The psychosocial situation of men is bad, but this is met with a fairly widespread lack of interest in the debate focused on women
Although as many as 85% of suicide victims in Poland are men, the topic of this terrible disproportion interests relatively few. Also, the Polish state spends symbolic amounts on suicide prevention. In fact, actions in this sphere have not gone beyond pilot projects. Why is this the case? Perhaps it is because this is the way the public and political debate has been shaped and the male problem is not an issue?
Without a doubt, the women’s emancipation movement has been successful. Today it is difficult to imagine that participants in the public debate can ignore or disregard demands that carry – at least rhetorically – the ideal of gender equality, as long as these demands concern women. Anyone who is critical of an element of the emancipation program must expect to face not only – less often – a substantive retort, but also – more often – moral pressure. He will be a chauvinist, an enemy of women, or someone who simply hates women. To some extent, social demands identified as feminine” are untouchable. Thus, there are ongoing discussions about issues ranging from questions such as: “Is abortion a human right?” to detailed proposals: “Should the state and local governments address the problem of menstrual poverty?”
Anyway, it’s not just a matter of discussion; the issues postulated by various circles interested in the topic of female emancipation, understood in one way or another, are easily and quickly becoming part of the political agenda. And it is known that from debate to politics the road is sometimes very long, even if it concerns important issues. Without a doubt, it can be said that in our circle of civilization women have gained a cultural advantage over men. When it comes to some areas of discourse, one must even speak of domination. This, moreover, translates – also positively – into social relations. In societies that, for historical reasons, do not have a stagnant structure – and Poland is a prime example – the wage inequality to the disadvantage of women is small, and women are also more strongly represented in business. The percentage of women in ownership or managerial positions in our country far exceeds the EU average.
There are also, of course, much more problematic aspects of the process of equalizing the social position of women. I have already mentioned one of them: it is a widely present, and not only in the West, conviction that a fundamental human right – the right to life – can be challenged in the name of rather arbitrarily formulated demands in favor of so-called women’s rights. “Women’s rights” – those born, of course – today boil down almost entirely to the issue of unlimited access to abortion. Another disturbing aspect of emancipation, as currently implemented, is the widely held belief in colloquial equality discourse that men in all social groups are privileged. In practice, this means muting the significance of data showing positive changes in favor of the appreciation of women in society. Recognizing them would force a nuanced black-and-white narrative against the supposedly reigning patriarchy, but it also means excluding men’s problems from the set of phenomena requiring a political solution.
A BAD SITUATION FOR MEN
Meanwhile, men’s problems in Poland are associated with many inequalities. These include the growing gap between the sexes in terms of life expectancy, the deteriorating educational situation of men, inequality with regard to retirement age or mobilization obligations. Some inequalities are more complex. As Jakub Chabik, president of the Association for Boys and Men, noted in an interview published on April 11th on the Krytyka Polityczna website, “The Polish pension system is financed by men from the lower classes, who start working physically as soon as they come of age, and sometimes even earlier. There are twice as many working men as women in the 18-22 age group. At the same time, they are the ones who live the shortest.” There are more such correlations, but they are met with a fairly widespread lack of interest in the debate focused on women.
Meanwhile, the problem of the overwhelming percentage of men in the group of those attempting suicide successfully, signaled at the beginning of the text, is a marker showing the essential thing: the psychosocial situation of men is quite bad. Michal Gorczyca in the article Poland, a country of suicides? We urgently need an effective prevention policy, published on June 22nd, 2022 on the Klub Jagielloński portal, wrote about the men who have attempted to take their own lives as follows: “The largest group are undetermined reasons, which in my opinion are often the result of a pile-up of many problems. It seems that this may include a subjective sense of inability to cope with, for example, a difficult financial, professional, family situation, or relationship problems resulting from growing up in a dysfunctional environment, etc. Although some of these reasons create the appearance of triviality from the perspective of a third party, to a man who perceives himself as trapped in a dark room with no way to leave it and no hope, they appear insurmountable.”
Feminists see the causes of men’s problems mainly in patriarchal social structures, that is, in the culture of professional and social competition, the cult of emotional resilience, success and strength. They fail to note that this kind of argumentation bears the hallmarks of victim blaming, that is, accusing victims of their own harm. Men are supposed to blame themselves. Meanwhile, in the post-patriarchal era, the one we actually live in, expectations of men have become even higher, and this is thanks to women themselves. These continue to look for partners with the best possible social and economic standing, who are emotionally resilient, successful, but at the same time have broad psychosocial skills in terms of household duties, childcare, relationship building, empathetic, etc. It is much more difficult for men to deserve to be called masculine than for women to be feminine. Gorczyca notes the existence of this tendency in the context of patriarchal culture, but its feminized version seems to impose even higher expectations on men in practice.
Unfortunately, the situation in Poland, instead of getting better, is getting worse. As Michal Gulczynski, author of the report Silenced Inequalities. On the problems of men in Poland: “Poland is the only country in the Visegrad Group where male suicides are not declining. In 1990, the number of suicides per 100,000 men was twice as low as in Hungary. Today it is almost equal in both countries.” Meanwhile, as the expert notes, in the last 30 years in the Czech Republic the number of male suicides has fallen by 30%, women by as much as 60%, in Slovakia the decline has been for both sexes at a similar level and amounted to about a third. In Hungary, the number of male suicides fell by 50% and the number of female suicides by 60%. Since 2010, the ratio between male and female suicide cases in these countries has also begun to improve in favor of men. There are still more of them, but the proportions are not as dramatic. The data presented by Gulczynski shows that in Poland today we have a similar level of suicides as in 1990. Although this is a better result than in the most tragic year of 2008, it is still bad. The number of female suicides has fallen by a quarter in the last 30 years.
IT’S MUCH WORSE IN THE EAST
Gulczynski points out that Central and Eastern European countries fare much worse than Western countries in terms of inequality affecting men. This is interesting in the context that we generally do better than the West with inequality relating to women. The important question is whether the two issues somehow overlap, and whether, for both men and women, the statistics can improve. It is also worth asking whether the problems of inequality, which affect men and women differently, can be solved without a gender war at the national policy level. Today’s lack of interest in men’s problems among politicians of most parliamentary groups does not bode well for the future. And these problems will not disappear on their own; rather, they will get worse together with the increasingly evident gender stratification in various social spheres.