Whatever you might think about her accidental ascent to becoming a head of state, Queen Elizabeth II became the formal leader of a major power in the mid 20th century and went on to win the respect of the world. For seventy years, she met all the most important people on the planet. More importantly, they met a smart, yet unpretentious woman who had agency. Her fifteen prime ministers valued her ear and her experience. The way she fulfilled her inherited role created a legacy for women everywhere. We sent her our calendar and we understand it not only gave her a giggle but delighted her as a sign of the progress made during her reign to show greater respect for women and for the LGBTQ+ community whom she embraced so fondly in her day to day life. God bless you, Queen Elizabeth, who quietly guided so many of us through so much extraordinary change.
Here is a letter that we wrote to Queen Elizabeth in 2015
We read that you enjoy receiving correspondence from your subjects throughout the Commonwealth, and we thought we would write to share our story with you.
We are the men’s rowing team at the University of Warwick and for the last six years we have been producing a calendar. Given the state of our student finances, it is a blessing that ours is the sort of calendar where lack of a costume budget has been no barrier to success.
When we began our calendar, it was with the modest ambition to raise a few hundred pounds for much-needed boat repairs. Six years later, we have raised over half a million pounds to support our club and other good causes.
We believe our success lies in the very generous support that we received early on from the gay community, and how we responded to that. Although most of us are straight, we immediately embraced our LGBT supporters. Over time, and somewhat to our surprise, this has led to our calendar becoming an international symbol of challenging homophobia, particularly in sport.
The calendar now sells in over eighty countries around the world, and our tour of the United States last Christmas generated half a billion page views in US online media. (If you google Warwick Rowers, you will see there is a lot out there!)
Since 2014, 10% of calendar profits** have gone to funding the establishment of Sport Allies, a project to make sport more inclusive, particularly of LGBT young people. Team sport is where the problem of exclusion is worst. For example, Sport Allies’ research has identified that LGBT students who engage in sport at university are 50% less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to play a team sport.
As rowers, we value hugely how participating in team sport has benefitted each of us in terms of our personal and social development, and we know that those seeking to recruit university graduates value these qualities, too. In today’s competitive labour market, that can be the difference between success and failure. Our goal, through the message of our calendar and through the work of Sport Allies, is to help young LGBT people access the same life chances that we have. For us, it is nothing more than good sportsmanship and fair play.
Just last month, some of us were lucky enough to travel to New York to help launch an initiative by Visit Britain to attract more LGBT visitors to the UK. We were very flattered to be told that our calendar is an example of how modern Britain is able to maintain traditional pursuits and values yet demonstrate progressive leadership in a swiftly changing world. It prompted us to write this letter to you now.
It is an enormous honour for all of us to be able to make a contribution, no matter how small, to how Britain is seen in the world, and we are honoured, Ma’am, to remain Your Majesty’s humble and obedient subjects – in all our states of attire.
The Warwick Rowers
**Since 2016, WR has devoted 100% of its surplus resources to funding Sport Allies and academic research into healthier masculinity.
This Christmas, as every year, we have posted pictures from 2014 of Tristan and his Warwick Rowers 2015 calendar buddies decorating a tree in Bel Air, Los Angeles.
The pictures have become like the decorations that every family gets out of a box each Christmas – much loved and somehow irreplaceable! But we are always open to change and this year we decided it was time to think again about how we celebrate Christmas.
The thing is, our family is getting bigger. Our first calendar cover as the Roar featured more athletes than ever before and our third calendar features the most athletes in total.
We are now working with sports bodies around the world to ensure that the Worldwide Roar will continue to grow, and at an even faster rate! Supporters will soon be able to get involved in the Roar in ways that we had not thought possible before. The Worldwide Roar will deliver on the promise of the Warwick Rowers by helping everyone to understand their relationship with masculinity, and how that affects their relationship with the world.
We will always cherish our pictures and our memories from 2014, when a handful of rowers went halfway around the world to promote our message of allyship. It was a great moment for our project, and we wanted to reflect the community that we have become as a result.
That was when Lucas, our calendar star and social media guru had a great idea! He invited our Instagram followers to create their own takes on our iconic Christmas shots and send them to us to share on our account. The response was incredible.
There were so many entries that we had to ask people to stop after 24 hours so that Lucas’s own family could have some time with him over the holidays!
