Dear New Statesman,
At the close of a year in which Robert Webb made important and welcome contributions to debates on masculinity and male wellbeing, it was immensely disappointing to see him use his NewStatesman column [December 7th] for an ill-informed and spiteful attack on International Men’s Day (IMD).
In the UK alone, IMD 2017 was marked by well over a hundred events hosted by charities, campaign groups, health services, local authorities, schools, churches, synagogues and mosques. IMD organisers and activists come from across the political, ideological and social spectrum and their concerns criss-cross a complex network of men’s issues. It was marked by women and men of all backgrounds across the UK and some of the most heartfelt contributions were from women celebrating the roles their fathers, sons, brothers and partners play in their lives.
It is a pity Robert was unable to attend the inspirational Rocking Ur Teens event for inner city boys in London, or the One Blue String busking challenge in the centre of Manchester, supporting the one in six men who are survivors of sexual abuse or rape. He could have attended the live comedy podcast recording by the wonderful Sarah Millican, or he would have been welcome at any of the academic conferences on topics including LGBT issues; men’s mental health; male victims of domestic violence or men and boys’ experiences with eating disorders, where he would have found, ironically, that his own book was widely mentioned and discussed.
It is particularly baffling that Robert holds up CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, as an example of an alternative to IMD, apparently unaware that CALM have long been at the forefront of promoting IMD and are among our most active and prominent supporters. Just a quick glance at the UK IMD website could have shown him that IMD 2017 was also celebrated by numerous overtly feminist organisations including Women’s Equality Party branches and university feminist societies.
It is unquestionably true that within the broad men’s sector there are elements which can be labelled “a noxious bunch of antifeminist cranks.” However, these elements did not create IMD, have never significantly promoted it, and their involvement has never been more than marginal. It is downright harmful to attribute ownership of IMD to those groups – that serves to inflate their reach and influence, while seriously undermining the important work of charities supporting boys and men in need.
Robert concludes by saying International Men’s Day could and should be “just like Christmas: a celebration of shared humanity. But it’s also a time when we spare a thought for those of us especially vulnerable to the cold and dark.” This is not only a beautiful description of what IMD could become, but of what it already is. We look forward to IMD 2018, when we hope Robert will be standing at our shoulders helping IMD to bloom, rather than carping misguidedly from the side-lines.
Ambassador, UK Men’s Day