This year, International Men’s Day will take place on the 19th of November. It is promoted as a day focused on “improving gender relations”, “promoting gender equality” and allowing men to “celebrate their achievements and contributions” to society. It is the latter of these statements that has caused some feminists to argue that there is simply no need for such a day. They have argued that, unlike those of women, the achievements and contributions of men have been recognised and celebrated extensively throughout history, and thus every day that isn’t International Women’s Day is International Men’s Day. But such views have come under fire for seemingly failing to acknowledge the limitations that men experience on account of gender, and for refusing to adopt the true spirit of gender equality. So does the rejection of International Men’s day contradict the feminist ideal of equality for men and women? Or does the celebration of such a day simply put a name to the pre-existing tradition of consistently celebrating masculine achievement over the female?
To some extent I would argue that not having an International Men’s Day actually perpetuates the idea that days without a gendered title are focused on men. Thinking simply about our language, what we are saying when we call a particular day a “women’s day” is that every other day belongs to men. Indeed, last year a close male friend wished me a “happy women’s day” and claimed that, just for today, he was going to appreciate me and my worth. Whilst I assure you (to save his reputation) that he said this with the utmost irony, I think it does raise an interesting idea that we can only make every day gender neutral if we have a specific day designated to each sex.
The gendering of a day in favour of the female and not the male is arguably a classic example of how gender is seen as being exclusively a female concept, promoting the idea that masculinity is the norm, not a gender in and of itself. This not only denies that men are inhibited by gender roles and stereotypes, but also reinforces false views of gender which inhibit the progression of the feminist cause.
However (and I have to warn you this is a big however), in this case we have to think about gender relations in terms of day to day realities rather than idealistic theory. Whilst I am the first to acknowledge that men suffer on account of patriarchal gender stereotypes, they do not suffer to the same extent as women. This is mainly because the stereotypes to which men are expected to conform themselves necessitate the subordination of women – to put it simply, the suffering of men adds to the suffering of women. Indeed today there are clear reminders that women are placed in a worse position by their gender. To name just a few; the pay gap in Europe remains at an average of 16%, women continue to be underrepresented on FTSE 100 boards, and it is estimated that there are 507,000 girls and women worldwide who have suffered, or are at risk of, genital mutilation. The fact that Labour MP Jess Phillips received rape threats for expressing ideas similar to the ones I am currently presenting highlights how far we still have to go in terms of equality. It is simply the case that globally, women are not given equal opportunities to men, and for as long as this remains true, we must introduce a greater focus on female achievements and promotion of their cause. I completely agree that we must think more about the way gender impacts male experiences, and I am a strong advocate for the promotion of better male understanding of gender and masculinity, but I do not think these issues should be constructed into a day of celebration equivalent to International Women’s Day – indeed some might feel that this duality of gender is itself what we need to work away from.
Yes, it is unequal to have an International Women’s Day and not a male equivalent, but I believe this simply mirrors the inequality in our society. When equality between men and women is reached, the thought of having a day specifically dedicated to either sex will seem ridiculous: surely one of the aims of International Women’s Day is to make itself, and thus the argument for International Men’s day, obsolete.