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International Men’s Day can be a feminist cause

Wednesday was International Men’s Day (IMD), an occasion that sounds like a rearguard action by besieged misogynists. Founded in 1999, IMD promotes men’s health and well-being, better gender relations and positive male role models. But it is also an excellent opportunity for men to do their part against gender inequality.

Across the world, women are the more oppressed sex – from lacking basic human rights like the right to education to suffering as the most common victims of domestic violence and rape. It’s easy to understand why people fighting these injustices would hear a “woe is me” theme from something called International Men’s Day. As Michael Kaufman and Gary Barker put it in the Huffington Post, IMD is redundant, as every day of the year is a man’s day.

But the occasion needn’t confirm their impressions. Men’s Day can be used to expose elements of a patriarchy that also negatively affect men, not just women. Certain male tropes that we continually reinforce – hyper-masculinity, the emphasis on physical strength, aggression and the lack of emotional expression – lead to callous sexual attitudes toward women, violence and crime.

Men are 10 times more likely to end up in prison, three times more likely to end up homeless and three times more likely to be murdered. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 79 percent of all suicides in the United States are committed by men. Men are less likely to tell anyone when they are the victims of rape or domestic violence. Men are also significantly less likely to seek help with depression and other mental health problems, and 24 percent less likely to visit a doctor.

Yes, it’s true that many of these men are surely blind to their own privilege and status in the world and within their own cultures. Nevertheless, they too deserve justice and protection. And they are certainly unlikely to become more self-aware, compassionate, and thoughtful people if they, too, are trapped by gender-normative stereotypes.