Beyond the male script

I have been on holiday, I took a break from work and this blog during which I heard a brief article on BBC Radio 4 one morning about men and mental health and that’s the issue that has been on my mind above all during this time.

The feature was about how the UK Department of Health is failing to recognise men as a category of people with special needs. Here’s a synopsis of the bit of the article that really stood out for me:.

The common rules of masculinity:
1. Men should be fighters and winners.
2. A man should provide and protect.
3. Men should retain mastery and control.

These are principles identified by Martin Seager (Consultant Clinical Psychologist at South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust) as part of ongoing research into the main strands of a “Male Script”, the elements that most cultures in the world use to ‘measure’ men.

The clarity of these usually unwritten rules really stayed with me. It is so striking to hear something which has been silently shaping your life your whole life long, like a set of tramlines that you keep getting stuck between but don’t know why or who put them there.

There must be an equivalent set of rules for women that are equally common, compelling, oppressive and universal and that women spend their lives trying to live up to, or trying to escape. I have yet to come across anything quite so succinct for men or women.

The struggle for change

When I was 16 I wrote a project about the Cuban revolution for my history ‘O’ level. Revolutions and liberation struggles have been the historical backdrop of my lifetime, from the Civil Rights movement in the US to the international Anti-Apartheid movement. A revolution that has taken place during my lifetime and that I have witnessed at closest proximity and is of most relevance to me is the development of feminism. The liberation of women has been hard fought and strongly resisted in workplaces, in government, in schools and on local councils and in every family and this has all happened during my lifetime.

I was there, if not exactly on the frontline, somewhere close by. This grass roots movement has caused such major changes in the society I live in that it’s been impossible to ignore. Like all revolutions at some point you have to state where you stand – are you with us or against us? Particularly in the context of family and relationships men have been called on to decide if they will support or oppose womens growth and liberation.

Gay liberation has followed a similar path in many ways, and a men’s (liberation) movement has been quietly evolving since the 1970’s.

Men do not generally figure as a subject that needs particular consideration. As a group we are seen broadly to be able to look after and represent ourselves and indeed as the historically dominant sex we can also be seen as part of an oppressive problem rather than a sector of society with particular needs that need special consideration. But the script I quote above shows how men are under pressure from their own and society’s expectations to perform and win under most circumstances and this puts enormous strain on people trying to live up to outdated or even impossible aspirations especially during times of economic difficulty.

Art reflects issues

I generally do not include my political/social ideas in my work in an explicit or didactic way. But these ideas do inform and underlie my work even though they are not often spelt out. I think that may be changing, as I become clearer about what I am trying to do as part of the learning process that this blog documents. I have managed to include reference to it in my latest Twitter profile and as I make it more explicit and clear in my thinking and writing I can see it becoming a clearer strand in my artworks.

Link to a comprehensive summary of why men should be studied in an article by Martin Seager:

3rd UK Conference for Men and Boys Thursday, 26 September 2013 – Sunday, 29 September 2013
Brighton, UK

International Men’s Day on Tuesday 19th November 2013 – a platform to help improve the lives of men and boys in the UK.