Chances are you’ve probably heard of International Women’s Day. It lands on March 8th, and always has a celebratory feel – women celebrating other women, supporting each other and championing gender equality. Big events, talks, commentary – all positive and future-focussed.
But also on International Women’s Day, there’s always an undercurrent from a certain type of man; a dismissive, faux-outrage “what a load of nonsense” response which is summed up by…
“Oh great, when is International Men’s Day??!!”
The comedian Richard Herring (https://twitter.com/Herring1967) actually dedicates his entire day on March 8th replying to all the men who tweet something like that and replying to them with “It’s on November 19th” or similar. Such a lovely, very British (read: passive aggressive!) retort, highlighting the lazy fatuousness of the question…
So to all those men, I say Happy International Men’s Day today. Hope you’re out celebrating and putting up bunting. But I’m guessing probably not. Probably something else to be outraged about today…
Whilst we’re on the subject of faux-outrage and backlash, there’s no better example than the reaction to at the beginning of this year we also had the Gillette ad which ran, trying to point out that traditional, old-school views of ‘masculinity’ don’t really fit with a modern world, and could end up being ‘toxic’.
This time the outrage came from all sides at the idea that Gillette dare suggest that masculinity is toxic. Which of course wasn’t the point at all. But it did give people who like to be shocked and appalled by things like this something to be shocked and appalled about for a bit.
That misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) did hurt Gillette – especially in the US where debate is increasingly divisive and “if you’re not with us you’re against us” indignation seems like a national pastime.
But whilst Gillette’s reasons were self-serving (their business model is under huge threat from online suppliers), the execution was underwhelming (the whole thing looked like the client had just gone for the first draft of the ‘manifesto film’) and the response to the inevitable backlash was disappointing (once sales dropped initially the whole idea was quickly dropped), there was an important inflection point in there too.
Because all the “traditional” ways that masculinity is meant to represent – that’s not me. It never has been (although, like most men, I’ve bluffed it so many times over the years). It starts with the idea that boys don’t cry, and from that moment on we have the vulnerability drummed out of us to be replaced with stoicism.
To re-use some words from a talk I gave at the Omniwomen Summit on International Women’s Day last year:
Bravery is lauded. Confidence and strength still often defines social status. We’re not taught empathy we’re taught resilience.
That is why I think International Men’s Day is important.
Not to push men forward – God knows that happens pretty much every other day of the year anyway – but to have a space where forward-thinking men can set a vision of the future where men have the right to be all the things they want to be without judgement. To be free of the expectations of a society built around rules that none of us signed up for but all of us – men and women – are expected to play by.
Grayson Perry puts it best…
Men’s rights: The right to be vulnerable The right to be weak The right to be wrong The right to be intuitive The right not to know The right to be uncertain The right to be flexible The right not to be ashamed of any of these.Grayson Perry – The Descent of Man
That’s real masculinity for me – nuanced and thoughtful. And strong with it. It takes a shitload more strength to admit that you’re weak sometimes than it does to pretend that you’re strong all the time.
And by doing that we create space for others.
Inclusivity starts when those in positions of power or influence have the self-assurance to take a step back, perhaps even admit some of their vulnerabilities. Without that there’s no air for inclusivity to breathe and thrive.
So a very happy International Men’s Day to all the men out there. Use it to be the best friend, colleague, brother, son, husband and dad you can be. On your terms, with honesty and truthfulness.
You owe it to yourself. In fact, perhaps you even owe it to your true self.