The feminist principles behind International Men’s Day
Men already dominate political and corporate hierachies, but feminism, currently healthier than ever, is doing solid work to support fathers who choose to stay at home with their children.
Do men face discrimination? I don’t mean gay men or black men or poor, uneducated men or even short men. Or, come to think of it, the many judged “typical boys” every day, but just men? All men.
In a world wherethe male sex make up just under half of the global population but 83% of all those in power, I would say, probably not. Indeed, in a world where not all countries guarantee women’s equal property rights and 70% of the population living in absolute poverty are female, I’d go so far as to say the suggestion that men face discrimination as a sex is a bit ludicrous.
Which should mean that today’s International Men’s Day, partly designed to end discrimination, is a bit of a joke, a campaign from people whose response to any statistic about women being physically abused or dominated or belitted is to say, “but what about the menz?”
Yet I’m all for International Men’s Day. As a supporter of the idea that men and women should be treated equally, why shouldn’t men have their own day to match the one set aside to promote women and their causes in March? And there are really important issues when it comes to men’s rights. I’d just like to know what causes this day is actually for.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a global consensus. In Australia they give red roses because they are symbol of strength of character and courage. Elsewhere, they focus on battlefield prowess or men’s health, although in China, apparently, they add fashion to the mix.
International Women’s Day took off in the early part of the last century as women in Europe and the US campaigned for the right to vote. According to Wikipedia it seems that IMD was “inaugurated” in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago by a Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, from the Families in Action headquarters, who chose 19 November mainly because it was his father’s birthday, saying: “Some have said that there is Father’s Day, but what about young boys, teenagers and men who are not fathers?” The day is now celebrated in 60 countries.
The idea for a day to celebrate men’s achievement first emerged in the late 60s when the so-called second wave of feminists dared to ask for more than the right to vote and a group that became the men’s rights movement was telling them they’d never had it so good. It is perhaps unsurprising that a renewed interest in a day of action for men comes as feminism itself enjoys a resurgence.
In the past year a website has been set up explaining what an international men’s day should do in the UK. The campaign’s objectives include promoting male role models, celebrating the contribution that men make, highlighting discrimination against men and the inequalities that men and boys face and thus improving gender relations and gender equality.
When these objectives are set against political power, they make no sense. Men at the top of politics, business and the media are male role models, whatever you think of them individually.
So the argument must be when it comes to the sphere typically known as “domestic” and indeed organisations that fight for men’s rights as fathers are among the site’s supporters. The last of this year’s five challenges to “keep men and boys safe” is to promote fathers and male role models.
There is inequality when it comes to parenting in the UK and much of the developed world. Reams of research suggest that women still do the lion’s share of household duties even as more and more of them carry out paid work. So entrenched is the idea that women look after children that only recently has shared parental leave become law in the UK. Women still take the vast majority of this leave as maternity leave.
This dominance can mean a belittling of men at home and an uneasiness, often unverbalised, about their presence in the playground, for example. This same attitude starts with boys, who quickly learn that it’s never OK to cry and nurturing is a bit “girly”. I’m all for changing attitudes like this but there’s already a movement that supports dads in the playground and in the kitchen. That movement is called feminism.
Over the past few years I’ve been asked, “Why do we need an International Women’s Day?” so many times that I fear my answer has become a bit pat. “Because it’s men’s day every other day of the year,” is my standard reply.
Yet renewed interest in International Men’s Day has made me think of the many things that could change to make men and women more equal in all spheres of our daily lives. This doesn’t belittle the deep injustice many women suffer around the world or the casual everyday sexism that defeats them at every hurdle. If anything, pointing out the discrimination against men simply underlines how much worse it is for women.
Happy International Men’s Day.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013