In a three-part documentary series starting tonight (Thursday 5th May, 10pm, C4), our much-loved Turner Prize winning artist and astute cultural critic, Grayson Perry, explores ‘contemporary masculinity’. By immersing himself in three ‘ultra male’ worlds: cage fighting, youth gangs, and the higher echelons of the business world, ‘Grayson Perry: All Man’ delves into the ever-shifting parameters that define masculinity and what it means to be a man in Britain today. Watch it!
Perry is an out and proud “Essex transvestite potter” who describes himself as both a “lifelong sissy” and an “alpha male” – that’s testament to the dramatic shifts in our understanding of gender in recent years. YES you can love motorbikes, YES – be confidently ambitious, super competitive and successful, and YES, you can simultaneously enjoy the thrill of pink Bo-Peep dresses, emotional expressivity, and an overwhelming love of teddy bears. Why shouldn’t you?
“Masculine is not the same as male just as feminine is not the same as female”
Ideas about gender as a social construct and a learnt behaviour aren’t new. It is increasingly difficult these days to make sweeping generalisations when there are such diversities within men and masculinity -just as there are within women and femininity. After all, masculine is not the same as male just as feminine is not the same as female, given that men and women exhibit both characteristics. And those people who are able to use both sets of skills – well, they benefit from a much bigger toolbox, so to speak. They take the upper hand when it comes to possessing ‘across the board’ skills such as effective communication, leadership and emotional intelligence. That’s right, being in touch with your male and female sides makes you a superhero in the workplace. Fact.
It may seem an obvious point to make that outdated ideas of masculinity aren’t working in women’s favour, particularly at work. However, women who display traditionally masculine workplace values can find themselves stuck atop the merry-go-round of “damned if I do and damned if I don’t”. The double irony here is that these stereotypes aren’t working in the modern man’s favour either. So why do we continue to not only accept, but favour and reward masculine leadership stereotypes? In doing so, like crushing butterflies, we repress the many splendoured alternative expressions of masculinity.
It should come as no surprise, then, that many men aren’t on board with a highly gendered workplace culture. Evidenced by initiatives like our very own The Experience®, which recognises the importance of meeting employees’ emotional needs as well as nurturing a sense of connection. But there is an ongoing fight on all our hands to break down the often unconscious biases that have created this cultural preference for hyper-masculine over feminine ways of doing and being.
“What men need to realise is that half the victims of masculinity are, in fact, male”
The majority of latter-day large businesses have been built upon traditional masculine values – think individualism, self-promotion, and individual heroics at the expense of collaboration, teamwork, training and empathy. In the workplace too, there is a demand on employees to focus heavily on rational engagement, stay on task, employ logic. Leaving your personal self at the door is still largely favoured above and beyond emotional engagement, building relationships, and sharing feelings, vulnerabilities and fears. And leadership too, a commanding approach and emotional detachment has historically been deemed generally more effective than a collective, supportive style.
Evidence suggests that this very way of working is the perpetrator of negativity; that the more ‘heroic’ and competitive you are encouraged to be, the more isolated you are likely to feel. Gender stereotypes hurt everybody. And in the words of Grayson Perry, “what men need to realise is that half the victims of masculinity are, in fact, male.” This certainly correlates with the current crisis in modern masculinity, with startling statistics revealing that 78 per cent of all suicide victims are men, with young men being three times more likely to take their own lives as young women. It is clear, then, that dismantling the ‘rules’ of traditional masculinity services everybody, irrespective of gender or age.
“Despite this very real crisis in masculinity, men still have more access to, and desire for, power”
Let’s not forget the fact that 93 per cent of executive directors in the UK are white men, and that men are two and a half times more likely to be entrepreneurs than women. So despite this very real crisis in masculinity, it is evident that men continue to have greater access to, and desire for, power, privilege and advantage. So whilst we can celebrate the progress that continues to be made in equality for women in the workplace, there is still some way to go.
Let’s make it clear that dismantling masculine leadership stereotypes is not the same as calling for the other extreme; a woman-focussed and dominated workplace. Rather, it is an argument for gender diversity and equality – moving away from defininitions such as masculine or feminine. Let’s not ostracise those who display both, and instead celebrate them for their enviable skills. Let’s create workplaces that value and leverage the strengths of diversity, because being truly powerful “lies not in the exercise of power, but in the equal sharing of it”.
Want to give your support to the Women’s Equality Party? Check out Sandi Toksvig onYouTube and “give half your vote to the WEP ” #VoteWE