Across the globe men dominate public life, from politics and business to sport and entertainment, but does this power protect them from pain and injustice?
“It’s a man’s world.” As much as I loathe platitudes, the reality is that men have a firm grip on governments, legal systems, and private ventures across the world. A quick glance at any gathered Parliament reveals how men dominate political systems.
The majority of men’s difficulties are instead rooted in toxic masculine stereotypes
Knowing this, it is easy to make the following argument; the majority of laws are made by men, and the rights that come with those laws are created by men. Going further still, by the long history of women’s exclusion from these processes, these rights were made for men.
Therefore, all rights are men’s rights. They made them, after all. There is no doubt that men do not face the same challenges as women in terms of political representation. The majority of men’s difficulties are instead rooted in traditional (and toxic) masculine stereotypes.
‘Real Men Don’t Cry’
Men are far more likely to take their own lives than women. It is the biggest killer of men under 45. Three-quarters of all suicides in the UK in 2016 were male, and with approximately 6,000 suicides each year, men made up around 4,500 of that jarring figure. For many, this encapsulates the cultural pressure on men to appear strong and powerful at all times. Strength is to be celebrated and weakness derided, leaving those who find themselves struggling reluctant to ask for help.
It is well known that men are more reluctant to see their GP, the first step in getting help with mental health difficulties. Many men have friends that would support them, but this doesn’t completely solve the problem. The support men get from their friends can be outstripped by a broader social stigma and cultural pressures.
This trend of not seeking help continues with domestic violence. For year-ending March 2017, the Office of National Statistics found that approximately 1.9 million adults experienced domestic abuse: 6 percent of the UK population. Around 7.5 percent of women and 4.3 percent of men experienced domestic violence. This equates to an estimated 1.2 million female victims and 713,000 male victims.
There are many support structures available for women who experience violence at home. The same cannot be said for men: the comparative number of charities and support structures are not representative of the proportion of victims. However, this has been changing for the better in recent years.
Fatherhood and the Courts
Fatherhood in our society is often typified by distance or even downright ineptitude. The painful clichés of the man who cannot change nappies, or appears dumbstruck at the thought of cooking dinner, need to be discarded. However, these clichés are represented in law. In the UK, a mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child. A man must be deemed acceptable by either the mother, if she gives him permission to sign the birth certificate, or by applying to the state to have parental responsibility.
When parents separate, child custody arrangements can compound an already distressing situation. The University of Warwick conducted a study which found that courts do not discriminate against fathers. Men applying for access were usually granted it, but the fact remains that initial custody in these cases was nearly always granted to the mother. It’s also worth noting that “access” can mean anything from a 50 percent custody share to weekly indirect contact via Skype or telephone. This certainly makes for distant fathers.
Courts can also favour women over men in sentencing. A particularly controversial case was when Lavinia Woodward stabbed her boyfriend in a cocaine and alcohol fuelled rage, and was given a four month deferred sentence. Critics have argued that it is hard to imagine a man being given a deferred sentence for an intoxicated stabbing against a partner, aspiring surgeon or not.
In order for us to break away from the more toxic elements of masculinity, we need to stop reinforcing the stereotypes that cause unnecessary suffering for men. Boys can cry. Fathers need not be distant. Men can be victims. In our constant struggle for a more egalitarian society, we must acknowledge that even those who have the most control in our society can be treated unfairly and find themselves without help.
Boys can cry. Fathers need not be distant.
The growth of a new, healthier version of masculinity begins with allowing us to shed the heavy stereotypes that do us such harm. This could start with breaking the shame culture around male victims of violence and mental illness, and giving fathers the same opportunities as mothers to spend time with their children. Breaking down toxic stereotypes, and ensuring that men’s rights are respected, would be a step forward for men and for society as a whole.