Post-Covid partying promises to shape the 2020s. But can the next ten years live up to the social radicalism at the heart of the OG party decade?
High-spirited irreverence for everything that preceded the Roaring Twenties liberated many people, particularly women, to pursue previously unthinkable lifestyles and life choices.
If we truly want to live up the original in this prospective Roaring Twenties reboot, two things are already clear: we must celebrate powerful new roles for women, and the Flappers must be men.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, women were in the early stages of a revolutionary struggle for personal freedom and social justice. They wanted to vote, to take control of their lives, and to break free from the many restraints of ‘traditional’ womanhood.
These oppressive restrictions – right down to suffocating whalebone corsets and endless layers of clothing designed to contort and constrict women’s bodies – reflected rigid prescriptions for acceptable ‘femininity’ that severely limited women’s ability to function in the home, in the workplace, in the bedroom, in society and in law.
Then came the Great War and the Spanish Flu. Alongside chaos, destruction and death, the first truly industrialised conflict delivered an earth-shattering indictment of patriarchal power and a global pandemic cast a pall over civilian populations everywhere. The rigid, blinkered paternalism of the Victorian age gave way to doubt, reflection and debate on what the future should be, leading to the profound social change of the 1920s.
No vision of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ would be complete without the Flappers, young women who wore short skirts (knee height was scandalously short at the time), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour.
Defying expectations of demure modesty with energy and exuberance, Flappers embraced a lifestyle viewed by many at the time as outrageous, immoral or downright dangerous. Now considered the first generation of independent Western women, they pushed barriers in economic, political and sexual freedom for women.
Flappers wanted to change society’s view of women by asserting their right and their ability to be as free as the men. They did things men did, to show they could do anything a man could do.
Incredibly, despite a century of struggle and progress, the emancipation of women is still far from complete. Nevertheless, women’s lives and life chances have changed beyond recognition, and generally for the better.
Men, by contrast, have responded quite differently to our long-running search for healthier self-expression within fairer social structures. Instead of recognising the need for a fundamental masculinity rebrand, they have offered only reluctant concessions to the feminist revolution. They push a pram here, wash a dish there, and bite their tongue from time to time if they remember. Mainly, however, (straight) men have seen little reason to question the status quo. This is disappointing but not surprising, since they were the main beneficiaries of the old regime. It helps explain why, a century after women saw the need to break out of jail, most men are still working in the prison system, locked up inside the toxic masculine equivalent of the oppressive femininity that the Flappers so marvellously rejected.
Whatever they might think, this faith in the Victorian values of hegemonic patriarchy has not served men well. Far from it. All the evidence and data have for some time painted a picture of men who feel increasingly lost and irrelevant in a world that, for reasons they do not quite understand, has failed to keep the promises that were made to them as boys. Dying regimes cling to past glories at their peril, and so it is with men. A century of opportunity for progress towards healthier masculinity has been frittered away. Like the once mighty factories of a bygone industrial age, men (especially straight white ones) have found they are no longer fit for purpose in a world that has inexorably changed. The speed of change is not slowing down, either. From #metoo to #blacklivesmatter to the explosion of diversity in gender and sexuality, patriarchal privilege and structural inequality are being called to account as never before.
This time around, one hundred years after the roar of the exuberant Flappers first echoed throughout the Western world, it is men who must find the answers. So far, all those answers have been riffs on one theme: men must escape the constraints of ‘traditional’ masculinity to have any hope of leading full and meaningful lives.
It may be tempting for those of us who intersect with being female, queer or BIPOC to look on with glee as the big boss men who knocked us around now struggle to stay off the ropes. It’s a temptation we must resist. Instead, we should recognise that persuading men to ditch the outdated masculinity of the Victorian era will finally, fully unshackle us all.
That is why the Worldwide Roar has been developed over more than a decade to be part of a process of truth and reconciliation. Addressing a century of patriarchal prevarication, obfuscation and refusal to face reality, the Worldwide Roar offers men the platform and the support to take a stand, make amends and become part of the change the whole world needs to see. All while having a whole lot of fun, just as the OG Flappers did.
