Image description: a wooden heart among greenery. Text reads, “celebrating international men’s day”
International Men’s Day is celebrated every year on November 19. That’s today! (In my part of the world, at least. Belated greetings to my colleagues across the international date line!)
Image description: Twitter user @Erinkyan “happy international mens day, especially to trans men, disabled men, men of colour, queer men, mentally ill men, feminine men, elderly men, poor men, male survivors, and other vulnerable men. and a big fuck you to MRAs that further isolate and harm men in the name of misogyny.”
This post a celebration of this day, and also the official launch of a new project! Keep reading to find information about the new project at the end of this post.
There are so many ways that men are harmed and vulnerable under patriarchy. Because it’s not just patriarchy. It’s also ableism. Transantagonism. Racism and white supremacy. Colonialism. Ageism. Heterosexism. Patriarchy is a critical hub in this web of oppressions and privileges, but it is not the only hub, and it is not the only intersection that we need to address.
Men are differentially vulnerable.
They become more vulnerable the more they deviate from the ideal of white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, English-speaking, educated, middle-and-upper class, young, fit, neurotypical manhood.
Men are vulnerable in different ways.
Black men and boys face police violence at disproportionately high rates in both the United States and in Canada. Indigenous men and boys also face disproportionately high rates of police violence and incarceration. (This post at The Conversation examines Canada’s shameful treatment of Indigenous folks within the ‘justice’ system.)
Men are more likely to die of suicide (as this British Columbia Medical Journal discusses), and men who are victims of domestic violence (regardless of the gender of their abuser) are less likely to find support either socially or structurally (as this article by the BBC discusses).
Men who are victims of sexual assault, either as youths or as adults, also face a lack of social and structural support. Although there have been important shifts in this cultural landscape, particularly by men responding to #MeToo (Terry Crews most publicly), there is still a significant cultural pressure to maintain an idea of masculinity as impervious to harm (as this Atlantic article discusses). This pressure comes both from proponents of patriarchal masculinity who are invested in maintaining these rigid gender systems, and from some advocates who are invested in the idea of men-as-perpetrators. Acknowledging the vulnerability of men is destabilizing to patriarchy, but it is also destabilizing to some of the gendered ways of understanding violence that have helped women and feminists frame the issue of violence against women. As this article by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism notes, “The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims.” (link is to a PDF)
This article by Scientific American also talks about violence by women, and makes the important point that, “To thoroughly dismantle sexual victimization, we must grapple with its many complexities, which requires attention to all victims and perpetrators, regardless of their sex. This inclusive framing need not and should not come at the expense of gender-sensitive approaches, which take into account the ways in which gender norms influence women and men in different or disproportionate ways.”
And it is important to also recognize that there are men who have been both victims of violence and have also used violence against others. These men are often unable to access any supports that recognize and respond to both sides of their story, since many services for survivors of sexual or domestic violence do not work with people who have used violence against others, and services for men who have used violence against others often do not include support for survivors.
Toxic masculinity invites men into violence and dominance, which means that men are often cut off from emotional supports and connections, and it also means that people around men are vulnerable to violence and dominance. Not all men accept this invitation into a specific kind of masculinity, but all men receive the invitation – patriarchy is the air we breathe.
And, just like it is men, women, and people of all genders who are harmed by these norms of masculinity, it is also true that men, women, and people of all genders uphold and support these norms of masculinity.
As Vivek Shraya writes in her fantastic book, I’m Afraid of Men:
“And so, I’m also afraid of women. I’m afraid of women who’ve either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or have watched in silence. I’m afraid of women who adopt masculine traits and then feel compelled to dominate or silence me at dinner parties. I’m afraid of women who see me as a predator and whose comfort I consequently put before my own by using male locker rooms. I’m afraid of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag. I’m afraid of the women who, like men, reject my pronouns and refuse to see my femininity, or who comment on or criticize my appearance, down to my chipped nail polish, to reiterate that I am not one of them. I’m afraid of women who, when I share my experiences of being trans, try to console me by announcing “welcome to being a woman,” refusing to recognize the ways in which our experiences fundamentally differ. But I’m especially afraid of women because my history has taught me that I can’t fully rely upon other women for sisterhood, or allyship, or protection from men.”
That’s important to note, too. (Vivek’s book also speaks about the problem with the idea of the “good man,” and makes a strong argument for not using the term “toxic masculinity.” You can read more about that in this article by Vice. I highly recommend reading her book.)
But this is International Men’s Day, so let’s turn the focus back to men. And to a definition of men that is much more broad and expansive than the thin description of dominant masculinity, with its demands of ability and class and race and the tight confines of The Man Box (this page offers an overview of “The Man Box” study in Australia, which looked at men’s views and experiences of masculinity, and also includes a link to the full report).
There is no single truth about masculinity. (I am thankful for narrative therapy and its focus on multistoried lives and experiences. And I am thankful for Chimamanda Adichie and this TEDtalk about the dangers of a single story!)
Gendered assumptions about emotions mean that men, regardless of any other intersection of identity, are often not supported in their emotional lives. This leaves men at risk in their own lives, and less equipped to support their community members.
These issues are complex, and talking about them requires care and a willingness to invite complexity to the table.
If I’m honest, I found this post challenging to write.
This is partly because I am not a man. I have never experienced being read as a man in this patriarchal world. When I try to empathize with the experiences of men, I do so from my position as a non-binary individual who was assigned female at birth, as someone who is read as a “woman” by anyone who doesn’t know me.
But there are men in my life who have helped me begin to understand the complexities of being a man under patriarchy.
I am thankful for these men, who advocate for men’s issues and also support social justice. They challenge toxic masculinity (by which I mean, the gendered assumptions that invite men into performances of gender that are hostile to other genders, that coerce men into rejecting anything deemed “feminine”, that limit the range of emotions and emotional responses available to men, that locate successful masculinity in a specific performance of heterosexuality, ability, and capitalist productivity), and they look at this issue with nuance – toxic masculinity harms men, and it also harms everyone else.
So, how do men unlearn these hostile lessons of patriarchy? How do they learn other ways of being men?
I’m in the early stages of a collaborative project exploring how men have discovered feminism and learned about social justice. My goal is to speak with a wide range of men about their experiences, and create a collective document and resource that other men can learn from. If you would like to be part of this project, get in touch!
Image description: two books stacked with purple flowers on top. Text reads: “Men! Let’s talk about how you learned about feminism and social justice. A collective documentation project. Contact email@example.com”
If you appreciate this work, you can support me on Patreon!