How to be a man

The Channel 4 programme How to be a man saw Danny Dyer question a range of people about modern-day masculinity. It was a mixed bag, but the conversation itself is important.

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How to be a man, the Channel 4 two-part programme which launched this week, promised a lot – a much needed conversation about how to create a positive vision of masculinity, delivered by Danny Dyer.

The premise was good and the idea of having it presented by Danny Dyer, famous for portraying first hard-man lads and more recently a soft-guy dad, was presumably to attract a broad audience of people who might not tune in for a more in-depth discussion of the topic.

The first programme followed a tickbox of the issues that tend to be associated with this sort of subject. Danny spoke to his brother, who had gone against the stereotype and played with dolls as a child. He then interviewed in turn a TikTok influencer a male domestic abuse victim, an MP who spoke about men being neglected [but seemed to be talking more about class than gender] and a group of gay men [portrayed as being more open about their feelings] and he talked about Fathers4Justice.  He also went to a school and spoke to a fairly untalkative bunch of boys which only served to show the distance that needs to be covered to get boys to even begin to talk about what they think about gender politics.

So far so expected. For instance, the idea that the concept of toxic masculinity may be backfiring is not new and in fact is increasingly being talked about among feminists. What matters surely is how we change the conversation and get men and boys to take a leading role in shaping a more positive idea of masculinity. Maybe part of that is putting more of a spotlight on ordinary men, telling their stories and being vulnerable, rather than influencers and the usual campaigners.


The second programme was perhaps more interesting as it tried to look at what might work to move things on. There were again a succession of interviews and ideas – Danny spoke to his daughter about being a dad and how he himself was fathered, he witnessed a testosterone experiment [to show that masculinity may be as much about biology as social environment], went boxing, went to a childcare centre to drink beer with dads, talked about mental health and fashion and being yourself and went to a sex shop and a men’s retreat involving ice baths and a discussion of Jungian archetypes.

The general thrust of it was that men have been neglected, that they need spaces, strategies and messages that they find relevant to encourage them to open up more and that all men are different, although boxing was heavily promoted as a way for men to improve their mental health and is unlikely to appeal to all men.

There were some rash generalisations – the suggestion that men are having a worse time at the moment to women and that feminism had stopped men talking about the issues that matter to them. While ideas such as ‘toxic masculinity’ have made a lot of men defensive, many feminists have been at the forefront of campaigns for more shared parental leave for dads, for instance.

Nevertheless, it was good to have something putting the spotlight on men on a mainstream tv channel and to open up the conversation more. Dads – and parents generally – have a big role to play, both dads of boys and of girls because this matters to everyone. But perhaps it would be more interesting to talk to parents about how they are dealing with the issue on a day to day basis or indeed to schools about how they encourage dialogue between girls and boys so we can move forward.

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