We all know by now that men need to be part of the gender equality conversation. Feminism is just as much a man’s issue as it is women’s. When it comes to body image and self esteem, there is no question that men suffer just as much as women, but it isn’t necessarily talked about in the media. That brings us to the media. While men aren’t immune to being affected about their physical appearance, the media, advertising, fashion, beauty and consumerism have done a great job of creating a global culture that thrives on low self-esteem and buying into the marketing messages in the hope that it will make us all more beautiful, acceptable, and successful.
We have a plethora of women’s points of view here at GTHQ, but we decided it’s high time to get a solid male perspective, and not just an “expert” who is going to spout of a bunch of medical or academic jargon. We wanted someone who is on the ground, experiencing what it’s like to be surrounding by women who are affected by the culture we live in. Enter Tom Gill. This UK lad is an actor, singer/songwriter, and spoken word artist. He regularly performs around the UK with his original pieces.
He tweeted us a link to a poem he wrote called ‘Magazines’ which talks about the way women are influenced by the glossy pages filled with unrealistic messages and imagery. The video is mesmerizing, not just because Tom is awesome at what he does, but also because literally every word he says and every rhyming sentence is like a damning expose on how these seemingly harmless publications feed into the deterioration of young men and women.
We chatted with Tom about the idea behind writing this poem and what led him to do it.
Why did you write ‘Magazines’?
I saw a spoken word competition in the UK looking for responses to various themes one of which was objectification & the media. I’d thrown a few bars back and forth in my head around this topic already- so decided to expand on it for the competition which I then went on to win and perform live as part of a social change project.
Your lyrics point out some great messages for young women in terms of not feeling pressured by the media to look a certain way. What was it about this topic that made you want to write a poem about it?
I think ultimately it stemmed from a frustration at living in a media driven society which has a direct influence on how people think and feel which I notice in the every day.I moved into a flat recently where a couple of the girls were watching ‘Americas Next Top Model’ and endured an hour of them openly criticizing and glorifying the women on it. It’s relentless.
I tend to think women sometimes dress for the approval of other women and with past girlfriends I’d notice other girls looking them up and down often without any sense of concealment like it was acceptable behavior which would aggravate me. Its like they don’t see the person just ‘hair, shoes, eyebrows’. As a male on the outside of this I feel I can see it for what it is.
When I was younger I used to read my mums magazines, mainly through boredom and because they’ve always been lying around the house. I realized that this exact same behavior was often incited in those magazines. On one page we would be told someone was ‘hot’, and the following week the same celebrity figure was ‘Not’. They encourage not only analyzing beauty on a superficial level but almost dictate what’s right or wrong, when there isn’t a right or wrong. It doesn’t even exist! This adds a pressure –particularly for young women who perhaps aren’t comfortable in their own skin yet to look a certain way. But they change the right way to look each week and if you try and aim for the right way to look you’ll never achieve it because it’s subjective and only ever from someone else’s perspective. That’s why we need to look on the inside rather than externally to truly be content.
An ex-girlfriend of mine used to read them all the time and would make comments similar to those mentioned in my Magazines video such as ‘look at her fat rolls’. How we judge people is often a reflection of the way we judge ourselves. So if you are critical over someone’s appearance chances are you criticize yourself in the same way. I wanted to highlight that reading magazines and making comments like that are damaging not only to other people but yourself.
There is a huge push for men to be involved in conversations about feminism, and seeing the injustices women face from another perspective. How would you encourage other men to have more empathy for what women face in the media?
Well feminism can be a scary word…especially for men as I guess a lot of us think it means anti-men. But from what I understand it’s about gender equality. I guess the ‘fem’ part doesn’t help. I would say like with anything try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes because whether its gender, age, or race nobody want’s to feel discriminated against.
On the same token, men aren’t immune from body image issues, what are your experiences with this?
Personally I don’t really involve myself in celebrity culture or lads magazines so I don’t tend to feel too much of a pressure. I like to keep in shape but I think maybe size seems to have become a big thing back in my hometown of Salford in the UK-with reality shows such as Geordie Shore in UK or Jersey Shore which can often idolize people with low intelligence but huge arms and I think this rubs off so guys feel that’s what they should do as well– Read Less, Lift more (they’ll probably be selling that on t-shirts in stores next week!).
Would you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Yes. Even before saying that I had to think carefully but by definition it’s the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality, and I believe in equality. I know there are a lot of women who say they aren’t feminists and even those completely against it highlighted by the #WomenAgainstFeminism campaign. A lot of arguments against the movement are not feeling the need to identify as a victim or wanting to support the idea that women are victimized. The whole ‘Pro Women’ & ‘Anti Men’ debate is a complex one and I don’t think men are exempt from discrimination, but there are countless examples particularly in media where women face oppression and are victims to objectification, and that should be recognized and changed. I think women suffer from it more so then men, but not exclusively.
In your opinion, what do the media and magazines need to promote more of, and less of?
More positivity. Less negativity.
We are constantly bombarded by adverts on TV, billboards and magazines with images that aren’t an accurate representation of real life. But that filters into the human psyche and we are seeing that as a comparative benchmark. Adverts designed to make us feel we need a product in order to be happy, or news stories designed to instill fear. A friend of mine recently moved to London and started getting sketchy as we walked past a gang of black males. See how I instinctively said ‘gang’ and not ‘group’!
We are constantly exposed to negativity surrounding black youths and media is a powerful medium and can influence how we view things in real life so they must have a responsibility to accurately represent people and put more positivity out there and hopefully that will filter into our minds and souls. I’m not sure it will change anytime soon, but we do have the power as the consumers to reduce the demand for it, by not consuming.