In may 2016 I gave a Ted Talk at TedXUmeå on the topic ”How to change men. And survive”. Here’s my full speach in text, please remember it’s written for the puropse of being read out loud.
Men are bastards. It’s just how it is.
Men are responsible for like 99% of all the worst stuff in the world.
Every year, 17 women in sweden are murdered by men they had a relation with.
Men are guilty of 80% of all violence.
98% of all reported sexual violence and abuse.
Men are bastards. It’s that simple.
Not only in the board rooms, in governments, in defense agencies and cults – but in our private lives as well.
In our homes, at schools, at work and in the bars and pubs.
We have serious problems! Heeeeeelp!
I know that when we talk about all this, most men start zoning out, or shutting down completely. Nothing gets through. “Hello? Anyone in there?”
I understand why. It hurts to be reminded about the stuff we all know. Makes us feel like sh*t to be told we’re a part of all the absolute worst actions done against the planet, against women and everyone. How can we be expected to deal with all that?
We can’t deal with it. Most important: We haven’t dealt with it.
So please, men, stay with me. Listen up.
I’m part of a people’s movement in Sweden, working against sexual violence, called Fatta. And in the part of the organization I work with, Fatta Man, we work in particular to get boys and men to understand the destructive cultural norms that shape ideas about masculinity… the kinds of things that lead to sexual violence. And above all else, how to act to change the situation.
The movement has been very successful on issues of consent and saying NO to sexual violence. Which is great, and important. But for us men, it’s not enough to believe that all we have to do is tell other men NO in a sharp voice, or tell them Quit rubbing up against girls, stop raping and sexual abusing.
Because those actions are only the tip of the iceberg. Rape is the sharpest point on the mountain of problems men have deep under the surface. All this mess that’s being told to everyone growing up with a wiener dangling between his legs about how we should be and behave. That being a man gives you the right to violate… whoever.
Because research and statistics show that it’s not psychopaths and outcasts who abuse and rape, it’s guys like me, and you and you and you. Because we’re told it’s just “boys being boys”. Our culture normalizes this behavior.
Like, you think it’s a coincidence that a bunch of refugee centers and Islamic schools and mosques are being burnt down one after the other just as fascist political parties in Europe have been making noise and gaining power? No. It’s that quiet chorus of it’s ok to do these sick things that encourages men to do what they’ve been doing.
We’re social creatures, after all. We want to be part of the flock. To be loved and belong. We like to do what we’re rewarded for by the people around us.
So, as men, it’s not a solution to any problem to simply say NO.
What we really need to do is find something to say YES to.
What are you, as a man, really proud of? Besides your muscles and size of your whatever, all those cliché things. Many just feel shame when they hear that question. I’m not proud of anything.
But when we look at small kids around us, a baby boy. It’s heartbreaking to think, another generation of boys going to waste. And that’s what’s we’re changing right now. It’s slow, but it’s happening, and I’ll try to tell you how.
But first, let me describe our problems a little bit more first.
Men have relied on women for all the emotional work. We’ve made them responsible for providing us all the love and validation we need. We’ve put it on them to take care of us and solve our problems.
I think that’s cheating. Because we’re not children, are we? We’re grown men. We should be able to take care of ourselves and each other.
But I’m not here today to talk about men’s problems with women. We need to talk about men’s problems with men. Because all these very serious issues women have with men, men ALSO have with other men.
If we ask any man today, do you feel comfortable and safe in a group of men? I mean really safe … most of them will answer no. That’s kind of mind blowing, isn’t it? What’s wrong with us? That even we don’t want to hang around with ourselves?
For me, I think our work starts with learning how to trust other men. We need to understand that we men are capable of supporting each other. Maybe even love each other.
Women have been successful working together on their own to support each other in their fight for fairness, equality and survival. Heard about feminism? It’s the bomb, and we have a lot to learn from it!
For me, these questions are a matter of life and death. I’ve seen a lot of dead men. Not physically, but emotionally. Men who have given up. Unreachable. Stuck in their positions of fear of losing power. Impossible to get to behind layer after layer of self-loathing, hopelessness, bitterness, guilt and shame. You probably seen some of this, or have some of these men close by to? A father, a relative, a colleague at work maybe…
I got it in myself, too, and I fight it every day. It would be so easy to give up. This is hard, and men try to find ways to deal with this. Like using sex for example.
I spent 3 years interviewing men at Europe’s biggest brothel, in Cologne, Germany, trying to understand what sex means to men. It became my first documentary film, “Like a Pascha”. You know the strangest thing I found out?
Men’s obsession with sex is deeply connected with their lack of contact with themselves. Men are trying to cut the corners in chase of a working formula to cope with life, instead of looking themselves in the mirror. It was easier for the men I met to have a working relationship with a random prostitute than with their wives and girlfriends back home.
So relationships is where we men need to put in some real energy. We need to stop using women and start opening up for each other.
In my work with FATTA MAN this is really important.
For example, we got a group of swedish artists together to make a song and a video about the challenges of being a man. It’s called “It starts with me”, you should check it out. This song has been a great way to start conversations with young men about manhood. It also shows them that these artists they really admire have taken a stand.
We also created a relay podcast format where men take turns in interviewing each other on how they became men, sex, violence and other important stuff. It makes it really easy to see, that all men are able to listen and share with other men. We need to be reminded about this.
In our work, I visit schools and other places talking about these things, and I realize that often this is the first time guys hear that there’s an alternative. That they don’t need to give up. That they can choose who they want to be. That we men can have access to have all the humanity that is in us.
It’s a fantastic feeling, to come with a key to open an important door for someone. It’s the best thing in the world.
But we need to be honest that so far our strategy has been to internalize the failure instead of realizing that we’ve already lost.
And it’s natural, because hopelessness, for many, it’s the most unmanly thing…
I swear, nothing is harder to accept for men than that we’re losers.
We would rather try to convince ourselves and everyone around us that we’re right, even though the world is going down in flames around us.
Even though our children would rather turn to a teacher, or basically anyone, than to their own fathers for help when they have a problem.
Even though over half of us admit to not having any close male friends.
Even though we’re going to live shorter lives than the women around us
Commit suicide in greater numbers
Drink ourselves into early graves
Wreck our bodies
Live like the walking dead.
If you continue to play by the old rules, yourself against the world. You’re going to end up standing there alone. Without the love and camaraderie, compassion and support that’s available to us from working with and trusting other men. But if you’re ready to start questioning and explore the possibilities we’ve been given, things will change, forever.
And if there are enough of us who are convinced that we’re standing on the winning side, others will follow. And we will win, together.
You are important in this, every one of you.
So. Are you with me?
Oh, one more thing. Of course we’re not bastards. We’ve just been taught to be bastards. It’s totally up to us to become something else.