I was asked by the University’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Team to write something for International Men’s Day. I’d like to share this here too:
If you had spoken to me about the importance of International Men’s Day a few years ago, I would have probably scowled or rolled my eyes. For years I had never felt the need for a dedicated day to raise the profile of men’s issues. As a man, I had never felt underrepresented, and I never felt society set up barriers for me. Even as a gay man, I’ve experienced little discrimination – though I accept that it is far from the norm. With the power of hindsight, I readily admit my disdain for International Men’s Day was based on both ignorance and my privileged and unproblematic upbringing. Here I reflect on its importance.
I had a strong role model in my own father, someone who not only portrayed the strength people associate with men, but an openness and willingness to talk about anything. We discussed how we felt; I was encouraged to do what made me happy (masculine or not), and it was okay to show weakness. I was never shouted at as a child and never experienced any violence. When, as an adult, I introduced my father to my boyfriend, my father showed me nothing but love and acceptance.
This is not the case for everyone.
I have volunteered in local politics and knocked on doors all over the city. I have volunteered as a governor at five schools and am now Chair of governors at two of them. I am a trustee of a local charity that provides grants to local organisations. I am also a Lecturer in Education, supporting the next generation of practitioners to support children, young people and families. All these experiences have affirmed the need for an International Men’s Day.
Too many children and teenagers have missing or toxic men in their lives. This is not a problem as long as male role models can be provided elsewhere. Celebrities and sports personalities only go so far. For me, the real problem is that nurseries, primary schools, care providers and other similar professions struggle to recruit men. This makes it challenging to provide young boys and men with positive and consistent male role models where they do not exist at home.
I know the importance of role models all too well, though my problem is somewhat reversed as my daughter has two dads and no mother. My husband and I have found the other women in her life are crucial to help her understand and shape her gender identity. We are fortunate to have a fantastic support network, and I can see why they say it takes a village to raise children. While my daughter is fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who love her, I worry for all the boys that don’t have similar networks of support men to help them.
I am also concerned about the toxic views of masculinity that prevent men from talking about their health and wellbeing. From self-harm and suicide to missed cancer diagnoses from not seeking help – there are severe issues with men’s health and wellbeing. As a school governor, I feel like we’re on the brink of a tsunami, with more and more young boys struggling with their wellbeing and mental health. A crisis is coming if change does not happen soon.
For me, International Men’s Day is about facing these challenges and working towards creating a better world for everyone. As a father, a lecturer, a trustee, a school governor and a citizen, I feel it is essential to embody and promote the values of International Men’s Day. It’s important to be an ally. It’s important to challenge discrimination wherever we see it. And it’s essential to weed out and challenge toxic masculinity wherever it may lie.