The ABC of being an Unmistakable man
There’s no better time of year to compare the struggles between men and women.
That’s a lie - International Women’s Day is a popular time too. But as hard as it is to believe, that’s not what gender awareness days are for.
International Men’s Day (IMD) is today. With that, you can be sure there are people defending their right to a day of dedication while others are there to remind us of all the reasons women are less privileged than men. There is a time and place for this - but it’s not IMD.
This day is about acknowledging the struggles faced by men, without entering a damaging rally of comparison. Once acknowledged, we can celebrate those who have overcome their struggles or found positive ways to deal with them, so that we can inspire healthier and happier future generations. After all, the last thing we need is a new wave of muted men who fail to express emotion because they’ve never been taught how to (we know how that story goes).
So, on this IMD we’re taking some time to remind everyone that - despite what we’ve been historically told - when it comes to being a man, there’s no one way to do it.
Currently, there are three men working full-time at The Unmistakables; Asad, Ben and Chris (yes, we only hire in alphabetical sequence). One of us is British Indian, two of us are white. Two of us are gay, one of us is straight. One of us is in their 30s and one of us is in their 40s. One is in their 20s and one is Muslim. One is vegetarian and one is a single parent. It’s a nightmare to venn diagram.
Whatever our differences or similarities, we all have experiences which prevent us from being put into a box which advertisers (and let’s face it, society) have conveniently tried pushing us into. Unticking boxes is what makes us Unmistakable.
If you’re not convinced, we did a little Q&A with the Unmistakamen to highlight some issues (and benefits) of stereotypes:
What stereotypes do you defy?
Oh my - where do I even start?
Working in marketing and communications is defiant. The stereotype of a Muslim man (often backed by data) is that we’re more likely to become accountants, lawyers, doctors, dentists...or Uber drivers.
Being a Muslim with Indian heritage is defiant. There’s a stereotype that Muslims are all from Pakistan - but my family is from India and stayed there post partition.
Not being married as a Muslim man in my early-thirties is defiant. Most Muslim men I know are either married or under intense pressure to get married from their family.
Being openly gay is defiant. Lots of gay Muslims stay in the closet and often choose to supress their sexuality in favour of societal acceptance.
Perhaps the biggest stereotype I defy is that I grew up in north London and now live south. I still get stares for that one.
I’ve spent the last few years defying the stereotype of what it is to be a British man. This used to mean being stoic, not talking about emotions and seeing any public display of emotion as some kind of weakness. Everything we read about mental health these days says this is wrong.
Living this way has allowed me to be happy again despite my wife dying when I was 33. It’s also helped me to raise a confident and empathetic child, even though his mum died when he was two.
I started writing “I don’t know where this stereotype came from”...but then I remembered every teen movie I’ve ever seen with a ‘gay best friend’ and, yes, it would seem that all gay men make excellent shoulders for women to cry on. That’s the GBF that they all want, right?
It’s unfortunate I wasn’t blessed with this trait, as 99% of my friends are female. Still, I must be doing something right to still have friends, but it’s definitely hard to ignore my conditioning as a man and invite other people to share their emotions. It can sometimes feel like being in emotional purgatory - too in-tune to be ‘one of the guys’ but not quite comfortable enough to offer the support I would like. It’s the middle-ground between two stereotypes which is both a blessing and a curse.
What stereotypes do you reflect?
This depends on where your baseline for stereotypes starts from. I suppose if we’re just talking about being an Indian man - I stay true to my absolute love of curry. If you’re talking about a gay Muslim man I suppose I have quite a stereotypical haircut (as popularised by Tan France). If you’re talking about being a man from London - I bloody love Nando’s. Ben
I suppose I play up to the northern stereotype of being friendly and outspoken. I really love dialling this right up to unnerve people and make them remember when I’ve been in a room. Even saying that makes me sound like a knob - but then I don’t care because I’m northern. I love the freedom that being northern gives you in a place that would otherwise silent or sedate. Chris
I think there’s a fair few, let’s see...
As a white Brit, I will apologise to strangers for breathing and avoid confrontation at all costs. On the gay side, I’m crap at team sports, must walk fast and have an appreciation of designed interiors.
There must be more. In fact, I feel like there could be a book of gay stereotypes (there probably is). Alas, in the absence of owning one please excuse me while I look through gay memes with an iced coffee.
Have you ever felt under pressure to defy a stereotype?
I think who I am defies stereotypes because of the intersect I am in. When I’m out there talking I say that I live in the world’s smallest Venn diagram - but as time has gone on I’ve realised there are more people like me out there.
The only pressure I feel is when it comes to navigating being both British and Indian - towing the line between the too.
In India I’m not Indian enough, in Britain I’m not British enough. Somewhere in the middle is a new set of stereotypes (which is where much of the comic genius of Goodness Gracious Me lives).
As I get older I try to care less and am working to make peace with the fact that it’s quite glorious being intersectional (and I have Laiqa to thank for that).
I always used to feel a lot of pressure to try to blend in. I’m not a ‘lads, lads, lads’ kind of guy, but at some point we’ve all tried to melt into the crowd rather than stand out. These days I realise that it’s always possible to make a connection with someone else, even if they appear to be nothing like the same. It’s all about empathy.
I have, and it’s tiring! I often want to stand out but also blend in. To be myself but also not that part because that’s such a cliche *does sassy eye roll*. However, the more I grow up, the more I realise that trying to change what makes me adhere to a stereotype - whether it’s the way I look, feel, act or anything else - is a waste of energy. My time is much better spent celebrating the differences instead. Lucky I found a job which pays me to do that...
What campaign from the last year resonates most with your identity?
I was going to say the Renault Clio advert featuring a lesbian couple. Would that be strange? Yes - I suppose so. It’s not so much a campaign as a TV show - and that is Queer Eye. Seeing Tan France being so vocal about his heritage and his sexuality was a first for me - and it resonated to my core. Not a day goes by when I think that could have been me. (I said the same when Dev Patel appeared in Slumdog Millionaire, but I’ll save that for another blog post).
I loved the IKEA Christmas ad. I just really enjoyed watching my son see it for the first time. It wasn’t trying hard to be inclusive, it just used a really current music genre and mixed it with humour and domestic realness. It connected and that’s the most important thing in my book.
To me, being gay feels secondary to being a man. That means I want to see campaigns which show emotional men who share my values. If they happen to be gay, great. If not, at least the ‘toughened’ male stereotype is being broken down.
Aside from the cringey music, I think this year’s Hasbro Brazil advert sends a very important message. The ad is all about encouraging young boys to care for dolls so that they can foster compassion from an early age, rather than the aggression which traditional ‘boys toys’ welcome. More of that please. If this made you curious about the other people in our team, here they are.