men in 2015 should remember that it’s good to talk
Finance, relationships, identity and expectations - what can be done to help men open up on important issues.
Last weekend, The Southbank Centre explored the issues, debates and feelings of the male gender in Being A Man Festival, challenging, questioning and shaking off the preconceptions that surround the role of the modern man. Hot topics of debate were up for grabs - image management and the aspirations, depression and substance abuse, stereotypes, football culture, young minorities and workshops on emotions and feelings. Whilst Being A Man championed and celebrated the differing ideals of modern manhood and individuality, at the same time it also raised a further question - where can men get the support needed to face the challenges of modern life?
A large presence of charity workers and support groups, such as The Men's Health Forum, were also present, helping to speak to men of all ages about their anxieties, stresses and problems. Because let's not forget - some of us men are only now coming to terms with the fact that we're allowed to talk about our feelings without fear of reproach - an important stigma that needs to be broken in order to enrich lives.
Bob Dylan may have noted that times were a' changing in the early 60s, but his mantra is as relevant to the changes of today as it was then. Everything is in a rapid state of flux and we are constantly trying to make sense of things as quickly as they happens; technology, business, the arts, the breaking down of boundaries of identity and communication and - specifically - the role of gender identity and what our roles in society should be are constantly changing. Personally, I face a daily battle against increasing pressures in my life - an ever increasing tidal wave of debt, relationship issues and fears over my inadequacy to be what society expects me to be - all contributing to a confusing minefield that I'm expected to navigate. Guardian culture writer Max Olesker commented recently that "as the traditional ideals of the 20th-century man - strong, stoic, repressed - begin to fade away, in today's pop-culture landscape there's no single archetypal ideal that we're supposed to emulate".
In a world where gender identity has remained largely unchanged for men for the last 50 years, providing a structural set of principles that compartmentalise the world around us, it's no wonder that some of us are now battling inner-conflicts as to 'correct' traits and 'what's expected' of the modern male. Surprisingly, Yes Man author and general lad-joker Danny Wallace light-heartedly hinted at the issues of 'men learning life's biggest lessons' for years in his long-running column for Shortlist.
The strains of modern living mean the biggest challenge for men these days is to find the courage to talk openly. From lack of role models to suffering domestic abuse or simply feeling inadequate in a consumer led world that's fuelled by pressure, 1 in 5 of us are feeling the weight and burden of these societal subtexts. The view that real men don't talk about their problems is criminally outdated and, frankly, needs stamping out.
Being A Man and the points raised (as usually assumed with discussions on male identity) weren't about inequality between men and women and notions of shifting power balances. It was more about how our media and advertising led society dictates what we should do, what we should aspire to and how we should go about identifying ourselves as 'modern men' -- there's no easy, linear and simplistic way of doing this anymore.
Expectations of the modern man are high, and the stress levels caused by those expectations are reaching boiling point. Over the last few months, you may have seen a campaign poster at your local bus stop for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), that's promoting an online 'mandictionary'. It may seem a little funny on a surface level, but CALM are actively giving men a voice in order to speak out about their stresses and mental health troubles, something that's desperately needed as statistics show the number of suicides among men is at its highest since 2001.
As campaigns like CALM are attempting to show, it really goes beyond picking up the phone and making noise. Being A Man was a reminder of the importance for us 'lads' to talk, that we need to rally together to ask what the capitalist society is telling vulnerable young men; through its unachievable magazine covers; through its age old stereotypes of men being unemotional and cold; through the archaic notion that men should burden things and not talk of depression - and how to make sense of an ever-changing world.
Text Joe Gamp