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Saturday 8th March 2014


Today was International Women's Day or as it's otherwise known, ""When's International Men's Day" Day". I wrote about this in the Metro last year. You would hope the number of people pointing out the redundancy and ubiquity of this question (International Men's Day is, I believe, November 19th) might make people ashamed to ask it or at least realise that they are not being the original, taboo busting crusaders that they think they are.

Alas there is some way to go.

I idly checked my Twitter search feed for "International Men's Day" and the first example came from Walter who asked "How come international men's day don't exist? ". Maybe I could let him know, if not about grammar, then about international men's day. I tweeted him back. "It's November 19th". He didn't (as far as I can see) thank me for solving his conundrum. Almost like he didn't care about there being an International Men's Day. Almost like he just resented there being one for women. Not that he had to take part. Just that it was there. For 24 hours of the year. Bloody women, with their desire for social equality. What have women ever done for any of us? Answer me that. Can you? Thought not.

But looking down the list of unknowing bellends who were all asking the exact same question, with varying degrees of sarcasm and unpleasantness I wondered if I could let them all know that they didn't have to ask that question. There was an answer. And the answer was November 19th. How many people could I find who were so wrapped up in their certainty that the world is skewed unfairly in the favour of women, what with their special day and all? And how happy would they be when I revealed that the day they wished for, or assumed could never happen, was actually happening. I mean I had planned to read about Rasputin and go for a run and ironically enough maybe play a frame of snooker against myself. But this wouldn't take too long right?

Andy McH has kindly storified what happened for the rest of the day. It went on for some time and I fear that I didn't reach every single person asking the question. But I reached a lot of them. And somehow having them all listed asking more or less the same thing in one place, with their question answered for them (if only they had thought to try google first) was somehow rather beautiful. I have long enjoyed the comedy of repetition and persistence. It was a shared love of the masters of this, Ted Chippington and Andy Kaufman  that helped cement my relationship with Stewart Lee, who has also been known to use the technique, though in digestible and commercial formats like 30 minute TV shows and 90 minutes stand up shows. He fears the power of Twitter as he knows that it gives people the opportunity to spread a joke or an idea over hours, or days or years (and also because he has no understanding of what Twitter is). To really test the patience of an audience though you have to have more persistence. I have the legendary persistence of a herring. 

This thing was going to go on all day. It would annoy and amuse in not quite equal measure. I lost over 700 followers over the next 12 hours, but I gained over 2300. It quickly gathered a pace and a following with initially people thinking I wouldn't carry it on, but eventually wearily realising that I wasn't going to let this go. But my relentless stupidity was topped by the relentless stupidity of the people doing it. Ironically, of course, I was spending International Women's Day talking about and publicising International Men's Day and I would occasionally claim to be a mole working for the other side to undermine women. But nearly everyone got that by doing this I was making a valid, if annoying point and demonstrating the knuckle-headed and unthinking bigotry that women have to put up with every day. Which in some ways is even worse than having a Twitter feed full of the same question being answered. Though I found it rather good fun to add slight variations to my answers. And to suggest myself as some kind of avenging superhero with the powers of knowing when International Men's Day was and had the ability to tell people who didn't know. I liked the fact that it shifted focus from the more important issues in some ways. And that as well as doing something that was ostensibly right-on could also lead me to suggest that International Women's Day should be renamed "International Richard Herring's Day", though someone else's suggestion of "Richard Herring's International Women's Day" would be even better.

Mainly though it was just fun to expose the prickishness of men (and some women) who for some reason don't want to celebrate women or have equality for their mothers, sisters, daughters or female friends (if applicable). And at the heart of it that very revealing truth, that the people asking the question weren't even aware that the thing they are asking for already exists. They assume it doesn't, just as they assume that International Women's Day is somehow attacking men or unfairly promoting women (makes a change from all the men who get unfairly promoted though, right kids?). Although I got a bit of a headache at one point I didn't get bored of doing it. In fact I found it hard to stop even when I was out for the afternoon and evening with my wife. It was immensely satisfying.

I wondered if we could just make "It's November 19th" the answer to any stupid question asked by someone with no idea about what they were talking about.

And just when I thought I had got close to completing this Sisyphean task I realised that I hadn't searched for International Mens Day and then International Mans Day (very few takers for International Man's Day luckily) and then National Men's/Mens/Mans Day. I was as much the victim as the architect of this joke. It was a very satisfying piece of comedy, making a point, laughing at idiots, laughing at my own idiocy and slightly undermining the point it was making. What could be better than that. I rarely end a day thinking I have done something right (the last time was also at the end of a difficult Twitter day regarding disablist language) but today, even though I had sabotaged my proper work it felt like I'd done something worthwhile.

And I also had fun out with my wife, taking an open-topped bus tour round London (as research for something she's writing) and having a fantastic meal. I hadn't been looking forward to the bus ride and when I found out how much it cost (£28 each) had nearly refused to get on. But it was actually rather fun seeing my home city from the top of a double-decker and I learned loads of stuff I didn't know. The tour guide, perhaps a fledgling comedian had some risque jokes, though I didn't envy him the toughness of his 120 minute routine in front of a small crowd whose interest wavered. It got a bit cold as the sun went down and people got off the bus, but his energy and commitment to his material never dwindled. I could still send out a few tweets, but I mainly enjoyed being a tourist in my own city.

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