Last week, it was announced by my university’s Equality and Diversity Committee that they intended to mark International Men’s Day (IMD). This statement garnered backlash, particularly from the University’s Women’s Network and Feminist Society, and shortly after it was withdrawn and IMD at the University was cancelled. An open letter was produced and signed by students and staff alike and sent to those who proposed the event. It can be read here. Following the event’s cancellation, the Student’s Union Women’s Officers met with the Sabbaticals who run the Union with a list of their issues with the event and the University’s response to it.
This is how it’s supposed to work; this is what the SU is for. But then it snowballed. Individuals and groups who spoke out against the event received unbelievable amounts of backlash. The word ‘feminazi’, which now seems such a frighteningly normal part of people’s vocabulary nowadays that it’s easy to forget the horrendous connotations of the word, was thrown about at anyone who so much as lifted a finger against IMD.
After the cancellation, the University community was rocked by the tragic death of a male student by suicide. Part of the University’s aims for IMD was to highlight particular issues faced by men surrounding mental health; suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. This is important, and it needs to change. But anti-feminist campaigners took it upon themselves to use this tragedy to bolster their own agendas, suggesting that the student’s death was the fault of those who had spoken out against the event. Individuals who did so are being incessantly harassed online, even being the targets of threats of rape or even death. The University’s Women’s Network and FemSoc have in recent days been compared to ISIS.
We need to address those significant welfare issues faced by men. But International Men’s Day is the wrong way to go about it. Although its official website states that their objectives include
a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models
the concept is rooted in Men’s Rights Activism (MRA). This began in the 1970s as a response to the growing so-called “threat” of feminism, as women slowly began to empower themselves. Activists can claim, amongst other things, that the patriarchy does not exist, and that women are in no way oppressed – in fact, it’s men who suffer at the hands of women. Although there are some areas in which men are unfairly treated, one example being around child custody cases which fathers tend to lose against mothers, it continues to astonish me that MRA exists on such a level, and so aggressively, when men have been at the very top of society ever since “society” as a concept began. Although the University hoped to focus on men’s welfare issues when marking IMD, keeping the name means it cannot be separated from its roots: anti-women, anti-feminist and therefore anti-equality. In a statement, the University’s Women’s Network Officers rightly said
holding this event in [the name of IMD] was always going to be an attack on women – not, as people have assumed, just because it’s about men, but because it has repeatedly, over and over again, proved itself to be rooted in misogyny, as a reactive, vindictive response to feminism.
Furthermore, an International Men’s Day, especially one which focuses on issues faced by men, undermines the concept of International Women’s Day. IWD has been held since the early 20th century and aims to celebrate the achievements of women across the world (partly because they are often more neglected than those of men in school curriculums) and to inspire women and girls. Though it is natural that in doing so we should consider the struggles that women have faced in our history, and those against which we continue to fight, the main purpose of IWD is to celebrate how far we have come. As such, to focus IMD only on ways in which men are discriminated against completely undermines IWD, suggesting that women are actually more privileged. To be frank, this is incorrect, and it is offensive to women – especially those who have fought and continue to fight against sexism – to suggest it at all.
Yet of course all of this does not mean that the particular issues around men’s welfare should not be addressed. I believe that the University was right to cancel the marking of IMD for the reasons above, but rather than meekly withdrawing something else could have been created in its place. For instance, a Men’s Mental Health Day event to combat the clear and significant issues faced by men, which often revolve around concepts of masculinity (a concept, like femininity, which is perpetuated by the patriarchy) leading them to feel as though they shouldn’t ask for help; they are men, they should be strong and should be able to deal with this themselves. It is these issues which need to be addressed and there are ways in which the University could go about it in a supportive, pro-equality way – and it’s important to note that many feminists and feminist groups do campaign on these issues too.
Similarly, I am an advocate for a Gender Equality Day. Although early feminism, for example the Suffrage movement, was a fight of women against the stronger powers of men, its focus has always been on equality of gender. We are lucky to live in a country where we have come so far on this path, but that does not mean we have no further to go. 10 days ago was Equal Pay Day, and because of the gender wage gap this means that women are now effectively working for free until the end of the year. We are now at the stage where in order to achieve true gender equality, all genders need to work together to achieve this. A Gender Equality Day would allow a space for all genders to come together, recognise the struggle for equality so far and start considering the next steps we need to take. It would be important to make this representative of all genders – not just men and women, but as much of the spectrum of gender as possible – but could be an effective way of moving forward.
Instead, nobody – students, staff, union representatives or liberation network members – was consulted either on the running of the IMD event or what to do in light of its cancellation. The cancellation notice itself, rather than addressing the real issues at stake and providing a potential alternative, was merely an apology for the “unhappiness” the proposition of the event had caused some members of the community. The recent statement released by the Equality and Diversity Committee was itself the result of an all-male meeting. I am confused that a meeting could not be organised which was representative of the University community in terms of gender, and of the ideals which I am sure those involved wish to achieve: gender equality.
Given what I have written it may come as no surprise that I am nervous to post this, but following the backlash and witnessing my fellow feminists suffer such cruel harassment I must show my solidarity in the best way I know how. Although I feel I have explained some of my reasons against IMD, I never really had to think about whether I was for or against it. We would not have “straight pride” or “white history month”. Of course all of these struggles cannot be equated in such blank terms, but on a purely fundamental level we do not and must not celebrate the privileged for their privilege. It undermines and disenfranchises the oppressed and their struggle.
Yesterday somebody told me that we needed an IMD purely for the sake of equality. He was wrong; equality is the reason we do not need one. The most clear-cut argument I have seen against an IMD is that every year there is one International Women’s Day, and 364 International Men’s Days. I do not disagree.