Thursday, October 9, 2008

Men, the Disposable Sex

Most people say they want to be fair...and yet:

Men die 5.2 years younger than women, spend their last decade in worse health, and die earlier of all the leading causes of death. For example, before age 65, twice as many men as women die of heart disease--100,000 more male human beings dead, early, every year. That's thirty times more men than have died, total, in the Iraq War!

Yet, where are the ribbons for early heart attack? The only campaigns I've seen are the American Heart Association's Wear Red campaign to increase awareness of heart disease in women and the Oakland A's initiative on women's heart disease.

And for years, we certainly see ever more pink ribbons against breast cancer. For example, today, I walked into Safeway whereupon I was immediately enveloped in breast cancer activism: (Click on these images to get a better feel for how it dominated the store)
  • I entered the store under a canopy of pink breast cancer signs.
  • Underneath the canopy, a giant sign touts that Safeway and General Foods are sponsoring this breast cancer initiative.
  • Underneath are free-standing displays of Kraft and Nabisco products, most of which have been repackaged to look like pink breast cancer signs, with a notice saying that part of the profits from the sale of those items will go to breast cancer.
  • Nearby hangs another prominent sign listing other corporations that are sponsoring breast cancer initiatives.
  • Next to that is a table offering free drinks to all who donate, and selling breast cancer shopping bags.

  • Throughout the store, countless products have been repackaged to look like breast cancer posters, with signs saying that if the item is purchased, a breast cancer donation will be made.
  • Every 30 to 60 seconds, an announcement is heard on the loudspeaker: "Another shopper on checkstand X has made another generous donation of Y dollars to fight breast cancer."
  • When I reached the checkstand, I saw that the credit card reader is framed by a pink breast cancer sign.
  • The clerk then asked me, "Would I like to donate to breast cancer?" I said, "Did you know that every year, 100,000 more men than women die early of heart disease, yet have you ever seen Safeway or anyone else mount a campaign against that?" She said, "I never thought about that."
At that point, I decided to write this op-ed and send it to Safeway's president Steven Burd (

Safeway has made a small effort against prostate cancer but that and other corporations' male-oriented initiatives are dwarfed by those on women's health. Here, for example, is the list of corporate sponsors of the Susan B. Komen breast cancer fund.

Have you seen corporations do much to address the more prevalent early heart attack, which disproportionately kills men? Even companies whose products disproportionately are bought by men are unfair to men's diseases. For example, the aforementioned Oakland A's have donated $1,000,000 to breast cancer but dramatically less to prostate cancer. Even more dismaying, the A's initiative on heart disease specifically excluded men. Wells Fargo (which has far more men-owned money under deposit) often has breast cancer ribbons at their ATMs and sells an entire line of breast-cancer checks and checkbook covers, but I could find nothing that Wells has done to fight prostate cancer or heart attack.

Of course, I want to see breast cancer cured, as quickly as possible. But the nearly complete ignoring of men dying younger and spending their last decade in worse health than women makes me feel sad, scared, and yes, angry. When women have a more minor deficit, for example, so-called underrepresentation in engineering, massive redress efforts are initiated. But when men have the deficit, even the ultimate deficit-- they die younger--all we see is the pink-ribbon tidal wave grow ever more massive.

Today, no matter how many sewers men repair, no matter how many fires men put out, no matter how many medical discoveries men make (Indeed, nearly all breast cancer treatments including the state-of-the-art Herceptin were discovered by men,) no matter how many technical discoveries men make (for example, Google, computers, televisions, cell phones, refrigeration, and even this blogging software,) no matter how many roofs men replace, no matter how many Safeway shelves men stock, no matter how bravely men defend our nation, men are, as Dr. Warren Farrell says, the disposable sex.

P.S. When I came home and poured myself a glass of milk, an entire side of the container was devoted to--you guessed it--breast cancer.


john updike said...

Marty, people instinctively care more for women. The stores don't ask what is fair. They ask what will make money. I see two things:

A) Women are more likely to go shopping. I think women are more likely to look at milk containers, see things in the makeup aisle. So, in these places (like supermarkets) advertisers put up things relating to women's health.

B) In settings where men are primary consumers, advertisers don't put up much having to do with mens' health because men don't care that much about their health (or at least that is what they think). Who is more likely to visit a doctor? Who is more likely to fret over their health? Generally, it's women.

C) I think generally, men care more about women than women care about men. This could be for many reasons, but it's largely because society has viewed men as the disposable sex for man and three-hundred women get keep a civilization going. One woman and three-hundred men can't.

D) I observe the same things in the dating scene. I suggest you take an academic eye to the new world of Pick-Up Artists. I think they are funny and manipulative, but they might give you a new (or reinforcing) opinion about mens' rights.

Here's a start:

Anonymous said...

I'm amused that you're thinking it would be a good idea to start a boycott of safeway for

1) participating in a public good, a funding campaign around a disease (yes, one which you think is overreacted to already - but still a public good. And since lots of the donations are ploughed into research, and most research grants - even if nominally for breast cancer - are actually for very basic biology rather than for figuring out which doses of which meds are best to treat breast cancer patients with)


2) not participating in your cause, around which there is not yet a fresh marketing campaign. I assume the American Heart Association is still around somewhere, but when was the last time we heard from them, rather than from a margarine promoting itself as 'heart-healthy?'

Now, if Safeway were actively working to kill men, you might have a point, but I don't think they're doing big marketing campaigns of bacon and eggs to guys, are they?

