To My Sons
Today is International Men’s Day, a day upon which to celebrate all things manly. Being a mere woman / failed role model I’m not sure what all these things are (Top Gear? rewiring plugs?), so I’ve had to visit the International Men’s Day website in order to check.
There are, apparently, six pillars to International Men’s Day (how phallic is that?). These include promoting positive male role models, celebrating men’s positive contributions to society and improving gender relations. All pretty woolly stuff which, if you squint a bit, actually sounds quite feminist (which is weird given the absence of women over the age of six in all the IMD stock photos). There’s also focussing on men’s health and well being (nice) and creating a better, safer world (which sounds ace, if not terribly male-specific). Finally there’s highlighting discrimination against men (that’s probably the most important one. Don’t ask me why. I just know it is). It’s quite a lot to cover in one day, isn’t it?
As sons of a feminist mother and a father who doesn’t buy into essentialist bullshit, you’re probably already at a disadvantage on days like today. I do have a copy of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys but consider it a pile of sexist, transphobic nonsense. I think children benefit from being raised by parents who love them, regardless of gender identification. This year I bought one of you a pink Lego Friends advent calendar (that’s probably my worst offence. I’m sorry. But you thought it looked pretty and you were right).
According to the website, “calls for an International Men’s Day have been going on since at least the 1960s”. You wouldn’t know this, but back then in the UK women weren’t entitled to equal pay for equal work, couldn’t open their own bank accounts and could be raped by their husbands without it being considered a crime. It’s curious, really, to think that a sense of grievance could arise in such an unequal context. Women might have had International Women’s Day but they had sod all else. This selective notion of fairness and equality of distribution persists in the Men’s Rights Movement to this day. I hope you never become Men’s Rights Activists. I already see you growing out of your wilful desire to have the toy that your brother is holding, just because he has it. I hope you never regress.
I don’t want you to feel weighed down by a sense of what it does and does not mean to “be a man”. I want your experiences to have value in their own right. While women remain in the process of dismantling femininity as a construct and finding their own space as individuals, it’s galling to see a homogenous view of manhood being pushed as a route to self-realisation. The two-faced conservatism of International Men’s Day – explore the construct / commiserate over its limitations while also reinforcing it – bothers me. You are so special and unique. I don’t want you to look at the IMD images of men (all straight out of a shaving cream advert) and think that is the only template that’s there for you.
The other day I said to your dad that I worried about you losing your sense of freedom, the belief that you can choose to like whichever colours you want and play whatever games you prefer. Already I know that as you get older little pieces of you are erased just so you can fit in with how the world needs you to be. I know this is necessary. There are, however, spaces in which you can still be you. Don’t ever aspire to ape a liberation movement by fetishizing constraints that you should ignore. You are worth more than that.
Then again, you probably shouldn’t listen to me. I’m only a woman.
You’d best go talk to your dad.