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Dave Pickering tries to explain masculinity, both to you and to himself

In 2015, I made a show about being a man called What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity. As research for the show, I surveyed 1000 anonymous men. In 2016, I wrote and performed an extension of the show called Liberating Men for BBC Radio 4's Four Thought. That episode was the Radio Times Pick of the Day.

I want to develop and expand this work into a book. Part one will be an extended version of the show and will be addressed to men; part two will be addressed to everyone and will cover what I’ve learned through the journey of performing the show; and part three will be the full survey of 1000 men. The survey says more about where masculinity is right now than anything I’ve ever come up with. It’s full of contradictions, emotions and prejudices. Just like men.

The book won’t be a book about how men are the problem. It will be a book about trying to find ways of changing the systems that surround and contain us. I won’t be presenting myself as objective or as any kind of authority. I don’t have any answers. But I do have some suggestions for what I think can be done.

I don’t want to be given cookies for any of this. When people come to my show I give them cookies. But I do think this is an important time for men to be grappling with what it means to be a man, how we are trained to be men, and what alternative approaches we can take when navigating the world.

This book will help more men to ask questions; to reassess and decode ourselves; to strive for liberation; to feel and express emotions freely and respectfully; to be safe from violence; to help other people to be safe from violence; and to support and love consensually and without shame. Thousands of years of social conditioning is a thing we all share. We’ve all been lied to and manipulated; this manipulation hurts some of us more than others. It’s built on lies, and it hurts everyone.

That’s what this book will be about.

Content note: This book will talk about violence, abuse, sexual assault, rape, systematic bullying, mental health issues and suicide.

My name is Dave Pickering, and I’m a storyteller and podcaster. When I’m not thinking about masculinity, I make the weekly conversation podcast Getting Better Acquainted, which won a British Podcast Award in 2017, was nominated for a Radio Production Award in 2012, featured on BBC Radio 4’s In Pod We Trust and Radio 5 Live’s Required Listening. The podcast has also been recommended by The Guardian, Time Out and (weirdly) the Financial Times. I also co-produce and star in the magical realist podcast drama, The Family Tree, which looks at themes of identity, belief, family and change. I produce a monthly podcast for the Restart Project, which goes out online and on Resonance FM. For five years, I ran a live night and podcast called Stand Up Tragedy, which aimed to create a safe space to talk about unsafe things. Since 2011, I’ve been a member of the Spark London team. I host their monthly true storytelling open mic in Hackney. I co-wrote – with some really creative classes of primary school children – the Cbeebies Radio Series, Ministry of Stories, which starred Jenni Murray. Numbers, a drama series I wrote for RethinkDaily, was nominated for the Sony Radio Awards in 2009.

Dear men,

I’m 13 years old, and it’s late at night.

My mum has been drinking gin. She’s sitting at the end of the table crying. I ask her what’s wrong, and she begins to shout.

I don’t remember everything she said, but I remember some of the things. She said that she hated herself. She said nobody loved her. She wished she'd never had me. She wished she’d never had any of her children. She said she hated men; that men were responsible for everything that had ever hurt her. She said that men were like a cancer. She said that men were to blame for everything bad in the world. She said men couldn’t help themselves: it was in their nature.

I said, “what about me?”

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