In the past few months – since my very non-nondescript blog about my six week trip through Pakistan almost two years ago – took this direction I have thinking about writing a new introduction that would explain my interest in this topic. I was never sure where to start, as I had so many experiences in my life that drew me in this direction and how personal it should be as personal attacks on people who write about and research these issues are not uncommon and I do not want to cause distress to my family. Now I have just come across a note under an article about male suicide from The Guardian that was posted on the facebook site of the ManKind Project. It makes the point very clear why drawing people’s attention across the globe to men’s issues is of vital importance.
Intuitively we tend to focus on women and girls when there is a tragedy and completely black men and boys out. Having done my M.A. in Literature I encountered the phrase ‘writing women back into history’ more than once. In the same vein people claim that Men’s Studies is not needed as every history class is men’s studies as it recounts men’s lives in the past. But that is not true. It only recounts the lives of men in certain glorious roles and says nothing about the hardship they suffered under strenuous conditions. Yes, we need to write some of women’s achievements back into history books, as they were not always appreciated. But at the same time we need to write men’s suffering back into history books. And if someone now thinks that this is a big whining contest in the run up for the oppression Olympics they are still not aware of the real world implications of ignoring men’s suffering. As shown above they are deadly. While men always lived slightly shorter lives than women the life expectancy gap has widened globally in the past 100 years from one year to seven years in the worst affected countries. The male suicide rate is 4 times as high as the female suicide rate in most western countries. In India a married man takes his life every 8 minutes. And while suicide is a sin and considered a crime in many Muslim countries (and thus difficult to get numbers) evidence points to men outnumbering women in Pakistan as well. In western countries it is quite clear that these high numbers are not due to ‘male egos’ as Feminists like to claim. Men are certainly not exactly encouraged to come forward with their problems in a society where if they do so they are called cry babies, laughed at for their ‘male tears’ by journalist Jessica Valenti and told to go to a psychiatric ward instead when calling a domestic violence shelter hotline. Our natural inclination to focus on women and black out men has furthermore led us to make gender specific laws in the name of equality, that clearly have put men under severe hardship.
Globally we now have the UN’s HeforShe campaign that once again asks men to don the armor to be the shining knight and enter the service of women’s protection. Knowing that western NGOs operating in developing countries already heavily favour women even when something affects mainly men I was rather shocked by this campaign that asks men once again to shut up about themselves and help women. Feminists and some anti-feminists alike like to claim that women in the ‘third world’ need Feminism. No one would deny that women in developing countries, such as Pakistan, are suffering. But Feminism will certainly not help them bring food on their table or protect their sons and husbands from being wrongfully incarcerated or killed in a fake police encounter. It is men and women who are struggling in these countries and focusing on improving the lives of only one group and claiming that the other is responsible for their hardship is the last thing the people in these countries need. With a lot of sectarian and communal strife that is already taking so many lives and putting psychological strain on people what is needed are strong communities and a rebuilding of trust in one’s neighbour! The very opposite of what feminist ideology aims for. What we need across the globe is respect for human lives, which grows out of empathy for each other. Claiming that a group of people somehow has privilege makes it impossible for us to have empathy towards them and consequently makes us blind to the fact that they are spending considerable less time in this world than the so called oppressed group.
PS: Feminists like to claim that speaking about men’s issues as long as women’s suffering has not been eliminated is ‘derailing’. As someone from a railway family I do not find this metaphor apt. I would rather say that people working on men’s issues are ‘expanding the network’ and bringing the rail system from 1848 into the 21st century: more lines, affordable fares and more frequent trains, so that anyone can go anywhere at any time they wish 🙂