That masculine mystique

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

April 04, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Six years ago, a group of men suggested that the legislature establish a "Task Force on Contemporary Manhood" that would study the legal and social inequities facing men in Maryland.

The group noted that men are three times more likely to be heavy drinkers than women. Men are twice as likely to commit suicide and they are significantly more likely to suffer from mental illness.

The group called attention to the fact that the life expectancy of the average man is 10 years shorter than that of the average woman, and that men have a higher mortality rate than women in virtually every health category, including heart disease, hypertension, liver diseases and cancers.

The group pointed out that men commit 90 percent of the state's violent crimes and represent 80 percent of all murder victims.

Either you assume that men are just vicious, brutish louts who are supposed to kill or be killed at such a higher rate, the group argued, or you look at these statistics and assume that something has gone horribly wrong with the whole masculine mystique.

The group got laughed out of Annapolis, of course, although the laughter was uneasy -- most of our state legislators, after all, are men.

But anyway, the idea died and time passed.

Meanwhile, needless to say, men continue to drop dead. They continue to self-destruct. They continue to harm others, all at hTC much greater rates than do women. And the social and legal inequities that the group believed contribute to this problem still exist.

Then late last February, Jack Kammer and about nine others founded the Greater Baltimore Commission for Men, a privately funded, non-profit group with the provocative mission "to bring awareness of male gender issues to social policy-making and to raise public awareness of the existence and consequences of anti-male bias and stereotyping of men and boys."

The commission is sponsoring its first public forum, "How do American Men feel about American Women in 1991?" at Morgan State University on May 16.

"We know we have a tremendous task in front of us," said Kammer, the president of the commission. He was one of the leaders of the 1985 effort as well.

"First of all, we know that society doesn't really care what happens to men," continued Kammer. "We recognize that. We learned that in Annapolis. And so we are trying to make people understand how gender issues impact on the things they do care about -- family, children, crime and health."

The group's first priority, then, will revolve around issues related to fatherhood.

"Fatherhood is not respected in this society," Kammer said. "That fundamental lack of respect is reflected in how we treat divorce, how we fund social programs and a whole host of other areas. And it has widespread implications as well. If we accept that a father's only role is to earn an income, why are we so surprised when young unemployed men sever connections with their family?

"Yet parenthood -- for males and females -- is one of the most important functions of any creature," he continued. "So when you say we don't respect fatherhood, you are talking about a very large degradation of male life."

The Greater Baltimore Commission for Men, insisted Kammer, is not, and should not be seen as being in opposition to the women's movement.

But he's engaging in wishful thinking.

We live in a light-switch society. There seems to be no balance, no middle course. Like a light switch, we go either on or off. We don't seem capable of protecting the rights of one group without plundering the rights of another.

And so, Kammer acknowledged that men will have to redefine the issues established by feminism.

"The central issue of the women's movement," Kammer said, "was over who had the greater earning power. Yet all the real powerful ideas of life are not about money.

"They are about love, nurturing, protection of offspring, and those are all the province of women. Intrinsically, men have no connection to life things. Life is all the province of women. The future, the family, spirituality -- all women."

"Our biggest barrier," Kammer said, "is the notion that this is a man's world. This is not a man's world. If women accounted for 90 percent of the violent crimes in Maryland, I think we'd say that something must be seriously wrong. If women were three times as self-destructive, or two times as sick, I think we'd want to know why."

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