Male disposability is so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our culture, that we rarely even think about it. And yet, it is one of the defining features of what it means to be a man. Throughout history, men have filled the roles and performed the tasks that demanded that you risk your life. The only risk that couldn’t be removed from women was that of child-bearing, but apart from that women have more or less always been kept out of harms way.
Now let’s not make the mistake that many contemporary feminists do and start talking about women’s evil oppression of men or something along those lines. Men being defined as the disposable sex was not a personal thing nor was it some kind of gender war (there wasn’t any room for a gender war in historical times). Women simply needed to be kept safe to ensure that the next generation was large enough to sustain or increase the influence of the community in question.
Nevertheless, it is important to analyze and raise awareness around male disposability, because it is truly the missing link of the gender discourse. As the early feminists put forward the very just demand that men and women be given equal rights and equal access to the labor market, the whole issue of male disposability was forgotten. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it hadn’t even been conceptualized, since it takes a higher intellectual development to deconstruct a gender role than it does to notice that men and women aren’t equal in the eyes of the law.
Early feminism was an honorable struggle, and while it may not have been the perfect way to kick off the whole gender liberation movement, focusing on women’s rights was certainly a pressing concern at the time. However, what was forgotten was that men’s rights in the public sphere, had always been accompanied by pretty harsh responsibilities (go to war, perform the dangerous jobs, work all day so you hardly ever see your family). So in one sense women were handed the rights of men, without being expected to share in the responsibilities. Another example of this way of thinking is that feminists demand that half of all board members be women, without demanding that half the soldiers or half of the garbage collectors be women.
So what are some of the ways that men remain disposable?
- War. In every country where people can be drafted or be forced to do military service, it is only the men who are forced to fight for their country. And even when people sign up voluntarily, it is mostly men who do it (eg. US forces in Iraq).
- As a (straight) man you are expected to protect your girlfriend/spouse/wife at all times.
- Dangerous jobs are predominantly done by men: police officer, fire fighter, construction worker, etc.
- Outdoor jobs are predominantly done by men: lumberjack, oil platform worker, garbage collector, etc.
- Men still perform most of the jobs where you are expected to work insane hours, and only see your family at weekends (at best).
What’s interesting to note is that feminism often depicts male disposability as a form of male power. The men who work long hours are the men with power. The military is a sign of male power. Being a heroic fire fighter is a sign of male power, and so on.
However, as Warren Farrell says, true power is about having the freedom to shape your own life, and as long as many men automatically choose dangerous professions in order to be eligible for marriage and a family–then men cannot be said to be free. The argument could be made that women are freer than men nowadays, since every young woman knows that there are many acceptable options for a woman (work fulltime, part-time or be a housewife), and there is no expectation of choosing a “disposable career”.
This is not to say that men need to stop performing the jobs that men currently do. As you may have noticed from reading this blog, I do not believe that men and women are identical on the inside; as far as I’m concerned there is ample proof that innate sex difference exist in the brain and in behavior. This means that men may be more likely to continue choosing the dangerous jobs as well as the outdoor jobs. But the choice needs to be made consciously, rather than automatically. Also, society as a whole needs to become more conscious of what male disposability means. The people who perform dangerous jobs should be adequately paid, and safety measures should improve continually.
I also believe that a sense of appreciation for what men do for society, and for what each man does when he’s a 24 hr lifeguard to his spouse, needs to be reinstated. At this point, especially in Western societies where feminism is strong, the appreciation for male sacrifice has dwindled, and there is more focus on the negative aspects of masculinity than on the positive ones.
The reason that society has been able to evolve so rapidly the past few hundred years, is that male sacrifice and male disposablity has been far greater than male violence or male brutality, something that we would all do well to remember.