Are Men the Victims?

A very famous blog post is Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is by John Scalzi [1]. In that post he clearly describes that life isn’t great for straight white men, but that there are many more opportunities for them.

Causes of Death

When this post is mentioned there are often objections, one common objection is that men have a lower life expectancy. The CIA World factbook (which I consider a very reliable source about such matters) says that the US life expectancy is 77.8 for males and 82.3 for females [2]. The country with the highest life expectancy is Monaco with 85.5 for males and 93.4 years for females [3]. The CDC in the US has a page with links to many summaries about causes of death [4]. The causes where men have higher rates in 2015 are heart disease (by 2.1%), cancer (by 1.7%), unintentional injuries (by 2.8%), and diabetes (by 0.4%). The difference in the death toll for heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, and diabetes accounts for 7% of total male deaths. The male top 10 lists of causes of death also includes suicide (2.5%) and chronic liver disease (1.9%) which aren’t even in the top 10 list for females (which means that they would each comprise less than 1.6% of the female death toll).

So the difference in life expectancy would be partly due to heart problems (which are related to stress and choices about healthy eating etc), unintentional injuries (risk seeking behaviour and work safety), cancer (the CDC reports that smoking is more popular among men than women [5] by 17.5% vs 13.5%), diabetes (linked to unhealthy food), chronic liver disease (alcohol), and suicide. Largely the difference seems to be due to psychological and sociological issues.

The American Psychological Association has for the first time published guidelines for treating men and boys [6]. It’s noteworthy that the APA states that in the past “psychology focused on men (particularly white men), to the exclusion of all others” and goes on to describe how men dominate the powerful and well paid jobs. But then states that “men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims”. They then go on to say “thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly”. The article then goes on to mention use of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy eating as correlated with “traditional” ideas about masculinity. One significant statement is “mental health professionals must also understand how power, privilege and sexism work both by conferring benefits to men and by trapping them in narrow roles”.

The news about the new APA guidelines focuses on the conservative reaction, the NYT has an article about this [7].

I think that there is clear evidence that more flexible ideas about gender etc are good for men’s health and directly connect to some of the major factors that affect male life expectancy. Such ideas are opposed by conservatives.

Risky Jobs

Another point that is raised is the higher rate of work accidents for men than women. In Australia it was illegal for women to work in underground mines (one of the more dangerous work environments) until the late 80’s (here’s an article about this and other issues related to women in the mining industry [8]).

I believe that people should be allowed to work at any job they are qualified for. I also believe that we need more occupational health and safety legislation to reduce the injuries and deaths at work. I don’t think that the fact that a group of (mostly male) politicians created laws to exclude women from jobs that are dangerous and well-paid while also not creating laws to mitigate the danger is my fault. I’ll vote against such politicians at every opportunity.

Military Service

Another point that is often raised is that men die in wars.

In WW1 women were only allowed to serve in the battlefield as nurses. Many women died doing that. Deaths in war has never been an exclusively male thing. Women in many countries are campaigning to be allowed to serve equally in the military (including in combat roles).

As far as I am aware the last war where developed countries had conscription was the Vietnam war. Since then military technology has developed to increasingly complex and powerful weapons systems with an increasing number of civilians and non-combat military personnel supporting each soldier who is directly involved in combat. So it doesn’t seem likely that conscription will be required for any developed country in the near future.

But not being directly involved in combat doesn’t make people safe. NPR has an interesting article about the psychological problems (potentially leading up to suicide) that drone operators and intelligence staff experience [9]. As an aside the article reference two women doing that work.

Who Is Ignoring These Things?

I’ve been accused of ignoring these problems, it’s a general pattern on the right to accuse people of ignoring these straight white male problems whenever there’s a discussion of problems that are related to not being a straight white man. I don’t think that I’m ignoring anything by failing to mention death rates due to unsafe workplaces in a discussion about the treatment of trans people. I try to stay on topic.

The New York Times article I cited shows that conservatives are the ones trying to ignore these problems. When the American Psychological Association gives guidelines on how to help men who suffer psychological problems (which presumably would reduce the suicide rate and bring male life expectancy closer to female life expectancy) they are attacked by Fox etc.

