Decoding Masculinity @ Camberwell College of Arts.

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This conversation is one that has been highly anticipated and is something that must continue to be discussed across the board. Our panellists gave us a personal insight into how patriarchy negatively impacted their behaviour growing up, and how it influenced how they carried themselves on a daily basis.

The panel discussion was held at UAL’s Camberwell campus with panellists:

Caleb Femi– Poet, English teacher, filmmaker and is also the Young People’s Laureate for London. (@Caleb.Femi)

Ebun A. Sodipo– a London-based queer, non-binary artist. A recent graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, from BA Fine Art Sculpture. (@EPastry)

Sabah Choudrey– a queer Pakistani activist, writer, and speaker. (@Sabah.c)

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“Who is your masculinity serving?”


Masculinity, as powerful as it may be when portrayed on television or in the media, can also be damaging to the point of destruction. This discussion explored exactly how pressurising it can be for people of colour to subscribe to these expectations, especially in a world where white cisheterosexuality is celebrated and often times people of colour find themselves passively absorbing these messages. Pressures include always having to appear composed even during moments of despair; being taught that vulnerability is a weakness and being told to “man up” when feelings of sadness appear.

Choudrey opened the discussion and made very sound points regarding his take on masculinity:

My gender has never been separated from my race” He also added:

As people of colour, we feel pressured to submit to what white people perceive gender and race to be”- a point which resonated well with many of the attendees. This pressure stems from western ideals which many people of colour have been bombarded with and conditioned to believe that and often feel alienated when they cannot live up to these standards.

Sodipo made it clear that when they think about gender they also think about race as the two experiences are concurrent.

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Femi spoke about how grime music shaped his view of women and his view of how men were supposed to treat women. Grime also influenced his behaviour and mannerisms in order to be deemed a ‘real’ man.

Some grime lyrics make you feel like you know everything about women. Which is counterproductive as women are very complex beings”.

Panellists were asked a series of thought-provoking questions and provided answers that made our understanding of their struggle a lot clearer.

Where do you think the construction of masculinity comes from?

Colonisation. The western idea of masculinity was transported across the globe […] When we think about the construction of masculinity we need to understand it’s always through the white male lense”. – Ebun A. Sodipo

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Where does the deconstruction of masculinity come from?

A lot of trans people challenge that. They believe you can construct masculinity by adopting different pronouns and dressing differently”. – Sabah Choudrey

Deconstruction of masculinity is a threat to the patriarchal system, however, masculinity is constructed with a fear of losing that power as it is built on protecting white men” – Ebun A. Sodipo.

The idea of masculinity was performed by my grandmother and sisters back in Nigeria. However, I really learned about being a man at church. The women and men were sat separately, we’d learn different stories and there were points where they would teach you how to be a man” – Caleb Femi

The following question was aimed more towards mental health and how masculinity can trigger mental health issues.

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In reference to mental health, how is it affecting men?

The fear of asking for help and speaking out is really strong. Many suffer in silence and don’t feel like it’s acceptable to reach out” – Sabah Choudrey

I was sexually abused and told my parents to seek help for my trauma but my dad wanted me to deal with it on my own” – Ebun A. Sodipo

Going through my first heartbreak was something I had to be silent about at 14 and even when friends pass away we would have to just get on with it. I also feel I have to put on this character to feel like I’m less of a target, which really affects how I feel about myself and it’s really exhausting”. – Caleb Femi

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How did you think the creative education has targeted decoding masculinity? Should they start teaching this in education?

I don’t think school systems are doing enough to challenge gender roles or identity. With regards to literature, the usual messages are perpetuated. There isn’t a wide enough breadth of different types of people. Sometimes there is an issue of sensationalism in art, for example, a man wearing a pink dress. What message are you sending? Are you only doing it because it’s cool?” – Caleb Femi

“There needs to be more feminine thinkers and speakers. There should also be more non-Cis male voices in literature too.” – Ebun A. Sodipo

“We need to teach children to be comfortable asking questions”- Sabah Choudery

Written by Phalinda-Tavia Wakadima (@PhalindaJaxn)