Why is the man in my office who wears shorts mocked for it?

11653362_978250142193349_1852221431_nI’d noticed the shorts. Of course I’d noticed the shorts. We were all in a big meeting, and there they were, failing to cover my colleague’s pale white legs, making his sandals even more obvious. Every other man around him wore trousers. They kept their legs to themselves. Even though it was one of the hottest days of the year, and we were all sweltering. I was doubly surprised: firstly, a colleague was wearing seconds, and secondly, it was Ted, who had always seemed to me to be quite traditional.

“Did you see Ted’s summer attire?” our colleague David scoffed, when he and I were alone in the lift. I knew that he wasn’t really gunning for Ted; it was just light mockery. It’s a form of friendly fire that people dismiss as “banter”.

“Oh, erm…? Oh, the shorts and sandals,” I said, playing dumb initially, to indicate that I hadn’t really thought about Ted’s clothing.

Then I paused. I thought for a split second, and then decided to plunge in and say something. “It’s so hot,” I said. “You’ve gotta do something.”

If I’d had more time to think about my reply, or to write it and redraft it, I’d have said something better. Something like: “On a day like today, Ted’s the smartest man in the room.” Or: “He’s an example to us all: sensible, practical, and unconcerned about gossip in the lift.” Or even: “Yeah, what’s your problem, David?”

In any case, David seemed to be quieted by my response. He must have detected that I didn’t want to engage in the banter. You might say that I won, but I don’t feel like I did. I was still wearing trousers, and I knew then that I would still wear them the next day too.

When I started working with the colleagues I have now, I noticed that the men were fairly uniform in what they wear. They were not as uniform as everyone wearing a grey or navy suit—effectively an actual uniform. But most of them wear a casual shirt and comfortable trousers, such as jeans or chinos. The colours and patterns are subtle. There are no Hawaiian carnivals or African prints.

I was very conscious of this when I started, and although I hate the idea of having to fit in, I made decisions that I wouldn’t have made in my old job. I decided against wearing certain T-shirts or, if I did wear them, I’d made sure it was on a day when I’d keep my plain jumper on over the top. More recently, nearly a year into my job I’m feeling more comfortable at work, and I believe people are aware of what I’m able to do—so I’ve been relaxing my own dress code. What does that mean? It means I’ll now wear a T-shirt without a jumper or shirt over the top. It means I’ll leave my shoes under my desk and walk around in socks.

Of course, the kind of lift-located mockery Ted is enduring is nothing compared to the harassment that women have endured for centuries. And the annoyance I feel when I scan my wardrobe and decide what to wear, and what it means, is tiny compared to what women have to go through. But still, it’s real.

I’m still not as brave as Ted. I wear shorts all the time in the summer outside of work. But the combination of shorts and the trainers or sandals I’d wear them with might be all too much for people like David. I can’t be arsed with that kind of crap.

Ted’s my hero. Maybe one day I’ll be like him.

A letter to Kevin because he’s worried about his body

This post was first published on May I Love My Body.

Dear little Kevin,

Take a breath. It’s OK. You’re OK. It’s just puppy fat.

I know you’re confused and disappointed. What you see when you look down isn’t what you’d choose. You’d choose what the other boys have. Flat stomachs and torsos. You might not want pecs or a six pack, but you definitely don’t want flabby boy-breasts. You don’t want a round belly. You’d be happier if your stomach was smooth all the way down, like you’ve seen on the other boys when you all change for your swimming lesson. What James Halton from the other class has is perfect. You wonder why you can’t have the same.

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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

Men: how and where we can touch each other

men touching - Flyboys via Neil Crosby via FlickrI’m not talking about sex. No homo, as the cool lads say when they touch each other for any reason other than a punch. No homo, a guy says to assure his mate that even though he’s touched his mate’s face or arm or knee, it doesn’t mean he wants to touch his willy too. As ever there are ways that men are allowed to touch each other and ways that they definitely aren’t. If you want to keep your masculinity in tact, you’re allowed to touch another guy by punching him in the face—your knuckles pushing into his cheekbones—or by shaking his hand to say hello or to seal a deal.

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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

My post for The F Word: Real Men are dodging the reality of manhood

I published a guest post on The F Word! So thrilled!

Here’s an excerpt:

I didn’t feel comfortable at all, despite the organisers’ best efforts to make me comfortable with their soft voices, their candles and their Himalayan prayer bowls. I felt the love in the room, but it didn’t feel real. I’ve been desperately trying to understand why I can’t feel the kind of love that was warming the other men.

The full post is here.