The Manliness of Art

Illustration by Vicky Wang.

Kevin John Siazon grew up in a family of all girls. He and his sisters would play with dolls, pretend to be princesses and watch Sailor Moon. He also loved to sing and dance—he started doing musical theatre by grade six. It took a while for him to be comfortable with “the more feminine side” of himself, prioritizing fitness and sporting conventionally masculine haircuts in high school. But now as a fourth-year journalism student he wears his long, flowing hair parted to the side and has a fashion sense that goes beyond the boundaries of gendered clothing.

“I like saying that when I shop for clothes, I don’t shop in any particular section—the whole store is open for me, which is nice because my creativity and my art perspective allows that,” said Siazon.

The month of November is dedicated to raising awareness for men’s health. Men show their solidarity by growing out a moustache, hence the term “Movember.” There has also been a growing emphasis on mental health over the past few years, with ads like the Movember Foundation’s “Suicide notes talk too late,” where men read out excerpts from suicide notes. It’s only at the end of the ad where they reveal that they were reading suicide notes they’ve written themselves. The ad ends off with the message: “‘Men, let’s talk when things get tough.’”

“Masculinity is a prison,” said Brandon Schwartz, a first-year creative industries student. “It makes for a very limited and small box that boys find themselves needing to conform to and to stay within.”

According to StatsCanada, men were three times more likely to commit suicide than women in 2009, and suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for men in 2012.

Research shows that men are generally more pressured to conform to gender roles. Expectations include being strong, independent and tough. The Art of Manliness, a website dedicated to “uncovering the lost art of being a man,” says that the three main roles of a man is to provide, protect and procreate. This poses as a challenge for men in the arts, where, instead of focusing on physical strength, they explore and expose their emotions.

“I can think of several instances where I’d think of scenes in my head then I’d start crying and be like ‘oh, this is beautiful,’” said Dempsey Kukko-Pulkkinen, a second-year film student. “Emotions definitely come into play with it, a little too much for me.”

Brandon Da Silva, also a second-year film student, explains that when people see introverted men like himself, they would assume that they have no sense of direction or leadership and that they’re generally weak. The best outlet for him was film, where he could express his thoughts and ideas through the stories he tells.

Masculinity is a prison.

“I feel that masculinity for [my high school friends] is more of a visual stimulus, like how you look and how you interpret and express yourself,” said Da Silva. “I’m very internal and that’s why I’m in film. I think a lot of people in film are very internal and their expressional thought comes through the work they make.”

But despite it being outside the confines of conventional masculinity, art acts as an outlet for men who live in a world where they’re expected to be strong, protective providers.

 


 

Growing up, Jarrett Stoll would dabble with different sports, even though he knew very well that he had zero interest in athletics. But he felt like he needed to try soccer and baseball to downplay his involvement in theatre and to validate his masculinity. His perceptions shifted when he started going to school in Toronto, which is known for its vibrant art scene.

“Eventually, the whole concept of masculinity falls out of the traditional way and into a more contemporary idea,” said Stoll, who plays George in the Ryerson Musical Theatre Company’s (RMTC) production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

Performing arts student groups like the RMTC provide safe spaces for people, especially men, where they can express themselves and do what they love without the fear of judgment or harassment. Everyone comes from different programs and backgrounds, but what brings them together is their love for theatre, said Graeme Jokic, who’s part of the ensemble in The Drowsy Chaperone.

When November comes to an end and facial hair gets shaved off, it’s important to keep the conversation going. It’s time to start thinking about the subtle but damaging effects gender roles can have on men’s self-worth.

“We need to change the way we talk to men about how they feel and how to express themselves, either through art or just through talking,” said Siazon. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be traditionally masculine, [men] just need to not have those ideas limit themselves and other people, otherwise it will just continue to be toxic.”