The Flappers of the 1920s expressed their freedom by ditching their corsets, cutting their hair, and wearing short dresses. One hundred years later, the men of the Roar do it by confronting their privilege and ditching their armour of invulnerability. Liberated from the physical and emotional constraints of traditional masculinity, they stand naked in front of the world, ready to be reborn as equals in a diverse, engaging and inclusive future.
Which brings us to the party! Freed from the prison guard uniform of patriarchal power, the men of the Roar can attend the shindig of the century as fellow guests. It falls to the rest of us to greet them warmly, maybe show them a few moves we’ve learned on the outside, and then enjoy a long overdue moment as these 21st century Flappers finally get on down.
An earlier version of the following blog by our photographer, Angus Malcolm, was originally commissioned and published by the #yesallmen twitter campaign, a movement that grew out of the horrifying murder of Sarah Everard in London in March 2020. The #yesallmen project brings together men who want to play a part in ending male violence. You can find out more about the campaign and read blogs by other authors here:https://yesallmen2021.blogspot.com
Do you remember that controversial Gillette commercial “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” from early 2019? Like everything else pre-Covid, it seems like a lifetime ago, so here’s a quick recap. Over the course of two minutes, the ad invites men to own their responsibility and take a lead in ending homophobia, misogyny, and, most relevantly for our campaign, the objectification and physical abuse of women. Its message bears many similarities to the one that #yesallmenis seeking to share now.
Within 48 hours of launching, the commercial had over two million views on YouTube and 23k likes. I was one of those likes – and I didn’t just like it, I loved it! I saw the possibility that #MeToo might have started a new, unstoppable momentum in the struggle against hegemonic masculinity.
The production team made effective use of news clippings, found footage and scripted performance to create a highly polished film that condemns hypermasculinity, patriarchal entitlement, heterosexism and the sexual objectification of women. It proposes that men “…need to hold other men accountable” and “…to say the right thing, act the right way”. Towards the end, a voiceover acknowledges that “some men” are already doing this but finishes with a challenge: “some is not enough, because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow”.
As an LGBTQI man who had been at the sharp end of some of the behaviour Gillette was calling out, this ad was a breath of fresh air. As someone with a professional perspective on healthier masculinity and a background in health promotion, most recently at the Worldwide Roar, I saw this as a milestone in meaningful corporate responsibility. We were witnessing nothing less than a watershed moment in the history of advertising!
The 23k YouTube likes were outnumbered ten to one with over 214k thumbs down, and Gillette were quickly obliged to turn off comments in response to a tsunami of abuse. The polite comments denounced the company as man haters – traitors who had insulted and abandoned their own customers. Others were not so kind.
When I went back to review the response to the ad for this blog, I discovered a video launched two days later by Egard, a relatively unknown company that makes watches. Called “What is a man? A response to Gillette”, the film uses similar classy music, inclusive visuals and slick production to offer a very different perspective on men.
Through a series of credibly sourced statistics, the Egard video praises men’s bravery (because men account for 93% of all workplace fatalities), men’s heroism (because 97% of all war fatalities are male) and their role as protectors (more questionably based on a UN Office on Drugs and Crime statistic that 79% of all homicide victims are male). It invites our sympathy for their vulnerability (nearly half of fathers who pay child maintenance have no visitation rights), their disposability (80% of all suicide victims) and their greater risk of being homeless.
To be clear, I have no reason to doubt the statistics quoted in Egard’s ad. My real problem isn’t even the conclusions it draws, though I would question every one of them. What really distinguishes each of the statements made in the film (and annoys me greatly) is their complete irrelevance. The entire film is built on misdirection. It dodges the question, changes the subject and then seeks to claim the moral high ground. There are complex historical reasons why it is mainly men who have gone down mines, or into battle, or into burning buildings, but one thing is indisputable: none of those reasons and none of those outcomes justifies homophobia, misogyny or male violence against women.
Whatever their reasoning, the makers of the Egard ad (along with their 500,000 fans on YouTube) seem to have been unduly offended by Gillette’s message. Yes, Gillette are undoubtedly arguing that men can do better – but precisely because men are not inherently toxic. Quite the opposite, in fact. Gillette suggest that men are capable of showing great leadership and that’s why the company is putting resources into helping them grow. It’s the same thinking that drives the #yesallmen and Worldwide Roar campaigns.
