Many sources indicate that the original concept behind International Men’s Day was to address the ‘unfair’ balance of equality women had over men as a result of 8th March, the day that celebrates International Women’s Day. Wow.
In this article I explore the issues faced globally by both men and women with the aim to arrive at a balanced personal view as to whether I feel International Men’s Day is a positive movement for our society, or if in fact, International Women’s Day actually goes far enough as to support both male and female specific global issues.
I begin writing this with no predetermined view and hope will support you in developing your own.
It’s International Men’s Day, Saturday 19th November 2016, and by pure coincidence, my husband is downstairs rearranging the kitchen work tops and sorting out our under-the-stairs-junk cupboard. All while multi-tasking as he makes me fresh coffee and eggs. As I write this, he can be heard casually groaning from the bottom of the stairs about how annoying it is that I last night left my bag and shoes strewn across the living room floor.
I giggle and apologise, he seems surprised that I take so much joy from this scenario and carries on as before.
My husband is a man who one day wants to reduce his working hours to join me in spending time with our children and who recently complained to an event organiser about the sexist and offensive slurs of the comedian commissioned for the evening. This is also the man who celebrates me, as a person, my passions, my successes and my down sides, to an extent – more than me.
On my lazy Saturday morning filled with laughter, the odd grumble at each other and long bouts of comfortable silence, it feels good that my relationship has apparently, somehow behind my back while I wasn’t even looking, without any careful planning or domestic lobbying, has achieved the epitome of gender equality.
I am free. I am a person without limits. When I am with him. When I am without him.
When I say I am free. I mean free, free. Proper free. Yes, on a very basic level I am free to vote, free to say no if I don’t want to have sex with somebody, free to learn how to drive a car and free to have a job. I am protected by the law if somebody harms me and I am generally safe within our legal system here in the UK.
But further than this, I am free to live my dreams, free to travel the world, free to help others who are not as free as me, free to voice my opinions even if they contradict those of the people around me. I am free to go as far as I wish in my career, irrelevant of my gender.
I, unfortunately, in this big wide and often ugly world, am also an ABSOLUTE minority.
Unsure of how I feel about International Men’s Day I took some time to look at the issues faced by both men and women globally in order to come to an understanding of the purpose of both international days of the sexes.
Female specific global issues
- Women and girls are said to make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
- In Afghanistan more than half of all brides are under 16 and domestic violence is so common that 87 per cent of women admit to experiencing it.
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented. Many victims die; others are infected with HIV and left to look after children alone. Foraging for food and water exposes women to yet more violence. Without money, transport or connections, they have no way of escape.
- In Iraq the literacy rate, once the highest in the Arab world, is now among the lowest as families fear risking kidnapping and rape by sending girls to school. Women who once went out to work stay home. Meanwhile, more than 1 million women have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are unable to earn enough to eat.
- In Nepal Daughters who aren’t married off may be sold to traffickers before they reach their teens.
- In Mali few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth.
- In Pakistan, honour killing is widespread and a renewed wave of religious extremism is targeting female politicians, human rights workers and lawyers.
- Women in Saudi Arabia are treated as lifelong dependents, under the guardianship of a male relative. Deprived of the right to drive a car or mix with men publicly, they are confined to strictly segregated lives on pain of severe punishment.
- In Somalia women are exposed daily to rape, dangerously poor health care for pregnancy, and attack by armed gangs.
- One in four women in the UK experience domestic violence at some point in their life
- 170,000 women and girls in the UK have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
- Around one in 25 women aged 16-59 in the UK are a victim of stalking every year.
- Estimates suggest that around 85,000 women a year are raped in the UK, while only 1,070 rapists are convicted (including the 12,000 estimated number of men raped each year).
What stands out to me is that all of the issues faced by women referenced above are largely as a result of the actions and behaviours of the male dominated society they live in.
In fact in most of the examples, it is the men in their environment who are committing these horrific actions.
Let’s be theoretical for a minute. If tomorrow, in all of the above countries overnight for some reason there were absolutely no men, these issues affecting women would likely almost immediately cease to exist.
Let’s assume that 99.99% of men in the world would never ever commit such awful actions, because the point of this article is not to man hate. We still can’t ignore the fact that in these instances the issue is that women are needing protection from the men around them.
This tells me that there absolutely is a need for an international day that recognises that women, specifically and singularly because of their gender, need to be supported and their issues recognised in isolation of any other factors. So, 8th March sees us become more and more aware of the harrowing issues faced by women across the world with the celebration of International Women’s Day.
Male specific global issues
There was significantly less material on the internet on issues faced by men globally, though that is not to downplay them. Here are just some of the issues;
- The great pressure that comes with the Male gender roles and how the alpha male role men are being conditioned to adopt does not allow for emotional expression along with a whole host of other hugely damaging effects on men’s mental health.
- The negative portrayal in the media of all men as misogynists, in the same way that women face objectification of their bodies, men are largely tarnished with one big fat paint brush as sexist, predatory bigots.
- In the US one in 71 men have been raped but only 1 in 10 cases of rape are reported. There was not a huge amount of data for this, which could largely be associated with lack of reported incidents due to the stigma surrounding the subject.
- In the UK boys have fallen behind by a worrying percentage in their performance at schools and colleges. While it isn’t clear whether this gender gap is the result of biological differences and rate of development, or social processes it is an issue that is of high importance to the education system moving forward.
