Mannsbuilder: Body positivity, friendships and feelings: a Viennese initiative against toxic masculinity

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Men can be sad. You may be worried. And, of course, they can also be feminine. You can wear nail polish as well as makeup. Anyway, dresses and skirts can be a permanent element of any wardrobe, regardless of gender. All of this should be obvious. But not always. “When is a man a man?” – musicians have this question Herbert Groenemeyer already in 1984 in his hit “Men”. Take care of this question as well Benjamin Wagner and Mateusz Tschannett. The 30-year-old social worker and the 46-year-old who hailed from the film and television industries launched the Mannsbuilder platform. Both Wagner and Tschannett are also psychotherapists trained under supervision. The aim of the platform, which was established in October last year, is to openly reflect on masculinity and role models.

“We meet once a month for three hours, although based on feedback from participants, we are already considering increasing the frequency to two a month,” says Wagner. “At the beginning, the focus was on getting the participants to get to know each other and collect their fears. Several thematic blocks crystallized out of these fears. ” Thanks to Corona, meetings were initially held in small groups, with FFP2 masks, safe walking distance and regular ventilation. By the way, there is now a podcast on the same topic.

sincere exchange

We talk about relationships, obstacles and obstacles, how men deal with men, competition, feelings, sensitivity, male friendships and much more. Tschannett: “The fixed point that runs like a red thread through the cycle, and from which we often start the group, concerns our media observation and how or what they report about masculinity and being a man. It is very exciting to see what the participants are focusing on and what the resulting stimulating and, so far, always respectful discourses ”. This exchange is always characterized by openness, honesty and respect.

But how was the idea for this platform born? For Wagner, the impetus came after many men started individual therapy with him. Though their stories varied, there were also an incredible number of similarities: “These conversations often focused on topics such as the need to be strong or not to be weak, the question of whether and how a person is allowed to show affection.” Tschannett, on the other hand, toyed with the idea of ​​starting such a group and providing psychotherapeutic support for a while: “After Benni told me about his idea to do something about masculinity and be a man in the broadest sense, on the other hand, one thing happened very quickly and ultimately led to the formation of the male group “Mannsbuilder”. It was very exciting for me to work with other men about being a man against the backdrop of social change. “

Broken roles

The need – the duo agrees – is absolute. Not only because of the equally necessary emancipation of women. The movement has shaken traditional gender roles: “The role of women has been redefined. Logically, social discourse has always focused on women. But the changing role of women also has an impact on the world of men. ” According to Wagner, this has long been neglected. In some areas, traditional expectations have been broken, and in others they are still permanent structures. Wagner cites the idea that a man should first address a woman as an example. According to Wagner, such views, which are still stubborn, lead to uncertainty.

Tschannett: “I was a bit surprised, especially by the positive reactions and words of support from the women around us, to whom we told about the group of men.” Initially, the group consisted of seven people, including Wagner and Tschannett. There were and still are a number of other stakeholders. Incidentally, a similar initiative exists in Switzerland under the slogan “Men are talking”. Men over the age of 18 and of any (non) sexual orientation, (non) religious belief or origin are invited. “As the group sometimes talks about very personal matters, the line-up is important to us. We conduct an orientation meeting with all stakeholders in advance, and it is also very important to be part of the group on a regular and continuous basis, ”says the duo.

A cure for toxic masculinity

But the topic should be discussed not only behind closed doors. Toxic masculinity should also be raised in daily life and in the media. It is not easy to answer the question of how best to counteract toxic masculinity. The fact is, “With sayings like ‘Boys don’t cry!’ we teach guys from an early age to shut up and “swallow”. Maybe we should also think of a less “monocultural” masculinity. Is it not possible that there are several different males? “

What is needed, according to Wagner, are men who are ready to courageously scold a friend and start a discourse when they tell a sexist joke. Acceptance and a healthy interest in one another are important to break down old structures. “In addition, I believe that the social discourse on positive body attitudes can also be helpful for men. How many men look like models on billboards? And then there’s a discourse on beauty ideals – especially factors that cannot be changed, such as body size, hair growth, and voice. “ Finally, it is important to challenge gender stereotypes.

Incidentally, the collaboration between Wagner and Tschannett also changed as a result of the “Mannsbuilder” project. “I was also able to get to know a new side of Matthias: his endless confidence and enthusiasm allowed me to” lean back “at times, relinquish control and open up to him to my worries and fears. As a result, for me, a more intense basis of trust – also related to our friendship – says Wagner. Tschannett can only confirm: “In the course of our collaboration, I got to know Bennie in this context as well, as someone who courageously tries things out, who manages to surprise with hypotheses and thinking, and thus irritate a little. as colleagues and friends changed, it became even more permanent for me. “

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