When Jude Kelly, the artistic director of Southbank Centre asked me to a round table discussion about her idea to add a “brother” festival, Being a Man to the highly successful Women of The World festival, I agreed to attend, but couldn’t for the life of me imagine attending such a festival.
The round table discussion still left me a tad nonplussed. As a heterosexual, happily married, white, content, now privileged father of four, it did seem that the issues being raised by some of the others around the table, those with different backgrounds and lifestyles to me did need raising and discussing, but maybe I wasn’t right to be involved in this festival.
Jude pushed on with instigating Being a Man and asked a few of us, who could be relied on to provide quotes that the press would use, to be the figureheads. I gave this quote:
“I have never really sat back and considered what it’s like to be a man; I have just got on and been one (I think!). Southbank Centre has a wonderful record of posing questions and starting a debate. I haven’t a clue where Being a Man might go, but I am looking forward to the ride.”
In the build up to the event I did a series of interviews including one on Radio 4’s Loose Ends. I highlighting some pretty worrying facts such as;
Young men account for 70% of Britain’s long-term youth unemployment; women are a third more likely to go to university than men; seven out of 10 murder victims are male; 90% of rough sleepers are men, as is 95% of the prison population. British men are around three times more likely to commit suicide than their female peers; many boys are outperformed by girls at school; and men are far more likely than women to neglect their physical and mental health.
I also developed my views on being a man in the 21st century and in my opinion, for men in my position and with my mentality, being a man has got a damn site easier. Here is a snapshot of my thoughts;
Being an involved Dad with your kids is easier than for previous generations. Its increasingly accepted in society that dads can spend time at home with their kids. Paternity leave et al is a relatively recent thing and continues to evolve.
Being a Dad no longer seems to mean being that scary disciplinarian who reads his paper in the parlor. This dad has been the soft touch whilst mum is the disciplinarian!
For a disco loving man, in my lifetime I have seen it become totally accepted for men to dance on their own and to disco music! (At school, I was considered strange to prefer Chic over Black Sabbath or bleedin’ Genesis).
For a fashion loving man, they now have a Men’s Fashion Week – The London Collections and a choice of clothes that goes way beyond what our fathers and grandfathers had.
Apart from the unwanted institutional sexism that still makes it difficult for women in some walks of life (and by nature gives unfair advantage to us men) to my mind, us men have it lucky.
We don’t have to go through the discomfort of pregnancy (and we get all the benefits of the end result).
We don’t have periods, that pleases me no end.
Physiologically, we have bigger lungs and that helps us to run faster, that matters if you like running like me!
We can have a wee behind a tree much easier and more discreetly than women and for that I am eternally grateful.