"War On Men" Overshadowed By "War On Women"
I was recently incensed after reading a study finding that 80 percent of the quotes from print and broadcast media on the topic of "women’s issues" during this election cycle have come from men. This indicates that either men still refuse to share the mic, or that women are not stepping up to it. The reality is most likely a combination of the two; regardless, the study shows that there is much work left to do to create better representation for "women’s issues" in politics.
After reading the report, I distilled my thoughts into a simple generalization: women are being talked about while men are doing the talking. I then asked myself what the reverse would look like, and realized not only how strange it would seem if women took the stage by force, but also how extraordinary it would be if men, as a group, were actually talked about. I wondered: when do these "men with mics" talk about men’s issues?
The answer: they don’t. At least, not publicly.
One reason for this might be that when someone is in a position to speak on behalf of everyone, they don’t really need to specify themselves. The more obvious and, I think, more honest reason for why men don’t talk about men’s issues is that a man would be laughed off the floor if they announced the grand opening of their awareness campaign for their daily struggles as "privileged white males." Even if men were to make a good case for the violence and injustices that men face worldwide, I doubt it would be considered very masculine to adopt victim rhetoric about men’s problems.
Men’s issues exist within the realms of entertainment (not to be taken seriously), stereotypes (a nod of understanding) and comedy (a hearty laugh). Men don’t like to be victimized. For this reason, I don’t imagine that any man still reading this is holding his breath for me - a female college student - to shed light on his afflictions. However, I ask that you hear me out. I feel that if we don’t start paying attention to at least some "men’s issues," then it’s not very fair of us to keep going on about "women’s issues," which I whole heartedly intend to do.
The "War on Women" is a term used to cover a panoply of "women’s issues," but I posit that if we were to take a good look at each of these issues, we would find how deeply they affect men as well.
The word "war" usually connotes violence. A hot topic in congress early this summer was the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act that has been protecting women against domestic abuse and sexual violence since the year before I was born. In the past twenty-one years, the act has brought great attention to the 600,000 to 6 million women (depending on the survey) who fall victims of domestic violence each year. Yet, from what I can tell, the 100,00 to 1 million men (depending on the survey) who fall victim to the same kind of abuse every year have no federal Act to their name.
The related issue of rape is another one that seems to fall, unfortunately, unilaterally into the camp of lady troubles.
This June, the University of Southern California's Department of Public Safety reported the arrest of a suspect in a sexual assault that occurred just off campus. A number of my colleagues reacted with mixture of sincere shock and disbelief at the detail that a male was the victim of the assault. This shock contrasts sharply with the casual manor in which horror stories about date rape on "the row" seem to be told.
Such gender-polarized reactions to sexual abuse are alarming for a couple of reasons: on the one hand, glossing over rape stories as common-place is tragic in that it shows how we have numbed ourselves to the severity of women’s unthinkable pain. On the other hand, if this "women’s issue" is seen as common, we can assume that it is at least more likely to receive attention. Even if, as I might argue, that degree of attention for female victims is not enough, men who fall victim to sexual violence may not be receiving any attention at all.
I took a moment to scan a number of victim support sites online. I found that on many of these sites, the only instances in which a male gender pronoun is used at all, it is used to refer to a "perpetrator." Most legislation around sexual violence uses gender-neutral language at best, but references to male victims are few and far between. This, along with our consistent expressions of disbelief toward male victims, indicates that rape is still considered to be an anomaly for men, as something that society isn’t prepared to handle, as a freak accident. The sad truth is that sexual violence against men is not a freak accident. The headcount for reported male victims may not be as severe as it is for female victims, but that does not make each case any less significant.
The next battleground in the long list of issues relevant to the "War on Women" is healthcare. One commonly cited statistic about the "War on Women" is that legislatures in 39 states have proposed close to 500 measures that put the issue of women’s healthcare into question. No matter what you think of these measures, they bring up an important point: that women’s healthcare is being widely discussed. For better or for worse, a lot fewer people are mentioning men’s health.
Despite the unfortunate challenges I believe women’s healthcare to be facing as a result of this attention, I think it is for the worse that men’s health is not receiving an equal share of attention. Men are 33 percent less likely to go to a doctor than women, they die an average of six years earlier than women, and they die at higher rates than women for all top ten causes of death. This seems to me to be something we should be talking about. To quote Congressman Bill Richardson: "Men’s health issues are family health issues."
The same goes for women’s health issues. It just can’t be that all these 500-or-so pieces of legislation specifically target single, fatherless, brotherless, childless women. No matter what side of the party line you fall on, or what your gender is, the "War on Women" affects everyone. There may even be a case for a "War on Men," even if perhaps a more subtle war - a war of neglect.
We can see that many issues traditionally relegated to women influence men as well. So why continue to call them "women’s issues"? Is it because they are, in many cases, "worse" for women? That doesn’t seem entirely fair. Even if some issues are less prevalent for men, they are still present. Do we continue to call them "women’s issues" because men don’t like to talk about them? Maybe, although that can’t be entirely true either.
I think we call them "women’s issues" because politically it helps us to. Women’s groups receive support because they are specifically identified as means to empower the under-represented. Women, as with minorities, receive the benefit of the oppressed, and with it, the classic paradox of the oppressed, which both empowers through isolation and isolates from power. During wartime, or during any time when resources run thin, these titles and identifications become more important. The under-represented become less represented and people cling to their constituencies as life rafts for recognition.
Some, often men, don’t receive life rafts. The rest of us float apart into lone demographics to be fought over by distant representatives, eager to pick us up where they can. We cease to be a population and become a population at war, squabbling over resources.
The only way that I can see for us to come together again is to start advocating for one another. It may not be the most natural approach, but I figure it’s worth a try. For this reason, I’m ready to fight against the "War on Men."