As International Men’s Day approaches, Tim Christian draws a path towards overcoming harmful cultural and societal expectations of masculinity.
Let’s talk International Men’s Day. Firstly, yes, there is one – it’s on November 19th – and secondly I do believe it’s an important one to recognise because men are overdue love and attention too.
There has rightly been a lot of discussion recently about issues facing women, ranging from treatment in the workplace like the gender pay gap, to incidents of violence and abuse, as covered globally and also locally through efforts like Reclaim Blackpool. It goes without saying that society is facing a big problem.
The problem is not men, at least not inherently. The problem is how men are expected and enabled to act in a patriarchal society. Whilst this features heavily in how men treat women, it’s not the full extent of the problem. Patriarchal values cause considerable harm in how men treat each other and, perhaps more significantly, how they treat themselves.
There is a crisis in men’s mental health and wellbeing. Three quarters of all suicide victims are men and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Bottling up our feelings, not seeking treatment and being afraid to be perceived as weak in our peer groups is literally killing us. This is a problem that affects Blackpool disproportionately in the UK. The national average for suicide is 10.4 people per 100,000. In Blackpool the number leaps to almost double at 18.7 per 100,000.
We need to find a new identity in ‘maleness’ that isn’t rooted into misogyny, privilege and violence.
Men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime – 2.2 per cent of men are victims compared to 1.6 per cent of women (although it is recognised that there may be underreporting in the numbers of women). In both cases the perpetrators are usually other men. Men are more likely to be attacked, murdered or robbed. They are also more likely to die in the workplace. They live shorter lives and are more susceptible to disease, with a great deal of this being down to societal trends in lifestyle choice.
Blackpool leads the way in many of these statistics, with lower life expectancy, higher violent crime, drug use, alcoholism, and more. The statistics make for grim reading and sometimes its difficult to see much of light at the end of the tunnel.
None of this downplays similar problems faced by women, and there are many excellently written discussions on that subject on Reclaim, Blackpool Social Club and beyond, and I urge you to seek those out as well, but today we’re doing men… so to speak.
Of course, men are aware of this crisis, often feeling abandoned and ignored, and in the search for help and answers can fall victim to the manipulative and cynical ploys of anyone who claims to offer them. There’s a reason that misogynist grifters like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate have become incredibly popular despite their obvious toxicity – as the crisis deepens, bereft and desperate people will cling to anything that makes them feel good about themselves, and there’s precious little to feel good about. Believe me, I’m not excusing the actions and attitudes of Tate fanboys – they make their own choices – but without understanding the environment that nurtures these attitudes, simply condemning the consequences gets us nowhere and can feed back into a sense of resentment if left without context and discussion.
We have generations of ingrained attitudes to unlearn that can’t be done overnight. It doesn’t require emasculation, and is not in competition with the feminist cause.
But what is the answer? To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe there is an easy, single answer (indeed, offering simple catch-all answers is usually a sign of a manipulative bullshitter). There’s no magic bullet. The first step with any problem is acknowledging it, and I do believe progress is being made here. The changes in attitude towards discussing men’s health, especially mental health, have come on leaps and bounds in my lifetime and men’s health movements such as Movember, the Men’s Health Forum and Andy’s Man Club have done great work in forefronting these discussions and normalising them among peer groups. It’s also reassuring to see that the UK Parliament has announced an enquiry into men’s mental and physical health.
As for what can be done as individuals? Well, acts like embracing IMD, encouraging conversation into men’s health and wellbeing are a start. We need to not be afraid to bring up subjects that society may have deemed taboo or embarrassing, not be cowed by reactionary pushback or champions of toxic ‘traditional values’. We need to find a new identity in ‘maleness’ that isn’t rooted into misogyny, privilege and violence, but rather in comradeship, shared experiences, fun, even healthy competition and pushing each other to do better.
We need to not be afraid to express ourselves. I’ve seen so much creative energy in Blackpool lately in music, spoken word and art and even as an observer this has had a massive impact on my own sense of wellbeing. Hearing often stark truths from other men about their lives and understanding that everyone has struggles to overcome, and seeing the support they’ve received from their peers as a result is heartening.
Can I recommend a place to start? Why, yes I can! Time for a shameless plug! I have been attending Reclaim Blackpool Men’s Group – part of the wider project tackling sexual harassment in the town. This year’s International Men’s Day sees us host our first event – an evening of music, comedy and spoken word that aims to spread positivity and start conversations.
We can overcome harmful cultural and societal expectations of masculinity, it will require work and it will be a long road – we have generations of ingrained attitudes to unlearn that can’t be done overnight. It doesn’t require emasculation, and is not in competition with the feminist cause. Quite the opposite! I believe that we are more than capable of rising to the challenge. There is no shame in being proud of being a man, just don’t be a dick about it, like.
Dudes rock. Happy International Men’s Day.
Reclaim International Men’s Day is at Bootleg Social on 19th November, 3-7pm. Everyone is welcome, including under 18s, donate what you feel on the door. More information here.
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