MASCULINITIES: Thoughts and Reflections

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Masculinities Thoughts & reflections

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Alexander Cromer Joppe De Campeneere Minna Salami Ahmet Polat Nana Blomqvist and Koen Dedoncker Jani Toivola Caroline Suinner Ervin Latimer Arno Boey Nick Tulinen

5 Foreword What about men? The RE/defining Masculinities programme of The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux was originally launched after the Feminist Curse Night, an event which was organised in Brussels by the Institute in 2018, when the Director Kati Laakso and the then Project Coordinator Emma Mether asked, “What about Men?” and began to ponder on where men stood in pursuit of equality. What about men? planted a seed that would eventually bloom into our RE/defining Masculinities and NEW Masculinities programmes, which coincided respectively with our annual themes of RE/definitions in 2019 and NEW Normal in 2020. The early seedlings of the programme were nurtured in partnership with the Finnish youth organisation Poikien Talo (which translates as the Boys’ House), following the advice and expertise of their Director Kalle Laanterä. The project eventually resulted in a series of panel discussions, films screenings and performances that took place in Finland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as online. We worked together with a large network of partners in each country and had the pleasure to include a wide variety of artists and researchers in the mix. We produced live events and events online, offering views and perspectives in a variety of languages. You can find a full list of partners, participants, and events at the end of this publication. What we wanted to achieve with our programme was to open the theme of masculinity from a cross-disciplinary approach, which we hoped would stir critical thinking and challenge preconceptions as to how the idea of masculinity shapes our contemporary thinking, along with its markings and implications on society. We wanted to look beyond the man and into interdisciplinary and intersectional aspects of gender and sexuality; and perhaps most of all into the notion of identity, examining the layered plurality of masculinities and its effects on the self.


7 Foreword With Masculinities, we are hoping to continue the conversation at a time when physical spaces are inaccessible, allowing more voices to be heard and more perspectives to be experienced, beyond the constraints of the 2020 pandemic. With its commissioned texts and images, along with imagery from existing projects, we are delighted to be able to share a series of reflections on masculinities for you to read and absorb. It is funny to think that all of this began with the question What about Men? only to end up with the question What is Man? Man, not only as a gender identity, but as part of us all, people united in our humanity. Deconstructing masculinities has been a pathway for us to reconstruct humanity for a better and more inclusive future. Every brick laid is another step forward. And we invite everyone to take part in the work—because the journey is far from over. Thank you to all of you for sharing with us, evolving with us, and for walking this road with us. Malin BergstrÜm, Editor-in-Chief and Project Manager The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux

Please note: Some of the articles in this publication include derogatory terms. The derogatory terms are featured in descriptions of hostile experiences or environments, and have been obstructed with the use of a *-symbol in the word.

Al ex Alexander Cromer is a storyteller, researcher, and designer of experiences from the United States. Cromer’s focus revolves around Afrofuturism, Black Ontology, and ecological issues. Using his storytelling practice (which includes spoken word, poetry, music, and performance art), he translates theoretical research to design and produce meaningful experiences. In the past, he has worked with the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, the British Film Institute, XL Recordings, WeTransfer, the Istanbul Design Biennale, the annual Conference of Youth, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Alexander Cromer Cogito, Ergo Sum, A poem inspired by George Ella Lyon I am from the cold concrete, from the overcast and the blue collar. I am from the clay surrounding fire ant mounds (so red. like the sun. like mars. like hearts beating. like earth breathing. ants bite. pin pricks under the sweltering sun.) I am from the raspberry bush behind the garage and the rose bush I can still remember scraping against my skin. I am my hands on a string, I can press down and receive the model of the universe. I’m that feeling, the wood of its body pressed between my legs. Delicate frequencies harmonizing with the laughter of my youth, the register of humanity. I am its siren call. I am from winds that push through my fingers like warm sand, and from the ocean that separates you from me. I’m sounds of wood creaking underneath my little brown feet in the middle of the night (and I am the tears running down my mother’s face, as I found her. sitting. on a chair. her head in her hands.). I am the smell of fall and the changing of leaves, I am the feeling of familiarity, I am the smell of the wet ground. I am running through corn stalk mazes, I am sitting on hay bales, I am free. But I am bound. I can see him. He was there too, I was him, and he was me. When he cried, I was there. I am support. I wished he kissed me. The trees cover us, the snow on their branches, I am that snow as it mutes my own footsteps (so delicate). I am memory. I am the pain of remembering. And I’m my sister, coming home drunk from cheap wine. I am the scooter that fell on her. I am blood running out of the wound on her leg (bright red. i could see bone. i could see flesh.), I am every time she has hurt, I am the reason she hurt. I am the hair on my father’s face (sandpaper. Warm.) I am the skin on his bones, I am every moment he has felt alone. and I wish I could tell him he isn’t alone. I am that wish.


