By SRAVANTI TEKUMALLA ’16
When I first heard about International Men’s Day on November 19, my initial reaction was scorn. The holiday, while not very well known, was “celebrated” in social media outlets such as Twitter and Tumblr with articles outlining how feminism has undermined men, angry complaints against the holiday, articles on fedoras and whisky and men’s achievements in history.
Men’s achievements are celebrated every day; the cry for a men’s day because of an established women’s day resembles arguments for a White History Month or a straight pride march. The objectives of International Men’s Day, according to its website, include “a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them.” The problematic part of this statement is that International Men’s Day acts as a direct counterpart to International Women’s Day, a holiday for reflection on major issues facing women such as women’s education, health, pay discrepancies and violence against them. Examples of discrimination against women in these issues are, on average, much worse than what men face.
Yet there is still a need to talk about the negative effects of perceived gender roles for males. International Men’s Day is, more likely than not, here to stay. But instead of using this day to tout male achievements, people can take this day to reflect on gender stereotypes in conjunction with feminist values, which would be a more productive use of our time. Nov. 19 can be used to reflect on the fact that 70 percent of murder victims are male, 95 percent of prisoners are male and the majority of suicides are committed by males, according to the Telegraph.
By celebrating this day, we can shed light on the harmful effects of the idea of masculinity. Men are often silenced as victims of sexual abuse and discouraged from receiving mental health treatment. The idea of a stay-at-home dad is still met with resentment because of stereotypes about masculinity. Furthermore, these issues are closely intertwined with women’s issues. Combating the stereotype of males being the breadwinners helps not only men but women as well. When men are not as bound to stereotypes of masculinity, the harmful effects of those stereotypes will dissipate. Women may face less domestic abuse, and men will be more likely to seek assistance for mental health issues when needed. Greater acceptance of the stay-at-home dad will enable women to be ambitious in their career goals and allow parents to make the best objective decisions for their families.
Lastly, International Men’s Day can be a day when we bring to light issues that trans men face. Again, issues of violence against trans men and expression of gender identity deserve attention, as do issues of trans men seeking recognition in the LGBT and the feminist communities.
While International Men’s Day is currently perceived as a day for men to bask in their male privilege, there are ways in which it can develop into a holiday that challenges gender stereotypes and promotes feminist values. Of course, having one day to talk about women’s issues and one day to talk about men’s issues is not sufficient. Doing so excludes people who do not identify as male or female. The crux of the issue with having an International Men’s Day is that seeing these holidays as opportunities for one-day discussions goes against the basic point of holidays representing a particular group in society, which is to raise awareness of crucial issues that people should understand in their day-to-day lives. I hope that future days dedicated to a group can be met with reflection and solidarity to discuss important issues that don’t normally receive attention. Instead of treating holidays such as International Men’s Day with scorn, as I once did, I hope that having an International Men’s Day can serve as a reminder of the progress that must be made toward gender equality.