The ex-junkie sex-addict comedian is a healthy voice for men in our culture
When I met Russell Brand this week for his podcast Under the Skin I began with mixed feelings. I have a background in radio and television, where Brand’s reputation, especially amongst women, is poor. Most of the hostility is from a while ago, before his public clean up, marriage and treatment for sex addiction, but women have watched too many men burnish their reputations and rise too swiftly after a fall from grace to be immediately forgiving. His comments a few years ago about leaving the childcare to his partner didn’t add to my sense of meeting someone I’d immediately click with.
I’ve changed my mind.
In the lead up to the interview, while many women were sceptical, men sidled up to me to tell me what a fan of his they were. Intelligent, self-aware, responsible and loving men I respect, including my own husband and a leader at my church.
I now know that his books on recovery and mentors in particular deal with deep and painful issues, from mental health struggles to porn, the necessity of community and the challenges of masculinity. He tackles them head on with impish wit and a lecture-free tone, connecting with a generation of men looking for guidance as the world changes rapidly around them.
One person described Brand to me as “the left’s Jordan Peterson”. I’m not sure he is straightforwardly on the left but those categories are less and less useful anyway. He shares with Peterson an ability to speak about masculinity in ways that are neither patronising nor automatically problematising. However, Peterson’s positions on gender feel to many women to be shading into misogyny and he has failed to control or even admonish his army of swivel-eyed fans when they pour vile abuse on the women he has public disagreements with.
Brand, on the other hand, has spoken about abstaining from porn because of the ways it affects views of women, profiles voices like Brene Brown on vulnerability and Queer Eye star Karamo Brown on being a loving man, while remaining resolutely “male” coded. He “won” the game that society tells men they need to play, sleeping with thousands of women and discarding them and revelling in money and status, and now speaks honestly about how it fails to fulfil.
I still disagree with some of what he says, and some of his more earnest former statements now look comically naïve. But he’s honest about changing his mind and messing up and being a work in progress- that rare thing amongst those with a public voice. He was also off to cook his kids tea following the recording. I’m raising a son and looking with some trepidation at the environment for men, and find myself, to my surprise, glad that Russell Brand is helping shape it.