Should We Be Celebrating International Men’s Day?

Forbes 3 weeks ago
Smiling mature man embracing adult sons after evening soccer match
International Men's Day can celebrate the myriad of diverse male identities that exist beyond ... [+] stereotypes.

On 19th November it will be International Men’s Day (IMD). Many people will be left wondering why men need a special day, when every day could be considered male. These type of official days tend to acknowledge and celebrate the ‘underdog’, and so this November celebration may raise an eyebrow. It might sit awkwardly alongside Carers’ day (21st November) or National Grandparents day (4th October). However, men are just as much in need of celebration and support as other more ‘obvious’ groups.

Men are diverse

Men, like women, are diverse. Whilst an overriding stereotype of the buccaneering cowboy may persist in some minds, most of us can see from a cursory glance of social media that we now run the full gamut - from super alpha to super beta and all levels in between and around. Indeed, gender fluidity challenges more and more the very notion of binary gender divisions and what a ‘man’ is supposed to be.

At one end of the spectrum, men are still trapped by stereotype threat. Conforming to society’s idea of what a man should be, some people refer to this as toxic masculinity. This can be unhelpful as it simply perpetuates the association between toxicity and all things male. The notion that identity comes from an extreme form of supposed masculine traits from defensiveness to violence.

Everyone needs to belong

Much identity theory comes from notions of the ‘other’, the idea that in the absence of self-confidence, or indeed as a result of fear, we find it easier to define what we are not than what we actually are. That can allow men to ignore feelings and avoid admitting vulnerability. Because boys don’t cry.

So, some men are ‘not fem’, definitely not a sissy, and emphatically not perceived to be gay. This ‘othering’ can provide temporary and superficial self-confidence to people who are actually fearful. As long as there is some other that is less than me, I am OK. We all have a fundamental human need to find our own identity and to define our place in the world. Men, women, all of us.

More empathy please

We need to extend empathy to those who appear to least need it. Men need to fulfil society’s expectations (or the perceived expectations others have) just like women do. Yet we need to ask ourselves why it is that boys are struggling academically, prisons are full of men and the most common cause of death for men under 50 is suicide.

It’s far harder for men to be vulnerable because that is acting outside their prescribed gender role. So, it’s good to have a day that celebrates male diversity and that reminds us all that men don’t have to be imprisoned by stereotypes in the way that women don’t either.

We need to provide alternative versions, kinder versions, more liberated versions thatcan act as genuine role models for young boys to aspire to.

Overcoming Stereotype threat

According to Philip Tanzer, a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) from Germany, three things make you a man - building a house, planting a tree and becoming a father. He is a more consensual figure than most in the ‘Manosphere’, the underground online male rights movement.

He is driven by anger at men who lost their children in custody battles. Colleagues of his point out that women raping men is not a crime under UK law. And whilst the majority of domestic violence is still male on female, there is a sense that male victims are not properly acknowledged.

The ‘othering’ for a lot of MRA activists is to blame feminism. At the 2019 International Conference on Men’s issues, feminism bashing was a key theme. But International Men’s Day could draw attention to issues of genuine concern that are often not given the attention they deserve. It could offer an alternative to the growing movements that are being hijacked by the far right and polarizing gender politics.

Overly woke

International Men’s Day can also offer a challenge to overly woke narratives. Assuming all men should reject masculinity could be as equally unhelpful as assuming all men need to build houses and become fathers. Men do have parenting rights, do suffer domestic abuse and do have unmet mental health needs. Many men are leading lives of quiet desperation. Attacking their supposed toxicity doesn’t help.

We should be able to celebrate differences rather than demonising them. As Obama has recently pointed out, piousness is not helpful. “Casting stones” is not activism and does not lead to change. It actually contributes to further polarisation.

Providing role models and offering choice

If International Women’s Day is to celebrate women’s success in the face of sexism, International Men’s Day can celebrate men challenging stereotype threat. Men are just as lonely, just as vulnerable, but far less likely to admit it.

In the book Stories for boys who dare to be different we discover a plethora of role model men we can aspire to – guys who have achieved success without bashing women or polarizing communities. IMD can be less about ‘othering’ women and justifying misogyny and more about celebrating male diversity to give vulnerable men a real choice and positive hope for the future. Should we be celebrating International Men’s Day? Hell, yes.

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