Where Are Men’s Voices in the Fight for Women’s Health?

Now that the public outcry has died down over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s ill-advised and short-lived decision to defund Planned Parenthood, there’s time to consider men’s role in this and other recent women’s health controversies.

In the heated debates that have boiled up recently over birth control and abortion, the loudest male voices have once again been those who want to restrict women’s health care. An all-male panel of Catholic bishops and conservative men testified unanimously to Congress that women who work for Catholic employers should not have access to no-cost contraception. Fortunately, a White House compromise on birth control–to have insurance companies, not employers, foot the bill for birth control–caught the Right flatfooted.

Soon after that brouhaha, in an incredible overreach, the Virginia legislature proposed that women seeking abortions undergo a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound. Although he had a chorus of conservative male legislators lined up behind him, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a favorite of Pat Robertson, walked back his initial support of the bill. At Gov. McDonnell’s request, the Virginia legislature removed the transvaginal ultrasound mandate, and the bill has now passed.

What more encouragement do we men need to add our voices to a debate so vital to the lives of the women in our lives?

Unfathomable as it may be to many citizens, we’re likely to have more such debates in the near future. And the fact remains that men’s voices have been too few and too soft when it comes to speaking out about women’s breast health, birth control and abortion.

To me, it’s manly to speak out alongside 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 Komen situation–who isn’t in favor of breast health? On top of advocating for the women in our lives, men get breast cancer, too: My wife’s cousin David was diagnosed three years ago. 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 to Boston to raise money for the Komen foundation. At the end of our leg of the walk, we wrote a check to the Komen foundation in his honor. 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.

But now, despite Komen reversing its decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood, I am still angry that the foundation inserted politics into a nonpartisan issue–publicly working on behalf of one aspect of woman’s health while privately working against another. What if it were men’s health on the line instead of women’s? Would men stand silently by as other men introduced draconian legislation and clogged the airwaves and blogosphere pompously insisting that father knows best? Come on.

Too often, though, instead of speaking out on behalf of women’s rights, men remain bystanders. Are we 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, 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 while the others sang.

I know it’s possible for men to sing out on these issues–as the editor of Voice Male magazine for the past 15 years, I witness them doing so every day. Want to know where you can start? A new initiative by Men for Women’s Choice has a series of action steps men can take in support of women’s health rights. There’s too much at stake to stay silent. It’s time to open up our mouths. It’s time to sing.

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine (www.voicemalemagazine.org). He can be reached at rob@voicemalemagazine.org.

 Photo from Flickr user informatique under Creative Commons 3.0.


  1. Chloe Angyal is putting together an awesome collection of stories from pro-choice men — http://menwhotrustwomen.tumblr.com/. Men, tell your story.

  2. Lani Ravin says:

    Who are women with birth control having sex with…? omigod, it’s MEN.

  3. I think feminists have driven us out by claiming reproductive rights as a women’s issue. So most allied men stay silent because feminists keep telling us to stay out of it. We do have a great deal at stake in the form of school taxes, paternity suits, peak oil, and environmental capacity. But men’s concerns are not seen as legitimate within the movement. Also, prochoice tactics are way too defensive and many more men want to seise the initiative and put the issue on the agenda in order to win funding even if being on the agenda risks burdensome regulation.

  4. Women worked hard for HIV aids awareness. For some reason most men don’t work for women’s stuff.

  5. billy williams says:

    Hold on a sec, I thought men were supposed to stay out of women’s health & mind their own business, let women make their own choices regarding their bodies, You’re telling me that’s not the case?

    • Here’s the thing billy–the silence of men costs women their choice in the matter [because the voices of other men are taking it away]. So if you’re allied, don’t post passive-aggressive stuff on the internet, and speak up.

      • billy williams says:

        Passive aggressive? I am merely stating that it seems hypocritical of feminists to say abortion is a woman’s issue & then demand men speak up on it, Nothing “passive aggressive” about it.

  6. You’re absolutely right Rob, it’s time for men to share a bit and stand up for the other half of the world. It’s not enough to simply be sympathetic, action and support is required for real change. Read about this in MEN: Are they the biggest problem in the world?, regarding this issue

  7. I would first like to state that I am a fan of your writing. There are many times that I am in complete agreement with you and at other times I cannot agree with you on much at all. I wroite to you as a fellow progressive that has served a mental health practitioner and long time advocate for CHOICE! Having worked in the field of psychology I have had to approach the unique challenge of providing therapeutic intervention for men whose psychological distress is directly linked to feelings of powerlessness as it relates to family and reproductive decision making. I have stood along side men in the trenches that have defended with great passion our right to “choose”. That is… the same men that fight so passionately for our rights have begun to on some level wonder why their voice in the discussion related to reproductive rights not even be heard in the discussion. I must admit that I have begun to evolve on this issue in a way that is more consistent with an old quote made by Karen Decrow of NOW..

    “Justice therefore dictates that if a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring pregnancy to term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support. Or, put another way, autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice.” —

    Karen DeCrow, former NOW President ( National Organization for Women, U.S.A.)

    As I see the pro-life crowd amp up their attacks I cannot help but wonder howmany potential allies in the defense of roe v wade we have alienated by not including their voice in the conversation on some level. I have included an article that a student forwarded me that I am still working through. Please take a read as I have found the article extremely interesting.