It would be easy to see the name #YesAllMen, as a wake-up call for men like the makers and fans of the Egard video: men who believe that, while there are always a few bad apples, most men (especially the ones who look and think like them) are good. They are being unfairly attacked by self-appointed judges of political correctness over so-called ‘toxic masculinity’ when they clearly have no case to answer.
The subtext of #yesallmen cannot be “#Yes, all men – but really we mean the unwoke who just don’t get it yet”. Nobody gets a hall pass here: #yesallmen is just as relevant to those of us (myself included) who may consider ourselves enlightened, or even trail-blazingly woke: the men for whom this is more about sharing the message than hearing it because obviously we’re already in the choir.
A year ago, I doubt I would have seen it this way. I have for most of my life focused on my lived experience as queer. It made me an outsider and gave me a mission. It led me into a twenty-five year involvement in the response to HIV, then to the BBC where I dedicated my time to making LGBTQI perspectives more visible in mainstream entertainment. For the last ten years I’ve been running an art-based project that particularly challenges homophobia and the objectification of women. In other words, while I’m maybe not quite in vegan hipster territory, I had long seen myself an having a respectable woke score for my age.
Then George Floyd died at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin. Police killings are tragically commonplace in the US and the death of George Floyd, at the hands of a sociopathic policeman who is now a convicted murderer, was almost successfully swept under the carpet by the initial police reports. Floyd’s death could so easily have been lost amid the growing chaos of Covid-19 and the headline-grabbing inadequacy of the pandemic response from various populist leaders around the world. But thanks to one teenaged girl with a camera phone, the #BLM movement exploded into life before our eyes.
I supported the protests and welcomed the widespread condemnation of systemic racism in the police. As someone who’d marched against apartheid in the 80s and signed every petition against racism that was put in front of me, I saw this moment as a massive leap forward. (Unsurprisingly, the actor turned watchmaker behind the video above saw it differently. Fox News loved his new video so much they gave him an award.)
I was blind-sided, however, when the Worldwide Roar got called out on social media for a lack of Black visibility. How did we end up in the dock with the forces I’d been fighting all my life? I sought to clarify why our project, which had grown out of a desire to highlight and address the hegemonic power of straight white men, had not historically featured more Black men, but I quietly wondered if our critics might have a point.
With a little help from the lockdown, I spent quite a lot of last year reappraising beliefs and perceptions that I had not questioned for decades, if ever. I came to see that it wasn’t enough for me to acknowledge the reality of racism, to check myself for racist thoughts and behaviours, or even to call out the racism of others.
My biggest epiphany came when I discovered and devoured ‘Caste’ by Isabel Wilkerson – an extraordinary book that shines a forensic light on the unacknowledged yet inescapable privilege of all white people, whatever their views might be. Wilkerson confronts the rigidity and inescapability of a system that many of us (particularly those of us most privileged by the system) might not even see. However invisible it might be, this is nothing less than a caste system. Wilkerson’s compelling, perceptive and heart-breaking narrative enabled me to see with unprecedented clarity the systemic injustice that continues to dominate the life chances of African Americans through arbitrary but deeply embedded social and legal structures that rival the most overt caste systems the world has ever seen.
I started to see how Wilkerson’s analysis works beyond race, too, as part of an unholy trinity that perpetuates patriarchal privilege and the dominance of hegemonic masculinity. The other two ‘caste systems’ deal out the life chance cards according to our gender and sexuality. Crucially, if you draw a Venn diagram of all three, you will see how men never lose.
There is no escaping our responsibility as men because there is no escaping our male privilege. It is not about where you put your penis, or what colour it is, or how politely and consensually you introduce it to the world. The clue is that you have one. Men live in a system that has benefitted them at the expense of others. We can only repay that colossal, unearned privilege by actively challenging the system that created it.
This is not a call for any man to wear sackcloth and ashes. It’s a lot easier to see our disadvantage than our privilege, because we feel the pain of our disadvantage, and may never feel our privilege at all. In a caste system, privilege is an opioid. It has been in men’s bloodstreams since before we were born. I only became aware of mine when I reviewed my medication, and I can see that I will always have a problematic relationship with it. However I deal with my privilege, it will always be as a recovering addict.
