International Men’s Day: Matthias Nelke gives keynote speech at “Engagement Global” in Bonn

With the Men’s World Day on the 3rd and the International Men’s Day on the 19th, November has become the time of year to talk about men’s health. For years, that meant raising awareness for prostate and testicular cancer. Only slowly does the public discussion include the alarming number of men that suffer and die from depression. The reason: Toxic masculinity.

Few co-workers came with moustaches, the traditional symbol to celebrate Movember (moustache and November), but all came because they had something to say. Julia Pedersen had invited them. The Gender Equality Commissioner at Engagement Global regularly organizes internal events to raise awareness and spark discussion among staff and colleagues concerning gender topics. The International Women’s Day in March comes with an abundance of topics following #metoo, July and the Christopher Street Day had Engagement Global join to discuss gender diversity. On Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019, they came together in the spirit of the International Men’s Day to hear about a group of people that is often unjustly seen as homogenous and depicted as the enemy.

“The first thing to understand is: There is no such thing as one masculinity, only masculinities. Some are benevolent, others toxic.” Matthias Nelke is academic assistant at Hochschule Fresenius and shared his research on toxic masculinity with Engagement Global staff in a keynote speech on: “Did your wife drag you here, too” – Birthing class and other germ cells of toxic masculinity. Very important, the term is not to be misinterpreted as men-bashing. On the contrary, it addresses the crippling effects that predominant forms of masculinity have on those men than cannot or do not want to comply.

“We need all men to affect change”, says Nelke. “It is not about collecting negative attributes that dominate a certain image of powerful masculinity and putting these men in the corner. It is about the discourse.” More men need to speak up when they witness sexist banter among male peers. Otherwise, the message received is that sexism is tolerated – at least in certain settings. Only if these settings shrink, will the acceptability of toxic forms of masculinity diminish. “Only if men – and women – with such a mindset realize that the rules have changed, that there seems to be no space in which Don’t be such a girl is still an acceptable statement, will they realize that, maybe, it is them.”

Statements like that set the values in which men are able to define themselves. On one hand, they put direct stress on those that struggle to fulfil this image. This road can lead to depression. On the other hand, values like stoicism and invulnerability stand in the way of men admitting their weaknesses, let alone seek out counselling. In the long run, these values are passed on, for example from father to son. Toxic masculinity spreads.

Fittingly, the keynote speech at Engagement Global was followed by an open forum with three exceptional fathers. All have taken parental leave for at least six months – considerably more than the average. Only 15 % of all German fathers take more than the two months they cannot surrender to the mother. Roughly two thirds take none. Pedersen and Nelke, wo met in the context of a project study of the Bachelor’s program International Business School (B.A.) at Hochschule Fresenius, are parents themselves. All five painted a refreshingly modern family picture of women that expect more from their men and men who are ready to step up and set an example of healthy masculinity. “Are you proud if female friends envy your wife or girlfriend and how much you help her with the baby?” was one of the questions. The answer: No. Not if helping suggests that taking care of the baby is primarily the woman’s job.