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Opinion Why do we even need an International Men’s Day?

There is a lack of mainstream acceptance of systemic men’s issues, writes David Walsh.

WHILE MANY GROUPS in society such as women, children, LGBT and others, have long established calendar days to celebrate their existence, it is only in the last 2 to 3 years that International Men’s Day (19 November) has come to be marked by at least some groups in Ireland.

This late coming on the scene marks a certain hesitation. Slowly, haltingly, it is becoming legitimate to celebrate men, their achievements, and their essential role in society.

Why do we even need an International Men’s Day?

One could list at great length the many problems that afflict men today, including the male suicide epidemic, the paucity of resources for male victims of domestic violence and the falling behind of young men and boys in education. However there is one fundamental factor related to all these problems that men encounter: there is a lack of mainstream acceptance of systemic men’s issues which is compounded by the absence of male advocacy groups with a broad remit to make the case at political level and the level of the media.

Men have endured a bad press for a long time. When a leading UK politician like Andrea Leadsom can say that men should not be hired to do childcare as they may be paedophiles, collective guilt is being applied.

There is no other group in society which is collectively blamed for the poor behaviour of a small minority on such a regular basis. The reductionism evident in blaming society’s ills, from workplace harassment to terrorism, on ‘toxic masculinity’ is a clear example of how lazy thinking and glib talk typifies the current debate on men’s issues.

There is no National Men’s Council

On a political note, take, for instance, the highly misleading perception that the predominance of men in the Dáil automatically means that men’s issues are ‘on the table’.

In fact, it has now become necessary to argue before Oireachtas committees the case for men when laws or policy covering a broad range of social issues are being formulated.

The same case, to be effective, must also be made to the media, including discussions and debates on both radio and television. In a word there is no National Men’s Council, State funded or otherwise, to offer a counterbalance to the prevailing narrative about men being the perennially privileged class in society with no serious, systemic issues requiring advocacy.

Why has there been such a dearth of male advocacy?

Historically, men have had no issues organising as trade unionists, or in groups dedicated to protesting against inequalities faced by minorities based on their race or sexuality. This is not the case for men’s advocacy.

Such advocates are typically met with contempt when attempting to add a discussion of men’s issues to the national dialogue on gender equality. Such negative attitudes may well be a factor in why many men are so reluctant to come forward.

To mark International Men’s Day, Men’s Voices Ireland is organising an event today 18 November in Wynn’s hotel Dublin. There has been a considerable backlash to this event in the media.

The conference will feature two very well-known speakers. Matt O’Connor the founder of Fathers4Justice, will discuss “How has the State and the media been so indoctrinated against men and masculinity?”, and give the benefit of what he has learned from 16 years of campaigning.

John Waters has written eloquently for many years on the plight of fathers arising from the family law courts. His topic is “The attack on fathers, the attack on family”.

Are there any signs of hope?

There are a few straws such as the example set by the UK MP Philip Davies who has spoken and campaigned fearlessly for men’s issues for many years.

Another is the film “The Red Pill” which was made by acclaimed director Cassie Jaye about the Men’s Movement launched last March. Jaye began her film expecting to expose men’s advocates as nothing more than misogynists, but soon found herself challenging her own assumptions so much so that she now rejects the feminist label.

Jaye’s experience inspires hope because it demonstrates that even deeply-held convictions can be relinquished if we are only willing to countenance ideas that challenge those convictions with an open mind. This is what International Men’s Day should be about. Not just a celebration of men’s contributions and of masculinity, but a day to acknowledge that men also have serious issues to be addressed.

David Walsh worked in Maynooth University for many years and is Chairman of Men’s Voices Ireland.

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