A Man’s Life - Which Man?

Andrew McNeil explores what it means to be a man in today’s society, and how our identity is shaped by the context we grow up in. Is a binary gender system really more influential on our behaviour that our class or the way we’re educated. Andrew explores the ways his views have changed over the years and offers us an insight about what’s really important to understand about our identities and how we exist as part of a community.


The questioning of masculinity, body image and coming of artificial intelligence-inflicted redundancy is often examined, debated and explained in terms of men’s and women’s experiences. Often, a survey or new research is used to cover vast swathes of the public or their readership.

Yet the influence of genes, and the individual’s nurture in childhood is so much more important. A person’s economic status and their education: this is what defines a destiny.

Whether they can, or will, get that chiselled six-pack or heap pumpkin seeds on their cinnamon cereal is much more the creation of mercenary advertisement agencies, or the TV producer out to catch as many passive viewers they can.

Although I must confess I have yet to try the seemingly testosterone-boosting pumpkin seeds on my cinnamon cereal flakes, I want to explore what is a man’s life. I hope to shed some light on the TV, social media and magazine representations of the macho or-usually-consumer-product improved male body or psyche.

In Scotland, the inability of a culture to instil confidence and resources to its population means levels of poverty, deprivation and suicide are troublingly higher. A recent programme highlighted the complex social reasons why suicide is the biggest killer of men below 50. A truly shocking fact. The lethal means and the violence they internalise seems to be passing through the generations.

I have given up watching the likes of East Enders, and even a well-known insurance firm advertisement sickens me, as they constantly push, usually male, gangsters as some sort of natural life-form in society. The likes of Ken Loach or the late Ian Bell who won the Orwell Prize for political journalism can hone in on the ‘man’: the individual who reveals the tragedy or elation of fighting to survive in this world. The ladies who protest in Saudi Arabia for ‘lowly’ driving rights to the Native Americans, standing watching a revitalised land grab on their lands, realize protest is not quick: it can be mind-numbingly bureaucratic. And it can fail.

So, what does my work life, inclusive of occasional workplace-based bullying trauma, my education, my nurture experience and the wonderful, Ben-Nevis-top-blowing introduction of late fatherhood tell about this man’s life? How does the media and the blast of consumerism inflict itself on this non-Millennial? What can it say about me? What can be learned? What can I learn to be the most genuine I can be?

As Mr Bell, a fantastic prose writer would say: the times they are a changing! The divides of class, education, geography, race and culture will be made new and disparate by technologies and biotechnologies where corporate entities will entrench their hold on society.

The online and A. I. new world and bioengineering domains will mean it will be harder to achieve what a Carnegie or Mandela did in the past.

The ‘false’ fame of a viral clip gone global, showing humanity in its best light, seems at odds with the latent violence and poverty I meet on a personal level in some towns and cities in Scotland. This is when I travel out with the tourist honey traps to estates and streets where being alive to sixty, and beyond, is an achievement.

As a History undergraduate, I remember being horrified and fascinated by William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The ease and supreme efficacy of how propaganda and manipulation is achieved and disseminated is so much easier when that is your aim. And it is organised with utter immoral clarity of purpose.

Tragically, I read only days before first starting to write this piece about a man’s death. Yet another male suicide. It was a friend. A colleague of someone I know. He was ex-army. A former sniper. A very young man’s family is now devastated, as are the families of all those who take their own lives in Scotland every year.

After many years of campaigning by professionals in the field, I understand there will now be a better national strategy to reduce the rates of suicide. And now with substantive targets. I work in an environment where these realities are pressing and, often, life threatening. A high suicide rate exists for adults of both sexes. Only after coming out a relatively middle-class bubble and studying to improve my thinking, communication and empathetic skills, then I could make a difference.

In my childhood, in my nurture experience a lot of time, from church and family, was about the responsibility to others. This was a foreign field, it seems, when I look around me in the various media platforms. That context, that environment, has largely dissipated in this post-industrial age.

Recently, I came off social media: the addict phrasing is appropriate. I weighed up the balance of what I wanted; what I was, perhaps, being made to want, the approvals I sought, and what really made a difference to my life on it. The latter was maybe 20% of, for example, Facebook content, that contributed something of a sustainable value. The realisation that, as with many human lives, I had fallen into patterns and habits controlled by others, or not at all, was a shock.

A more profound shock - and a much more soul-felt yet positive one - was the change in approach to a father in a baby’s first moments and early life and continuing nurture. I am an occasional poet. I wrote a poem recently for a magazine called Nitrogen 1. It was one of the most joyful pieces I have ever completed. It is about that first contact with a baby as a father.

As a writer, I have often not focused on the positive and life-affirming as much as I should have. I look at TV, at the online media and the lack of relevance to my life and many others, male and female.

Strange times indeed in this man’s life, our son’s life, and soon-to-be daughter’s life. If hope is to mean anything in the western democracies, it is this that each individual is worth a vision and guide of worth. I believe this man’s life attests to some of that sentiment.

What person’s life are you living - your own, or something else?