You know him as the editor of the Book of Man, but as well as being editor of the UK’s first publication focussed on modern masculinity, Martin Robinson is the author of You Are Not The Man You Are Supposed To Be. We caught up with Martin ahead of the launch of his new book to discuss masculinity, mental health and becoming a drag queen.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Martin Robinson’s book tackles modern masculinity - after all, he’s made a career out of writing compelling stories for and about men. After a successful career at titles including Shortlist, Maxim and NME, Martin recognised there was a real gap for meaningful content written for and about men. Sure, you could head to Men’s Health to find out the best way to squat at the gym, or Esquire for the latest smartwatch you definitely can’t afford, but Martin realised there was no one talking about the stuff that really matters — like work, relationships, parenthood and friendship.
“All that stuff, it never had a place in men's magazines. I wanted to do something that felt totally new in terms of the way that we approach men or the way we do stories around them. I knew it needed to talk about all the things that I never used to be able to talk about in magazines, all the anxieties, depression, worries, health issues, all the hidden things that men have to put to one side and carry on. I knew I needed to bring it all out into the open”
And for Martin, writing a book was the next logical step. His day-to-day job as editor of online publication Book Of Man means facing, embracing and exploring all of the different ways masculinity rears its head in everyday life - from talking about sexuality in Anouszka Tate’s regular column, to supporting veterans’ mental health.
“I don't have all the solutions to men's problems. I didn’t want to suggest that. I meet all kinds of people through the Book Of Man, like Professor Green and Jason Fox, and also academics and people who work in recovery centres and things like that. So I kind of drew on all those people that I've met and brought that into the book.
“The book came about from me exploring feelings I have around not being the man I feel like I should be, but also looking much wider at society and seeing the kind of problems that men are having right now. I wanted to try to unpick masculinity and sort of see where these expectations and some of those stereotypes come from.”
While writing the book, Martin travelled across the country to chat to figures from across industries and society. While he started out with an aim to unpick masculinity, he was surprised at how much masculinity was tied to so many other things in our society.
“I went into a prison and found out more about some of their stories, heard how they ended up inside and how masculinity affected them. I spoke to one guy who grew up in quite a tough area. He felt he wasn't the ‘hard man’ he should be, which led him into seeking out the biggest hardest men in his area, and eventually led him to start carrying a knife - as a way that he could prove himself and live up to those guys around him. Once you start digging deeper into any of these things, you find that actually, we might be living in an entire system that is quite unfair on a lot of people.
“If you have a society that is quite harsh on people at the bottom, and isn't particularly fair, and there's a lot of poverty, then you're going to get kind of disagreeable dysfunctional behaviour. And in terms of men, that might turn out to be drugs or violence, or whatever. And I think that a lot of issues that men face are a direct result of that. I ended up having conversations about mental health, fatherhood, the #MeToo Movement and lots of different topics. I was trying to look at male behaviour, but you can’t isolate it. It’s all connected. Once you start digging into it, it goes really quite deep into society. “
And Martin did go deep discovering what it meant to be masculine, and, in fact, feminine, taking the chance to don drag to explore gender and his own deep-seated feelings around ‘being a man’.
“I got a drag makeover. I became a drag queen for a couple of hours and I found it really difficult, actually. I went into the process thinking that I would be transformed. Like, I was really up for it. After all, I had a glam-rock period.
“But yeah, I suppose I thought ‘I'm going to be transformed into a really outgoing queen’, you know, like on television. My plan was to really go for it. But I didn't. I kind of wandered around in six inch heels dressed in a kimono made up like a work of art, but I was still the same me. I was still shuffling around having a cup of tea like 'alright'.
‘It really made me question myself. What was I threatened by? What was I afraid of? Why was I shrinking like that because of how I was dressed? I just didn’t expect to react that way. And I think it’s because as a bloke, and perhaps as a northern bloke like me, you don't really dress up. People will laugh at you. You're supposed to keep it low key in the way that you dress and the way that you look.
So does Martin find the answer to what a man’s supposed to be? Look away now if you’re not looking for spoilers…
“Not to give away the ending of the book, but a man should be whatever he decides he wants to be. The title refers to the expectations that are around men today, which are tied up in quite old school notions of masculinity and behaviour and social roles, which I think are quite outdated and in some instances, quite dangerous as well,
“The book is actually subtitled Into The Chaos of Modern Masculinity, and that's about right. It is chaos. There's lots of different ideas going on, there's not really a one size fits all solution. There just isn't, everyone's got their own issues, brought up in their own circumstances.”
Martin’s book You Are Not The Man You Are Supposed To Be: Into the Chaos of Modern Masculinity is released on February 18 2021 and is available here.