What is International Men’s Day?
There should be no reason why both men and women can’t cry, code, cuddle or become CEOs.
Today is International Men’s Day. Yes, some will say, they have 364 days of the year but perhaps feeling left behind by International Women’s Day, they now have their own 24 hours to celebrate and focus on themselves. And I’m OK with that, simply because it highlights how men are equally trapped by outdated stereotyped thinking. Truthfully, I would give them a week if it would make a difference to the rest of the year.
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” male suicide has been a topic of focus 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. In Europe it is 77% of cases. Research from World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the life expectancy of the average male at birth in 2015 was 69 years; for females, it was 74 years.
There are other elements of 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.
- 78.7% homicide victims globally are male
- Homelessness for men is more than double that of women in the U.S. at 70%
- There is a prison gender gap globally with around 90% of prison populations occupied by men
- One-third of women in the E.U. have experienced gender-based violence carried out by a male perpetrator.
- 15% men claim to have no close friends
I have written before about toxic masculinity the idea that some people’s idea of “manliness” requires domination, homophobia, and aggression. It taps into cultural and societal pressures that suggests that men need to behave in a certain way to be considered “real men”.
Yet research has shown that men who endorse dominant ideals of masculinity are more likely than other men to have greater health risks and engage in poor behaviours. They are more likely to consider suicide, drink excessively, take risks at work, and drive dangerously and 2.4 times more likely to commit suicide compared to men who have a different view
What this tells us is something isn’t right. Some groups of men are feeling left behind, while others dominate the political, economic and social landscape. 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. Groups such as Proud Boys rooted in white male supremacy, advocating violence are flourishing, Donald Trump’s now infamous “p***y quote has travelled the world.
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. 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.
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 pushback if they exhibit characteristics outside the ascribed female stereotypes.
Gender stereotyping is as much of a trap for men as it is for women.
While Joe Lonsdale, U.S. venture capitalist, called men who took paternity leave “losers.” This is the very toxic attitude that makes men reluctant to ask for parenting 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! Frequently men don’t actually want to be the main bread-winner, but feel compelled, by the culture we live in.
Men as fathers
Workplace practises also penalize 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.”
When dads take paternity leave:
- They’re 26% more likely to stay married
- Their relationship with their kid improves for at least 9 years
- Moms are 26% less likely to need anxiety medications
- Dads’ brains rewire to be responsive to baby
- Both parents sleep more
Organisations need to support working dads and remove the stigma of being active and involved fathers on an ongoing basis and not just the odd bit of “helping out” which they think is cute. This benefits their businesses as much as the well-being of the men and society as a whole.
Happily, the E.U. extended parenting leave benefits in 2021 and now under EU rules, staff can take parental leave at any time until the child is 8 years old. However, this age limit may be lower in some countries, under national law.
Different type of conversation needed
There is no doubt that if men are in crisis, we all are. Some women complain that the whole year is already about them. 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.
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 leads 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. What the world needs is strong male allies to continue their work dealing with some of these challenges by promoting positive versions of masculinity and creating structure and culture that supports men to be more open, honest and vulnerable. Addressing these issues will stem the inequality that women experience as a result of this imbalance and toxicity. This includes increases in domestic violence, economic marginalisation of women because of the pandemic, and the backsliding of women’s control over their own bodies even in advanced economies.
But today is their day.
Hell …for me they could have the whole week if it would make a difference to gender balance.
This framework of this post was originally written in 2016 and has been updated every year since. Not much has changed.