Alexander Cromer And I wish I could be that wish. And the valleys of sedimentary rock that have been there long since before I was born, I am those, and the trees that cover them. I am a space that desires to be filled, a space that is shaped by everyone else but me, a space that has become toxic. and I am that too. I am lies, I am cheating, I am manipulation, I am the patriarchy in all of its forms. I am everything that can not be escaped. I am everything a black man should be. I am nothing. I am hands on warm black leather steering wheel (burning my skin, the sun shines and the smell of leather, the smell of you), that first kiss, those lips on my lips, your skin underneath my fingertips. I can still feel it, the model of the universe, how easy it was to shape and to craft, how easy it was to live. I am Blackness. I am the fear of being Blackness. I am the look in his eyes underneath that knee. I am his words, I am his soul. I am every single bullet that was ever fired, I am the feet that run away from it all. How can I protect when i flee? Dressing up as a girl for many Halloweens until she told me to stop. I am pretty, I am princess, I am disturbed, at least that’s what i believe god wants me to be. I am underneath the sycamore trees (do you remember?) I am chaos and cacophony, I am slave, I am free. I am that wish, and I wish I could be that wish. I am man.

Jo pp e


Joppe De Campeneere


Joppe De Campeneere

Joppe De Campeneere is a Belgian writer and creative, focussing on LGBTQ+ issues and pop culture. They create media content that is diverse and true, by showcasing all aspects of queer existence, both good and bad. Their styling work—which they create for their own platform and for brands such as Zalando and H&M—departs from a personal conversation with pop culture. Intimate re-interpretations of known situations often lead to a clash, which they use to build a new frame. What if a chapel becomes a stage for queerness and gender expression? How does a non-binary queer person interpret a state portrait? Taking control of all aspects—from lighting to make-up—their work aims at starting a conversation, telling a story, making people dream.

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17 Minna Salami Redefining, renegotiating and beautifying masculinity. Progressive contemporary discussions about masculinity typically call for a reframing of the notion. Even the project that this article belongs to has the key aim to redefine masculinities. The conversation typically centres around two phrases– “toxic masculinity”, which has to do with men reinforcing conventional harmful gender norms that affect society negatively, and “a crisis of masculinity”, which by contrast implies men undergoing a deep identity crisis as they struggle to adapt to the fast-changing landscape of gender norms where women have gained more power and equality. Both phrases shed light on real societal issues, and they are useful starting points for discussions about the many ways that the abuse of power manifests itself. But if care is not taken, there is a danger that rather than redefining masculinity, the conversation leads to a renegotiation of masculinity. If truth be told, masculinity cannot be redefined unless femininity is redefined. Toxic and pathological behaviours such as violence against women and sexual harassment rely upon masculinity being conceived as dangerous and controlling, while femininity is contrarily described as passive and submissive. At worst, the logical solution to a crisis in masculinity is for women to give up hard earned rights and ‘return to the kitchen’. There is also the risk that speaking about a crisis in masculinity diminishes the continuing victories of masculinity: compared to women, men are actually flourishing–they are earning more money, doing less domestic labour, living longer (than married women), leading more nations and more represented in influential institutions. Nobody talks about a ‘crisis in femininity’, even though it is women who are at the receiving end of societal harm which are often caused by conventional understandings of what femininity is. But there is a quality that can change the tone of the conversation about masculinity in the twenty-first century–beauty. By beauty, I am not in this instance referring to physical appearance or appeasing objects but rather to the qualities that are associated with beauty, such as vulnerability,

18 Minna Salami tenderness and resplendence. Such virtues are antidotes to the abuse of power, yet they are excluded from definitions of masculinity. Instead, masculinity is conventionally perceived as expressing a desire to manipulate, control and possess. Beauty has always, of course, evoked a sense of manipulative possession in the human species, as well. History is full of examples where the desire for beauty has led to aggression. Ancient Egyptians fought wars to acquire lapis lazuli, the Ancient Greek story of Midas tells of a king whose obsession with the beauty and power of gold led him to lose everything. But beauty is also tender. The Japanese kintsugi tradition, which involves turning a broken glass object into something beautiful by patching it together with golden lacquer, is a famous example of this. Masculinity and beauty are rarely brought into conversation with each other, unlike femininity and beauty. Society is not educated to look at beauty as a quality men should strive for. Men are not judged by beauty. Tellingly, there is no political emphasis on handsomeness as there is on beauty. Instead, female beauty gives men status while the narrative of beauty is used to objectify and subjugate women. The difficulties posed in discussing beauty when it comes to men, ultimately reveals the meanings of power embedded in the term ‘masculine’. They also suggest that perhaps, even more importantly than redefining or reframing masculinity, there is a need to beautify masculinity. Were conversations to centre around beautifying masculinities, it would be clear that heteronormative and patriarchal masculinities are the opposite of beautiful. This would open up a space for thinking of masculinities in ways that are less incongruous with social harmony.


