In­ter­na­tional Men’s Day: Do we need a men’s move­ment and other ques­tions

On Mon­day we have a day to cel­e­brate men but maybe it’s bet­ter if we ask our­selves some ques­tions

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS | REVIEW - Finian Mur­phy Finian Mur­phy is re­search­ing the project – An Fear Eile: Man­hood In Ire­land – and is in­ter­ested in speak­ing to peo­ple about the ques­tions raised in this ar­ti­cle. He can be reached at [email protected]­sis­agility.com

This Mon­day, on In­ter­na­tional Men’s Day ( IMD) on Novem­ber 19th, we will be en­cour­aged to cel­e­brate men. I’ve never been a fan of this day, af­ter all we have 364 other days of the year which favour us.

It’s old news but it bears re­peat­ing that men hold the ma­jor­ity of power in gov­ern­ments, busi­ness cor­po­ra­tions, me­dia com­pa­nies, re­li­gions and al­most ev­ery Ir­ish or­gan­i­sa­tion you can men­tion.

How­ever, this year IMD is fo­cused on pos­i­tive male role mod­els so per­haps this is a good time to ex­plore ex­actly what one of those looks like.

Women’s role in Ir­ish so­ci­ety has fun­da­men­tally shifted, but the evo­lu­tion of men has been slower. In the last few years I’ve be­come in­creas­ingly cu­ri­ous about the def­i­ni­tion of man­hood.

From speak­ing to men about this as part of a project, An Fear Eile, I’ve dis­cov­ered that many men are strug­gling to achieve a mean­ing­ful role in life. Th­ese are some of the key ques­tions we’ve been ask­ing our­selves and other men which are worth con­tem­plat­ing in the run-up to IMD.

Are we any­thing more than a job ti­tle?

The ques­tion of whether women can “have it all” con­tin­ues to be a heated de­bate. While our cul­ture ex­pects women to jug­gle the ma­jor­ity of house­hold work, child­care and their ca­reer, the de­fault ex­pec­ta­tion for men is to sim­ply work hard, earn well and where time al­lows, spend it with fam­ily.

Even with more women in em­ploy­ment than at any other time in his­tory, we still tend to de­fine women as car­ers and men as providers. Why is this?

I’ve spo­ken to men re­cently who are lost in jobs that pay the bills, but ul­ti­mately pro­vide lit­tle life sat­is­fac­tion. They are climb­ing up ca­reer lad­ders while hav­ing lit­tle time for other pas­sions in their life. Many men reach a point where they won­der why they spent so much time in the work­place and not with the peo­ple they love in­clud­ing their chil­dren.

Are we really ad­dress­ing our men­tal health?

For nearly a decade, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing years when the re­ces­sion im­pacted on men’s eco­nomic sta­tus, there has been a growth in the num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal health.

Tra­di­tion­ally, one of the three sta­ples of mas­culin­ity is strength. The man ac­cord­ing to the tired old trope is not only phys­i­cally strong, but also en­sures he does not show emo­tions, es­pe­cially any as­so­ci­ated with weak­ness. A study by Pew Re­search in 2018, found that 95 per cent of Amer­i­cans de­scribe the term “emo­tional man” as a neg­a­tive trait, while 95 per cent of peo- ple viewed “pro­tec­tive men” as pos­i­tive. This emo­tional reg­u­la­tion is tir­ing and dam­ag­ing. We need more con­ver­sa­tions about the ben­e­fits of men talk­ing more about their true feel­ings.

How are we re­spond­ing to #MeToo?

From pol­i­tics to en­ter­tain­ment, sex and con­sent are be­ing widely dis­cussed. In the United King­dom, three out of five men, when polled by YouGov last month said the # MeToo move­ment has made them more open to talk­ing about sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

In Ire­land, mo­ments like the Belfast rape trial ear­lier this year led to men of all ages hav­ing some­times heated con­ver­sa­tions teas­ing out the rights, wrongs and nu­ances of s e x. Mean­while, al most three- quar­ters of se­condary school stu­dents in Ire­land de­scribed their ex­pe­ri­ence of sex ed­u­ca­tion at school as “ter­ri­ble” or “bad” in a sur­vey pub­lished by the Ir­ish Sec­ond-Level Stu­dents’ Union.

