Canadian Association for Equality

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CAFE conducts careful evidence-based primary and secondary research on issues within its broad mandate. The results are made publicly available in order to contribute to timely matters of ongoing debate.

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There are many physical and mental health issues that are unique to men. Some of these pronounced problems lack public awareness. Many men’s health issues are products of behavioral and cultural factors.

Due to harmful culture of silence and stigma on weakness, men’s mental health issues are particularly ignored. Depression, anxiety and many other issues are often suppressed. Traditional masculinity norms are a barrier to improving men’s mental and physical health.

Undiagnosed depression is prevalent amongst men. The ‘culture of silence’ and stigma of admitting forces men to suffer in isolation and to not seek help. Women are far more likely to seek out social or psychological resources for depression.

Since childhood, males are encouraged to engage in aggressive and risky behavior. ‘Boys will be boys’ ‘toughen up’ ‘be a man’ ‘don’t be a pussy’ are all gender specific phrases intended to demean or ignore men’s physical or mental pain experiences. Men must be socialized to express themselves and cultivate social and psychological support.
Men are disproportionally more likely to die on the job in Canada. In 2013 902 people died on the job. 844 were men and 57 were women. 152 000 men were injured and 90 000 women. Between 2-3 people die every workday in Canada, 90 percent of them male.

Men are more likely to be overweight. In Canada, 26 percent of men are obese and 23 percent of women. There were 8 million men classified as overweight or obese compared to 6 million women. A lack of fitness causes increased heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a host of physical health problems.

Men are more likely to heavily consume alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. Men exceeded the chronic risk guidelines for alcohol consumption by 22 percent and women 15 percent while men exceeded the acute risk guide by 17 percent and women by 10 percent. Men use illegal drugs at double the rate of women. The prevalence of smoking in Canada is 20 percent for males and 15 percent for females. Men are heavier smokers than women, smoking an average of 3 more cigarettes per day than women. Around the world, 48 percent of men smoke and only 12 percent of women smoke. Escaping from personal or mental health problems through substance abuse and being encouraged to engage in risky and self-harming behavior is a socially constructed, harmful part of male gender.

Single adult males aged 25-55 make up 47.5 percent of the chronically homeless population in Canada. This demographic group has high rates of disabilities and addiction and a myriad of social and psychological problems. Men make up 74 percent of the homeless emergency shelter population. There is a serious lack of resources for the single adult male homeless population.

Recent research has shown that parental deprivation and fatherlessness during times of development alter the neurological brain chemistry in children and cause them to be prone to risky behavior and substance use. There are roughly 150 000 lone parent families in Canada, with 80 percent of those being female lone parent families. Female lone parent families made up 13 percent of all census families while male lone parent households were only 3.5 percent. There are many negative effects of fatherlessness on children, ex partners and society in general. Men are not socialized to value fatherhood the same way women are encouraged to embrace their identity as mothers.

There are many causes to men being absent from their children’s lives and development, ranging from being purposefully absent, in jail or being an unfit parent to being willfully excluded and prevented from having contact by ex partners and the current legal system. Several studies have shown that the main reported cause of fatherlessness is the fact that the father did not want to get divorced and the relationship with the mother deteriorated in the aftermath. Post relationship breakdown, many women report they see little value in having the father around and many attempt to deny visitation or other rights in spite of court orders. Marriage has been the main social institution to tie fathers to their children and the steady rise in divorce rates in the last half of the 20th century has partially lead to our state of rising lone child families.

While measurable negative effects of fatherlessness on their children are difficult to separate from other determinants such as poverty, American research has shown growing up without a father is tied to many negative psychological, social and physical issues. Children from fatherless families are 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 4 times more likely to be raised in poverty, twice as likely to commit suicide and 9 times more likely to drop out of high school. 70 percent of teen pregnancies occur in a fatherless home and girls are 9 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in a home without a biological father. Stepfathers and boyfriends pose a much higher risk of sexual predation. 60 percent of accused rapists came from fatherless homes and those raised in fatherless homes are 11 times more likely to engage in violent behavior and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point.

