“They are migrant men and boys coming from some of the poorest regions in Bangladesh. They are considered machines; if one dies another will replace him. They live up to twenty in small huts often lacking sanitation. They are contract workers and are in no way given the opportunity to organize themselves; trade unions are not allowed. There is no complete recording of accidents or death at the shipbreaking yards; dead and non-identified workers still get thrown out to sea, leaving a widow and children with no news and no income.”
Both men and women were objectified in different ways. Women were treated like children to be protected and controlled. Men were treated like blunt objects (like hammers) to be used until broken. 32,000 men died building the panama canal just so ships could save seven days going around the tip of South America…Look at how (male) workers were exploited building the trans-continental railroad. These workers were so unimportant their deaths weren’t even counted. Look to any big dam, highway/railway going through mountains, suspension bridge or skyscraper and you will see men’s blood being the grease of industrial engine.
But it’s not always in faraway lands and it’s not in the historical past. As Ozy Fraz writes in “On Workplace Deaths”
Communication tower climbing, which only employs ten thousand people at any time, has resulted in 100 deaths over the last nine years, a death rate ten times higher than construction. Not a single tower climber fatality is listed under the major cell phone companies’ entries in OSHA’s database of workplace accident investigations.
This is not okay.
Men are disproportionately likely to die on the job. Some of it is that for a variety of reasons (men tend to have more physical strength than women, men are more likely to be hired as manual laborers, heavily-male environments are unwelcoming to women) manual labor is gendered very, very male, and manual labor is the sector most at risk for deaths on the job. Some of the reason is located in toxic ideas of masculinity. Men take risks. Men don’t care about their safety or health. Men will work dangerous jobs to take care of their family. Men aren’t “pussies.” And these corporations take advantage of these toxic ideas to cut costs and work faster and not have to take proper safety precautions.
History can’t be undone and men can’t be brought back from the dead. I’m a believer in progress, but there is nothing progressive about the pictures in Cameron’s article, the stories of progress told through the deaths of men, or the image of a single blue-collar man falling to his death so we can all get better cellphone reception..
And then I read Tom Matlack’s article.
Tom’s post “Why What Do You Do?” is an Attack on Manhood. There is (thankful!) not a death in it. It asks a seemingly innocuous question, “What do you do?” and discusses the problems within. As Tom says,
This idea that manhood is defined not by who you are but what you do goes to the very core of the male dilemma, or at least this man. I have always felt there was this cosmic pecking order of masculinity and the question, “What do you do?” reduces it to its essential elements.
If men are defined by what they do, if that is a core of their very essence — and if progress is measured by what gets done, and men get killed when things get done — then where does this leave us as a society?
If men are defined first and foremost by what they do instead of who they are it’s going to be hard to continue to make progress in ways that will look like an equitable type of progress.
In fact, when Tom first founded The Good Men Project, him and I had a conversation about how Tom wanted to showcase the multi-dimensionality of men. Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with men or masculinity or wanting to be seen as manly. But that men can be defined by by the complex pieces of the puzzle of who they are. Not by what they do. And most certainly not by what kills them.
Tom closes with a vision of what that could look at.
My suggestion is that we replace the obnoxious and demeaning question of “What do you do?” as somehow defining of maleness into “What do you love?” The pecking order would disappear. With inspiration, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And instead of repeating again and again the shadows of manhood we’d get down to the real thing, unique to each of us and without shame.