Minna Salami

Minna Salami is a Nigerian, Finnish and Swedish writer, feminist theorist and lecturer, currently living in the UK. She is the founder of the award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism with contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective, and the author of Sensuous Knowledge (2020). She is an avid contributor to the Guardian, BBC, CNN, The Independent, Al Jazeera, the New Internationalist, and many other publications. Salami is also a co-director of the feminist movement Activate and a Senior Research Associate at the research platform Perspectiva. She sits on the Advisory Board of The African Feminist Initiative at Pennsylvania State University, and the Editorial Board of The Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of the Sahel, and is working with many international projects promoting feminist empowerment worldwide. Salami is listed alongside Angelina Jolie and Michelle Obama as one of twelve women changing the world by ELLE Magazine.

Ah m et


Ahmet Polat

Through his photography and fieldwork, Ahmet Polat aspires to build bridges between different cultures, identities, and histories. After living and working in Istanbul for ten years he returned to the Netherlands in 2015, and was awarded the Laureate Photographer of the Nation the same year. His work is exhibited internationally, including in the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and BOZAR in Brussels. With Studio Polat Foundation, Polat wishes to instigate, stimulate, and support collaborations and mutual benefits between various disciplines and creative worlds. The following three images are part of The Myth of Men, a theatre, film and photographic collaboration between the photographer Ahmet

Polat, creative storyteller and director Lucas de Man, and actor Rashif El Kaoui. The Myth of Men exhibition premiered at the Leica Gallery Istanbul during the Istanbul Biennial in 2017, and in Boston, USA, in 2018. The Myth of Men was shot using innovative production methods resulting in a visual representation of moving images and stills. The experimental documentary portrays people from different geographies carrying different identities, and reflects a personal approach to each character’s social status and identity, as well as to their relationships with their cultural environment. For more on the project visit


Ahmet Polat

Young men helping each other to eat after their first oil-wrestling match in DĂźzce, Turkey.


Ahmet Polat


Ahmet Polat TJ is an American living in the Netherlands with his family and three sons, which at times has been challenging. But they have never doubted their choices.


Ahmet Polat

Moroccan man finds peace of mind while knitting a traditional hat. This community house in The Hague, the Netherlands, serves fathers and lonely men.

Na na Over the past few years, Nana Blomqvist has worked as a project manager on a number of different projects, creating and setting up workshops in schools that thematises masculinity and gender equality. Currently, Blomqvist is working for the project Boundary Transgressing Dialogue Culture at Hub Turku, where her work focuses on tackling issues relating to severe gender-based violence within closed minority communities.

Ko en Koen Dedoncker works for Movement against Violence - vzw Zijn, an organisation specialised in prevention campaigns and projects for anyone confronted with domestic and sexual violence. He is the chairman of the Men Engage Network in Belgium, and has also been actively working on the International Equi-x project, offering strategies that address the issue of gender construction and promote non-violent models of masculinity. Dedoncker and his team are currently adapting the programme to work with men in prisons, which is scheduled to start in February 2021.

28 Nana Blomqvist and Koen Dedoncker Breaking the Manbox “Nina* had a best friend, his name was Max*. One day he knocked on her door to tell her that he could not be her friend anymore, because the other boys were calling him a ‘f*g’. They were twelve years old.” – This was a story that came up during a discussion in a Finnish school. “If one of the boys nags about his feelings, we call him ‘little b*tch’, but it’s just for fun and everybody does it!” – Sixteenyear-old boys during a discussion in a classroom in Belgium. We like to think that our children are able to express themselves and connect with each other freely, but from the work done in classrooms on gender, masculinity, and relationships from Finland to Belgium, we’ve noticed that this is far from true. The word ‘manbox’ refers to a set of ideas that limits men’s and boys’ behaviour and expressions. This set of ideas are often idealised by expressions such as “a real man”, and criticised with expressions such as ‘toxic masculinity’. This set of ideas express some or all of the following: being dominant, sexually promiscuous or perhaps even aggressive, competitive, emotionally limited to expressions of anger, and a double sexual standard based on a combination of contempt and desire for what is considered feminine. There is also a contempt against (or failure to recognise) homosexuality and non-binarity, consequentially enforcing hateful and discriminating jargon to ensure heterosexual potency. Academically, this perception of masculinity is referred to as ‘hegemonic masculinity’. While these qualities or attitudes might be a bit radical, they are nevertheless normalised in our society on different levels. On a legal level in Finland, there are still only two legally established sexes, which denies intersexuality and means that transgendered individuals are required to sterilise themselves if they wish to change the gender they were assigned at birth. On a social level, we can already see that the way young people conceptualise masculinity is often completely opposed to what they conceptualise as feminine, or even what they constitute as a good person.