The official government statistics reveal that fatherlessness is a pressing issue in society and contribute to a host of social problems. Fatherhood should be praised and encouraged as a source of pride and meaning for fathers, not just as being in the role of ‘bread winner.’ Sensitivity to children and child rearing has largely been deemed the female domain and as a result, many men do not necessarily value or covet being a father and instead opt to spend time away from offspring earning money. The stereotype that men are intended to protect and provide income and women are intended to nurture and love are based on sexuality and gender and are powerful social constructions.

A positive male father figure is clearly vital in the social and physical development of boys and girls. Lone parent households do not give the same benefits as homes with both mother and father. The ideology that women and children do not greatly benefit from male partners or fathers is false and harmful to children and society. While there are many ways to make a family, the empirical benefits of having a two parent household is compelling. Widespread American studies show that children raised by two biological parents had far less internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems. The current legal model is adversarial and usually does not foster post divorce healthy co-parenting.

While mothers of course are necessary for children, their strict primacy in custody causes challenges healthy shared parenting. Making policies to support single mothers only does not address the effects of what happens to children raised in lone parent households or contribute to more fathers being involved in their children’s development. Even if there is a relationship breakdown between parents, there is still a pressing need for children to have substantial contact with their fathers. It has been argued that fatherlessness affects the personality and attachment style of daughters and women especially. Children who are deprived of fathers have less economic benefits, supervision, guidance and protection as well as suffering from less emotional support and feelings of abandonment.

In Canada, men make up 75 percent of total homicides. In the five-year period between 2004-2009, more men were killed with firearms than all women by all methods combined. Men account for 65 percent of all robbery victims. Men are three times more likely to suffer aggravated assault and twice as likely to be assaulted with a weapon. Men are three times more likely to be assaulted in public places and are more likely to be harmed by a stranger or acquaintance. Men commit the majority of extreme violence in Canadian society. 95 percent of the prison and criminal justice population is male. Men experience additional violence in prison, with homicide and assault rates significantly higher in prison.

Men experience violence from women while in domestic partnerships. For more information on domestic violence against men please visit our Campaign to End Violence Against Men.

Sexual violence committed against men and boys is unreported and unknown due to stigma. In times of widespread warfare or periods of lawlessness, men die at a rate of 1.3-10 for every woman. If you are male, you are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. Preventing men from committing violence and reducing violence against men are incredibly important humanitarian goals.

Negative and ‘flawed’ images of men are perpetuated by most genre of popular culture – books, television shows, movies, greetings cards, comic streeps, ads and commercials and more. Men and boys are widely represented as violent and aggressive thieves, thugs, murderers, wife and girlfriend bashers, sexual abusers, molesters, perverts, irresponsible deadbeat dads and philanderers, even though, in reality, only a small proportion of men act out these roles and behaviours. Media discourses are powerful and shape perspectives of social attitudes. While much literature space has been dedicated to understanding how media influences the role of women in society, little work has been dedicated to media and the portrayal of men.

Media sources have a tendency to deny, minimize and at times ridicule male victimization such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and emotional trauma to name a few. The message we give to male victims is that they either “deserved it”, “asked for it”, and/or are “lying”. Violence towards males is normalized in our society, and so are the images that reinforce harmful stereotypes about males and masculinity. The male voice is further stifled by the media’s portrayal of the “butch man”, meaning that if a male victim wishes to complain or report an incident, they will be “whining” because society expects them to “take it as a man”.

Prison rape, injury to a man’s genitals, sexual abuse of boys by women under the guise of initiation and other behaviours, easily identifiable as physical or sexual abuse and assault when they happen to girls or women, are exploited for humor so regularly that they have become a norm in comedy films and entertainment.

Male sexuality faces a growing trend towards objectification in mass media strikingly similar or parallel to the objectification of women which has been widely documented. Among many other examples, pause to consider the mass appreciation of movies such as “Magic Mike”, shirtless photos of sexy male celebrities in Cosmo, or the “14 photos of hot guys who have great butts” on Elite Daily. The reality is that images that objectify, demonize and devalue men have negative consequences for men, women, and gender relations itself.

The very notion that men have a unique set of issues and concerns including fatherlessness, increasing suicide rates and declining post secondary enrollment rates has been met with criticism. Conferences with titles such as “What makes a man: Drawing a new map to manhood,” which seek to define the “right” kind of masculinity, would surely be considered simplistic and offensive – had males not been the topic discussed – are attended in large numbers. On the other hand, events with titles such as “From Misogyny to Misandry to Intersexual Dialogue”, or “Boys to Men: Transforming the Boys Crisis into our Sons’ Opportunities”, seeking safe spaces for men to discuss uniquely male problems across university campuses are protested. Misandry exists, and it is has become pervasive enough to enter academic, legal and political forums.

