by Shane Thomas

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Today is International Men’s Day.

According to the organisation’s website, International Men’s Day is, “…an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them.”

While well-intentioned, I find any type of self-congratulatory discourse around men very troubling. Mainly because I don’t think there’s much to celebrate.

Praising individual contributions from men is fine, but I fail to see how that – on its own – will dismantle patriarchy. If International Men’s Day isn’t trying to address this toxic structure, then what is the point of it?

Keeping Pain Hidden

In the ongoing struggle for a just world, the word patriarchy is used a lot. But far too many men either ignore it, or think it’s something that doesn’t concern them, because they’re, “one of the good ones”.

In her essay, Understanding Patriarchy, bell hooks wrote, “The word “patriarchy” just is not a part of their [men’s] normal everyday thought or speech. Men who have heard and know the word usually associate it with women’s liberation, with feminism, and therefore dismiss it as irrelevant to their own experiences.”

Women, meanwhile, have to follow rules that are onerous, contradictory, and impossible to live by. Melissa McEwan recently spoke to this absurdity, incisively stating that women are expected to “decorate the world”.

Personally, I think – to varying degrees – we’re all in some kind of pain. Patriarchy dictates men are never allowed to show theirs. When women do so, they are attacked, ignored, and/or ridiculed – especially those with little access to other forms of societal privilege.

Paying An Exclusionary Cost

When looking at why this is such an oft used tactic, former NFL player, Don McPherson said, “Masculinity is a performance. It is a performance that men perform for each other to display this very artificial sense of who we are as people. We don’t raise boys to be men, we raise not to be women”.

Ever notice how – unless referring to a woman – the word “masculine” is never evoked in a negative context? Looking at the slew of misogynistic, misogynoiristic, and transmisogynistic abuse on social media, one wonders if men are trying to essentially punish women for not being born men, for not being born superior? Is this the cost of femininity? And if so, why should femininity have to come with any inherent cost?

While International Men’s Day intends to focus on positive examples of manhood, I feel like that should be secondary to investigating where we’re going wrong. Which first needs men to admit that there’s a lot (collectively) that we’re doing wrong.

To return to bell hooks’s work, in We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, she states, “the possession of money and the things it can buy will make him a man in the eyes of his family and society”, and, “as long as the will to dominate is there, the context for violence is there also.”

The point about domination is a salient one. It can turn interactions between men and women into a competitive arena. A place where the only barometer of worth for a woman is to be sexually desired by a cisgender man. Of course, any woman who doesn’t reach this measure is to be denigrated for failing in their womanly “duties”[1].

One additional factor that is not spoken about enough by the mainstream is the way gay, trans, and even effeminate men are erased by this kind of discourse.

When Barack Obama initiated his ‘My Brother’s Keeper‘ programme, he received warranted criticism for eliding women. Yet, does Obama’s plan to help young men of colour, “reach their full potential”, include those who aren’t cisgender, straight, and raising nuclear families?

If men are to combat patriarchal thoughts, deeds, and practices, we first have to try to understand why they are so prevalent.

Avoiding Loneliness

One key issue is sex. It remains a paramount measure of manhood, to an extent that borders on the desperate[2]. While at face value, the endgame is sheer voluminous conquest, Michael Kimmel wrote, “Sexual pleasure is rarely the goal in a sexual encounter; something far more important than mere pleasure is on the line: our sense of ourselves as men.”

Sex is also seen as being mutually exclusive from love – in all its myriad forms – rather than as an adjuvant.

CLEARKS 2The Kevin Smith movie, Clerks 2 is instructive in this regard. The denouement is Randall telling Dante, “You’re my best friend, and I love you.” Which should be a pretty quotidian thing to say. But it’s a statement that is revelatory. This simple act is dragged out for 10 minutes, because a cisgender, straight man saying to another that he loves him is seen as an earth-shattering declaration (and still has to be couched in bigoted language).

If sex is at one end of the manhood spectrum, I think that loneliness is at the other. Street harassment[3] is an ongoing blight, but Mychal Denzel Smith observed that a large aspect of its proliferation is do with men seeking the approval of other men.

To question the patriarchal paradigm is to risk ridicule, and eventual exile from one’s male peers. Which is regarded as the worst penalty of all. The ends always justify the means, as long as ‘the guys’ think highly of me.

And when men take this poison, and pass it around among each other, patriarchy doesn’t just manifest as an illness. It becomes a contagion.

