International Women’s Day: It is time for men to stop asking 'but what about Men's Day' and join the struggle for equality

How do men perceive International Women's Day? Do most men look at it as a day to introspect, and a day to remind themselves of the fact that they do have a significant role to play in this battle for equality? Sadly not.

Rashmi Guha Ray March 08, 2019 11:57:00 IST
International Women’s Day: It is time for men to stop asking 'but what about Men's Day' and join the struggle for equality
  • Do most men look at Women's Day as a day to remind themselves of the fact that they do have a significant role to play in this battle for equality?

  • Not only globally, even in India, there is indeed a growing tribe of men who are willing to carry forward the discussion on women's rights all year

  • The United Nations' declared day for women often gets lost in the quagmire of urban stereotypes of privilege

For Arka Dutta, a writer who has no qualms about calling himself a feminist, 8 March is the day that reminds him how "we should have behaved for the past seven thousand years or more."

This is a thought worth mulling over while scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, both of which are flooded with the myriad ways in which one can "celebrate" women.

How do men perceive International Women's Day? Do most men, like Dutta, look at it as a day to introspect, and a day to remind themselves of the fact that they do have a significant role to play in this battle for equality? Sadly not.

For a lot of men, this is the day on which they go around social media asking, "But what about International Men's Day?" This, by the way, is on 19 November, and centres around discussions on critical issues such as men's health.

International Womens Day It is time for men to stop asking but what about Mens Day and join the struggle for equality

An elderly woman smells the flowers at a street market on the eve of the International Women's Day in Minsk, Belarus. AP

An invigorating conversation with a non-Indian male friend brought interesting perspectives. He chooses to look at this day as an allocated time when all important issues concerning women's rights are reflected upon and brought to the fore via mainstream media. "I personally love women leaders and entrepreneurs making their views heard, views that are otherwise often restricted only to a niche audience," he says.

Not only globally, even in India, there is indeed a growing tribe of men who are willing to carry forward the discussion on women's rights, not only on this day but all through the year.

However, the innumerable "wishes" on 8 March, mainly from men, who thank women for their "love", "passion", "sacrifice" and "service" (no idea what), and say that we are yet to embrace equality as a concept and merely pay lip service on this day by extolling women through all those stereotypes that we are fighting to break every single day.

A quick glance through social media websites reveal that for a huge percentage of men, this day is a chance to remind women of their prescribed roles and thanking them for it.

A message thanked women for their "smiles", "touches", "anger" and "tantrums" and several others praised them for their "power", vaguely reminiscent of the qualities we endow our female goddesses with.

The enthusiasm about the day is markedly missing among a lot of men who feel "left out" and "discriminated against" on this day. We are all familiar with generic comments on social media complaining about the lack of media coverage of International Men's Day or bemoaning the "excessive attention" women garner on 8 March.

While we have every right to complain about denying men responsibility in the fight for equality and reducing this day to a celebration of stereotypes, we would do well to realise that popular culture and commercialism have inflicted as much harm as reluctant men. With our purses bursting at the seams with flashy pink coupons offering discounts at expensive spas and beauty parlours, and online shopping sites doling out lucrative deals to "celebrate" womanhood, we have buried its history under a male-dominated consumerist narrative.

Little mention is made of the long history of working women's and suffragettes' struggles and the contribution of women since the beginning of the 20th century to the fight for equal rights, a fight which we are still far from winning.

The United Nations' declared day for women often gets lost in the quagmire of urban stereotypes of privilege. Men often appropriate the day to remind women of their roles as mothers, sisters and caregivers, who will be lauded only for their sacrifices.

In a year when a short documentary on periods (Period. End of Sentence), brought India back to the Academy Awards map, it is probably a little tragic that we still have to write articles on men's perception of this day. Unpaid domestic labour, menstrual hygiene, the right to choose, recognition of rape as war crime – the fight for women's rights, especially in third world countries, still has a long way to go.

Yet, in the urban sphere we are placated by patronising men who believe in only as much women's rights as they are comfortable to cede.

It is high time we, as women, realise that this day needs to be commemorated to remind ourselves how far we have come in this fight and how much distance there is still to be covered. Even though popular female voices are making themselves heard across different channels, we still have kept men as the benchmark for our achievement.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever to serve the US Congress and who is known for her bold feminist statements, was quoted by Huffpost as having said, "The idea that a woman can be as powerful as a man is something that our society cannot deal with. But I am as powerful as a man and it drives them crazy."

The fact that even a youth icon like Cortez, who inspires millions of girls and battles online abusers every day, feels the need to be compared to men to underline her strength, shows how influential and all-pervading male narrative of women's rights is.

Amidst endless debates on whether one day is enough for women or if the day is just a ploy by radical feminists to vilify men, it is essential to remember that 8 March's significance lies in its long history of working-class women's struggles and protests against war. And also that this struggle shall continue, whether all men are comfortable or not. It is high time women realise that this fight is theirs to take forward without sparing a thought on what men want.

(The writer is a research assistant at the department of politics of the University of York)

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