Just because International Men’s Day has been written off in the past doesn’t mean we can’t use it to further a better agenda for men and dads
It’s International Men’s Day. But what does that mean?
For some it’s a silly sort of day, dreamed up to balance against International Women’s Day. Even though in so many spheres the balance is weighted against women.
But to dismiss it is to engage in whataboutery. Just because women have it tough doesn’t mean men can’t have concerns and problems too. It’s that sort of thinking that can lead to men bottling up their emotions and ultimately experiencing poor mental health. International Men’s Day is an opportunity to challenge that type of masculinity and tackle difficult issues like mental health.
Men can particularly feel their welfare doesn’t count in the early days of parenthood. Many men feel bad feeling bad when their partner’s just put in the hard yards of labour. In fact the best thing to do in such a scenario is to tell your partner how you’re feeling. Presumably you’ve had a baby together because you quite like each other, so look out for each other.
And that is a broader lesson for International Men’s Day. Talking is good. Speaking up about your own mental health challenges – and we all have them. And speaking out when concerns aren’t taken seriously – whether that be your own or a friend or colleague.
I’ll go first. International Men’s Day is a busy day for workingdads.co.uk. But it’s my first year editing the site so I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. I’ve got colleagues to square off and keep satisfied at work. At home I got the sad look from my son when I said I wouldn’t be home for bedtime tonight (because ironically I’m appearing on a panel at an International Men’s Day event). And as a freelance working dad I had a meeting with another firm I do some work for and I fear that contract is going down the pan. That’s a lot to juggle mentally. But I don’t for a second think I’m special. Men – and women – deal with the same every day. And it’s OK to say that’s tough.
Because for so many men the idea of providing for their family is bound tightly to the concept of masculinity. In an oft quoted survey for GQ magazine around one in five men said that being the breadwinner was the most important thing about being a man.
But a far bigger proportion – around two thirds – said that ‘being a present father’ mattered more.
And that’s where changing our working patterns comes in. By taking a more enlightened attitude to work we can have a fulfilling career and a happy home life. Or at least we’ve got a better shot at those twin goals than if we unthinkingly sign up to the old fashioned 9-5.
I don’t believe in whining.
Both my books tackled gender issues but sought to supply solutions. For example, in The Gender Agenda we suggested lists of books and films that challenged constrictive gender stereotypes.
And in Dad’s Don’t Babysit I offered a manifesto of measures that would improve things not just for dads but for women, children and society as a whole. Many of those measures are now on the political agenda.
And that brings me to my second ask of men on International Men’s Day.
The government is currently consulting on what it should do about parental leave. There’s been talk of boosting paternity leave, rejigging Shared Parental Leave, extending benefits to the self-employed. But these will only happen if people take the time and make the effort to fill in the form.
It’s not a simple tick box exercise. But it’s worth your while. You can do so here.
Whoever wins the election will be presented with the findings of this consultation. If there’s overwhelming evidence that men want more time with their babies, or for all jobs to be advertised as flexible by default then they’d be foolish to resist those demands.
So don’t let International Men’s Day pass you by.
Talk to your partner, your son or daughter, your friends and colleagues about what it means to be a man and how we can do things differently.
And get on the government’s website and make your views heard on how policy makers can make your life better with legislation.
Maybe International Men’s Day is unnecessary, maybe it’s not even the most important awareness day today (that’s probably World Toilet Day tbh). But it presents an opportunity and we can and must make it count.