Book review by Pablo Malo
That our society, culture or system uses and exploits both sexes differently – men in one way and women in another – is an idea whose time is yet to come. Roy Baumeister has stated that culture is humanity’s biological strategy to solve the problems that all species face: survival and reproduction. And cultures compete with each other. To survive in this struggle, cultures have to use men and women effectively and this doesn’t necessarily mean using men and women in the same way. In fact, most cultures have used men and women in different ways.
On the contrary, the discourse that currently dictates how gender relations are to be interpreted is a feminist one, a discourse that describes our culture as a patriarchy: a conspiracy of men to oppress and exploit women. To propose that men are exploited in this society is little less than madness or sin. After all, isn’t it obvious that men occupy positions of power in politics, in the economy, that 90% of the top 500 of CEOs are men and so on? If men rule and govern the world, how is it possible to say that this society doesn’t favor men nor privileges them?
The problem with this popularly accepted discourse is that it comes from looking only upwards, pointing out that positions of privilege are dominated by men and drawing conclusions for society in general and for all men as a whole. Yes, it is true that there are more men on top, but we often forget to look down. And if we look down, we see that there are also more men in the mud and in the sewers of society, in the less privileged places. Men also do poorly in many areas. To give some well-known examples: they commit suicide in a much greater proportion than women, they are 80% of the homeless, they are the main victims of workplace fatalities (of the 652 people killed at their workplace in Spain in 2018, 602 were men and 50 were women), boys have greater school drop-out rates and men are the main victims in military conflicts (the majority of both military and civilian casualties). That men lead easy and privileged lives while women suffer and are exploited is incorrect, or at least not the whole story. While it may be true that some men are doing great, to conclude that it is a bargain to be a man and that society is set up to benefit men represents a view colored by the mistake of not looking down.
If we really want to understand our culture, we have to look at the way in which society also exploits men, as well as women. And this is what Dehumanizing the Male does, effectively helping us to better understand the society and culture in which we live. The main thesis of the book is that there is no system that harms women and benefits men in a unidirectional way, but that the gender system harms both sexes differently for the benefit of the group, as well as granting them advantages (or privileges) in different areas. According to Daniel, generally, what our culture does is granting greater status to men and greater protection to women. Thus, men would enjoy, generally, the advantages of higher status and women the advantages of greater protection, while men would suffer the disadvantages of lower protection and women the disadvantages of lesser status.
The book takes a tour of the past and the present – although proposals are also made for the future – of the situation of men in society and of the discrimination and disadvantages that they have also suffered and continue to suffer. It is a rigorous book, with references to everything that is stated and that does not fall into antifeminism or competition for victim status. At no time does it deny the disadvantages or discrimination that women have suffered or suffer today but, next to them, places and points out those that impact men. The overall result, I believe, supports the general thesis that most cultures indeed grant men higher social status and women greater protection.
Nevertheless, male problems are invisible or, rather, are rendered invisible. According to Daniel, given the position assigned to the male sex as oppressor and privileged, male problems (those experienced exclusively or mostly by males) are excluded from political discourse, mainly in three ways:
1-Invisibilization or denial. This can be observed in many government surveys or reports on gender discrimination and dating violence in which men are not directly asked about their experience. Examples would be the Macro-survey of violence against women commissioned by the Spanish government and the European Union survey on the same subject. It must be said that in countries like the United States this has already changed and in the main official surveys, such as the NISVS (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey), both sexes are represented.The results can be found here.
2-Reclassifying male problems into other categories: social, racial, class, immigration, etc. Female problems are gendered, but male problems are not. Previously we talked about workplace fatalities. Well, if you read this article in the newspaper ElDiario.es you will realize that data segregated by sex is not provided. The article refers to “dead people” or “workers”. If you read it in Europa Press the same thing happens. But if you read it on RTVE and you have the patience to reach exactly the end of the last paragraph, you will find the sex segregation. Imagine that the numbers of male and female workers killed was the opposite (that is, 602 dead women and 50 men), do you think the media treatment would have been the same? Do you think that society’s and social agents’ response would have been the same? (that is, none) As Daniel repeats throughout the book, there is no gender spinning for men’s problems. If a problem or violence affects primarily women, it is a gendered problem, but the opposite does not happen.
3-Limiting male problems to purely internal issues based on gender roles. Males suffer social pressures to prevent expressing their feelings and they are constrained by their role as providers and protectors, but all they have to do to solve their problems is to change their attitude, learn how to communicate better and ask for help. This approach is present, for example, in the subject of suicide. The discussion of female suicide tends to be focus on external factors: the living conditions of women, the stress they endure, etc. When talking about male suicide, on the other hand, the main focus is on internal factors: men don’t cry, they have to be tough, they can’t ask for help, etc. Why is it not possible to conceive that perhaps men commit suicide at higher rates because they have harsh and stressful living conditions that turn their lives into hell?
I believe the thesis of this book explains very well the changes we are currently experiencing. What happens when a society gives more status to women and also more protection to women? Well, women are claiming, and obtaining, greater status, but without renouncing greater protection, or sometimes even demanding more protection (and special protections) than before. For example, we have heard a vice-president of the Spanish government state that women have to always be believed [literally sí o sí]. When feminism demands greater protection for women, it is not breaking with the traditional rules of chivalry or with its gender identity. In contrast, traditionally, men don’t demand protection. The woman who demands protection doesn’t lose her femininity, but the man who asks for it does damage his reputation as a man in the eyes of society, who perceive him as less than a man (in the case of traditionalism) or as a privileged person who pretends to be a victim and has no right to complain (in the case of feminism). Men do not demand protection, men protect others and especially themselves. A man who is not able to protect himself is simply regarded as not being man enough.
I have learned many things that I did not know in this book (about rape of men in military conflicts, human trafficking in forced labor, the history of partner and family violence, etc.). In my view, the evidence that men experience discrimination and violence in numerous settings, both disproportionately and/or because they are men, is strong. It is also true that the press, the media and society as a whole ignore these disadvantages and discriminations. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this will change in a long time and one of the reasons for this is that our mind is programmed by our evolutionary history to value women’s lives more than men’s. There are many tests and experiments where it can be observed that both men and women value women’s lives more, consider that the suffering of women is greater and show more sympathy towards women than men (in this Twitter thread you have several links: https://twitter.com/Scientific_Bird/status/1095403852214472706). This empathy bias is completely logical from an evolutionary standpoint: women are simply more valuable biologically and genetically than men and men are more disposable. Cultures that have evolved with this bias have survived better and displaced those that haven’t. It has never happened but if a society had sent its women to war, to explore the oceans and to work in the mines, that society would have committed suicide.
In any case, if you want to learn about gender issues that have little coverage in the mainstream media, Dehumanizing the Male is a highly recommended book. Racism, homophobia and sexism towards women continue to be part of our reality. They are incompatible with human dignity, we reprove them socially, they are even punished by law, and we are fighting them even if not everyone has advanced at the same speed. But males also experience problems overwhelmingly in some areas and this society has to fight for their rights and dignity. It is not a zero-sum game and the empathy and solidarity of our society must reach all the people who need it.
Dehumanizing the Male is available in Spanish, and can be purchased in the UK in both digital and print versions at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deshumanizando-var%C3%B3n-presente-masculino-Spanish-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/ and in the US at https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Daniel-Jim%C3%A9nez-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/ ISBN 0578575337