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.


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


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.