In the San Francisco Bay Area town where I live there are two big hospitals. Both have Women’s Health Centers. Neither has a Men’s Health Center. If you happen to ask about one, you’re likely to be referred to the Urology Department.
To be sure, there’s Men’s Health magazine, but it seems focused mostly on building 6-pack abs and how to have great sex.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a web site for women’s health: http://www.womenshealth.gov/. What would be the gender equivalent website, http://www.menshealth.gov/, does not exist. You can find out what HHS has to say about men’s health by going to the Women’s Health web site and clicking on “A-Z Health Topics.” There, under “M” is Men’s Health at http://www.womenshealth.gov/mens-health/. Not very intuitive to put it mildly, and a man looking for health information would be unlikely to stumble across it, much less think of looking for it under “women’s health.”
An American author and former philosophy professor, Christina Hoff Summers, who, Wikipedia tells us, “is known for her critique of late 20th century feminism” recently posted the following at Ann Althouse’s blog: “The Affordable Care Act mentions ‘breast’ 44 times, ‘prostate’ not once. It also establishes an elaborate and expensive network of special programs to promote women’s health. Programs for men are nowhere to be found. What explains the imbalance?”
Hoff offers five possible answers:
“1. Focusing on breasts works for everybody: Men love breasts and women feel cared for.
“2. Treating women’s bodies as a special problem, requiring special attention, works for the most retrograde traditionalists and for progressive feminists.
“3. Women tend to monitor their health and consume more health care services, especially these preventive programs. There are no programs for men, because men wouldn’t respond to programs. The main use of men is getting them into the insurance pool to contribute to the cost of caring for women and children.
“4. Women actually need and deserve more care. Men are expendable. There is a shared social interest in preserving the women for reproductive purposes, for the maintenance of stable households, for the nurturing of children, and for looking after the elderly.
“5. Gender politics work, but only on women.”
Here’s my take on Hoff’s five possibilities:
#1 is certainly true, but hardly explains why men would therefore not enjoy health services directed specifically to them with the same ubiquity of those directed to women.
#’s 2, 4 and 5, while somewhat tongue-in-cheek come with a pretty big dose of cynicism. I don’t want really want to go there.
#3 is the one that made me stop and think: “There are no programs for men, because men wouldn’t respond to programs.” This is a sort of chicken and egg problem. While I can’t find any evidence of any health programs for men that were actually launched and then closed down because no men responded—Hoff’s assertion nevertheless seems intuitively true.
I have not heard of any grass roots movements demanding that hospitals open men’s health centers. Especially for preventive care such as PSA testing, DREs, routine EKGs, chest X-Rays for smokers and the like. But maybe you have.
So why this gender imbalance when it comes to health issues?
I think one reason is that we guys tend to think we’re pretty indestructible. And if some health issue actually does happen to us, we tend to be quick to pass it off as inconsequential. Many times, we won’t even tell our friends or even our family what happened. And if it is a consequential health issue such as prostate cancer, well, by then it’s really too late, isn’t it?
Men especially don’t like to talk about “down there.” Plus, we don’t know very much beyond the basics needed to get it up. When it comes to the prostate, tucked up embarrassingly between the rectum and bladder, we would prefer to change the subject. As an informal proof of our collective gender ignorance, how many times have you heard it called the “prostrate”?
We Baby Boomers have been talking about sex, drugs, and rock and roll since the 1960’s, and we’re “youth-obsessed.” So you’d think we might be fairly vocal about health issues, including “down there.” But when something goes wrong like, say, prostate cancer, the subject seems off-limits. Will we just clam up and suffer in silence just as our “greatest generation” fathers did? So far, the evidence suggests we talkative Boomers may be following all too readily in our father’s silent footsteps.
So, what is it about us guys? Do we ignore our health issues because it deflates our macho self-image? Or that our gender simply lives in some sort of state of permanent denial when it comes to monitoring our health? Or that we’re ashamed because a problem “down there” makes us less of a man? Or are there other deeper psychological issues at work here?
One thing seems certain: until we guys take responsibility and start to sort this out for ourselves we’re not likely to see many men’s health centers at our local hospitals anytime soon.