December 23, 2015

Unity Field Trip: Being A Man

Unity is a creative agency made up of around 30 members of staff who use culture to shape how they see the world around them. We are set monthly Field Trip missions to ensure we stay informed and culturally current.

Last month we went to the Southbank Centre, for the Being A Man Festival. The event (the second ever one) addresses the challenges and pressures of masculine identity in the 21st century, so it promised to be an interesting afternoon out the office. Here’s what our two Field Trippers, Paul Drury and Alice Austin, thought:

The Festival

The diversity of programming really made our Field Trip super-interesting, Being a Man festival is a series of workshops, talks, films and seminars that explore the challenges and pressures of being a man today.

The festival features conversations, story-sharing, seminars and films that are serious, challenging and light-hearted. It gives a platform for men of all ages and backgrounds to share experiences on everything from fatherhood to fitness, depression to racial stereotypes.

Man up: Jimmie Briggs in conversation with Jude Kelly

This was a conversation session between Jude Kelly, founder of Being a Man Festival and Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, and international human rights activist Jimmy Briggs. Jimmy is the co-founder of Man-Up, a global campaign for young people aiming to stop violence against women and girls.

Jimmy spoke about his organisation, Man Up, which calls to all of us to declare that violence against women should end. The campaign gives young people a voice in developing models of change that truly address the issue of violence against women. Through universal platforms of sport, music, the arts and technology Man Up works to build a network of young champions and defenders of gender equality and inclusiveness.

For us, it really underlined the importance of finding positive male role models. Can we do more – as professional creative communicators – to make this happen?

BAM Now with Gemma Cairney

Radio 1 presenter Gemma Cairney showed and discussed her new film that explores the reality of being a young man in 21st-century Britain. After creating a short film last year about the pressures on young women in school, Gemma delved into the culture of young men and revealed a very different world with just as much pressure.

The film explored the idea of ‘banter’ and the effect it can have as a mask for bullying as well as the pressure of being tough, not showing emotion, homophobia and the pressure of exams.

A panel joined Gemma to discuss the film, made up of spoken word artist Raymond Antrobus, Great Men project manager David Brockway and musician and poet Emmanuel Speaks. All three gave incredible insight to the world of young men in schools, with the over-arching theme that young men are not encouraged to show emotion or talk about their feelings. As a result they have no one to share with, which can lead to mental health issues. The three panelists encourage and mentor young men to allow them to express themselves in healthy ways.

This part of Being A Man really brought to life the pressures young me feel. Status is always going to be important. But in a fast-changing digital world, do we need to think more deeply about status, education and achievement?

All in the mind? Men’s mental health

This panel discussion was a moving conversation about the culture of silence around men and mental health. Research from the charity Mind suggests that almost a third of men would be embarrassed to seek help for a mental health problem and the pressure of being told to ‘man up’ and deal with it.

The panel included Poorna Bell, Executive Editor and Global Lifestyle Head of The Huffington Post, Gregor Henderson, National Lead for Wellbeing and Mental Health at Public Health England, and John Black, Fathers Development Worker at Working With Men.

Dr. Christian (Channel 4, Embarrassing Bodies) chaired the discussion outlining the lack of coverage on TV about men’s mental health and how important it is that talking about it becomes part of our culture.

A survey conducted says that 11% of men aged between 25 and 50-years-old in the UK do not have a friend they can contact in a crisis. There are organisations and campaigns cropping up all over the world encouraging to get the world talking about men’s mental health, and to encourage those suffering to speak about it too.

Unity is passionate about mental health – it’s something we really care about. But is enough being done to let men know that there a support network out there?

Film: The Mask You Live In (2015)

An official selection in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, this US film directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom follows the stories of young men negotiating our culture’s narrow definitions of masculinity.

The documentary follows young men who have faced huge personal struggles in their lives, with comment from experts in neuroscience, sport, psychology and education to offer insights into the ‘boy crisis’ and consider tactics to counter it.

The film addresses issues of masculinity from across the spectrum – from convicts in prison to young boys in school to ex-gang members to new dads.

The overriding issue is that boys are forced to ignore their emotions from a young age – told to ‘not be a sissy’ ‘don’t cry’ and lots of other names. As a result they’re emotions become more and more suppressed and they are more likely to turn to violence or suffer from mental health. The film explores the impossibility of living up to society’s definition of masculinity, and the importance of acknowledging mental heath problems amongst young men.

Being A Man opened our eyes to the challenges faced by men in 2015. The people involved clearly wanted to make men’s lives better. But this wasn’t really a “male” thing, it was really about building a better society for all of us – and proactively doing something to tackle the problems that are out there. We will definitely support this next year.

To find out more about the exhibition, head to the website:

Unity’s Field Trip programme sees all staff (from interns to our co-founders) embarking on a challenging journey into the heart of London’s arts and culture scene. If you’re interested in knowing more, then please email our Culture Editor on