What I’ve learnt since Being a Man at Southbank Centre

A lot has changed for me in the last eighteen months. I’ve had to take control of my nose hair and I’ve had way more sex than before. These things may or may not be connected to each other or to the Southbank Centre’s inaugural Being a Man festival, 31 January to 2 February 2014. On Saturday I’m going to a planning session at the Southbank for the next festival, due for November. I blogged about earlier ideas here. In the meantime I thought I’d recap a few things that are not to do with nose hair but ARE to do with blokes and have happened to me since the last Being a Man.

First, I helped to bring more men into feminism. When it was my turn to choose a book at the feminist book club I’ve been attending for years, I chose The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel. As the only male member, I asked other members if we could make an effort to bring along a few more men. I was tired of questions like, “Rape culture is crappy. Kevin, what do the men think?” We were a bit overwhelmed. Because it was my turn to host the group, I’d laid out a few extra chairs in my living room but we ended up getting swamped. It was like one of those Facebook parties left accidentally public by a thick American teenager whose parents’ house gets besieged by a keg party—except ours was about bringing down the patriarchy and how to chat up women without being a toenail.

We almost had an equal balance between men and women as we discussed the two Michael Ks’ book and the wider issues. Two of the men have stuck around as regular members. Result! When one of them was taking up too much space on the sofa at a recent meeting, I told him so and said it was a man thing. Obviously I made a joke out of it so he wasn’t too embarrassed.

Second, I’ve written and read loads more about gender. I’ve basically copied Doris Lessing’s Anna in The Golden Notebook (nutty but amazing novel) and have been writing several different things at once. At work, I wrote articles about gender and sexuality in universities and science (which is what I report on). In bed, I’ve been writing descriptions of my sexual experiences and the politics in them (yeah really), plus an unpublishable novel. On my sofa and sometimes on the train, I’ve been writing this blog about loads of things to do with being a man and being queer and watching scifi.

Third, I’ve challenged sexism and gender crap more. I’ve explained to work colleagues why wearing a suit and tie is just sooo boring and why it’s about rigid masculinity and conformity and that’s not the kind of world I want. I was also drafted in last minute to speak on a panel for work and I said yes, and then realised it was an all-male panel. Groan. There were plenty of women who could have been asked for any of the positions on the panel.

Anyway, I went ahead with it because I was helping someone out—but I got the organisers thinking about the fact that they’d inadvertently blocked women. I even made a joke-slash-serious-point about it to the audience at the event itself. Nobody called security.

Fourth, I attended a conference of Real Men and went through the hugging and the swaying to the prayer bowl chimes and thought it was a load of rubbish. (I’m sure it helps some people.)

Fifth, I’ve also seen more films and telly programmes. Some highlights:

  • Jupiter Ascending – wacky scifi epic with magic boots and eye liner.
  • Game of Thrones – blood and guts in a world where gender roles are enforced with an ax.
  • Cucumber – OMG so amazing.
  • Transparent – the best drama dealing with gender I’ve ever seen.
  • Looking – queers in San Francisco, angst, what more do you need to know?
  • Jurassic World – we’ve evolved new dinosaurs while we’ve devolved as men and women.

Sixth, I performed masculinity. I discovered just how naff it is that when I have a debate with somebody, I play to win. I’ve always been up for a debate, but the look of confusion on my friend’s face when we did it recently and he realised that I needed to win has really stuck with me. There’s something about being a man that means we need to win and, for me, this means winning an argument. My friend was like, It’s just weird that you want to win; why do you care; we’re still friends…

Another way I performed some masculinity is that I tried to stay single and promiscuous. My not wanting a relationship is about more than being a bachelor (one version of masculinity) or a jack-the-lad (another). It’s a bit more political and hopefully I’ll blog about it at some point. Nevertheless it’s easier to be single and promiscuous as a man (especially a gay one?). And there’s something manly about it—my behaviour suggests that I could jump on my horse and ride off outta town with nary a bottle of sparking water on me.

I’m hoping to blog again tomorrow before the Being a Man think-in with more ideas on what the Southbank could do next time. I’m trying to weasel my way not just into Being a Man but into Being Involved, so let’s see what happens.

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