During the waning days of December 2009, JASON THOMPSON, the Historian and Global Promotions Coordinator for International Men’s Day who resides in Australia conducted an interview with DR. JEROME TEELUCKSINGH, Founder of International Men’s Day, History Lecturer at the West Indies University, Trinidad Tobago and Chairman of the International Men’s Day Coordination Committee . . .
JASON THOMPSON: I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you a few questions about men and about International Men's Day so that people may better understand your rationale for creating this day. Part of your rationale for creating International Men's Day is to provide a platform whereby society can highlight examples of men who are honorable, reliable and are oriented to the betterment of community and family. Indeed we could say these aims would constitute a betterment of oneself. This goal is welcomed by people who feel jaded by constant media portrayals of men behaving badly. Have you received feedback about how readily these positive role models have been welcomed by men, and also what benefit this reception might have for society as a whole?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH:We must be mindful that change will not occur immediately. I see IMD as the beginning of a long journey of healing. The entire society will benefit from a more understanding and caring son, father or husband. During the past decade, persons who have observed IMD were sowing seeds of acceptance, tolerance and peace. In 2009 those seeds finally grew into sturdy plants. The next generation of men and women must nurture these plants and ensure they continue to blossom and bear fruit.
I have been receiving telephone calls, letters and emails from men and women indicating that they are glad that positive male role models are finally being highlighted. Some persons have wished that soldiers and countries at war would stop fighting for one day –IMD. Others believe that prisoners in jail would reflect on their wrongdoings on IMD and do soul-searching and ask for forgiveness. One woman from Africa, in 2008, asked that I remember her son who was mentally challenged. It is these ‘forgotten’ persons, the emotionally and mentally imprisoned, who should also be included in IMD.
JASON THOMPSON: When Barack Obama was promoting his election campaign he stressed his desire to overcome divisions and unite Democrats, independents, Republicans, young, old, rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled because, he states, "one thing I know, from traveling 46 states this campaign season, is that we are not as divided as our politics suggest." Is your vision of International Men's Day likewise open to all men and women to participate?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: IMD is open for everyone. Once we begin to exclude others the men’s movement will return to its fragmented state and IMD will become stunted. A few years ago an elderly man asked me if IMD was only for perfect persons who are blameless and faultless. I simply replied, “Then I am not worthy to be part of IMD because I have many faults.” Once we can acknowledge our shortcomings then we can find solutions and be on that path for wholeness. I am always wary of the promises of politicians during their campaigns. They preach unity and have grandiose ideas merely to win votes. However, after attaining power they conveniently forget their promises and ignore divisions. An overwhelming majority of the world’s leaders are men. So it is hoped that IMD will touch the lives of political leaders and transform their values and outlook. Thus, IMD has the potential to enter the political arena and promote good governance, eliminate discrimination and allow for equitable distribution of resources.
JASON THOMPSON: An Australian sociologist has posed a theory that IMD is a desire by men to mimic or imitate International Women's Day which he disparages as a self-centered "Me-Too-ism". This is clearly an erroneous view when one realizes that IWD and IMD promote different aims both in their stated objectives and in practical observations, though perhaps the objectives occasionally intersect on points such as the promoting of equality. Unlike IWD which focuses heavily on women's emancipation from oppression, IMD seems predominately focused on celebrating and promoting positive male role models and other issues unique to men's experiences. Would you consider this to be an accurate view, and could you explain a little more about the differences between the two days?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: IMD was not merely included on calendars to correct a gender imbalance. IMD has a deeper meaning. The day is designed to create solidarity among males and bridge the gender gap. IMD is unique because women have promoted this day and willingly participated in IMD activities. The success of IMD is the fact that women’s groups have welcomed this day. Probably in the future the approach of IMD could be adopted or modified by IWD. Both days strengthen and empower men and women, but we must not allow women to portray men as the ‘enemy’ and vice versa. The long gender war must come to an end. There has been too much sadness, single-parent families due to divorces and too many victims.
JASON THOMPSON: Among your IMD Objectives you allude to the media focus on sportsmen as perhaps too narrow an image for exemplifying the myriad of roles men are required to play. I take you to mean that men cannot get through a hard day's work by the use of a football, nor cook a family meal with a cricket bat, i.e. that we need role models for the workplace, home, family care, service to society, marriage, schooling, responsible socializing and so on. While we can agree that team sports teach excellent teamwork skills that can be utilized in other areas of life, what effect do you think it has on boys and men who have only sportsmen and the competitive sports attitude to guide them through community, work and family relationships?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: If only sportsmen are role models and this ‘sports attitude’ exists then there will not be the holistic and balanced development of boys and men. Secondly, boys and men with other talents or who are living decent lives would be ignored. Even more dangerous is the situation when these sporting icons fail. During the past few years some disgraced athletes have been found to use steroids. The most recent example of this fall from grace is the revelation that Tiger Woods, the golfing legend, had extramarital affairs. What would be the effect on those who admired and respected these sporting heroes?