    In 2007, my nephew (19 at the time) committed suicide after a woman 7 years his senior admitted to pregnancy entrapment (contraception tampering) He was to attend college in the Fall but instead was served with CS orders. Absent the ability to prove in public what this woman admitted to in private my nephew was told to simply “man up” by the courts. After two years of depression his suicide note read… “I cannot believe this has happened. Some days are better than others, but I have decided that I would rather die than to continue to support – – – – . My entire life has been turned upside down and I pray that God recives me with understanding”.This has made it very personal for me.

    What I find most intriguing about the “war on women” is that I keep finding myself as twenty year choice advocate being perplexed by this dicussion. I work in community health. It is hard to ignore the statistics that 70% of our children (black women) are born to unwed mothers. Many of the very women for whom I have advocated for years do not even value or exercise the responsibility (use of birth control) that comes with complete control over reproduction pre and post conception. I am personally insulted by the suggestion of a war on women while we as black women continue to enjoy the right to complete control over reproductive decsions while abdicating ourselves of complete resonsibility that comes with it. What is disturbing is that we are marching in the streets regarding the assault on black men while I am (right now!) watching the police escort an unemployed neighbor to jail…not for robbery or assault but for his inability to pay child support! Listen I am a choice advocate but I am evolving in my belief that the very men that have stood in the trenches alongside me in defense of a womans right to choose would not even have their reproductive rights taken into consideration. Here is the hypocrisy as best illustrated in this cartoon


    Motherhood is a CHOICE in 2012 and we have alienated many potential male allies that do not desire to take that choice away but desire to simply have equal treatment under the law.You see by focusing on condom use and post-conception responsibility it focuses on male responsibility or lack of and absolves us of any responsibility for the personal choices that we made. When men “walk away” we refer to them as deadbeats but the top three reasons that they walk away are the very same reasons that women put their children up for adoption or abort. We dont refer to women as deadbeats for “abandoning” the responsibility that comes with conception but we extend compassion to our girls and women about the options they have should they not be in an ideal financial situation, relationship or the potential impact on career. Do we not believe that men experience the same anxieties and fears and can be impacted in a such a way as well? As one that has worked in community mental health and in private practice with men whose pain has often been dismissed and/or completely invisible to society I think its time we begin exploring these issues. I fought as have other women, too hard for a womans right to choose, while most simply enjoy the rights without responsibility.

    There has been a war on our men and I will simply say that a community that despises its men run the risk of creating a community of despicable men. I watched coverage of the crisis in Syria a couple of days ago. As is common practice in western journalism it was reported “20 killed including women and children” I thought little of it until my nephew of 21 years of age stated “Theres the problem right there, we get the message loud and clear; our lives are assigned different value than everyone elses.” I must admit that it is hard not to argue that the value we have placed on our mens lives has been reduced to their “doings” instead of value in their being.

    . I always hear the argument that we wouldnt have to define manhood for men if fathers would step up, but the idea that ones choice to engage in sex that led to an unwanted pregnancy and the womans unilateral decision to go to term with the idea that a consent to sex is a consent to fatherhood and non-compliance with our “expectation of what a man SHOULD do” because men are no longer manning up, as opposed to accepting responsibility for our role in the current fatherlessness crisis is beginning to be challenged by many in our community that have had enough! It is a very interesting dichotomy where we are vocal about our strenngth and independence while maintaining the idea of ourselves as victims of mens ill intent. The very concept of focusing our attention on condoms (male symbol of sexual (ir) responsibility) and mens behavior post conception is a blatant attempt to shift focus away from the 20+ options we have available to us to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the lack of responsibility we demonstrated pre-conception. We cannot continue to ignore the voices of our men in this discussion. We also cannot keep saying “he should keep it in his pants if he doesnt want to pay” as it undermines our efforts to protect choice. We would never support a woman being told that.

    I write to you as you have a voice that at the very least can invite more objective analysis of the problem to the mainstream. I beg of you as a mother of sons that you gein an egalitarian humanist discussion that truly considers the men and boys in our community. I may not have effectively articulated my thoughts but I pray you get the general conversation I ma trying to engage you in ..

    Much continued success to you moving forward

    Natalie Jackson Ramirez, EdD., LMFT

    • LanceSmith says:

      Natalie, I wish there was a “like” button….you are absolutely right.

      Considering the huge pro-woman gaps in Health, Education, Reproductive Rights, Parental Rights, Disposability, etc, one has to wonder when men can expect more women to step up and add their voices in the fight for men’s health (et al).

      As for reproductive rights, if Dr. Coutinho (who came up with the male reproductive pill) is to be believed, the main detractors seems to be feminists such as Betty Friedan who believe that reproduction should remain the purview of women, and to give men the same birth control options would be to remove the rights of women to reproduce whenever and however they like.

  8. Alex Black says:

    Where is the moral outrage against men who would have unprotected sex with a woman and then not accept the responsibility for providing at least financial help to raise his child. Hello are these all virgin births? Or are we faced with a nation of totally selfish serial impregnators because they are too lazy to use condoms, or the feeling just isn’t the same. PS condoms are available over the counter while birth control for women is only available with a doctors prescription, something which costs a lot more money.
    Women adopt the motto “no condom, no sex”

  9. Dick Move says:

    “You need to take responsibility for the child”

    “You shoulda thought about that before having sex”

    “A baby is not a choice”

    What do all of the above statements have in common? They are the shaming rhetoric used by the Religious right to attempt to manipulate and limit women’s reproduction freed. They are the shaming rhetoric used by Religious right Feminists to attempt to manipulate and limit women’s reproduction freedom.

    If you would enslave me to a bastard child for 18-year term of involuntary labor, I will do the same to you. If I am to be a slave, so will you.

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