Acknowledging our privilege (and the inextricability of our relationship with it) doesn’t mean men should slink away and hide. Quite the opposite. While I cannot escape my privilege, I can put it to work. Indeed, I will never really know how much my effectiveness as an activist came from respect for my queerness and how much came from unconscious deference to the white male educated baggage with which I sashayed confidently into every battle with the status quo.
As someone whose focus is promoting healthier masculinities, I believe Gillette got it right. Men can do better – but as I’ve come to realise from my own experience, it may take a lifetime. Indeed it may take generations, but it starts with all of us who intersect with being male recognising how much we have benefitted from privilege throughout our lives, how inescapable our privilege remains, and how personally accountable we are for the debt we now owe as a result.
It is only by acknowledging our privilege as men that we can hope to escape a damaged version of masculinity that has poisoned the lives of many, including men themselves. We can find our own freedom by helping others to find theirs. This is what now drives my own work at the Worldwide Roar and I see the same aspiration at the heart of #YesAllMen.
Sarah Everard was entitled to expect a better deal from life than the one she got. Every man owes it to Sarah, to all other women and to everyone at risk from male violence to raise the bar for masculinity.
Men, it’s time for us to be the change the world needs to see.
#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2021 has been about the importance of nature to our wellbeing. It was a very appropriate choice: many of us have been locked up, away from nature and away from a whole range of activities that are a natural part of our wellbeing.
Some men spend their whole lives that way, locked behind doors and barriers that keep the world out and their thoughts in. There is a great film from The Representation Project called The Mask You Live In (http://therepresentationproject.org/film/the-mask-you-live-in-film/see-the-film/). The film explores this problem in a vivid, accessible and compelling way. Do check it out!
The Worldwide Roar supports men to remove the barriers of masculinity for their own wellbeing, and to become allies in the wellbeing of others.
These images are from our biggest ever shoot, which we held not long after Manifesto had gone to press. It featured our first transman, more men of colour, our first man with tattoos, our first men over forty, and an almost even balance between men who identified as straight and men who identified as LGBT. There were senior athletes from Olympic level rowing, alongside LGBT members of an inclusive rowing team, some of our original heroes from the boat club days and representatives from a dozen other sports, including pole dancing!
All these men stripped naked and threw purple powder over each other. the idea came from calendar star Amir. We were sitting in a brainstorming meeting one day, discussing plans for our 2020 cover, and Amir mentioned seeing people in his friend’s Hindi community using pigment during Holi, the festival of colours. Holi is the most vibrant of all Hindu festivals, and a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. We loved it immediately.
As ever, purple was our colour of choice – and we think we’re in good company! In Alice Walker’s seminal novel, The Color Purple, one character says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” In the same way, we want men to be mindful of their relationship with their masculinity, and we want everyone to stop and feel the joy that this project and its message bring to both our participants and our supporters.
If these blogs speak to you, we’d love you to join the Roar – as a participant, a sponsor, a donor, a subscriber or an advocate on social media. Whatever you feel you can contribute to the Roar, this is an opportunity for all of us to help each other.
The Worldwide Roar is here for you. Take a fresh look at life, and take a fresh look at men!
Today we bring you the last of the five principles for healthier masculinity and better male mental health that we explored through art in our book, Manifesto.
It is perhaps the most important of all, and it’s all about help: understanding there is no shame in needing help, recognising when you might need some, reaching out to find the help you need, and then being open to receiving it.
We know it’s not always easy! By the time we did this shoot, we had been the Warwick Rowers for ten years. It became more and more of a challenge as interest in our project kept on growing. By 2019, we finally understood that our little boathouse could no longer contain us. There was more to be done than we could manage, and more to be said than one small sports club could hope to know, let alone say. We knew that we could no longer do this project justice by ourselves.
We thought about how much all of us on each side of the camera had learned over the years – about ourselves, about the world around us, and about the difference that any of us can make if we try.
The biggest thing we’d learned was that everyone can make a difference if they try, and trying feels good.
