Male bashing -- the stereotyping of men as brutal, stupid or otherwise objectionable -- is commonplace. Our sons, husbands, fathers and men-friends are gleefully slandered because they are male. They are subjected to malicious jokes and attitudes that would be decried if directed at blacks, Hispanics or women. The assault against men must stop. But how?
The message that being male is somehow seriously wrong and should be controlled has been broadcast for over three decades. That message is now embedded in laws such as affirmative action and in policies such as bias against fathers in family courts. The damage inflicted on the men in our lives is clear.
• As children, boys are falling behind in the public school system, a process that Christina Hoff Sommers has thoroughly and persistently documented.
• As young adults, male students on American campuses are outnumbered by females by a ratio of four to three, with males receiving only 43 percent of all college degrees.
• In middle age, men are badly slighted by public policies. For example, "women's health" receives far more funding despite the fact that men have higher rates in all but one of the 15 leading causes of death. The May issue of the American Journal of Public Health (05/03), cites social factors as an important contributing cause.
• In old age, the average man is likely to die five years before the average woman. Only now is this disparity being called "a silent health crisis."
From cradle to grave, men are routinely disadvantaged by social attitudes and the legal system.
A new group of victims has been created: men. But instead of loving them for their victimhood, as our culture is wont to do, men remain the brunt of political rage and accusations.
Any man who rapes or commits other violent crimes deserves to be shunned. But he should be reviled by name for specific acts, not for his gender any more than a violent black person should be reviled for his/her race. It is wrong to blame the large majority of decent men for the actions of the indecent few.
There are several steps you can take right now to stand up for the men in your life:
1) Take a personal stand. This is the most important step toward halting the gender war: People should refuse to participate in it. Don't hurl insults at "all men"; if a specific man has wronged you, insult him by name. Don't go along with the male bashing of girlfriends or co-workers. You don't have to become angry -- indeed, you should not; instead, calmly disagree or point out that maligning fellow employees is bad for the workplace. If that step is too awkward for you, then at least don't join in. For example, don't laugh at jokes that skewer "all men," including your infant son.
2) Take an economic stand. Boycott companies who use blatantly anti-male commercials to sell their products or services. For example, Progressive Insurance ran a notorious ad in which an angry woman punished her ex through a voodoo doll, including the use of pliers on its genitals. Imagine how you would react if the genital ripping had been inflicted on a woman. Go to the Web site of such companies and tell them why they will not be receiving your money. And while you are at it, refuse to watch TV shows in which all the male characters are portrayed as buffoons ... or much worse. Make male bashing uncommercial.
3) Take a political stand. Do not support laws or policies, like Title IX, that disadvantage your son to benefit your daughter, or vice versa. Let your children be judged on their merits as individuals. On the other hand, do support campaigns that make gender inequities in the law more visible. For example, talk about the problem of men who are battered in domestic violence. A November 1998 Department of Justice report states that 834,732 men are victims of physical violence by an intimate and they deserve as much support as battered women.
Small actions on your part are powerful. The columnist John Leo illustrates this by recounting a joke presented by a woman speaker: "A woman needed a brain transplant. Her doctor said two brains were available, a woman's brain for $500 and a man's brain for $5,000. Why the big price difference? Answer: The woman's brain has been used." A man in the audience objected to the joke as male bashing and asked people to substitute "black" or "Jew" for the word "man." Just saying "I object" is powerful.
Carry the word substitution one step farther. When you hear claims with specific gender references, switch the gender and think about the message. For example, you hear that separating a mother from her child is a terrible thing. What about separating a father from his child?
It cannot be overstated: Most men are good, hard-working human beings who love their families and never raise a hand in violence. Because their decency is not sensational, they are ignored by media and politicians who focus instead on men who rape or otherwise give their gender a bad name. A better reaction is to hold the decent men closer to us and value them more.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.