Toni Morrison once memorably asked a series of questions into what a defines a person, in regards to white supremacy. “Are you any good?”, she asks. “Are you still strong?” “Are you still smart?” “Do you still like yourself?” For progress to occur, these are questions men – me included – have to ask themselves when looking at how they mediate with patriarchy.

Great Expectations

There’s no good that comes from the suffocating paradigm of what makes a man. All patriarchy does is ensure that men aren’t fit for purpose[4].

Its expectations are for men to be in absolute control[5]. Control over our interactions with others; our careers; our abilities as friends, lovers and parents. There should be nothing that a man can’t handle, no situation he can’t find a solution to. This helps to explain the popularity of characters like James Bond or Don Draper.

The truth is we’re not actually expected to be men at all. We’re expected to be gods. Only a deity could live up to these demands, and when we fall short, violent reactions towards those we see as “less than”, or self-loathing behaviour towards ourselves – such as suicide – is the end result.

Well, I have no interest in being a god. I just want to be a man. Multi-layered, unsure, imaginative, broken, and vulnerable. Until these qualities are regarded as acceptable aspects of manhood, there’s very little that’s worth commemorating today

[1] – Eurocentric, slim, cisgender, with curves in specific places, is the ostensible goal.
[2] – This also ensures asexual men are trampled over by patriarchy.
[3] – Leni Kauffman is one of many women of colour to depict this in comic-strip form.
[4] – Tell the truth. Did you think “not all men” when you read that sentence?
[5] – A good illustration of this comes in the subject of the Arctic Monkeys song, Brianstorm

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

15 thoughts on “International Men’s Day: What Are We Celebrating?

  1. I read the Bell Hooks piece to which you linked and I am convinced what is really happening here is a class of world-views (a philosophical dispute, ultimately). First, Hooks’ article, in my view, gives a distorted view of what Patriarchy is about. It would be like trying to define the USA only by the sins she has committed (e.g., slavery) and not mentioning the good principles contained in her constitution, especially the Bill of Rights (surely, no one can deny that there are at least some good principles in our constitution). Second, Hooks also adds non-essential items into patriarchy like white supremacy, failing to note that Patriarchy existed among all the cultures of the world. Thirdly, her view about eradicating gender roles has philosophical implications. All lifeforms on this planet have a nature with specific properties and a role to play in the ecosystem. Does Hooks want a metaphysical free-for-all where sex and gender become whatever we want it to be? The clash here is with a Theistic view of the world. If God exists then all of reality is, unfortunately for Hooks, run by Patriarchy. However, there is no gender in God, so perhaps the better word would be Hierarchy. The good news is that God is perfectly wise and Good so it is a Wise and Benevolent hierarchy where the things of nature are ordered for their good. Male and Female do have some roles (it’s not a total free for all) in this system. But I would argue that those roles are not extremely rigid or the kind of abusive sinful things Hooks recounts from her childhood. Humans are created in the image of God and therefore they should try to act like God, with love and virtue and wisdom–that is something all fathers and mothers should contemplate as they run their households. But what is hooks alternative–a world without any hierarchy? That would be anarchy and anarchy is bad. I find it interesting that her article was published by the “Louisville Anarchist Federation.” Peace.

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    1. Sadly, I have to disagree with your points, as your comments indicate you see things through very narrow binaries. There’s no reason why a world without hierarchy would immediately result in anarchy. The problem with pre-determined gender roles, or the problem with any pre-determined societal roles is that it can restrict a person’s potential happiness and fulfilment. That’s the problem with patriarchy. It tells people who they should be, instead of a person having the freedom to determine who they are.

      Also, I understand if your viewpoints is influenced by religious belief, but I’m not religious, so bringing that into the argument isn’t really going to have any effect on my thinking.

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      1. Perhaps you don’t understand that anarchy and hierarchy are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. “Anarchy” literally means “having no ruler.” The prefix “an” negates “archos” (which means ruler). But if there is some person or persons who govern other persons then we have some kind of hierarchy whether it be a monarchy or an oligarchy, etc. So a world without any hierarchy (of any sort) would be a world with anarchy. This is simple logic, but perhaps you reject logic as a tool of patriarchal oppression. However, if you reject logic then you undermine all of your own arguments. I encourage you to spend more time critically examining your own notion of happiness and fulfillment, which seems to me to be very relativistic. That is, you describe happiness as if it is only some subjective feeling or preference that each individual person determines for himself or herself. This is a view that seems very similar to atheistic existentialism. Please try to be open to that fact that if you are mistaken about God’s existence that has important philosophical implications, especially with respect to human nature and happiness/fulfillment. Note my use of the conditional “if” (because my point is philosophical not religious): If God created this world then God has endowed things with natures and thus the fulfillment of those natures is not something purely subjective or relative. These are things you should consider. Peace be with you.

