You’ve Got Male!
By LIONEL TIGER
December 17, 2005; Page A10
Male resentment of the self-righteous and automatic public support for women’s interests and issues has been increasingly on the boil for some time. Civic celebrations of antipathy to men such as the Violence Against Women Act are finally generating specific and pointed responses by men fatigued, if still baffled, by the knee-jerk assumption that they suffer irredeemably from what I call Male Original Sin.
At my university as at countless others, one of the very first official greeting to students is a rape seminar predicated on the intrinsic danger which males carry with them. And in family courts, the presumption of male behavioral malefaction has yielded heartbreakingly numerous cases in which men are charged with domestic violence to which courts overwhelmingly — often in brief hearings in which the male is not even present — issue temporary “restraining orders.” These frequently segue into permanence, and award women the dwelling they’ve shared, financial support and the all-important privilege of custody — mothers gain custody in 66% of uncontested cases and 75% of contested ones. Less than a quarter of parents are awarded joint custody.
Judges issue such orders based only on the word of the alleged victim. It is small wonder the overwhelming majority of such actions are sought and achieved by women. It has been legitimately argued that there is a merciless post-marital racket of therapists, lawyers, judges and governmental advocates who prosper because it is so easy to define males as guilty.
Meanwhile, the publicly financed educational system is at least 20% better at producing successful female students than male, yet hardly anyone sees this as remarkable gender discrimination. While there is a vigorous national program to equalize male and female rates of success in science and math, there is not a shred of equivalent attention to the far more central practical impact of the sharp deficit males face in reading and writing.
There are countless thriving “women’s studies” programs and only a paltry number of male equivalents. The graduates of such programs (which rarely pass the laxest test for gender diversity) staff the offices of politicians and judges, and assert the obligation of society to redress centuries of dominance by that gaseous overgeneralization — “patriarchy.”
When it comes to health status, the disparity in favor of women is enhanced by such patterns as seven times more Federal expenditure on breast cancer than on the prostate variety. And no one is provoked into action because vaunted male patriarchs commit suicide between four and 10 times more frequently than oppressed and brainwashed women. This isn’t simply carping about invidious comparison, or reluctance to support legitimate social responses to the needs of women as workers, parents, citizens and virtuousi of their private lives. It is solely about inequity in law, funding and productive public attention. There is scant acknowledgment of the fact that we face a generation of young men increasingly failing in a school system seemingly calibrated to female rhythms.
A consequence is that male income falls and female income rises. Nothing wrong with that, except that men inexorably withdraw from domestic life: they become out-laws rather than in-laws. Legions of women despair of finding a mate compatible in function and vibrancy. So they go it alone: a third of babies are born to unmarried women, perhaps making a sage choice given the feckless, demoralized chaps from whom they must choose. We lead the world in fatherless families — 40% of children fall asleep without a resident father regularly within reach.
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Into this acrimonious climate has whispered a breath of spring air in winter — an extraordinary document which may have surprising impact because of its severe countercultural implications and its almost sweet innocence of purpose. In early November, the New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Men issued its first report (www.nh.gov/csm). The commission was proposed in a 1999 bill by N.H. Rep. David Bickford. The House passed the bill, awarding a budget of $69,561. But months later, the state Senate stripped away funding. The commission was finally established in 2002. According to its report, the Senate’s effort to defund it reflects “the inaction of good people who apparently have been led to believe that legislative activity designed to primarily benefit men is somehow not appropriate politically, financially, or otherwise.”
To the contrary, the commission’s report frontally accepts that there are intrinsic differences in how men and women cope with health, education, responsibility and violence. It concludes that social policies must not begin by denying differences. If you’re running a zoo, know the real nature of your guests. This applies nationally, not only in New Hampshire. The clout of female voters has been transmuted into a strangely pervasive inattention to the legitimate needs of boys and men. While there remain grating sources of unfairness to women, the community is in the process of steadily creating a new legal and educational structure which generates new gender unfairness: 90% of the victims of Ritalin and similar drugs prescribed for schoolkids are boys; but even drugged they perform less well than girls. A 2005 study at Yale found nationally that even in prekindergarten boys are nearly five times more likely to be expelled than girls.
What is going on in this country?
Of course those who can do the work should receive the rewards. However, the broader question is: Who defines the work and evaluates it? The drastic occupational and familial situation of especially minority males suggests the urgency of a hard review of this issue. Were females the victims of such apparent sex-based unfairness, the legal paper attacking the matter would cloud the air like flakes of New Hampshire snow. But since it’s only males . . .
The report is an innovative 44 pages focused on life in one state. It grips the macrocosm of stunning changes in American sociosexual and family experience. Like those which affect the terrain of a delta the changes are gradual and barely perceptible and yet suddenly it becomes clear there is a new barrier, a new channel, a new uncertainty. So with the issue of men in America. The New Hampshire report may not be a full map of the delta but its alerts us to the large reality of implacable changes. And we may not like them.
Mr. Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers, is the author of “The Decline of Males” (St. Martin’s, 1999).
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