Why can’t we talk about men’s issues?

I’ll start with an admission. I can’t see the purpose of an International Men’s Day. It’s a complete waste of time that preserves out-dated gender stereotypes, boundaries and divisions, which should have been confined to the last century.

Now, if I’d opened by saying the same for International Women’s Day, I fear your initial reaction would have been rather different. Such is our 21st century conception of equality.

As you may have heard, in a rather cack-handed email, it was announced that the university would be supporting International Men’s Day. I gave it little thought, beyond a casual, ‘I hope I won’t need to avoid too many people handing out flyers in Vanbrugh Stalls’, before returning to watching Great Canal Journeys because my Sunday nights are that exciting. I only noticed it when a so-called “open letter” signed by several heads of departments, lecturers and students forced the university to scrap its plans; there would no longer be any reference made to the day on campus. Despite a week-long list of inclusive activities earlier in the year celebrating women, Men’s Day was out due to it ‘merely [amplifying] existing, structurally imposed, inequalities’.

Yeah so, men are less likely to seek support for mental health issues. The biggest killer of men under forty is suicide. While also, contrary to popular opinion, men aged between 22 and 29 earn less (1.1%) than their female counterparts on average, according to the ONS. But, the letter implies, because of ‘lad culture’ men have no issues worthy of being raised. It is galling to see further demonisation of all males due to an incredibly small minority of utter cretins behaving like fools on nights out. Using ‘lad culture’ as a reason against promoting positive male role models shows a lack of joined up thinking anyway; surely the best way to combat people being stupid is to highlight an alternative, more progressive, way, rather than just continually criticising a tiny minority?

The feminist movement is sometimes criticised for being simply anti-men (which is clearly untrue for the vast majority). Yet, by campaigning against a single day, the letter’s signatories have played into their critics’ hands.  We may have a sometimes-frosty relationship with our neighbouring university, but look at what York St John’s Feminist Society are doing; they’re organising events to promote International Men’s Day in order to improve gender relations and equality. I firmly believe that if equality is truly the aim, then YSJ is on to something. Simply shutting down publicity for the day because some men in big offices earn a lot of money does absolutely nothing to help the ordinary person who may suffer with depression, need support or wish to counter the negative narratives often highlighted.

The homepage of International Men’s Day is quoted in the letter, so in the interests of balance it seems only right to quote a different section; ‘Objectives of International Men’s Day include a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models’. If someone could please explain what is so horrendously offensive as to need an open letter and demands for the university to cancel any celebration, I would be very grateful.

Anyway, whatever the outcome it doesn’t really matter.  When there is no need for a Men’s or Women’s Day, only a People’s Day, maybe we’ll have achieved something. However, until then, if we are to strive for equality then we must accept that men have issues worthy of discussion too. And that it’s alright to raise them. Those who signed should perhaps consider that before putting their name to another open letter.

18 comments

  1. Very eloquently put, better than I would be capable of doing. One thing that really irked me about all of this, was the fact that in the calling for the cancellation of any kind of publicity regarding IMD (due to the organisation being ‘radical’), but an acknowledgement of some of the issues that men face, yet there was absolutely no offer from the feminist society to provide details or information to draw attention to these issues in a more controlled and less ‘radical’ manner.

    Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

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  2. As someone who identifies as a feminist, I see that IMD could have been used as an opportunity to improve gender relations, as well as discuss the issues such as masculinity pressures that drive many men to suicide. Instead, it’s probably worsened gender relations.
    A very, very well written piece.

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  3. A very well written article, making some great points about the need to raise awareness of men’s welfare issues, and tackle gender stereotypes.

    However, I take issue with the concept of an ‘International Men’s Day’ on a truly fundamental level. To devote a day to celebrating the rights of men could be compared to introducing a ‘white history month’, or ‘straight pride’ events, simply because, and bear with me here, men are not the oppressed. Obviously this comparison cannot be made literally; there are many factors that differ in the discussions of gender, racial and sexual politics, but the general consensus is the same. Men are not the oppressed. Please don’t assume I am trying to downplay the significance of men’s rights here; we must absolutely have conversations about how some men are demonised for their gender, some driven to depression and, terribly, perhaps suicide due to society’s enforcement of gender norms. But they are still the gender with the better prospects. It is a fact that there is still a gender pay gap; that women are discriminated against because they may bear a child; that sexual harassment occurs in the workplace every day, all around the world. Women are the oppressed, and we have an ‘International Women’s Day’ appropriately. Surely you would think if absurd if a straight person (and they have been known to do this) claimed they should be allowed a ‘straight pride’ event, because straight people too would like to express their pride at being heterosexual.

