Yesterday was International Men’s Day. Yes, they have 364 days of the year but feeling left behind by International Women’s Day, they now have their own 24 hours to celebrate and focus on themselves.
What is International Men’s Day?
The origins of International Men’s Day began somewhat surprisingly in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. Today more than 60 countries are committing to improving the lives of men focusing on men’s health issues, boys’ development, family activities, and more recently promoting greater gender equality. It’s hard to know if the concept is part of a feminist gender balance culture or against it.
The objectives of International Men’s Day include:
a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them.
Male health crisis
Referred to as the “silent epidemic” this year the focus is on male suicide where the rate is worse for men than women. Averaged out on a country by country basis the rate of suicide for men is up to three times that of women. Research from World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that life expectancy of the average male at birth in 2015 was 69 years; for females, it was 74 years.
There are other elements to male inequality. Educational achievement for boys is lowest for working-class boys and the number of male graduates is falling steadily in many developed economies. Men are also becoming increasingly the victims of domestic abuse and other violent crime. Separated fathers struggle to have access to their children.
So men are feeling left behind. We have seen this with the recent backlash from the “angry white male” and fascist, sexist rhetoric from political leaders and pundits endorsing sexual aggression. President-Elect Donald Trump’s now infamous “p***y quote has travelled the world. Alt-right writer Milo Yiannopolous even preposterously claimed on Channel Four News that the gender wage gap and equality is a conspiracy.
“They spread conspiracy theories, propaganda about the wage gap, campus rape culture – this stuff isn’t real”
Gender stereotypes damage men as much as women
Gender balance and the move away from gender stereotyped expectations would go a long way to reducing male anxieties. Women are moving on, adapting and changing. Men need to too. And it is a struggle for many men who cling to the old ways. Women want something different in increasing numbers. Men are still caught up in now outdated notions of what defines a man and what characterises masculine behaviour. Women also experience push back if they exhibit characteristics outside the ascribed female stereotypes. Gender stereotyping is as much of a trap for men as it is for women.
An inability or unwillingness to discuss or articulate troubling concerns is considered to be a significant source of the problem for men. There is a need to appear “strong” and with that has come “silent” in the face of personal adversity. Research in the U.K. in 2015 reported that 2.5 million men admitted to having no close friends they can turn to. Smaller friendship groups and feelings of isolation contribute to the downward spirals that make 1 in 4 men contemplate suicide in middle age. It is hardly surprising then that many Millennial males (their sons) feel desperate.
Men are reluctant to ask for paternity leave for fear of disadvantaging their careers. Many stay at home dads avoid telling their friends for fear of negative reactions even when they are retired! Many men don’t actually want to be the main bread-winner, but feel compelled, by the culture we live in and workplace practises of penalizing both men and women who take time off to take care of their children to assume that role. According to the American Psychological Association
“Psychological research across families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests that fathers’ affection and increased family involvement help promote children’s social and emotional development.”
Different type of conversation needed
There is no doubt that if men are in crisis, we all are. Some women complain that they have the rest of the year. But if one day a year for International men’s Day, highlights the root causes of some their health struggles and generates a transparent constructive discussion to achieve genuine gender balance then it can only be a good thing. There should be no reason why both men and women can’t cry, code, cuddle or become CEOs.
What that day does do, is open the door for a different type of conversation than men can have not just amongst themselves, but with the women in their lives. Instead of bottling up anxieties and challenges, or self-medicating with alcohol, work or food, that lead to ill-health or suicidal thoughts, they can speak openly about what is troubling them.
It is certainly better than the alternative of having not just angry, but raging men, undoing the few achievements women have won in the past 60 years.
Hell …they can have the whole week if it would make a difference to gender balance.
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