Liberation: a response to #InternationalMensDay

International Men’s Day is coming up on the 19th of November. I have some sympathy with the idea of talking about men’s issues, but I also have a lot of sympathy with the idea that every day is International Men’s Day. When people say that, they’re getting at the fact that every day we exist in a patriarchal system; every day is a day when men are privileged; every day is a day when men are positioned differently to other genders within the system that surrounds us all.

It is very rare that we talk about how patriarchy (and other intersecting power structures) harms men or about how men (and all people) are conditioned to sustain and reproduce patriarchy. I wish every day was focused around trying to push back against this system, and as a tactic, I can see how International Men’s Day, like International Women’s Day and other days that highlight untalked-about histories and issues, could be a useful thing.

The problem is that most of the men I see advocating for IMD are not advocating for causes or behaviour that I think actually help combat men’s issues which include our high suicide rate, being conditioned not to express emotions, the lack of awareness of the sexual assault, rape and domestic violence that men experience. Some people and organisations are doing that, and those actions should be championed and applauded. But generally they aren’t the loudest voices, partly because they aren’t amplified in the media, and partly because there are a lot of other people talking loudly.

Sadly, those loud voices are built into International Men’s Day, at least in the UK where we see Glen Poole, who is its UK coordinator, write this awful article in the telegraph, clearly positioning himself in a way that doesn’t help men at all and insisting on reinforcing narratives around “being a man” and around gender being both a binary and a competition. This quote provides a flavour of how confused the article is:

But it’s not a “macho culture” that prevents men from “speaking out”; it’s a culture that isn’t yet “man enough” to listen and respond to men’s needs.

On the other side of this, people who question the need for the day or who wish to critique the power structures that we live in are bombarded and abused online. The people doing this are mostly men, and they could turn their energies to deconstructing the world and actually making things better for men (and for everyone).

Let’s look at another IMD advocate, Tory MP Philip Davies, who called for Parliament to debate men’s issues on IMD, a call which has now been scheduled to take place. Davies is against equal marriage, which means he is actively contributing to the oppression of gay, bisexual and trans men. His party is implementing policies that actively harm poor men, disabled men, current and ex servicemen, migrant men, refugee men, men of colour, young men… the list goes on. It’s not just men; his party harms boys too, arguably much more so, as children have much less power than men.

At the same time as he is advocating talking about the issues experienced by some men, he plays down or ignores issues that affect the other genders. His government generally hurts people who aren’t men much more than it hurts men. Just as women and feminists need to be wary of who is fighting and how to fight for women’s rights and liberation, men need to ask ourselves if the people representing our issues are actually on our side. Just as women can make policies that hurt women, I would argue that many policies made by men hurt men.

Davies is a man intimately entwined in the patriarchal system and in the kyriarchy that surrounds it. He is a man who used his power to actively attack carers (who are mostly women and are mostly badly paid). His party directly contributes to the pressures that cause men’s suicides. He is not the man men need representing them. He’s asking to talk about men’s issues in order to push for a return to a more straightforward time when men ignored patriarchy. However, men who don’t fit with prescribed models of masculinity and gender have never been able to ignore the effects of patriarchy. The men who can do that are the wealthy white ones who have massive structural privilege over pretty much everyone. No wonder they want to return to simpler times.

I think it’s impossible to combat the issues that hurt men without combating patriarchy.

Over the last year, I have been making a show about being a man. The show uses the lens of my childhood and adolescence to look at how patriarchy hurts men and how men hurt people as a result of patriarchy. It is a mix of true storytelling and TED Talk. This is a guest post I wrote for Girl on the Net about the survey that I set up as research for the show. I performed this show 23 times at the Edinburgh Festival this year, and it produced some amazing responses from people of all genders, including these ones.

One of the conclusions that I come to in my show is that we need a Men’s Wrongs and Men’s Rights movement: a movement looking to rid ourselves of the unfair advantages and powers we have, even as we fight for rights in areas where we are denied them. It would be a movement that doesn’t see things as a competition: there’s no need to dismiss the reality of violence against women in order to talk about violence against men.

Men are often not given equal rights to their children, but many men also abandon their children or provide them little emotional or material support. UK law doesn’t acknowledge that people with vaginas can rape people; that needs to be changed but it doesn’t invalidate the fact that we have a rape culture that encourages people with penises to rape.  We need to look at the totality of these issues.

The Men’s Rights Movement as it is doesn’t look at these issues fully and doesn’t work to improve the lives of men, although it does tend to contribute to making women’s lives worse. In most cases it isn’t rights men need, as men as a group have many rights others still lack. What men need is liberation.

Patriarchy makes men into its weapons. We are pushed into the army. We fill its prisons. We are used as tools of industry, and we are discarded when industries move on. Patriarchy doesn’t just treat women like objects. Patriarchy treats all people like objects except for those at the top. It hates us so much it says we shouldn’t cry. It poisons our ability to interact with fellow humans by forcing us into hierarchies of power and status. It doesn’t want us to see our children.

We need to attack our own power/privilege as well as fighting against how patriarchy hurts us. It is not a competition. That’s the emphasis I wish we saw on IMD. Instead, it tends to be  a day when the men who benefit the most from patriarchy, and who are uninterested in challenging it, make so much noise that the issues that really hurt men are drowned out in the bluster.

In the spirit of this, I’ll be performing my solo show What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity on Thursday as part of a double bill of patriarchy-challenging performances. Doors open at 7:30pm at the Dogstar in Brixton. Entrance is free, but if you can afford to support the shows, we would really value voluntary donations as you leave.


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