This week the Congress finished work on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), reauthorizing it for another five years with a healthy (20%) increase in funding as well as new programs to address and prevent the problems that domestic violence causes women and children (but not men!). Women’s groups hailed the passage of the law, and the sponsors.
Interestingly, the Republican sponsors of VAWA in the House have an abysmal record on reproductive rights issues. Representatives Sensenbrenner (WI 5), Green (WI 8), Brown-Waite (FL 5) and Pryce (OH 15) are all ranked 0% by NARAL for 2004, with the exception of Pryce who was ranked at 35% (she voted in favor of allowing women in the military to have abortions in military hospitals). Thanks to this group and their colleagues, Congress spent another year restricting access to family planning and abortion services.
There is a broader picture that needs to be looked at. The health and well-being of men and women consists of far more than their protection from domestic violence and access to reproductive health care.
At least one recent look from the male point of view painted a depressing picture. The New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Men issued its First Biennial Report (available at nh.gov/csm).
This litany of male woes was no surprise when looked at individually, but collectively, I at least, was taken aback. I have studied in some depth the depressing health disparities between men and women. See my posts of March 2005, “The State of International Family Planning in 2005”, for a discussion of the impact on women’s health of unsafe sex and that of May 2005, “Where Are The Men”, for a discussion of higher premature death and disability rates for males. Each sex has its own health problems—breast cancer for women, prostate cancer for men. It should not have been a surprise, but it was, that the New Hampshire report stated that there was more funding for breast cancer screening than for prostate screening. This combined with other factors leads to 9% more men contracting prostate cancer than women contracting breast cancer in 2005. The Federal Government spends seven times more on breast cancer research than prostate cancer research ($550 million versus $80 million)—the date for these figures was not given, not were the DALYs figures for each disease (the Disability Adjusted Life Years—the World Health Organization measure of the seriousness of the impact of a disease).
Recently, financial analysts advising insurance and pension companies reported that men are gaining in life expectancy faster than women. Women still outlive men in the USA by 4.5 years but the longevity of males has been growing at 2% over the last decade, while for females it has been growing at about 1%. The killers of modern life—working harder, smoking more, more stress—are now hitting women. Lung cancer and heart disease are heavy killers of women prematurely. Male killers like alcohol, AIDS, drugs and guns have declined in recent years. The researchers doubted that men will ever equalize with women: “Men engage in more risky behavior. It’s just our lot to die sooner.”
Violence remains a serious issue in men’s and women’s lives. Domestic violence gets the headlines and is viewed as a women’s issue. Recent research shows that DV is an equal opportunity assaulter and killer. Some research puts the rates as equal between men and women, while others put it at 2:1 male offender to female offender. Women appear more likely to be hurt by the violence because of the size disparity of the sexes. Suicide is disproportionately male with about a 6:1 ratio of deaths male to female. No figures were given for suicide attempts.
Fatherhood issues received a huge portion of the New Hampshire Report, with the most stunning figure being that in the USA 40% of children are not living with their biological father.
Paternity fraud made it into the Report, with New Hampshire, like the rest of the USA, having a rate of about 30% of paternity tests being negative—i.e. the man thought to be the father was not in fact the father. This is perhaps the only issue in the Report that is exclusively male—there being no maternity fraud, at least not yet. How would a guy get another woman’s egg into his spouse anyway? I have argued in Beyond Choice that one factor in males not committing to family life could be the rise in female controlled, as opposed to male controlled (the condom), contraception. The issue of paternity uncertainty is a serious one. Costa Rica passed a law in 2001, the Law of Responsible Fatherhood, that frames paternal obligations on the right of children to know who their parents are and to be supported by them. Paternity testing (free) is required if there is an issue. There has been a sharp decline in children unacknowledged and unsupported by their fathers from 29% in 1999 to 8% in 2003.
