Liberation: a response to #InternationalMensDay

International Men’s Day is coming up on the 19th of November. I have some sympathy with the idea of talking about men’s issues, but I also have a lot of sympathy with the idea that every day is International Men’s Day. When people say that, they’re getting at the fact that every day we exist in a patriarchal system; every day is a day when men are privileged; every day is a day when men are positioned differently to other genders within the system that surrounds us all.

It is very rare that we talk about how patriarchy (and other intersecting power structures) harms men or about how men (and all people) are conditioned to sustain and reproduce patriarchy. I wish every day was focused around trying to push back against this system, and as a tactic, I can see how International Men’s Day, like International Women’s Day and other days that highlight untalked-about histories and issues, could be a useful thing.

The problem is that most of the men I see advocating for IMD are not advocating for causes or behaviour that I think actually help combat men’s issues which include our high suicide rate, being conditioned not to express emotions, the lack of awareness of the sexual assault, rape and domestic violence that men experience. Some people and organisations are doing that, and those actions should be championed and applauded. But generally they aren’t the loudest voices, partly because they aren’t amplified in the media, and partly because there are a lot of other people talking loudly.

Sadly, those loud voices are built into International Men’s Day, at least in the UK where we see Glen Poole, who is its UK coordinator, write this awful article in the telegraph, clearly positioning himself in a way that doesn’t help men at all and insisting on reinforcing narratives around “being a man” and around gender being both a binary and a competition. This quote provides a flavour of how confused the article is:

But it’s not a “macho culture” that prevents men from “speaking out”; it’s a culture that isn’t yet “man enough” to listen and respond to men’s needs.

On the other side of this, people who question the need for the day or who wish to critique the power structures that we live in are bombarded and abused online. The people doing this are mostly men, and they could turn their energies to deconstructing the world and actually making things better for men (and for everyone).

Let’s look at another IMD advocate, Tory MP Philip Davies, who called for Parliament to debate men’s issues on IMD, a call which has now been scheduled to take place. Davies is against equal marriage, which means he is actively contributing to the oppression of gay, bisexual and trans men. His party is implementing policies that actively harm poor men, disabled men, current and ex servicemen, migrant men, refugee men, men of colour, young men… the list goes on. It’s not just men; his party harms boys too, arguably much more so, as children have much less power than men.

At the same time as he is advocating talking about the issues experienced by some men, he plays down or ignores issues that affect the other genders. His government generally hurts people who aren’t men much more than it hurts men. Just as women and feminists need to be wary of who is fighting and how to fight for women’s rights and liberation, men need to ask ourselves if the people representing our issues are actually on our side. Just as women can make policies that hurt women, I would argue that many policies made by men hurt men.

Davies is a man intimately entwined in the patriarchal system and in the kyriarchy that surrounds it. He is a man who used his power to actively attack carers (who are mostly women and are mostly badly paid). His party directly contributes to the pressures that cause men’s suicides. He is not the man men need representing them. He’s asking to talk about men’s issues in order to push for a return to a more straightforward time when men ignored patriarchy. However, men who don’t fit with prescribed models of masculinity and gender have never been able to ignore the effects of patriarchy. The men who can do that are the wealthy white ones who have massive structural privilege over pretty much everyone. No wonder they want to return to simpler times.

I think it’s impossible to combat the issues that hurt men without combating patriarchy.

Over the last year, I have been making a show about being a man. The show uses the lens of my childhood and adolescence to look at how patriarchy hurts men and how men hurt people as a result of patriarchy. It is a mix of true storytelling and TED Talk. This is a guest post I wrote for Girl on the Net about the survey that I set up as research for the show. I performed this show 23 times at the Edinburgh Festival this year, and it produced some amazing responses from people of all genders, including these ones.

One of the conclusions that I come to in my show is that we need a Men’s Wrongs and Men’s Rights movement: a movement looking to rid ourselves of the unfair advantages and powers we have, even as we fight for rights in areas where we are denied them. It would be a movement that doesn’t see things as a competition: there’s no need to dismiss the reality of violence against women in order to talk about violence against men.

Men are often not given equal rights to their children, but many men also abandon their children or provide them little emotional or material support. UK law doesn’t acknowledge that people with vaginas can rape people; that needs to be changed but it doesn’t invalidate the fact that we have a rape culture that encourages people with penises to rape.  We need to look at the totality of these issues.

