What does it mean to be ‘manly as’? Jarrod Gilbert led Dominic Hoey, Omar Musa, and Chris Tse in a discussion on masculinity and their work, trying to unpick this tricky question. As we discovered, it’s not a question that’s easily answered. But a great conversation was had, and it left the audience with a lot to think about.
An audience member at the end of this session suggested that perhaps rather than talking about masculinity in the singular, we need to think of masculinities. Of multiple ways of being. The three panelists were a great example of this, each displaying his own concept of masculinity, and each exploring masculinity in different ways in their work and in their lives.
Australian Omar Musa did a great job reminding us that intersectionality isn’t a word that is restricted to feminism, as it was coined for. He brought into discussion things such as race, religion, class, and economics. He spoke thoughtfully about a broad spectrum of topics, coming out with such comments as: ‘Something like gangster rap comes from Reagan era, Reaganomics…that’s not to excuse misogyny against women, but it doesn’t come from nowhere.’ And: ‘I’m asian australian but I’m also muslim australian. Asian men were almost desexualised in Australia. [My choice was] between being asexual or violently sexual.’
Auckland poet, writer and musician Dominic Hoey complimented Musa’s sentiments well. When asked whether he feels positive about masculinity in 2018 Hoey answered: ‘At least these conversations are happening and people are talking about feminism, but it’s hard under capitalism, someone’s always gonna be at the bottom.’ Hoey does a lot of work with youth in Auckland, and his challenge with boys and young men is “trying to explain to them how patriarchy is fucking them as well.” In his debut novel Iceland, Hoey has written a main character who is hypermasculine and violent. This was a deliberate act. ‘I wanted to show how he came to that point.’
Wellington poet Chris Tse, resplendent in a floral romper, talked a lot about masculinity in the gay community. ‘What’s held up as the gold standard of masculinity in the gay community is a super buff white man.’
On discussions like Manly As? Tse comments ‘I think we are naive to think there’s a point, a nirvana, where none of this matters any more.’ A realist, Tse hopes for things to be at least ‘a little bit less shit.’ He sees his latest collection, He’s So MASC, as a contribution towards this goal: ‘Writing this book and just being who I am is hopefully helping other people.’
Manly As? showed that we cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand on these topics. As Musa said, ‘These things – masculinity, femininity, testosterone – they affect our lives whether we like it or not.’ Toxic masculinity and the patriarchy does very real harm to our societies, our communities. When asked by Gilbert what the goal is, Musa responded, to applause, ‘I’d just like to live in an Australia where two women a week don’t die at the hands of men.’
Reviewed by Gem Wilder