‘It’s A Man’s World’
This year, the focus of our symposium, ‘It’s A Man’s World’, was on masculinity and what it means to be a man. Traditional cross cultural ideals of men often portray desirable male characteristics as leadership material and or financial provider and ideal men as being ‘strong’, decisive and able to ‘cope’. We know from our work in prisons and in communities that this can lead to men feeling under a great deal of unrealistic pressure, with many becoming involved in violent, criminal and anti-social group behaviour as a result of wanting or needing to fulfil stereotypes and expectations that demand aggression, fearlessness and risk taking. Is this dynamic inevitable or part of a social construction? Is patriarchy inherently detrimental to the wellbeing of men and by extension families and society?
The short play ‘Outside In’ commissioned by Safe Ground, written and performed on the day by Playing On, spoke to the questions at the heart of ‘It’s A Man’s World’. The play has ex-offender Jamal reflecting on behaviours that led to his incarceration and his actions during his time inside, whilst on probation. We witness violence, reactionary attitudes, emotional underdevelopment, the impossibility of healthy relationships and incarceration as products of unsustainable expectations of what it is to be a man. This succession of ‘achievements’ in pursuit of manliness is actually a list of failures. As a man how does one fail at something that is supposed to intrinsic to masculinity?
The Throwdown in the Theatre
Our keynote speeches or rather our keynote debate delivered by Professor Brid Featherstone and Guardian journalist Ally Fogg*, in the style of a boxing match, further interrogated the questions raised by the play.
The bell sounded for each round a clarion call not to fight but to engage in a discussion about patriarchy and the role of men in our society; and how we consider perspectives of maleness, manhood and fatherhood across the spectrum of approaches we employ in the work we do within the criminal justice sector. The fourth and final round included inquisitional jabs from the audience, after which it was called upon to decide the winner.
Below are excerpts from the audio recording of the ‘boxing match’:
[Due to technical difficulties we were unable to capture broadcast quality recording of Professor Brid Featherstone’s contributions. We apologise for this error.]
“There is no crisis of masculinity. It’s a crisis of policy…” Ally Fogg
“Poverty, oppression and ill health are written all over their bodies…” Brid Featherstone
“Early years are no more important than adolescence. They’re not the only thing that is important. What of the young people written off because of this focus. We change all of our lives.” Brid Featherstone
“[We seem to have] moved from a society who tried to understand things to a culture which rejects complexity, saying that understanding is a sort of liberalism that allows the offender to evade responsibility…” Brid Featherstone
“Nobody’s quite sure why we have prisons…” Ally Fogg
The Great Debate
The final part of the day was the panel discussion featuring Gerard Lemos CMG, Dr. Andy Aresti, Michael Brown, Interventions 4 Life and Carlene Firmin MBE, broaching the question: ‘How does patriarchy hurt men?’ After a series of compelling responses, some of which you can hear in the audio clips below, the floor was opened up to the audience to question the panel.
“Patriarchy is not some person that comes along and does something to you, it’s a construct that we accept or challenge…” Carlene Firmin
[We apologise for the poor sound quality]
Safe Ground would like to thank all the participants and attendees for helping to make our symposium a real success. We appreciate the difficulty and the challenge it is to take on structural ideas such as patriarchy and to examine resultant institutionalised/ normalised behaviours and attitudes, as we are all constantly in the process of securing foundations for the work that we do already. It is gratifying to work in a sector in which colleagues a prepared to make the time to re-examine widely held orthodoxies because, to paraphrase the title of the book by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ‘Because we are involved’.
*For more content from Ally Fogg’s pugilistic presentation, check his blog here.