Source – urpotential.co.uk
In recent years there appears to have been a growing trend of international days of recognition. And most of these are funny if not ever so slightly pointless, with some choice examples like ‘International Talk Like A Pirate Day’ (September 19th), ‘Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day’ (January 26th), ‘Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day’ (August 7th) and my personal favourite, November 18th, ‘Married to a Scorpio Support Day’ (oh come on, we aren’t THAT insufferable!). However, we also have a ever growing list of international days of recognition that really strive to raise awareness of genuine issues, such as ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation’ (February 6th), ‘International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking’ (June 26th) and ‘International Literacy Day’ (September 8th). More on the UN list of days of recognition can be found here. Predictably however, some of these international days of recognition prove rather contentious, and yesterday was one of those days. Thursday the 19th of November was international men’s day, a day dedicated to spreading the awareness of issues that specifically or disproportionately effect men, some of which will be addressed below. The responses to international men’s day have both been amazing and depressing, with many expressing solidarity and sympathy with men, and with others jumping to some rather strange conclusions as to what international men’s day is about. Some institutions however, go even further, and actively seek to scrap international men’s day. This post will aim to explore some of the negative responses to international men’s day, why these responses are ultimately misguided, what the true intentions of international men’s day are and ultimately to come to the conclusion that it is something we should support.
First of all this post will look at some of the responses to international men’s day. Now I wish to emphasise before I start talking about the more negative responses to international men’s day that the majority of the responses that I have seen have been incredibly positive, and it is heartwarming to see that so many people across social media are so responsive in at least acknowledging the issues that this day seeks to raise. However, it is now my rather unenviable task to look at some of the more negative responses. Firstly, you had the media responses, such as the I newspaper article “Some facts about international men’s day”, which seek to simply dismiss international men’s day as irrelevant and the issues stressed as either non existent or extremely minor. This approach is misguided for two reasons. Firstly, it is completely and utterly factually incorrect. According to the Samaritan suicide statistics report 2014 “For the UK as a whole, England, Wales and Northern Ireland the male suicide rate is approximately 3 (and a) 1⁄2 times higher than the female rate”. To ignore reports like this is intellectually inconsistent and downright poor journalism.
Secondly, we see institutional responses to international men’s day, namely the case of the University of York in the UK. Following pressure from around 200 staff, students and alumni, the university scrapped the event (more information here). This response is misguided for two reasons: A specific reason and a general reason. Firstly, the specific reason for this case being a petition started in response to the move calling for the event to be reinstated, which at the time of this posts writing had 3,800 signatures. Now I know online petitions when applied to region specific issues are a little dubious, as anyone could sign said petition. If I wanted to, I could sign from my flat in Oxford, 191 miles from the University of York. However, it would be quite a tin foil hat response to suggest that not at least a considerable amount of those signatures are from York staff, students or alumni; we can conclude with little doubt that there are at least as many legitimate signatures as signatures on the open letter. The general reason that this response is misguided is that it is dismissing male-specific issues at an institutional level, which for someone suffering as a result of these issues would be a massive blow to morale. Unfortunately in the case of the University of York, the scrapping of international men’s day events came less than 24 hours after a male student took his own life (more information here). The shocking male suicide epidemic cannot be ignored because of the misunderstandings of a relatively small number of people.
Finally, we have seen Twitter being twatter. No matter the event, the politically correct void depths of Twitter never fail to deliver a healthy dose of either utter stupidity or downright offensiveness.
I don’t think I need to explain why this response is ever so slightly stupid.
The more serious negative responses to international men’s day are ultimately misguided as they fail to recognised the true nature of the consequences of socially constructed gender. To put it simply, socially constructed gender, the ideals of a “man” and a “woman” that everyone is expected to conform to perfectly from the cradle to the grave are extremely damaging not only to us as individuals, but to the society as a whole. Society is damaged when a young girl is socially pressured into specialising in “feminine” topics during her education, when she might be far more gifted in natural sciences. Society is damaged when a man is denied custody of his child when he may be more suitable than the mother. Society is damaged when talented women are systematically held back from the top jobs in society, when they may well be far more of an asset in that role than their male rivals. Society is damaged when talented young men take their own lives because they feel socially pressured into keeping their feelings pent up. Society is damaged day in and day out, held back from progressing both socially and scientifically, because of arbitrary, constructed ideals of what a “man” and a “woman” should be. These responses fail to actually take into account that the social constructs of what a “man” should be damage and hold back society. It is our duty should we want to truly tackle structural oppression in society to listen to, and not to downplay, the issues that face all demographics, including men.
It is important that I also take a moment to address a certain crowd of so called “men’s rights activists” (MRAs), who have predictably been out in force. The insufferable squawks coming from this intellectually void group who reside at the very depths of the internet have been focusing on the apparent “feminazi” crusade for female domination and absolute subjection of all men. I don’t feel it would be worth me wasting too much time but I will say that the arguments from this group are just as groundless and detached from reality as those who would seek to deny that there is a male suicide epidemic, and the idea that international men’s day is some grand day of fightback against these evil “feminazis” is absolutely laughable. MRAs are as much of a hurdle to society recognising the issues that men face as the disinformation thrown about by articles like the one from the I newspaper mentioned above.
Source – http://rednblacksalamander.deviantart.com
What international men’s day is truly about is not upholding existing power structures. It is not about reproducing structural oppression of women. It is not about silencing feminism. It is not about claiming that “men are more oppressed than women” (anyone who does attempt to claim this unironically needs a healthy dose of reality) International men’s day is ultimately a part of feminism. Feminism is about addressing the issues that face individuals and society as a result of socially constructed gender, and international men’s day is a part of this, highlighting specific issues that face men. It does not seek to downplay the many, many horrific issues that face women in societies across the globe. It is about ensuring that the issues that men face, shocking suicide rates, lower life expectancy and the brunt of a deeply unfair justice system in which we are significantly more likely to be sent to prison, and for much longer, as well as one in which we are significantly less likely to gain custody of children, are not sidelined in the fight for a society free from the effects of socially constructed gender. Just today in my lecture on Political Thought, someone mentioned men being raped, to various sniggers across the room. These issues are often sidelined or trivialised and are damaging for society, and cause misery to many people. In conclusion, as a feminist, speaking to all feminists, the reasons I have stated are why I feel that we should support international men’s day. If increased awareness of these issues for one day can cause a young man battling depression to seek help, or cause another to get checked for prostate cancer, then society will have ultimately become a slightly better place.
Now happy ‘name your PC day’! I wrote this post on Lucy, named after my late cat, as my laptop also spends most of its time acting utterly apathetic to my existence then every once in a while throws an enormous tantrum.