death and gender: pathologizing masculinity, normalizing misandry

Men suffer many more injury-related deaths than do women.  In the U.S. in 2010,  the ratio of men to women dying from unintentional injuries was 1.7 men per woman.  That ratio does not account for men’s minority status among the adult population (men numbered 6% fewer than women in the U.S. in 2010).  Hence men’s deaths from unintentional injuries per 100,000 men (death rate) was 1.8 times higher than the corresponding death rate for women.  The bias toward men’s deaths is even higher among deaths from violence-related injuries.  Men’s death rate from violence-related injures was 4.1 times that of women.  Considering all injury-related deaths, men’s injury-related death rate in the U.S. in 2010 was 2.2 that of women.[1]

Public policies to reduce men’s deaths while respecting men’s freedom to develop and live as masculine men are feasible.  War, which is institutionalized men-on-men violence, should be avoided by any possible means.  Sexist selective service should be abolished, and military combat assignments should be reviewed to ensure the combat-death risks are not disproportionately imposed on men.  Special employment transition benefits could be enacted to help men interested in moving out of the most dangerous occupations such as mining and construction.  Public policy could encourage affirmative action to promote men’s opportunities in relatively safe occupations such as teaching and medical care.  To reduce men’s alcohol-related fatalities, policies could be directed toward reducing stress in men’s lives, increasing men’s sexual satisfaction, and providing a safe environment for men to behave raucously.

Public discussion of injury-related death shows stark effects of gender.  While women’s health is a major scholarly and public policy concern, the highly disproportionate number of men’s deaths has hardly attracted any attention.  The few scholarly articles addressing the issue have been highly gendered.  One such article began:

It has long been noted that masculinity can be harmful to men’s health (e.g., Goldberg, 1977; Harrison, 1978).  More specifically, scholars theorize that masculine socialization predisposes many young men to take excessive risks (Courtenay, 1998; Marini, 2005). [2]

The terms “masculinity” and “masculine socialization” are rhetorical, intellectually empty placeholders for actual men’s lives.  Those lives contract sharply with the lives that gender scholars, in their “theorizing,” want men to live.  The article quoted above shamelessly deploys such rhetoric to exploit in shallow scholarly research the lives of men returning with serious injuries from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pathologizing these men’s masculinity after it has been exploited for war is utterly contemptible.

gender garbage

Another recent scholarly article on injury-related death treats gender with greater rhetorical sophistication.  This peer-reviewed article is entitled “Gender Disparities in Injury Mortality: Consistent, Persistent, and Larger Than You’d Think.”  That title obscures the paper’s central observation: men’s injury-related death rate is consistently and persistently about twice women’s.   Moreover, the vaguely-titled article’s first sentence establishes gender-conventional framing:

Males are born with a numerical advantage, an advantage that decreases over time. [3]

Being born with a numerical advantage, such as being born among citizens of California rather than among citizens of Montana, is rather different from facing twice the rate of injury-related death of a similarly situated person.  Moreover, the appended dependent clause is much more related to the substance of the paper than is the preceding independent clause.[4]  Describing as men’s disadvantage their suffering from twice women’s injury-related death rate is disfavored within the gender structure of public discourse.  The article’s introductory sentence signals gender bias within that discursive structure.

Similarly gender-biased is the vaguely titled article’s subsection titled “consistency of male excess.”  It describes men’s injury-related mortality consistently being about twice that of women’s.  The issue of “missing women” in Asia has attracted considerable scholarly and public attention.  Men are missing in the U.S. from relatively high injury-related mortality.  The issue of missing men attracts almost no scholarly and public attention.[5]  The vaguely titled article, which actually is about missing men, describes the problem as “male excess.”

The gendered structure of public discourse, deeply entrenched in human social nature, risks pathologizing masculinity and normalizing misandry.  A recent scholarly article advocates public “interventions” to “challenge gendered identities” and “promote affirming ways of ‘doing gender.'”  It declares:

gender effects on health are characterized by a capacity for adaptation over time and space, in response to fashion, media, or public policy.  … Interventions that would explore and promote affirming ways of ‘doing gender’ may ultimately constitute ‘best buys’ for health and society. [6]

Interventions challenging gender identities should start with speaking out with concern and compassion for men’s relatively high injury-related mortality.  Interventions could proceed to speaking out about the grotesquely gendered structure of public discourse about sexism, the gendered structure of public discourse about sex-differences in lifespan, the gendered structure of public discourse about legal regulation of male sexuality, and many other important topics that current social practices of “doing gender” suppress.

