In trying to be a man, I missed out on so many friendships

When kids are growing up, they see the difference between boys and girls, men and women. In films and video games, men do the most things—the fighting, the wise-cracking, the hunting, the problem solving. Women generally earn less money, don’t have as many important jobs, and do much of the housework and caring for the kids. So girls and boys pick up the fact that there’s a feeling, usually unspoken, that men have more power than women.

This means that being a girl is worse than being a boy—that’s how kids see it. For a boy, being seen to be a girl is really scary because it means he’d be giving up the chance to be on the more powerful side. I know that some boys support Grimsby Town, but generally why would any little boy want to be on the crap side in life?

Boys really want to have power, so until they can get some real power through having a job or having money, they court it in games. Boys play with guns and magic, worship superheroes, and pretend to do jobs that come with power, like builders or footballers. When I was a boy, I wasn’t too interested in these things. I don’t know why (please analyse me in the comments), but I wasn’t that keen on pretending. I preferred just to read. I just wanted ideas and the chance to peek into other people’s lives—so books were my closest friends. Continue reading

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.

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

Hi Stan Lee, Spider-Man doesn’t have to be white and straight because we don’t care

Spider-Man’s real-world dad Stan Lee (left, being kissed) says that Spidey can’t be anything other than white or straight because that’s the way he was born. I understand what he’s saying. The character was created as a straight, white lad from New York called Peter Parker. He’s fought off villains wielding explosive pumpkins and mechanic octo-legs.

He’s got the girl, then lost the girl, then got the girl again. There have even been different girls for him to get and lose and get again. He’s been in comics, films, cartoons and on the side of a million plastic lunchboxes. He’s even had dozens of costume changes over the decades. But there are some things that are fixed: his whiteness and his straightness.

Dear Stan, I say: poo! What are you on about? I thought you had imagination. Continue reading

Fulboy shows us the full man

I know more than a few men who perform for work. Tim plays a serious and together corporate manager. Rick jokes along with the tough banter of other men he doesn’t really like. And Luis crunches his numbers and makes line graphs and presents them with smooth confidence to colleagues. These are not actors: they are just men doing their jobs. But they are performing day in, day out, aren’t they? Isn’t that what we’re all doing at work?

Performance in the workplace. Rooney by Gordon Flood via Flickr
Performance in the workplace. Rooney by Gordon Flood via Flickr

Performance is perhaps more obvious in footballers. I am not talking about their athletic flamboyance. Or their artistry of punching the ball onward with their toes through moving obstacles. These things serve their aims of moving the ball to the back of the net. They perform in entirely different ways that are both unnecessary when you think about it and yet absolutely essential to their sport. Continue reading

Whiplash is an appallingly thrilling justification for male violence

Whiplash, drums and male violence
Whiplash, drums and male violence

Lee was a big guy who wore cargo pants to the office. He had a thick neck and the kind of freckly skin that looks like it has spent time fighting a war in the desert. On my first day he sat down opposite me, spread legs wide apart and said, “You don’t need me to tell you about me because you’ve already looked me up.”

That was true. (Thank god.) I was an unpaid intern writing for a relatively low-profile section of a popular news website. I was a sideshow. I watched him abuse his paid staff with shouting and swearing and mild emotional violence. They got far worse than I did. But still I hated him. He made me feel like crap. He scoffed at my ideas and he looked bemused when I handed in my work.

Continue reading

Why male space elves wear eyeliner and get away with it

Real man: Pointy ears, eyeliner and a ginger beard
Real man: Pointy ears, eyeliner and a ginger beard

Hiking boots make me feel ROAR. In their thick brown leather I am strong and competent and invulnerable. I feel this especially when I wear my boots out of context, like the other day when I stomped around town in them. The boots were too big to fit into my bag so I wore them instead, and it felt great. It’s not often I remember that I’m a man. That’s usually something that just hums along in the background like white noise. But as I stomped to the train station in my hiking boots last week I definitely felt like a man. The main guy in Jupiter Ascending has a pair of man-boots too.

Continue reading

Cruise control, or how to be a boring little man

Every so often Hollywood brings out a sci-fi film that looks like it’s sponsored by Apple Inc. The sets and costumes and spaceships and even the people look so smooth and perfect that we’re led to believe this is what the future will be like. Oblivion is one such film, although it turns the slickness on its head because the story takes up on Earth after humans have had to leave due to an alien invasion. We fought the aliens off and won but our home planet was left largely uninhabitable by the fallout of war. Tom Cruise’s character and his wife have valiantly stayed behind to take care of the planet and the robots that are trying to bring it back to life until the day comes when humanity can return. So the smooth slick white technology zips around a backdrop of destruction and decay.

Continue reading