Now that the public outcry has died down over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s ill-advised decision to defund Planned Parenthood (within days they reversed themselves after a blistering protest) there’s time to consider men’s role in the controversy. As a group, caring men were silent, ceding public discourse to the same intrusive men who have long tried to control women’s reproductive lives; men who, in seeking to destroy Planned Parenthood, politicized breast health. Yes, women were major actors in this story, especially including senior management at the Komen Foundation. But men’s fingerprints have long been all over women’s health issues.
To me it’s manly to speak out on behalf of our sisters and mothers, wives and daughters. Too much is at stake for men to stand mute while sideline blowhards go after the women in our lives—first their ovaries, then their mammary glands.
Consider the politics of the situation—right, left, center, who isn’t in favor of breast health? In case anyone thinks men are immune: we get breast cancer, too. My wife’s cousin, David, was diagnosed three years ago. (See “My Father’s Breast Cancer,” Fall 2011.) It’s in men’s interest to acknowledge these are community issues, not women’s issues.
Last summer my wife and I joined our cousin for seven of the 60 miles he walked into Boston to raise money for the Komen foundation. It was a classic New England August Sunday morning and there was a festive buzz among the throng of walkers. Survivors, families of those who’d died, young and old—a rainbow of citizens strolling under an azure sky, all with a common purpose: to cure breast cancer. The most heated conversation I heard all afternoon concerned baseball: would the Red Sox make it back to the World Series in the fall.
At the end of our leg of the walk, after we’d sauntered through Cambridge neighborhoods and down Boston thoroughfares, slaked our thirst with orange wedges and our hunger with granola bars, we wrote a check to the foundation in honor of our cousin. We were delighted he was two years cancer-free. And I said a prayer of gratitude for my wife—healthy and strong 21 years after her own bout with breast cancer.
Despite reversing its decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood, I am still angry the foundation inserted politics into a nonpartisan issue—publicly working on behalf of one aspect of woman’s health while privately working against another.
Meanwhile, unfathomable as it may be to many citizens at the start of the second decade of the 21st century, another heated debate is underway; this time it’s birth control as it applies to the 2010 health insurance law (aka Obamacare.) On one side is the White House wanting to ensure that women who work at or seek services from Catholic health care facilities have access to birth control. On the other side are employees at those institutions who, for religious reasons, insist they shouldn’t be compelled to dispense birth control. Another community issue where men’s voices are too few and too soft.
What if it were men’s health on the line instead of women’s? I can’t imagine caring men standing silently by as other controlling men clog the public airwaves and the blogosphere. Too often, though, instead of speaking out on behalf of women’s rights, we remain bystanders. Are we too timid to speak out, fearful we’ll be put down, castigated as a mangina instead of celebrated as a mangina warrior?
Remember the bumper sticker, “Keep Your Laws Off of My Body?” It’s not just a slogan for women. Deep down, men know that an assault on women is an assault on us, too. But unless more of us are willing to raise our voices on behalf of our mothers and sisters, our wives and daughters, we risk ending up like the boys who were banished to the back row of middle school chorus. You know, the ones who were ordered to mouth the words, the ones who sometimes grew up to be tough guys with hardened hearts and scowls on their faces. The risks are too great to be silent. It’s time to open up our mouths. It’s time to sing.