Masculinity: Service Users’​ Perspective – Young men and men at risk of not being in education, training or employment (4/4)

Masculinity: Service Users’​ Perspective – Young men and men at risk of not being in education, training or employment (4/4)

Introduction:

Welcome to the final post in this series on masculinity, just in time for International Men’s Day. So far we have been looking at the thoughts and attitudes of groups of boys, young men and men that work with Future Men. If you are new to this series and want to catch up, please see the end of this post for links to previous blog posts.

In this last section we will be reflecting on the views shared by a group of young men and men aged 16 to 22 who are at risk of not being in education, training or employment (NEET).

Time to read: 7 minutes

Key themes:

  • The impact of evidence
  • “…  for a man to be crying on the street you know something bad has happened!”
  • Respect in a relationship is more important than status

How was this group structured?

Four people from this group came together and repeated the task mentioned in previous posts; each person was given a collection of sentences broadly associated to masculinity, they had to consider each in turn and then place them under a heading from ‘Strongly Agree’ to ‘Strongly Disagree’. Each had to provide a rationale as to why they had chosen to put the sentence there and then others were invited to comment.

Before we started …

Three of the participants were slightly late giving me the opportunity to ask the one person their thoughts on masculinity. It was then clarified how he defined the term to which he replied it was the way a person thinks and behaves. The group was then asked which sex it represented. After clarifying that I meant male or female, he replied “could be either”. This was intriguing so the facilitator asked the person to clarify, to which he said “girls can be masculine too. It’s not just boys or men”. This was an interesting start!

The others joined and the session got underway. Following is a write up of the conversation and a picture of the group’s final structure. 

And then …

The conversation began on the topic of partnerships as the first card we discussed was ‘Men should do the same amount of housework as women’. This became a lesson in interpretation. As it had been put under ‘Strongly disagree’ which was taken to mean that women should do more housework, however the person who put it there corrected the facilitator saying “Whoever has more time should do the most housework. If that’s the same, then it’s the same. If it’s different, then it’s different”.

The group also agreed with the placement of ‘Men need to earn more than their partners’ saying that it would be ok if their partners earned more than them. One person said “it’s more about the respect in the relationship. If my girlfriend earned more than me, I would be ok with that unless she made me feel bad about it”. The facilitator wanted to clarify with them how their friends would treat them if their partners earned more than them, to which the same person said “I think some of them wouldn’t care at all, but some might make fun of me at times. Personally, I wouldn’t care unless I was made to feel bad by my girl”.

A further scenario was put to them, asking them to imagine themselves in their 50s having spent the majority of their time in the relationship as the person who earned less and did more of the housework “If I had been able to achieve my goals and we had goals together that we achieved, then it would all be ok. It would only be where the relationship wasn’t equal that I would feel bad in myself and might feel less of a man”.

The group was asked why the statement ‘Men need to provide for their family’ had been placed under ‘Strongly agree’ after so much agreement about equality of partnerships. The person who placed the card had done so to reflect that men need to provide for their family as do women. It wasn’t that one had to provide and the other didn’t. One person said “If the man did not provide, then it might deprive him of his masculinity but only because he wasn’t contributing, not because he has to provide more”. The group was proving to be highly nuanced, early on.

Feedback from the group

The focus then moved to matters of emotions and mental health. “If people don’t cry and show their emotion, it’ll come out later in another way” was the response to ‘It’s ok for men to cry’. The group was asked how they would feel emotionally if they saw a man or a woman in the late-20s early-30s crying on the street (a particular local street was given to add context). The group stayed silent for a moment so the question was furthered by asking who they would be more inclined to approach. One person said immediately “the man. If I saw a man crying, not that women cry for no reason, but for a man to be crying on the street you know something bad has happened”. He was asked what he would do, “Just go up and ask what had happened and if I could help. I think another man would like that because I would have a similar point of view”. Some statistics about outcomes for men were shared with the group stating that 87% of homeless people are men, 95% of the prison population is male, 75% of those who take their own lives are men and that men are twice as likely to be alcohol dependent as women. “See that’s what I mean. If you don’t express your emotions, these things happen”.

The facilitator sought to clarify why they had put ‘People would take advantage of me if they thought I was sensitive’ under ‘Agree’ after the previous part of the conversation. The response was they interpreted being sensitive as being different from showing emotions by saying that it was more general as opposed to emotions which, for them, are rooted in an event or series of events. Being sensitive, therefore, was something that others could pick up on and exploit.

The group had been so vocal and we were nearing the time allocated but there were two more things the facilitator wanted to put to them. The group was asked to imagine themselves as 60 year old (i.e. a person born in the 1950s), white men, from Liverpool and to rearrange the cards in that character. “Why Liverpool?” he asked and after gauging how much contact they had outside London and agreeing that London was not representative of the entire country, we got to a point of agreeing that not-London was the larger dynamic to consider. The group moved the cards to reflect how that scenario would change their view of the exercise. It was clarified that the facilitator didn’t really want them to refer to each statement but asked them to reflect on how that scenario would change their responses. The group collectively agreed that it was likely a lot had changed since the 1960s and they felt their answers may have been more stereotypical of how being a man is understood. The picture of the cards had changed such that showing emotions was generally seen to be weak, men and women were more divided in their roles in rearing families and men were physically tough.

Finally, the participants broadly defined themselves as Black-British with parental heritage in the West Indies and so the group was asked to restructure the cards to show how they would have answered had they been answering these questions in their home countries. Again, it was clarified not go into each statement as we did not have time, however certain themes were more consistent with their idea of how the person not-from-London in the 1960s may have answered the questions. Physical prowess was seen as holding more value for masculinity, as was reduced showing of emotions. There was variance, however in terms of household management. One person said “As a boy I would be expected to do a lot of chores and would have just continued doing that”.

Conclusion

What a great conversation! I thanked them for their time and restated the next steps – this blog post. The group was asked how they found the process and the discussion to which they said they had enjoyed it. “More things like this and Future Men need to be done. When you broke it down with the stats like that, I was shocked, well not shocked because when you think about it, it feels true but when you said it like that … powerful”.

The wrap up

And that’s it! Masculinity … it is a topic steeped in academic discourse bringing together many threads from society be they finance, employment, power, politics or division of labour. 

I really hope you’ve enjoyed these posts. Future Men would like to thank all the participants in the focus groups for sharing their time, thoughts and energy. 

What have you taken away from this series? What is something that you’ve learnt? What is something you’ve felt?

If you want to read the previous blog posts the links are below: