Wonder Woman Image from the Smithsonian


When America Embraced Wonder Woman and forgot G.I. Joe

by Sean Kullman

Sunday, November 21 2021

There is little doubt we are living in a politically contentious climate. It feels as though a common humanity has been lost and Americans are being divided along tribal lines defined by cultural heritages now called race and gender. Access to high quality education, access to health care, murders, drug overdose deaths, and a number of social ills are increasingly debated more contentiously with ideological narratives determined to distract us from the statistical realities that all Americans matter.

Somehow, we have forgotten that all citizens deserve equal protections under the law, yet policy actions continue to deny boys and men the same protections. As COVID cases and deaths increased across the country, a second epidemic startled the nation as the U.S. saw an unprecedented 28% increase in overdose deaths over the past year. This week the CDC released provisional drug overdose death data, reporting 100,000 drug-overdose deaths in the U.S., an all-time high. 70% of those deaths are reportedly males ages 25 to 50 according to a PBS News Hour report. GIBM requested the data from Health and Human Services (HHS) and received the following reply: We do not have demographic breakdowns of the provisional drug overdose death data. The latest final drug overdose death data is 2019 and can be found in the following report (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db394-H.pdf). 2020 mortality final data should be available at the end of next month or early next year.

Policy makers would never tolerate these statistical realities if our nation’s daughters were the majority of overdose deaths. Nor should we tolerate them. Our culture thinks differently when it comes to equal protections in a variety of social programs. For those who are skeptical when it comes to equal protections of our boys and men, the COVID pandemic provides ample evidence of the ways our nation and world mobilize when it comes to gender and well-being.

During the COVID Pandemic, the World Health Organization, United Nations, and United States created reports outlining the challenges of women. The CDC released a report on Women, Caring, and COVID-19. No such reports on men were implemented despite the statistical truth that men accounted for 60% to 70% of COVID deaths, and male health care workers were dying in higher rates than their female counterparts. Men in the U.S. lost jobs in slightly higher numbers and percentages than women, but few cared to focus on the challenges men, women, and families faced with an equitable eye toward its impact on the collective social good.

CDC officials are well aware that overdose deaths and COVID deaths are predominately male but has neither seen fit to report on Men, Caring, and COVID-19 nor on Men, Caring, and the Overdose Epidemic.

There is an inculcated practice when it comes to the exercise of compassion in a society that should be aiming for equity in policy actions and programs. Our leaders knowingly institute policies and create social narratives that have become embedded into cultural beliefs over the past 50 years. Our nation desperately needs harmony, but on some social psychological level there is a malaise when it comes to acknowledging male needs that is in conflict with an ever-present urgency to react and support our nations daughters. Our nation should never let down its guard when it comes to the rights of girls and women, but supporting our daughters should never mean forgetting our sons.

The same holds true in the racial tensions facing our nation. GIBM has published reliable data over the past year regarding the challenges of boys of color, while highlighting that all boys are doing worse than their female counterparts of the same race in educational outcomes, educational funding, COVID deaths, life expectancy, homicide deaths, and so many other social concerns. Our goal should not be to divide and conquer but to build and prosper together.

So why do we give a cold cultural shrug when it comes to the well-being of boys and men in America?

There are many reasons we have forgotten about the well-being of our sons, but one that seems most analogous is the way Americans reacted to educational responsibilities in the 1970s. In the 1970s, when men outnumbered women in college by a margin of 60% to 40%, the nation rightly saw fit to increase college and professional opportunities for women. Feminists argued these disparities rested in sexist attitudes toward women, and that is undoubtedly one part of it, but there are other contributing factors.

Modern technological advances, a booming post WWII economy, the contributions women made to the war effort, and the advent of birth control would set the stage for a new way of thinking. These changes in attitudes and industry were only a few decades removed and a dramatic departure from an agrarian society that relied on large families, each member filling specific roles that contributed to family survival. (In 1920, the life expectancy for males was 53.6 years and 54.6 years for females.)

In 1920, few Americans attended college, but by 1970 it was clear America's men and women were living in a new economy where opportunities and family structures for men and women were shifting.

The 1970s brought tremendous change. Ms. Magazine debuted in 1972, featuring Wonder Woman on the front cover with the slogan, “Wonder Woman for President.” Other features of the first issue included Gloria Steinem “On How Women Vote” and “Money for Housework.” Women were not drawing a political line in the sand; they were advancing one.

On the policy front, federal programs such as Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC) and Title IX were implemented. As women continued to mobilize, The Women's Bureau, established by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1920, would advance women's initiatives in the 1980s, "promoting employer-sponsored child care, introducing child care at occupational training center sites, working more closely with women serving on corporate boards and in high-level management positions to help others move up in the management structure, and launching studies on the employment-related needs of women veterans, immigrant women, dislocated women workers, displaced homemakers and older women, and the career transition problems of women."

By 1980, women would outnumber men in undergraduate fall enrollment by nearly 500,000 and that would increase to 1.2 million in 1990. In a relatively short period of time, America adopted a protective and proactive national attitude toward the education of women and girls. In 2019, men were on the downside of educational attainment, accounting for only 41% of all college degrees. The great enterprise to educate our nation's daughters swung the pendulum the other way and created a new disparity in equality and outcome.

While America saw educating women as a civic responsibility, America saw educating men as recompense for serving in the military. “At the college level alone, 2,232,000 [WWII] veterans utilized their G.I. Bill, with over 1 million veterans crowding on American campuses during the banner year of 1947-48.”[1] In 1947, veterans accounted for 49% of college admissions. Some of these veterans were women, but there is no denying the overwhelming majority were our nation’s sons who longed to earn college degrees and support a nation of families. Veterans responded well and were less likely to fail out of college or be on academic probation than the general student body. Korean and Vietnam War veterans would also go on to use their G.I. Bills.

The impetus for educating our nation’s sons and largest increase in male college enrollment has been historically linked to war, a compensation for services rendered.

A nurturing, national attitude toward men never really took hold and men were and continue to be far less likely to advocate for their rights. These attitudes partly explain the dramatic shift in educational outcomes from 1970 to 2019 and additionally the number of programs implemented to support women as a cultural practice over the past 50 years.

[1] Olson, Keith W. “The G. I. Bill and Higher Education: Success and Surprise.” American Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 5, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, pp. 596–610, https://doi.org/10.2307/2711698.

Surveying the Landscape of Policy in Action and Moving Forward

An Office of Women's Health was created 30 years ago by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1991 during another pandemic, HIV. At the time the Office of Women's Health was created, HIV infection became the number one cause of death among men aged 25-44 years-of-age. From 1982 to 1992, the death rate increased from 0.6 per 100,000 to 52.8 per 100,000 for men 25-44 years-of-age and from 0.1 per 100,000 to 7.8 per 100,000 for women 25-44 years-of-age. The male to female HIV death ratio, for those 25-44, was 7:1 respectively. In 2021, the Biden administration established the White House Gender Policy council, a gender policy council that specifically excludes boys and men. It did so during a COVID pandemic, opioid epidemic, and a surging homicide rate; all of which disproportionately impacts boys and men.

The Violence against Women Act (H.R. 1620) was passed by the House on March 17, 2021, as mounting evidence shows male victims of domestic violence are on the rise. According to the CDC, "1 in 5 women (22.3%) and nearly 1 in 7 men (14.0%) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime," an estimated 16 million male victims of domestic violence. Although we must prevent any act of violence against women, the nation should never deny male victims of intimate partner violence their constitutional protections. I encourage anyone reading this article to watch this 2 minute video of a male domestic violence survivor (Blair) who received a Domestic Violence Awareness Proclamation from the city of Kirkland in Washington.

Historically, men have had to sue for equal protections. In 2008, attorney Marc Angelucci won a groundbreaking case in the California Supreme Court regarding male victims of domestic violence. The judge ruled,

The judgment is reversed. We direct judgment be entered for the issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate commanding (1) the Department of Public Health to provide any grants under Health and Safety Code section 124250 to those organizations that provide services to victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender;  and (2) the OES to provide grants under Penal Code section 13823.15 to those organizations that provide services to victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender.   Plaintiffs shall recover costs on appeal. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.278(a)(3).)

In the Woods v. Horton ruling, male victims of domestic abuse could not be denied social services as victims of abuse. It took a legal proceeding in 2008 to determine that a group of people, abused males, not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. Imagine being the mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or future girlfriend of a man like Blair, whose protection against physical abuse at the hands of a women left him constitutionally unprotected and underserved.

Americans can offset these violations of equal protections by creating a Gender Policy Council that addresses issues boys and men face and meet with a women's council to look for common understandings. A Violence Against People Act with two distinctive departments could address and explain the reasons women, men, boys, and girls become victims and perpetrators of violence with the goal of serving any victim. The list of agencies, policies, and laws that continue to leave men behind should no longer continue, and it is going to take strong women who love their sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, nephews, and friends to step forward and demand change.

Efforts for equal protections should neither be based on zero-sum game analysis nor rely on suing our government for basic civil liberties. Our nation is only strong when the men and women who inhabit it prosper in such a manner that equality is acted upon openly, equally, and compassionately through policies that embrace all Americans. The Reverend King reminds us that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And we all know what he meant: No policy, law, and action should discriminate against any person based on sex or race.

Finding joy in ordinary times is a difficult task for most people. Policy makers cannot compound the burden. Understanding disparities should never mean underserving impacted peoples, whether those peoples make up 70% of the suffering or 30% of the suffering. As a nation, we must demand more.

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