29 Nana Blomqvist and Koen Dedoncker To work with hegemonic masculinity is to work for democratic development There are plenty of restrictions and rules young people impose on each other in the way they should act and interact as boys and girls and these can be very strict. If one deviates from these rules, they are instantly corrected. This is especially true for boys. In order to facilitate a democratic and egalitarian form of society and ways to govern it, we need to counteract the notion of masculinity as idealised as violent, competitive and sexually aggressive, entitled to be served and be successful, while not be allowed to show emotions other than disappointment or aggression. Also, according to the model of hegemonic masculinity, being affectionate, especially with other men, or to have a mature emotional connection to oneself and to others, thereby becomes an impossibility. This carries on from individual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving to complete societal structures. ● Boys and men are more likely to become addicted to alcohol. This is true for both Belgium and Finland. ● Boys and men are more likely die of a drug overdose in Belgium and Finland. ● Boys and men are more often involved in car accidents. ● Suicide rates for boys and men are three times higher than for girls and women in Belgium, and double the rate of women and girls in Finland. ● In Finland, 90 % of all parental leave is taken by women. ● 98% of all sexual crimes in both countries are carried out by men and boys. ● 80-90% of all violent crimes are carried out by men. ● In Belgium, 95% of all prisoners are men and in Finland the numbers are similar. In other words, masculinity is associated with a large number of individual and societal structural problems.

30 Nana Blomqvist and Koen Dedoncker

Stepping outside the box

By working with the attitudes and ideas on masculinity and gender roles with groups and individuals, we are working towards the societal development of society that can become a more democratic and egalitarian one. The authors of this text, Koen Dedoncker and Nana Blomqvist, have been working with masculinity among young people to make a change in their lives and in their classrooms, and ultimately to contribute towards a more equal society. Blomqvist has been working in Finland for different projects since August 2018, two of which have focused on organising workshops in schools that taught issues on themes related to ideas on how men and boys are supposed to be. The workshops have used methods such as forum theatre and thematic approaches, for example by discussing idealised media representations of masculinity, including representations of gender, sexuality and power in porn. These usually consisted of one-shot workshops lasting 75-90 minutes. The target groups were mixed groups of eleven to nineteen-year olds, not separated by gender. A total of approximately 2500 young people participated in these workshops over a period of two years. Dedoncker has been managing the EQUI-X project for the past two years, through the Men Engage network in Belgium, which includes working in schools with sixteen-year-olds. The project consisted of approximately 20 hours of work with one class at the time, with a total number of about 150 adolescents involved. The methodology used was derived originally from a project concept that was developed by Promundo in Brazil. The programme focuses on participatory workshops on masculinity, gender (stereotypes), discrimination, relationships, sexuality and violence prevention. The programme is implemented in 27 countries and is recognised by the World Bank and the WHO. The aim of all these projects, carried out consecutively, was to encourage boys and girls to think outside of—as well as to step outside of—the manbox. In Finland, the focus was on reducing the limiting norms prescribed for boys and men, but

31 Nana Blomqvist and Koen Dedoncker through an intersectional approach that also considers other positions of identity and the constraints placed upon these identities within societal norms. Dedoncker’s project was evaluated using a researchbased assessment tool in cooperation with researchers, while Blomqvist’s interventions were evaluated with a pedagogically developed tool. The impact measurements used in both countries gave positive results, proving that the interventions were effective. These results were especially noted in Belgium, where the programme spent more time in each individual classroom. The facilitators noted that once young people became aware of the problem and had the tools to be able to take action and react, a significant change in their behaviour became apparent. Respect towards each other and towards different views and ways of expression, grew significantly, and the students started to support each other instead of correcting each other on what they thought had to be the norm. The Finnish workshops were conducted within a shorter time frame, but the results showed that the workshop provided the vast majority of the students with the tools needed to further expand their capacity of critical and analytical thinking regarding gender norms. There is still a lot of work to be done. We still have the task of educating our young members of society to challenge the rigid ideas they have on masculinity and femininity. Understanding masculinity, gender and sexuality need to be a mandatory part of our educational programmes, both in Finland as well as in Belgium and beyond.

