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Comment: Why International Men's Day is a feminist issue

19th November 2013 13:48:17

Today is International Men’s Day – although you might not have been aware, because it’s hardly been given any attention in the mainstream media.

Typing the words into Google News this morning presented only a couple of articles – both questioning whether an International Men’s Day is a valid use of anyone’s 19th November.

Why this is, I couldn’t say. Maybe it’s because over the last 18 months feminism has finally, finally begun to get people talking angrily again, and for some flawed reason this means people are worried about focusing too much attention on the issues that men face, for fear of being shouted down by some version of an angry feminist lobby that only represents a very tiny minority of the movement.

The overwhelming majority of all feminists are working towards a more equal balance between the genders, on a national or global scale, depending on their particular areas of interest. It’s not a huge surprise that combating gender inequality on this scale takes effort and time from both sexes.

Oscar Rickett, writing in The Guardian this morning, says: “men have most of the power. This remains the same, despite Angela Merkel. Every single day is international men's day because day after day, in country after country, far more men wield far more power than their female counterparts.”

He goes on to point out that the equality conversation cannot be carried out by men alone, and needs to include everyone.

Obviously, he is correct. But who is actually saying only men have to be in support of International Men’s Day? That would be like saying only women can be involved in International Women’s Day (8th March every year) – an absurd notion.

One of the primary issues of contemporary feminism is getting those who aren’t inclined to read up on the subject to understand that there are thousands upon thousands of male feminists fighting the cause every day.  If you’re fighting the women’s cause, it helps to include men, and vice versa. Separatism is only going to get us so far.

Feminism does not hate men, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say supporting International Men’s Day means you aren’t a fully vocal supporter of women’s rights.

Let’s make one thing clear: I am not attempting to hijack International Men’s Day with some kind of feminist agenda.

There are unique challenges facing men - 70% of murder victims are male, for example. 12 men take their own lives every day, 94% of those who die at work are men, and 95% of the prison population is male. Just because there are many, many challenges facing women across the world does not make men’s struggles any less valid. The ideal situation, of course, would be to address both and stop having a war of words over whose problems need to be dealt with first.

Mainly, of course, because so many of these problems are shared.

The theme of International Men’s Day 2013 is ‘Keeping Men and Boys Safe’, and its main themes, alongside a focus on male health and identifying positive role models, include improving gender relations and promoting gender equality.

If you’ve taken any time to look into the subject, you’ll notice that these issues are exactly what the basis of mainstream feminism is. Obviously, men have issues that are unique to their gender, as do women. But in so many ways, we are fighting for the same things at the same time.  

So, an example. The International Men’s Day website is sponsored by Australian charity Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation, which aims “to help turn the tide of fatherlessness” and “improve the wellbeing of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, committed and loving fathers.”

Tackling the issue of children growing up without fathers is not solely a male issue, nor is it a female one, only affecting the women left to bring up children alone. It is an issue that affects society on every level; combating it does not just help men, but has a ripple effect in multiple areas.

Issues such as this and the others that International Men’s Day addresses do not exist in a vacuum, and ignoring the day or the problems men face just because women face an inequality that is so visible is counterproductive to everyone. Because essentially, our overreaching aims are for the same things: respect between genders, realistic expectations, strong role models, healthy and happy societies, shared responsibilities and a more equal footing between the sexes.

So, 19th November and 8th March – two days when we fight not for dominance of one gender over the other, but for a level playing field between both. Is it really too much to strive for, rather than bickering over what equality means, whether we need a specific day, whose struggles are more pertinent? I really hope not.

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