Advocacy for men and men's rights has earned a reputation as thinly veiled misogyny.
And far too often, that is exactly what it is. So it was a pleasant surprise to look into what people on Twitter were saying today about #InternationalMensDay and discover a wealth of warmth, inclusivity, and a broad acknowledgment of the gendered expectations that oppress everyone in our society.
Men are supposed to be stern, and rational, and stoic. Obviously, this stereotype is harmful for any woman who has to compete in a profession where stern, rational, stoicism is valued, but it also harms any man who isn't able to reach out for support when he needs it, or believes his feelings are only valid if they are channeled through some post-hoc rationality. It harms the man who doesn't feel free to break down in tears at the end of a long day, and the man who tells himself that his struggle with mental health is just a matter of willpower or "manning up." Most of all it harms the boys who are learning how to be human while being fed a toxic ideal of manhood.
Figures like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, who might be expected to spearhead a holiday celebrating manhood, were surprisingly absent from the conversation—with Shapiro preferring to focus his Twitter energy directly on Eric Swalwell and "fart-gate." They espouse the virtues of their rigid gender roles, and are often called out for doing harm to women as well as trans and non-binary people of all descriptions, but perhaps the most immediate harm they do is to the audience of young men who take them seriously. Young men who try to hold themselves to artificial ideals of who and what they need to be.
In an alternate universe—that managed to bleed through to ours with a fair few obnoxious takes—International Men's Day is the anti-feminist equivalent of a straight-pride parade or a call for white history month. And in that universe, it helps no one, and only serves to reaffirm existing power structures. But today, for once, we do not inhabit the darkest timeline, and International Men's Day made room for men and boys to be human and vulnerable. It spurred efforts to spread mental health awareness, and helped to loosen the cultural grip of the toxic ideals of manhood.