* The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Ja ni

33 Jani Toivola The Male Body Experience I became a father six years ago. My daughter was two days old when we came home from the hospital. Just the two of us. They said she already had my features. My laughter and my temper. Even traces of Kenya. Traces that she inherited from me. That I inherited from my father. I’ve never carried her inside me, but I can feel in my body the life we’ve lived together. I’ve literally carried her in my arms for thousands of hours, and I continue to exist at the core of her every need. As a black gay man living in Finland, being on the outside was the only constant in my life from the beginning. Outside of masculinity and the standards of a Finnish man. I discovered pretty early on that I was gay and that it was something negative. That it was the opposite of masculinity and being a man. And that everything that was at my core and important to me was considered feminine or “for girls”. That the bodies that other Finnish men were carrying looked nothing like mine. I was punishing myself for being too much and hoping to be less. More white and less black. More masculine and less feminine. Something less complicated instead of all the curves I was carrying in my body. Since I was a child, I never quite fitted to the role of a man or the box of masculinity. The rules were very strict on how to carry oneself. The less you were connected to your body and its sensations, the better. Only wrestling was allowed. The boys were always wrestling. I was trying to avoid being touched. I felt that if someone came too close to me, they might see through me. Find the thing that was not meant to be found. That I wasn’t like the other boys. That I carried a different feeling in my body. I also didn’t have the kind of muscle power and technique that was needed in wrestling. I don’t know why. I mean, I was a dancer and a swimmer, but when I was surrounded by these rituals of masculinity, my body lost all its abilities. It’s fluidity and power and connectedness. I became frozen. Cut off from my body. Disconnected from myself. Boys didn’t touch each other normally. Only while wrestling. And boy, were they touching. Even when I was bullied by

34 Jani Toivola the other boys, they were always touching my curvy behind. They just couldn’t resist it. Rubbing themselves against it. While screaming that I was a s*ssy and f*ggot. Lately I’ve been more and more interested in the male body experience. How to create more space for men to be connected to their bodies and their different sensations. And through creating more space within the male body is it possible to also redefine the whole concept of masculinity. Less rules and more connection. I’m now looking back at my life and all those years of feeling like I was on the outside. And that there was something wrong with me that needed to change. Maybe I wasn’t the one on the outside after all. Or maybe I was on the outside being free. Free from all the rules of not being, of cutting off and not connecting. Maybe I was on the outside, but free to be me. Despite the pain of slowly growing into who I was. Free to listen to myself. With no rules to apply. I look at my body and I see all the marks left by a life fully lived. I see my daughter and how we are each other’s witnesses. I see lovers and I see bruises. I see moments when I was able to love myself and moments when I wasn’t. I see my father. A man who was never there but left me with this skin. And a body that is curvy and sensitive and strong. I see a spot on my right knee from when I fell down from a swing. I was 8 years old. I remember how I was screaming and how the blood was streaming down my leg and to my ankle. I had brand new socks. They were white and had some delicate lace in them. I was looking at my socks and crying even more because I knew they were ruined. This is the map of my history. My life. The past and the present and the future. I am a man. And there are no rules. I am willing to get to know you from head to toe. Hiding nothing. Embracing everything.

Jani Toivola is a Finnish-Kenyan writer, actor, and director based in Helsinki. Toivola was the first black member of the Finnish parliament (2011-2019) and one of the few openly gay politicians in Finland. As a politician, he was known for his work in human rights, equality, inclusive education, and for championing LGBTIQ-issues in the political arena. His biggest political success was passing the same-sex marriage act in 2016. Toivola has appeared in several films and TV shows, as well as on the theatre stage. He has published two books relating to identity (Musta tulee isona valkoinen, 2016) and fatherhood (Kirja tytÜlleni, 2018). His third book, and his first children’s book, Poika ja hame, touches upon self-acceptance, friendship and gender roles, and will be published in 2021. Currently, Toivola is working on a book for adults about the male body experience. He is also a proud father of a six-year-old.


Ca rol ine


Caroline Suinner

Caroline Suinner has been active in several intersectional and representation focused missions in all scale event and media productions. Also known for performative and visual art projects. Her work is often multidisciplinary. Suinner is one of the founding members of Ruskeat Tytรถt Media/RY (Brown Girls Media/NGO) and Pehmee -kollektiivi (The Soft Collective). She places importance on anti-racism and accessibility, intersectionality, justice, sustainability and communities. She is learning to embrace imperfectness and to create balance in chaotic realities.



Caroline Suinner

The RE/defining Masculinities Project: Series of oil paintings on paper, then digitalised for this publication. A drag king is anyone, regardless of gender, or sexual preference or orientation, who consciously makes a performance of masculinity. Drag kings have always been a part of drag culture. The culture has been sided by cis men and a beauty standard seeking society, that affects the drag ideals. Drag is raw, raunchy, political, and confrontational by the spirit of the art, however slick, funny, and entertaining it is. This is my exploration and question to everybody invested in drag culture. This series consists of five paintings reflecting moments or transformation of the physical form, according to my personal process. The actions and preparations of getting the drag on in the small apartment that we share with my partner. The work: The rice sock jeans, 1234 technique, sea of hair on the bathroom floor, big boobs big tape, hear ear money cheer.

