‘Man talk’ in the era of new masculinity

Our analysis of Gillette’s attempt at shunning ‘toxic masculinity’ identified some of the challenges of taking a gender-based approach in modern times, yet there are media brands making a success of it. The Book of Man (BOM) is a new online men’s magazine offering support and inspiration for the modern man navigating this age of “new masculinity” and its approach has attracted collaboration from high-profile celebrities and charities. We recently had a chance to listen BOM co-founder, Martin Robinson, talking about the brand’s aims. Here is what we learned.

Let’s begin with the origins of “new masculinity”. Thanks to the likes of technology, society has changed rapidly over the last 20 years and with it, our traditional gender roles. Driven by feminism, women have continued to embrace this movement, calling for further change in the way they are perceived and treated. Conversely, Robinson observes that men have struggled to adapt to this new world, with many lacking the communication skills to navigate it. For example, Atlantic Magazine’s famous piece ‘The End of Men’ highlighted how the digital era favours skills traditionally associated with women. As some of the historically patriarchal structures in society are loosened, the traditional one-size-fits-all conception of masculinity is thrown into turmoil, resulting in something of a male identity crisis.

One reflection of this crisis is the UK’s male suicide rates. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide, in part due to the perceived taboo around seeking help for mental health disorders and workplace stress. Shockingly, suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, with as many as 84 men taking their lives every week. The BOM has partnered with the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to address these challenges and help move the conversation forward.

According to Robinson, the key is to break through the “man box” - a rigid construct of cultural ideals surrounding male identity. The term, which was coined by Lynx, is derived from a study on young men’s perceptions of manhood across ten different countries. Here, it was found that many men feel pushed to embody traditionally masculine traits, such as acting tough, having sexual prowess and using aggression to settle disputes.

With the damaging impact of “old masculinity” more prominent than ever – see movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp – it is clear that the time for change is now. The BOM aims to help men by redefining masculinity, encouraging them to “step outside the man box” and embrace more positive, equitable ideas and attitudes.

So what does this “new masculinity” mean for the men’s publishing market? It’s safe to say that the lad mag industry as we once knew it has all but died out. Instead, we have a new breed of men’s magazine, with the likes of the BOM creating a safe space for men to discuss topics ranging from the sensitive (relationships and mental health) to the traditional (sports and grooming). Already we can see both established titles and online brands, such as GQ and LADbible, picking up on the publishing needs of the “modern man”, covering people and stories that are relevant in this new era.

The success of the BOM in growing its following from 0 to over 23,000 monthly readers in under a year, highlights a desire for men to have a place to discuss previously neglected ideas and feelings. For brands and PR professionals this means they too must “step outside the man box” and address these issues in as an authentic way as possible, if they wish to avoid a repeat of Gillette-gate.

As with the BOM, new masculinity is just at the start of what we are sure will be a much bigger movement and we look forward to seeing brands big and small leave behind the old school ideals.

Will they be successful in appealing to the modern male audience?

Only time will tell how the story unfolds.

Categories: Opinion