It is Thursday morning when a group of office colleagues start to discuss International Men’s Day being celebrated worldwide today.
Feeling provoked by the fact that his wife has never shown his resentment or offered him a single treat during such a day even though he always showers her with flowers, dinner treats and other pampering gifts during International Women’s Day, one of the men in this chat picks his phone and calls his wife.
“What have you planned for me on International Men’s Day,” he says. “I deserve a good treat and I am available this Saturday for that”.
“When is this International Men’s Day? I did not know about it and I have not made any plans for you. I already have plans with my girls on Saturday afternoon,” the wife pokes back.
“But I always celebrate you. International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day always come with serious attention on you from me. I would not mind a brunch or something,” he presses on.
“Then give me some cash so I treat you on that day before I head for my girls’ outing,” she pushes back to his devastation.
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Today is November 19, and at face value, there seems to be nothing unusual about the date. But this is no ordinary day; it is International Men’s Day.
Few men though, their loved ones included, have given any thought to this day. Perhaps they feel there are just too many ‘special days’ set aside for specific causes. For example, the United Nations has set aside about 130 days as “special observances”, with some causes sharing the same day.
Although Men’s Day is not officially recognised within the UN system, it does not help the cause of men that they share the slot with World Toilet Day. Could this be another reason why men shun it?
“This could probably mean that men are sanitisers,” another colleague jokes to a backlash from the men who now feel unappreciated.
Yet, when Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, a history lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad Tabago founded the day on November 19, 1999, he was only responding to numerous calls from men to have a day equivalent to the International Women’s Day that is celebrated on March 8, every year.
He had lofty ideals too that he hoped will change the world. These were anchored on six pillars including improving gender relations between men and women, celebrating men’s positive contributions to the general society, promoting positive male role models, and spotlighting all aspects of men’s health.
Others are highlighting all forms of discrimination against men and creating a safer world where all can be safe and reach their full potential. In addition, Teelucksingh wanted the day to propagate other important causes such as health and the environment.
Male movements in a few countries such as England, Australia, and his own country have religiously observed the day.
“International Men’s Day has the potential to become the global medium to heal our world,” said Teelucksingh in a message to fellow men.
“The concept and themes of International Men’s Day are designed to give hope to the depressed, faith to the lonely, comfort to the broken-hearted, transcend barriers, eliminate stereotypes and create a more caring humanity.”
The theme for this year’s event is ‘Helping Men and Boys’. It was informed by among others, Dr Warren Farrell, author of The Boy Crisis who said that “boys are declining dramatically in virtually every key metric”.
But 23 years later, few Kenyan men seem to have internalised Teelucksingh’s message of having the day guide them “from darkness into light”.
Those we talked to say such a day is a creation of the Western world and has little meaning to struggling men in third world countries.
John Maina, a Nairobi resident underscores the sentiments of many by saying he only gets to know about the day from hilarious social media posts. For him, it will be business as usual.
“Unless somebody feeds me and my family, I have to go to work. We have had enough holidays this year with a corresponding loss of income. Anyway, I don’t know what the day means,” says Maina, a construction worker.
James Wainaina* also couldn’t care less about Men’s Day unless his fiancé chooses to surprise, a possibility he describes as “too remote.”
“I doubt if such a thing is in her mind. If she surprises me, that would a modern-day miracle,” he says. “If that happens, I will even wonder what the problem could be because I have never had her surprise me.”
Wainaina adds that men rarely ‘catch’ feelings or negative emotions if they are overlooked in such situations yet “they always get in trouble when we forget women’s birthdays or other special occasions”.
Even women were at pains to explain what the day should mean to the men in their lives. Some were even surprised when we asked them if they had any special events planned for such men.
“You mean men have a day dedicated to them? I had no idea. And since I had no clue about the day, it also means I have nothing special planned,” said Deborah Njeri*, a media practitioner in Nairobi.
Her colleague, Jane Mwende*, is not sure if her husband is aware if such a day even exists adding men seem too engrossed in the daily struggles that such a special day would pass unnoticed.
“They are too busy making a living and ensuring their families have the daily needs to notice there is a special day dedicated to them,” she says.
However, Mwende would not mind doing something special to her man today. “I am going to appreciate him by taking him out for a dinner besides making the evening more romantic,” she says.
In previous years, several organisations have tried to create some hype on the day, albeit to tap into commercial opportunities the day might offer. Ironically, even at the office place, International Women’s Day usually gets attention with women getting chocolates, flowers and cakes for gifts.
Consumer goods outlets make a big hype of Women’s and Mother’s days by splashing adverts and making big offers on beauty and wellness products as hospitality outlets give major discounts on all things that seem to tickle women.
Others, including health organisations, have used the day to enumerate issues affecting men that they could help address.
For example, Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital in a blog stated that “it is about time we celebrated men for who they are and the special roles they play in this world. While at it, we will not forget to highlight the numerous challenges that men face, yet they are often swept under the carpet by society”.
It went on to list the ‘plagues’ that men face including the “high suicide rates across the world among other mental issues, being victims of violence, sexual exploitation, rape, and domestic violence yet these incidences are handled in hush tones”.
But that is as far as it goes as numerous posts make the day the butt of online jokes.
“I honestly feel that men are naturally born to provide as opposed to being provided for. As daily hard-working providers, I feel that it would be hard to celebrate them on a single day simply because it has been labelled Men’s Day,” says Susan Ambane, a psychologist.
“Men also suffer because they are mostly in denial,” adds Ambane.
She says that it is wrong for men to be viewed as just being masculine and undeserving of attention, saying this kind of biasness is seeing more men suffer mental health.
Dr Sam Thenya, founder and director of strategy at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital says it is easy for men to bypass such special days when they are busy thinking about building their families and careers.
“It might appear that men do not care about such days. However, society is partly to blame for having put much emphasis on the girl child and only now do we realise we may inadvertently have left the boy child behind,” he says.
Thenya says the girl child was given such attention because of the gender-based violence that, sadly, was perpetuated by men “but who now need similar attention”.
“The men of today were left to their own devices and have learnt to suppress their feelings, unlike women who have strong support systems. That is why International Men’s Day will pass with little or no celebrations,” says Thenya.
And unless Google sets up a doodle to remind all and sundry about this day, both men and women will go on with their normal lives, paying little attention to the lofty goals that moved Teelucksingh to set up the day.