Er v in

43 Ervin Latimer The Ill-fitting uniform I’ve always perceived masculinity as a school uniform that myself and all the other boys and male assumed children were forced to wear. An ill-fitting, sultry and rather unflattering ensemble that I continuously had trouble putting on. It is, therefore, fair to say, that from a young age, I’ve had issues connecting with most of the other boys and men. I preferred talkative, kinder and more empathic company and it just so happened that these people were usually girls and women. This, by the way, has nothing to do with the fact that I am a homosexual – I’ve met many a gay who are monstrous ghouls, incapable of any softer connection, consumed by their own projected manhood, and vice versa. This disconnection with traditional masculinity does not see sexuality. Coming to terms with myself, as to how I present myself and my masculinity, has been a long and complicated road. As a teenager, I thought it was funny that I bought a girl’s t-shirt with a suggestive print on it that said, “My boyfriend is out of town”. Little did I know that it would be deemed girly and gay (these two were basically synonymous back in the ‘00s); not because of the words, but because the text was in pink. I thought it was masculine when, in sixth grade, my mother braided my hair in beautiful, immaculate cornrows. But instead I was called a girl, because apparently braids in any shape or form were deemed feminine. Don’t even get me started with what my ex said when I wanted to purchase high-heeled platform boots a couple of years ago. Navigating this path of masculinity through appearance has become a central part of my work as a fashion designer. Tim Brown, the founder and CEO of the legendary design company IDEO, argues in his book Change by Design that humans rely on stories to put ideas into context and give them meaning. At the heart of any good story, he explains, is a central narrative about the way an idea satisfies a need in some powerful way. As a feminist creative in the 2020s, I cannot think of a better story in fashion than the progression of feminism by dismantling masculinity. Simply dressing men in skirts and heels is an oversimplification of what I am aiming at here. Instead, I’m intrigued

44 Ervin Latimer by looking at the archetypes of the male attire and investigating how those wardrobe staples can be subverted into something new, and with it altering the performance of maleness that they represent. During my career, I’ve centred my approach on a key piece in the male wardrobe – the suit. According to Christopher Breward, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Edinburgh, the men’s suit is considered a symbol of modern western society. The simplicity of the appearance of a classic suit is paradoxically only shadowed by the complexity of its construction. Breward sees the contemporary suit as a product of a redefined process pioneered during the 20th century by master tailors and craftspeople. Reflecting on his book*, back to my days of selling suits at high-end stores in Helsinki and New York, I am overwhelmed by the sense of constraint that is interwoven into this “symbol”. When I think of the numerous sales pitches I’ve learnt, the rules for a flattering fit I’ve been taught, the principles of proportions in the sleeve length, shoulder fit and ease in waist, I’m constantly reminded of how, on every possible level, we men have knitted a net of limitations around ourselves. It is insane to think that during my time in retail, I once had a person flown in from another country to give me and my colleagues a training on what types of silk handkerchiefs to offer with suits so that the customer might not think the look is too flamboyant or feminine. That wasn’t the name of the training, but it sure as hell was the underlying message. The restraints I’m referring to here are cultural, for sure, but there are still clear limits that exist within masculinity, bound up by similar perceptions of manhood, regardless of culture. As a designer, I am obsessed with finding these limits, these thresholds, that should not be crossed. But what happens when that limit is crossed? What is the meaning of the suit when it is no longer clearly identified as male? What is allegedly, irreversibly broken here? The answer is, of course, nothing! And understanding that, to me, is an interesting pathway to solving the problem of masculinity. In my work, it means generating a wardrobe that exudes el-

*Christopher Breward, The Suit: Function, Form and Style (2016)

45 Ervin Latimer ements that are not deemed normative for the male attire. Whatever your way is, remember that breaking the norms will not break masculinity—on the contrary, it will only reveal its complexity.

Ervin Latimer is a fashion designer and writer currently based in Helsinki, Finland. He has made an international career as a fashion designer, and in 2020 he was awarded as the Young Designer of the Year in Finland. Alongside design work, Latimer works as a freelance writer and queer artist. He is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Ruskeat TytĂśt (Brown Girls) Media, which is a non-profit organisation for Brown People by Brown People. Their mission is to broaden representations in the field of culture and to function as a platform for cultural professionals of colour to realise their creative and meaningful projects.

