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.