International Men’s Day (IMD) is held each year on November 19th. The official website promotes it as an important day to celebrate “worldwide the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities,” whilst also being a chance to “highlight positive role models and raise awareness of men’s well-being.”
Sounds great – right? It doesn’t hurt anyone – does it?
For many critics, the answer is no on both counts. These critics are left confused about the point of the day. Isn’t every day International Men’s Day? Surely it is only a distraction away from bigger issues surrounding gender inequality?
Others highlight the aggressive and offensive rhetoric surrounding the day, as men’s rights activists use it as a chance to push their agenda. Another probing assessment describes the day as a male tantrum over not being the centre of attention. Lesley Roberts even argues “that commemorative days are supposed to champion the underdog or promote the rights of a forgotten cause, so that’s men ruled out then!”
They are all valid points.
It is true that, as with all commemorative days, you do get people who hijack it with offensive remarks and actions. Equally, I know my fair share of men who get upset about International Women’s Day, and remark sorely: “where is International Men’s Day?” Some men do struggle to see the bigger picture, and would rather massage their bruised ego, than face up to some hard truths about gender inequality.
BUT, despite all of these facts, I still believe that we should bother with International Men’s Day. When Roberts argues that IMD doesn’t promote a forgotten cause, she is right. Male well-being isn’t forgotten. It hasn’t been discussed enough in the first place to be considered forgotten. It has been outright ignored!
From my own experience, male mental health still remains largely a taboo subject which is not discussed nearly enough. Suicide still stands as the biggest cause of death for men under 35, with 76% of all suicides being male. This statistic is even more shocking when compared with the fact that men are a lot less likely to speak up and access help than women, with only 36% of referrals being male.
There appears to be a general silence around men’s well-being. And the silence is deadly.
Even the non-profit sector struggles to break this silence.
More often than not, NGOs continue to play on the sympathy given to women and children. How better to get people impassioned than to show a crying baby in a mother’s arms – right? But it comes at a cost. I have been part of discussions where it is decided to ignore a man’s story of suffering because it will not get enough of a reaction from the supporter base. And as such, the problems faced by men often remain below the surface.
I see IMD as a day to right this wrong. As a day to break the silence. Equally, I see value in the aim of IMD to “highlight positive role models.” In a time where headlines are dominated by stories of male misconduct or grievous wrongdoings – when names like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby are on every tongue – it is refreshing to think that for a day we can focus on the positive role models.
Positive male role models like Ayuba Azagwu, who when faced with destruction and ugliness, decide to be kind and generous (https://christianaidcollective.org/ayuba).
Men who we want the next generation to look up to and follow in the footsteps of.
So the answer to the title of this blog is YES! It needs to stay. It is certainly not a day without problems – but what commemorative day is?
In a time where horrific male behaviour dominates the news, whilst topics like male mental health remain often under-discussed, we are more than ever in desperate need of shining a spotlight on positive male role models and male mental health. I believe that International Men’s Day offers this spotlight. And I for one want to shine it.
Words by Luke Evason-Browning, Charityworks trainee at Christian Aid.