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When Men Are Victims Cathy Young

Reason Magazine
November 16, 2001

When Men Are Victims
The plight of women in war shouldn't blind us to the sufferings of men
by Cathy Young

One widely noted result of the terrorist attack on America and the war in
Afghanistan has been an intensified focus on the predicament of Afghan
women under the terrorist-harboring Taliban regime. President Bush has
repeatedly included the mistreatment of women in his catalogue of the
Taliban's crimes.

The attention to this problem is welcome - but occasionally, one must
wonder if there is any sympathy to spare for the Taliban's other victims.

The other day, The New York Times published a story about a family of
Afghan refugees now living in Uzbekistan. Before they fled Afghanistan
three years ago, 14 members of the family were rounded up and summarily
executed by the Taliban. Those who were killed, young and old, had one
thing in common: They were men.

This pattern of the selective murder of men is hardly new. It was common
during the past decade's conflict in the Balkans, where thousands of men
ended up in mass graves and where refugee communities often consisted
solely of women and children whose husbands and fathers were dead or

Afghan men who don't have the bad luck to belong to the wrong ethnic,
religious, or political group have fared better than the women - at least
they are not virtual prisoners in their homes - but that's not saying much.

While a woman can be beaten if her face accidentally shows from under her
head-to-toe covering, a man can be beaten if his beard isn't long enough.
While a woman who commits adultery faces execution, the same fate awaits
her male lover. While girls are denied schooling, boys get an ''education''
intended to turn them into future martyrs for jihad. And while women are
forbidden to go to work, men are often forced to go to war.

This is not to say that, as some men's movement activists have tried to
argue in Internet mailings, women under the Taliban haven't been any more
oppressed than men. Surely it matters that under the radical Islamic regime,
only men are regarded as full-fledged members of the community and
women are effectively barred from public space.

However, concern with the women's tragic plight should not blind us to the
suffering of men. And from some of the rhetoric and media coverage, one
might conclude that women are the only ones who are victimized.

Some advocates for women do, in fact, seem to be either blind or indifferent
to bad things that happen to men. Sadly, there is nothing new about this.

During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, when reports of widespread
rapes of Bosnian women by Serbs generated much outrage, Progressive
magazine columnist Susan Douglas charged that the West was reluctant to
intervene in the crisis because the violence was directed ''only'' at women.
Her charges weren't taken seriously. (Numerous reports of savagery
targeting men must have escaped her attention.)

Around the same time, writing in Newsweek about rape as a weapon of war,
feminist author Susan Brownmiller, author of ''Against Our Will: Men,
Women, and Rape,'' suggested that male war victims were asking for it:
''Balkan men have proved eager to fight and die for their particular
subdivision of Slavic ethnicity.''

Yet many of those men were conscripted against their will, some of them
after trying to flee the country and being forcibly repatriated while
women and children were allowed to leave.

This gender-based myopia leads to some bizarre claims. A recent article in
The Village Voice about feminist attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan
asserted that ''more women than men die as a result of most wars.'' There
is no question that women in many parts of the world are egregiously
oppressed. But in most of those countries, life for most men is hardly a
bed of roses, either. War, in particular, is one scourge of humanity whose
burden has a lways been borne primarily by men. If the wartime suffering
of women is often more visible, it is, ironically, because more of the
women are alive. Thus, 70 percent of Afghanistan's refugees are women.

Paradoxically, the ostensibly feminist focus on women's victimization
resembles nothing so much as the traditionalist, paternalistic assumption
that women and children deserve special protection from harm.

Let us, by all means, show concern for the women of Afghanistan. But we
should also care about what happen to these women's fathers, brothers,
husbands, and sons. The women themselves surely do.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. This column
appeared in the Boston Globe on November 14, 2001.

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