The big day is Tuesday, November 19
There’s an International Men’s Day. It’s celebrated every year on November 19. I only just found this out. How come I didn’t know? I feel like I should have known. It’s a bit like finding out I have a second birthday I wasn’t aware of. Another whole day to celebrate… me.
My first thought is to plan the most stereotypically macho day possible. I’ll round up my friends, we’ll watch football and ride Harley-Davidsons, then eat steak and grow beards. I wonder if there is a dress code for International Men’s Day. Are we expected to look our best, wearing our finest suits, or not to make any effort at all?
Finding out the rules led me to the official International Men’s Day website. There it explains that this is a day to celebrate the positive values that men bring to the world, and acknowledge our role models (an excellent idea – but I still believe that Burt Reynolds Day should be its own separate thing). It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues facing men the world over, which can affect our mental and physical wellbeing.
This sounds like a worthy cause, so why doesn’t everyone know about it? The reason I can tell they don’t is because many will talk about it in jest. With International Women’s Day on March 8 – which tends to be more recognised – I will inevitably see it mentioned on social media. A chance to reflect on the achievements of women, it has also come to symbolise the progress made in women’s rights. Somebody will always comment, sarcastically, “So when is International Men’s Day, then?” It’s their way of saying that they think it’s somehow sexist to honour women and not, to the best of their knowledge, men. This always gets the response, “Every day is International Men’s Day!”
But it’s not every day. I’ve just found that out myself. It’s one specific day. November 19. And another reason people don’t realise is because it’s a lot newer than International Women’s Day, which has been around for more than a century. International Men’s Day only started in the late 1990s, on a very small scale at first, but it now involves 80 countries, including much of Europe, the US, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The date itself is the birthday of Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, a doctor from Trinidad and Tobago, who made the day official in 1999.
And there’s a reason it’s been gathering momentum. There has been growing awareness about men’s issues, such as mental health, toxic masculinity and the prevalence of male suicide. In the UK, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45, who are three times more likely to end their own lives than women. According to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 40 per cent of countries have more than 15 suicide deaths per 100,000 men; but only 1.5 per cent have a rate this high for women.
This issue has also brought others to light – men are generally not great at talking about their feelings and worries, and believe it’s a sign of weakness to do so. We’re not so adept at making the friends we need to talk to either. It’s easy when we’re younger, at school or college, or with a shared social activity, but as we get older, with the commitments of marriage, families and jobs, our priorities change and the opportunities fall away. So like women, we need a day to focus on the challenges we face, and return to it every year to keep the momentum going.
How can you celebrate International Men’s Day? It could be something as simple as reaching out to a friend, or getting a crew together in the spirit of companionship. The website makes suggestions for community events, and has certificates of appreciation to present to any men who deserve one. The day also coincides with Movember, which sees men growing facial hair throughout the month to promote the conversation around a variety of male issues – if you know somebody who is fundraising, be sure to make a donation.
We all need support and friendship, regardless of who we are and what we’re going through, male or female. Giving ourselves a platform, such as one dedicated day, which serves as a reminder and draws attention, can only be a good thing. Have a great November 19, wherever you are.