We went for Friday night drinks on one of the sunny evenings last month. It was my friend’s round and when she asked what I’d have, I went for an Aperol Spritz. She laughed and said, “and you’re sure you’re not a girl?”
It stuck with me because it’s an experience I haven’t had for a while. The feeling of having your masculinity policed, or as Grayson Perry brilliantly puts it being reported to “The Department of Masculinity”. Ten years ago, it was an almost daily occurrence. You would be called out to the Department for noticing your own reflection, not liking football, crying, being vegetarian, caring, expressing love for your family and much more besides.
Is it just me or have things changed quite quickly? Now a hug seems as common as a handshake. Dads cry on TV and Ed Miliband is what a feminist looks like. The Department of Masculinity is revaluating its policies.
It certainly makes a difference that I work in the creative industry (and for charity clients no less!) where traditionally feminine qualities of empathy, listening and collaboration help you get ahead. I also realise that my experiences as a white, straight, middle class, Londoner do not apply to everyone — but nevertheless, change is afoot.
A shift from heavy manufacturing to the service industries has changed the culture of British public life. We’ve encouraged men to base their identities on being “providers” and “protectors” but have also discouraged them from all the soft skills that will help them succeed in the 21st century. Additionally, as women increasingly have access to their fair share of social, commercial and political leadership positions, the culture of public life will change even further.
Some men feel uneasy and left behind. At the extreme end, some will react by choosing to opt out of mainstream culture entirely. In Charlottesville, we saw pale, stale males marching with Nazi flags chanting “you will not replace us”. However, for other men it’s hugely liberating to imagine a future where we can pursue non-traditional hobbies and jobs, express emotion and be tender with our families without a sense of shame.
So, my question is — have charities taken full advantage of this cultural shift?
There’s an assumption in charity marketing that we’re almost always speaking to women. This makes complete sense as currently, women are significantly more likely to give. Women are +14% more likely to say they give to charity. They are more likely to sponsor someone, give a regular gift and buy from charity shops. Supporting charity has been something that could get you reported to the Department of Masculinity, especially to children’s and women’s causes.
As men revaluate their place in the world, this will surely change. As fathers have a more tender relationship with their children, why wouldn’t they support charities like the NSPCC as much as mothers? As men open up about the anxiety and stress they face, why wouldn’t they become more vocal supporters of mental health charities? Incidentally, in my peer group at university, we lost two brilliant and talented young men to suicide and both times it came as a complete surprise because they hadn’t let on that they were struggling.
I particularly enjoy working with our client Plan International UK, an international development charity with a focus on empowering young women. As they address issues such as FGM and reproductive rights, I wrongly assumed we would be targeting women. I’m so glad they challenged me and insist they are creating a movement based on people who share a set of values, not a gender.
Charities are continually looking for new audiences. Let’s not exclude half the population based on broad assumptions about their values and interests, which varied and changing fast.
I look forward to a future where charities benefit from a new sense of masculine generosity, compassion and empathy. Also, one where pub, poker, darts and executive board rooms are open to everyone, and not the only place for community fundraising that reaches men.
The times are changing. Gender identities are evolving. The conversation is ongoing. There are just my thoughts — I’d love to go for a drink and hear what you think. Mine’s an Aperol Spritz.