Men for women: Yale-NUS graduate wants to unpack toxic masculinity

Being raised by a single mother is partly why Mr Kristian-Marc James Paul is so passionate about championing gender equality today. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Mr Kristian-Marc James Paul was 14 when his parents divorced. His unemployed mother struggled to find a full-time job while caring for him and her dementia-stricken mother.

"It was quite rough, her having to scramble to find a place for all of us. It opened my eyes to what it meant to be a single mother, and how a lot of the work often falls on women," says the 26-year-old diversity and inclusion programme coordinator at a global software company.

Being raised by a single mother is partly why he is so passionate about championing gender equality today, he adds.

At Yale-NUS College, where he majored in anthropology, he co-ran fortnightly dialogues on gender and was also part of The Kingfishers For Consent,a sexual wellness peer educators group.

This month and in May, he will help the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) - of which he is a member - run focus groups for men, to get their thoughts on what should be done to improve gender equality.

These sessions were inspired by the Government's announcement last year that it would be doing a comprehensive review of issues affecting women.

Another reason for his interest in gender issues, Mr Paul says, is that he has body dysmorphic disorder, a mental-health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in his appearance. He was diagnosed in 2017.

"I realised I was aspiring to some ideal state of masculinity. I couldn't articulate what that looked like. I just thought I was inadequate, that I was not it.

"The form of masculinity we valorise is dangerous. That got me exploring gender and masculinity more, thinking more about feminism, women's issues and how these things were interconnected."

After graduating in 2019, he took part in arts centre The Substation's Concerned Citizens Programme, exploring minority-race Singaporean masculinity through art and closed-door dialogues.

And last year, he spoke at an Aware panel on toxic masculinity.

"We see so many cases of sexual misconduct and violence, and I think that stems from the gender norms we are socialised to," adds Mr Paul, who is doing a performance lecture on brown social mobility and masculinity at The Substation's SeptFest this month.

"If we can unpack toxic masculinity, if men can see how they are perpetuating these things and try their best to stop doing this, we can move this conversation about gender equality forward."

Some men he has spoken to about gender equality worry that their privileges will be threatened. There are also those who think women are privileged because they do not have to do national service.

"It's not a zero-sum game. It's about trying to recognise that this group of people have not necessarily had the spotlight for a very long time, and it's time that we start to bring them to the fore," he says.

"The argument that women shouldn't complain because they don't have to do NS is a strange one, given that the wage gap between men and women is still very wide, and that gap never closes."

Gender equality benefits men as well. Studies point to a correlation between gender equality and a society's levels of life satisfaction.

"If men can be more vulnerable, if they can also develop stronger emotional literacy, that also helps them assess what they are feeling," Mr Paul says.

"It allows them to have vulnerable conversations with their male friends. Oftentimes, they don't, and that ends up being work they put on their female partners."

He hopes Singapore will introduce an anti-discrimination law, as well asmore gender education in schools.

Aware projects manager Filzah Sumartono says Mr Paul is one of the advocacy group's small number of male allies who are willing to publicly support and advocate for gender equality.

"We hope for more men to join us and to not only pay lip service to equality, but also practise what they preach in their own lives - for example, by sharing caregiving duties and emotional labour, and calling out instances of inequality."

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