Politics & Policy

Losing Men

That’s where the war is.

In 2010, more than 38,000 people killed themselves in the United States – and over 30,000 of them were men, Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, points out in her book Men on Strike.

“How many of these men had decided to kill themselves because they could no longer see their children, had a broken relationship, or were involved in a bitter divorce?” she asks. “Ironically, even when you look at the suicide statistics, most concern seems to be about women who kill themselves. Apparently, our society cares so little about men that those who kill themselves are hardly news.”

It’s the problem of a culture that often treats men as if there is something inherently wrong with masculinity, with what makes them different from women — and looks to feminize them. Men who are less interested in marriage and responsibility are only being rational in that context, Smith argues. In the wake of the Navy Yard shootings on Monday, Smith talks about violent video games, and men in America, with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: First of all, regarding the Navy Yard murders: What’s your view of people who point to violent video games as contributing to what Aaron Alexis did Monday? What’s your general view of violent video games and how they affect behavior?


HELEN SMITH: I wrote a book called The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill and spent three years in the late 1990s looking into why young people commit murder. Many times our society wants to blame one factor for murder, often a political one such as guns, or others such as video games, or even evil spirits. But it is not one thing that causes people to kill, it is a number of factors that go wrong, with no intervention.

It is often a combination of mental illness, lack of treatment, and a triggering event such as unemployment or the end of (or trouble in) a personal relationship. People who already have violent fantasies might play violent video games repeatedly, but this does not mean the games cause violence, only that some people who have violent thoughts may enjoy them. However, in studies such as the New York Times meta-analysis of 102 rampage killers, violent-video-game addiction was not prevalent in the majority: “In only 6 of the 100 cases did the killers have a known interest in violent video games. Seven other killers showed an interest in violent movies.”

LOPEZ: Many are taken with what Dr. Janis Orlowski at a hospital press conference said about “something evil in our society” contributing to what happened at the D.C. Navy Yard. Would addressing some of the problems you discuss in Men on Strike contribute to a lessening of the coarseness of society, and perhaps even contribute to a reduction in the number of mass shootings?


SMITH: Our society leaves the mentally ill, particularly men, to go their own way these days without much intervention. One of the things I mention in Men on Strike is the high suicide rate of men. Of the more than 38,000 suicides in this country, over 30,000 are by men. There are many men in this country who are depressed or have issues that we as a society do not want to deal with. We are too busy trying to figure out what is wrong with girls and women, and men’s psychological issues go by the wayside. I say this because many mass shooters kill themselves, and depression, psychosis, or other mental illness plays a part. People are often afraid of dealing with men, they fear them or ignore the issues they have, such as problems with divorce or other personal issues. This is not to say that this is the case with the D.C. Navy Yard shooter; there are many factors that may have led him to commit such a heinous crime that will come out with time.

LOPEZ: Why are men going “on strike”? And whose fault is it? 


SMITH: Men are going on strike because the rewards for them in the fields of marriage, education, career, and fatherhood are a lot less than they used to be, and the costs and dangers are higher. So some are opting out.

LOPEZ: Who are “White Knights” and “Uncle Tims” and why are they a problem?


SMITH: White Knights are typically conservative men who are chivalrous and always trying to protect women and have no problem with biased laws that punish men while protecting women. Uncle Tims are generally liberal guys looking to get sex or political favors by being male sellouts to their own gender. They are the Bill Clinton types who crack down on their own gender, using biased laws such as sexual harassment while sleeping with women and using them.

LOPEZ: Even among women who love men, and see the culture as attacking them, there is a bit of a condescending tone, treating men as immature and in need of domestication. But in any male reticence to get married, you see rationality. Why is this so important to understand? 


SMITH: I am surprised how many women have no or little empathy for men. It is important to understand where men are coming from, how they think, and what they fear when it comes to marriage. The law and culture tend to protect women and to harm men. Men are starting to realize this, and women need to understand that men have few reproductive rights, have few legal rights in divorce, and are seen as the bad guy in marriages that go wrong. It is not immaturity for men to be reluctant to marry, it is a rational choice not to place oneself in a harmful legal contract that gives them no safety net.

