November 19 marks International Men’s Day and it’s getting some spotlight. This year’s theme is “Stop Male Suicide,” to raise awareness of the physical and mental health issues affecting men around the world that contribute to the rate of male suicide, which, it turns out, is pretty high.
According to The Independent, the British Parliament will hold a debate about the holiday, which aims to educate on issues such as male suicide and lower life expectancy among men. The debate was prompted by the demands of Conservative MP Shipley Phillip Davies, which were initially denied.
There’s bound to be more conflict at both the debate and on the internet regarding the holiday, but it’s a surprisingly opportune moment to discuss the topics that International Men’s Day hopes to bring attention to. For example, the male to female suicide ratio is about 4-to-1 in the United States. The IMD website also cites shorter life expediencies and greater instances of disease among men around the world as problems they would like to highlight. The language of the website is far from perfect, but one can’t deny the salience of these issues.
This year, International Men’s Day comes at a crossroads for the politics of gender. The United States has just elected Donald Trump for president, a man who was propelled to victory by a voting block comprised primarily of white males, and who employed sexist and misogynistic rhetoric on the campaign trail. Debates about traditional gender roles have ignited around the struggles of the LGBTQ community. Prominent cases of sexual assaults on women, committed by men, have also been circulating the news cycle of late. In certain ways, a day focused on men and masculinity hardly seems like something people need right now.
The internet, ever the distilled id of the public, is sure to eat itself. International Men’s Day will no doubt spark conflicts between men’s rights activists, who will use it as a platform for their version of social justice, and internet leftists, who will pan it and everyone who dares participate.
It’s possible that the progressive public will breathe a collective sigh, shake their heads, and maybe have a laugh at something that seems silly and counterproductive. Last year for the holiday, Holly Baxter of The Independent explained why it was unnecessary.
But this year’s theme does give us reason to hope it might be different. The theme, at least insofar as its stated intent, is in line with what feminists like Baxter identify as potential “serious issues that a positive men’s rights movement would be well placed to address: the skyrocketing suicide rate among young men, for example, or the stigma faced by men who admit to being a victim of sexual abuse or domestic violence.” Those stigmas no doubt contribute to the rates of male suicide and the status of men’s mental health.
Moreover, the nature of masculinity is on the precipice of change. The struggle for gender equity is moving forward, throwing the doors of “manhood” open to variation. The number of men who elect to be stay-at-home dads is growing, as are calls for positive, sensitive male role models. Indeed, the dearth of good role models is another issue the IMD website claims they would like to tackle. Taken in its best form, a day to advocate for and recognize what could be described as a reconceptualization of masculinity might not be such a bad thing.