Meadville Tribune

Opinion

April 14, 2014

There’s no war on men and boys — it’s quite the opposite

Two weeks ago, Paul Dici submitted an column titled “It’s time to fight against the war on men and boys” (March 28). Mr. Dici would have us believe that men and boys are being “wussified” by a progressive agenda that may jeopardize our national security. Also, he makes the point that men and boys are not given the same advantages (programs) as women and girls.

He offers several examples in support of these points, which I would like to address at this time. I know that Mr. Dici is not alone in his opinions. I have heard other men (some in my own circle of friends) express similar concerns. Maybe it’s because I work for a woman’s organization that specifically addresses women’s issues that I find his opinions misguided. I mean no disrespect, of course, but plainly there is NO war on men and boys.

There IS a war on women and girls, however. In fact, women and girls are under assault in a myriad of ways that men and boys will never experience. In their book, “Half the Sky,” authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn make a strong case for investing in the well-being of women worldwide because “more girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the 20th century.” Their research further shows that women aged 15 to 45 “are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.”

Of course, men are victims of male violence, too. Mr. Dici rightly points to the heroic sacrifices made by men defending our country (in wars started by other men, I might add). In our most recent wars, approximately 7,000 troops (mostly men but not exclusively) have died in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2012. In the same period, tragically, the number of women killed as the result of domestic violence is more than 11,000. These are but a few examples of what a real gender war looks like, Mr. Dici.

Furthermore, the argument that men and boys are denied “programs” available to women and girls may be true in a handful of examples, but the reverse is often the case. I know because as a white, middle-aged, middle class, heterosexual male, I have enjoyed every privilege and opportunity this country has to offer. Not once have I had to worry about educational and employment opportunities being denied to me on the basis of race, gender, class or sexual orientation. Not once have I been paid less than women for equal work. Truly, I am not feeling oppressed, and I seriously wonder how other white, heterosexual men can feel this way in this country.

In support of this argument, Mr. Dici cites the disparity in awareness, services and funding between breast cancer and prostate cancer. He accurately states that there are more diagnosed cases of prostate cancer, which primarily affects men, but fails to mention that breast cancer kills more women. Perhaps breast cancer receives more attention because female advocates for breast cancer are more tenacious and more outspoken about and engaged in their personal health. Perhaps free screenings for breast cancer are available to women because women have been less able to afford health care. Whatever the reasons, I’m not sure why Mr. Dici sees this as an attack on men versus a desire to make our society healthier and more equitable.

My biggest objection with Mr. Dici’s comments, however, concern his views on the “wussification” of men. Personally, I never understood the rationale that men’s strength is best expressed through violence, toughness and domination. Both men and women are tough enough to defend this country from its enemies. I have no doubt that there will be sufficient numbers of both sexes willing and capable of storming future beaches regardless of who is permitted to play with dolls as children. Rather, men and boys would do better to apply their physical and mental toughness to issues of inequality, injustice, illiteracy and poverty. The future will require this kind of transformational application of strength from men.

Quite frankly, Mr. Dici, I’m not all that nostalgic for a past that wasn’t so great for too many people. In fact, I’m not too crazy about the present either, because too many women and girls still face sexual objectification, sex trafficking and slavery, genital mutilation, honor killings and having to protect their bodies from unnecessary, internal medical examinations while tirelessly defending their hard-earned reproductive rights.

Yes, Mr. Dici, that makes me a feminist. I strongly believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Do you know who taught me that lesson? My father, who by the way, was one of those men who stormed the beaches in the Pacific during World War II.

Bruce Harlan is executive director of Meadville-based Women’s Services Inc. Since 1977, Women’s Services has been providing services and programs to the adults and children of Crawford County who are in crisis due to domestic violence, sexual assault or homelessness. For more information on the services they provide, visit womensservicesinc.org. Reg Henry’s column, which normally runs on Mondays in the Tribune, will be published on Tuesday.

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