The purpose of this research brief is to explore and summarize the realities of gender inequality in our public policies and legal system.

There are certainly areas in which women face bias and in which the disproportionate victimization of women justify victim services that overwhelmingly support females.

But that does not require us to neglect the systematic gender inequalities that elsewhere disadvantage men. The fact that more men than women are perpetrators of crime in no way justifies public policies or legal procedures which rest on the sexist presumption that men are as a group guilty. Each individual man or woman deserves the same treatment, whether it’s an accused enjoying access to justice and to unbiased legal protections or it’s a victim requiring service and support.

The emerging sentiment among leading academics, statisticians, and government committee reports is that men are unfairly treated procedurally by police, courts and correctional services. From our criminal justice system to our family courts, incorrect myths and stereotypical over-generalizations regarding the nature of men abound.

The serious consequences have been felt across the legal sphere, which we will explore further in this review:

  1. Differing sentencing rates between male and female offenders,
  2. Lack of victim services for men who have encountered sexual assault, domestic abuse and violence,
  3. Labour laws and ambiguous sexual harassment legal codes contributing to polarized relations between men and women
  4. The Divorce Act, child custody practises and family court culture and traditions contributing to systematic bias against fathers following family break-up.

In Canada in 2011: 2781 men committed suicide and 947 women. In Canada historically, men have consistently commited suicide at 3 to 4 times the rate of women. In other countries around the world the ratio is as high as 7.5:1. Caucasian men and aboriginal men commit the highest rates of suicide. Older men commit suicide more than younger men, with the peak age of 40-59. 90 percent of suicides involved someone with mental health or addiction issues and 60 percent of that was depression. Single men were more likely to commit suicide.

Suicide is an undeniably gendered issue. In the seminal study Suicide, Emile Durkheim noted in the year 18xx that men killed themselves at greater rates across all countries he studied. It is a universal and long-term pattern.

There are 6 major causes for suicide that often intersect and overlap: Mental illness, addiction, marital/relationship breakdown, financial hardship, physical health problems and a major loss. Each factor represents its own unique problems.

In 1968 the Divorce Act was passed, leading to a 128 percent increase in the divorce rate in 1969. The suicide rate for men spiked at the same rate.

‘Stoicism does not make ‘strong men,’ it makes brittle men who are prone to crack. Men are socialized to suppress their emotions and ‘be a man.’ Strength is desirable and weakness shunned. Male culture encourages isolation and suppression of any sign of helplessness. Self worth and identity are tied intimately to ability to earn wealth and be physically capable. Instead of coping by using social support, they snap. Dramatic losses in relationships, wealth or abilities can result in sudden, violent self-inflicted death by men.

The ‘gender paradox’ of suicide refers to the fact that women attempt suicide at twice the rate of men but men commit suicide 3-4 times the rate in actuality. Men use more violent and fatal methods. Hanging in 46 percent of men’s suicides and guns in 20 percent. In contrast, women most frequently use poison. Men chose methods that are very likely to cause a fatality.

In accounts of women’s aborted suicide attempts, they cite their concern over family relations depending on them. Accounted narratives of men’s final moments describe fatalistic determinism in the face of seemingly insurmountable issues. Women have an ‘ethic of family’ while men have an ‘ethic of justice.’ Instead of appealing to social ties and emotional bonds, men are compelled to take their lives if presented with a certain trigger event.

Having children reduces suicide for women but not for men. It is likely that if men were more connected and involved with their children’s lives there could be reduced suicide.

Childhood sexual abuse may be a highly significant but largely unreported factor in male suicide. There is a culture of male silence. Isolation, loneliness and social rejection can all be triggers for male suicide.

Men have maladaptive coping mechanisms for trauma or mental health problems. Men use illicit drugs and alcohol at higher rates than women. Instead of relying on friends, family, community or state support, men isolate themselves and consume psychoactive substances to escape.