    Obviously this does not equate to a man’s claim to be recognised as being harmed by the patriarchy, but it runs along the same lines. While a man may suffer depression as a result of being told “boys don’t cry” (which may well occur, and wrongly so), a young girl will think it’s unlikely she’ll be president because that has never happened before. Or pursuing her dream of being a top football player will never yield the same opportunities as if her brother had the same ambition. She may suffer from self harm because she hates how her body doesn’t resemble that of the model on page three. Her struggle will then be trivialised as The Sun announce they will no longer publish the nudity, which is later revealed to be a joke. Men’s issues are important, but they fall under brackets other than ‘men’s rights’. It is called feminism because, while it strives for equality, the main work to do is for the women.

    We cannot have an ‘International Men’s Day’, because it is an insult to the feminists that fought for women’s rights in the past, and those that continue to combat sexism today.

    By all means have a day to raise awareness of men’s mental health issues. Call it ‘Men’s Mental Health Day’, even better, don’t discriminate, and discuss all mental health issues at once. But please don’t advocate a day for men’s rights. The concept just doesn’t sit well.

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    • Thank God someone has said this, international women’s day is needed in the same way that black history month and gay pride are needed in order to raise awareness of the oppression that people are continuing to overcome. Men’s mental health is an important issue but it’s not exclusive to males, or maleness and therefore should be campaigned for under the guise of mental health. We do not need a celebration of the predominate gender that has at no point in history been oppressed.

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    • Agh I’m really sorry I meant to click the ‘thumbs up’ button and clicked the ‘thumbs down’ one instead! Not what I meant at all as I mostly agree with what you’ve written. ‘Thumbs down’ to my phone for refusing to let me change it. Sorry again

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    • 17 Nov ’15 at 11:30 pm

      Suzanna Mason

      Women are not oppressed in this country. Not even close. And neither are men. Both men and women experience problems, some problems are more prevalent in women’s lives than men’s, and vice versa. But this is not the suffering olympics, and I am bloody sick of people wielding victimhood like a weapon. If you are not pro gender equality, you are not a feminist – it is that simple. You don’t want men’s issues to have a day? Stay in your room and plug your ears- the men around the world being raped and tortured and imprisoned and blown up will not trouble you.

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    • 18 Nov ’15 at 12:44 am

      Johannes Huber

      Why does it have to be a zero sum game? I genuinely dont see why one has to affect the other. We spend so much time discussing issues which affect women (and no sane person would argue against the need of this, there are so many ways in which women are disadvantaged in life), but can we not take a day to raise awareness for issues which affect men? I mean we can all agree that suicide rates are abysmal and you have suggested renaming the event to mens mental health day, but surely there are a lot more issues which dont fit that description, but still deserve more attention. I mean these “international anything days”, pretty much only serve one purpose in the first place, to raise attention or awareness, and usually do a pretty poor job at that as well. If you actually want to fix anything a single day wont do it. So really, a single day is a ridiculously minor attempt to address an issue anyway.

      We must however as a society be able to seriously address more than one issue at a time, I refuse to believe otherwise. Raising awareness for breast cancer and raising awareness for testicular cancer are not mutually exclusive. You yourself point out quite well that both genders have their own unique problems in todays society, so why can we not address both? Whether its suicide, the lower male acceptance rates at universities, male domestic abuse victims being treated drastically different to female domestic abuse victims, or even just that the vast majority of homeless people are male. As youve absolutely correctly stated, men arent oppressed, and i dont believe any of this indicates otherwise, but to say because men arent oppressed, these issues dont deserve the same attention, doesnt just down play these issues, it almost rejects their validity. Surely we must be able to have a conversation about these things without reacting the way people reacted to the University.

      If im missing some crucial point, please do tell me and on a sidenote, I very much appreciate that youre taking the time to comment here and actually offer some explanation. Whether i agree with all of it or not, thank you for offering a different opinion.

