Divesting From Patriarchal Masculinity Through Improvisation
I rarely take the time to look over my childhood photos. This year, I decided to break the cycle and spent an afternoon browsing through old photo albums that I, my mum tells me, curated meticulously. What I saw in these static portrayals of my younger self was a carefree person with a beaming smile and seemingly open heart that exudes whatever feeling is present.
This is surely a romanticisation, my adult self adds, and we all of course change in the process of assuming roles assigned to us through a combination of conscious and unconscious acceptance and rejection.
Because of my proximity to femininity when growing up, I thought that I somehow internalised less of the patriarchal masculine traits that would have been passed down to other men. But within most present societies, patriarchy is handed down to us all without consent, even if in numerous seemingly unrelated shapes and forms.
Patriarchy may sound like an outdated, ghost from the past word and concept, but the fact is that it has so far prevailed as a governing social system because of its ability to stay mostly unnamed (by men) and fundamentally unchallenged.
We live in a society obsessed with individualism, which means that imagining complex social systems that run through us and our actions but are not us, has become increasingly challenging. On top of that, we have lost the ability to think outside of the binary model – this or that – which is essential for any meaningful discussion around patriarchal masculinity.
I don’t want to go on about this but from what I can see, we are really not able to distinguish between men as individuals and men as a category of people. This leads to patriarchy being unnamed as a social force in acts of oppression that are presented as an individuals’ wrongdoing, and some men feeling like they’re personally discredited every single time someone points at the numerous oxymorons that are central to patriarchal masculinity itself.
The pursuit of patriarchal masculinity means no connection with the body, vulnerability and emotions. It means choosing the role of performing masculinity over the need to be a whole, feeling human. It means choosing manhood over personhood.
Let’s remember that these are identity shattering realisations. Most men are deeply identified with patriarchy and if they are to divest from it, they need spaces in which they can be vulnerable, spaces in which they can firstly grieve and ultimately heal.
Because if we, as men, are truly ready to let go of patriarchal masculinity, we must also do the work of mourning the loss of connection that we have lived through and witnessed in ourselves and others. This includes all the instances when we chose, choose, or will choose to close up instead of open up – choosing control over surrender. I think that deep down we do know how meaningful relationship are formed, even if we spend our days convincing ourselves that a less scary and vulnerable way of relating must exist. It doesn’t.
We need to welcome the unknowing and become comfortable with it. We need to bathe in the reality that we do not hold the answers as individuals. We need to relate and respond rather than react. We need to slow down.
And as we continue our journeys, let’s remember that as men, we will not receive support from patriarchal culture for our emotional development. This realisation can help us set expectations and invest in relationships and environments that will offer us the support that we require – with the reminder at every step of the way being that we cannot do any of it alone.
We live in a society in which men are allowed to isolate themselves, so we must acknowledge that healing does not happen in isolation. True healing has to be a collective pursuit.
For me, vocal improvisation has been an essential tool of self-and-other discovery. To become comfortable with the mystery of unknowing, dive into vulnerability every single time you open your mouth, build a connection with your body, expand your listening capacities and learn how to let go of control when singing with others are all identity-changing learnings.
This is why I decided to create E – man – A, a solo theatre performance that combines vocal improvisation with autobiography and sociological perspectives in a ritual of understanding and challenging patriarchal masculinity from within.
I wish that all men could have access to their emotions through their bodies, and the ability to practice being vulnerable in a supportive environment, gradually finding ways towards loving maleness, in all of its complexity.
About the author
Jaka Škapin is a Slovenian transdisciplinary artist, vocalist and improviser based in London. His sound is marked by meditative and expansive vocal tapestries that emerge spontaneously from both his movement and voice, bearing the mark of of his classical background, jazz training and Slavic heritage.
E – man – A premieres at 7pm on the 10th of November at The Cockpit (Marylebone) as part of Voila! Europe, the 10th anniversary festival of European theatre.