Gender Issues for Men

by Anastas Vangeli

Today I stumbled upon a USAID paper titled The Other Side of the Gender Equation: Gender Issues for Men in the Europe and Eurasia Region [PDF]. As the title suggests itself, the paper is a response to the tendency that while policy-makers worldwide invest plenty of resources in devising gender-sensitive policies which target and arguably, improve the conditions of struggling women, male gender issues have remained on the margins. It calls for expansion of the scope of gender policies from alleviating the status of women, to addressing gender issues concerning both women and men. Here’s an excerpt:

By definition, gender refers to the roles of and relationships between both women and men, though most people […] assume that gender issues are synonymous with women’s issues. […] Despite decades of progress toward gender equality and a strong women‘s movement in many of the countries in the E&E region, traditional notions about the male role still persist. […] Male roles include that of provider, leader in private and public, protector and provider of family security, procreator, and doer of dirty and dangerous work. [T]he patriarchal male role is dominated by four functions: money, leadership, security, and procreation. […] Threats to the male role include: (a) a changing labor market, (b) the need to adapt to new labor market demands, (c) having time on their hands when unemployed or underemployed, (d) loss of status, (e) a changing view of marriage and the father role, and (f) war and conflict.

The gender issues men face, in this sense are much different than the ones that women do – while the biggest obstacle for improving the condition of women is the traditional patriarchal system of values, it is the way that very system is changing that hurts men. The roles of women in the household and in society do change, and that resembles a very positive trend; yet, male roles, that remain pretty much the same, should change for the better as well.

For instance, here’s what the report outlines as the most significant perils to the well-being of men (I took the freedom to add my observations as well):

  • The life expectancy gap is widening rapidly (on average, men are more likely to live several years less than women – in Russia and Ukraine, this gap is 12 years). This is not surprising, as men’s bodies are exposed much more physical effort and pain throughout their lifetime and get worn out sooner than women’s. Moreover, tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse is much more frequent among men than women. Finally, due to cultural and institutional settings, men receive far less health care than women.
  • Men are more often victims of violence, and are more likely to have a violent death. Violence, in our societies, is still framed as something that men normally do (moreover, it is still considered an essential part of masculinity).
  • Men are pressured to go to war, most often against their own will; even when they survive at the battlefield, they experience severe psychological effects afterwards (many suffer physical disabilities too). In human history, the vast majority of war casualties, both soldiers and civilian, were men; the vast majority of war veterans who are unable to reintegrate in society are men as well.
  • Men are badly struck by unemployment (“losing the opportunity to work and earn money means losing the ability to fulfill their key role as breadwinner. Concern for unemployed young men includes both lack of breadwinner status for those seeking to get married and their susceptibility to antisocial and risky behavior, especially in conflict zones.”)
  • Many male migrants face many dangers and are deprived of any dignity. “Migrating men tend to face many occupational health challenges” as they mainly work (and are trafficked to work) in unregulated conditions and have jobs “associated with high rates of disease, accidents, and serious disabilities;” they also get less assistance by society compared to women. Moreover, “men are charged with immigration violations and deported as irregular migrants” more often than women.
  • Men lag behind women in terms of education, training and acquiring skills and qualifications, which results in them being worse off at the labor market in a post-industrial world. Which just perpetuates the vicious circle of frustration, violence, damaged physical and mental health, unhappy life and early death.

Of course, by attempting to raise awareness about the gender issues for men, I do not mean to underplay the problems women face. I also do not want to perpetuate the victimization discourse embraced by advocates who see gender issues as a ground for competitively comparing the level of suffering of women and men (I have witnessed and even took part in countless futile debates that go along the lines “women are more oppressed – no, men are”). There is a great variety gender issues that concern people of both genders in a different way (and in different contexts), yet, all of them need to be properly addressed for the world to become a better place.