The 8 Club brings a new energy to the conversation on toxic masculinity
I love men. I love them in all of the myriad possible ways. Bloody hate the patriarchy though, particularly for its ability to shape shift so subtly that my love for men sometimes feels akin to a moth’s love for a flame — fundamentally misguided. It’s in times like these that I’ve deployed the phrase ‘Men Are Trash’. Though use of the phrase has brought me catharsis personally, online those words are what Helen’s face was to Troy; hers launched a thousand ships while the phrase ‘Men Are Trash’ is guaranteed to rocket a thousand disgruntled men straight into my mentions. It was during one of these mini Twitter storms that a friend recommended that I watch The 8 Club, a panel discussion-style web series focused on masculinity, led mainly by men. To see see men doing some heavy lifting around these kinds of conversations is a tonic to some of the online toxicity.
The series opens with host JJ Bola offering a simple provocation to the first configuration of 8 men and non-binary people: each are asked to put forward “one thing you love about men and one you hate?” It’s a deeply personal question, and subverts the usually stuffy panel format straight off the bat. The cynic in me finds it hard not to roll her eyes when Jordan H states that “men are so willing to sacrifice,” but when Adam Pugh responds, “I don’t think they are…not when it’s status or privilege,” I scream YES ADAM. Suddenly, I’m in, all too aware of how ready I was to jump the gun and switch off only moments before.
Although different people pop in and out of the series, The 8 Club establishes a core panel which creates a welcome familiarity and warmth. Tom Ross-Williams continuously shines, offering thoughtful perspectives while claiming their space as a gender non-conforming voice. Ned Dukes thinks aloud, sharing his tangled vulnerability with candour. Donnie ruminates on representation and queerness with relatable frankness, while Jordan Stephens brings charisma and charming bookishness. Adam Pugh is clearly a man on a mission and I'm low-key in actual love with Josh Millwood who speaks infrequently but always with a balance of confidence and self-deprecation. Collectively the panel covers a spectrum of identities and, vocationally, a whole range of jobs. Masculinity—both toxic and otherwise—is not just a concept to be picked over by academics and gender theorists in lecture theatres but a living thing which we all experience every day. I’m all for the writing of essays but it’s refreshing to hear what a sports coach and an MUA have to say about their lived experience.
I'm thankful that not everything about The 8 Club is totally palatable either. For me, the presence of Mitch—who shares various problematic opinions (including a questionable thesis on TLC's "No Scrubs")—is welcome. Mitch brings to the table the kind of energy women have to deal with every time they share an opinion, and it's cathartic watching the group reason with him. The filming is a gift here, the camera bringing focus to clasped hands and shifted gazes. Listening to one another is a full-body experience, after all, and we communicate in more ways than one. Again, this is not your standard panel.
In the days since watching I realised Mitch reminded me of someone: The Slumflower. His comments on money and his opinion that alpha males don't commit suicide chimed with her recent Twitter tirades that included the tweet, "...If men are committing s*icide because they can’t cry - how’s it my concern?” There’s that shapeshifting patriarchy again. Though their comments differ, both contain the same presumptuous attitude to suicide. It's painful to see, but it’s important. Consuming this in the same month that Love Island contestant Mike Thallisitis took his own life makes for a heavy reminder that so much still needs to be done, and pulls my thoughts back towards those thoughts on the men I love. The final episode (this time containing 8 women) in which presenter Julie Adenuga talks tenderly about her brother really moves the big sister in me. It’s vital that we see more exploration of this particular male/female dynamic.
As the series ends, I want more. More men, more women, more non-binary people and more questions. Because regardless of whether or not I love every comment, The 8 Club delivers on its tagline, providing “real talk" from real people munching real snacks, and I can digest it all from the safety of my own space. Most importantly, it can be sent in link form to my mechanic mate who wouldn't be caught dead attending a panel, but will watch a YouTube video, consequently flooding the group chat with his thoughts on what xyz said about blow jobs. There’s value in that. There's love in that.