Men Searching for Meaning
The battle for equality is never over. Nothing has made this more apparent than current events. However, when the public discourse is focused on enfranchising the disenfranchised, an important part of the conversation is missed: What about those who already have privilege?
Now, don’t mistake me for one of those “men’s rights activists” who advocate for reverting to an archaic, rigid, patriarchal society. But here’s the deal: men are going through an identity crisis right now. In a world of increasing diversity and fluidity, masculinity is one thing that I have noticed in particular that is very rigid. In schools, boys are bullied for being “gay” when they express feelings, or if they are more interested in cooking than sports. In college, you hear “you’re a pussy” if you don’t want to finish your beer. Above all, when you are told to “be a man”, you are expected to suck it up and do whatever it is others might expect of you despite any personal reservations. But don’t get me wrong; there are some pretty great character traits traditionally associated with men as well. These include strength, objectivity, agency, humor, resilience, and more.
But there are some heart-wrenching statistics for all the strong, funny men out there. The FBI reported that in 2015, men accounted for 79.7% of the arrests for violent crime in the US. Men were arrested at a rate 39 times higher than the rate women were for rape. The same study reported that men accounted for 74.3% of DUI arrests, 90.1% of weapons arrests, and 87.1% of murder and non-negligent manslaughter arrests. And it’s not just the FBI coming up with these statistics. The US Department of Justice also did a study on homicide trends up through 2008. 67.8% of all homicides between 1980 and 2008 included both a male victim and a male perpetrator, with 89.5% of all homicide offenders being men. But it’s not just men killing other people; men also kill themselves at a rate almost two times higher than women globally, due to men’s tendencies to choose more violent methods for suicide, even though they are known to attempt it less. To me, when I discovered that my gender and age group is most likely to die from accidents, homicide, or suicide, I became a little concerned. Now, accidents do mean traditional car accidents (no thanks to aggressive, “tough”, or speedy motorists), but also mean stupid deaths including fireworks, real-life stunts, or general drunkenness. Boys will be boys, we like to say, and apparently, a part of being a boy nowadays means dying prematurely.
So what do we make of this? Well, when men perceive their privilege as threatened, bad things happen. So, I recommend we start a conversation. A conversation about the evolving role of men in modern-day society, just as there is a conversation about other groups. If we talk about equity, let’s talk about making sure that there is equal pay for equal work, and that black lives matter, but let’s also talk about educating young men in such a way that they are not killing everyone including themselves. That way, we can begin to move forward to generate a more healthy definition of what it means to be a man in society today.
And you know what? Maybe you don’t agree with everything that I wrote. Maybe, you think that I am shifting the focus away from marginalized groups. Maybe, you think that I am attacking the only real version of manhood there is out there. Maybe you just think it is okay to say “man up” sometimes. Regardless of what you think, let’s have a dialogue. Because if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that we need to meet everyone’s needs; and if you are comfortable with your identity as a man the way it is, that is great. But, I would imagine you think that it is not great that things like this happen. Perhaps, in fact, it is your voice that we need to hear the most in order to help make this happen.
Pretty transparently, this is my first article on Medium. I wanted to start writing here because making healthy roles for men is what I want to do with my life. I hope to interview men of all ages and gain insight on how people experience both their sex and gender. I will publish summaries in this “Medium” (ha, ha…). Together with my interviewees and my readers, I hope that we can find meaning in modern-day masculinity. I look forward to writing for you again.
P.S. I wrote this mostly while I was half-asleep.