated (information only accessible via Freedom of Information requests), means it is now even harder to hold the government to account, when it shouldn’t be.

Mr Letwin replied typically (and disappointingly) by heralding all the great achievements done in the past for addressing mental health, and that there was still a lot more to do. You can listen to the full exchange here.

What is actually happening…

The ideas of “big society” and “opportunity for all” are noble, however they can only work in practice when we all have the same access to basic and necessary healthcare. After 6 years of Conservative led government, the signs are bleak where our NHS is concerned. Indeed, when telling us to focus on our individualistic aspirations, one has to ask where a collectivist institution like the NHS fits? Is that why we are seeing increasingly more of it sold off and privatised?

Just some of the depressing facts about our collective state of mental health:

  • The number of people becoming so ill they had to be detained under the Mental Health Act leapt by 10% in the past year.
  • The number of children being treated on adult mental health wards – something that the Mental Health Act rightly says should not happen at all – rose again in 2015.
  • Suicide is the highest it has been since 2001.
  • We are in the midst of a psychiatry recruitment crisis: there has been a 94% increase in vacant and unfilled consultant posts.

What the government is (or not) doing:

  • Government has pledged to spend £600million in mental health services. However, that is only a returning on spending levels we had in 2010.
  • NHS trusts’ income for mental health services has actually dropped by 8.25% in real terms over past five years.

  • The Government committed to £250m on child and adolescent mental health services or CAMHS for 2015/16, but the Government has admitted there will be a £77m shortfall on what they have pledged.

  • In 2014/15 funding for mental health trusts was cut by 20% more than that for other hospitals.
  • A King’s Fund report published in November 2015 found that just 14% of people felt that they received appropriate care in a crisis.

There is even mounting evidence that government policy is harming our collective mental health:

  • The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health recently concluded that the programme of reassessing people on disability benefits using the Work Capability Assessment was independently associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.
  • 83% of people surveyed by the charity, Mind, reported that the Work Programme made their mental health condition worse.
  • The latest statistics reveal that less than 9% of people with mental health problems receiving Employment and Support Allowance have been helped into a job by the Work Programme.

I was also very saddened to read just yesterday the miserable story about Frances McCormack, the latest to take her own life after the added pressures brought about by the government’s controversial “bedroom tax”.

The I Newspaper

Accountability (lack of)

Lack of accountability is also a big problem: we still have no clarity on the promised government spending. In fact you have to use a Freedom of Information request to find out how much Clinical Commissioning Groups were allocating to mental health. The findings are alarming: 67% of CCGs spent less than 10% of their budget on mental health. This is despite mental health accounting for 23% of the total burden of disease.

In 2011/12 total investment in mental health dropped for the first time in a decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that same year the Government stopped publishing how much it invests in mental health.

It simply is not good enough. One has to wonder at what point will this government start taking our health seriously.

So…

My question to you: Can individualistic/ capitalistic ideologies work when managing the public sector industries, like our National Health Service, where our quality of healthcare, safety and well-being (not profit) is the “bottom line”?

The latest results of a poll I started on YouGov:

NHS

I look forward to reading your comments below.