Breadloser

Money and status in modern relationships

I should have read more mystery stories...

I should have read more mystery stories…

Man.  Breadwinner (bringing home the bacon for his bored / Stepford housewife to stuff into a delicious sandwich, for him to enjoy). That is the traditional image that lodged itself into the archetype for my gender. I’m not really living it though. I think that’s the case for lots of men today.

You could make the case that Western society is progressing towards gender equality; but British society’s expectations of gender roles are not. What does that experience feel like for a man?

Whilst acknowledging that we are still a long way off from parity in pay across the board, the gender gap has narrowed in many professions. I am in a relationship with a successful careerwoman who has been earning a great deal more than me all the time we have been together. Many of my friends are in the same boat. Good! I don’t begrudge my partner her earnings – she works exceptionally hard and is brilliant at her job. But what are the implications for both of us?

  • Women are under pressure to look nice, bear and raise kids and do the housework in order to free the breadwinner up to work as many hours as required to be ‘successful’.
  •  Men are under pressure to provide shelter, warmth, food and, let’s face it, money for the family to enjoy. They’re expected to spend less time with their children and to be the disciplinarian.

These expectations take a psychological toll on both groups. It’s not my place to comment on women’s experience, but both my partner and I feel bad, at times, about our inability to continually meet these outdated ideals.

I feel sad that I have to budget carefully and can’t afford to be as spontaneous as I’d like. I want to be able to whisk her away for romantic breaks on a moment’s notice, to buy flowers for no other reason that I know it would make her happy and to get her the things that she needs. My inability to do so makes me feel a failure.

Did you know that there are now more stock photographs of successful white men than there are successful white men?

Did you know that there are now more stock photographs of successful white men than there are successful white men?

I can reason these feelings away: I started my career with a series of badly-paid (emotionally rewarding) jobs, made bad financial decisions and allowed myself to get into problematic debts. Part of this psychological pain is payback for the bad decisions that I made earlier. But knowing all that doesn’t stop me from feeling bad.  I can’t help but compare myself to male friends who earn more and do a better job of conforming to the ideal male stereotype who exists in our collective head.

If we are to progress as a society, then men need to endure a certain amount of discomfort as we let go of some of the privilege that we have enjoyed for centuries. I don’t expect anyone to pity us – but I hope it’s ok to admit that it is hard to experience it.

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Southbank

Southbank Centre - Being a Man Festival

Southbank Centre – Being a Man Festival

The Southbank Centre held their inaugural Being a Man Festival over the last weekend of January. I went to a couple of things; less than I would have liked but enough to feel like I’m allowed a comment. I know that it was fairly controversial to have one in the first place, but a lot of the stuff I read on Twitter bore little or no relation to any of the stuff I was at. If you’re talking about an arts festival, your opinion is basically invalid if you weren’t there. The experiences tend to be so subjective that it’s rarely valid if you are there, but here’s mine nonetheless.

It was good. It made me feel encouraged to see that there were other men (and lots of women) who felt that it is important to have a discussion about what’s going on with men, some of the changes that we’re experiencing and some things that might make it better for everyone.

Grayson Perry is an astounding communicator, thinker and role model. The main thing (of many) I took from his talk on the Friday night was about how masculinity (an abstract concept) becomes reduced very quickly to symbols – beards, tribal tattoos, fancy cars. It’s in this reductive approach that we lose a lot of the nuance that makes men and women individuals, thus interesting. He closed by offering men a bill of rights for us to sit down to – including the right to be vulnerable and the right to be wrong. Both laudable things to relax towards.

I didn’t get to anything on the Saturday and day tickets were sold out on Sunday. I got a ticket for the evening event, a panel discussion / singing thing between Billy Bragg, Phill Jupitus, Tom Robinson and Akala. Before this was a performance from the Chaps Choir who appeared on my radar a week or so before. I was surprised by how stirring it was. They sang together, proud and strong and it was edifying to hear a cover of Book of Love by Magnetic Fields alongside more muscular songs.

The panel discussion itself was a bit hit and miss. It was heartfelt in places, never sinking into melancholy, funny without being hilarious. The discussion had to cover such a wide variety of experience from the panel members that it felt a bit incoherent at times. The music was fine but not really my scene. All in all, it was a great festival event. I think that festivals are meant to be hit and miss and you mainly get the benefit from being there.

The main thing I missed out on were the discussions with fellow blokes – they tend to be the most interesting bits. I’ll definitely be getting a full weekend ticket for next year. Jude Kelly is to be congratulated on her idea and execution, in the face of much criticism. 

#noreally

#noreally

Tough

I completed the Yorkshire Tough Mudder 2013 on Saturday with my girlfriend and a friend I’ve known since school. We have spent months in training, trying to build our cardio and strength up to the point that we could complete the challenge, giving up alcohol and eating pizza in the process.

