18/11/2014 11:51 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Why Every Man and Woman Should Celebrate International Men's Day

As you may or may not have heard, Wednesday is International Men's Day.

If you do hear any mutterings about the day out in the banter-filled world of social media, it will most likely be some unoriginal (t)wit proclaiming something like:

"Isn't every day international men's day? LOL!"


"International Men's Day, when 364 days of patriarchal power and privilege just aren't enough!"

Yet all over the world, people whose view of the male half of the population goes a little deeper than "it's a man 's world and men are causing all the world's problems", will be reflecting on the most fundamentally neglected question in our global conversation about gender - what about men?

The daily story we are fed about gender from politicians, the media, "fourth wave" feminists and celebrity-backed global institutions like UN Women is simply this - women HAVE problems and men ARE the problem.

If you rely on these sources for your understanding of what it means to be a man, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all men are perverts, paedophiles and murderers. As one journalist commented last year, men should embrace International Men's Day as an opportunity to take a day off from raping people!

Remember the men and boys you love

Yet we all have men and boys in our lives - sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, cousins, uncles, friends, colleagues and neighbours - who we know don't fit into this narrow view of what it means to be a man.

So how do we navigate the gap between the daily portrayal of men as patriarchal villains and the everyday experience of ordinary men and boys?

How do we make sense of the fact that most men's experience of modern manhood doesn't stack up with the public story that we are all powerful, privileged and oppressive?

When you look around the world, men and boys in over 99% of countries, die younger than women and girls; we account for four out of five violent deaths worldwide every year and two-thirds of suicides. In addition, fathers all over the globe are less involved in raising their children than mothers and more likely to be excluded from their kids lives, for all sorts of personal, cultural and political reasons.

Are we failing to help men and boys?

The same is true for boys who are more likely to die before reaching adulthood; more likely to experience violence and less likely to grow up surrounded by adult role models of the same sex. And in most modern economies, including the UK, we are failing to help boys achieve the same level of education as girls.

Does any if this mean we shouldn't be concerned about the issues that affect women and girls? Of course it doesn't!

In an ideal world it shouldn't be difficult to address the problems that men and boys face in addition to, not in opposition to, the problems that women and girls face.

Yet we are so brainwashed into the gendered beliefs that men have agency and women don't; that men act and women are acted upon; that men are always perpetrators and women are always the victims - that most of us struggle to make sense of the simple truth that women have problems and men have problems too!

So who cares about men and boys?

There is no denying we are affected by a whole range of issues - murder, street crime, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, premature death, homelessness, suicide, workplace death, unemployment, exclusion from school, separation from our kids - but then some argue that these are problems are self-inflicted by men (an argument that would be labeled "victim blaming" if applied to women).

So can men's problems be blamed on individual behaviour, or do we share some collective responsibility for helping every boy to get the best possible start in life and reach his full potential as a man?

As an obsessive observer of our cultural attitudes towards men and boys, I have come to the conclusion that we are collectively more tolerant of the harm that happens to men and boys.

Take cancer, for example, a disease that can affect men and women of all backgrounds. Even with the tache-growing success of Movember, we still spend less time, less money and less energy trying to prevent male cancer. We screen more women, vaccinate more girls and spend more money researching female cancers - is it any wonder more men end up dying of cancer?

The problems that men and boys face can potentially impact any one of us. Losing a loved one to suicide or cancer; or seeing a man we love suffer as he struggles with addiction or unemployment or separation from his kids, isn't a situation any of us would choose.

So today, on International Men's Day, we can all make a difference by considering how we can do a better job of supporting the men and boys in our lives and take time to acknowledge the contribution they make to our families, our lives and our communities.