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.
Our project was built on creating and promoting disruptive perspectives on the male body. As we have explored how to manage the legacy of a small student calendar that stumbled into the hearts of many around the world, we have taken inspiration from the late 19th century revival of the ancient Greek games. With a limited budget, our contemporary version will, initially at least, revolve around filming sport on a relatively small scale in multiple locations but it will very much have something in common with the modern Olympiad.
Just as Baron de Coubertin and his followers sought to do in the 1890s, Worldwide Roar will aim to put sport at the heart of addressing a range of contemporary issues. But we will face the very different needs and values of the twenty-first century by embracing a core principle of the original Greek games that would have been unacceptable to the Victorians: the social value of male nudity.
With the help of academics and training experts, we are perpetuating the Warwick Rowers journey as a personal growth and social advocacy opportunity for male athletes. Our journey will empower sportsmen to become change agents through exploring their relationship with their bodies, masculinity, vulnerability and power. Our experience shows that a combination of individual and team-based nudity liberates men to become more conscious of their gender and sexuality, along with the key role these play in their life chances, life experience and social impact.
We have already shown that men can confront and overcome the unwritten rules about masculinity that have restricted their lives as well as the lives of the many people around them. Now we need to take that proof to the world.
This is about men confronting their physicality, exploring how it has affected their relationship with masculinity and seeing clearly how the resulting sense of power and invulnerability has impacted on their mental health and on the mental health and life experience of others.
While WR will curate content, evaluation is being carried out through an independent academic study conducted by researchers at Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom and the University of Calgary in Canada. The study will share its findings through peer-reviewed journals and academic publishing. You can read more about the research study and how it will evaluate WR here.
WR will 🐣 support long-term development 🐣 through online and real-world spaces that offer participants continuing support to become and remain effective change agents.
Registered charity partner Sport Allies will also produce media content through a partnership with London Film School and SKY Sports.
As we enter our second decade, we have a clearer idea of what we’re doing and how we are going to get there. It’s going to be a fun ride, so don’t miss out!
In a recent post about our new website, I identified a parallel between the work we’ve been doing to develop our project and the work that needs to be done on masculinity itself. Masculinity needs a reboot, with fresh inputs from more diverse voices.
All of us at WR are committed to engaging men in that transformation, encouraging them to collaborate across sexualities, ethnicities, religious and political beliefs to share different perspectives on becoming better men.
We are here to support men to build healthier masculinities for themselves, and to understand that their work today will help to build a better home for all among the generations to come.
When we started the Warwick Rowers calendar back in 2009, there was no blueprint, no grand design, no five-year plan – just an LGBT hobby photographer (me) who had noticed a growing number of amateur naked calendars, and a university rowing club that needed to raise some funds.
With one group of boys from one boat club at one university, we were able to create a campaigning calendar that grew organically from those humble beginnings into the world’s leading straight ally campaign. Our message drew the attention of senior politicians and national sporting bodies, as well as internationally-recognised celebrities like Sir Elton John, Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Kylie Minogue, Boy George, George Takai, Derren Brown and many, many more.
By the time of our tenth anniversary edition, our calendar featured the world’s fastest rower (New Zealand’s Robbie Manson) and had established and funded Sport Allies, a registered charity that works with media partners that include London Film School and SKY Sports to make sport a home for everyone. We were also well on our way to completing the five book cycle that brought frontal nudity to WR and helped us to define our own rules as a project.
Now, as the Worldwide Roar, we DO have a blueprint and a long-term plan. With the support of academics at Leeds Beckett University in the UK and University of Calgary in Canada, our own team of creatives and operatives and our thousands of individual funders around the world, Worldwide Roar is growing into an academically-guided experiment in social activism, personal development and mass participation art based in sport.
WR will lead university and amateur sportsmen on a journey that will support them to explore their relationship with their masculinity and how that relates to their self-esteem, their personal relationships and their ability to effect change in the world around them.
It’s a much-needed make-over that we’ve all been waiting for.
Welcome to our new website! We’ve finally gone live after months of planning and countless zoom meetings throughout various lockdowns across the European countries where the WR team is based. It’s been a challenge, but here we are!
We hope you will love the new look and interface. As I promised when I wrote to supporters earlier this year, we are doing everything we can to make supporting WR as easy and enjoyable as possible.
The move to the new site has been a massive undertaking for us and for our new web development partners at Appeal Digital in Bristol, England. I am deeply grateful to everyone involved for keeping the show on the road, especially during such a difficult time. Special thanks must go to Luke and his team at Appeal, and to Paddy, Holly, Ann, Lucas, Amir and Nickie at WR.
Most of the work has gone into the parts you cannot see, like moving tens of thousands of accounts with digital purchase histories dating back over a decade. There will almost certainly be a few teething problems over the next couple of weeks and we will very much welcome your feedback to sort them out as quickly as possible.
Working on the website with the team has reminded me that building sites are always a bit messy and disruptive, but that disruption is also how we create change. From dust, noise and chaos, something new and inspiring can arise.
It’s not just the WR website that needed a makeover this year. Masculinity itself must now become a building site.
The structures of hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal privilege are racist, misogynist, homophobic, restrictive and repressive. They are a health and safety threat to everyone. They must be renovated, updated and remodelled into new structures that everyone can live in, live with and enjoy.
If we peer through the noise and dust of today, we can see that building work has started and the transformation is underway. We can see the beginnings of something new, more open and inspiring in the progress being made by women as well as BIPOC and LGBT communities.
With your support, I believe WR can play a significant role in that process of transformation and renewal, not least by changing how we look at men. There’s still a long way to go, but we have a big vision for our future. Over the coming weeks and months, I want to share that vision with you.