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    • I agree on many points but you’ve insinuated that sexual harassment is a problem suffered by women; it is purely a problem – suffered by everybody and as a guy who has been on the receiving end of it, it’s another one that is deemed embarrassing to talk about if you are a man.

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    • I agree…and we should also cancel fathers day while we’re at it!

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    • A very well written response, making some great points about the need to raise awareness of women’s welfare issues, and tackle gender stereotypes.

      However, I take issue with the concept of an ‘International Women’s Week’ on a truly fundamental level. To devote a week to celebrating the rights of women could be compared to introducing a ‘white history month’, or ‘straight pride’ events, simply because, and bear with me here, women are not the oppressed. Obviously this comparison cannot be made literally; there are many factors that differ in the discussions of gender, racial and sexual politics, but the general consensus is the same. Let me repeat because that makes it true-er, women are not the oppressed. Please don’t assume I am trying to downplay the significance of women’s rights here; we must absolutely have conversations about how some women are demonised for their gender, some driven to depression and, terribly, perhaps made to bear children due to society’s enforcement of gender norms. But they are still the gender with the better prospects. It is a fact that there is still a gender pay gap – men aged between 22 and 29 earn less (1.1%) than their female counterparts on average (according to the ONS); that men are discriminated against because they have testicles; that sexual harassment occurs in the workplace every day, all around the world. Men are the oppressed, and we have an ‘International Men’s Day’ appropriately. Therefore you shouldn’t have a an ‘International Women’s Week’. Surely you would consider it absurd if a straight person (and they have been known to do this) claimed they should be allowed a ‘straight pride’ event, because straight people too would like to express their pride at being heterosexual.

      Obviously this does not equate to a woman’s claim to be recognised as being harmed by the patriarchy, but it runs along the same lines. While a woman may suffer depression as a result of being told “you can’t do it because you’re a girl” (which may well occur, and wrongly so), a young boy will think it’s unlikely he’ll be a male nurse because that has never happened before. Or pursuing his dream of being a top netball player will never yield the same opportunities as if his sister had the same ambition. He may suffer from self harm because he hates how his body doesn’t resemble that of the model on page three. His struggle will then be trivialised as a group of 200 self-obsessed feminazies bully a university of 15000 students about its decision to recognized men’s issues, which is later revealed to be a joke. Women’s issues are important, but they fall under brackets other than ‘women’s rights’. It is called feminism because women are superior and gender equality means gender supremacy (for women).

      We cannot have an ‘International Women’s Week’, because it is an insult to the anti-feminists that fought for men’s rights in the past, and those that continue to combat sexism today. By all means have a week, heck why not a whole year, to raise awareness of women’s successes and contributions to society. Call it ‘International Women’s Year’, even better, don’t discriminate, and discuss all gender related issues at once. But please don’t advocate a week for women’s rights. The concept just doesn’t sit well.

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  4. 18 Nov ’15 at 5:23 pm

    ThirteenthLetter

    It’s nice that you can admit that some time to focus on men’s issues might not be a bad idea, but it’s rather sad that you had to spend paragraphs backing off and equivocating and apologizing and begging the feminists to not come after you first.

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  5. 18 Nov ’15 at 6:49 pm

    Disgusted from Fulford

    Regardless of whether you agree with the motivations behind the decision to cancel the event, surely we can all agree that the way in which the decision was taken is wrong ?

    I find it particularly concerning that a group of roughly 200 signatories can force a decision that affects around 15,000 students.

    This is grossly undemocratic and indicative of a greater problem in which a very vocal minority can hold disproportionate sway, especially in student politics.

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  6. Nice that you started with an apology to feminism.

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  7. Would it really harm women in general if there was a focus on make issues? I mean by that logic no white women is allowed to complain about oppression because women of color have it worse. Or Cis women have it worse than Trans women because Cis women have to deal with being forced to get pregnant, or being told their only value is being a mom and other shit.
    MBeing against International Men’s day is pretty much the kids are starving in Africa fallacy. I mean for fucks sack no one is saying men have it worse than women. “Oh but it hurts women because then their issue is taking less seriously” um you can care about multiple things right? You know it’s called International Men’s day for s reason, it’s not exclusively about white, straight , abled men. I mean Gay men, men of color, Trans men, etc need help as well. Plus caring about men issues is important.

    Can we please drop this stupid gender wars oppression olympics buklshit ans just be human for once.

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