We Are All Richard Gadd

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, I finished watching the Netflix mini-series Baby Reindeer, which is based on real events and tells the story of Scottish comedian Richard Gadd. Gadd writes the script and portrays himself, revealing his relationship with a stalker and the abuses and assaults he suffered at the hands of a well-known producer.

Thus, while the series might initially be interpreted from a psychologizing, bio-psychiatric, and moralizing perspective —about a person full of insecurities who was mistreated by various cruel, ruthless, and psychopathic characters with no empathy or remorse for the harm caused— there is a critical discourse behind it about what it means to be a man.

Therefore, beyond this depoliticized view of the series and the outstanding performance by actress Jessica Gunning as the stalker Martha, reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ role in Misery, Richard Gadd ultimately seeks to spark a political discussion about the construction of an unsustainable masculinity that affects not only women but also men themselves.

I frame it in these terms because the series is full of situations and feelings experienced by Richard Gadd, repeatedly challenging a type of masculinity that leads to self-destruction for men and the impossibility of living freely without constantly being pressured by certain historical masculine mandates.

Consequently, the question of what it means to be a man is present throughout the series and can be seen in various moments, such as in the beginning, when Richard Gadd tries to file a complaint six months after being stalked, but the police officer dismisses it, finding it ridiculous that a woman would sexually harass a man.

Similarly, when he is abused and raped by a man, Richard Gadd not only questions his responsibility in the event, as if the mere possibility of being sexually assaulted by another man were impossible. This led him to never report his aggressor and even visit him over time to clarify the situation, which ended in nothing.

Additionally, the weight of hegemonic masculinity on Richard Gadd’s feelings and actions —his inability to accept vulnerability and ask for help— intertwines with his inability to develop his own emotional and sexual life. He doesn’t allow himself to have a relationship with a trans woman he loves, out of fear of being mocked and rejected by his family, colleagues, and society in general.

Given the above, the need for approval of being a man, especially by other men, leads him throughout the series to question and reflect on the construction of an unsustainable masculinity for all of us who have had to subordinate to a completely idealized model of being a man, as Richard Gadd himself describes in this real-life presentation video.

In response to all this, the series and Richard Gadd’s message offer men the possibility to break free from bonds and ways of relating to others that only cause harm and violence, denying the diversity and plurality of ways to be a man that don’t have to conform to what a patriarchal, heteronormative, and binary gender system has taught us.

In other words, it’s about leaving behind all these mandates that tell us that to be real men, we must be strong, confident, rational, intelligent, funny, daring, powerful, successful, and reject anything perceived as feminine, gay, or simply more vulnerable.

Ultimately, we are all Richard Gadd to some extent, and it is hard not to feel identified and challenged by his story. He had the courage to share his story publicly and use it as a testimony so that many other men can also rise up and build a peaceful and sustainable world.

Read more from Chile here on Havana Times.