QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Men

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Question

Am I the only guy who feels the world is all about putting down men and giving greater rights to women? Every time I turn on the TV or radio, I hear feminists man-bashing! When do men get rights?

Answer

I think you're highlighting a common feeling amongst men, but there is a need for us to get a balance about this. Certainly, political pressure in many countries, with some concerted lobbying by women's groups and sympathizers, has brought about changes in legislation, and changes in the culture of "political correctness," sometimes skewed by the media hunger for sensation. Women have a higher profile than formerly in public life and greater rights in marriage, parenting, work and property areas. On the face of it, women are winning new rights, but does that mean that we men are the losers?

Many observers still point to the unique problems women face. Culturally, many parents state they prefer to raise boys, valuing a son higher than a daughter. Children take their father's name, though, interestingly, Jewish lineage is traced through the mother. Boys experience preference during childhood, in educational investment and parental and teacher expectation, but this also amounts to a pressure to succeed many find burdensome. This emphasis is surprising, considering the evidence, that girls perform better in school and are also less disruptive. Male employees are seen as more likely to be stayers in the workplace. But they are also less compliant and, arguably, less conforming to corporate values.

Many women feel constrained to perform new workplace roles alongside traditional home responsibilities. Some men, however, especially single parents, are distressed by the court's preference for women as responsible parent after marriage break-up. Single women find it easier to adopt children than single men, which suggests men are seen as child-unfriendly. However, there is much evidence that men make excellent sole caretakers for children.

These examples show that we are in a state of flux and there is cultural confusion as we adapt to piecemeal changes. These often lead to contradictory practices. Society is exchanging old stereotypes for new, but conservative institutions tend to reflect "traditional" sex role assumptions,and change more slowly in their practices than small groups.

Men are poorly organized, being perceived by sociologists as apparently less collaborative than women and less likely to express solidarity. The history of unionization of industry challenges this view. Presently, men may be seen as being isolated and uninformed, and experiencing the lack of national organization which women's traditional groups have provided for them. Possibly, the unifying effect of motherhood has a role to play here. Men certainly have much to learn from women about representing their views, particularly on men's health.

All of us need to be aware of the nature of equality. This is not to ignore the differences between the sexes, which are anatomically and physiologically based. Recent drug trials research, for example, shows that our gender affects the type and dosage of pain killers we require. Here, objective "differentiation" is to everybody's advantage.

There is some evidence that maleness or femaleness imbues us with certain aptitudes or talents, for example, spatial and logical skills, or empathy, but these should not be over-emphasized. There are too many exceptions to generalize in most cases. It's better we do not confuse physiological differences with our abilities to achieve our potential.

Your question also hinges on gender-related rights. Women have fought for years to achieve the rights men took for granted, but many other groups comprising both men and women, for example, gays and racially distinctive groups, assert themselves effectively.

Men need to collaborate more, to advocate their needs, for example, in health care provision and parenting. The men's movement is one way in which men can educate each other to this end. And all of us should find channels to make our voices heard -- writing to this ezine is one way!

As men, we will all benefit if we identify and oppose any activities which are based on prejudice against us, but I hope we'll acknowledge that this is not a one way street. A free society needs to realize the potential of all its citizens, male and female alike; it will be unfortunate if the men's movement becomes essentially competitive and reactionary. There are too many special cases to make absurd generalizations in this complex issue, but trying for mutual understanding and dialogue will take us farther than building walls between the genders.

3/5/98

Trevor Harvey, M.Ed combines lecturing in the School of Health at the University of East Anglia, with writing and counselling, and is based in Norwich, England. After a 12 year naval career, including the Falklands War, he became editorial board member/series advisor with The British Journal of Health Care Management and founder of the men's group AMICUS. He focused on health-related men's issues, particularly the way men negotiate personal transition through relationship crises, and is currently studying the management of information overload. Whenever possible, he combines his passion for photography with hill walking, and piloting his boat on the local lakes and rivers of eastern England.

 

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