The Men’s Rights Movement as it is doesn’t look at these issues fully and doesn’t work to improve the lives of men, although it does tend to contribute to making women’s lives worse. In most cases it isn’t rights men need, as men as a group have many rights others still lack. What men need is liberation.

Patriarchy makes men into its weapons. We are pushed into the army. We fill its prisons. We are used as tools of industry, and we are discarded when industries move on. Patriarchy doesn’t just treat women like objects. Patriarchy treats all people like objects except for those at the top. It hates us so much it says we shouldn’t cry. It poisons our ability to interact with fellow humans by forcing us into hierarchies of power and status. It doesn’t want us to see our children.

We need to attack our own power/privilege as well as fighting against how patriarchy hurts us. It is not a competition. That’s the emphasis I wish we saw on IMD. Instead, it tends to be  a day when the men who benefit the most from patriarchy, and who are uninterested in challenging it, make so much noise that the issues that really hurt men are drowned out in the bluster.

In the spirit of this, I’ll be performing my solo show What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity on Thursday as part of a double bill of patriarchy-challenging performances. Doors open at 7:30pm at the Dogstar in Brixton. Entrance is free, but if you can afford to support the shows, we would really value voluntary donations as you leave.

 

Reviews and responses to the #ManSurvey show:

Pickering PosterThe run I did of the #ManSurvey show at the Edinburgh Fringe 2015 was a powerful experience. I wrote a show report every day on facebook and if you want to read that and the posts other people made about the show look under the #ManSurvey hasthtag on facebook.

I have collected the responses and endorsements of the show that came out on twitter and some other audience feedback in this storify.

You can hear the start of the show recorded at the London preview on this podcast and you can hear an early work-in-progress section on this podcast. I’ll be announcing a London performance of the show very soon and I’m also arranging to do it in other parts of the UK. If you are interested in putting it on please don’t hesitate to contact me.

The show received a 5 Star review and two 4 Star reviews:

SG2015 Review: What About The Men? Mansplaining Masculinity by Zander Bruce in Scots Gay Magazine

Every now and then a show comes along that just punches you right in the emotional gut.

Dave Pickering take a deeply honest and vulnerable look at male gender politics. This is not for the faint-hearted. It covers patriarchy, bullying, sexual abuse, rape, misogyny, misandry and is transparent in its dealing of these subjects.

Throughout everything Dave weaves his own tale of surviving patriarchy and the cost to himself and others hes known. At times funny and endearing, this was part-lecture part-therapy and I cant imagine anyone walking out of it and not being changed a little.

This isn’t just a cobbled-together vaguely-themed gimmick of a show, regardless of the flip chart. This is an educational, thought-provoking wake-up call not just to men but to everyone.

Mansplaining Masculinity (Cabaret Voltaire, 8 – 30 Aug : 12.05pm : 1hr) by Steve Griffin on Edinburgh 49 

Although researched to an almost painstaking degree, and written and structured with a lot of love, Pickering doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, or that his show will somehow cure the world of its ills. Instead it’s an exploration of an idea, and insight into a side of the human state that receives little attention. It was passionately and engagingly delivered, and he even gives references for further reading on the topic – a first for me at a Fringe show.

During the performance Pickering certainly doesn’t shy away from the big issues – there’s talk of rape, emotional abuse, bullying and more. But it’s not spouted in a preachy or melodramatic way – it’s a simple recount of some very personal experiences from his own life, mixed with responses from the survey, and weaved together with some very intelligent discussion and line of questioning.”

I feel the content of carries great social importance for people of all sexes and ages, and this is a very entertaining and enlightening way to spend an hour. I urge you to see this show.

Edinburgh Fringe: This year’s genre busters. by Sarah Thomasin on Opus Independents

Pickering, in the spoken word corner, takes on the task of “mansplaining masculinity” to his audiences. His material is both ridiculous and dark, always informative and often heartrending. The show is both autobiographical and the product of an anonymous survey in which Pickering asked men about their thoughts on masculinity and the patriarchy. As such, it sometimes has the feel of a PHD viva. In the best possible way.

 

What About These Shows?

I am taking What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity up to the Edinburgh Fringe. I did a preview of it the other night and the audience reacted well to it.

