November 19 will be International Men’s Day (‘IMD’). Many people will wonder why men need a special day when every day could be considered a man. These type of official days tend to recognize and celebrate “outsiders”, and this November celebration may therefore raise eyebrows. It could be awkward next to Caregiver Day (November 21) or National Grandparents Day (October 4). However, men need celebration and support just as much as other more “obvious” groups.
Men are diverse
Men, like women, are diverse. While a dominant stereotype of the buccaneer cowboy may linger in some minds, most of us can see from a quick glance at social media that we now cover the gamut – from super alpha. at super beta and all intermediate levels. Indeed, the fluidity of genres increasingly calls into question the very notion of binary divisions between genres and what a “man” is meant to be.
On one end of the spectrum, men are still trapped by the threat of stereotypes. In keeping with society’s idea of what a man should be, some call him toxic masculinity. In some situations, this is not helpful as it can perpetuate the association between toxicity and certain masculine traits that are not toxic. The idea that identity comes from an extreme form of supposed masculine traits ranging from defensiveness to violence.
Everyone needs to belong
Much of identity theory comes from notions of the ‘other’, the idea that in the absence of self-confidence, or indeed because of fear, we find it easier to define this. that we are do not than what we actually have are. This can allow men to ignore their feelings and avoid admitting their vulnerability. Because boys don’t cry.
Some men think that they are not women, certainly not sissies, and that they are definitely not seen as gay. This “other” can give temporary and superficial self-confidence to people who are genuinely afraid. As long as there are other “others” perceived as “less” than them, this offers artificial security. Yet there remains an authentic and fundamental human need to find one’s own identity and to define one’s place in the world. Men, women, all of us.
More empathy please
We need to empathize with those who seem to need it the least. Men must meet the expectations of society (or the perceived expectations of others) just like women. Yet we have to ask ourselves why boys have difficulty academically, prisons are full of men, and the most common cause of death for men under 50 is suicide.
It is much harder for men to be vulnerable because it acts outside of their prescribed gender role. So, it’s good to have a day that celebrates male diversity and reminds us all that men don’t have to be imprisoned by stereotypes like women either.
We need to provide alternative versions, softer versions, more liberated versions that can serve as real role models for young boys to aspire to.
Overcoming the threat of stereotypes
According to Philip Tanzer, a human rights activist (MRA) from Germany, three things make you a man: build a house, plant a tree and become a father. He is a figure of the “Manosphere”, the underground men’s rights movement online.
He is motivated by anger at men who have lost their children in custody battles. His colleagues point out that the rape of men by women is not a crime under UK law. And while the majority of domestic violence is still male over female and women make up a small percentage of rapists, there is a feeling that male victims are not properly recognized.
The “other” for many MRA activists is to blame feminism. At the 2019 International Conference on Men’s Issues, feminism was a key theme. But IMD could draw attention to issues of real concern that often don’t get the attention they deserve. This could offer an alternative to the growing movements which are hijacked by the far right and which polarize gender politics.
Challenge male stereotypes and gender tropes
IMD can also present a challenge to other narratives. Assuming that all men should reject masculinity might be as pointless as assuming that all men need to build houses and become fathers. Men have parental rights, suffer from domestic violence and have unmet mental health needs. Many men lead lives of quiet desperation. Confusing toxic traits with real needs doesn’t help.
We should be able to celebrate the differences rather than demonize them. As Obama recently pointed out, godliness is not helpful. “Throwing stones” is not activism and does not lead to change. This actually contributes to additional polarization.
Provide models and offer choice
If International Women’s Day is to celebrate women’s success in dealing with sexism, IMD can celebrate men defying the threat of stereotypes. Men are just as lonely, just as vulnerable, but much less likely to admit it.
In the book Stories for boys who dare to be different we discover a plethora of role models we can aspire to – guys who have been successful without denigrating women or polarizing communities. IMD may be less about ‘altering’ women and justifying misogyny and more about celebrating male diversity to give vulnerable men real choice and positive hope for the future. Should we be celebrating International Men’s Day? Damn, yes.