Ar no

47 Arno Boey Ode to Bev Francis The year is 1983. One stage at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, a dozen women are standing in line. Bikini-clad, toned bodies tanned and greased, shining. One by one they come forward and strike a pose. The skin around their biceps taut, their muscles bulge, a nerve twitches. They are being filmed for a documentary, Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985). The camera pans to a couple of men in suits behind a table. They take notes, their glasses perched on the tips of their noses. This is one of the first competitions for female bodybuilders. Until recently, bodybuilding was strictly men’s business. Despite the fact that there are several other participants, all eyes are on Bev Francis and her arch-rival Rachel McLish. The difference between the two women couldn’t be greater: McLish is a former fitness instructor, long and lean, toned but not excessively so. Francis, on the other hand, used to be a weightlifter. Her body a massive sculpture of flesh. She is modelled after male body builders, while McLish resembles a young Jane Fonda. The documentary calls it a duel between masculinity and femininity. Rachel McLish sways her hips and arms, she prances across the stage, all elegance and smiles, occasionally mouthing along to the backing track. Bev Francis slowly rolls her muscles to the rhythm of the music. Holding and building tension, flexing her arms, one at a time or simultaneously, matching the movement in her upper legs and back. She poses like hundreds of men before her have done. Applause resounds, it is impressive. Exhausted after her act, she enters her dressing room. With a towel, she wipes down the sweat and the glossy ointment from her body. Punch-drunk, she looks at her coach. ”Did I look like a woman?” she asks. The mirrors in the locker room reflect her robust back, animalistic almost. ”Was my feminine quality good enough?” Her coach smiles consolingly. It’s best not to think too much about that. In the end, Rachel McLish stands triumphant. Francis dangles at the bottom of the ranking. For a woman, she is overly muscular, the jury agrees. Too masculine. She has tried to match the male body, and in doing

48 Arno Boey that, has crossed a line. In a review of the competition, someone described her as self-contradictory, like a bird trying to become a fish. Bev Francis has spent hour upon hour surrounded by fitness equipment, pumping and lifting weights, drying off or downing special drinks, swallowing pills and taking hormones. She wanted to be stronger. Bev Francis had vowed to become the strongest woman in the world. Stronger than some men. The bird didn’t want to become a fish, the woman didn’t want to be a man. She wanted to match them. Go as far as they go. She wanted to shape her arms and legs as they can. She wanted to claim history, one drop of sweat at a time. Bev Francis wanted to own her body as men do. Granting it the same freedom. The year is 1983 and a jury in Las Vegas deemed the body of Bev Francis as too masculine. Her muscles too imposing. Women’s muscles shouldn’t impose, they should eroticise. Bev Francis’ body is blocked and her legs are burning with a freedom that is ever so near.


Arno Boey

Arno Boey (b.1996) is a maker. His work is not tied to form or genre, but does have a common starting point: everything starts with language. He is the co-founder of the writer’s collective and literary magazine, ZINK. In 2019, he took part in deBuren’s international writer’s residency in Paris. His work has been published in Kluger Hans, DW B, and the 2020 Sampler of publisher Das Mag. Together with partner-in-crime Yelena Schmitz, he works on, a multi-language story map of the Bockstael area, his neighbourhood in his home city of Brussels. His literary work overlaps with his interest for the physical, for movement, for dance. It is in that intersection that for him, things come alive. In 2019 he made the documentary dance performance ‘We are close (at 22 pm)’.

Ni c k


Nick Tulinen

Nick Tulinen (b.1983, Stockholm) is a Helsinki-based commercial photographer and self-titled “normcore artist”. For the past 10 years, Tulinen’s artwork has been shown in smaller galleries, as well as at the Venice Biennale, in form of performative work, painting, and photography. Commercially, Tulinen’s clients range from fellow artists and musicians to corporate brands and advertising.


Nick Tulinen


Nick Tulinen

“I find it easy to fall in love! “ probably best describes his dedication towards all “work”. The pictures produced on the theme of “Masculinities” are most definitely about the self-reflective awareness of the male state. It’s about being squeezed into a box. Fighting me, fighting you, inside the box. “I grew up admiring Hip-hop-culture, watching MTV broadcasts from the other side of the world, a very different world. This culture became the male figure, the father, the Bro that raised me in addition to my feminist mother. Other things soon came along, but this Bro has been there for a while.”


RE/defining Masculinities and NEW Masculinities Programme 2019-2020

RE/defining Masculinities is a project by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux that aims to present and discuss the subject of masculinities from new and cross-disciplinary perspectives, through a series of cultural events and academic discussions realised in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Finland. The programme included a total of 23 events which took place in Finland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as online. The RE/defining Masculinities was part of the Cultural Programme for Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2019. The programme continued in 2020 under the title NEW Masculinities.