We thought about the many other sportsmen who could benefit from going on this extraordinary journey that we had taken over many years – one that we believe has made us healthier.
We recognised that our message could grow stronger with the help of men who had been on different journeys to our own. We knew that our voice would have more power as one among many voices – the voices of men from different sports, cultures, sexualities and birth genders. The voice of BIPOC men, of LGBTQI men, of men who had grown up in worlds far away from our own.
We sent up a flare to ask for help, because we know how much this project has meant to people all over the world already, and how much it could mean to so many more.
That help has already begun to arrive, from national and international sporting bodies, broadcast sports media, community sports organisations and from the many individual sportsmen who are joining us, naked.
Now we ask for your help, too – as a participant, a sponsor, a donor, a subscriber or an advocate on social media. Whatever you feel you can contribute to the Roar, this is an opportunity for all of us to help each other.
The Worldwide Roar is here for you. Take a fresh look at men!
We have always presented male nudity as a gesture of respect by men living in a culture that has for too long privileged the heterosexual male gaze. During 2017, we witnessed a widespread conversation about the disempowerment and objectification of women. There was a recognition of the need for more equitable rules around male and female power, and particularly male and female bodies.
Yves Klein was a French painter who, like Jackson Pollock, experimented with alternative ways to apply paint. In his late 1950s series, Anthropometry, he used naked female models as “living brushes”. We decided to revisit Klein’s work using our bodies as men. We wanted to echo Klein’s emphasis on the act of creation, but also to celebrate the breakthroughs taking place to challenge patriarchal assumptions.
To do this, we brought an enormous raw canvas measuring nine metres by four metres to a remote location in Southern Spain, along with a lot of paint. We created a performance in which we put the paint on each other, and we put our bodies on the canvas, because we believe that change happens faster when we work together and commit our whole selves to reaching our goals.
Working as a team, body and soul. That is what we do in our sport, and it is what we do as men who get naked to support change.
It is always good to talk. Communication is at the heart of our own mental health as well as our relationships with others, but it is not always easy to share how we feel or say what we mean.
Graffiti can be a manifestation of this; it is often a way for people without a voice to say things that cannot be said, anonymously, outside the rules.
Men’s voices might be the loudest in the room, and the ones that get listened to by other, similar men, but that doesn’t mean that men are good communicators. We struggle with talking about emotions, we find it hard to be clear and direct (though that doesn’t mean we don’t shouty and aggressive!), we aren’t always good at listening, we dodge difficult questions and we struggle to separate communication from competition (ever noticed how all-male communication is often about status and power?).
So after the free form paint spraying of Jackson Pollock and the handprints of intimacy, in 2016 we brought the brush back, because words are useful. With words at this shoot on a nude beach in Spain, we were able to communicate our love for our cause and our commitment to using words as tools for sharing by putting graffiti on each other’s bodies.
We chose to do it in bright sunshine on a public beach, because there is no shame in love, and no shame in sharing how you feel.
For our third blog post for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we go back to 2015 and our famously cheeky ‘handprints’ shoot! We know it’s a crowd pleaser, but this shoot is also very much about a crucial aspect of how men too often neglect their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. It’s about intimacy and connection.
The world is changing fast, and how we interact with each other is possibly changing faster than anything else. Many of us now give more attention to screens and keyboards than to each other. Of course, that has been particularly true during the pandemic – screens and keyboards have been the only way to reach out and stay in touch.
But even before the pandemic hit us all, there had been a growing loss of human contact, even though we might have felt more connected than ever. Many of us were glued to our screens, not looking at each other, not talking, not touching.
The nudity in the WR project brings our participants a sense of intimacy and physical freedom with other men that has been lacking for many of us. It makes them conscious of that absence of connection. In 2015 this was something we wanted to explore further, and we decided that handprints were the way to do it.
Touching each other with paint helped the rowers in these images to break through barriers that all men learn to put up as boys. It also allowed them to put that their commitment to connection on the record.
Now, as vaccination offers the hope of a return to more physical contact, let’s use this opportunity to make mindful intimacy and ‘real world’ connection a more conscious part of how we care for ourselves and each other.
