Helping men and boys live longer, happier, healthier lives.
Hundreds of thousands of men commit suicide every year. Men die sooner than women, and poor men die sooner than rich men. Poor education is linked to poor health. In rich countries, boys under perform girls, and are less likely to become educators themselves.
Ending violence against men and boys is challenging, not least because championing men’s causes is met more often with defensive backlash than support. Stereotypes of masculinity define men as aggressors, not victims, when the reality is not nearly so black and white.
“It is all too easy to overlook the struggles men face every day,” says The Good Men Project Editor in Chief Noah Brand. “We’re considered the default, normal human gender, which creates a curious invisibility for manhood as a gender. Combine that with a masculine ideal of stoic, silent suffering, and it becomes actively toxic.”
Violence against men in prison, men who are traumatized by childhood abuse, and higher rates of male suicide, are just some of the more extreme manifestations of violence against men and boys that are relatively ignored, in comparison with the visibility of comparable campaigns for the safety and health of women. A California-based Male Abuse Awareness Week campaign in its tenth year is active in defense of men. Petra Luna of the P. Luna Foundation says, “I still find myself having to explain to people why we care about abused males.”
Men face “lower life expectancy, difficulty accessing mental health services, educational disadvantages, lack of male role models and tolerance of violence against men and boys,” according to one official IMD website.
Yet concern for men and women, boys and girls, is not a zero-sum game. Although the particulars vary, all of us are subjects of a violent society that we did not create, but which we must work together to repair. Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh, the founder of International Men’s Day, says that the event has concentrated from its inception in 1999 on global issues including the environment, health, improved gender relations, and better male role models, as well as for solidarity within the men’s movement. This year on Monday, November 19, International Men’s Day will be observed in more than sixty countries, under the theme of “Helping men and boys live longer, happier, healthier lives.”
Every day, individual men make sacrifices for their families and communities. In the UK, The Green Parent, a progressive parenting magazine, recommends 5 Ways to Honour Men in Your Life. We can start by saying, “Thank you.”
In Philadelphia, organizations that support men and boys came together in observance of International Men’s Day. The City of Philadelphia and The Institute for the Development of African American Youth kicked off observance on Saturday with an event that gave individuals an opportunity to meet leaders from organizations that help Philadelphia area men and boys: by providing legal services to incarcerated fathers, mentoring and rehabilitation for youth, and teaching fatherhood skills, as well as through other focused efforts.
“We suffer and we hurt in ways we never speak of, waiting for someone else to be the first to point it out,” says Brand. “We can’t keep that up. It’s killing us.”
So what can you do to support men and boys?
Begin by educating yourself on the stereotypes that adversely affect men’s health. We’re not impervious. Men have our own health concerns. We can be bullied, even as adults. If there is a cycle of abuse, it means we are in the middle of it, both giving and receiving. And while we are told we have all the power, we feel as divided as anyone between the demands that we behave as traditional male stereotypes dictate, and that we also be open, vulnerable, and genuine. Finding what works in the new paradigm takes experimentation, and we can’t have it all, no matter what the culture seems to be telling us.
Change the stereotypes. Find the stories of manhood that are worth passing on, and share them.
To be a mentor, you have to know how to teach, and what we know about humans is that we all love a good story. We remember stories more easily than facts and rules out of context. Like in music, the patterns of stories are a human meter: this ability to tell a joke, to explain a process so each step is recognizable as a pin in a map, the importance of bracketing a fairy tale with the requisite incantatory phrases, and embedding the triplets of pacing that we also find in a modern story of inspiration or warning, are part of the skills of communication, teaching, and storytelling. These rhythms contribute to the pacing of a tale so that the lesson is clear. We can hear the climax coming and know when to pay attention.
Men: tell your story. Then realize you don’t have just one story, and so tell more of your stories. Be honest, listen, and don’t forget to breathe. Love, love some more, and love til you think your heart will break, then keep on doing it.
Because that is what men do.
Read more on The Good Life.
Image credit: InternationalMensDay.com