Women have access to more mental health and social support services. Single, childless men have a significant lack of access. Women are encouraged to seek mental health support while men are stigmatized for it. The female identity is not threatened by getting help for depression while for men it is a sign of weakness and contrary to masculinity. Substance abuse and alcoholism are frequently more stigmatizing for women so men have higher rates of both, which lead to mental health and addiction issues.

Compared to their female counterparts, boys and teenagers score worse across the board in literacy and writing, display significantly higher behavioral problems and are far more likely to drop out of high school and not attend university.

There is also a severe lack of male teachers, especially for early childhood education. Considering the rates of female led lone parent households, there is a strong need for positive male role models. 85 percent of elementary and kindergarten school teachers are female. Women make up 60 percent of secondary school teachers. 97 percent of early childhood educators are female in Canada. 56% of all university students are women. It is reported that 1 in 7 male teachers were falsely accused of inappropriate behavior and there was a lack of resources to protect the rights of teachers.

From the age of 1-4, boys are hospitalized at rates of 7800 per 100 000 compared to 5700 per 100 000 for girls. Between the ages of 1-3, 12 percent of boys are identified as having advanced motor and social development compared to 21 percent of girls. 16 percent of 4-11 year old boys showed aggressive behavior compared to 9 percent of girls and 14 percent of 4-11 year old boys displayed hyperactivity compared to 6 percent of girls the same age. By age 15, 20 percent of boys score in the top 25 percent in reading compared to 30 percent of girls in the top 25 percent. In 2010, 10 percent of young men and 6 percent of young women had dropped out of high school. Many young men report dropping out because they are not engaged in school and experienced low academic achievement. One in four dropouts have trouble maintaining steady employment. 88 percent of women graduate high school compared to 82 percent of men.

Across all developed countries, women graduate at greater rates than men yet there is a lack if concrete policy solutions to correct the issue. 40 percent of people with no high school degree experience low levels of employment and poverty. Girls on average receive substantially higher GPA averages in high school than boys. Research has shown that Canadian boys are 4 times more likely to be labeled with a social, emotional or behavioral issue. There is a strong gender gap in reading and writing ability. On average, high school aged girls scored 32 points higher on standardized English tests.

Masculinity norms such as a lack of impulse control, the need to earn income as fast as possible and a disregard for academics leads to poor reported attitudes about school. Boys take longer to read, read less and comprehend worse than girls and express negative attitudes towards reading across the board (significally more males identify themselves as ‘non readers’). Stereotypes of men as jocks, workers and a negative influence from peers and harmful substance use all contribute to male school failure. Girls are emphasized to seek help for school, display good manners and try hard while boys misbehavior and failure can be chalked up as ‘boys being boys’ ‘fitting in’ through destructive behavior and priority placed on athletic or economic labor achievement.

Parental alienation is the termed used when a child unreasonably rejects 1 parent as the result of conscious or unconscious negative influence by another. The alienating parent cultivates an attitude of obsessive hostility in the child towards the alienated parent. The hatred the child holds towards the alienated parent usually extends to that parents entire family, often negating any positive benefits from being part of the extended family. In relationship breakdowns that involve infidelity or does not end mutually, one parent frequently uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other parent.

Since the vast majority of custody cases favor the mother, the father is far more frequently the alienated parent. While there is some criticism of the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) that it excuses abusive men, family lawyers, psychologists and social workers all support the concept as something that happens frequently in practice. A case where a child naturally prefers one parent to another does not count as pathological alienation.

Parental Alienation Syndrome does not extend to fathers who are legitimately abusive or demonstrably unfit. Children are aware that they are genetically made of 50 percent of their mother and 50 percent of their father. When one parent verbally denigrates and dehumanizes the other parent in front of the child, their emotional and psychological identity is damaged, as they can come to believe they are made of the same terrible qualities.

There are many documented negative effects of fatherlessness and if the father is not harmful to the child’s development, they should be involved as much as possible. While economic support is very important, social and emotional support to a child’s development and well being is essential. Spite, vindictiveness and spousal relationship baggage should not extend to the parent-child relationship. The alienated parent frequently faces increased rates of substance abuse and depression.

The age of the child at divorce, alignment of other family and institutional workers, and presence of siblings can all affect the likelihood that a child will become alienated from a parent.

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Legal and Policy Misandry

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Research Brief: Fatherlessness

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Research Brief: Men’s Health

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