In the following are statistical facts that support the notion that men and masculinity are in crisis today. The sheer amount of social issues that target men more frequently than women are a testament to that fact. I have chosen not to include this chapter in the main report because it seemed unnecessary to include a description this detailed in order to illustrate the fact that men in America today are struggling on many accounts. However, I always felt that the information here helps greatly in emphasizing the severity of the issues men face, which is why it has been included here instead.
Men’s work hours have seen dramatic changes since the arrival of capitalism. During pre-capitalist, feudal times people did not work very long hours, since they were dependent on the rise and setting of the sun and the changing seasons. In 1850, however, the average workweek was comprised of almost 70 hours – 52 weeks a year58. And even though labor movements and increased technology have reduced those prodigious work hours throughout the 20th century, the average amount of hours worked in the United States today is still higher than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. In the following are a range of different social issues in which especially men are the victims. These issues are connected to the fact that many men overwork themselves in order to never be viewed as weak or emasculated. Andrew Kimbrell calls it the masculine mystique – the need to uphold the hegemonic masculine ideal in order to be called a man:
Heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease have been the three most fatal illnesses in the United States in recent years and they target men far more often than women (although women’s statistics are gaining on the men due to more women pursuing ambitious careers)59. The pressure and stress of having to outperform oneself every day in order to keep moving upwards in one’s career is one main reason for this disproportionate negative rate for men. Although Kimbrell’s statistics are twenty years old, they have not changed much today:
“For men between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five, the death rate from heart disease is about three times that of women in the same age group. Though heart attacks are also the number-one killer of women, almost three-quarters of women who die of heart attacks are seventy-five or older. By this time the average man has been dead for two years”60.
Synnott also notes men’s unwillingness to visit a physician, “this apparent failure in self-care [as he calls it] is partly a consequence of the traditional male values of stoicism and self-reliance going beyond R.W Emerson to the warrior ideal”61.
Higher equality between the genders in the last four or five decades has brought with it a higher proportion of women in the job market. But while women comprised 43% of the workforce in the United States in 2012, men fell victim to 92% of all job-related deaths in the same year62. Part of this discrepancy has to do with the fact that most work accidents happen in physically demanding jobs, like construction – thus primarily male-dominated industries. However, men are much more likely to take on dangerous tasks in favor of female workers, expressing the idea that women are still the frailer sex that needs to be protected. Emphasizing this notion is the fact that female soldiers in the U.S military have been barred from joining the infantry and live combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan, because of the belief that their presence will undermine “unit cohesion”63.
The global recession starting in 2007 had a major impact on employment in the United States. 8,000,000 people lost their jobs during the recession. Three-fourths of them were men, since especially male-dominated industries (eg. factories, agriculture, construction and transportation) took the highest toll. An American study in 2011 interviewed different men whose employment was disrupted during the crisis: “Some became emotional while talking, even weeping. Many referred to feelings of worthlessness or a loss of dignity after losing their jobs. Depression was common”64.
The majority of homeless people in the United States are single adult males. On any given night in January 2013, there were over 600,000 people living on the streets – approximately 67% of them were adult males. The reasons for their homelessness are connected to gender-specific social issues; men are more likely to be veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and less likely to seek help for their mental illness or substance abuse. Additionally, for someone whose work is an integral part of their identity, unemployment can mean losing all direction in life so that homelessness seems the only option65.
As mentioned, winning competitions (of any sort) is a core characteristic of the postmodern male. It lets him distinguish himself among his equals and show off his masculinity for admiration. This notion is distinctly embodied in the practice of sports, where the lean and hard physical ideal must be upheld by men and boys in order to achieve victory. In 2013, the U.S Food and Drug Administration estimated that 550,000 high school students had used anabolic steroids at least once in their lives. 70% of these were young men66. Side effects of using this illegal drug and other growth hormones include “fertility problems, impotence, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and heart and liver abnormalities”67 – and yet in spite of these detrimental effects, young men are willing to risk their own health in order to fulfill the current stereotype of what a man ‘should’ look like. It is worth mentioning that the boys who fail to meet the physical demands of the masculine ideal are often bullied in school and will grow up to resent the traditional definition of physical masculinities – and resent the men who manage to live up to that ideal, be they athletes or powerful and charismatic career men.
Alcoholism and drug addiction have always been a man’s crisis. With the freedom men have enjoyed in society in the past and a higher affluence than women, they have had easier access to indulging themselves with drink and substance abuse. While an increased level of equality between the genders has also resulted in an unwelcome rise in women’s alcoholism and drug addiction, the statistics are still vastly negative towards men, who comprise two-thirds of addicts and two-thirds of all drug- and alcohol-induced deaths in America68.
Kimbrell writes, “As of 1992, men were about three and a half times more likely to be victims of murder than women”69, and this statistic has only grown worse over the last twenty years. Men were the victims of 80% of all homicides and fatal assault cases in the United States in 201270.
Men comprise the vast majority of suicides. In 2012, there were 40,600 suicides in the United States – 79% of these were male71. Andrew Kimbrell quotes a parent in the introduction of his book, “They called to say that our son had taken his own life. He’d shot himself. We knew that he’d been depressed, but he never said anything. He never told us he was in trouble. He never asked for help”72. The unwillingness among men to admit weakness because it is viewed as unmasculine has a highly damaging effect on American men in our society.
Depression as a mental illness has primarily been associated with women, who are diagnosed twice as frequently as men. However, gender psychologist Christopher Kilmartin writes that “evidence from differential rates of substance abuse, incarceration, and especially suicide calls into question the assumption that men are less susceptible than women to depression”73. Men’s unwillingness to admit their supposed weakness is a reason why health personnel are unable to recognize the signs of depression and other mental illnesses. Without a proper diagnosis, therefore, many men are left underdiagnosed and undertreated.
All the issues above have resulted in a major difference in life expectancy between men and women. In 1920, the life expectancy of the genders was about the same74. As I write, there is a six-year gap in the life expectancy of the white American male and female (an intersectional approach between Caucasians and African-Americans would reveal an even more dramatic difference in life expectancy)75. The cold statistics of men’s lives in contemporary society are a clear indication of the struggles they face; and yet most men are still unwilling to accept or admit that there is even a problem, which makes improvement of these matters difficult.