International Men’s Day: Some Thoughts

Today (November 19) is International Men’s Day, and fellow blogger Wayne Campbell just shared the following piece that he and colleague Kurt Hickling put together. Wayne is an educator with a particular interest in gender issues. The theme for this year is male suicide, and I have just read a short but poignant news story about a 19 year-old in rural Jamaica who told his friends he wanted to take his own life. They did not take him seriously. He was found hanging from a tree in his yard, this week. Generally speaking, I feel that mental health is not being seriously addressed in Jamaica, and that is a whole separate issue by itself. 

International Men's Day button at University of the West Indies event.
International Men’s Day button at a University of the West Indies event.

A footnote: At today’s International Men’s Day event at the University of the West Indies, this button was displayed. What do YOU think of this? As civil society activist Carol Narcisse observed, this sounds like the equivalent of “All Lives Matter.” Is this approach helpful in the discourse, for greater understanding between men and women? I think not. Why cross out “women”? We know, of course – men and women, boys and girls all suffer from crime and violence in Jamaica and globally. Our experiences are different and our reactions are different. Gender EQUITY is the answer for me, and the goal we must aim for; I have posted a neat little graphic on this, below. Meanwhile, here is Wayne’s and Kurt’s take.

Recognizing Masculinities in Support of Gender Equality

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One”– Marcus Aurelius

The discourse surrounding issues of gender and development is often imbalanced, resulting in the concerns of men and boys being kicked to the curb. The traditional cultural philosophy of men being self-sufficient and in control of their emotions tends to nurture this disparity in our society, a practice which should be deterred at all costs if we are to effect the change in how men and boys see themselves and value their existence.

It is important that as men we are given the space and time necessary to share our concerns, stories and achievements. It is also critical that as men we help to raise the awareness of issues surrounding men’s rights, in addition to engaging women in a meaningful way, in order for societies to have harmonious gender relations and sustainable development. We should give some thought to this: Men should be afforded the means to challenge their emotional energies other than through sports.

On November 19, 2016, the global community will observe International Men’s Day (IMD) in which issues of importance to men will be brought to the fore. The theme this year is Stop Male Suicide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), male life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 69 years and for females it was 74 years. Unfortunately, the suicide rate for men is three times that of women. Suicide in men has been described as a silent epidemic and regrettably is a major contributor to men’s mortality.

The theme of International Men's Day 2016.
The theme of International Men’s Day 2016. In Jamaica, as elsewhere, men are more likely to commit suicide than women.

The issue of male health as a public health concern has been on the back burner for quite some time, despite some attempt to change this narrative. The resources needed and the support services required are not readily invested in male health care, resulting in many preventable diseases going untreated in men. Among the objectives of International Men’s Day is a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality and highlighting positive male role models. The construction of masculinity needs some amount of deconstruction to strip away the hegemonic notions of what it is to be a man, in order to fit in a modern progressive culture of egalitarianism.

Society teaches boys not to cry and or show their emotions. The feeling of pain and discomfort is encouraged and the male success in hiding his emotions becomes a measurement of his masculinity. This ideal of manhood suppresses one’s emotional energy; it’s a dangerous practice which oftentimes manifests itself in violence or some other destructive behavior. Society then acts surprised when some men lose their cool and act in an irrational manner. We cannot escape problems; it’s a part of the human experience, whether of a social or behavioural nature. Problems are often viewed along gendered lines and as such we must realize that men react differently to crisis than women.

The role that gender plays as a risk factor for suicide has been studied extensively. According to Trevor Forbes, MD, Board Certified psychiatrist, “in most cultures men are not socialized to express their inner feelings.” Dr. Forbes adds that a man who seeks professional help for mental health issues runs the risk of being branded a “sissy.” According to Dr. Forbes, a man is expected to be a tower of strength; when he fails to live up to those expectations suicide is considered as the only way out. While females, according to some research show a higher rate of non-fatal suicidal behavior, males, on the other hand record a higher success rate of completed suicide.

Increasingly, we have been witnessing a hard-core strand of masculinity that has facilitated a growing trend of male under-achievement at all levels of the education system. This is compounded by the media and pop culture, which gives a false view of masculinity and manhood in this techno-industrial age. Many men are unable to ascribe to it. Sadly, positive male role models are few and far between in the society, resulting in a vacuum in the mentoring required to bridge the boy-to-manhood rite of passage. There must be a greater push towards increasing mentoring programs for our boys.

Young men share their thoughts at a mentoring workshop for boys, organized by Panos Caribbean, in June. (My photo)
Young men share their thoughts at a mentoring workshop for boys, organized by Panos Caribbean, in June. (My photo)

Additionally, we need to expand the funding of those programs that have worked for so many of our troubled males, especially teenage boys. Through regulated mentorship boys can be taught how to be men of character and made to understand their social responsibilities, not only to themselves but to the wider society. Their increased self-worth and self-acceptance would also be paramount in stemming the suicide rate among males. Government, civil society, religious organizations and the private sector must join forces to fight the stigma associated with mental health. Promoting gender equality must include examining those specific issues affecting and impacting men separate and apart from those of women.

There are some programs that we can implement in Jamaica to assuage the contentious issue of gender relations. The Bureau of Gender Affairs, for example, must move swiftly to re-establish the Male Desk in order to provide practical support for men and boys who are desirous of such services. The Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) must reassess its mandate and become more responsive to the needs of men and boys. The Institute can achieve this by hosting more seminars, workshops, lectures as well as encourage more research on men’s issues.

We need to expand our minds and view development in a broader context. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), development is a process of enlarging people’s choices, increasing their opportunities for education, healthcare, income and employment. Unless we view development along this holistic approach gender equality will always lag behind. The time to revisit our National Gender Policy is now. As a society we also need to find ways and means of infusing Gender and Development into the National Standards Curriculum (NSC) to help usher in a gentler society with regards to power relations, as well as to alleviate the mistrust that both sexes have of each other. Finally, in a spirit of gender equality, we call on the United Nations to give International Men’s Day the official UN observance which it deserves. This will undoubtedly help to highlight the plight, concerns, and achievements of men in this gendered world in which we live. On this very important day let us celebrate our collective masculinity while at the same time recognizing our differences as men. In the words of George S. Patton, “Duty is the essence of manhood.”

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

waykam@yahoo.com, @WayneCamo   and

Kurt Hickling, is an educator and cultural studies advocate with an interest in the cultural dimensions affecting males.

kurthickling@gmail.com @jamteach1976

Equity versus equality. Equity must come FIRST!
Equity versus equality. Equity must come FIRST!

 


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