#InternationalMensDay has been treated with a mixture of indifference, confusion and derision by various commentators. One of the most disturbing responses has been that of regressive left wing feminists themselves. For example Joan Bakewell, an individual who is admired immensely, commented that she could not comprehend the need for men’s day since the “issue of equality did not arise” she argued that men were over represented in Parliament, Board Rooms and just about every sphere of public life. This is of course correct but essentially misses the point. The arguments based around power relationships are essentially playing to the misogynist male narrative. It is quintessentially a dystopian male world view. The issue is not just about equality in gender power balances and representation but of equality of actualisation. The fact that Parliament and the Board rooms of British Industry are jam packed with men who fail to acknowledge, let alone act on male vulnerabilities in society at large and the work place in particular is a testament to the fact that there is a problem.
So what are the lemmas that need addressing? First and foremost is men’s reluctance to express problems or admit a vulnerability. It’s as if to acknowledge a weakness is to undermine what it means to be a man. This is not altogether surprising since from a young age, boys are told “don’t cry – be a man” or “boys don’t cry” as if crying is in somehow incompatible with being male. This notion of ‘gender politics’ media has inevitably programmed the minds of society to think that men and women have to act a certain way to live up to these gender specific roles and stereotypes. This suppression of emotion leads in turn to numerous other issues. Men are less likely to seek help for health issues than women. This ‘ignoring’ of problems in the ideal hope that either something will turn up or it will just resolve on its own accord results in thousands of premature deaths each year from various cancers, (including testicular and prostate) as well as cardiovascular disease. Reticence does not just exacerbate physical illness. Suicide is the single leading cause of death for men aged between 18 and 30. This suggests a mountain of undiagnosed depression and mental illness in young men which if detected and treated early (with drugs or Cognitive Behavioural Theropy) could save hundreds of lives. Feminism does not stop a woman from being a mother or a sister and the tragedy of a young man’s death is invariably a heartbreak for those women too.
Pent up emotions can exert other malign influences. In a recent programme on channel 4 – “My son the Jihadi”, Thomas Evans suffered family trauma from his parent’s divorce, then later a break up with his girlfriend. Who knows his internal trauma as he turned to Islam, grew a beard and later got sacked from work? Thus discrimination, racism and trauma are just a few of the many reasons why men suppress their feelings and may become radicalised when in a vulnerable state. This lends them to become more susceptible from the actions and inferences of others who may exploit their sense of alienation. Action against problems faced by young men and boys could stabilise the high percentage of them being radicalised and recruited to groups such as Islamic State – a serious current issue we are facing at the moment, along with social and religious regressive left views.
As a feminist, I want the men in my life including my father and brothers to be able to relate and support me in the myriad of challenges that I, as a young Asian woman face. That is why they support ‘HeForShe’, a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people – socially, economically and politically – it seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”. But surely we cannot ignore the contradiction of a gender equality campaign which only takes action against inequalities faced by women and girls, ignoring problems affecting men and boys.
For me modern Feminism is about equality and inclusion through breaking gender role stereotypes. Therefore we have to break the stereotypes and labels that men are reclusive and private in order to really destigmatise issues that can only get better through communication. However in this day and age the term ‘feminist’ has been somewhat tarnished and mutated with negative connotations for example ‘militant feminists’ who appear to be aggressive with animosity against men, otherwise known as ‘man haters’. Further public education through communication and media needs to be taken when identifying with egalitarianism.
Sexual power politics has its place but like the class war based socialism of the sixties, modern day feminism needs revision. Just because someone is in a position of authority does not necessarily make them powerful. A modern and just society is predicated on equality and respect for all. As a woman I want my sons, (if I have any), to be well adjusted and healthy (body and mind) individuals. I am of a different gender to men, but not a different species.
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