Perhaps you want to start picketing near the dairy case?

As it happens, an old friend is fairly high ranking at Safeway. I am going to invite formal comment on these issues. They may or may not be willing to make one, but who knows.

Marty Nemko said...

Fair points, Anonymous. I have deleted the section of the post calling for a boycott.

As I like to stress on this blog, I especially welcome intelligent disagreement with me. And your post is a perfect example. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

(a different anonymous poster here)

Marty - I disagree with your overall male vs. female premise, but I do think you highlight the disproportionate success of breast-cancer awareness in relation to other "worthy" diseases that affect everyone, not just men or women.

I think discrimination comes in different forms - and am particularly sensitive since my own dear father passed away from lung cancer. Lung cancer isn't "sexy," lung cancer is considered to be that person's "fault." Yet many people who die of lung cancer never smoked in their lives, up to 60% I've heard (but cannot verify that figure.) My own father did smoke, but he also worked in the construction industry, known for subjecting its workers to exposure to noxious chemicals and otherwise hazardous tiny particles that can be inhaled and adversely affect lung health.

I cannot be jealous of breast cancer awareness, if anything, I think it shows that with effort and support, awareness can be raised for anyone else. (And perhaps YOU should begin your own ribbon campaign for something you think is worthy!) But perhaps since breasts are a "sexy" thing, (I don't mean sexually, but popular to talk about and obsess over) it is easier to gain recognition, than for something like lung or colon cancer.

Anyways, even though I don't necessarily agree with you, contrarian voices are needed to balance things out. So thanks for your point of view.

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, I have a strong suspicion that a championing a men's cause doesn't work.

Corporations get brownie points from the media for helping women, minorities, the disabled, etc. The are viewed (incorrectly, as I've written in previous posts,) as privileged.

So, I would imagine that a corporation deciding whether to support a man's disease or a woman's and will nearly always choose the women's to avoid the ever pro-woman media and women's advocacy groups screaming sexism.

They don't worry about men complaining of sexism because today's men have been conditioned to believe they are privileged.

Anonymous said...

When I was checking out at Safeway and they asked me to donate 1.00 for breast cancer research I asked them if they would match my contribution. They said no, so I declined to contribute. They should put their money where their mouths are.

Anonymous said...

Men get breast cancer too, if that makes you feel any better.

Marty Nemko said...

Of course, it doesn't make me feel better. The point is that 99% of breast cancer cases are women and that fact results in it getting disproportionate attention. The fact that early heart attack kills many more men yet is largely ignored is what makes me feel worse.

Anonymous said...

It seems women these days are vastly more narcissistic. Men on the other hand actually worry about the health of their wives and mothers and daughters whereas women well, women.

Anonymous said...

Women readily see put things off until a body part stops funtioning or falls off...thats why.

Marty Nemko said...

Most recent anonymous, It's nowhere near as simple as that. Sudden heart attack and cancers that wouldn't be detected in routine exams are men's major killers. In addition, when minorities were found to die younger and sicker, enormous funds have been expended to get them to take better care of themselves. With 50% of the population (men) dying 5.2 years younger than women and living their last decade in far worse health, and with excelllent evidence (Brizanden, 2007) that men are physiologically more frail than women, it is really ethical to simply say, "See the doctor more and if not, die.

PaulB said...

A lot of this has to do with custom and tradition. I make it a point not to donate to any sort of research into womens health problems as they already receive way too much funding. As a gender they evade nearly all risk positions which further extends their already overly long lives. The other point is that men themselves (especially married men) get lulled into a false sense of being invincible and so feel they dont need as much protection. Fortuneatly, people like Marc Rudov and others are educating the men that want to listen and wake up to what is going on. Sadly I have come to think that we men have to learn to be more selfish. Women are and have no guilt about it.

Anonymous said...

Men *are* disposable. They're chauvinistic, disgusting pieces of crap. Scientists have already figured out how to create embryos without the "help" of sperm... happy happy, joy joy! It's just a matter of time, pigs...

Sage Gerard said...

@john updike - "Marty, people instinctively care more for women. The stores don't ask what is fair. They ask what will make money."

Satisfying the market may serve to maintain a social image, but it sounds like you are saying that popular messages reflect human instinct. Careful with that.

@Marty - "They don't worry about men complaining of sexism because today's men have been conditioned to believe they are privileged."

It is unfortunate how easy it is to perceive the image of luxury in the face of subtle social challenges. What saddens me most is the almost unconditional rejection of male-pride, where social backlash is seem as childish banter as opposed to reasonable protest. I do not feel we will be able to make any progress towards egalitarianism (I doubt we will reach it) unless we can prove we have problems of our own.

Sexism is the problem, not men. What amuses me most is that sexism does not discriminate.

"Men *are* disposable. They're chauvinistic, disgusting pieces of crap. Scientists have already figured out how to create embryos without the "help" of sperm"

We also have artificial eggs and wombs, but we do not pray for women to disappear. If your point is to seek the day of male destruction, I would at least ask you acknowledge the existence of male sacrifice. Warren Farrel covers examples of this beautifully. Please do not dismiss his arguments because of his sex.

Marty Nemko said...

Sage Gerard,

Of course I agree with. I do want to make clear to readers here that the "Marty" referred to is not me, but a John Updike character.

Indeed I believe Warren Farrell's writings are most worthy of serious consideration.