An­other sur­vey by Youth Work Ire­land f ound that one in f i ve young peo­ple ( 14- 24- year- olds) found pornog­ra­phy a “use­ful” source of in­for­ma­tion about healthy sex­ual re­la­tion­ships.

In ad­di­tion to ad­dress­ing this, we need to ask whether enough men are call­ing out in­ap­pro­pri­ate and of­ten abu­sive be­hav­iour to­wards women and girls when they see it. With a grow­ing num­ber of men lis­ten­ing to the ex­pe­ri­ences of their fe­male friends, this might be the gen­er­a­tion of men and boys that re­alise they can no longer stand idly by.

Do men want a new role in so­ci­ety?

As a so­ci­ety, we have rightly fought and achieved rights and choices for women from vot­ing rights a cen­tury ago to bod­ily au­ton­omy in Ire­land ear­lier this year. Men have never had to ask for th­ese rights. His­tor­i­cally, men have had and still have a wealth of op­por­tu­ni­ties, but man­hood re­mains de­fined within nar­row pa­ram­e­ters.

There is still a strong cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tion of men as bread­win­ners. Ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus fig­ures from 2016, only 1 per cent of men say their prin­ci­ple role is look­ing af­ter the home or fam­ily, com­pared with 15 per cent of women. Cen­tral Sta­tis­tics Of­fice ( CSO) fig­ures show that in 2018, women are twice as likely as men to work part-time hours, of­ten in or­der to bal­ance work with child­care.

As a re­sult, men work longer hours than women and spend less time with their par­ents, kids and in their com­mu­ni­ties.

While to­day’s dad is more in­volved with his chil­dren than in the past, new dads are of­ten con­scious of how they will be per­ceived in the work­place if they take time for their chil­dren. As a re­sult, based on ap­pli­ca­tions to the Depart­ment of So­cial Pro­tec­tion, ap­prox­i­mately half of new dads are not tak­ing pa­ter­nity leave.

Could un­lock­ing men’s abil­ity to care re­shape our so­ci­ety?

We need to talk about men and care. Ar­guably more men get­ting in­volved in car­ing roles could con­trib­ute to their own well­be­ing and to a health­ier so­ci­ety. Ac­cord­ing to CSO recorded crime fig­ures, men are more likely to be vi­o­lent, while ac­cord­ing to the HSE, men ac­count for al­most 80 per cent of sui­cides recorded in the State.

Men could greatly ben­e­fit from un­der­stand­ing care in their life. Key skills such as em­pa­thy, emo­tional in­tel­li­gence and pa­tience are es­sen­tial traits that are en­hanced by per­form­ing car­ing roles.

There are thou­sands of men up and down this coun­try who care for oth­ers – from time with their own chil­dren, to car­ing for their ag­ing par­ents. There are men who work tire­lessly in their com­mu­nity, and those who look af­ter the most vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety.

How­ever, sta­tis­tics from from Vol­un­teer Ire­land and the CSO show that women do the ma­jor­ity of un­paid car­ing roles in our so­ci­ety.

Most men are fo­cused on paid work. What this means is that many men are miss­ing out on the cru­cial skill of care. We need to ask our­selves: do men want to be bet­ter car­ers for them­selves and oth­ers?

And if so how are we go­ing to en­cour­age this?

Do we need a men’s move­ment?

The women’s move­ment and fem­i­nism con­tin­ues to bring about a fun­da­men­tal shift in op­por­tu­ni­ties. Men should be in­spired by this rev­o­lu­tion. If, like me, you be­lieve men are more than the nar­row def­i­ni­tion of mas­culin­ity, it is worth try­ing to learn from th­ese move­ments.

It’s time that we had a pos­i­tive and aligned con­ver­sa­tion about, not only equal rights, but equal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in so­ci­ety. The ben­e­fits are im­mense: we will learn new skills, and have a richer and more re­ward­ing way of liv­ing.

The al­ter­na­tive, if we don’t ex­plore th­ese ques­tions, is that us men stay stuck in a very nar­row def­i­ni­tion of mas­culin­ity.

That would not be good for us men or for wider so­ci­ety.

Finian Mur­phy of An Fear Eile with his son Tom. “The women’s move­ment and fem­i­nism con­tin­ues to bring about a fun­da­men­tal shift in op­por­tu­ni­ties. Men should be in­spired by this rev­o­lu­tion.”

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