Balancing gender and the Men’s Sheds movement

John Evoy

Posted: 30 March, 2017

To wrap up our theme for the month of March ‘A Balancing Act: Research and Gender,’ we’re delighted to feature this post by John Evoy, founder of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association. Set up in 2011, there are now over 300 Men’s Sheds across the island of Ireland. For his work with the Men’s Sheds movement, John won an Irish People of the Year award in 2015.

When I was asked to write a few words for the Irish Research Council’s #LoveIrishResearch campaign, I was honoured to be asked but I wasn’t too sure about how my experience with the Men’s Sheds movement would relate to research. But when I thought about the theme for March, I realized that this was very similar to an issue that I have struggled with over the years.

You see, in a way I would have described myself as a feminist. I did my Masters in UCD’s School of Social Justice a good few years back, long before there was a Men’s Sheds movement in Ireland. During that time I developed my understanding of equality and social justice issues in Ireland. I remember learning of how the systems which reproduce some of the inequalities facing women, compared to men are still very much alive today. The unequal distribution of household labour and the manner in which inequality is reproduced in the affective domain is something that has exercised me and that I have spoken about given the opportunity.

So, a few years later I found myself heading up the Men’s Sheds movement, which I believe in one hundred and ten percent, and a main aspect of that role was to advocate for men who were experiencing some disadvantage in their lives.  Over the years I’ve given hundreds of presentations pertaining to Men’s Sheds and the need for them in every community in Ireland.

I have often been asked, sometimes in a challenging manner, about the idea that we may have been creating another mechanism that would advantage men over women in our society.

My answer invariably brought people back to the reason why we started sheds in the first place; we know that men have a shorter life expectancy than women, that 8 of 10 people who die by suicide are men, that men are more likely to die from preventable causes such as heart attacks or strokes, that they are more likely to experience addictions and participate in risk taking behaviour, and yet men are less likely to seek help or access services. When we were setting up the Men’s Sheds movement it was at the height of the recession. Over 400,000 people were unemployed in Ireland and more than two thirds of them were men. An even larger proportion of the long term unemployed were men. So I was clear why I was doing what I was doing and that it was important work that needed to be done.

And yet, I often wondered if my work was creating another site for gender inequality. I never really resolved the question, but I know that the Men’s Shed movement has done so much good in this country and I have heard countless stories of how the sheds have enhanced the men’s lives. I remember being at a Men’s Sheds conference in Australia in 2013 and the question of gender equality was discussed. I was struck by a point made by one speaker who said that while the Men’s Sheds could be reinforcing gender stereotypes, it is saving lives.

For me, many things are a balancing act, particularly when we look at them from a gender perspective. The world is a complicated place.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.

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