I thought I’d recommend some other shows happening this year in Edinburgh that contain similar flavours; shows about gender and or identity that are being put together by amazing performers. There loads of shows that I’d recommend but that  I’m not listing here. I’m limiting it to ones that share things about their style, tone and content with my show.

If you know of shows going to the Edinburgh Fringe 2015 that are in a similar wheel house to my show please suggest them in the comments section.


First of all these are some shows I have seen and so know are really good:

 0Mathilda GregoryHow To Be Fat

How to be Fat is an hour long solo comedy theatre show about having a fat body.

I saw this show because I previewed with it last week. It is a funny, moving, personal and thought provoking exploration of how it feels to be fat and how society frames fatness. It has stayed in my mind since I saw it.

When/where/how: 18.55 at Zoo Southside 7th-31st August Tickets here00

 

Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore (A One Act Play With Frequent Interruptions)

Truth and taboo collide in this intimate visit with a phone sex operator.

I saw this last year and it was one of the best things I saw. It’s a powerful and funny piece of drama exploring both the mundane reality of phone sex work and the complicated reality of sex and sexuality. I think it really speaks to many of the themes of my show and the responses that came out in the survey. It’s a really beautiful and human piece of work.

When/where/how: 19:05 at Sweet Grassmarket 6th-30th August Tickets here

000Jack Rooke: Good Grief

On the same day as his Dad’s funeral, the town Jack Rooke lived in was voted ‘The Happiest Place To Live In Britain’. He was 15, in the middle of his GCSE’s and after ruling out becoming an X-Factor sob story, Jack decided to use his grief to get whatever he wanted out of people and life. 

This is a wonderfully warm show about bereavement. I saw an early version of it and loved it.

When/where/how:  Delhi Belly @ Underbelly 16.00 at 6th – 30th August Tickets here

 

Hannah Chutzpah: Asking Nicely0000

One-woman poetry show about the power dynamics of permission and politeness – with rhymes and reasons. A lyrical feminist pep-talk with pop psychology and audience participation swearing.

I saw this last year and really liked it. It has similar things to say about power dynamics and bullying to my show.

When/where/how: 18.45 at the Pilgrim 8th-29th August PBH Free Fringe

 


These are shows which I haven’t seen but expect will be amazing knowing the caliber of the people making them and having seen elements of them before:

000000AJ McKenna: Howl of the Bantee

After a lifetime of being told to laugh off misogyny and rape jokes, AJ McKenna has had enough of ‘banter’. Now, in her PBH Free Fringe debut, she’s ready to howl back.

When/where/how:  18.15 at The Stafford Centre 16th-22nd August PBH Free Fringe

 

0000000

 

 

Paula Varjack: How I became my self (by becoming someone else)

A show about changing your name, finding freedom through reinvention, and gaining the power to tell your own story. Combining confessional monologue with video interview and archive footage, it explores identity through name change.

When/where/how: 12:30 at Cowgatehead UpTwo 8th – 30th August  PBH Free Fringe

00000Cameryn Moore: Slut (R)evolution

How did it feel? What the hell was she thinking? And how will it affect tonight’s hook-up? Memoir and manifesto come together in this incendiary exploration of sex, relationships, and salad crispers.

When/where/how: 21:35 at Sweet Grassmarket  6th-30th August Tickets here

 

 


 

And these are shows which have been recommended to me by people whose taste I trust who thought they chimed in some way with the show:

Desiree Burch: Tar Baby: 12.00 at Gilded Balloon 5th-31st August

Gabriel Ebulue: Armchair Anarchist: 15.45 at Cowgatehead 7th-31st August

Boxed In: 14.15 at Pleasance Courtyard 6th-31st August

Further Reading List for What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity

WATM_poster-2015I am previewing What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity tomorrow night at the Dogstar in Brixton, London. So instead of a round up of this weeks #ManSurvey related links I am sharing the further reading list that I’ll be giving out at the end of the show.

Books:

The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love by bell hooks

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Articles:

The patriarchy is dead … but the kyriarchy lives on, Nichi Hodgson, Guardian, 10th September 2010

On Nerd Entitlement,  Laurie Penny, New Statesman, 29th December, 2014

Why My Son Needs Feminism by Jendella Benson, Media Diversified, 24th June, 2015

The Meme-ification of Misandry, Charlotte Shane, Medium, August 5th 2015

[EDIT: The above is not included in the version of the further reading list that I currently give out at performances of the show because it came out after they were printed.]