LOPEZ: How did we get to this point where dads are considered doofuses at best on sitcoms? What does it say about how we value fatherhood?


SMITH: In the 1970s, it seemed as if TV started to portray men as idiots, perverts, and buffoons. Jim Macnamara, a professor in Sydney, Australia, found that the media portray men in a negative light 69 percent of the time. It’s no wonder we no longer value dads. Add in the incentives that welfare benefits such as WIC and food stamps provide to single women, and dads are now becoming obsolete. The government has taken over as husband for many women.

LOPEZ: How much of a problem is paternity fraud? How to tackle?


SMITH: There are studies that show paternity fraud is quite prevalent; some say that it is over 3 percent. Paternity-fraud laws need to change in every state. No man should have to pay, involuntarily, for a child that is not his or risk being put in jail.

LOPEZ: Has college really become finishing school for women? And if so, what’s your advice to men already there for the semester?


SMITH: Women make up 57 percent of college students now. Men are opting out of education, as they feel college has little to offer them; some bailed out long ago when they became disconnected to school due to its being geared toward how girls learn and not boys. My advice to young men is to find other guys to get support from. Start a group if possible, even an informal one so you can talk with one another.

LOPEZ: How has the Obama administration curbed due-process rights of men on campus? 


SMITH: The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 telling colleges that take federal funds that they should use a lower preponderance-of-evidence standard in sexual-assault cases. Basically it is “50 percent plus one,” meaning that a campus tribunal can decide a young man is guilty with less certainty than is needed in a criminal trial. Read the case of Judith Grossman’s son in the Wall Street Journal to find out more about how young men are believed to be guilty without a fair trial or real evidence.

LOPEZ: “Unfortunately, women’s groups are all atwitter about women being portrayed in the media as having to be beautiful or interested in beauty, but it is much worse to be shown as a suspicious pervert who should be lynched or locked up by society.” Is it really that bad? 


SMITH: Yes, when we see men as the enemy, they are afraid to volunteer with children, to help others, or to sit by a kid on an airplane. We are isolating half the population — it is harmful to a free society.

LOPEZ: What’s so wrong with the “man cave” concept?


SMITH: Men are often relegated to the dirtiest part of the house — the garage, the attic, or the basement. The wife and kids occupy the main living space. Men may say they like it down there, but I have noticed, the minute the wife or kids are gone, they often go back upstairs. We have a decline of male space in our society these days and our houses reflect that. Brett McKay has more on this topic in his article “The Decline of Male Space.”

LOPEZ: How and why is it that “many women” are “afraid of men”? How do you understand this as a psychologist? 


SMITH: Women are told from a young age not to talk with men, that men are perverts or pedophiles. As they get older, they are told at college that most if not all men are rapists. The media concur with the negativity, and it’s no surprise that women are frightened of men.

LOPEZ: You’ve said that “men need other men to talk to”? Is there really a war on Elks clubs?


SMITH: Yes, the all-male clubs are frequently harassed or sued. Even the Boy Scouts are seen as evil now by the media, as a bunch of homophobes that no one should want to belong to. Women can have whatever space they desire. Curves and other facilities are often female-only, but if guys want their own space, forget it. Same at schools where there are clubs for women and minorities but few for men.

LOPEZ: How do we help lost and withdrawn young men? 


SMITH: We start by getting rid of the negative messages about men and boys. At schools, we offer books and activities that are boy-friendly. Christina Hoff Sommers in her new edition of The War on Boys has good suggestions, such as putting vocational training back in the schools. Michael Gurian, the author of The Wonder of Boys, also looks at how boys learn and how to engage them.

LOPEZ: What would be your opening pitch to a woman who buys “war on women” rhetoric? 

SMITH: Good luck, honey, you’re going to need it.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.



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