Today, something is amiss. It’s International Women’s Day, a hugely important awareness campaign that drives the message that women, across the world, are belittled and bullied and made to be ashamed of their sex.
In the West, there are a forever dwindling number of fields where women are paid or treated less than a male counterpart or colleague. No excuse can justify sexism and it must be one of the few public debates that most people agree on.
The problem is that International Women’s Day is a reminder that all is not well with gender equality. An entire day to celebrate, raise awareness of and to focus on what can be done for womanhood across the world begs the question why International Men’s Day is not celebrated with the same emphasis.
International Women’s Day was first observed as a popular date after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. Since 2010, the UN has had a theme for the day, focussing on the hardships faced by or the empowerment of women. The 2015 theme was ‘Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!’, reminding girls and women must be free to picture a world in which there is no violence against women or girls at home, at work or sanctioned by the state.
The day is immensely important as an awareness day, albeit tinged with the depressing truth that young girls and women are not only still oppressed around the world, but often in our homes and places of work across the world. There are parts of the planet where the abhorrent differences in gender equality make the issue an embarrassingly relevant one for a civilisation as allegedly enlightened as ours.
But what about International Men’s Day? Too often when a man brings it up in conversation it’s a reactionary pub-chat entitlement to the fuss made of International Women’s Day.
Nevertheless, every November 19th, there it is. Inaugurated in 1992, it has a patchwork history and is promoted by an affiliation of organisations with the support of United Nations. It would, however, be fair to say it receives much less attention, much less interest and is considerably more ambiguous in its ambition than International Women’s Day.
The problem is we don’t really know what it means. In the UK for example, International Women’s Day focusses on obstacles for women and calls for them to be eradicated. The press discusses these, but more often focusses on those parts of the world when the day is a call to arms against oppressive regimes and barbarity. As many feminists themselves would point out, the prescience of feminism does not mean its cause has been fulfilled.
Are men lost in the scramble for equality because they are uncertain of their own place in society? Men are more needed than ever, play vital roles in organisations and family life, but don’t collectively broadcast it. The same-sex debate and the perennial issues that remain with women’s right have made the debate on masculinity look dated, and it’s been subsumed as new glass ceilings are broken every week.
Why is more fuss not made? There are men’s groups certainly, most noticeably Fathers For Justice and the Movember campaign which try to raise awareness of men’s social and health issues. Some are legislative, other seeks to break ground with how men publicly discuss illness, particularly testicular problems.
Yet is the public profile of the male sex only rooted in father’s being denied their rights, men not discussing their testicles, and the seemingly endless scandals of abuse perpetrated by men against women and children?
Have men become so ashamed of themselves, or certainly those actions committed by their peers, that there is an unspoken collective guilt; an overshadowing burden of proof that simply mutes all celebration and discussion of what it means to be a man in a guiltless way?
We need the discussion more than ever. One area, in particular, is parental roles, role models and guardians. Beyond clichéd movie moments, there is little in the public zeitgeist that actively pressures men to take responsibility for themselves, their behaviours and how they relate their own wants to the rights of women and children.
Why do we not recognise the crucial role that father’s or father figures play in the lives of children? The absence of, as much as the presence of fathers, is a determinant to future behaviours of children, so why is it not given more attention? Where is the celebration of camaraderie, of masculinity in all it’s multifaceted, historical forms? Where are the politicians, the celebrity advocates and high-profile speaking events?
The argument is not that feminism should not be celebrated, or that International Women’s Day is irrelevant. The problem is that men have somehow allowed themselves to use feminism as an excuse not to deal with their own place in society and to appreciate the full scope and influence that masculine roles, never mind masculine relationships, play in the lives of boys, and girls, and peers of all ages.
This is not to be parochial, or to give into some cliché that men should be men and women should be women. ‘Get back to the sports pitch’ is as ridiculous a depreciation of the male sex as much as ‘get back to the kitchen’ is to women. No. As sure as mothers have motherly qualities, as well as endless capabilities and potential, we should not shy away from the fact that men, in familial or guardian or professional roles, do too – and we should be confidently acknowledging that as a society.
If we leave to chance that young men pick up the lessons to be learnt from the media and television, are we not all to blame when attitudes against women and selfishness prevail time and time again? International Women’s Day and International Men’s Day go hand in hand, and they should be treated as equal.