Being A Man at the Southbank Centre—full programme now live

This year’s Being A Man festival is going ahead 27-29 November. And it looks like a stonker. I’m chairing a panel debate on male characters in film, TV and video games. It’s called Mad Men, X Men and Grand Theft Auto, and it’s on the Saturday at 1230.

I’ll blog about plans in more detail soon—and I have loads of other half-imagined blog posts to write too (sorry I’ve been absent)—but in the meantime here’s the full Being A Man programme 2015.

Here’s what I’ve said about the festival previously.

Dads can have it all, as long as they make a pile of cash to bequeath

The Swiss bank UBS has come up with a fascinating and anti-social method of attracting more clients. Targeted at busy dads, the UBS ‘good father’ ad campaign says that a successful career and fatherhood don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

USB ad: Cash in hand
USB ad: Cash in hand

The print ad features a photo of a smart, sexy bloke with a fancy watch and a look of oh-god-am-I-doing-the-right-thing? You might think his anguish is about the deal he’s about to sign, over that expensive office table in that expensive, 32nd-storey office with the wrap-round glass windows. But really, when you read the text, you realise NO! He’s worried that he’s not a GOOD FATHER!

Oh crap! The pain, the worry, the anguish, the horror. Seriously, it’s a perfectly good question. Do I spend too much time at work? he wonders. That’s what the ad text says. There’s no thought bubble, but you know it’s coming from his elite-university-educated mind. And you can’t help but feel sorry for him, can you? There he is thinking that all he needed was his spangly watch, those polished shoes and the paper work that can only enrich him further—and then that thought appears. Can I have it all? he asks.

Well, yes mate, you can. Like women years ago, you can have it all. You can have the kids and the busy job. But you can’t have all of the all. You can’t have a fulfilled home life with the kids if you work until 9 every night. You can’t be at work for every breakfast meeting if you’ve got to do the school run.

But this is an ad, right? It has to offer a solution. Here’s what the bank proposes:

UBS ad: how to be a good dad
UBS ad: how to be a good dad

Yes, you read that right. Dads, you can have it all. You can work the busy job and have the successful career and even be a good dad. But the way you get to be a good dad is by, err, just making loads of money to hand down to your poor little love-deprived munchkins. They might grow up searching for guidance they were denied BUT—phewthankgod—they’ll have some cash instead. And cash can buy decent guidance, of course: drugs, therapy, spiritual crap, a gap yarrr in Injaa, maybe even an elite education.

Just as dads are increasingly waking up to the fact that their jobs bring them material wealth but keep them away from their kids, the bank is saying, Don’t panic! You can have it all!

This is a charming benevolent faction of capitalism that is the direct descendent of that which years ago told women that they could still enjoy motherhood while having successful careers. That sentiment was originally hailed by many feminists as a symbol of women’s liberation. (For many women it no doubt was.)

Women should of course be free to have careers and children—with the necessary requirements in law that employers must keep women’s jobs open for them when they take a break to have a baby. But gradually most people have come to realise that although it is increasingly possible—as it should be—to have it all, in fact having it all can lead to a rather crappy existence. The demands of a busy job can drag women away from their kids, or the demands of busy kids can drag mums away from the work they love. With everyone demanding something of a woman, I don’t know how she copes.

Now, as UBS knows, men are feeling the drag of competing demands. And the bank has come up with a solution that makes use of the services it provides. In order to squeeze this solution into some kind of logical sense, with regards to the financial services the bank offers, UBS has to say: you can be a good father if you maximise your wealth so that you have some money to give your kids.

I take this as an implicit assumption that No, you can’t have it all. If ‘all’ means having a loving family life and a successful job, then no you can’t have it. But if you think you can get a loving family life through material means, then yes, you can convince yourself that you’re having it all.

When your son turns up in a few years’ time when you’re retired and the two of you get drunk together and there are awkward silences like always and then he finally comes out and says he never connected with you because you weren’t there, won’t all those numbers on the bank balance look like zeros?

Being A Man pitch: thinking about the men in the media

Have I missed something or is the Southbank Centre being quiet on planning November’s Being a Man festival? They had a think-in in January to collect some ideas from the people who could make it to London. There’s another today and tomorrow. They’ve mentioned the think-ins on Twitter and Facebook but I haven’t seen them blog about it. There’s been no open call for ideas.

This festival was so great last time, but with room for improvement, so I’ve been blogging my ideas anyway. I wrote some thoughts about it after the Women of the World festival and have blogged a few things I’ve learnt since the last BAM. I’m lucky enough to live close to the Southbank Centre and not work Saturdays, so I’m going along to the think-in tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s an idea for a session we could do. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Real Man is a myth, but a funny one at least

Real men conference image, from http://www.nick-clements.com/
Real men conference image, from http://www.nick-clements.com/

A growing band of people wants to talk about masculinity. Brilliant. It’s still a small group but it seems to be getting bigger, with young campaigns like Great Men all getting involved. Later this month there’s a conference in London organised by Nick Clements and titled Real Men. It’s really gratifying to see more and more people recognising that masculinity is an exhausting and sometimes destructive performance. Clements promises a series of such conferences this year. To top it off, we’ll have the Being a Man Festival at the Southbank Centre in November (I’ve written about plans for this here).

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Being a man is tough but planning a festival on it is even tougher

WOW festivalGuys, we let the side down on Sunday. I’ve been thinking about the session at the excellent Women of the World festival that was about men, and I can’t help but feel disappointed. I have nothing against the people on the panel. They were all articulate and thoughtful. But there was a complacency to the panel and the session as a whole that I think came through in how the chair, Helena Kennedy, kept making succinct political statements. It was because she wasn’t getting clear answers from her panellists—and that’s not so much to do with them as the format of the session.

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