As promised back in my International Women’s Day post, I’m now writing about its counterpart. International Men’s Day is the day I’m posting this: the 19th of November. As noted in the previous post: some people would say that we don’t need this day, because the other 364 days of the year already serve that purpose. I say we do need it. In the first instance because that’s not the way it should be.
In the second instance I say we need it because the fact of the matter it is: Men have problems too. I hope we can accept that without feeling like it devalues women’s problems. It would be laughable to claim that men’s problems approach the number or severity of those which women face. So please don’t think I’m doing that. But we, men, do nevertheless have problems. Beyond that fact, many of the problems women face boil down to one thing: men. Us. That too is our problem.
I’m going to be talking directly to other men in this post. If that’s not you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t apply to you. Especially if there are men in your life whom you care about. Conversely, I don’t claim that I’m speaking for all men. Just that I’m speaking as one.
The evidence would suggest that men (as a population) don’t do right by women (as a population). So as not to belabour the point that I’m not talking about individuals: you can assume from this point on, that whenever I say “men” or “women” I’m talking about populations. The thing is: men don’t do right by men, either. We need to work on both. Perhaps making progress in the latter will help us with the progress we need to make in the former.
When I wrote the IWD post, I barely even had to think about which of women who’ve inspired me I’d talk about. It was obvious. As it turns out, I find it much harder to think of inspirational men to talk about on the same terms. I don’t want to underplay the role my father and both grandfathers have had in my life, because truly I would not be the person I am today without their support, their love, and most of all their example. Beyond them, though, it’s hard to think of anyone. There are historical figures I find inspirational. Men I’ve never met, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Alan Turning and Douglas Adams. But as I say: I’ve never met them. Their influence on me is indirect and vicarious.
Which raises the question: Where should we look for male role models in the here and now? Or if not the here, at least in the now? I’ll come back to this.
In the meantime, though. Let’s talk about Chester Bennington. The former lead singer of the rock band Linkin Park, who committed suicide earlier this year. You might not be a fan of his music. People certainly seemed to feel the need to tweet about it if they weren’t on the day he died. For me, he was one of my favourite singers. I have a real weakness for people who sing like it’s the only way to scare the demons away. The problem, though, is that sometimes the demons catch up.
Along with two of his band mates (and Dr Ken), Chester recorded an episode of “Carpool Karaoke” days before he died. His family asked that it be released. You should watch it. Not because it’s especially good, because in my opinion it’s not. It’s awkward and weird. The music and singing really aren’t that great. You should watch it because it’s a video of a man recorded days before he would take his own life. It’s there. In that video. Somewhere inside him. The thing which would kill him. And it’s almost impossible to see.
Even if you don’t care one iota about Chester Bennington, we need to talk about Chris Cornell. Robin Williams. The list goes on. I could list more but I just don’t want to.
Perhaps you know that rates of suicide are much higher for men than for women. At least, I hope you do. What you might not know, though, is that the rate of suicide attempts is much closer to even, even swinging the other way. The main reason for this, it seems, is the choice of method. Men chose methods which end their lives there and then. Women choose methods which take time and allow them to be saved, either by themselves or by others. Women’s suicide attempts tend to be of a kind which gets labelled as a “cry for help”.
Look at that. Turn your head to the side. Squint your eyes. Eventually it starts to look like what’s happening here is that men don’t cry for help. We don’t even ask for it. We should start.
So, let’s loop back around to the question of role models. The short answer is: I can’t tell you who your role models should be. But I can perhaps suggest some places to look. Tim Ferriss has spoken openly about his own battle with depression and suicide. My first suggestion of a place to look is in the guests of his podcast. Even if you don’t like Ferriss himself, his list of interviewees is phenomenal. Start, I’d say, with Sebastian Junger and perhaps his book Tribe.
Masculinity gets a bad rap. It’s easy (and sometimes apt) to attach the word “toxic” as prefix. After a while you can’t think the first without at least part of your mind adding the second. But for men, masculinity is basically unavoidable. Toxic masculinity is bad. But so, I think, is toxic lack of masculinity. The hard part is figuring out the right amount and, more importantly, the right kind. The hard part is figuring out what exactly that looks like. I’m honestly not certain that I can even give a satisfying definition for the word.
Another place to look is The Art of Manliness blog and podcast. It’s dedicated, more or less, to figuring that out.
That’s all I have for now really. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of the issues here. I'm sorry it's so disjointed. Happy International Men’s Day, everyone.