March 8th every year, International Women’s Day. And every year without fail Facebook and Twitter timelines fill up with – “why don’t we have International Men’s Day!!!?!” – well we do, it was on Saturday.
All of us have multiple identities, and for me being male is one of those – but what does it mean to be a man today, and what are our issues we would highlight on international men’s day.
When we look on the national stage we have plenty of male figures to look up to. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson – all towering figures who have reached those dizzying heights by belittling and degrading others, male or female.
Compare this to some celebrated figures on the current and recent world stage who act as role models for women – Hillary Clinton, who received more votes for President of the United States than any white man in history, Harriet Harman, whose list of achievements for women in the UK is endless, Angela Merkel going for her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany or Amal Clooney the British-Lebanese lawyer, activist, and author who recently took on a human trafficking survivor as a client in a groundbreaking legal case to prosecute ISIS generals for genocide.
Is there no huge swell of activity on international men’s day because being male is not a liberation cause? I am not oppressed for my gender in the way that many are for their race, disability, sexuality or religion. But this does not mean that men do not have specific issues that need addressing.
Last month researchers at the Centre for Men’s Health Leeds Beckett University published a study commissioned by Leeds City Council on the state on Men’s Health in the city. Men are more likely to die young than women, suicide rates for men are 5 times higher, and young boys are less likely to achieve a good level of basic education and higher grade GCSEs compared to their female peers.
How to respond to this presents a challenge, those politicians who have entered the fray with men’s issues at the core of their politics haven’t done so in the spirit of helping those vulnerable men – they have done so as part of an anti-feminist rhetoric.
Phillip Davis MP said that “men have lost their voices” – and he’s right. As an elected representative he has been so distracted by criticising women politicians for standing up for women, that he’s forgotten to stand up for any men himself.
As a MP, Phillip Davis has supported huge cuts to local Government. In Leeds we are directly responsible for Public Health – we can directly affect the state of men’s health. But while Mr Davis MP is waxing lyrical about men’s issues, he votes to take over £314 million from Leeds, directly detrimental to men’s health. It’s hypocritical.
We have had men right at the top of the political world since the beginning of time – and these men’s issues have not been dealt with. What does that tell us? We must demand better from those with power.
Now – it’s not that I think that women can only represent women and men can only represent men – but it is a second rate politician who spends their time pointing at others and saying – ‘it’s their fault things are like this’ rather than getting stuck in and resolving a problem themselves. This attitude of blaming others seems to be in vogue at the moment, be it Mexicans, Eastern Europeans or feminists. It’s incorrect and frankly lazy.
Without feminism my sisters would not be equal to me – and I do not want to achieve what I achieve because of certain advantages society lends to my gender – I want to get there on my own merit, because of what I think, say and do.
As a male politician in Leeds, I celebrate the fact that our Leeds Labour Group is now majority women (32 women, 31 men). It demonstrates a fairness to all 63 of us, ensuring that we who govern the city of Leeds, represent the city of Leeds. It does not diminish me as a man to be treated equally – it enhances it.
So international men’s day, let’s look at what we can do as a city to address these problems specifically facing men. But nobody’s rights and representation should come at the expense of another – and it is a poor politician who will tell you otherwise.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor – Headingley Ward