You might be surprised to know that the inaugural International Men’s Day celebrated it’s 14th anniversary this November 19. This year’s theme – “Keeping Men and Boys Safe” – is undeniably important. However, I’m guessing you haven’t seen anyone walking around with blue ribbons pinned to their lapels. And, no, there wasn’t much widespread media coverage. In fact, I’m willing to make the assertion that if it weren’t for reading this entry, the majority of you would still be very unaware this event even existed.
The men’s rights movement is controversial and almost unknown, though recently brought to attention by David Benatar’s book The Second Sexism. But too much of the reporting on the issues it seeks to raise awareness of is biased, partial or just plain wrong. What little reporting you may find on International Men’s Day, for example, is largely ignorant. Our Western media unsurprisingly has an inherent interest in stories concerning white people, but it can easily turn to short-sightedness.
Tom Chivers of The Telegraph UK made the following comments on International Men’s Day in March last year:
“Obviously we realise that the white man is the most oppressed creature in the world, cruelly deprived of as many as 10 per cent of boardroom positions and 25 per cent of seats in the House of Commons. And we must fight without cause against the injustice of it all”.
Even taking into account how “very briefly” Chivers is trying to encapsulate this issue, the article is so ill-researched, so one-sided, so crowd-pleasingly derisive, it calls into question the quality of all professional journalism, particularly from the Telegraph. Other than displaying bitter sarcasm and oversimplifying an entire movement, Chivers has neglected a crucial element of Interational Men’s Day – the International.
One might wonder how this oversight could have happened, given that the banner image for International Men’s Day features men of many races, and, of course, the title should be a dead give-away. Perhaps the most feasible explanation is that Chivers, in an attempt to reduce the case for International Men’s Day, found that only mentioning the plight of the white, privileged male was more conducive to his point. A multicultural image would have confused the stereotype Chivers was trying to evoke.
It would not have helped to his point, for example, to acknowledge the largest men’s rights group in the world, the Save Indian Family Foundation. Among other things, this South Asian organisation campaigns against the misuse of anti-dowry laws which dictate that if a man’s wife should die within the first seven years of marriage he is presumed guilty of murdering her or driving her to suicide. Obviously this is a very complex and contentious issue that requires exhaustive research – but, outside of India, the media has little interest in it at all.
In nearly all reporting on the men’s rights movement, the trend continues – whether intentionally or accidentally. Overseas initiatives are ignored in favour of making a joke out of the struggles of white men who exorbitantly ask for equality when it comes to child custody, divorce hearings and gender-specific health initiatives.
Tory Shepherd from The Punch was also direct in her approach. Her article, “I am angry white man, hear me roar” (the title says enough) argues that the “movement sees males – generally, straight, middle-aged white males – as the new oppressed. Seriously.”
I should also point out that many of the points in Shepherd’s article are reasonably argued and validated. But the central issue with these articles is the universal neglect of male-specific issues in countries outside of the Western sphere.
Secondly, we must ask ourselves a serious question – what is so wrong with the media (or anybody else for that matter) supporting the rights of the 21st century male? Are the demands of the men’s right’s movement so undue that the media must dismiss them completely?
It would seem that even if the overwhelming majority of men’s rights activists are sane, rational human beings (I think we can safely assume they are) their voices are drowned out in the media by ludicrous stunts, vitriolic on-line rants and the occasional offensive demonstration.
New Statesman used the tirades of on-line extremists to support their angles, quoting “fake boobs are a sexual advertisement” and “a single mother is a woman who in most cases chose to have, or raise a child without a father. This demonstrates terrible, selfish values.”
Of course, extremists do often act as fodder for journalists intent on tearing any “movement” down. The Vancouver branch of the the men’s rights movement attracted a little negative media attention lately by plastering posters with controversial messages around their neighbourhood.
Also garnering some media interest was the demonstration led by Fathers 4 Justice, but for all the wrong reasons. As Tim Samuels from BBC Radio Five’s Men’s Hour said, “the men’s movement seems to be dismissed as blokes scaling buildings dressed as superman. Whereas the women’s movement is given credibility”. While it’s all good and well to report on these organised events with an observational neutrality, the media has a greater responsibility to see past stunts and extremists to focus on the core of the matter, which is hardly ever addressed.
I would also argue that the media reflects and constructs notions that men, being the privileged sex, do not need standing up for in any respect. Despite so many men being poor, uneducated, unhealthy and unemployed, the media likes to believe that they do indeed ‘have it all’. This kind of mentality is apparent in Lois Alter Mark’s article from The Huffington Post, where she writes:
“Do we celebrate International Men’s Day? No, we don’t. Because, when it comes down to it, everyday is International Men’s Day.”
Not to downplay the struggles of women, but men are viewed as having positions of such power in the media that male-specific issues seem increasingly petty. Journalists are less and less likely to stand up for the dignity of men. In one case, the male genitalia in particular is subject to both ridicule and tolerance of ridicule by the media. The RTA’s “Speeding: No one thinks big of you” campaign, for example, has been largely praised by the media despite directly relating the size of a man’s penis to his personality. If the campaign had targeted women in the same way, I wonder what would have happened.
We could ask ourselves whether or not George Negus’ comments on Victoria Cross winner Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith’s sexual potential would have lost more status if he had targeted a woman. Perhaps such comments are becoming more acceptable in the media? Negus, a seasoned journalist, certainly felt it was appropriate at the time and maybe that is all the evidence we need. Sharon Osbourne and her pals on The Talk got away with calling a woman’s crime of mutilating her husband’s penis “quite fabulous” and “hysterical”. Can you imagine if a men’s panel described an incidence of female genital mutilation in the same way? Unsurprisingly, the media barely called attention to it, and each of the women kept their jobs.
While his readers were largely unsympathetic, Peter Lloyd of The Daily Mail wrote about the pressures the media puts on men to have the perfect package.
“They are always too small, too thin or just plain ugly, irrespective of how they actually are. Young boys are told that size matters, while girls are counselled over size zero models in magazines.”
I have to reinforce that the media has a greater responsibility to ensure that both boys and girls do not grow up with such warped points of views – and this is just one example. In essence, we don’t have to belittle the needs of either gender to support the rights of one, or even both. Gender equality is still more of a problem for females, but that doesn’t make it any less of a issue for men. The lack of fair reporting simply supports misandry and inequality among us, dismissing many male-specific issues and making it okay to be sexist.
These are our fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, partners, boyfriends, uncles, nephews, cousins, grandparents, friends and neighbours. It’s the media’s responsibility to represent their issues fairly, even if they are in the privileged majority.
A/N: I wrote this piece last year, so the references are a little outdated. However, the message is still relevant! Feminism means gender equality for ALL!