Opinion: Why International Men’s Day?
As a leading bisexual activist I usually write on the issues that bi men face, but as November 19th is International Men’s Day, all men, no matter their sexuality, race, religion or politics must discuss the issues that impact us collectively.
It could be argued that men so rarely have the talking stick to discuss the unique issues facing their gender, so this International Men’s Day I wanted to examine the five issues I feel are worthy of discussion.
The cold hard truth is that Men in the UK aged 20 to 49 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause of death. To put this in a different way, in 2015, 75% of all the people who took their own lives in the UK were male.
Say what you want about imbalances between the sexes, when one gender is so depressed, so without hope that they are taking their own lives at such an alarming rate there can be no discussion about where our efforts need to be going.
This issue ties neatly in to the topic of men’s mental health – or the lack there of. Gillette recently found 45 per cent of men still say they fell unable to share their feelings because of their gender and over one in five (23 per cent) still feel pressure to be a ‘man’s man’.
With that in mind we must address this balance and figure out a way to better support men’s mental health. Not by making them feel bad for not crying. Not by insisting they need to embrace their feminine side because that’s what YOU want the answer to be. But by unbiasedly and empathetically listening to struggling men.
According to Homeless Link, men make up 71 per cent of all homeless people in the UK. The charity published the results of a detailed audit on the health and wellbeing of homeless men and women in the UK. In total, 27 different local authorities carried out surveys involving 3,355 homeless people.
Ask yourself how many times a man has asked you for change on the street or on the tube and now compare that to how many times a woman has asked. We must assess all the resources available to homeless men and ask if they truly meet the demand.
The issue of homelessness as a result of domestic violence is a particular cause for concern when looking at resources for men. BBC London reported, there are no refuges in London (and only 18 nationally) that serve men. That is despite a nearly 80 per cent increase in reports from male victims between 2012 and 2016.
Unequal legal system
It’s a sad reality to think that the legal system may treat men and women differently but that is indeed the case in the UK.
In 2010 the Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the Judicial Studies Board told Judges to be more lenient to women criminals when sentencing them.
It is believed that men in general are more likely to go to jail and for longer than women who commit the same crime. Women are more likely to be sentenced to fines and conditional discharges and less likely to be sentenced to custody, compared with men.
Whilst it’s very tricky territory to prove this point as every criminal case is individually evaluated on defendant and severity of crime, one report found that men received on average a sentence which was 64% longer than for women.
As a result, women make up just 5% of the overall prison population in the UK.
The idea that the law so blatantly penalises humans for having a penis is an outrageous injustice. The idea that men should be punished more severely than women is outdated and judges should be forced to show the same leniency to men as women when sentencing.
Stigma around sexual assault
Stigma still exists that suggests men love sex so much with everyone and anyone that they could never possibly be the victims of sexual assault because they always want it. This is damaging, it prevents victims from coming forward and we need to start making changes on this topic. One of the first places we can start is in the law itself.
In 2017 we still live in a country where we don’t legally recognise that an erect penis doesn’t mean consent. Any male will tell you an erection doesn’t mean we want sex. It is then surprising that in the eyes of the law men cannot legally be raped by women.
Physically, a woman cannot rape a man because of the how the offence is defined in law. Rape, in English law, requires a penis to be inserted into a woman’s vagina, anus or mouth without her consent and knowing that she does not so consent. Meaning a man can only be ‘sexually assaulted’ but never ‘raped’ by a woman.
The law also doesn’t protect young boys the same way it does girls. If a man has sexual intercourse with a minor that would satisfy the definition of rape as children under the age of 16 cannot lawfully consent to sexual intercourse. However, when a woman has sexual intercourse with a minor she is committing a serious sexual assault rather than raping her victim.
Unbelievably another legal issue, and what could be more serious than messing with people’s parental rights?
In UK law, all mothers will automatically have Parental Responsibility for a child, but not necessarily all fathers. Basically, a man can only have Parental Responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of birth or if he is listed on the birth certificate. That boils down to a man having to be ‘approved’ to be a father either by the mother or by a family court.
The real issue here is – what happens when parents separate? In 2015 a study found courts don’t discriminate against fathers. However Glen Poole analysed their research and found that was only because the bar in society is so low for the amount of contact we believe fathers need with their kids. Poole highlighted how the report tried to make the complete unequal contact a positive rather than a negative thing.
“According to the report, in 96 per cent of cases, the parents who apply to court for “access” to their children are men. In just under half of these cases, dads will win the right to have their children stay with them overnight, with the most common arrangement being every other weekend. Just under a quarter will be restricted to seeing their children in the daytime and the remaining quarter will be given little or no opportunity to be the daddy.”
International Men’s Day won’t receive the same attention as International Women’s day, Society has chosen its heroes and its villains. But I encourage you all to think about the topics I’ve discussed and look for ways to help going forward. Modern men shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their fathers or grandfathers, it’s time to start being compassionate and fight for the equal rights and treatment for men. To those who think men don’t struggle I say men just struggle in a different way. The truth is – man, woman, black, white, gay, bisexual we must seek out and fix inequalities wherever we find them. Especially in such a large area as gender.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own