Sam Ruddock, Director of Story Machine Productions and producer of the MANTOR podcast discusses the origins and aims of the new podcast.

Back in April, when the early sheen of lockdown was giving way to an itchy desire to create something new, I read Evie Wyld’s excellent new novel The Bass Rock and found a familiar weight in my stomach. That weight was linked to a feeling I often experience, and it wouldn’t shift, It is a sense that to be a man is to carry the weight of all the harm men cause in the world, to ourselves and others.

In The Bass Rock, the lives of three women are linked across the centuries. Each of them has their choices circumscribed and shaped by the men in their lives. We see how sexual violence, entitlement, and power inequality plays out negatively for each of them. Wyld presents the men in the book as blithely, unconsciously, arrogantly dehumanising the women in their lives, so privileged that they don’t even realise or care about the damage they are causing. As a portrait of gender, it makes uncomfortable reading for a man.

Everywhere you look these days, there are angry men complaining about the world they live in.

But stories like this are not outliers. The statistics make even worse reading: 95% of prisoners in the UK are male; 74% of all violent crime is perpetrated by males; 86% of rough sleepers and 84% of the hidden homeless are male; 75% of people who commit suicide are male, and at every age boys under-perform in education. In different ways, each of Evie Wyld’s books captures this. In spite of the privilege, power, and opportunity that patriarchy affords men, it is hard to conclude that we are doing well. Everywhere you look these days, there are angry men complaining about the world they live in.

How do so many boys grow up to live and die so negatively? How can we expect to see any sort of change if conversations around masculinity and being a man are filled with sticks of fury and/or guilt? How might genuine gender equality arise if we don’t seek to understand what it is about masculinity, gender, and society that leads so many men to get it so wrong?

Surely there must be a healthier carrot that might be offered into the conversation?

As usual, I took to Google to see whether I could find people leading conversations about what a man might be, or who were creating programmes to support boys and men to avoid these pitfalls and be happy, healthy, and positive members of society. I was sad to find very little that first search, so I posted on Facebook. The replies came in from all sorts of people who were thinking the same thing and wanting to do something about it. We found loads of brilliant organisations doing inspiring work to help men. We started to get involved with some of them.

But most of all we talked. And it was this act of talking that felt most radical and important to us. We started to find links between our experiences of masculinity, and to uncover assumptions we’d never challenged. We found new language with which to talk about masculinity, and to learn and unlearn ways of being. The conversations felt fresh and vibrant and vital.

Before long, the poet and playwright James McDermott and I were discussing how we might open those conversations to others. He was just about to release his debut poetry collection, MANATOMY, which explores the frictions between masculinity and authenticity in growing up a camp gay man. As a study of turning away from unhelpful male expectations it is immediate and personal.

And so, MANTOR: The Masculinity Conversations podcast was born. Hosted by James, it takes an in-depth look at the experience of masculinity and gender at different points in people’s lives.

We’ve now released 13 conversations with men, women, and people who reject binary notions of gender. Each podcast offers an intimate, honest, vulnerable look at gendered experiences that contains nuggets of absolute gold. I’ve learn from each and every one of them.

But for me, it is the act of talking about this subject that I find most powerful.

There isn’t one form of masculinity or being a man. There cannot be one mask that we put on. Instead we have to embrace the notion that masculinity can be many different things expressed by many different people.

In his 2016 book, The Descent of Man, Grayson Perry concludes that ‘how we talk about masculinity might be just as important, if not more so, than what we say.’ I believe he is right. There isn’t one form of masculinity or being a man. There cannot be one mask that we put on. Instead we have to embrace the notion that masculinity can be many different things expressed by many different people.

That is what our podcast seeks to do, to create a space that is inquisitive, plauralistic, relaxed, and person-centred, to have honest conversations about experiences of masculinity and learn from each other about how we might use it in our lives.

We’d love you to listen, to get involved, and to share your experiences. This conversation is only just starting and your voice is very much wanted.

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