Two images…and a crisis of masculinity

Symbols: During last weekend’s riots, one man was a saviour; the other deeply offensive.

What does it mean to be masculine? Two moments frozen in time – one an epitome of humane kindness; the other an image of mindless crudity – sum up what many see as a societal catastrophe.

Two powerful images. Two vividly contrasting archetypes of masculinity. One selfless; the other utterly selfish.

Patrick Hutchinson’s use of his physical strength to protect someone in need epitomises traditional masculinity in its most positive form. By contrast, Andrew Banks’s lack of impulse control and drunken behaviour embodies toxic masculinity. His behaviour feels threatening and even potentially violent.

But what if there are more than two ways to be a man?

In recent years, many have pointed to a crisis of masculinity in modern society. They argue that it is precisely the pressure to conform to a particular type that is often fatal. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Experts say that it is vital to challenge fixed ideas of what a man “should” be. Hutchinson’s bravery is admirable, but not all men should have to mirror his actions in order to be respected.

In 2017, the comedian Robert Webb published his memoir How Not To Be A Boy, which explored how hiding his vulnerability damaged his mental health. That same year, Stormzy proved you can be a role model to young men and still speak candidly about your experience of dealing with depression.

So, what does it mean to be masculine?

Boys will be boys

On the one hand, being masculine has traditionally meant looking after and protecting your family. This has often been linked with the idea that men should appear strong. Whilst some may find this expectation stifling, others find it suits them.

On the other hand, many people feel that this definition of masculinity is too narrow. There is no right or wrong way to be a man. For instance, being a man is not just showing the courage that Patrick Hutchinson displayed, but also the empathy.

You Decide

  1. Are there any circumstances in which it is okay to use violence?

Activities

  1. Make a poster about a man you think is a good role model. What do you like about them? What have they taught you?

Some People Say...

“Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervour.”

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), UK prime minister

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that many key aspects of our identities are influenced by our environment. For example, in ancient Greek epics, the male heroes often cry when they are upset. Whereas, nowadays, there is more of a stigma around men crying. This is just one example of how behaviour can be shaped by the expectations of others – and if we can change expectations, maybe we can change what it means to be a man.
What do we not know?
The jury is still out on how much of our identity is down to nurture and how much is as a result of nature. Some people believe that there is very little about us that is totally fixed; others, however, feel that much of our identity is biologically determined – and that no amount of social conditioning can ever change that.

Word Watch

Archetypes
Very typical examples of a certain person or thing.
Epitomises
Perfect examples of.
Impulse control
Self control.
Embodies
Gives an expression of, or a visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).
Toxic masculinity
Traditional forms of masculinity that have negative consequences on men themselves and the people they are surrounded by. For example, peer pressure to behave worse than you otherwise would.
Conform
Behave according to socially acceptable rules or standards.
Fatal
Causing death.
Robert Webb
Comedian and actor, best known for starring in the sitcom Peep Show.
Stifling
Making one feel oppressed or suffocated.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.