International Men’s Day: So what is a man, anyway?

It’s International Men’s Day! A day upon which we recognise that not only does masculinity make life crap for women and girls – it tends to fuck things up for men and boys too! What a swizz! Best get busy dismantling the whole damn edifice.

Only joking. Of course, nobody’s really going to challenge male supremacy on behalf of men. What kind of madcap idea would that be? God forbid. Let’s just keep on polishing the same old turd. It can’t make things any worse, right?

We know the facts: men are by far the most likely to commit violent crime and the victims are themselves most likely to be men. We know that men are more likely than women to commit suicide. We know that there’s plenty to do with being a man that is, quite frankly, a bit shit. But when it comes to achieving gender equality, who do we focus on changing? Women. Because, despite the obvious opportunities for self-analysis and change, it seems the dominant class isn’t the problem; it’s the subjugated class for letting themselves be so, well, subjugated.

International Men’s Day isn’t a day upon which we ask “what does it mean, really, to be a man?” We’ll ask that about women every other day of the year (and usually the answer will be “it’s whatever men don’t want to be at any given time”). We kind of know what masculinity is: something tough, hard, impenetrable, powerful, violent. We don’t consider it our place to question it. Femininity is flexible, shifting, and porous; masculinity just is.

I don’t want my boys to grow up in a world in which masculinity – the right to dominate, rape, steal, exploit – remains protected. I’d rather they were protected instead. It strikes me as absurd that we constantly wring our hands about masculinity being “in crisis” without considering that perhaps we could do without such a flawed, crisis-ridden thing. The suffering not just of women and girls, but of men and boys is considered a price worth paying for our continued maintenance of a gender hierarchy and the illusions of power that come with it.

We try to make some adjustments, ideally ones which ensure that women and girls bear as much of the burden as possible. We write off gender non-conforming men as “not men” rather than allow the great, pristine masculinity edifice to be tainted (the idea of femininity brings with it no such purity; wear a little pink and sure, you’re in). I see little boys mocked and chastised for doing things that make them “like girls”. Often that seems like one of the key principles of masculinity in the playground: the ostentatious dislike of “girlish” things and “feminine” boys. Masculinity never has to question itself; it’s too busy laying down its own boundaries and insisting that no one else is allowed to have any at all.

When feminists criticise masculinity they are man hating; when they criticise femininity they are femmephobic. Yet masculinity is femmephobia and it is self-hatred. It is obsessive categorisation for the maintenance of a power that no one can ever access. One of my sons is not “masculine” in terms of his appearance and interests, and it fills me with rage that as he gets older, every form of self-expression becomes more and more of a risk. Constantly remarketing masculinity does him no favours; respecting the personhood of boys, men, women and girls just might help.

But anyhow, today isn’t a day to discuss actual change. That’s just crazy talk. For now let’s just keep lurching from “crisis” to “crisis” without ever asking who benefits. Let’s listen to Julien Blanc moaning about being “the most hated man in the world” and Colonel Richard Kemp telling us that “women don’t have the killer instinct to fight on the front line”. Let’s watch men continue with their stupid, murderous battles while we push our sons onwards towards the front line.

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