The competitive sports attitude may also negatively impact on work and family life if it leads some people to believe they must always be ‘winners’ who achieve more than other family members or co-workers. Such an attitude could be an obstacle for projects which require teamwork and building a network of support systems.
But it is important to put these few concerns in context and say that sport should not be condemned because it has the potential to encourage friendships, teamwork, physical health, bonding between fathers and sons, and promote excellence among athletes. Sport should be encouraged as one of many life-enhancing roles.
JASON THOMPSON: You mention the practice of stereotyping as something that the concept and themes of IMD are designed to eliminate. What in your view are some of the problems stereotyping creates, and do you feel there are certain aspects of men's potential, or indeed certain kinds of men who are routinely marginalized by this practice?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: Some of the problems created by stereotyping is that it creates a significant amount of emotional and physical stress for men. For example, there might be male teenagers who like cooking and could become great chefs but their fathers discouraged them from cooking because that culture believed that women are to cook and prepare the meals. Or suppose society expects men to be breadwinners in the family and a father become unemployed then this creates undue pressure on him to maybe seek illegal means to support his family. The media images of violent men have unfortunately contributed to the stereotyping of men.
JASON THOMPSON: This year 2009 saw equal numbers of women organizing and participating in IMD events. I'm thinking now of Marie Clarence who inaugurated IMD in Hungary; women and their organisations in South Africa; Lana Chikhladze who organized a celebration in Georgia; Diane Sears who is the main promoter of the event in the U.S.A; Uma Challa who with the help of women's organisations such as All India Forgotten Women Hyderabad, Mothers And Sisters Initiative Delhi, and All India Mother In Law Protection Forum Nagpur organized and sponsored several events which led to the whole of India becoming aware of IMD. And of course we can't leave out the University of Kent women who in the U.K. last year conceived and held a charity IMD event to raise money for men's cancers. There were also numerous female attendees at many of the events and the interest from women has been to me a pleasant surprise. Have women been receptive and involved in IMD from the start, or is this a new development?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: Yes, from the start women have been involved. If you look at the photo of the first IMD in Trinidad you will see a woman in the audience. I believe that women across the world will soon understand that IMD will create better husbands and fathers. Many women have realized that IMD is not about female–bashing or condemning womanhood.
JASON THOMPSON: I'm sure many people may be curious about the organizational structure of IMD. In 2008 a group of international coordinators formed the first steering committee (yourself, Diane Sears, Uma Challa, Warwick Marsh, and myself) in order to disseminate information and assist in the organisation of world IMD observations. Regardless of this committee's existence my understanding is that no single individual or group holds unique rights to nor ownership of IMD, except perhaps yourself who as the founder of the event holds a special understanding of it's original and continuing goals. For the record can you confirm if the above conclusion is the prevailing one in your view i.e. that IMD belongs equally to everyone (or no one) and that any individual may start their own IMD event or committee without permission from a governing body -- provided they adhere to the stated Objectives of IMD?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: Yes I agree that nobody has a monopoly over IMD. Yes, anyone could observe IMD without seeking permission but they should follow the 6 pillars of IMD. Upon these 6 pillars the men’s movement has the opportunity to build a powerful movement for positive social change. I could be considered the founder of this version of IMD on 19 November but we need to also acknowledge the pioneering efforts of persons and groups before 1999 who attempted to formulate a day for men. My role is marginal and I should not be the focus. The real heroes and heroines are the humble persons around the globe who have promoted IMD and demonstrated dedication and sacrifice for the past decade. They are the ones to be honoured. The steering committee of 2008 proved to be a powerful catalyst which contributed to the rapid spread of IMD.
JASON THOMPSON: Lastly is a question on spirituality which you have included at the end of Objective No. 3 -- 'To focus on men's health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual'. I was interested to read about the variety of religious organisations on the guest lists at your IMD observations in 2001 and 2002 which included representatives from the Raja Yoga Centre, Mormon Church, Pentecostal Church, Bahia faith, Kabir Panth, Californian Hindu Temple, Divine Life Society, and so on. This sets a good precedent for inclusiveness. On that basis I'm assuming by ‘spiritual’ you are not referring to a particular religious belief but rather to a subjective sense of well being that comes from being able to freely practice one's chosen form of spirituality, however one might define it. Is this the kind of way you might define spiritual health, or do you have an alternative definition?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: Yes, the sense of well-being refers to ‘spirituality’. There are persons who do not believe in God or a Creator as the mainstream religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam) but believe in a spiritual life-force. IMD was never meant to directly challenge the religious doctrines, condemn religious texts or cultural practices. The inclusion of the word ‘spirituality’ is again another effort to demonstrate that IMD is inclusive and not designed to exclude persons who have a different belief system.
JASON THOMPSON: What are the challenges facing IMD?
DR. TEELUCKSINGH: There is still a monumental task ahead. IMD has to be spread to all countries. The need to include indigenous groups and persons in rural areas without internet facilities are some of the challenges.