The scholarly literature, however, does gender by pathologizing masculinity and normalizing misandry.  The gender-totalitarian solution to men’s relatively high injury-related death rate is to deny men the freedom to be masculine men.  That goes by the social-scientific cant of “modifying masculinity-linked behavior.”[7]  The gender-totalitarian solution takes as given social structures that define men as relatively disposable human beings.  It favors more discrimination against men.  For example, to address men’s alcohol-related injury mortality, the gender-totalitarian solution proposes:

a higher age for licensing males {allowing males to get a driver’s license}, a higher age for legal consumption of alcohol by males, or a policy of zero-tolerance for male drinking and driving. [8]

Males who understand this misandry surely will be driven in despair to drink more.  A more excellent way starts with love for men.

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Data: sex differences in injury-related deaths in the U.S. in 2010 (Excel version)

Read more:

Notes:

[1] After age 65, the sex ratio for violence-related fatalities climbs sharply.  In the U.S. in 2010, the violence-related death rate for men ages 75 and older was seven times greater than that for women of those ages.  Older men may not be appreciating their frailty and may be too willing to sacrifice themselves by placing themselves in harm’s way.  U.S. fatal injury data are readily available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fatal Injury Reports (WISQARS).  Data compiled from that source for 2010 are in the workbook on sex differences in injury-related deaths.

[2] Good et al. (2008) p. 39.  The quotation’s in-line references foster a pretense of knowledge-authority and cow persons not familiar with the sort of scholarly work this is.

[3] Sorenson (2011) p. S353.

[4] Id. provides no substantial analysis of the sex ratio at birth.

[5] Id. p. S356 observes:

Systematic analysis of gender differences in injury mortality in multiple and diverse countries would help document the scope and nature of the phenomenon. To my knowledge, no other such analyses have been published in the peer-reviewed literature.

[6] Snow (2008) pp. 59, 72, including preceding quoted phrases.  Id. preposterously attempts to parse differences in mortality rates between “chromosomal sex” and “gender.”  Sex, which depends on much more biology than chromosomes, arises developmentally.  Human nature is clearly social.  Authoritative “interventions” that target adults’ “gender identity” may well do great violence to their well-being.  The distinction between sex and gender is obvious in scholarly discourse.  Sex is about males and females.  Gender is about rights of women and wrongs of men.

[7] Sorenson (2011) p. S357-8.

[8] Snow (2008) p. 70.  A more just form of sex discrimination would be to adjust men’s Social Security payments to recognize men’s death-rate disadvantage.  Increasing social appreciation for men and providing better social circumstances for men are needed to address the root social problem of men’s self-destructiveness.

References:

Good, Glenn E., Laura H. Schopp, Doug Thomson, Stefani L. Hathaway, Micah O. Mazurek, and Tiffany C. Sanford-Martens. 2008. “Men with serious injuries: Relations among masculinity, age, and alcohol use.” Rehabilitation Psychology. 53 (1): 39-45.

Snow, Rachel C. 2008. “Sex, gender, and vulnerability.” Global Public Health. 3: 58-74.

Sorenson, Susan B. 2011. “Gender Disparities in Injury Mortality: Consistent, Persistent, and Larger Than You’d Think.” American Journal of Public Health. 101 (S1): S353-S358.

2 thoughts on “death and gender: pathologizing masculinity, normalizing misandry”

  1. Interesting topic. I have a question about the end of this passage:

    Interventions could proceed to speaking out about the grotesquely gendered structure of public discourse about sexism, the gendered structure of public discourse about sex-differences in lifespan, the gendered structure of public discourse about legal regulation of male sexuality, and many other important topics that current social practices of “doing gender” suppress.

    When you refer to “doing gender” are you referring to West and Zimmerman’s concept of “doing gender”?

    Thanks.

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