The Men Reframing Masculinity: Here Are Our Male Role Models On International Men’s Day

In the face of alarmingly brutal expectations of male uniformity, they’re going out of their way of how men’s strength is in so much more than physical, brutishness, or systemising authoritarianism.


by Sophie Wilkinson |

Today, November 19th, is International Men’s Day. Yes, it exists and it happens today! One of the most Googled days of the year, most people tend to look it up on 8th March, International Women’s Day, in an exercise of whataboutery. The silly notion driving so much of this Googling, that women get all the fun stuff/all the specific analysis of their specific hardships, and men don’t, should be allayed by the existence of a decent and well-intentioned International Men’s Day, right?

Let’s hope. To us, feminism is key to battling the issues men do have. The very same patriarchy telling women to have a soft, caring, appeasing sexiness, tells men to have a hard, tough aggression, a dependable, muted emotion, that can never waver into sadness, but is allowed, on more occasions than ever necessary, to manifest as red-hot anger. The result is devastating. Men are the perpetrators in 78% of violent crime, and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK (four out of five suicides is male).

Other health issues disproportionately affecting men, which are so often linked to men’s lifestyles - they’ve heavier drinkers, heavier smokers, more likely to eat big butch slabs of red meat - include heart disease - 75% of premature deaths from heart disease are male - and diabetes, which affects double the amount of middle-aged men as it does middle-aged women.

Men are also seven and a half times more likely than women to become problem gamblers, in part due to the ways in which men’s sports are monetised and advertised by the gambling industry, and account for 96% of workplace fatalities, in part because men are encouraged, from school-age, to work in riskier jobs. Male-specific cancers include prostate cancer, which one in seven men will die with, and testicular cancer, which affects over 2,000 men a year.

Despite the Men’s Rights Movement looking a lot like a reactionary movement against women’s progression, propelled by upset that their financial emancipation seemingly comes at the cost of men’s egos, men’s rights deserve looking out for in a genuine, proactive way. There is no workable feminist utopia of a man-free zone, no matter how convenient that might seem at a time when male violence towards women is, as it should be, increasingly highlighted. We all have to co-exist on this wonderful and drab planet and the understanding is that goal will be better achieved when we start to break down the concrete casing around masculinity which has minimal basis in who modern men actually are and want to be. Just as we’ve long known there’s no one way to be a woman, there’s no one way of being a man, and there’s also no one way of breaking out of the constraints that stereotypical masculinity put on men.

The theme of International Men’s Day 2018 is ‘positive role models’ and while the bar can be pretty low for men to become a positive role model, and all they need to get wild applause on a chat show is mumble ‘You know what, I think men shouldn’t hit women’ or ‘As a father to a daughter, I understand after years of being terrible to women, that men should be nice to women’, or ‘I shagged a woman once’, there are men consciously doing so much more than this, reframing masculinity for 2019 and beyond. In the face of alarmingly brutal expectations of male uniformity, they’re going out of their way of how men’s strength is in so much more than physical, brutishness, or systemising authoritarianism.

To celebrate men who do it differently, who show us all how masculinity can diverge from the tough machismo of yesteryear, are 10 of our male role models:


International Men's Day Inspirational Men - Grazia (stacked)

Gareth Southgate
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

The England manager hugged his players, comforted them, showed them it's ok to lose and learn from losing. His non-alpha style of leadership, which made him seem more like a sort of therapist than argey-bargy loutish football manager, was calm and considered and saw a young England team excel in the Russia World Cup 2018.

Ross Edgley
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

This hulk of a man - think Dan Bilzerian with an actual purpose - swam 2,000 miles around Great Britain. His journey is the sort of exercise, literally, that lesser men would allow grow into a huge ego-boost, but he used it as a way of testing and learning what his body was capable of. His tongue nearly disintegrated because of the salty seas, his feet got the shakes and he needed to chub up to float better in the sea. All the while, he respected that the sea wasn't something to conquer, but get to know, acknowledging he is just one small guy in the face of a huge natural force.

Harry Styles
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

Flamboyant, flirty and charming, Styles is a male pop star in a new vein, showing his support for a diversity of issues - he waves LGBT rainbow flags at his gigs, advocates for gun control, and told Timothée Chalamet: 'I didn't grow up in a man's man world. I grew up with my mum and my sister. But I definitely think in the last two years, I've become a lot more content with who I am. I think there's so much masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine, and I'm very comfortable with that. Growing up you don't even know what those things mean. You have this idea of what being masculine is and as you grow up and experience more of the world, you become more comfortable with who you are. Today it's easier to embrace masculinity in so many different things. I definitely find – through music, writing, talking with friends and being open – that some of the times when I feel most confident is when I'm allowing myself to be vulnerable. It's something that I definitely try and do.'

