International Men’s Day (IMD) is a highly contentious event across the world, purporting to “highlight some serious issues, celebrate Britain’s men and boys in all their diversity, and have some serious fun”. Events have notably been cancelled at York University in 2015, and surrounded by high controversy here at Glasgow. Worldwide it attracts cynicism and derision from multiple groups, including feminists, extremist men’s rights activists (MRAs) and the general public. A Facebook event called “International Men’s Day at University of Glasgow” saw attacks from both sides of the apparent divide and beyond, apparently attracting rape threats, misogyny, and fears of extreme MRAs hijacking the event. Men’s Rights Activists or MRAs is the common terminology for those who purport to be interested in addressing distinctly male issues and promoting gender equality, but the phrase has sadly succumbed to extremely toxic connotations of misogyny, due to many self-identified MRAs holding extremely sexist and harmful views.
Please be aware this article contains discussion of rape and sexual violence.
The organisers of the Glasgow University IMD event pledged to host an event “comprising of open discussions of issues facing men, such as suicide, violence, and health.” At face value, this seems to be a well-meaning and positive action. Some commenters feared that due to the organiser’s personal profile the event would be a hive of sexism, due to memes posted mocking safe spaces. This was a valid concern: an organiser of a sensitive event should have an inclusive and considerate host, and those who commented were correct to address this. However, the intention of the event, despite the negative associations between IMD and extremist MRAs, did in fact uphold these aims.
Both UK and worldwide there are many unrepresented and largely ignored issues that are faced by men. Men, by legal definition, in both the UK and Scotland, cannot be raped by women. The Crown Prosecution defines rape, in the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, as “(A) intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis; (B) does not consent to the penetration, and (A) does not reasonably believe that (B) consents”. In the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, rape is defined as “(1)If a person (“A”), with A’s penis (a)without another person (“B”) consenting, and (b)without any reasonable belief that B consents.” These both define rape as a uniquely male crime, and affect the statistics of the number of male rapes recorded. Additionally, it was reported in 2015 by Survivors UK that only 2-3 percent of men report their rapes, whilst official figures for women are 10-12 percent reporting. These points paint a horrific picture of the experiences of male victims of rape in a legal system under which they are not even recognised. Taking this into account alongside the high numbers of men in prison, where there are no stats available for rape and sexual assault, illustrates the grim realities for male victims of sexual assault and rape.
Suicide also affects men disproportionately. In the UK, nearly 70% of suicides are men, a fact that has only recently been acknowledged despite being a recurring trend. Reasons cited for this have included the stigma men feel when suffering mental ill health due to the rigid gender stereotypes attached to both men and women. A number of feminist campaigns, and others, have sought to tackle this, but it remains a problem, with male mental health issues still less diagnosed and treated than female ill health. Discussion surrounding this should not be quashed, and IMD offers the opportunity to promote such a cause.
Partner abuse affects around 500,000 men a year a year according to figures circulated by ManKind, a charity devoted to helping men escape from domestic abuse. They estimate that one in four women and one in six men suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime. This also means men face unique challenges in reporting these incidences due to their gender, making them more likely to be disbelieved or ridiculed when discussing these issues: this is obviously unacceptable in dealing with people who have suffered incredibly traumatic events. Men are also the main victims of both men’s violence and women’s violence, which is again a fact that is often unaddressed or sidelined.
Overall, it seems to me that there are a number of reasons for men’s rights groups to exist outside of feminism. Many, men, women and non-binary people alike, are disillusioned with a feminism that seems to them to not represent their interests. As long as men’s rights activists behave respectfully and without misogynistic agendas, there is no reason to feel threatened by them or to put a ban on International Men’s Day. Every day is not international men’s day for the men suffering from the issues outlined above and many others, including boys underperforming girls at every stage of education; one in five men dying before the age of 65; the difficulties men face staying in their children’s lives if they are separated; and the majority of the homeless, imprisoned and long-term unemployed being men. Acknowledging these issues does not harm women and women’s issues. Whilst men have not faced the same systematic historical oppression as women have, and IMD has unfortunately been entangled in the muddy waters of the red pill movement, and sexist MRAs, this should not detract from genuine issues facing men and the people who want to fix them, in the same way that transphobic feminists, whilst intensely problematic, do not completely negate the good work that feminism does. A day devoted to speaking out about these issues affecting men, raising awareness and stimulating discussion, surely cannot be a bad thing.