My electronic communication (blog posts, mailing list messages, etc) is mostly connected to the free software community, which is mostly male. The majority of people who read what I write are male. But it seems that the majority of positive feedback when I write about such issues is from women. I don’t think there is a problem of women or left wing commentators failing men. I think there is a problem of men and conservatives failing men.

What Can We Do?

I’m sure that there are many straight white men who see these things as problems but just don’t say anything about it. If you don’t want to go to the effort of writing a blog post then please consider signing your name to someone else’s. If you are known for your work (EG by being a well known programmer in the Linux community) then you could just comment “I agree” on a post like this and that makes a difference while also being really easy to do.

Another thing that would be good is if we could change the hard drinking culture that seems connected to computer conferences etc. Kara has an insightful article on Model View Culture about drinking and the IT industry [10]. I decided that drinking at Linux conferences had got out of hand when about 1/3 of the guys at my table at a conference dinner vomited.

Linux Conf Au (the most prestigious Linux conference) often has a Depression BoF which is really good. I hope they have one this year. As an aside I have problems with depression, anyone who needs someone to talk to about such things and would rather speak to me than attend a BoF is welcome to contact me by email (please take a failure to reply immediately as a sign that I’m behind on checking my email not anything else) or social media.

If you have any other ideas on how to improve things please make a comment here, or even better write a blog post and link to it in a comment.

7 comments to Are Men the Victims?

  • Derek

    Have you read David French’s own words on the topic? You link an article that pulls a single sentence from his writing.
    “The APA issues guidelines that do indeed target traditional masculinity as commonly understood. Then, under pressure, they issue a statement that redefines the term.” I think it’s unfair leap from French’s argument that the APA has defined “traditional masculinity” as “all the bad stuff” to “conservatives oppose improving things”.

    Whose definition of “traditional” masculinity?

  • Chris Barnard

    I like it and I qualify as straight white male.
    Eating seems to be another of those things abused at conferences along with alcohol.
    (I’m just a user and lurker wrt open source)

  • Derek, the first article you cite talks about athletes as examples of “grown men” and how that helps them achieve sporting success. However it seems that there are a lot of violent criminals in athletic teams who are supported by team management as long as it doesn’t become a PR issue. If being a “grown ass man” was required for sporting success they would sack the athletes who beat their wives. I stopped reading there as it was obvious they were on the wrong track.

    The second article starts by talking about median wages being lower than they were a generation ago. This is however due to the success of the “traditional masculinity” meme, where corporate leaders assert dominance by earning far more than they could ever spend while average men struggle to earn enough to buy food and feel like failures because of it.

    The National Review seems to be the sole voice of conservative sanity. I often cite them when trying to encourage people to leave the Christian taliban and take a more evidence based approach. Unfortunately the National Review has a very small market share and is not really representative of mainstream conservative opinion. Fox news is the mainstream of conservatism. Note that the APA made no mention of Harvey Weinstein type behaviour, that was all Fox.

  • Thanks foryour well-written sentiments. I agree with what you are saying here. Working to be better & help my brothers of all hues and saturations yo.

  • anon

    I’m a straight/cis/white/wealthy male and I really like this post. Yet, I think it there should be a bit more focus on the psychological side.
    I’ve met plenty of people in the same place that seem to be deeply unaware of their luck. But also some that struggle to find a meaning in their life. Ironically, feelings of purposelessness and depression seem to correlate with material success and education.
    Reminding unhappy people how “lucky” they are and how they “should be happy” invalidates one’s feelings and makes things worse.

  • anon: I don’t think my post could be reasonably interpreted as telling anyone that they are lucky. I summarise the analysis of male causes of death which clearly indicates that men aren’t so lucky. The point is that men aren’t unlucky due to the reasons cited by MRA types, but due to issues related to what is described as toxic masculinity.

    The straight white male blog post makes it clear that things aren’t always great for straight white men, they are just generally better in many ways than they are for people who aren’t straight white men.

    As for depression, some of the unreasonable standards of masculinity seem likely to cause that. If being successful at being masculine requires beating others than 50% of men probably aren’t going to feel so successful.