‘Men are Trash’ & how we clean up the litter

Men are trash, men are dogs & well, masculinity is ‘Toxic’ *cue Britney Spears*. If you’d told me any of this 10 years ago, matter of fact maybe even 5 years ago, there’s no way I would agree with you. In fact, younger me with less of a beard & more of an attitude would probably argue with you as to why it’s ‘you feminists’  who’ve got the wrong end of the stick. See, I’d have probably said something about how women are fighting for rights they already have. Or, perhaps something even more ill-informed about why we actually need to start fighting for Men’s Rights because it’s political correctness gone mad…

Yeah – I wasn’t just stupid, I was Vote-Brexit-To-Get-Rid-Of-The-Immergruntz-Stupid.  The sort of stupidity that unfortunately, is less about actually making an informed choice in order to believe what you’re saying, and more down to a complete lack of information, and in fact, being given mis-information in echo-chambers. Echo chambers like being at the back of the bus as a teenager, with a bunch of guys your own age who are all sweating pints of pubescent testosterone to mask the thick stench of Lynx Africa & 4 for a pound chicken-wings (I can smell it already, & I’m wincing). Guys your own age who will slander and defame girls and women simply because they believe it’s the right language to use, because they heard it somewhere else, or an older boy had said something, or maybe because they’re literally stealing words or references right out of popular culture like music or film. The mis-information that girls or women are a certain way or their behaviour makes them a b*tch or a slut or a hoe that I hold my hands up and say I was a part of perpetuating, & why? Because quite frankly I knew no better. See if you’d told me then, sitting at the back of a bus with a matching tracksuit (God forbid) whilst banging out T2 ft Jodie – Heartbroken from a Samsung held together with Sellotape, that men were trash, I’d have probably told you that you had no idea what you were talking about. And neither did I.

Skip the clock forward a few years & through reading, being around the right people & simply unlearning a lot of the language that I used to navigate my way through certain social situations, I recognise now the need for a new and better understanding of Gender. I was recently given the opportunity to be part of a panel of men on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on a special show talking about Masculinity in the world today. I suppose me being me, I meet a number of intersections & tick several boxes (Anyone from any Diversity Boards reading, get yer chequebooks out). I’m young, sort of, I’m not-white and I’m still clinging on to my working-class roots so I suppose I can speak about life from a fairly nuanced perspective. But, for me, the real honour in this was I was speaking specifically about young people, and what young people have to say about masculinity today. See, the career path I’ve had, facilitating workshops in schools across the UK about social issues has really opened my eyes to the whole spectrum on which young people sit in regards to how clued up they are on issues pertaining to Gender.

You’d think in a  changing world where people are constantly walking into the office saying ‘blimey, hasn’t time flown‘ that perhaps our understanding of social issues would also be accelerating on fast-forward. And, to an extent, you’d be right. Except, that whilst in general, younger generations are more accepting, left-leaning and progressive than generations before them, the amount of understanding they have about exactly what the issues are, remains largely the same comparatively as it was 10 years ago. Take myself for example, now I’m not saying I was your ‘top lad’ degrading women for ‘banter’, spouting out lines I’d learnt from my favourite pick-up artist whilst walking around Westfield in my Ecko tracksuit from JD Sports (*shivers with embarrassment, yes I did have one of those*). BUT, the lack of understanding I had around what the issues for women were & why an intersectional & ever growing Feminist movement was needed remains largely similar with young people today. The fact is, that whilst young people grow up in a time where it’s brilliant that people are becoming comfortable enough that movements like #MeToo can exist, it’s sickening still that the world still largely protects & endorses the toxic, trashy behaviours of men whose ill-doings have given way to said movements. As young people today largely condemn such actions, it would be great to move forwards and have the spaces for conversations about what the issues, terminologies and language that we use around Gender are so as to mitigate & eventually end this toxicity.

When on Radio (this one time, on Radio 4 Camp…) I tried to get across that there is a gap between the expectation of young people to be more understanding & progressive & the education of young people about the issues they are supposed to know. I remember going over and over what I knew I wanted to say in my mind (flashback to GCSEs), and it’s this: today, to “be a man” comes with the weight of a history of men being & inflicting the problem & that needs to be both understood & accepted in order to move forward. When boys see Feminism as a movement ‘not for them’ and in fact a movement against them, simply because they don’t understand what it’s about, there is a problem. When boys feel that there is only one archetypal ideal of masculinity, your traditional Alpha-Male, super-buff (large up Anthony Joshua though), dominant character, there is a problem. When boys don’t understand that they can cry, that they can talk about mental-health or that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, there is a problem. The idea that ‘men are trash’ is born out of centuries of oppression and recent decades of continued problematic men in all sections of society but for a generation of young people growing up today it is important not to mis-inform, misguide and misdirect before we end up with the cycle continuing once more. *drops mic*….