For the second in our series of blogs for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we go back to 2014. It was a big year for us. We had reformatted our calendar and changed our named to Warwick Rowers. We had set up the registered charity Sport Allies to build on our message, and adopted shared new colours of purple and silver for both projects.
Having a bigger canvas and a renewed sense of purpose inspired us to begin paint shots with these two great colours – but the choice was not just an aesthetic one! Silver is often associated with healing and balance, and purple has become the recognised colour of challenging homophobia and transphobia. It seemed like a good start to promoting healthier masculinity.
In the first chapter of our book, Manifesto, we used images from this shoot to make an important point about male mental health: men must consciously consider their identity as men. Are they truly being themselves or are they struggling to live up to outdated rules of masculinity that have been imposed upon them by their parents, their schools, their peers and by the media culture in which we are all immersed?
We had already seen how these rules had been applied to the men in the WR project. In particular, our project’s stance against homophobia led some people to assume that all the men in the images must be LGBT+. Why, after all, would a straight man take his clothes off to challenge homophobia?
Our response was to ask: why wouldn’t he? We felt it was important to challenge these narrow assumptions about who men could be, and when we looked back at our 2014 paint shoot, we realised it was very much about our relationship to rules.
Our inspiration for this shoot came from Jackson Pollock, the American artist who rose to fame in the mid twentieth century. Pollock’s abstract expressionist school of painting replaced conventional brushwork with frenetic splashing and pouring of paint. For us, it is important that Jackson Pollock didn’t start in a void. He looked at the rules, thought about them, worked with them, understood them, and then broke them.
There are so many rules of masculinity that limit men, like: don’t show emotion; never make yourself vulnerable; always put practicality ahead of joy – and many, many more!
We invite all men to become more conscious of the rules they live by, and then feel free to create new ones.
That’s the first of our ‘new principles for healthier masculinity’ and it sets the course for the rest of this week, when we will be bringing you further thoughts we’ve had as a project about what some more of those new principles might be.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with a focus on nature. At WR we have embraced nudity in nature as a way of helping men to reconnect with the world around them, so what better time to remind everyone of how central male mental health is to the entire WR project?
Our most recent art photography book, Manifesto, sets out five principles based on everything we have learned as a project – with dazzling images and our customary sense of fun, we hope!
This book and our entire project considers what healthy masculinity looks like, and how better male mental health might make the world a better place for all of us.
By asking an apparently simple question about how we can look at men, WR aims to show how much the heterosexual male gaze continues to dominate our culture – at everyone’s expense.
We want to draw attention to the countless ways that men, particularly heterosexual men, still benefit from unspoken and unconscious privilege in many aspects of life – in the workplace, in politics, in the media, in relationships and, of course, in sport.
We also want to raise awareness that these benefits come at a price. Many men feel unable or unwilling to live up to the ideals of masculinity, resulting in mental health distress that often leads to wider social problems.
By taking a fresh look at men, and supporting men to see themselves differently, too, we hope to raise awareness of how the hidden rules of masculinity impact on every one of us, including the men who appear to benefit the most.
We also want to prove that you can have a truly great time while making a serious point!
We know you care about men as much as we do. Today is International Men’s Day and we want to celebrate by sharing with you some of the coverage that WR has received to mark the occasion.
Please share this blog with anyone who might not yet know how important it is to change how we look at men – or how much fun it can be!
It’s never been more important to get our message across, so it’s great to see mainstream news sources like SKY Sports and the Daily Mail recognising our work. And with growing threats to LGBTQ+ rights in many countries, it’s equally important that long-time supporters in the LGBTQ+ community recognise the direct and continuing relevance of our work.
Once you’ve shared this email with your friends, why not share the links to these articles on social media? In the era of fake news, it’s good to share content from recognised sources that everyone can rely on.
Let’s get the word out! Together we can put healthier masculinity on everyone’s wish list for 2021.
Thanks and best wishes
The WR Team
Our most famous participant, world record holder and Olympic rowing legend Robbie Manson, tells SKY Sports, the UK’s leading sports media platform, why he cares about the Worldwide Roar, about male mental health, and about LGBTQ+ rights.Read More