- In 2012, over 75% of the people who killed themselves in the UK were men.
- Only 12% of primary school teachers are male.
- Exactly 71% of the time, family courts award sole custody to the female parent.
Contrary to the issues faced by women, none of these issues have been directly caused by the actions of the opposite sex. They are, in fact, often as an indirect result of the oppression women have faced for centuries and the impact this gender imbalance has also had on men. These issues even further highlight the need for International Women’s Day to support the slow but important process of achieving gender equality for both men and women’s rights.
By solving female specific issues, and fighting for women’s rights, we are also fighting to solve men’s issues.
If we create a culture where we end the horrific violation of women’s basic human rights and slowly unpick the sexism and misogyny sewn into every facet of our society, the media will begin to stop portraying ALL men as misogynists.
If we achieve gender equality to a point where characteristics typically associated with women are no longer seen as weaknesses such as showing emotion and compassion, men will no longer be ridiculed for crying or talking when they need help. The dated view on what the male role in society should be, would be dissipated. Actually, by women gaining power, not with the aim of gaining control, but to bring balance and equality into the distribution of power in the world, male specific issues will massively benefit.
An article by Miranda Larbi in the Metro today said’
“So often it feels like we’re being put in the same ‘girls vs boys’ teams that we spent our childhood in, that we’re only allowed to care about the welfare of one gender. But that’s just not true.
The system that forces women to be sex objects until they become baby-makers is the exact same system that pushes men to be hyper-masculine providers who aren’t allowed to talk about their feelings and end up with mental health issues they feel unable to discuss.”
The article goes on to say;
“Women need a day because we’re still treated as less than equal. There are still women who are payed significantly less than men and are penalised for taking maternity leave. Men are and have always been in a position of dominance and power.”
A passage from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, one of my very favourite writers in the world, ‘What if we were all feminists’ reads;
“What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity and money? What if their attitude was not “the boy has to pay,” but rather, “whoever has more should pay.” Of course, because of their historical advantage, it is mostly men who will have more today. But if we start raising children differently, then in fifty years, in a hundred years, boys will no longer have the pressure of proving their masculinity by material means.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie goes on to explain why feminism is the answer to true gender equality for both the sexes;
“Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.”
In a recent debate in the Commons as to whether MP’s should show support of International Men’s Day, Caroline Dinenage said:
“Women could be forgiven for thinking every day is International Men’s Day”.
There have been efforts to create an International Men’s Day since at least the 1960s, when many men were reported to “have been agitating privately to make 23 Feb International Men’s Day, the equivalent of 8 March, which is International Women’s Day”.
In 1968 American Journalist John P. Harris wrote an editorial in the Salina Journal highlighting a lack of balance in the Soviet system, which promoted an International Women’s Day for the female workers without promoting a corresponding day for male workers.
Harris stated that although he did not begrudge Soviet women their March day of glory, its resulting gender inequality clearly exhibited a serious flaw in the Communist system, which, “makes much of the equal rights it has given the sexes, but as it turns out, the women are much more equal than the men.”
This morning, James Moran raised the point that debating whether there should be an International Men’s Day is not about downplaying the important issues that need to be tackled faced by men. It can safely be assumed that any other day than March 8th is and has always been International Men’s Day – that’s the whole point a women’s day was created in the first place!
I don’t believe we need International Men’s Day. Mainly because it seems it was born out of a motivation to gain back control with a sort of warped belief that gender equality had swung too far in women’s favour. Ludicrous.
The gender specific issues faced by men would be better solved by direct support of such issues as male suicide and access to mental health support services, as one of many examples. Direct issue led awareness days would also be more effective, International Men’s Day is just too broad a topic to have any real impact on supporting such complex issues.
On the flip side, a grave and possibly pessimistic concern of mine is that this day could actually do harm to the movement of increasing women’s rights globally.
The people I know are using this day to support increased awareness in support of male issues with a positive motivation which I applaud. However, I fear that not everybody will see this day through the same well intention-ed lenses and at worst will use it to legitimise the status of control and power men have enjoyed for centuries, in turn reversing the positive progress made for women’s rights. At best, I cringe at the idiots who trolled International Women’s Day whining that they don’t get a ‘day’ of their own while completely missing, or not even noticing, the point of the importance of gender equality movement.
I’ll finish with this quote card that I think nicely sums up the core issue of gender inequality.
It’s taken from the film Cement Garden, that perfectly sums up how if a man is seen as adopting perceived female characteristics, it’s generally considered degrading.
Here lies our problem.
You might like to watch Madonna’s music video for “What it Feels Like for a Girl” that begins with a reading of the famous quote.
The concept in the video is an external expression of the frustration of centuries of oppression women have experienced. The helplessness and anger of not only having no voice or power or say in what happens in your own life, but in knowing that it has been stolen from you. Frankly, putting myself into the shoes of a woman being subjected to genital mutilation, sex trafficking or daily rape and torture I think I would however revel in the more literal interpretation of this music video.
If you aren’t sure you like the video for it’s more literally perceived ‘man-hating’ themed content, this article is worth a read as it’s explains the concept behind the video, which was produced in 2001 with Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s then husband. The message is far deeper and is not anti-men but rather a statement of societal protest.
I welcome your views and hope this article helped you in forming your own balanced opinions.