The sex roles that drove a man’s and a woman’s behavior for thousands of years had great impact on each sex. One of the impacts of the sex role on men was the attitude of disposability that developed over the years. By that I mean the tendency of people to be less likely to get emotionally close to men and to see them as expendable. Why would that be?
Imagine we are living long ago and the women were caring for the hearth and the children and making forays to gather while the men were more likely to go out and hunt. The relative danger of those two behaviors is not subtle. Going out to hunt is decidedly more dangerous and the likelihood of the man returning home after a hunt was much smaller than the same likelihood for the woman performing her daily activities. When we don’t expect someone to return what impact does that have on our interest in making an emotional attachment to them? It diminishes. We are less likely to invest our emotional ergs into someone or something that we fear may not be with us. This was obviously not just around the issue of hunting. Men were expected to guard the perimeter and to repel attacks by intruders. This was a dangerous activity and again, increased the likelihood that the man would be disappearing. We tend to not invest in folks who we fear will not be returning. Yet another example is war time. Men were the ones who were expected to go to war and die protecting the village/community/country.
This diminished investment is not subtle but very few people are aware of their own tendency to do this. Let’s try an exercise to evaluate your way of thinking. Has it ever bothered you that only males are expected to sign up for the selective service? That it is only males expected to go and die in case of a national emergency? Does that bug you? Okay, now imagine that congress in all its wisdom has changed the law and decided that we need to draft only girls and women until an equal number of women and girls have died in combat to the numbers of men and boys who have died. Would that upset you? Why? Do you value women and girls more than boys and men? How about if we decided to draft only Black people? Maybe only Jews? Would either of those groups being sacrificed upset you? Would you protest for any of those to not be the only group drafted? Can you feel in your bones how upsetting that would be? If you answered yes to any of those questions, how was your response different from thinking it is okay to draft only men? If you had a different reaction then you are likely holding some of that tendency to consider men and boys to be more disposable.
You can see this tendency in many places. Boys and men comprise almost 80% of suicides and yet we have no outcry or services specifically for this. Men and boys are over 90% of the workplace deaths in the United States but no one seems to notice. Over 97% if the deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq are men and boys and yet we hear no protest in support of men and boys or calls for equality. Men are the victims of domestic violence in considerable numbers and yet we have no services directed towards their needs. All we need to do is open our eyes to see the extent that men and boys are seen as expendable. It is all around us. Ever heard of the wife telling the husband she will go investigate the loud noise that awoke them from a deep sleep?
The age old sex role for men has trickled down into a straight-jacket that harnesses men to be the expendable ones. Most people are simply unconscious of this and treat men according to their own unconscious programming. How about you?
Next – Stereotypes
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.