Charlie Siddick and Jordan Stephens in Conversation: Masculinity, Male Privilege and the Contemporary Cultural Crisis
Jordan Stephens is best-known for being half of the urban music group Rizzle Kicks and has since made forays into acting, poetry, producing and script-writing. Constantly in motion and deep in creative thought, I sat down with Jordan to talk about his philosophies and what he’s been up to lately.
Charlie Siddick: In your work and through your social media you seem to be striving towards and promoting a new notion of masculinity and are simultaneously unapologetically pro-feminist, where does this stem from?
Jordan Stephens: I think that if you’re a man, especially if you’re a rapper or in a position of masculine authority, it’s easy to stay silent on such matters as you’re directly benefiting from this warped gender dynamic. I was brought up by a strong woman and although my dad was around, he never tried to toughen me up or project traditional masculine values upon me.
I’m not inclined to falling into believing things blindly, and that’s something my mum inscribed in me; to continually ask questions and not to automatically accept authoritative constructs. I think as humans we all have to ‘un’-learn things, the stuff we’ve been taught by the media, or academic institutions, and even our parents. My mum brought me up on a Native American spiritual tradition, which is open-minded and against materialism, it’s about learning lessons from, and being true to, your personal concept of morality and human connections rather than those passed down by your society.
On Mother’s Day you put out a poem discussing femininity, it was really powerful and moving, to the extent that when Thandie (Newton) and Kay (Montano) posted it on their Instagram (@thandieandkay) some men got really angry and assumed it was written by a hardcore feminist female! How did that poem come about?
I had this moment during an interview for a Radio 4 documentary about love and it led me to write this poem about women for Mothers Day. The producer asked me, when do you think men’s depiction of love is going to change? And I said, men will only understand how important love is if it’s taken away from them. Then the more I thought about it, the more aware I became of the privilege that men are born with: the privilege of always having the love of their mother. One of the lines in that poem is, ‘A male murderer’s mother will still make him dinner’, this is obviously hyperbolic but there is just this thing — a mother’s love — that men will always have and soon feel deserving of.
‘I think that’s a huge part of the problems associated with privilege, not even realising you have it.’
I tend to find even the most open-minded and liberal men find it hard to admit to their masculine privilege, why do you think that is?
A lot of people don’t need to question their privilege because it benefits them and is simply such an intrinsic part of their existence that they don’t even notice it. I mean, privilege is essentially invisibility. I think that’s a huge part of the problems associated with privilege, not even realising you have it.
I guess I’ve been subconsciously asserting my male privilege since birth, but when I do become aware of it or try to change it for the better, I don’t really find myself losing anything. I think that is the fear, in the process of making things more equal and balanced between different sexes, someone loses and someone gains and for many men the idea of loss is impossible, which I think links back to their having had the unconditional love of their mother.
You just finished filming a role for a film called Tucked in which you play a transgender female, how did that come about?
It was weird rhythmically because I’d written that poem, and had been speaking more and more to people about gender, sexuality and fluidity, with me kind of identifying with a polyamorous kind of orientation. So yeah, it came at a weird time, and I said yes because it felt right. I didn’t really have any idea of what the film might be, but I liked my character, and it’s interesting to have had more of an insight into the sensitivity and vulnerability that transgender women associate with.
Obviously Moonlight was hugely successful and also explored LGBTQ issues, do you think stories like these will become more common?
Moonlight was exploring black experience, masculinity and sexuality, and that’s literally the reason why Tucked got funding, so yeah I reckon subject matters such as these will become more common. I guess it’s ‘in’ right now. I was speaking to someone earlier and they asked me if its got anything to do with capitalising on gender struggles and race issues that many people face, but I don’t think it matters. I’d much rather people were discussing these things than ignoring them and could lead to a ‘ceiling coming through’ situation.
Moonlight and Get Out are examples of the ceiling momentarily breaking and I think that’s why so many white men are angry because they’re not used to it. But I’d love to live in a world where the ‘in’ thing in cinema is progressive cultural ideas. Unfortunately, there’s every chance that the next Oscars is another whitewash.
‘…in this time of mass-accessibility people seem to connect less; connect less to people and connect less to knowledge.’
You’ve set up on online platform called Bad Colour, which you’ve described as essentially the ‘promotion of critical thought’ tell me more about it?
It’s a response to our modern distractions, in this time of mass-accessibility people seem to connect less; connect less to people and connect less to knowledge. One phrase I repeatedly hear from people I love, my family and friends, is ‘sometimes I just want to switch off.’
That idea blows my mind. I think quite often its said in passing, without thinking about its ramifications. What it suggests is: I’m going to watch television or scroll through some social media platform and stop thinking. To switch off as you scroll through social media or watch television allows you to accept all that you see and allows everything you see to permeate into the way you see yourself and the world on a subconscious level.
Bad Colour forces people to think about what they see, to consider the way they see things, and to help people to think freely for themselves and to come to their own conclusions. People will feel empowered through this. Bad Colour utilises the creativity of people around us and challenges the viewer to question their gaze and asks them to participate in the consumption of art. Our upcoming event features photography by the Young Poet Laureate Caleb Femi and a new music video by myself as Al, The Native. Bad Colour is inclusive, interdisciplinary, and aims to motivate and empower everybody.
Check out his newly released video here: