Why I support International Men’s Day
Disagree all you want, but it’s a good idea
What is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45? The most obvious guess would be something like heart disease, testicular cancer or car accidents.
After all, these are things which are talked about a lot, and which the majority of men in the UK have had some kind of education on. Events to promote awareness of the risks of drink driving or that encourage men to “check your balls” are commonplace and met with universal applause.
But in the under-35 category drunk driving or testicular cancer aren’t the widest causes of death. The biggest cause of death in men under the age of 35 is suicide, and the University of York just cancelled an event aiming to raise awareness of this. I am arguing for the reinstatement of International Men’s Day at York.
We unfortunately live in a world where gender roles are everywhere – from children’s TV telling boys to be the strong handsome prince and girls to be the mild mannered princess to the language we use every day: “man up” or “stop being a pussy” being two obvious examples. This has a huge effect on women gaining access to particular careers or leadership positions because they aren’t a man.
But gender roles affect men struggling with mental health issues or depression too. Having internalised messages saying that “real men are strong” means men struggling with depression often see themselves as failing to be proper men, or letting people down by not being strong enough. Moreover, men are less likely to go to counselling or support sessions as a result of gender roles, seeing getting help as not being a typical macho act.
So how does International Men’s Day help? The purpose of IMD (even if this wasn’t how Dr Adrian Lee phrased it) is to provide a voice that challenges the conception of men as needing to fit this stereotype and encourages boys and men, for their own sake, to be more emotionally open. This is a group that is harmed by patriarchal structures just as much as women are, and one which we all have a duty to help.
Yes, IMD doesn’t mention women’s issues – because it’s a day about awareness of men’s issues, not women’s issues. You wouldn’t not do the “race for life” because it only gives money to cancer charities rather than stroke support charities as well.
This has to be part of a wider calendar of events about feminism and gender equality, and this calendar has to give the majority of air time to women’s issues, because they are wider ranging and more numerous than men’s issues. IMD, however, still deserves to be a part of it.
While middle class, straight, cis, white men like me who were raised in a nice part of the Wiltshire countryside and have always been presented with lots of opportunities are most certainly helped by patriarchal structure and shouldn’t try claim to be victims of discrimination, this doesn’t mean this is the case for all men.
Particular groups of men are equally harmed by patriarchal structure as women are. The structural inequality that exists is a far more nuanced picture than simply “men benefit and women are disadvantaged”. It needs to include considerations of socio-economic background, class, ethnicity, disability, mental health history and much more. When you amend your view of structural inequality to include this, men with a history of mental health from low socio-economic backgrounds start to look just as victimised as many groups of women.
Dr Adrian Lee picked out some strange examples of situations where men are discriminated against – so write a letter to Dr Lee saying he should change the focus of IMD. The “open letter” damning the event picked out some phrases from the “Men’s Day UK” website which discussed the purpose of the day being “celebrating the achievements of boys and men” and said that this is something that happens disproportionately already.
However, the letter conveniently missed the six bullet points discussing low male life expectancy, suicide, domestic violence against men and problems faced by some groups of men in the education system. Sure, the “Men’s Day UK” page isn’t going to win any prises in FemLit any time soon, but the letter presented a skewed reading of the purpose of IMD that ignored the good bits in there.
The letter’s conception of IMD is right and the sections on suicide or domestic abuse are going to get ignored in favour of misogyny but surely the best response would be to talk to the university about ways that we can improve IMD to provide genuine support to issues that men face rather than throw the good bits out with the bad.
Obviously there are still groups within society that don’t see gender inequality as a problem. “Lad” cultures within society tend to be quite dismissive of women’s issues and of gender inequality. Outside the liberal metropolitan bubble of uni students and graduate professions, gender inequality isn’t a topic widely discussed. I think IMD provides an opportunity for a lot of these groups to engage in a discussion about gender inequality, which they wouldn’t normally take part in.
I’m not saying that IMD is suddenly going to remove sexism or that it can end lad culture overnight, but I think events like this will gradually make inroads for feminism into areas that are currently inaccessible to it.
IMD would be a great step forward in the battle against male suicide and mental health issues, and it also helps make feminism more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally engage with it. IMD does not detract from, belittle or undermine the work that needs to be done in relation to women’s issues.
I support International Men’s Day because there are genuine issues faced by particular groups of men which need to be addressed, not swept under the rug.