How to Celebrate International Men’s Day RightNovember 14, 2015
International Men’s Day (IMD) is complicated. Many don’t even know it exists. In fact, it dates back to the early 1990s and has enjoyed somewhat of a revival in recent times.
A common refrain we hear is “Every day is International Men’s Day.” This presumes that International Men’s Day is a victory lap.
In fact, it is a day to focus on men’s and boys’ health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting male role models. Specifically, IMD is concerned with drawing attention to the high suicide rate among men, boys’ under-performance in school, men’s shorter life expectancy, their disastrous work-life balance, and their high rates of incarceration.
Not everyone is on board with International Men’s Day. MARC blogger Michael Kaufman argues in the Huffington Post that “the problem with the IMD idea is that men’s vulnerabilities are not clearly and consistently put into the context of gender inequality and the ongoing oppression of women.” He suggests that Father’s Day is a better time to “push for policies to promote equitable caregiving.”
Indeed, men control the vast majority of leadership positions in private and public life, while women around the world remain disempowered. It is not helpful, nor is it appropriate, to think about International Men’s Day in the same way we do International Women’s Day. Nevertheless, men’s issues are inextricable from the broader fight for gender equality.
It needs to be said: we are not used to or comfortable with seeing men portrayed as victims. Indeed, we men like to pretend we’re invulnerable. It’s a part of our cultural script. But when we break, sometimes we blame—whether it’s women, feminists, or “PC culture.”
Zero-sum thinking is not healthy and doesn’t solve anything, but it can happen anyway because men don’t always know how to seek help—we’ve been told all our lives that doing so isn’t manly.
Is it really surprising, then, that some men lash out or self-harm?
This International Men’s Day, we’d like to share resources from MARC that promote a positive path forward—together with women. Just as women face stereotypes at home and at work, men often feel stuck in the “Man Box,” a set of strict cultural expectations that lead us to hurt ourselves and others.
We hope you will consider the following information in the spirit of true gender partnership and mutual understanding.
Men need to rewrite the rules for masculinity—for our own good. There is no better starting point for this discussion than Promundo’s indispensable report, The Man Box: A Study on Being a Young Man in the US, UK, and Mexico. To quote the study’s authors, “The Man Box refers to a set of beliefs, communicated by parents, families, the media, peers, and other members of society, that place pressure on men to be a certain way.” These are, namely, the “seven pillars:” self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid masculine gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, aggression, and control. Once you read the key findings from this report, you’ll understand why gender issues are just as important for men.
Men are less likely than women to go to the doctor. They’re also more likely to choose a male doctor when they do go, but less likely to be honest with that doctor about their symptoms. Why? “Men have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant, and tough,” says Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral student at Rutgers. “Women don’t have that script, so there isn’t any cultural message telling them that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms.” Is acting tough killing men?
Men’s mental health can be negatively impacted by common words and phrases. “Suck it up and be a man.” Phrases like these reflect culture (think the “seven pillars” of the Man Box) and can undermine men’s ability to be authentic and effectively partner with others in creating inclusive environments. Communication habits are easy to ignore, but research tells us that increased risky, antagonistic, exclusionary, or even violent behavior can result from these toxic messages. Our Flip the Script: Men tool reveals the most common phrases men hear—and what to say instead.
Men are still seen as financial providers. Roughly seven in ten US adults (71%) say it is very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner. In comparison, only 32% say it’s very important for a woman to do the same to be a good wife or partner, according to a Pew Research Center survey. This view impacts women’s career advancement and men’s ability to take advantage of work-life flexibility, such as parental leave.
Men need to role model to each other. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt convinced him to call himself a feminist. Previously, he held the all too common view that men could not be feminists. This is the video that changed his mind. You never know when you might influence a world leader!
Women can support men’s engagement on this topic. Gender norms and an in-group mentality can make it difficult for men to “break rank” and see exclusionary behavior for what it really is. Men can be crucial allies to one another in this work, but women can help, too. Here are ten tips for women who want to support men’s engagement with gender equality at work.
Director, MARC (Men Advocating Real Change)
Jared is a Director in the Learning and Advisory Services Department where he supports on-going engagement opportunities for individuals who have participated in MARC (Men Advocating Real Change). Prior to joining MARC, Jared worked for Time Out Beijing magazine. He graduated from Truman State University and currently resides in New…