David Challen
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CREDIT: David Challen Twitter

David is the son of Sally Challen, a woman currently serving a life sentence with a minumum 18-year sentence for killing her husband, Richard, (David's father), who she'd been with for 40 years since she was 14. Aware that his mother had lashed out against his father after decades of suffering from coercive control, part of a spectrum of domestic abuse, that saw her regularly gaslit over Richard's affairs as well as bullied, belittled and controlled by him, he has long campaigned for his mother's conviction to be appealed on the basis that she acted in retaliation and deserves a manslaughter conviction rather than a murder conviction. Not only that, but he's used his platform to call for more action to tackle domestic abuse, telling Good Morning Britain that 'Recognising this social issue in this countryu2026mental abuse needs to be taken more seriously'.

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

The rapper, who has become as much a pop star as a grime star, will headline Glastonbury in 2019, but has refused to forget where he is from. He's invested in Cambridge scholarships for young black people and the #MerkyBooks imprint, to help improve the chances for a new generation. He's also been open about his past depression in order to help others get through it: 'For me it was a realisation of how fragile we are as humans. I always saw myself as this strong person who just deals with life I get on with it and something gets me low I pick myself back upu2026but when I went through it, I felt stuck''If there's anyone out there going through, I think for them to see that I went through it would help.'On top of this, he's helped give a humanity to the horrendous spate of knife crime in London, explaining that he's been stabbed three times and 'it shouldn't be normal.', and bigs up the UK's 'young black kings', explaining, 'You are sick, you're nang, you can do this. You're better than anything anyone's ever told you that you are. You're just as powerful as me. You're just as sick as me. You are just as ambitious, and you can be just as creative and as incredible and as amazing as me, Kanye West, Drake, Frank Ocean, all these people that you see. You can do that.'As for women, when asked about grime music's language about women at an Oxford University talk, he said: 'I don't want to say "we're not that bad" when we probably are. But, yeah, MCs stop cussing girls. I'll have a word with the fellow grime massive.' Since, not once did he drop a derogatory term for women in his musical output.

Ed Balls
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

As part of what he's called the 'Brownite macho cabal' of Labour MPs of the early noughties, and, um, one of the people who didn't quite see the recession coming, Ed Balls has had a lot of making up to do, but since losing his seat in Parliament in 2015, the former chancellor of the exchequer has come some way to realising that mucking up is a necessary part of life. In 2010, he came third in the Labour leadership contest, and has since admitted that his wife, Yvette Cooper, had a better chance of winning than him. His stint on Strictly Come Dancing was testament to how little ego he has left, happily chugging about the stage with zero elegance and much sweat, seemingly happy to compete in a contest he knew he was destined to lose. And though the premise of Travels in Trumpland - his BBC documentary where he got to know Trump's supporters - allowed for the possibility to celebrate the US President's values, he handled the interviews sensitively, showing right-wingers' humanity but not without acknowledging how their candidate might hurt others'.

Jordan Stephens
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Rizzle Kicks star has made a name for himself as a male feminist, speaking out about the pervasive nature of toxic masculinity, and encouraging other men to do the same. In 2017, at the beginning of the recent burgeoning of Tarana Burke's #MeToo movement, he wrote: 'I've been outspoken in my support for women's rights, but I'm not afraid to admit that I've fallen foul of the patriarchy's malicious hardwiring. But in confronting it, rather than continuing to abuse my power, I've found more inner peace, understanding, love and truth then I ever could have done had I continued as I was.' He is also aiming to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst young people with his Music4MentalHealth #IAMWHOLE campaign.

Nazir Afzal
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CREDIT: Nazir Afzal Twitter

While the likes of Tommy Robinson have used the Rochdale grooming scandal - and the many others - to make racist points, Nazir, a Muslim British solicitor has helped put away dozens of men who have abused and exploited young women and children. He has long refused to allow apparent culturaal sensitivities to get in the way of recognising gender-based violence against women, including FGM, forced marriages and honour killings. And while unafraid to prosecute other Muslim men who have hurt women, he dispels the racist myth that it is only Muslim men responsible for violence against women and girls, saying 'Having prosecuted perpetrators from more than 60 countries and [dealt with] victims from more than 50 countries, I know there isn't any community where women and girls are safe. It's a power thing and power sadly infects every community and therefore our responsibility has to begin with listening to victims and survivors.'

Grayson Perry
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CREDIT: Shutterstock

The straight, cross-dressing potter wrote a whole book - The Descent of Man - about the rigid binds that masculinity makes around men, effectively trapping them. Admitting he's not necessarily perfect when it comes to masculinity, he has set about changing what a male role model is from within. Seeking much pleasure in dressing up as a little girl he calls Claire, he says 'most of the troubles of the world are men's business.' and that 'men have the same emotions as womenu2026but emotionally a lot of them are cowards.' He also deconstructs the notion that a white middle class man is the default standard by which all other people must revolve around

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