This is the question that media and news outlets are asking worldwide this week, as we try to defend masculinity in a post-masculine world through this week, which happens to be Men’s Health week.
Here’s what I think:
I think that what it means to be a man is an incredibly complex thing to answer, as the definition changes between every bloke alive, both cis and trans-gendered, but ultimately, it depends on the male role models in your life.
I have a couple, whom are both now sadly deceased, who both defined masculinity. Firstly, my adoptive grandfather. He was my absolute idol, as I grew up. He provided a version of masculinity not often seen anymore: Similar to Danny’s father in Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion Of The World. He was kind, albeit flawed. He never, ever rose his voice (with one exception) at anyone. Be that parking wardens, racists, the squirrels who kept stealing his peanuts on sunny afternoons in his back garden, his perennially broken car or the restaurant that could never cook vegetables that he could eat with his dentures on. To my grandfather, to swear, raise your voice, shout or resort to name-calling meant you lost the argument. In my opinion, some politicians could learn that lesson. He lived a ripe old age, and every day in his life, he’d play his wife a song he wrote in the 1960’s, before telling her that she was his stars and sky.
He matched a fair few stereotypes about men: He liked his beer (only South African Bobote or real ale from Yorkshire would do), loved driving when his car would work and watched as much cricket as I think anyone could watch in their lifetime. He started my love affair with Formula 1, and to me, he was one of the pinnacles of masculinity.
The other was my other grandfather’s brother, my great-uncle Booth. Booth was a little more rough-cut, but then, my adoptive mother’s whole family are. I love most of them to pieces, but Booth showed me that whilst being somewhat pacifistic and passive was one way of showing masculinity, being actively masculine was nothing to be ashamed of. He lived his last few years a mere stone’s throw away from his sister in law, and frequently took on the mantle of being like a grandfather to me and my siblings (Joe, my grandfather died at a relatively young age). He had lots of grandchildren himself, but saw no problem with adding a few after Joe died. His masculinity burned a little hotter than my adoptive grandfather (Geoffrey)’s did, but it didn’t demean him. He loved his football, a good beer, cups of tea and a smoke, but he allowed himself to be both loving and firm. This was a man who had a temper, but it seldom showed. I can only recall this stoic man showing how hurt he was on three separate occasions in my life, but this was a man who was unafraid to tell you how he felt when he needed to. Booth sadly died in September 2011, and he will be missed by all of us.
Both men did something very masculine. Both men went to work for most of their lives (one went to war), not to gain money, but to take care of the people they held dearest. I have not a lot of idea as to what Booth did most of his life, but in the time I remember him working, he worked with his brother, my granddad, in a mill in a small town in West Yorkshire. They both did whatever they could to look after their own, and whilst one man in this list wasn’t born in Yorkshire, both men were not just men but Yorkshire-men. Both men fought very difficult circumstances to keep their families together, too. One fought the Nazis and a family schism in the early 1990s, whilst the other had to deal with the fact that his niece married someone completely unsuitable for her, and then they moved to the other side of Yorkshire. Both showed complete nerves of steel, albeit through using approaches that were completely opposite to each other, and neither man cracked at any point. One kept his nerve to the end and fell asleep, surrounded by both sons and his wife, as well as his eldest grandson. The other kept his nerve and in the end, showed complete dignity and refused to stop doing what he enjoyed, even though it killed him.
So what does masculinity mean to me? A mixture of Geoffrey and Booth’s respective approaches. It’s very rare to hear me raise my voice, but I’m unafraid to show how I feel. I am musical and arty, and unashamedly so, but I can also like racing, sports and food without needing to validate it by acting over-the-top or excessively butch about it. For me, it’s not walking the line between having perceived masculine and feminine interests, being a man is about actively and unashamedly enjoying things passionately, whilst never being violent with words or actions and keeping a control on my behaviour and impulses.
So that’s what being a man means to me,