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        1. ” I encourage you to spend more time critically examining your own notion of happiness and fulfillment”

          “This is simple logic, but perhaps you reject logic as a tool of patriarchal oppression.”

          I’m not sure of your intention, but your words are extremely insulting, condescending, and smack of concern trolling. I’m fine with you disagreeing. I’m not fine with you addressing me like I’m an 8 year old who knows nothing. You don’t get to act like you’re playing nice just because you add, “Peace be with you.” at the end of a comment. Don’t presume to know what’s in my head.

          Now that we’ve got that cleared up, back to your points:

          – ““Anarchy” literally means “having no ruler.”

          Thanks for that. It’s not as if I could have found the definition of English words anywhere else.

          – “But if there is some person or persons who govern other persons then we have some kind of hierarchy whether it be a monarchy or an oligarchy, etc.”

          And this relates to my piece, how? What are you suggesting? That it’s perfectly fine for men to govern women? At no point do you address patriarchy in your response. That’s what the piece is about. If you think patriarchy is fine, then stop with the sophistry, and just say so. If not, then what exactly is your point?

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          1. I don’t think it’s accurate to describe my post as extreme or insulting. It certainly was not meant to be either. My post is quite tame by internet standards (unfortunately, there are many absolutely disgusting posts filled with hate and vitriol on the internet and mine is not one of them). I only gave the etymology of anarchy to defend one of my points more clearly and to respond to your characterization of me “see[ing] things through very narrow binaries”–which I suppose I could have taken as an insult, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt. (Often those who mention narrow binaries to me usually are postmodernists who reject logic; that’s why I said “perhaps” you reject logic.)

            The whole point of my replies was to challenge to Hook’s view that (1) patriarchy should be completely obliterated and (2) that gender roles are purely subjective/socially constructed. I think her view is founded on atheism (and it’s not obvious that atheism is true). I tried to briefly sketch how her views are incompatible with Theism. That was the point of “If God created this world then God has endowed things with natures and thus the fulfillment of those natures is not something purely subjective or relative.” Indeed, if I had more space I would argue that men and women are equal (because they are spiritual beings) but, physically speaking, there are some differences that will affect (at least in some ways) their roles. Through women new human life comes into the world; and women tend to be better nurturers than men when it comes to caring for young children. As such I think it is a mistake when feminists try to discourage women who want to stay at home and raise their kids. For example, Simone de Beauvoir (an atheist existentialist) once told Betty Friedan: “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”

            So, in the end I am trying to suggest you (and others) might be overlooking a better understanding of Patriarchy, one based on God (though, as I said, this kind of Patriarchy is better called “Hierarchy” since sex and gender do not exist in God). So against those who would want to obliterate patriarchy completely, I would argue that what society needs is the right kind of Patriarchy–which, again, I think we should call Hierarchy because the essence of “archy” is not about sex or gender but is about governing/ruling/ordering society to an end that is good. I would argue that the end to which society should be ordered is the flourishing of all persons, which excludes the oppression of women, but which requires us to understand the nature of human persons and the differences between men and women. Lest, I be accused of trolling I will end my replies with this one.

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            1. You may not have intended to offend, but the tone of your previous comment (not this most recent one, btw) did.

              Your viewpoint may be influenced through the prism of religion, which is fine, and something you have the right to do, even if it’s not something that has an impact on my thinking. My only problem is if such a viewpoint is extrapolated as a template for everyone.

              I agree with Hooks that patriarchy should be obliterated. There’s no such thing as “right” patriarchy. And feminism isn’t about women not being stay at home mothers. Feminism just states that women don’t have to be stay at home mothers. Those two things aren’t the same.

              Someone who would discourage a women for raising children at home (assuming that it’s what they want to do) isn’t really what feminism is about. By the same token, no woman should be shamed for choosing not to have children, or to have kids and also have a career.

              And do these supposed differences which you state exist between men and women include transmen and transwomen? Or those who identify as non-binary. Where do they fit in?

