Nov. 19 is marked as International Men’s Day, devoted to the positive contributions of men to greater society as well as highlighting men’s well-being. It is a day that went completely unrealized and unmarked. Perhaps this makes sense to many. After all, why celebrate the advances and highlight the plights of a historically privileged group? Men as a demographic have not typically had to fight for rights on the basis of gender. On the whole, they have been less likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking. Worldwide, men hold the majority of the wealth, both in money and in land. It seems as though society was created for the male gender to succeed, and thus the point of an international day for men should be moot. 

However, even in the 21st century, gender imbalances still prevail. These imbalances exist beyond those perpetuated against women, though these are the ones most apparent in society. While gender inequalities against women are egregious and apparent, those that impact men still exist. They are under-discussed and often overlooked, possibly because men are more often encouraged to hide their problems and conform to social standards. Nevertheless, men and boys still are held to similar standards and suffer under the same inequalities that influence women, often in much more discreet ways.

In its modern form, International Men’s Day began in 1999, initiated in Trinidad and Tobago by Jerome Teelucksingh. In contrast with March 8’s International Women’s Day, International Men’s Day passes rather quietly, without marches or media attention. This fact is largely representative of the gender issues that affect men. For example, in much of the Western world, there is immense pressure to perform all standards of masculinity. This largely includes providing for the family as the primary breadwinner. Marriages in which the female partner outearns her male counterpart are more likely to suffer from infidelity and end in divorce. Husbands who earn less than their wives tend to feel inadequate and emasculated, as though they have failed to live up to their potential.

Such feelings of inadequacy can contribute to men’s failing mental health. Nationwide, 6 million men suffer from depression. However, this condition goes largely undiagnosed in men. This may be because men are less likely to present with the more widely known symptoms of hopelessness and sadness, and tend to demonstrate anger, fatigue and loss of interest in daily life activities. It also may be the result of a general male reluctance to seek help for their disorders, owing largely to a tendency to downplay symptoms or to comply to social norms of emotional strength and stability. This is a trend with disastrous results. Male suicides have been consistently rising since 2000, with men being four times as likely to die by suicide than women.

Typically stigmatized social behaviors are often policed more harshly when they appear in men. Gay and bisexual men suffer harshly from homophobia. According to a 1999 study, gay men were more likely than lesbians to be deemed mentally ill by society, and child adoption by gay men was viewed less favorably than by that of gay women. While societal attitudes have certainly shifted over the past two decades, particularly with the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, instances of homophobia still abound. Men and boys are less likely to engage in platonic touch with friends, leaving them cut-off physically and emotionally.

This lack of friendly touching between men and boys contributes to deeper emotional issues. Touch can act as a means of reducing stress and boosting self-esteem. Lack of touch affects parenthood. Fathers tend to be less involved parents than mothers. This mostly stems from the aforementioned economic pressures that lead many men out of the home and into high-pressure, long-hour jobs. Furthermore, paid paternity leave in the United States is extraordinarily scarce. Even when it is available, men who take advantage of the opportunity are criticized. Take, for example, a 2014 instance involving New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy missed the opening game of the season for the birth of his first child. In the days following the birth, Murphy received a series of criticisms for using his three days of paternity leave. Sports radio WFAN hosts Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton suggested that Murphy and his wife should have scheduled a C-section prior to the season opener. This anecdote is demonstrative of the fact that men are often shamed for engaging in typical standards of parenting. The manner through which men are shamed for stereotypically feminine behaviors prevents men and boys from creating and maintaining meaningful relationships.

When the topic of gender issues is invoked, the injustices against women are often the only ones discussed. This is often rightfully so, as these abuses are particularly egregious. However, this fact does not mean that men’s issues deserve to be completely ignored. The gender-related inequalities that impact males, the immense societal pressure to provide for their families, the discouragement of discussing their emotions and the harsh policing of potentially feminine behavior have overwhelmingly negative impacts on the male psyche. With rising suicide rates and instances of male substance abuse, it is evident that something must be done to alleviate this crisis. True gender equality cannot be achieved until all relating issues are acknowledged and combatted. In the era of #MeToo and other feminist movements, it is important to remember that gender issues affect everybody. 

Alanna Berger can be reached at balanna@umich.edu.

 

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