We love this book! Tell us a bit about what inspired the Being Mankind project.
It all started with a conversation about the concept of masculinity and what it means to be a man. From that one conversation, the whole project was born. At some point in their lives every man will question what it means to be a man in today’s world because society still defines people by their gender. We don’t want to focus on redefining masculinity, we want to explore what it means to be a good person. Looking at life purely through the lens of old-fashioned masculinity, it’s short-sighted. There’s such diversity in the range of stories in our first volume all with a golden thread – get past the gender expectations and we’ll find an unbreakable human code called kindness.
The book has a diverse range of commentators including stories from, heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua, to the powerful story of our very own handsome writer and volunteer Matt Kynaston. How did you choose who to feature?
We began the project last September and spent a year meeting with incredible people and getting to know their unique stories. We were blown away by the number of submissions we received and were able to include a wide range of topics covering the unspoken issues that men and boys face in day-to-day life such as mental health and identity. We also wanted to give our readers the opportunity to draw on the diversity of experiences and decide for themselves what it means to be a man in today’s society. In Anthony Joshua’s words, “We have the blueprints of those before us to build our own futures.”
What have you learnt from these stories? Were there any surprises?
With each story there’s always insight. What astonished us the most is that without exception, each man we approached felt that their story was not inspiring enough to share with others. It’s this quality and vulnerability that justifies their story being in this book.
Above all, these stories have shown us that the human body and mind can achieve incredible things. For example, we have an extraordinary story from a paratrooper who lost both his legs on the battlefield in Afghanistan and now rows for Great Britain. We have another from a comedian who uses laughter as a way of breaking the stigma around anorexia and dealing with his own illness. We never ceased to be in awe of these men.
What astonished us the most is that without exception, each man we approached felt that their story was not inspiring enough to share with others.
What do you hope the book achieves?
We want these stories to create conversations everywhere, but especially in schools and youth organisations. Our hope is to inspire young people to be confident in themselves, and support and be accepting of those around them. We know this cannot be achieved through this book alone, but this is the beginning of something bigger. Now that we have completed this first phase, our next step is digital, so that we can reach many more people with the stories.
We are about to launch a Kickstarter to raise funds to grow the project and keep raising awareness. We are also in the process of finalising educational lesson plans to accompany donated books to ensure that stories are being used in the most positive way. From there on, we’ll invest the money we raise to grow the team and embark on the next steps – to make videos and other online material to ensure the inspiring stories are more accessible and engaging for young people, to join our ideas into a documentary and to add to the Being Mankind book collection. We are already in the process of collecting more stories told by men and women of all ages.
For every sale of the book you’re donating one to schools and youth organisations. Why is it important that young people read it?
Our aim is for these stories to create conversations and to get young people talking about these issues,. Any educator working with young people will affirm that once an individual reaches a certain age, their way of thinking becomes less fluid and more difficult to change, so we’re distributing the books to primary schools upwards. We hope to show that there’s not one single definition of masculinity – everyone is an individual and masculinity can be anything you want it to be. After all, you can have power and be compassionate, feel competitive but giving, be courageous but vulnerable and be a provider while being provided for. We hope that teaching this to young people will allow the next generation to be more open and honest about their feelings.
What defines masculinity in the 21st century? Is this different to decades past? If so, what do you think has fuelled these changes?
At the present time, we believe that masculinity should be defined by the qualities that make you a good person, and as such, these same qualities can be used to describe a woman. This is no doubt different to decades past when men were considered the providers and protectors, and women the homemakers. Women now make up 47% of the UK workforce, with a marked shift in having children at a later age to focus more on their careers. The stereotypical roles of men and women are merging. Indeed, we feature a couple of stories in Being Mankind vol. 1 from men who have occupations that are traditionally associated with women. For example, we have a male midwife and a stay-at-home dad. Now, what ultimately matters is that we are all kind to ourselves and others.
We hope to show that there’s not one single definition of masculinity.
We lost some colourful and adventurous male idols in 2016, namely David Bowie and Prince – men who had a playful approach to gender. Which idols do we look to now for redefining what it means to be a man, and should we need them?
It’s human nature to look up to people, and this is especially the case for young people. For this reason we believe that it is essential for ‘good’ role models to call out on negative behaviours and help to shape the younger generation. Young people often look to famous faces for this inspiration, but role models are often closer to home in the form of family members, colleagues and friends. It has indeed been a sad year with the loss of a number of male idols, but we are also fortunate that strong personalities are still fighting the cause and helping to redefine what it means to be a man. Together, Barack and Michelle Obama are good role models for the fight for equality – Barack Obama once wrote ‘I realised that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.’. These role models don’t necessarily have to be male. Emma Watson is a stunning example of someone in a position of responsibility who is using her power and influence to support the ‘HeForShe’ campaign to elevate both genders.
You said ‘we want to show that once you get past the gender stereotypes, the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness’ - what makes you say that rather than say, selfishness?
One could argue that every act is ultimately ‘selfish’. Even good deeds make a person feel good about themselves. The word ‘selfish’ is sometimes taken out of context and associated with negative connotations such as a ‘lack of consideration for other people’ or someone who is ‘concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit and pleasure’. It is more about how we go about our daily acts with kindness. If in the process of doing something good for another person, both parties benefit. Doesn’t that make a better world?
In a speech last month, CALM’s Founder and CEO Jane Powell said, “Feminism has changed the world for women, it’s time now to see how the world can change for men.” Do men have, or need, their own version of feminism?
Men don’t need their own version of feminism. At the heart of feminism lies a motivation for equality. What men need is a space where they can break free from damaging stereotypes, and therefore understand themselves as individuals. Once that happens, it’s much easier for everyone to strive for equality. While Being Mankind vol. 1 focuses on men, we want the book to be read and discussed by young males and females alike as change can only happen with all parties involved.
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