Throughout human history, and to this very day, societies around the world have tended to view female lives as more valuable than male lives. This sentiment is regularly expressed in a variety of ways. Women and children first. You should be ready to die protecting your woman and your family. A real man will fight for his country, and a coward will run off and avoid the draft.
Men have consciously or unconsciously always been considered to be the expendable or disposable sex. This may sound like a horrible stance, and it certainly is when viewed through a more modern and humanistic lens, but this way of looking at men is actually quite understandable when viewed through a historical and evolutionary lens. As I wrote in my previous post, the simplest way to understand the phenomenon of the disposable man is that women have always needed to be kept safe to ensure that the next generation is large enough for a culture to thrive, whereas it’s been beneficial to cultures to have men risk their lives in order to create wealth and influence. For now, however, let’s leave history behind and look at our own times.
If you have any familiarity with feminism at all, then you’ve probably heard (perhaps more times than you care to remember) that men are privileged. In a traditional society men are the ones who get to hold down jobs and have a salary, as well as have a voice and influence in the public sphere. Women, however, are confined to the home and not allowed to be part of the public sphere on the same terms as men. As true as this may be, the disadvantages of being responsible for the public sphere are rarely discussed in a feminist discourse.
The male responsibility to handle matters in the public sphere, comes with the expectation to risk your life or at the very least your health. Men are police officers, firemen, soldiers, miners, oil platform workers, construction workers and garbage collectors (yes, collecting garbage is more dangerous than you may have ever considered). Men do these jobs without complaining, and oftentimes without getting any special recognition for the dangers they face. Usually these jobs aren’t very well paid, nor considered high status.
Not all male jobs in the public sphere have been or are dangerous of course. However, the more well-paid jobs where you don’t face physical dangers, usually mean very long working hours and an expectation to work overtime. Having a successful career has usually meant that men have had to sacrifice spending time with their family and loved ones. So it’s actually very hard to think of a male job in the public sphere that hasn’t been accompanied by substantial sacrifice.
I think it’s perfectly OK to point out the imbalance between men and women that has existed in the public sphere, with women basically having been shut out for a very long time. However, to simply label this a form of male privilege, and not discuss the very obvious drawbacks and responsibilities that accompany men in the public sphere – is not something I’m comfortable with. If we are attempting to do a sophisticated analysis of gender roles in a traditional society, then we need to have as full a picture as possible of the situation. Pretending that men have been given a good deal at the expense of women is simply not accurate: men have paid a very high price for being responsible for the public sphere.
Transcending the notion that men are expendable, and uncovering the unconscious belief that the lives of women are more valuable than the lives of men, is something of primary importance in a gender liberation movement beyond feminism. This does not mean that men need to be stripped of their dangerous jobs, or that women should be forced to do exactly half of the dangerous jobs. Not at all! Men may actually be more prone to take on these roles and jobs due to a mixture of cultural expectations and biological traits, and we need to let men and women be free to choose the jobs they want.
What bothers me though is that the feminist agenda often pushes for equal salaries for men and women, while forgetting that every person (usually a man) performing a dangerous job should be compensated for this financially. We cannot expect men to keep on doing the dirty, dangerous, outdoor jobs while telling them that their wages are to be the same as women who do office tasks of similar qualifications but in safe, indoor settings.
It’s also crucial that we keep on improving the safety regulations in all professions where physical safety is an issue. Doing so will send a loud and clear message that we do care about the lives of men, and that no longer will men be considered expendable entities whose lives can be sacrificed in order to create wealth. If men can be considered to be intrinsically valuable, even when they do not perform, then we will have taken a huge leap towards gender liberation.