*picks mic back up* It takes men from an older generation to hold their hands up and admit to the wrong use of language, to apologise and admit that unlearning is key to truly bring about change. To advocate for & support movements in favour of Women, to acknowledge male privilege and speak out. Toxic (you can’t deny Britney is in your head) Masculinity is damaging to everyone, men, women & future generations but to truly clear up the mess of the insurmountable trash, we must begin to more openly and accessibly have conversations about gender, masculinity & femininity with the generations to come or just like T2 & Jodie, we’re going to end up ‘heartbroken’ once more when the cycle continues.

(For a link to the Radio 4 conversation, to chat about this or just reminisce about the tunes you played at the back of the bus, hit me up on Twitter @Tweetsbybilal)

P.S. My matching Ecko tracksuit was cool at the time.

“Where are you REALLY from?”

#ImREALLYfromLondon

“Where are you from?”

“Neasden, it’s like North West London – near Wembley?”

“No, where are you REALLY from?”

Annoyance ? Anger? Frustration? Pride? In this split second that I am asked this question for the millionth time since I was first born without white skin, I really don’t know which one of these words best describes how I feel. Was my top class geographical referencing and casual name dropping of a place no-one other than avid football fans really care about not good enough as an answer? Can I not be REALLY from London given that it’s the only place I’ve ever truly known and called home? Does it mean that every time I’ve been asked this question that I’ve had to give thought to my heritage, to the cultures outside of London, those far away from home that supposedly define where I’m quintessentially from? Yes. It does. And I settle on the last of the four feelings, I am proud.

“Oh well my parents are from a lot of places, my mums Jamaican but she’s mixed Oriental and Black and my Dad’s from Kenya but his family originally came from Kashmir, now in Pakistan – you?” (Try writing that on a form instead of London).

This is the answer I’ve come to perfect over the years, from being a kid in primary school where almost everyone claimed to have multiple origins, it became a necessary answer to memorise. And learning fractions definitely helped too, you know, them ones where you’re describing yourself in 8ths, 16ths and will even stretch it to 32ths so you can win the “who’s more mixed than who” competition. There was always the Nigerian kid who would try and convince you that being half Yoruba and half Igbo made them also racially mixed – interesting idea when you think about 15 years later, I mean, what even is at the essence of that big social-construct we call RACE? At the time though, just a great way for fractions to mean anything in the real world, and trust me, I got good at that quick-fire mathematics.

But genuinely, what do people mean when they ask the question? If it’s not the geographical location (I’m convinced it’s so they can stalk your house on Google Earth) people are after, then how can we rephrase to get to the core of what it is we want to know? I’m quite happy to call myself a Londoner, but that’s not quite interesting or adequate enough as an answer. When I am cornered by the follow up question of where I’m really from and I decide to either give my well-rehearsed answer or be a bitch and make them guess (c’mon we’ve all tried it, the game can go on for ages), I’m more often than not greeted with a “WOW that’s so cool”. Cool isit? So now being mixed is cool? Make of that what you will. There are some of you, I hope, getting angry that mixed-raceness is somewhat fetishised. That currently we are ‘trending’, we only have to take a couple of uneducated turns on a wander through social media to see how many misguided young people want cool designer mixed-race babies. There are others of you, I also hope, who share in my pride that yes, IT IS cool. That retaliating with a barrage of ethnicities that make up your heritage is definitely a thing to be proud of and also a great way to introduce yourself, the conversation starter, “meet Bilal, he’s from basically everywhere” (most definitely NOT what I said, but anyway “Hi”).

So clearly it isn’t a question of where I geographically call home, or where I’m ‘actually’ from. Rather it’s something much deeper, more a question about my heritage, of the cultures that make me, well, ‘me’. Then why do we all via some default setting phrase the question as such? Why do we unintentionally alienate people almost right away from their own feeling of being a, or even of being British? I’ll let you figure out your own answer to that one, but perhaps it’s time we think about the intentions behind our questions, about the language we use when framing such questions and the effect that our language can have on individuals own perceptions of their identity. Maybe it’s time to find a new way to phrase the question, because where am I really from? Well, I’m from London mate.

#ImREALLYfromLondon

@TweetsbyBilal