Tough Mudder is marketed in an embarrassing, macho way. There’s plenty of reasons why I could have quite easily not taken part but I’m really glad I did.

I spend a great deal of time in my life seeking comfort, avoiding unnecessary suffering and pain. But, there’s something gloriously primitive about running through fields and forest and mud, jumping and crawling, leaping into freezing cold water and progressing towards a goal. It’s so rare to have to face our elemental fears – injury or death through falling, being in confined space, freezing,  drowning, electric shocks – that when you spend an afternoon having no choice but to face them (or feel ashamed), it’s liberating and life-affirming.

The biggest challenge in the afternoon for me was ‘Arctic Enema’ – jumping into a skip filled with muddy water and ice cubes, and having to go underneath a board in the middle. As soon as I landed in the water, the shock of the temperature made me gasp and I ended up swallowing some horrible water and fighting for breath. But we made it out the other side, alive and relatively fine once we started running again. For my friend, the biggest fear was ‘Walk the Plank’ for my girlfriend it was the ‘Berlin Walls’.

The discipline of regular training is something quite new to me as well and I think that it’s really important. Last year, I had knee surgery on a torn meniscus and it was the limitations this created for me last year which convinced me I should do Tough Mudder. If I hadn’t had that injury I would never have gotten this fit and I wouldn’t have experienced Tough Mudder this weekend. I lost just over a stone through eating the right things and working hard and I also started to really enjoy using my body to get stronger and more fit. I wish I had considered getting fitter sooner.

The main thing that I got out of Tough Mudder was the feeling of camaraderie – we all shared a goal, each of us faced a fear that we might not have managed alone and together we helped each other through. It was a genuinely joyous moment as we crossed the finish line together, but throughout the race we had big grins on our faces. I think it was the joy of knowing we’re alive.

Toughness is seen as a positive male characteristic. As a not-Alpha male, it’s easy to feel intimidated by all the massive people around you and the marketing and all the extra stuff. It’s not really about being tough, or getting muddy or drinking Strongbow.

Do Tough Mudder, or a similar event, but do it for the shared experience, to feel alive and to face your fears.

First

Having struggled for some time with feelings of inadequacy around my ability to be a man, I find myself strangely heartened to repeatedly hear that masculinity is in crisis. It’s an idea that the British press has grabbed hold of and continues to run with. Unfortunately, the consequences of this crisis are pretty terrible for men and the people who know men.
In typical fashion, we don’t tend to talk about our experience of being men and so I have started this blog in order to try to articulate some of my experiences. I have lots of opinions and I’d like to hear from other men so that we can understand each other, understand how to explain ourselves to others and ultimately attempt to find some sort of way out of aforementioned crisis.
Struggles I have faced:

  • Anger – anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be harnessed to positive effect but it can also be extremely devastating. These feelings can lead to domestic violence, family annihilation and suicide. Not all men will go to those extremes but my sudden losses of temper frighten me.
  • Money – the old model of masculinity has men as breadwinners, providing for their families. This is an ancient idea, harking back to the image of man as strong ‘hunter-gatherer’. My generation has struggled with student and consumer debt for some time and in certain fields, thanks to positive changes in the workplace, we can no longer expect to have as great a slice of the collective wealth, power and status. I find it hard being caught in-between the expectation to be a provider and the understanding that I should not expect to be one.
  • Love – sexual politics is complicated and we receive mixed messages. Men need to be romantic, but they also need to have a bastard element (if they want to be attractive). We need to be ourselves but we need to be better. We need to be amazing at DIY and incredible lovers. We need to be there for our kids and do more housework, but we also feel the urge to provide for them.
  • Communication – if there’s one thing that ties together all of these issues, for me it’s about communication. I frequently find it hard to tell people exactly what and how I feel, who I am and who I want to become. I think that an inability to communicate clearly leads to many of the struggles and issues that men face.
  • Appearance – men aren’t supposed to care about their appearance but they’re also supposed to look like Rambo / Arnie / Ryans Gosling and Reynolds. It’s confusing. I’ve found myself worrying about my appearance and odour from time to time. I’ve recently lost weight and found myself preparing for a mud race. More about this next week.
  • Faith – I grew up in the Church of England and have gone through Evangelical and Liberal phases, settling on an uncomfortable agnosticism that recognises many of the positive aspects of organised religion. I studied Religious and Theological studies at University, so it’s likely that some of these themes will come out in this blog.
  • Friendship – I have a good number of friendships with other guys, but few of them are deep and involved. This I’d attribute to difficulties around communication on the whole, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d like to explore the nature of male friendship.
  • Role Models – who are the people that we should look up to in these times? Let’s try and find some role models that aren’t Chuck Norris cartoon archetypes and celebrate men who are doing it right.

It suffices to say that being a man in the early 21st century is confusing. I’m going to do my best to share some of my experiences, I hope that you will join in too.