There is a lot of confusion around International Men’s Day, starting with what it is. Nobody seems quite sure. Is it an event? A celebration? An awareness day? An occasion? I can clear that one up straight away. In practice it is none of those things. International Men’s Day is an argument.
It is, uniquely, the only argument on the calendar. Like so many annual diary dates, it comes with its own rituals and its own traditions. Who doesn’t remember the thrill of waking up on IMD morning and eagerly ripping the wrapping on the first exchange of the day?
“Happy International Men’s Day everyone”
“Huhuhuh, I thought every day was International Men’s Day.”
“Hey, men have problems too you know.”
“Aww diddums, but What About Teh Menz?”
“Fuck you. Look everyone, this is a typical feminist laughing when men DIE.”
And then the participants turn back to soak up the applause of their own side, gurning with smug pride at their great achievement before their next team member steps forward to repeat the exact ritual, and so it continues until the time zones of the planet have rolled around and everyone can go back to bed.
Just like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the great International Men’s Day argument seems to start earlier every year. This year it kicked off about three weeks ago with the ignominious spat between MPs Jess Phillips and Philip Davies, stirred by the helpful and inevitable volley of abuse, rape jokes and death threats from the misogosphere. The dust had barely settled on that one when the University of York somehow contrived to preside over a monumental clusterfuck of announcements and cancellations and accompanying media brouhaha.
Well stick a fork in it and turn it over, this one is done.
I, for one, have had enough. November 19th is International Men’s Day, as it has been for many years, because millions of people around the world have agreed to adopt it as such. This is not up for debate, this is not up for discussion, it is a simple fact that does not need to be argued any more. All that remains to be discussed is what, individually or collectively, we want to do with the date when it arrives.
Personally my attention will be shared between two focal points this year. The first is on male suicide, primarily supporting the efforts of CALM to raise awareness and consideration through the #BiggerIssues campaign. If you are a social media user and have not yet signed up to their Thunderclap, aiming to get the issue of male suicide trending worldwide throughout IMD, then you can do so here. It only takes a minute. I will also be following and discussing the first ever dedicated debate on suicide as a male gender issue in Parliament, a fantastic example of what can come about when people decide to stop arguing for a moment and make an effort to produce something constructive.
Secondly, I shall be doing my best to highlight and publicise the chronic underfunding of long-term support and counselling for male victims of rape and sexual violence. Yesterday a new report produced by London Assembly member Kemi Badenoch and supported by the charity Survivors UK detailed just how desperate the situation is. Over the past four years in the UK, an estimated 679,051 sexual assaults and rapes of males took place. 652,568 were not reported to police. While men in London can access immediate trauma support and other crisis support from the gender-inclusive services at The Havens, there is next to nothing in the way of long-term recovery assistance and specialist counselling. The Mayor’s office funds four separate women-only services through Rape Crisis centres (itself a paltry, grossly inadequate number) but none at all for male victims. [As an aside, there is an outstanding article in Huffington Post about this issue this week]
There are countless other causes which supporters of IMD will be or could be highlighting throughout the day. International Men’s Day is open to everyone. People, organisations and institutions can use it howsoever they wish. MRA organisations like Justice For Men and Boys are involved (this year organising an anti-circumcision protest at Parliament) and so too are feminist organisations like White Ribbon, using it to highlight issues of male violence, whether against women and children or other men. Councils and workplaces mark the event with health check promotions or publicity stalls. Corporations are involved, sometimes shamelessly and self-interestedly hijacking the wave for marketing purposes, sometimes – as with Lynx deodorant’s sponsorship of CALM’s day of action – in a generally constructive and appropriate way. Schools, such as Parrs Wood Academy, just down the road from me in Manchester, are hosting debates or events. Many others – the vast majority of course – will do absolutely nothing to mark IMD, and that too is entirely their privilege. Attendance and participation are not mandatory.
There is however one thing which I vow not to do on International Men’s Day. I will not allow myself to be sucked into arguments about its validity or need. It feels like I and other advocates for men’s issues have spent too much of the last 10 years on the defensive, justifying the existence of IMD rather demonstrating its value. Starting tomorrow morning, I will not be rising and responding to taunts, jeers or jokes. I will inevitably see the tweets and status updates mocking IMD and I shall quietly pity their ill-informed ignorance or the pride they take in a shortfall in empathy and compassion, I might even treat myself to a slow shake of the head, but I will not argue. Anyone who comes at me directly in search of an argument will leave disappointed. When producers of radio shows or commissioning editors of websites ask me if I can contribute to a debate about whether we need International Men’s Day, I shall reply no, I cannot, although I will happily tell your audience why we need accountability attached to suicide prevention policies or why we need long-term trauma counselling to be provided for male rape victims.
I believe International Men’s Day is a rare opportunity to not only highlight some of the gender-specific issues faced by men and boys in our society, but to join the dots between them, teasing out the common threads between, for example, economic and educational marginalisation of boys and criminality of male youth, men’s under-engagement with health services, over-dependence on alcohol and drugs and the ongoing crisis of suicide rates or enduring violence and so on and so on. There is a lot there to be said. There is a lot to be discussed.
Today, like every day, men and boys are needlessly suffering, needlessly failing, needlessly hurting, needlessly dying. There is one day per year made available for that conversation, spending it in spiteful, self-indulgent, performative and self-referential arguments is a luxury we simply do not have.