Professor Green on What Makes a Man
Stephen Manderson introduces his new regular column 'Learning to Adult, Slowly', exclusive to The Book of Man.
Let me start with why I’ve decided to write this column.
To explore all things relative to masculinity – including femininity. What I hope to achieve, between you, the readers and myself, is what defines, not being a man, but masculinity – to explore just how limiting or expansive it can be. My intentions are to be painfully honest, although I do question why honesty has to be painful and the truth has to hurt.
I grew up right between the ‘sweet mates’ and the ‘rude boys’ having been born in 1983 to a sixteen year old mum who’d done a runner by the time I was one, and an eighteen year old dad who went to the shop and took a long time to come back. He did this a few times leaving me with many more questions than he ever did answer.
Then in 2008 he killed himself.
Shame, because we hadn’t spoken for six years – all unanswered questions shall remain so.
Having been brought up by my grandmother, Nanny Pat, and more often (I say more often because Nanny Pat was out working from 4am in the morning cleaning banks up the city, then off to Percy Ingles, then off to clean the houses of mostly the affluent Jewish families in Stamford Hill) my great grandmother, Nanny Edie.
I realised that my family was quite fractured, and I had a distinct lack of male role models, though I found this through hindsight and wasn’t aware of it at the time.
Lucky me, walking out at the age of six, my Nan watching nervously from the kitchen window as I disappeared around the corner into the middle of the Northwold Estate in Hackney to go, even more nervously, to make some friends. My adventure began – growing up in a relatively rough area with constant repetition of “fighting doesn’t make you a man, always walk away” echoing in my ears.
Don’t get me wrong, I never suffered any kind of gang initiation where you have to be jumped in, but there were times when I did walk away from confrontation. I felt I was strong enough to handle it and felt emasculated for doing so.
Every time, I was left with this horrible repeat of other possible outcomes playing over and over in my head and a knot in my stomach I used to describe as a stomach ache. A stomach ache I had most days.
Already as a boy I was having to learn how to ‘be a man’, through various different sources and uncovering lots of contradictions – always with what Nanny Pat had told me in mind. But her advice often conflicted with my environment, the advice of my ‘olders’ (how we’d describe the older kids) and I suppose the idea of the more alpha-male. The archetype.
My mate got his bike stolen and his stepdad told him if anyone ever tried to take anything off of him again, to, “bite their fucking lip off!”. Quite different to my nan’s approach.
I’d love to have started this, my first column, with a quote from one of my favourite artists; Ghetts’ “No introduction needed”, but it’s probably one of the times it’s most important to explain my relevance to this journey and my place in the world as a man. Because how do I know what you know about me? Possibly nothing. There goes that masculine ego. Possibly you know nothing. I’m a fatherless, early school leaving (not one single GCSE), music and more recently documentary making; book writing; ex drug dealing; dog loving; caring; careless; self-loathing; cat-disliking (hate is too strong a word); drinking and drug taking; self-doubting; over-thinking; impulsive; impatient; sensitive; emotional; strong (at times); weak (at others); sufferer of depression and above all, my most defining quality (but I had to think about it) I’d probably say, anxious… man?
The question mark is there because I’m not quite sure what makes you (or me) a man.
The world is a hard place to navigate – especially when you feel like nobody’s ‘pickney’ (child). For you to understand my perspective you need to understand where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and how I’ve learned to interpret it all.
I remember when I did fight, and apart from not having a clue how to, I was disproportionately aggressive, like everything I’d walked away from that left me with that feeling of cowardice had all come out at once. I wouldn’t say I’m a fighter now, but there’s definitely still a fight in me.
Later my Dad taking his own life would lead to my first documentary: Suicide and Me, where you get to see me cry my eyes out ‘like a little girl’ as I try to uncover things about his life I didn’t know and what may have led to him making such a final decision.
‘Like a little girl’ is such a gender specific stereotype, isn’t it? Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tell us that ‘Big girls don’t cry’, but what about big boys? What about men?
A close friend quoted Grayson Perry saying, “we need to redefine masculinity in order to be able to live in a world where we’re okay with equality,” or something along those lines – and that’s something I strongly disagree with. But we’ll get into all that later as I continue my journey working out what it is that makes a man (beyond your bits), if I’m a decent one, and where, if anywhere, we all fit in.
I’ll be here, at The Book of Man every two weeks, continuing this journey, developing and sharing opinions, open to judgement, question and (hopefully) constructive criticism, until Russia nukes us all.
Now there’s someone who strikes me as a man, or someone confident in their manhood – Putin.
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