You can see some of the results here, and the rest by visiting our Instagram account at @worldwideroar. All wonderful shots from incredible supporters, creating a new Christmas tradition at the Roar.
Thank you to everyone who took part in our competition, and to all of you who have spent many Christmases with WR. We’re family and we’re already looking forward to creating a lot more new traditions in 2022!
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.
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
The WR calendar started out at one university sports club. For over twelve years, it has enabled dozens of male athletes to become allies in the struggle against heteronormative patriarchal culture.
We know how meaningful our campaigns have been to our supporters around the world. They also mean a lot to the men who take part, and that is why we need your help.
Our WR contributors become a lot more than calendar stars!
Independent researchers have observed how WR participants embark on a journey towards greater awareness of their privilege, a stronger commitment to social justice, and better male mental health.
These young athletes become agents for change in their relationships with their friends, their lovers, their families, their work colleagues and their networks. They have committed to being the change we all want to see.
Great progress has been made in recent years to highlight and challenge the symptoms of hegemonic patriarchy: homophobia, misogyny and structural racism. But that progress is fragile. Our message and our method are more relevant than ever, which is why we have opened up this project to the world.
For the first time, sportsmen everywhere can follow the original WR pioneers on a journey of discovery.
Now we need your support to make the Roar a truly inclusive global campaign with hundreds and eventually thousands of athletes!
Echoing the late 19th century revival of the ancient Greek Games, Worldwide Roar will put sport at the heart of a range of contemporary personal and cultural issues.
Thinking has evolved since the modern Olympics began in the 1890s, but one aspect of the original games has been ignored until now: nudity. WR will reintroduce nudity to modern sport as a way to explore how contemporary culture looks at men, because we believe that how we look at men lies at the root of homophobia, misogyny and racism.
We will ask how a fresh (and yet ancient) perspective on the role and meaning of sport can be part of promoting healthier masculinity and gender equality and combatting structural racism.
When we published our first book in 2015, we took a big step: it was the first time that the WR contributors agreed to appear completely nude in print, defying the implied nudity conventions of the naked calendar.
Our athletes made a leap of faith to stand fully naked in front of the world. That leap has taken us all the way to the Worldwide Roar, and there are sportsmen around the world who are lining up to join us.
Despite the commitment of everyone involved – the men in front of the camera, the team who work behind the scenes, and the many supporters like you who have bought our products – we need more help to make the most of this moment.
So far, we have been funded entirely by sales of our content. It has got us to where we are today, and we are grateful to everyone who has ever supported us. With greater investment, we know we can achieve much more.
Here’s the problem. Right now, nobody at Google, Facebook or a thousand other corporations wants to take our call. In time, that will change. Corporates are already learning that they cannot dodge the difficult issues and stick with the ‘safe’ options – they must show greater cultural leadership. We believe that major commercial enterprises and institutions will one day recognise the fundability of the Worldwide Roar, and we are already developing a strategic fundraising plan to target institutional support.
Our first step to bringing that day closer is funding an independent international academic study of our work. This is something that has been in the pipeline for a long time; WR has been the subject of positive academic interest for several years, and we have found incredible support in academic circles. There are many in academia around the world who value our innovative approach to promoting healthier versions of masculinity.
Now a formal study of WR has begun. It is being conducted by leading researchers at Leeds Beckett University in England and the University of Calgary in Canada.
Inevitably, Covid-19 has caused unforeseen delays to the work, but we are confident that this independent academic exploration of our work will prove the value of the process we have developed over more than a decade. In particular, the study will focus on WR’s effectiveness in transforming the men who take part, and our project’s potential to help redefine the rules of masculinity for a new and more inclusive era.
That is why we now ask you to make a similar commitment to the one made by the many young men who have stripped off for our project.
Here’s the ask! If you are able to, we ask you to help us beyond just buying our products. And here’s why we’re asking…
A lot of our limited resources go into creating the great content you love to see. We’re happy to create it, too. Everyone involved loves taking part in our shoots and they are a key part of how our process works to transform and empower the men who take part.
We recognise our responsibility to make our content accessible to as many people as possible. We do our best to keep costs down, but producing and distributing our content is expensive and absorbs a lot of our revenues. That is why we are asking those who are able to help us with the less “rewarding” costs of funding the academic research and supporting Sport Allies.
The following three points are the basis of our promise to you as a WR core funder:
Become a Core Funder of the Worldwide Roar. Play a bigger part in the change you want to see!