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              1. I said I would not reply, but since you raised some more questions (I assume with an expectation that I would answer), I will give a brief reply and then lay this topic to rest because (as I said in my first post) what we have here is a clash of world-views, which are ultimately irreconcilable.

                First, there are a portion of feminists who are against wives staying home to raise kids. Besides de Beauvoir, here are two more examples: Ellen Herman, who said “… the family – especially, the western patriarchal, bourgeois, and child-centered, nuclear family – as the most important source of women’s oppression” and Heidi Hartmann, who wrote: “The crucial elements of patriarchy as we currently experience them are heterosexual marriage, female child rearing and house work, women’s economic dependence on men.”

                Second, you keep saying that I am invoking religion, but my degree is in philosophy. There is a branch of philosophy that discusses God using reason alone, i.e., metaphysics (also called “natural theology”). It is my view that there are good rational arguments for the existence of God–that is, religion and revelation (e.g, the Bible) are not required for such arguments.

                Third, you say your problem is “if such a [religious] viewpoint is extrapolated as a template for everyone.” But realize (1) if I can argue for my position without religion (as I maintained above) then I certainly can make my point in the public square, and (2) I actually think it is your view that faces the problem you raise–that is, if your view is extrapolated as a template for everyone. After all you just declared as an article of your belief that “There’s no such thing as “right” patriarchy.” But how do you know this to be true? Where is your argument for that? As my replies above indicate, it is quite possible that God exists and created the things of this world with natures, roles, and purposes and if that is true then it would be a fact that there is a correct (Godly) Patriarchy. To deny this possibility, you would have to argue that what I am saying about God is impossible. That is, you would have to argue for atheism. I don’t think there is a good argument for atheism and I think it would be horrible if secular rulers tried to force an atheist template on everyone. If anything, a study of history and the cultures of this planet shows that no civilization was ever founded on atheism. Even the USA had a Theistic justification and foundation, expressed in the Declaration of Independence when it talks about us assuming “among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” and that humans are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

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  2. A day to discuss serious issues facing men like drastically disproportionate incarceration rates, lack of funding for prostate cancer and a complete lack of recognition and protection for male rape victims… and you want to talk about non-issues like “street harassment” and the radical feminist “patriarchy” theory, which puts the entire blame for all gender inequality in the world exclusively on the shoulders of a minority of the global population.

    This is why feminists are characterised as hateful towards men. This is exactly why an International Men’s Day is needed in the first place. You should be ashamed of this article.

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      1. I see the overall point you’re making (privileged people having a day to highlight their issues), but I’m wary of stating that because one is wealthy, it makes them immune from other societal oppression. A wealthy woman can still be victim to patriarchy. Or racism, as was the case with Oprah Winfrey in Switzerland

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    1. If you want to talk about issues like male rape or funding for prostate cancer, then yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how part of these problems are caused by the harmful mindset that makes it unacceptable for men to show themselves to be (physically or emotionally) vulnerable.

      If only we had a word to sum up that mindset. Like… I don’t know, patriarchy?

      Also, the theory of patriarchy was developed based on actual praxis. People’s real-life experiences. You realise gravity is also a “theory”. Are you going to dismiss that as well?

      If you honestly think patriarchy puts the blame solely on men’s shoulders, then you clearly don’t know what it means. It’s an accepted structure of laws, behaviours and cultural norms. There’s a link in my piece to an essay called “Understanding Patriarchy”. That might be a good place for you to start. But then, I’m sure you know that. After all, what kind of person would leave a comment without reading this piece properly?

      Oh, that street-harassment “non-issue”. Have you had to deal with street-harassment as a regular part of your life? If not, how can you even claim to talk with any authority about it? When you say “non-issue”, do you really mean, “It’s not an issue for me”? That argument has credence only if you’re the sole person living on this planet.

      Feminists don’t hate men. Feminists hate a structure that unfairly privileges men. Case in point, if we went out on the street, did a straw poll with 100 men at random, and put your case against my case, I suspect the majority would agree with what you’re saying.

      Now that, is truly shameful

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    2. Right, but the thing is, this is not a competition. Genders aren´t racing to see who can tell the saddest story. Men have problems, and a lot of them are tied to the social sistem we live in, which is what they talk about when they say “patriarchy”. Today is the day to adress those problems. Maybe instead of trying to win the Tragic and Unfair olympics, we could just try to be better.

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