The first post on this website, dedicated to discussing alternative masculinities and challenging what a role model for men looks like, sounds like and does, has to begin with a set of acknowledgements. First, to set the tone. Humility and deference are characteristics writing by and about men could use much more of. Second, because it’s only fair. As a consumer, I have had my life changed by the work of others. Without their examples, Homer would not exist.
I have to acknowledge the websites I’ve been frequenting for years, without which I wouldn’t have spotted the gap in the discourse that men have yet to fill, let alone have been inspired to try and fill it. Much of what you see here was created in the image of work by Zoya Patel at Feminartsy or by the women at The Toast and The Establishment, incredible sites all. And that’s to say nothing of the constantly growing list of writers whose words move this conversation forwards every day – check out the links at the bottom of our Submissions page if you have time.
I also have to acknowledge the conversations I had (and continue to have) with women and men around the concept of Homer. Lucy Nelson, Zoya Patel, Rosanna Stevens, Glen Martin, Arian Attar, Sam Moloney, Adam Thomas, Toby Francis – just names to most readers, I know, but essential components of this site, both for their intellectual and creative feedback and for the examples they set in their own lives. And finally, I have to acknowledge my limitless limitations. This site was designed by Amy Sherington and developed by Jamie Williamson.
I could go on, and maybe I should, but I want to set the tone in another way, too.
What it means to be a man was never made explicit to me. I wasn’t victim to an overbearing patriarch, my mother hadn’t internalised misogyny, and until I was ten I attended a Steiner school, where the idea that girls and boys were different was fringe. Mainstream notions of what it means to be a man bled into my worldview in less obvious ways. I might actually be a test case for the permeating capabilities of social norms and mass media. Even with progressive liberal parents and a transnational upbringing, I ended up conforming to classic Western notions of masculinity: performative dominance, risk-taking behaviour and misogyny.
I might actually be a test case for the permeating capabilities of social norms and mass media
In that sense, this website’s genesis was when I first began to recognise how I was ‘being a man’ for myself, like the scene in The Matrix where Neo gets jerked into reality but played out over a few years. Instead of reeling around, vomiting, grabbing at sockets in my arms, I was dribbling, frowning dopily at the sockets and blinking unhappily but without comprehension at the goo pods in every direction. The upshot, however, was the same – society had jacked me up, and it was dawning on me.
Over the course of a few years, starting around 2013, I re-evaluated what drew me to read certain op-eds and personal essays, and explored this idea in conversation with female friends and girlfriends. That reading and those conversations helped me immeasurably – I realised, in fact, that at least to begin with, women might be the most avid readers of a website where ideas of what it means to be a man are debunked and alternative models of masculinity are promoted. It is, after all, on sites like Daily Life and The Establishment that op-eds and personal essays best espousing progressive ideas of what it means to be a man can currently be found, where men brave enough to be vulnerable find brave editors and sympathetic audiences.
At the time I also looked at what was legitimised in the way of media for men. Movies starring men whose hairless bodies have far outstripped the sculpted physiques of statues in museums worldwide. TV shows featuring regressive revheads who revel, at best, in playing with adult versions of Tonka trucks, and at worst, in having women wash cars with their breasts. Magazines with lonely handsome sportsmen and actors gazing broodily out of thousand-dollar suits, encouraging you to wear watches, drive cars and buy cologne. And mental health initiatives that evoke masculine norms in order to make men feel comfortable with the notions of depression and anxiety. At least in the last instance the normativity is self-conscious, even slightly subversive, but it is not so subversive as to suggest that those same masculine norms are in part responsible for high rates of suicide among men.
This has all been pointed out before in feminist discourses, where it has rightly been criticised for objectifying women and glamourising hegemonic modes of masculinity. What I felt, and what I still feel, however, is that in the deafening silence with which men greet this parade of images that seems to inculcate simplicity, misogyny, consumer-identity and heteronormativity, there is a deep ambivalence.
Many men, I think, don’t enjoy these things or even understand where they originate, but do not know where or how to begin to say so. This leads to the formation of masculine sub-cultures, which present themselves as more progressive, without actually ever challenging root masculine norms. I know I first picked up a computer game, Magic cards, a guitar and a pen because each in turn initiated me into smaller cliques of masculine identity that better reflected who I felt comfortable being. But even among male nerds, Magic card fanatics, musos and writers, to be vulnerable, treat people equally and develop close friendships and relationships with women and men alike – this all remains taboo.
Many men, I think, don’t enjoy these things or even understand where they originate, but do not know where or how to begin to say so
The ambivalence, however, is there, the dissatisfaction and confusion ever-present in statistics around domestic violence, suicide and substance abuse – not to mention in the incredible rage of online trolls. And what is more, there is no saying this ambivalence with masculine norms isn’t just as present, if not even more potent and refined, among men who conform much more rigidly to mainstream images of what makes one a man. It is that ambivalence that Homer aims to provide an outlet for, in the belief that it, and what it is symptomatic of, is ultimately preventable.
Getting to this point, where Homer is ready to launch, wasn’t easy, but the greatest difficulty might not be what you’d expect. Oddly, it may also be the best rationale for the site’s existence. The greatest challenge was feeling that my emotional difficulties don’t matter, that they are trivial and should be suppressed, overcome or ignored, and that therefore everything I wanted for Homer was self-indulgent, politically misguided or both. I owe a lot to the people who expended emotional energy convincing me otherwise.
The people who see things most clearly are not necessarily those who can’t yet tell themselves apart from the elephant in the room
Now I see the value of a space where people take masculinity to task, because I recognise that the impulse to invalidate my own experiences of difficulty stems in part from poor programming. What’s more, I see that the more time I spend talking to men about this stuff, the more I want to talk to men about this stuff. As soon as you start a conversation about this, men’s eyes light up, mine among them. The water gets warmer and warmer. Men care, they feel deeply, they’re funny and kind, and we make them that way. They’re short-sighted, weak, violent, prone to substance abuse, and we make them that way, too. They might not want to know we make them that way, but they do, and once they do, they have every right and reason to talk about what that feels like, for our benefit and their own.
Now before I write ‘that’s that’ or ‘let’s see how this thing goes’ and watch this thing adjust to its own buoyancy, the thing left to say is that masculinity, not men, is what this site is about. Homer will accomplish nothing new if it doesn’t speak to men, but men don’t have a monopoly on masculinity, it’s an act being consciously and unconsciously undertaken and played with by everybody. Further, the people who see things most clearly are not necessarily those who can’t yet tell themselves apart from the elephant in the room. So whoever you are, if that’s you, get in touch – always.
[Lead image: left to right, Elizabeth (Ashley’s mum), Ashley and Erin (Ashley’s brother). Photo presumably taken by Ashley’s dad, John, because he’s not in it.]