Men: We need their strength, but ignore their pain
Would you like to buy a t-shirt with the logo, “Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them”? There is a wide choice of them available on the Internet. The only insulting t-shirt available aimed at girls I could see, though, is “Girls are weirdos, but they smell pretty.” Hmm. There’s a difference that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Well, of course I can, and so can you. Insulting boys and men is socially acceptable in our culture, while insulting women (unless gently, and with a follow-up compliment) is taboo.
I only suggest you might want to buy one of those t-shirts while you can, because they will, I think, soon be collectors’ items. There is only so long that any identifiable group in a democratic society will accept institutionally entrenched social and emotional rejection – the present state of affairs for men – before subterranean resentment and rebellion rise to the surface as a counter-movement.
That is the cultural moment in which we find ourselves.
Recently I took part in a conference that was legitimately billed as an international “first”: The First International Conference on Men’s Issues, held in Detroit June 26-29. It was sponsored by A Voice for Men (AVFM), an occasionally controversial men’s rights group that has experienced growing pains finding the pitch-perfect “voice” it needs in order to reach a mainstream audience. The conference seems to have been a pivotal event in its crossover from grass roots grievance-collecting to politically activist maturity.
Long in the planning with a star-studded speaking roster, this conference was not to be missed for anyone who has been professionally, polemically or politically immersed in the movement to restore dignity, collaboration and mutual respect to relations between the sexes.
There was no ideological ticket to punch for admission. The theme was cultural damage repair, not the aggrandizement of men. Probably ten percent of attendees were women: partners, activists and even some curious, open-minded young women who had never before been exposed to a non-feminist dominated slate of opinions on gender issues.
A whole range of areas in which men’s rights are often scanted was covered over two full days: paternity fraud, male-pattern communication of suffering, spectacularly high divorce, homelessness and suicide rates amongst military veterans, custody iniquities, public indifference to female-on-male intimate partner violence and even an address by a British man who has started a new political party, Justice for Men and Boys (and the Women who love them). Five of the fifteen speakers were women, by the way. I spoke on “Misandry in the Media.”
Three of the speakers are considered supernovas in the men’s rights field: Canada’s Senator Ann Cools, for her indefatigability in promoting equal shared parenting as the family court default in custody arrangements; England’s Erin Pizzey, who started the first “battered wives” shelter in England, and became – briefly – a hero of the feminists, only to be excommunicated (and much worse), because she had the temerity to announce that her experience in shelter work had made her realize that women were capable of violence almost equal to men’s; and Warren Farrell, former feminist and founder of the men’s right movement, named by the Financial Times as “one of the 100 greatest thinkers of the twentieth Century.”
It was Farrell who, in his seminal 1993 book, The Myth of Male Power, introduced me to insights about men’s role in society I had never considered before, and shaped what would become the journalistic theme with which I am most frequently associated.
My “aha!” moment came with his assertion that in order for societies to be strong, they need to depend on their sons being warriors – in fact or potentially. In order to create strong warriors, men, Farrell argues, must be considered “disposable” by their societies. For if a boy worries too much about risk and safety, he won’t be willing to risk his life for his collective.
Disposability! Yes, that is how we see boys and men. And there was not a single issue raised at the conference, where the iniquities described could not be traced to that general assumption.
From disposability everything else that works to men’s disadvantage follows. A woman can say, “Hands off my body!” when it comes to abortion rights, and we all nod gravely, because a woman’s body is considered sacrosanct. Men conscripted for war have bodies too, but their bodies belong to the nation. When bridges and tunnels skyscrapers must be built; when coal must be mined; when hydro wires must be fixed: men’s bodies are drafted (95% of work-related deaths are male). Mothers are considered indispensable to their children in family court, while fathers are considered disposable (even though social science tells us the opposite).
What is good for the nation is bad for boys. Men must accept pain stoically, because while a woman in tears excites our wish to help and soothe, a man’s tears repel us. A man who shows weakness is looked at askance by women, who instinctively seek the kind of strength that will work for their protection, and as well by other men, who know that men suffer, for they themselves do, but see expressed weakness as unmanly.
Which is why the suicide rates for males begin to skyrocket at puberty. Up to age 10, suicide rates are the same for boys and girls. Between 10-14 boys’ rates double. By the age of 24, men’s rates are five times those of women. For every soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 25 commit suicide. If the stats were reversed, our media would be saturated with calls for a remedy to our “suicide culture,” would they not? As it is only men who kill themselves, the statistic arouses no public curiosity or indignation.
Such a double standard is logically and morally incomprehensible, but it is instantly comprehensible if male disposability is understood as the guiding spirit for the social contract between the sexes.
The Myth of Male Power is a book every young man should read. It would help gender relations if every young woman read it too. If they did, we would soon see an end to the sale of t-shirts bearing the motto, “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” It would be wonderful to see some of those young people at the Second International Conference on Men’s Issues, slated for fall, 2015.
Prince Arthur Herald
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