'What is the future of men?'

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Men’s voices need to be heard.

The wheels of female empowerment have been rolling for a while now and rightly so, but men have never had the same opportunity to share the challenges and struggles of their experience of being a man. That’s hardly surprising given that one of the most toxic premises of a patriarchal society is that men should not be allowed full emotional expression and they definitely shouldn’t be vulnerable or weak. Provide, protect and procreate is the manly mantra.

And yet as 84 men die every week from suicide, those years of silence are clearly taking their toll. We’ve reached a point where the rational next step for thousands is to take their own life and that shouldn’t be rational at all.

That’s why the event I went to last night was so important. It was a panel discussion entitled The Future of Men, organised by The Book of Man as part of their Festival of New Masculinity.

On the panel hosted by journalist Poorna Bell, who lost her husband to suicide, were musician and presenter George Shelley, founder of the Anti Bullying Ambassadors Alex Holmes, The Vamps’ James McVey and James Scroggs from CALM . It brought together a range of ages and experiences, but each person there was committed to the support of men’s emotional and mental health.

And it was utterly inspiring, specifically for me because of what I saw in the twenty-something young men on the panel and those in the audience I spoke to afterwards. They are offering something different from the polarised debates that are so depressingly common on social media, something more hopeful than the vitriol that so often enters the arena of gender politics and equality.

These men, speaking so eloquently, are literally redefining manhood as they grow into it, broadening out the potential of who they can be and making masculinity more inclusive, less limiting. They’re finding the freedom in it, the passion, the friendships and support networks – or they’re creating those networks themselves and blogging or speaking about their work. And it’s not that they’re immune to the residual notion that being a man requires following a particular code of conduct, they’re just consciously rejecting the idea and are inspired by others doing the same.

To quote James Scroggs of CALM in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post some years back*:

“…it is commonly alleged that, unlike women, men simply cannot articulate what is going on beneath that robust exterior. Maybe worse they feel very little; and they certainly will not seek help when the darkness falls. So perhaps the driving forces of the statistics are genetic? … are men programmed to not speak up and share their innermost anxieties?

In receiving over 6,000 calls a month to our helpline, we would beg to differ. Men can find the words. They do want help and inspiration to find a way through. And yes, they are in touch with their emotions. Rather it's just the definition of their roles in the world that remain inflexible, whilst those of female counterparts continue to stretch. Men suffocate and cannot find the right space to say so.”

Even just a few years ago, an event like last night’s would not have happened. It’s wonderful that it did and that it’s now one of many discussions, debates, men’s groups, workshops, retreats and support networks that are giving men the voice they needed and have been denied for too long.

* You can read the full article here.