Throughout history, masculinity has been seen as an identity that can be overbearing and at times, toxic. One man is trying to change that by reimagining the way we engage with it in a creative yet simplistic way — by writing it down.
Eneale Pickett began the “Dear Masculinity” project as he began contemplating his own ideas of the concept. A Black man from the west side of Chicago, he told CASSIUS he was trained to be hyper-masculine at a very young age. Although he hated hiding his feelings and “acting tough,” he learned quickly after the death of his father that the damaging societal construct would actually keep him alive.
“There are two reasons why they call my neighborhood K-town: because a lot of the street names start with a ‘K’ and because there are a lot of killings there,” he said. “When I was very young, my momma went to funerals almost every day. I would remember we would hear her talk about how nice they were. If I were to be vulnerable at any other time, I could die…like people would kill me.”
When Pickett became a full-tuition scholarship student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he began to consider how the masculinity he learned as a child could be toxic to himself and others.
“When I got to college, I was able to think through some things because I wasn’t in a constant state of danger,” he said. “Everything I worked for, I’m reaping the benefits now. I’ve been given the time to think through my toxic masculinity and understand my privilege as a college student.”
In his frustration, he decided to sit down and write a letter to his masculinity. Relishing in the freedom that came with putting his feelings down on paper, he wondered if other people would want to do the same. After asking his peers in Madison to participate in the project, Pickett started to film his friends reading the letters they wrote out loud.
He also wants to invite people of other gender expressions to write letters to masculinity, especially women and femmes, to discuss the violence they experience as a result of it.
“They’ve been so vulnerable and so open to sharing their experiences and their stories,” he said. “Someone said, ‘dear masculinity, why couldn’t I cry at my father’s funeral?’ or ‘dear masculinity, stop fucking up my life.’ There’s been viewers who reached out and have said they’ve felt this way for a long time but were scared to voice it.”
While the videos will continue throughout the year with more episodes, the project will also debut as a play in Pickett’s native city of Chicago. “Dear Masculinity” will take the stage as part of a play festival in the Goodman Theatre on August 26.
Ultimately, Pickett wants his audience to take away that masculinity is multi-faceted — no one person’s experience is like the other. He also wants to invite people of other gender expressions to write letters to masculinity, especially women and femmes, to discuss the violence they experience as a result of it.
“People explore their masculinity differently, whether it be toxic or nonconventional, and deconstruct it in their own ways,” he said. “This project has so many layers and dimensions to it and it’s really just beginning.”
Watch some of the videos below and check out the page in its entirety here.