Blog: Hetain Patel

The Bolton-born performance artist discusses masculinity with young performers

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As a 37-year-old man I should know all about masculinity by now, right? Sadly not. Masculinity is a man thing though, right? Wrong again. This isn’t the first time we’ve been told that masculinity is in crisis. But what does this even mean? I’m no expert but to me it is something about freedom and oppression and trying to make the world a fairer and more equal place. I think.

What I do know is that most of the world’s violence throughout history has been committed or instigated by men. This includes injustice towards people, animals and the planet. This of course is unsurprising given that in terms of global power it is still a man’s world. At the same time, in the UK the biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide. Obviously, masculinity needs to have a word with itself.

As a British Indian man, born and raised in the UK, I’ve often been preoccupied by my disadvantage as an ethnic minority, constantly trying to navigate the oppression this still brings. However, over the last eight years or so I have also become much more aware of my privilege by way of my gender – no doubt heightened by getting married and getting an eye-opening insight into my wife’s experience of life. And although it is almost impossible to separate gender, race and class, I’m thinking a lot at the moment about being a man, and masculinity. I worked recently with an amateur men’s choir in London, Chaps Choir, where we puzzled over what it means to be a man – through song. And now I’m about to embark on an intense four week period creating a new performance about masculinity in collaboration with Contact Young Company (CYC) – the Manchester theatre’s dynamic company of young people aged 15-25.

In my first meeting with CYC, it was observed that it is difficult to talk about masculinity without talking about toxic masculinity – the parts of masculinity I mentioned earlier that cause harm to all society, including men themselves: social dominance, violence, suppression of emotion, misogyny, homophobia. Everybody in the room shared their personal experiences of toxic masculinity.

Despite being from the most privileged sector of society some men still feel repressed

However, focusing solely on this angle can be really unhelpful – it can get men’s backs up, defensively stopping conversations and with it quashing any chance of action towards positive change.

With Chaps Choir part of the process included them answering questions about being a man, anonymously. When asked the question “What do you do as a man that you feel you should not be doing as a man?” common answers included expressing anger, being sexual, crying and showing emotion. This suggests that despite being from the most privileged sector of society some men still feel repressed and that they are not allowed to be what they want to be.

I’m not suggesting for a second that men go the top of the oppression list but I’m also imagining what knock-on effect it would have for the rest of society if men felt free to adopt a new masculinity without feeling the pressure from the ancient masculinity rule book.

Don’t get me wrong – suggesting nicely to men in power that ancient masculinity isn’t the best fit for contemporary society isn’t going to work. Policing toxic masculinity has to be done with some force in order for it to elicit change. However, to work towards a society that has longevity we also need to find a way to encourage men to buy into this more. We partly need Mahatma Gandhi’s approach. We men need to be the change we want to see in the world. The more examples there are out there of positive masculinity, the easier it is for all genders to feel it is OK. And it’s not like we’re going to get it right every time, but maybe we need to be more open to listening to each other when it isn’t working, and be willing to make changes.

I am eagerly anticipating these coming weeks with CYC – I hope to challenge and support each other and to work together towards a place where none of us could get to alone.

Contact Young Company and Hetain Patel present Oh Man from Thursday 30 August to Sunday 2 September at a secret location in Manchester. Daily at 2pm and 7pm. For over 14s. Box office: 0161 274 0600/

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Hetain Patel

  • Kate Warburton
    29 Aug 2018 18:06
    It seems to me like people are oppressed and repressed regardless of gender, race or class. Who doesn't feel like they've done something wrong after expressing anger? Who doesn't try to fight the urge to cry if they feel upset in a public place? It is virtually impossible to not feel repressed when emotions are seen as something to be ashamed of and behaviour that's considered acceptable is so restricted.

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