The educational disparities between males and females have been the latest salvo in the battle of the sexes. The gender disparities against females in math and science are matched by those against males in reading and writing skills. The math gap is less than the reading gap, proof that remedial programs are working for women. Women make up 60% of undergraduate students in New Hampshire and the rest of the USA. The same is true in graduate studies.
What does all this mean for family life? Last week the CDC reported that 35% of births in 2004 were to single women. These are by choice, since abortion presumably is accessible, if not affordable to almost every women who needs one (I know all the exceptions out there!). Is there a connection between the status of males and the marriage/cohabitation rate? There is a whole body of study on mating preferences, and it is argued that women prefer mates who have an equal educational/social attainment, or prospects thereof. The gender disparity towards females in education began in the 1970’s, right at the time of Roe. Do we see a connection here? Abortion and opportunity do go together.
But why didn’t the rates of college attendance equalize rather than go female? Lots of economic reasons I am sure: military rather than college; high paying blue collar job now versus college; the higher death rate for young males in general.
The National Center for Health Statistics announced that the rate of unwanted babies also increased. The rate increased from 9% in 1995 to 14% in 2002; unwanted being defined as “Right before you became pregnant, did you yourself want to have a baby at any time in the future?” This question measures unwanted versus mistimed pregnancies. The abortion rate also fell from 26 to 24 of every 100 pregnancies that ended in birth or abortion. Was this the result of less access to contraception and abortion? Or were women choosing not to have abortions? More research on this question will soon be forthcoming from the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
Also the CDC announced that the percent of women living with a male sex partner outside of marriage increased from 41 to 50. So as marriage declines, partnerships increase. But the high rate of children not living with a biological father, married or not to the mother, has not declined.
One totally unscientific response of females to all the above appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 15: women reconstructing themselves to pass as virgins! What is euphemistically called “hymen surgery” or more technically “Hymenoplasty” is on the rise! This isn’t just women wanting to give their husbands a thrill on a second honeymoon; this is women doing it just before marriage to Mr. Right who, unknowingly, was not the first Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong in his intended’s love life. Hymenoplasty has long been performed in virginity-obsessed cultures in the Middle East and Latin America. It has now hit the United States big time.
The expected catcalls from the wings have begun: “fraud” say the religious groups and “female genital mutilation” say some feminists.
Virginity, and the male and female obsession with it, stems from male paternity uncertainty, and the belief that if the female is a virgin at marriage, the child conceived on the wedding night will be the guy’s. But what of the one conceived a month later or a year later? Virginity at marriage is seen by males as at least some proof that his bride is not a slut, she hasn’t slept around, and the thinking goes, if she hasn’t done it before marriage, she is less likely to do it after marriage. So, males want virgins at marriage, or some do.
Female have bought into this and female genital mutilation (FGM) is the result—women mutilating their daughters to lessen sexual pleasure and the chance they will not be virgins at marriage and will be unfaithful after. Recent reports from UNICEF say 130 million women have been subject to FGM, at a rate of 2 million a year. Recent studies now put the estimate at 3 million a year, due to better reporting. But in certain nations the rate is declining. In Egypt and Guinea where almost all women ages 15-49 have had FGM, only half of their daughters have (or so the women report).
South Africa is currently considering a law to ban virginity tests for girls under age 16. Virginity testing is an ancient practice—it finds virgins for the men (for which they have to pay a higher dowry) and recently it has been used as a weapon the fight against AIDS. South Africa hasn’t found a similarly degrading test for male virginity, nor has it found a way to distinguish loss of female virginity by consensual sex, by child abuse or by exercise. It is hoped that the rape of virgins in the expectation that it will cure AIDS can now stop.
So, hopefully FGM will decline to extinction. One would hope virginity tests and re-virginization would too. After all, the most threatening part of my grandmother’s message was that women had the right to enjoy sex just as much as men do. The double standard is still with us. One way to eliminate it is to get at male fears of being cuckolded and follow the Costa Rican example. Let’s have men be sure who their children are, provide free genetic testing, and then maybe we can put the vaginal cosmetic surgeons out of business and let them get back to the botox we all need.