Lott: Invisible Men
By Roger Lott, Staff Columnist
Published on Thursday, September 22, 2011
This Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion called “What I Wish I Knew As A Freshman Girl.” The female upperclassmen speakers talked very frankly about their mistakes as freshmen and offered their warm support to the assembled first-year women. The event seemed highly valuable, and I was left wondering why no similar opportunity existed specifically for first-year men.
Female Dartmouth students have access to more support than their male peers. Female advocacy groups at Dartmouth include Women in Business, the Society of Women’s Engineers, Women in Leadership and the Women in Science Program, which provides faculty mentors and paid internships to freshmen women. Link Up pairs first-year women with senior mentors. It’s unfair that men do not have similar opportunities for mentoring or support.
As hard as it may be to believe in light of the historical dominance of males, in many ways modern men are struggling a lot more than their female counterparts. Indeed, men aged 20 to 24 years old commit suicide 10 times as often as women of the same age. Men die younger than women and account for the clear majority of homeless adults. From 1995 to 2002, male college students were twice as likely as female students to be victims of violent crime. Yet, while the College devotes two weeks of every year to V-Time — a programming extension of the global V-Day movement to end violence against women — no campaign exists to reduce violence in men’s lives.
On the rare occasions that men publicly unite and stand up for their interests, there is typically a firestorm of criticism. That was the reaction to a University of Chicago student group called “Men in Power,” which was formed in 2009 to raise awareness about the challenges facing contemporary men. People assumed the group was chauvinistic, but the reality is that supporting men does not need to mean opposing women.
There is a lot of understandable anger about the rampant male chauvinism of the past, and it is natural that some people want to make amends by focusing attention on the problems of women. However, we must be careful to avoid inadvertently engaging in “reverse” sexism against men.
Men should be able to form advocacy groups without automatically being subject to unfavorable suspicions. Although an all-male “Proud to be a Man” dinner would surely garner a flurry of accusations, Dartmouth hosts an annual all-female “Proud to be a Woman” dinner.
Continued male dominance in many areas of society is often used as evidence of past or present sexism against women. Instead of immediately calling for another women’s advocacy group, however, we should try to understand gender disparities in the context of innate gender differences that have resulted from millions of years of human evolution. Men tend to have a strong desire to be able to provide for or “protect” women, so their ability to provide resources is of paramount importance. Such inherent differences may be able to help explain the overrepresentation of men in relatively lucrative fields such as business and engineering.
While there’s nothing wrong with support groups or peer mentoring, the College may be going too far when it provides paid WISP internships to help women become more confident in male-dominated fields. If feminists really want to move away from traditional gender roles, they should be up in arms about women being viewed as needy and deserving of lots of special treatment.
Although women in this country face great challenges, they are in many ways doing better than men. Hopefully when people realize how very far we have come from the patriarchal societies of the past, they will accept that the problems of men deserve equal attention.