There’s a reason why I try my hardest in life to not have a routine or schedule – taking a break. God damn it’s hard to get back into the swing of things you want to do after a few weeks of not really doing much (apart from turning a year older, a holibob and a music festival. Not much tho).
Anywho. Time to dust off the cobwebs and possibly actually clean my keyboard for once, there’s some suspicious looking crust on these keys. Lessgo.
Positive masculinity. Toxic masculinity.
One is often seen as not existing and the other is a pretty popular word right now – not that I’m complaining, I love talking about toxic masculinity and everything it encompasses – but I think it’s a poor perspective and approach to not also look at the change you want to see, or envisage as possible, when critiquing something.
What got me really thinking about this was an idea for a project, initially, and then a rather random day at work.
As almost anyone who has frequented a gym knows, even if only around dry January, is that it is a predominantly cismale dominated bubble. Gym rats and the like, lifting up their shirts and asking their pals to check out their biceps (#nohomo) whilst simultaneously creeping out all womxn in their path. It can be a pretty suffocating place with the ego and body odour.
However, I was sent to cater an event at work which teased my curiosity and made my Spidey-sense tingle – a novice strong man competition. I was going in on day two, the first being the strong woman event, and I had no idea what to expect.
The gym wasn’t like any other place I had entered before, it’s an independent, set up by ex-commandoes and focuses on strength and health rather than the aesthetic Olympics you get in your pay as you go gyms. For anyone who follows the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on social media, it was like any room you’d expect to find him in – pictures and murals of the Hulk or He-man on the walls, and an ethos along the lines of this:
I partially know the owner and his partner, who is also an enthusiastic member of the team and met a half dozen of the people that frequent this nook of heavy, weirdly shaped objects. I was baffled, but for the most part I knew that everyone was polite, courteous and not overtly macho-arsehole-broskies.
Often finding myself longing for positive spaces filled with those that either look, present or feel masculine, I was genuinely taken a back by the atmosphere. Firstly, the idea of what was masculine in the cismale form was broken down. There were lean guys, thicc guys, round guys, tanks, tall, short – you name it, I saw it – regardless of how they looked, they were just there to lift heavy stuff and push themselves.
Secondly, the level of positive affirmations and support was unreal. I’ve not really heard men talk to each other in such a way. Don’t get me wrong, it was still filled with some misguided and problematic stuff, what isn’t? But they had held a hard line making sure that everyone was lifted up in the group and community.
Lastly, I saw no anger or ego. I saw men who were focused, passionate, having fun and obviously putting in the work on themselves, for themselves. They leant on each other, hugged and high fived after they broke a personal record and generally added to the day’s festivities in a beautiful way. Sure, frustration and upset propped up when there was a mishap or records remained unbroken. Yet, it never soured the atmosphere. It was still massively positive.
And it’s made me think harder, wider and on a deeper level – what is positive masculinity? What does it take and mean to be positively masculine? How can we dismantle what we know and teach ourselves and the younger generation what this new identity could be to them and their already perceived ideas of gender and masculinity.
Because masculinity isn’t just one side of a vinyl record, it isn’t binary, its existence isn’t defined by its comparison to femininity. Like anything, it’s a spectrum. It is separate to sex, gender and sexuality. Anyone can be or exhibit masculine (or feminine) traits. It also doesn’t just live in the heteronormative sense of what it is to be either of them. The queer community has a host of different masculinities which cross gender and sexuality, fluidly, in complete defiance of hetero ideas of gender and gendered traits.
So, that’s what I’m brooding on right now, sitting on an egg and incubating an idea. How can we birth the acceptance and knowledge of what it means to not be toxic?
How can we be positively masculine?