Chris Gribble on toxic masculinity: It’s a conversation we all need to be part of

WOW - Women of the World Norwich 2018 - Chris Gribble.Photo: supplied by Norwich Arts Centre

WOW - Women of the World Norwich 2018 - Chris Gribble.Photo: supplied by Norwich Arts Centre - Credit: supplied by Norwich Arts Centre

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich, is speaking the Toxic Masculinity event at the WOW Norwich women's festival this weekend. Here he looks at why both sexes should join in the conversation.

WOW Norwich logoImage: supplied by WOW Norwich

WOW Norwich logoImage: supplied by WOW Norwich - Credit: supplied by WOW Norwich

It's not hard to come across the term 'toxic masculinity' in the press and in our wider culture at the moment.

Just this week, the horrific events in Toronto have been linked to the ideology (random stupidity would be my term) of the so-called 'incel' - involuntarily celibate – movement in North America. This is itself another expression of toxic masculinity which is basically the negative effects and behaviours that come from the adherence to and celebration of the traditional gender roles for men that restrict the range and types of emotions men and boys are able to express.

Real men don't cry. Don't show weakness. Winning is everything. Just some of the underlying beliefs that have conditioned traditional 'male behaviours' in our culture. And there's no doubt that there's real and psychological truth to this analysis. Stereotypes, cultural norms, traditions and social expectations all come with downsides as well as the positives of promoting (for some) a sense of belonging, identity and security.

I was born and brought up in a former mining village on the edge of Newcastle in the Seventies. Gender roles were pretty clear and unambiguous for the most part. But last week I spent an hour listening to a recording of my grandad from 1977, talking about his life as a Rolley-Way Man in the pits of Northumberland. Responsible for maintaining the underground (and sometimes undersea) roads of the pits and mines it was a tough, exclusively male and pretty brutal way of making a living.


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Yet his words and stories, his memories of his family, his work and his village school showed me a man so far from the stereotypes of toxic masculinity it reminded me that there have always been men who have resisted the worst outcomes of enforced gender stereotypes. It gave me hope that there's a deep and lasting sense of equality, equity and basic empathy among us all – men and women – that can be built on and nurtured as we create and discover new ways of negotiating relationships between people of all gender identities in the modern world.

The Toxic Masculinity debate at WOW is part of a much bigger and longer conversation – but it's a conversation we all need to be part of.

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• Chris Gribble is speaking at the Toxic Masculinity event at 12.30pm on Saturday at OPEN in Norwich.

For more about this and other WOW Norwich events, visit www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

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