Man Down

Like many campuses, my fraternity community just went through elections for both chapter and council executive officers. One thing I encourage individuals seeking IFC officer positions is to chat with me about the current and future state of the community. In the conversations I had, I shared many of my concerns about men on campus and in society, concerns I believe fraternity – with its high standards and internal accountability measures – can help to solve. Here is a snapshot of those concerns:

  • Men are attending college in fewer numbers than ever before, graduating at even lower rates, and moving on for advanced degrees at even lesser rates. For undergraduate degrees, women make up 57% of the enrollment class; men are 43%. This has been a shift in the making since the early 1990s, with the gap growing larger each year. The US Department of Education anticipates an even greater shift in the future, with female enrollment increasing by 18% while male enrollment increases by only 8%. (Note that male/female ratio is roughly 1:1 in the US.) For graduate degree seekers, between 2001 and 2011, the number of males increased by 36%; the number of females increased by 56%.
  • Men are not performing as well academically as women on a college campus, typically averaging 0.2 – 0.3 GPA points behind.
  • Men, on average, show less initiative in starting or leading organizations. If you examine the average membership of clubs and organizations (outside fraternities/sororities and athletic teams), you will find they are heavily populated by women. Think about your campus: who are most of the movers, shakers, and doers in your organizations? Generally, it will be the women. A small number of men will rise up to make things happen, but my experience and general questioning has shown me that while women are attending meetings and hosting events, men are generally grouping up to play video games, watch a sporting event, or engage in other miscellaneous activities. This disinterest or lack of involvement in extracurricular activities hurts development of those “soft skills” that employers highly value.
  • Men after college are unemployed or underemployed at higher rates than women after college. In her article, “Men Are Obsolete,” Hanna Rosin offers that “young single women under 30 have a higher median income than young men. … As one sorority [woman] told [her], ‘Men are the new ball and chain.’”
  • Men engage in higher risk behaviors. In the research on alcohol consumption among college students, males consistently have higher rates of drinking and binge drinking than women. Men have higher rates of suicide attempts and deaths than women. Of those who died of suicide in 2012, 78.3% were men; 21.7% were women. Suicide is often related to mental health disorders, something men frequently do not want to talk about. I checked on our campus counseling statistics, and men accounted for only 25% of our counselor’s clients over the course of the year (C. LeSaux, personal communication, December 1, 2014). This mirrors male reluctance to visit health care providers. Men face medical and psychological issues as frequently as women, but do not address them at the same rate. This leaves them open to physical and mental wounding.

Lest I be accused of setting up a comparison between men and women, of creating a competition between men and women, I share these statistics not to blame or criticize women for their successes (which ought to be applauded) but to show that men are not performing at the same level they used to. They have either decreased their efforts or not increased them as women continue to increase their performance level in a variety of areas. Additionally, this shows some dangerous patterns in male behaviors.

I share all of this and have titled this article “Man Down” for one simple reason: men are falling down, injured by their own and others’ actions or inactions. They are falling in school, in the workplace, and in society and hurting themselves and others. But, unlike a military or police firefight, no medic or ambulance is rushing to the scene to help these men out. We seem happy to let them drift, either uncaring or unsure of what we can do to revive the men in our communities and bring them out of the Guyland coma they seem to be in.

If we want to keep men from falling and injuring themselves and others, we must realize the potential of the fraternal community. And, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire community to address these issues. So, what can be done by the people around our men?

Undergraduate men, it’s time for you to ask more of yourself and of your organization. Cori Wallace, one of the greatest friends of fraternity men you will ever meet, encouraged fraternity men to ask these questions:

“Does my chapter encourage our members to be fraternity men? Does your chapter encourage equality? Character? Ethical choices? Am I my best self because I joined [my fraternity]? Is this a place I am proud to bring my family? Will I meet my confidants, colleagues and best friends because of the bonds we are building? Do we serve others? Do we care about improvement? Do we extend our hand to people in need? Do I hold myself and my friends accountable?”

This is fraternity: a brotherhood based on accountability and bettering of oneself and others. If your chapter is not providing you with ways to further yourself as a person, to be and become the best version of yourself, it’s time to demand more from them. If your inter/national organization does not provide membership development education past the new member period, it’s time to petition them for that. If your campus is not addressing men’s issues, you and your chapter need to identify those and address them, for yourself and your community.

Additionally, as you travel this road, find a mentor. In a previous Connections article, I described one route to manhood, as offered by Robert Bly. A crucial step in this path is finding a mentor. Find an elder, someone who will refine you, see your greatness, and help you build a bridge to achieve what you are capable of. As one author said, “People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be – not what you nag them to be.” Mentors provide this encouragement, to help shape a man into his full potential. One of the oft-touted aspects of fraternity is networking; imagine if that network provided personal mentors for each member to encourage them to their highest potential.

Undergraduate women, it’s time to stop settling for underperformance from your male counterparts. A few years ago, the Panhellenic officers I advise made a bold decision: they refused to co-program or work with their IFC counterparts because the women felt like the IFC didn’t contribute at all and was merely piggybacking off Panhellenic’s success. Did this decrease attendance? A little bit. But, it also spurred the men to take initiative and pull their weight in planning and hosting events. John Shertzer shares the positive impact women who care can have on men. In a post entitled “A Woman’s Touch,” he prefaces a series of suggestions for women with:

“As we try to advance the men’s fraternity movement, we could use some help from our female friends.  Many fraternities and fraternity men behave badly – being insensitive at best and harmful at worst.   A lot of these men receive an assist from women who let them off the hook. They let them feel no consequences for their boorish behavior. The amount of influence that women have on men is so consequential, that they may be the best answer to creating a more values-driven fraternity culture.”

Women, if something is not acceptable, don’t accept it. If men aren’t performing to the level they are capable or to your expectations, let them know you expect better. Oftentimes, it’s just that little extra shove from the other gender that propels men to be more.

Campus and headquarters advisors, model positive adulthood. I often get questions from women who advise fraternities how they can best help men in their development. The more I’ve reflected on this, the best thing any campus or headquarters professional can do is to model positive adulthood. If you think about the issues men are facing, many reflect a struggle to move into adulthood – taking responsibility for actions, demonstrating respect for self and others, reaching for one’s best in endeavors. As professionals, we have the privilege to model maturity. We should demonstrate a love for learning, continue to hold ourselves and those we work with accountable (this may mean sanctioning or it may mean apologizing if we err). Our actions are watched and absorbed, even if we can’t see the evidences; we must keep in mind that living life and modeling the way is often the best way to reach men.

The cry of “man down” should not be commonplace in our fraternity community. We must encourage our men to live up to their potential, not settling for the easy or lackadaisical, to confront those areas in their lives that they struggle with or fall short on, and to inspire others to be more. The underperformance of men isn’t just their issue; it’s an issue that affects the entire community and society. Thus, it deserves a community-wide response.

Resources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2012). Facts and figures. Retrieved from https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures
Central Intelligence Agency. (2014). The world factbook. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html
National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Total undergraduate fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control and level of institution: Selected years, 1970 through 2012 [Data file]. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_303.70.asp
National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Condition of education. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cha.asp
National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Fast facts. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98
Rosin, H. (2014, January 1). Men are obsolete. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/179/men-are-obsolete/
Shertzer, J. (2010, November 17). A woman’s touch. Retrieved from http://fraternalthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/11/womans-touch.html
Wallace, C. (2012, August 7). We’re holding out for a hero: A love letter to fraternity men. Retrieved from http://phitaublog.org/2012/08/07/were-holding-out-for-a-hero-a-love-letter-to-fraternity-men/

 

By Matt Deeg

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