Over the last month I spoke at two different conferences on being a male. The first conference was held by the National Men’s Forum, which is a cross border organisation that concerns itself with the wellbeing of men. The second conference, IBSC (International Boys’ School Conference) was in South Africa and this international get- together focused on boys’ education. The private schools involved are in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, USA and Northern Ireland.
The Men’s Forum Conference in Dublin deliberately coincided with Men’s Health Week, beginning on June 12th. What emerged from the different speakers, including myself, were dire statistics that demonstrated that being a male is far more dangerous than being a female. Men die on average of five to seven years earlier than women; a high percentage of men die quite soon after retiring from work; ninety percent of violence is perpetrated by males; most road deaths are caused by male drivers; one in four women is subjected to violence by men. The gender ratio of completed suicide is three to one in favour of males. Men are notorious for not going to a medical doctor with enduring physical symptoms. Thirty percent of fathers disappear from their children’s lives within one year of marital separation. Unmarried or separated/divorced men, who do not find another partner, have a lower life expectancy than women who find themselves living alone. Men’s psycho-social wellbeing is particularly affected by their not having an emotional vocabulary to express their emotions. Alcohol and drug addictions are far more prevalent among males and the source of these addictions is often the bottling up of feelings and the fear of being laughed at or appearing ‘weak’ should they express emergency feelings.
On the education side, the conference on boys’ education expressed great dismay at the fact that girls are outdoing boys across all the academic subjects, an average differential of nine percent in favour of the girls. Studies are consistently showing that girls are more educationally motivated, work harder and attain higher class results than boys in co-educational schools. One of the explanations given by a number of speakers was that boys are wired differently to girls and hence the difference in educational achievement. I found this explanation astoundingly arrogant and questioned, ‘how come, when over all the years when boys were outdoing girls across most subjects, particularly, higher mathematics, physics and science, the suggestion was not made that boys were wired differently to girls!’ It is far more likely that the reason for the difference in academic achievement between the sexes is that girls are more motivated and do work harder. After all, they were the oppressed gender – and still are to a large degree – except that now they have found a way to liberate themselves through education. Boys may still be sitting on the laurels of a patriarchal society and, rather than being condemned to ‘biological inferiority’, it would be better if belief were shown in them and encouragement given to them to more seriously take on the challenges of education. This notion of a biologically defective gender is particularly prevalent in the epidemic labelling of boys, (three to one ratio in favour of boys) with ADD, ADHD, and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder). How is it that modern women are giving birth to so many biologically deficient boys, resulting in these syndromes? Or, is there another more logical and verifiable possibility – boys are reared differently to girls. One female professional friend asked me why do boys turn out the way they do, ‘after all, we their mothers cuddle them, love them, dote on them.’ I replied, ‘the reason some boys turn out the way they do is because mothers don’t ask for anything in return.’ It is for this reason so many women complain of men being ‘takers’, but women forget that these men’s mothers did not provide the opportunities on a daily basis for boys to engage in the multiplicity of ways of giving as well as receiving. Good relationships are about give and take and it is essential that boys and girls experience and are realistically expected to take and give in family relationships. Rearing and educating boys is not about ‘boys being boys’; it is about ‘boys being human’ and being given the opportunities to experience the full breadth of human qualities, both head and heart. It is gross neglect not to have boys involved in the nurturing, emotional, expressiveness, comforting, supporting, listening, sharing, domestic responsibilities that are part and parcel of family life. There needs to be a definite balance between outward activities (which have been over-emphasised) and inward activities (which have been hugely under-emphasised). What needs to be true for boys needs also to be true for girls. Girls, too, need to be reared to be human
I am quite convinced that what lies at the core of men’s problems in living is how they are parented and how they are taught. A serious reflection is required by families, schools and relevant government departments to look at these fundamental issues that deeply influence and underpin why it is more dangerous to be male rather than female.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of All About Children, Questions Parents Ask.