Young People’s Festival of Ideas: What Is Masculinity?

A new series of events is being launched, set to explore burning current issues that concern young people.

The Young People’s Festival of Ideas is an initiative by Young ArnolfiniSalaam Shalom Youth Council and Bristol Festival of Ideas.

The first event took place on 11th of March at Arnolfini, and explored the topic of masculinity. What does masculinity mean? Is it a social construct? Is gender defining us, to what extent? Why? And should it continue doing so?

The event had four panellists, but was centred on a debate with the audience, providing more space for Q&A, argumentation, and miscellaneous observations from the attendees. The conversation was also captured online, using the Twitter hashtag #HYPfoi.


As a prelude to the event, Rife Magazine hit the streets of Bristol to find out and record what people think on the issues on masculinity, gender, and what it means to be a modern man. The video was screened at the beginning to spark what was to follow.

Speaker Natalie Jesters, PhD researcher on gender issues, had a bright expose and advised we should be discussing masculinity in the plural – different kinds of masculinities and concepts of masculinities developed by individual societies. By pointing out that every society has their ‘ideal type’ dominating over others, resulting in high pressure being placed on men who don’t fit into this model – thus explains the three and a half times bigger suicide rate among men – Jesters concluded by saying that feminism has a lot to offer men.

Nikesh Shukla, an acclaimed fiction writer, acting as a panellist in this event, talked about his interest in diving into the immigration experience of masculinity, presenting his father’s story of isolation, and his own approach of raising a child with as small a focus on gender as possible. He mentioned that we should be perhaps exploring non-westernized notions of masculinity alongside familiar westernized ones.

Naturally, the debate widened and encompassed gender issues, equalities and inequalities, raising questions such as gender fluidity, stereotypes, and education limitations.

Don Squire, writer and comedian, started his presentation by reciting entertaining poetry, and then went on to eloquently emphasise the shift in the meaning of masculinity, based on the change in the nature of work and what we do. He finished off by claiming that a modern man can be defined as someone who’s striving for gender equality just as much as a woman. In the end, he even touched upon a Marxist theme, questioning whether the ruling classes are imposing masculinity – and gender notions overall – upon the working classes as a means of control, thus turning the perspective of masculinity i.e. gender being a social construct by all powers serving as ‘an opium of the masses’.


Floy App, a fine artist working in the field of textile art and exploring women’s role in manufacture, talked about her latest experience in curating a big exhibition project with 15 female artists and their incredible discoveries.

Of course, the debate could have continued until dawn without providing definitive answers to a notion carried through centuries, and yet it opened doors for further thinking and provided an input towards making a shift in redefining a term and/or a concept long considered to be fixed and innate, rather than fluid and optional.


The next planned event is happening in April and will be investigating the theme of racism.