The 19th November is International Men’s Day and if you’d have mentioned such a day to me a few years ago I would have probably – shamefully – rolled my eyes. Growing up in a gender that has historically and famously experienced bias might have made me wrongfully cynical. Today though, I truly believe that International Men’s Day matters because men matter.
Over the last few decades, some work has been done – with much, much more still to do – on redressing some of the imbalances that exist within society. As a woman, I have experienced some small progress like improvements to maternity leave and more recently, gender pay reporting. But somewhere along the line, it does feel to me that whilst society is gradually, slowly, evolving, our perception and expectation of the male role hasn’t. And for me, there are two very good reasons why we need to take a moment to think about men.
The first reason is mental health. It is a well-known fact that the biggest killer of young men is suicide. We need to find a way to reach out to men and empower them to talk about their mental wellbeing. We need to normalise these conversations, we need to destigmatise mental ill health amongst men and thankfully, some famous male stars have made great steps forward by talking openly about their own struggles. This work needs to continue until men realise that it’s ok to say ‘I’m not ok.’ Culturally, we also need to change our traditional perception of men as the strong ones, the ones who don’t cry, who don’t express how they feel – because what a huge expectation to operate under. We are all human, we all suffer, we all feel, and we should all be able do just that in a safe, supportive society.
The second reason is one close to my heart and it is the way that men are frequently treated as the lesser partner when it comes to parenthood. I have often said that parenting feels full of conscious and unconscious bias and inequality – and I say that because of my own personal experience which I have written about here. Whilst the law might have moved on, for example, with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, mindsets still need to catch up. But it’s not just that. Advertisers frequently focus purely on selling to Mum, it’s often ‘mother and toddler’ group, and even the experience of having a baby can be exclusive of the father. I remember when we had our daughter, I was allowed cups of tea, but my husband, who had not slept for 36 hours like me and who then stayed awake watching our baby all night so I could sleep, was completely ignored. I appreciate that I was the one who had given birth but my husband was there with me every step of the way. I know that women generally still do play the main parenting role, sometimes, incredibly strongly, completely alone. But, there has been a discernible shift. And this will continue, with more and more men assuming the main carer role. There has been some progress already but there is definitely room for more equality.
Men should be equal. Women should be equal. After all, we are all just people, people who have a right to be here and to live our lives as we want. And why on earth shouldn’t we empower each other to do just that?