Seven Studies That Prove Mansplaining Exists, Lucy Vernasco, Bitch Magazine, July 14th 2014

Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument, Jess Zimmerman, Time Magazine, April 28th 2014

Prattle of the sexes: Do women talk more than men?, Claudia Hammond, BBC Future, 12th November 2013

When Men Experience Sexism, Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic, May 29th 2013

Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds, Arthur Chu, The Daily Beast, 27th May 2014

Breaking the wall of secrecy on the sexual abuse of men by women, Ally Fogg, Guardian, 9th June 2014

Depression and the fragility of the strong, silent male, Yvonne Roberts, Guardian, 8th February 2015

Women Speak Drastically Less When They’re Surrounded by Dudes. And That’s Bad, Lindy West,  Jezebel, 19th September 2012

How Men’s Rights Leader Paul Elam Turned Being A Deadbeat Dad Into A Moneymaking Movement, Adam Serwer, Katie J.M. Baker, BuzzFeed, February 6th 2015

Justice Rising: moving intersectionally in the age of post-everything, Kimberlé Crenshaw, LSE Lecture, 26th March 2014

Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: “I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use”Kimberlé Crenshaw interviewed by Bim Adewunmi, New Statesman, 2nd April 2014

Sex redefinedClaire Ainsworth, Nature, 18 February 2015

Sex isn’t chromosomes: the story of a century of misconceptions about X & Y, Ian Steadman, New Statesman,  23rd February 2015

No, The Existence of Trans People Doesn’t Validate Gender EssentialismKaylee Jakubowski, Everyday Feminism March, 9th 2015

The History And Abuse of The Fedora, Robert Rath, Escapist Magazine, 6th March 2014

The Fedora Isn’t the Problem – The Men Wearing Them Are, Noor Al-Sibsai, Feminspire, May 31st 2013

 

Show Update #2 (and background reading)

The show is finally running at 55 minutes! Now my main job is to learn the words before preview on the 23rd July at the Dogstar in Brixton.

The main starting point when I was writing the show was The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love by bell hooks but I thought I’d also give some shout outs to some other things that pointed me the way.

This article by Laurie Penny really resonated with me. And this nature article by Claire Ainsworth and this development of it by Ian Steadman in the New Statesman really clarified my understanding around sex.

In terms of men who write about gender Noah Berlatsky, Ally Fogg and Arthur Chu have been really important.

At some point in the future I will write a longer post talking about the women whose writing and work has transformed my vocabulary and understanding of the world over the last 5 years and the feminisms that have formed the bedrock for this show.

 

Show Update

Pickering PosterI’ve been working on the show and it’s close to being ready. I have 4 minutes more to cut out although I’m aiming for 10 as it’s nice to have wiggle room.

I’ve found the right dress and the right hat. Took me a long time to track a dress down as it turns out t purple dresses really aren’t in fashion this year.

I previewed a bit of it (which has changed since then) at Stand Up Tragedy: Tragic Spring. The night was recorded as a podcast which you can play below. It’s the third story in the episode and starts around 23.30.

 

 

 

 

As that extract might suggest it’s been really hard to decide what to cut, deciding which childhood trauma is surplus to requirements, which responses to the survey to refer to and tricky stuff like that. Hard choices but necessary if the show is to fit into the slot it has in Edinburgh.

I’ll be previewing it in London on the 23rd of July so I really need to get it cut down so I can learn it!

The show was recommended as one of Exeunt Magazine’s picks of the fringe by Duncan Gates. and I did an interview with John Fleming where I talked about it (and lot’s of other things).

Expanding the Men:

This is where I’ll be writing posts about the #ManSurvey and about the What About the Men? live show. I also welcome guest blogs from other people. The Survey is an open source resource and I encourage other people to use it to write their own blogposts and do data analysis and other developments. If you do write anything, and/or if you’d like to write something for this blog, drop me a line on goosefat101 @gmail.com.

If you have suggestions for how I could improve this site or ways you think I should develop this work in general please put them in the comments below.

Thanks :-)

Dave