Partners: Beursschouwburg, deBuren, Ekvalita (Vem é Man Project), The Embassy of Belgium in Finland, Goethe-Institut Niederlande, Juni Communications and Kämp Garden, the National Museum of Finland, KAAI Theatre, Korjaamo Culture Factory, The Cultural Centre Caisa, Men Engage Vlaanderen, the Central Helsinki Library Oodi, Poikien Talo, Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland. Participators: Jaouad Alloul (BE), Sara Bjarland (NL), Nana Blomqvist (FI), Arno Boey (BE), Nicola Brajato (BE), Joppe De Campeneere (BE), Pieter Claes (FI), Alexander Cromer (US), (BE), Koen Dedoncker (BE), Xavier Gorgol (BE), Kevin Groen (NL), Elio Heres (NL), Ima Iduozee (FI), Jihan Imago (BE), Artor Jesus Inkerö (FI), Ali Jahangiri (FI), Boodi Kabbani (FI), J.M. Kaila (FI), Jochen König (DE), Ervin Latimer (FI), Neal Leemput (BE), Oscar Lehtinen (FI), Kaisa Leka (FI), Ariah Lester (NL), Harry Lunabba (FI), Jakob Löfgren (FI), James Lórien MacDonald (FI), Kriticos Mwansa (BE), Nina Nyman (FI), Carl Peeters (BE), Adrian Perera (FI), Ylva Perera (FI), Ahmet Polat (NL), Minna Salami (UK), Kasper Strömman (FI), Caroline Suinner (FI), Jani Toivola (FI), Nick Tulinen (FI), Minttu Vesala (FI), Ira Virtanen (FI), Annamari Vänskä (FI), Timo Wright (FI).

57 Programme 5.11-9.11.2019. RE/defining Masculinities Monologues (2019). Looped screening at the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Helsinki, Finland.

27.11-30.11.2019. Aurora Reinhard: Boygirl (2002). Looped screening at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

7.12.2019. The RE/defining Masculinities Monologues. Screening at the Maison Florida Screens It, Hasselt, Belgium.

5.11-6.11.2019. Workshops with Poikien Talo at the Cultural Centre Caisa, Helsinki, Finland.

27.11-30.11.2019. Artor Jesus Inkerö: Swole (2017). Looped screening at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

21.12.2019. The RE/defining Masculinities Monologues. Screening at the Hanat tyhjäksi event as part of the National Short Film Day, Turku, Finland.

5.11.2019. Opening event with the screening of the film Gods of Molenbeek (FI, 2019) at the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Helsinki, Finland. 6.11.2019. Youth / Masculinities. Panel discussion at the National Museum of Finland, Helsinki, Finland. 7.11.2019. Boys will be Boys / #dammenbrister. An evening of discussion at the Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, Helsinki, Finland.

27.11.2019. Final Conference for Equi-X project. A conference organised by Men Engage Vlaanderen at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium. The venue for the conference was offered through the partnership between The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux and Beursschouwburg. 27.11.2019. Voice Male. Standup show and performance event at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

8.11.2019. Vem é Man. Workshop with Ekvalita at the Cultural Centre Caisa, Helsinki, Finland.

28.11.2019. Manning Up (2019). Film screening at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

8.11.2019. Double Feature: Manning Up (FI, 2019) / Man Made (NL, 2019). Two film screenings at the Korjaamo Culture Factory, Helsinki, Finland.

28.11-29.11.2019. Score. Performance by Artor Jesus Inkerö at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

13.11.2019. The Embodiment of Masculinity. Panel discussion with the screening of Aurora Reinhard’s Boygirl (2002) film in the Goethe Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands 27.11-30.11.2019. RE/defining Masculinities Monologues (2019). Looped screening at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

29.11.2019. Crossing / Masculinity. Panel discussion at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium. 29.11-20.11.2019. Ima Iduozee: Diaspora Mixtapes Vol.1 (2019-) Looped screening at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium. 30.11.2019. This is the Title. Dance performance by Ima Iduozee at Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium.

3-8.3.2020. The RE/defining Masculinities Monologues. Looped screening at the KAAI Theatre, Brussels, Belgium. 26.8.2020. (UN)Dressing the Man. Panel discussion at the Kämp Garden, Helsinki, Finland. Online: 3.5.2019-6.1.2020. The RE/ defining Masculinities Monologues. Video series available on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube @ finncultblx. 26.8.2020. (UN)Dressing the Man. Panel discussion at the Kämp Garden, Helsinki, Finland. Livestream and video available on Instagram @finncultblx. 17.12.2020. MASCULINITIES: Thoughts & Reflections. Online publication available on

58 Colophon Contributors Nana Blomqvist, Arno Boey, Alexander Cromer, Joppe De Campeneere, Koen Dedoncker, Ervin Latimer, Ahmet Polat, Minna Salami, Caroline Suinner, Jani Toivola, Nick Tulinen

With support of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland. The RE/defining Masculinities programme was produced as part of the Cultural Programme for Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2019.

Project Manager Malin Bergström

Proofreader Joanna Charlat, Maguire Translations

Project Coordinators Sara Martinsen Hanna Moens

Translator Sieglinde Michiel for Arno Boey’s text

© The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, 2020 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the publishers.

Administration Tiina Eerolainen

Graphic Design Vrints-Kolsteren

Publisher The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, published in conjunction with the RE/defining Masculinities programme. Director Kati Laakso

ISBN 9789464207170

RE defining asculinities

The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux Boomstraat 14/3 Rue de l’Arbre 1000 Brussels, Belgium T +32 (0)468 15 56 72

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