It’s not very trendy being a man these days. We get paid more. We run more companies and countries. We make up all the world’s top chefs. We even take higher billing on film posters.
All things that people hate.
So why do we need a day all to ourselves? It’s easy being a man, right? “Surely every day is International Men’s Day?” you might’ve facetiously thought last week.
Well, in a month full of big issues and bigger issues, that is perhaps the biggest issue of all.
Why do we need a day where the favourable majority is celebrated? And that’s just it. This isn’t a day for celebration. It isn’t really a day for mourning either. In tone, it’s closer to that moment in International sport where the national anthem is being played. It’s about pride and self-reflection; taking stock of what’s gone, and what’s to come.
It would sound too dramatic to say man is dying. But man is certainly struggling; struggling for an identity, a role (in the workplace, the home, everywhere) and some direction. What does it mean to be a man now in 2015? And what will it mean for our sons and grandsons?
Suffice to say femininity enjoys equally fluid and evolving definitions, but it’s clear from the statistics we’re reading today that men – young men especially – feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction that demands attention and action.
Returning to the issue at hand, and to ask the question a third time, why do we need this specific day set aside to ask important questions of ourselves? Is it that we feel the need to ask permission from Dapper Laughs and some unholy lads council of Nuts magazine readers to actually talk about our feelings? Or heaven forbid, admit that everything isn’t all rosy?
Well, fuck them, they’re probably already distractedly counting down to the next Steak and Blowjob day.
The perception of English man as lowest common denominator – happy as long as there’s a pint in his hand and football on the box – is so out-dated that I can’t even think of suitable simile. Definitions and expectations are constantly in flux these days. Modern living is more complex than ever, and happiness can be discovered in many different forms all the time.
Happiness for me used to be finding a test press of a rare Photek record incorrectly labelled for £1 in a record store. Now it’s as simple as knowing my wife’s enjoying the dinner I made. Call me a sap, but I’ve always believed in setting realistic goals.
If your expectations are lined up against the entire spectrum of human existence, then of course you’re going to fall short. Think you’ve kissed the most beautiful girl in the world? Sorry, turns out there’s actually one more beautiful. Up for an award at work? Bad luck, someone had a slightly better year than you.
Every single one of these knocks adds up. Every disappointment takes its toll. No one gets away clean, as they say, but some people just remember that it’s fairly easy to dust yourself off and move on. And part of this process is saying you’re disappointed, or admitting you don’t know how to do it better next time. That’s more than healthy; it’s essential.
The current climate calls to mind the film The Purge where we build up everything to unleash in one reckless and misguided expression of the effect of the problem, rather than the cause. Purging emotion and disappointment and anguish as a cathartic art is one thing, but let’s take a moment to consider the cause. Well, one of the causes anyway, and a very specific current cause too.
It’s here I think that social media has something to answer for. This, and the second-cousin-once-removed of social media and sharing known as fear of missing out, or FOMO for the acronym brigade.
FOMO is a common description for feelings of dissatisfaction, but it’s really just insecurity. This can easily be replaced with acceptance. Acceptance that you can’t always be doing the coolest thing imaginable. Sometimes, you actually don’t want to be doing anything other than what you’re doing right now. To put it into context, imagine you’ve spent weeks getting a date, but then you spend the entire evening checking your Twitter feed, all in the vain hope – or fear? – that something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening. Feeling connected is one thing, but a deeper connection can always be found in real relationships, real feelings and the real world.
No one’s saying just be happy with what you’ve got; don’t be, always want more because you deserve more. But ‘more’ is about internal satisfaction, not external adulation, because if you rely solely on others for happiness then what happens when you’re by yourself?
Settling doesn’t have to be negative. Settling just means being happy with who we are, where we are and what we’re doing. It means not clinging on to the fear that only judges oneself by other people’s perceptions. Stop worrying about what other people think. Live in the present, because now is our only chance.
Forget about FOMO. And Forget about FOBY – that’s Fear of Being Yourself, in case you’re not keeping up.
International Men’s Day is about seeing yourself; not just looking, but really seeing. It’s about listening to your friends; not just hearing, but really listening. It’s about feeling your loved ones; not just touching, but really feeling.
Only through self-awareness do I believe we can be truly happy.
If after seeing, hearing and feeling, something isn’t right, then the answer’s simple. Or rather, the answer isn’t simple, but the path to the answer is simple: talk to someone. Tell someone that you’re pissed off or that you’re afraid or that you’re sad. Because the chances are, they are too. We all are. And you know what, that’s ok.
And this doesn’t have to be a grand disclosure or declaration. Any anxiety around sharing is eminently understandable. ‘Once burned, twice shy’ comes to mind. The idea of opening up and being rejected is clearly awful, but you don’t have to go out on a limb and risk everything. It can be small. It can be anonymous. I’d also like to suggest that anyone who rejects you for your honesty and candour is probably not someone who you especially want in your life anyway. Negativity can be self-perpetuating, and really speaks more about the person doing the rejecting that you.
I picture a 1980s Michael Douglas-style guy sneering that ‘talk is cheap,’ but I don’t see that as a negative. It’s the greatest gift in the world. Talk isn’t just cheap, it’s free, so take advantage and gas, chat and prattle away like your life depends on it, because in some cases, it really does.
Don’t just bottle it all up for one day.
So circle November 19th in your calendar, not to remember to purge next year, but to remember the day that your life changed.
Because International Men’s Day is a rallying cry. It’s a call to arms to the quiet and the disenfranchised to shout that things are going to be different from now on. No longer are we going to be content to let more of our brothers die.
So plant your flag in the ground, draw your line in the sand and underline your favourite idiom in the English phrase book, because the bigger issue is not just International Men’s Day but every single day that comes after.
Speaking out about depression is bigger than The X-Factor. Talking to your mate if his partner’s broken up with him is bigger than your football team. Chatting about social anxiety and drug addiction and abuse and changing careers and sexuality and self-acceptance is bigger than, well, everything.
So from now on, please, let’s make every day International Men’s Day.
And International Women’s Day. And International Somewhere-in-the-Middle-Because-Gender-isn’t-Binary Day.
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