On International Men’s Day, Care & Support Director of Operations Lee Buss-Blair talks about how ‘real’ men can still lead by example without having to conform to gender stereotypes – and can even use jazz hands if they want!
The main purpose of International Men’s Day this year is to highlight the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities.
This year, the theme is ‘men leading by example’. But why do we need a day for men, and what does leading by example actually look like?
Too many of us grow up with a narrative that being a ‘real’ man is about being strong, masculine, in control of your emotions, totally ‘into’ women, and dare I say it, dominant over them.
There is still overwhelming pressure to be this way, and for me, I had the added pressure of starting my career in what was then a hyper-masculine environment – the Army.
And that, for me, is why we need an International Men’s Day. It’s an opportunity to say ‘hey, not all of us are built like that, and that’s okay’! It certainly isn’t who I am every minute of every day, and trying to be that person can lead to serious dose of toxic masculinity, and the potential for some serious mental health struggles.
I’m a mixed-heritage, gay war veteran with some serious baggage from my experiences of war, who is also a staunch feminist, and I don’t hide that! I don’t immediately look as though I have Indian heritage, but I’ll celebrate it at every opportunity. I never shy away from the gregarious use of jazz hands, when the circumstance allows, of course. And I’m honest about the fact that war has had an impact on me and my mental health, because quite frankly, it would be more worrying if it hadn’t.
Hiding things like your sexuality or mental health issues can make it seem like you feel shame about it, which can feed into the narrative that these things are things you should be ashamed of. And they’re NOT!
International Men’s Day is also an opportunity to support other genders. It’s not about supremacy, it’s about the part of being a man that recognises the privilege we have that comes from centuries of patriarchy, and committing to use that privilege to dismantle the very system that gave you that privilege in the first place.
So how do I lead by example? I try to lead by example by being a good ally to other genders and groups, by being visible, open about who I am, an authentic human being with vulnerabilities.
It’s okay to not identify with gender stereotypes, it’s okay to have emotions, it’s okay to be vulnerable at times. It’s even okay to over use jazz hands, if you want!
You can be all these things and be a ‘real’ man. In fact, how much more ‘real’ can you be than being the real you?