This time every year, people ask if we really need International Men's Day. The answer is always yes, but this year in particular, it’s a categorical, resounding, definite, resolute yes.
Men don’t feel as much of a need as women to be on a constant diet, or spend half of their life shaving their legs. But to deny today is to deny that men don’t face different, equally insidious pressures.
The theme for International Men’s Day 2016 is “Stop Male Suicide”. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. Of the total number of suicides in 2012, 4,590 were men and 1,391 were women. Men are more than three times likely to end their own lives, and this is a consistent trend over decades.
And this isn’t just the UK. The International Men's Day campaign says this is a problem worldwide, apart from in China where suicide rates are about equal between men and women.
To question today is to go completely against the values of feminism. Emmeline Pankhurst once said “You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals”. To be a feminist is to believe that women have the same rights as men – no more, no less.
The question shouldn’t be whether we need an International Men's Day but how we can respect the issues and challenges faced by men, so that they in turn show the same respect for their female counterparts. How we can lead and fight by example, not alienate a whole sex.
International Men’s Day doesn’t take away from the issues facing women; we don’t have a monopoly on suffering.
Feminists cannot insist that society listen to the problems women face and take them seriously if they are then going to go out of their way to sneer at a day that is discussing how to combat male suicide. It is contradictory, and just downright unfair on the relatives and friends of those who have lost a son, father, husband or a brother to suicide.
I haven’t experienced much discrimination due to the gender I was unwittingly born into; not from the “everyday” nor the extreme end of the scale. I haven’t entered a forced marriage, I haven’t been threatened with rape, or faced lower pay than male colleagues. I’ve barely had a wolf-whistle. But I can empathise with women who have experienced sexism as much as I can without having shared their experiences. And the same should go for today.
Women can’t completely know what it feels like to be a man suffering with mental health problems and not feel able to tell someone or go for help. But we can empathise, because we also face societal expectations, and because we’re hardly immune to mental health problems.
Men think they have to be stoic; they are not encouraged to talk about their feelings. Time with friends is reserved for banter and jokes at each other's expense. Fathers bottle their emotions up, sons do as they see. As a consequence, many men suffer in silence until it’s too late.
They act in accordance with what they think it means to be a man. And this contributes to the thousands of men taking their own lives every year in the UK.
If someone disparaged, say, the pressures on women to conform to expectations about their appearance, and the body image problems and eating disorders these pressures contribute to, we’d be rightly outraged.
If just one man sees someone belittle the cause to show some love and compassion towards men’s issues – as today is all about – this could further reiterate the wrong message; the message that could be keeping them from telling their doctor they’re depressed.
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