Happy “y no international mens day?” Day

I’ve posted variations of this on Twitter or in private messages before, but given that today is International Women’s Day, I thought I would enshrine the comments in a blog post. The original analysis was lighthearted, and I’m probably not the best one to speak substantively on International Women’s Day, but I’ve also tried to wring out a little more commentary than I normally do for the images.

Marking March 8th as a day of recognition for women and their contributions seems to have its origins in a demonstration by women textile workers in Petrograd in 1917 and was established as an official holiday following the October Revolution in the same year. It turns out the whole thing is super Communist and the history of International Women’s Day is very interesting, but you have Wikipedia for that. Most of that interesting history is likely overshadowed by the conversation around the existence of International Women’s Day instead.

Most people who are active on some form of social media will likely spend less time reflecting on the role of women in the February Revolution or in modern society as a whole, and more time reading and/or dunking on the flood of “Why is there no International Men’s Day” comments. It is easy to feel the righteous anger when firing off the common “every other day is international men’s day!” reply but that one is also incorrect. There is an International Men’s Day on November 19, and the comedian Richard Herring has had an ongoing charity drive for years where he goes online and corrects everyone about it. While I am normally fond of anything that will annoy people being pests online, one unfortunate side effect is that it does a great job of drawing attention back to men. The person complaining about a holiday that already exists is certainly being an idiot, but we often become accessories after the fact, falling over ourselves to produce the best dunk and demonstrate that we are on the right (or I suppose left given the holiday’s origins) side of history.

If a comedian can turn correcting people about holidays into a bit then chances that at least the substance of what was written above will be familiar to most readers. However, echo chambers are a real thing and Twitter is different from real life, so is this simply giving too much attention to a handful of people who have some issues they need to work out? We can approach this question with data.

Google has a wonderful product called Google Trends which will provide a measure of the relative popularity for certain search terms over time. It provides a fascinating glimpse at what’s going on in people’s heads because of Google’s dominant position and people’s tendency to search for everything. For instance, here is the search popularity for Christmas for the past 5 years:

Google search popularity for “Christmas” over time. Google provides an index which was standardized and so the numeric value is only meaningful for comparison. Source

The ticks aren’t the easiest to see on the charts, but it’s fairly clear there is a regular peak at the end of each year, coinciding with Christmas. What people are searching for is a matter of speculation, but the association between the season and the searches seems clear. Google provides an index from 0 to 100, with 100 meaning maximum popularity. This allows Google to share this search information without giving specific numbers, but does pose a challenge when trying to compare searches with very wide differences in popularity (for instance, comparing Christmas with International Men’s Day and International Women’s Day renders the latter two as flat lines because Christmas is so dominant at the end of the year). Standardizing the index Google provides helps us make our comparisons since we’re ultimately interested in when a given search term was most popular relative to other times it was searched, not relative to other search terms (for example, in the previous chart, we cared that Christmas was most searched around the holiday, not whether or not it was the most searched overall).

What will this tell us about International Women’s Day? One question was whether or not social media activity reflected a larger trend of “y no international men’s day?” comments on International Women’s Day. Search activity may give us an idea of what’s on people’s minds on these holidays. Here are the standardized results for searches for International Men’s Day (blue) and International Women’s Day (orange):

Google search popularity for “International Men’s Day” and “International Women’s Day” over time. Results are standardized for each series. Source

Depending on resolution, the timing may still be a bit difficult to work out (the source allows for interaction to confirm dates). The peaks at the start of the year (slightly to the right of each major year tick) coincide with International Women’s Day (March 8), and the peaks later in the year coincide with International Men’s Day (November 19). There are little bumps that don’t lend themselves to intuitive explanations, but these results are telling. International Men’s Day (the blue line) commonly has two peaks each year, one in March, and one in November. Last year (March/November 2020) was the first year that searches for International Men’s Day were were more popular on the actual holiday than on International Women’s Day. Interestingly, the peaks in November are much higher after 2018, which was the first year in which Richard Herring started his charity drives. It does seem clear though that the “y no mens day?” group isn’t just a vocal subset on social media, but that a meaningful number of people are responding to International Women’s Day by searching for International Men’s Day.

What do we get out of all of this? In one sense, I find this result kind of funny. Google allows us to quantify people furiously pounding “why is there no international men’s day!?” into their keyboards on International Women’s Day and then forgetting about it when the holiday actually arrives. These people are ridiculous and so I can’t help but laugh. Unfortunately, insecure men voicing their complaints into an internet search bar are a symptom of something less funny. Readers who checked the Wikipedia link above may have noticed that the article is semi-protected today. The semi-protected status is due to vandalism (a quick search showed 8 edits mentioning vandalism and the semi-protected status was placed in response to vandalism, not in anticipation of it). It seems to indicate that we can’t even get through one day without a substantial group (even if it is a minority) going out of their way to make sure that everything is about them.

I’ve done this analysis for a couple years now and the only thing that’s changed is that last year had more interest for International Men’s Day in November instead of February (before 2018, interest in November hardly even registered). Normally because I share this privately I can leave it at the ridicule of the “y no international men’s day” crowd and leave searches for “domestic women’s day” as an exercise for the reader. There is, however, a more serious side to the analysis too. Everyone comes from their own background and experience, and perfectly nice/woke/reasonable people can be prone to seeing a special event or holiday and ask something along the lines of “does everyone get a special day now?” or some equivalent. I find this kind of analysis helpful to stay grounded. I can imagine the most tedious conversation that lasts for years in which the person I’m talking with goes on constantly about themselves, and every year there’s a break in the conversation where I get to say something. I imagine every year I start to say something in that break and it immediately inspires a comment that cuts me off and kicks off another year of self-congratulation. That’s basically what the graphs are showing. For some it not be International Women’s Day, but some other holiday or event that provokes the “Why not X day?” impulse. Hopefully if you feel that way, graphs like these will build some empathy help show why this kind of commemoration is needed.

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