A good cause flawed by misrepresentation

I really hate it when ventures I wholeheartedly support in principle get oversold on dodgy statistics.

The only men’s health facility of its kind in western Sydney, it was formed by the Department of Health and Aging three years ago to reduce the suicide rate of men in the area, particularly among those with indigenous/Aboriginal backgrounds.

This facility (The Shed) is targeting a very real problem, as the Co-Ordinator says:

”Five men across Australia commit suicide every day. Times are hard for many men who are struggling to put food on the table.”

The Shed is facing the loss of its Federal funding, and obviously this is a facility that needs more funding, not less. Depression amongst men is highly prevalent and woefully underdiagnosed because of cultural expectations that men just shrug self-negative emotions off rather than examine them, and the suicide rate of men reflects the fact that shrugging self-negative emotions off is simply not a practical solution to the problem of depression. Men need encouragement to talk about these issues with other people despite the genderised social expectation of emotional stoicism.

As a feminist well aware of the huge value of womanly solidarity in discussing emotional pain I am glad to see some manly solidarity encouraging men to acknowledge that their emotional pain exists and that they need to work on it rather than just shunt it aside. I hope that some parallel encouragement for men to admit their emotional fragility to the women in their lives (without judging themselves as weak and effeminate), could build on the success of The Shed’s manly solidarity to make men even more emotionally resilient and thus even less likely to self-harm and suicide.

Now, here is the statistic I have problems with:

Co-ordinator Gavin Dickson has called on federal and state governments to continue the funding and put more investment into men’s health.
”For every $100 spent on women’s health, $1 is spent on men,” he said.

I would really like to see the study from which that figure is derived, because while there quite possibly is an imbalance which should be examined, that figure strikes me as severely slanted.

Does it take into account all the health money spent on services which care for men as well as women, or is it just looking at services which have “Men’s” and “Women’s” in the title? Cardiac services care for many more men than women just for starters. In fact, nearly every “general” ward in a hospital will have far more male patients than female patients, so men are actually getting a very good share of health care funding in the general healthcare budget, including the mental healthcare budget.

Does it take into account that by far the bulk of money spent on women’s health care is for pregnancy/birth services, which is actually for mothers AND babies, and that slightly more than half of all babies born are male? Also, unless we wish to forgo human reproduction entirely, women and not men have to give birth to the next generation: this particular funding skew towards women is not based on cold, ruthless, man-hating politicking but on warm, passionate, man-partnering biology. Natal services money cannot logically be spent on men, no matter how many women fervently wish that their partners could experience exactly what pregnancy and birth involve. If that figure above includes natal health care (as I very much suspect it does) it is heavily skewing the figures.

Now, away from my irritation with this particular skewed statistic and back to the issue of male depression and suicide and funding for health care that targets this particular problem.

Even though health care services are just as open to men as to women, currently women are actually using mental health services much more than men. What the tragic male suicide rate tells us is that this discrepancy is not due to women being more prone to mental health problems than men, just that women are more willing to seek help for them and thus fewer women end up actually killing themselves.

Therefore, to help as many men as women, it makes total sense that in order to ensure that men get the mental healthcare that they need, separate funding is required for outreach services like The Shed which give men a place where they can admit that they are in emotional pain and harming themselves mentally by failing to seek help, so that these men can then be funnelled into the more formal mental health service and get the professional help that they need.

Please, Gavin Dickson, it really is OK to ask for more money for your vital service without telling untruths about the current gender composition of health funding.

Categories: gender & feminism, health

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8 replies

  1. This is an interesting strategic use of the discourse of male disadvantage and I like your nuanced reading of the situation, because clearly these services are necessary and undervalued, in spite of the flawed rhetoric. It is a shame that this rhetoric is felt to be useful in securing attention and funding for dealing with these problems. Might we write this up as ‘strategic essentialism’ on Dickson’s part? Certainly as a partial (as opposed to impartial) advocate for his constituency, he is going to take the tools that are readily to hand, especially when threatened by funding cuts.
    As rhetoric it is an interesting gesture of discursive homosociality: the specter of ‘feminism’ (perceived here as inequitable) becomes the mediating term in an attempt to speak for some men to the ‘men’ of government. This mirrors the homosocial relation via a mediating feminine ‘object’. Of course this is a problem, but more for what it reinforces than for what it initiates in this case.

  2. Damn. This is such an important issue. Adam’s said it well, they’ve missed a chance to model a subjective, male homo social voice talking about need in ways that their clients might really benefit from.
    Another concern is, it’s uncomfortably similar to the appropriation of feminist rhetoric in domestic violence politics by patriarchal fathers’ groups. I won’t link as I’ve been spammed for writing about these groups tactics elsewhere.
    But in lobbying prior to the Family Law overhauls, such groups invoked the high male suicide rates emotively to present men’s “rights” as existing in a relation of competitive victim hood to feminist gains and child safety. Which is far more extreme and intentionally sexist than the OP: in framing male dominance of the family as a “right” compared to men’s genuine right to mental health care.
    But it shares this discourse method of referencing feminism and distorting female “privilege” to negotiate discussing the wounded male psyche. As though subjective male voice about need, much less the ways patriarchy harms men, remain less palatable/understood than how to distort the feminine as a proxy for male pain.

  3. Male depression is a horrendously undervalued problem, most especially by men themselves.
    I have huge sympathy for anyone dealing with mental illness issues due to an extensive family history of depressive illness/mood disorder as well as autistic-spectrum-disorder. Feeling lost within one’s own self-negative emotional pain is an issue not nearly well enough acknowledged, for both sexes, but when combined with the genderised expectation for men to be emotionally stoic it is literally a killer.
    I’m just saddened as well as angered that this desperately needed service feels that it has to perpetuate gender-war stuff in order to get the funding it deserves.

  4. State and Federal governments must fund health information campaigns for men, along the lines of those that have increased women’s willingness to have regular Pap smears and mammograms.

  5. If you want confirmation of statistics on health expenditure in relation to gender, contact the Men’s Health Information & Resource Centre at the University of Western Sydney. After collating data from a several sources it was they who came to the figure of 1:100. In actual fact this is an underestimate & the figure is actually closer to 1:200 but I guess this is irrelevant when one acknowledges that there is an genuine gross imbalance between how much State & Federal govts actually spend on specific gender health issues. Advocates of Men’s Health acknowledge that this is directly due to successful lobbying from feminist organisations & mostly we admire the strong women who have achieved this; in many ways we are trying to emulate their success but I never once tried to create a divide between men & women as you are alluding to. I merely quoted a statistic from a reputable source & it was you who turned this into a sexist debate. As for the Shed, FYI, it no longer exists, funding has naturally dried up so I guess in the end you Feminazis have won another victory. Good on you but when you continue with this war I want you to think of your sons, your fathers, your uncles, your boyfriends, your husbands, your friends, all those males you might actually care for, in fact 49% of the population & it is actually them that you have declared hostility on. Most importantly do not ever use my name again in your on your site.

  6. @ Gavin Dickson:
    (if that is indeed the same Gavin Dickson from this nearly 2-year-old post) – I responded to the goals of The Shed with nothing but sympathy and support in this post, which I’m beginning to wonder whether you even read in full.
    I questioned your personal use of certain rhetoric to pursue those goals. I certainly don’t see the cessation of funding for The Shed as any sort of victory.

    Most importantly do not ever use my name again in your on your site.

    Or you’ll do what? Now you’re just being pointlessly strident. If you ever send out a media release again, or are otherwise in the public eye, and I feel it is worthy of commentary, I will indeed use your name on this site. Freedom of the press.


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