When I first heard that today, 19th November, marks International Men’s Day, the frustrated feminist in me reacted in a not so compassionate way. Though only a momentary negative thought, it’s now one I’m ashamed of. My mind instantly filled with images of controversial male figures such as Sir Philip Green, Brett Kavanaugh and Harvey Weinstein, none of which are men I’ll ever feel like celebrating. But then I started doing my research on what International Men’s Day was all about. I read this article by Carys Afoko. I started thinking about the male figures in my life. The initial reaction that lacked compassion quickly turned to embarrassment. Having brushed off my ignorance and taken the time to get informed about the cause, I understood, respected and supported the need to spread the word for International Men’s Day. This is why you should too.
Each year on the 19th November, International Men’s Day is celebrated globally. The date coincides with the birthday of Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, a doctor from Trinidad and Tobago who relaunched International Men’s Day in 1999. The aim is to shine a spotlight on men who are making a positive difference while also creating a space for men to discuss issues surrounding mental health, toxic masculinity and the prevalence of male suicide. The campaign encourages men to be more open and to encourage these kind of conversations that are so essential within society. As current statistics stand, not only are men three times more likely to take their own lives than women are but suicide is the biggest killer among men under the age of 45.
International Men’s Day also corresponds with Movember during which men grow their facial hair in an effort to promote conversations about men’s mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. Suddenly my assumptions that celebrating International Men’s Day surrounded issues of arrogance and ego among the male population seem juvenile and unfair.
The previously mentioned article taken from The Guardian closes with the statement, “Women are not all delicate emotional flowers who need to be protected and rescued. Men are not all violent and sexually aggressive brutes who are only after one thing.” And Afoko has a point. As the presence of feminism rises in society and with current tumultuous political climate, without the right research and approach, the message from both sides can get muddled, shifted from that of gender equality to genders being pitted against one another. With International Men’s Day, it’s important we take the time to celebrate the positive male figures in our lives, share more positive stories about men and boys rather than vilifying them any further.
I’m lucky to have many positive stories about the men in my life. Like my Granda who not only tells all the best stories but regularly drops everything to help others despite being 88 and more times than he would care to admit, needs help himself. Or there’s my brother who despite having a wildly inappropriate sense of humour always knows when we need a good laugh. There’s those who have stepped into father figure shoes exactly when I needed them to – whether they know it or not. There’s the former colleague whose work ethic and kindness shines brighter than he knows but dulls the more he continues to put others before his own mental health. My boyfriend, who would be mortified should he discover he made the list, who stays up listening to my worries without judgement, helping to diffuse anxieties though he may not always relate to them. There’s the friends from uni, the ex-boyfriend and family friends, none of which deserve to be antagonised for being male, having feelings that don’t match society’s expectations of them but instead deserve to know that it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. As the image so frequently shared on International Men’s Day states, men get depression. Men get anxiety. Men get suicidal thoughts. Men get mental illness. Maybe instead of saying “man up”, say “It’s ok to talk about it.”