Today, men self-destruct. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Last week's New York
Times has a big section on Men's Health.
It deals with food, prostate, heart, potency,
longevity, attitudes. One woman offers context in
her article, Why Men Don't Last:
Self-Destruction as a Way of Life. She
describes a situation in which men seem better
equipped for survival than women. Men suffer less
weight-gain from eating. They suffer less
depression. They exercise more and have fewer
chronic diseases. Yet women still live seven years
longer. Does that make sense?
The situation is complicated. Take the fact that
women suffer depression twice as often as men do.
Women are more likely to internalize and brood,
while men either confront trouble or distract
themselves in activity. Three times as many women
talk about, or attempt, suicide. But men, more
driven to succeed, are more apt to carry suicide to
completion. Four times as many men die by
their own hand.
About 3½ times as many men are involved in
fatal automobile accidents. Far more men are murder
victims. Go to the gambling casinos and watch men
and women. Men are more likely to be swept up in
the excitement of high-stakes games. Women are more
likely to use slot machines or video poker as a
sedative, away from social scrutiny, says the
All that smacks of male testosterone running amok,
but another article calls for a rehabilitation of
that much-maligned hormone. Low testosterone has
now been identified with anger and defeat --
factors that generate their own mischief.
These Times articles are not clear and
conclusive. In fact, they leave my head spinning.
More men than women have problems with drinking or
drugs. That hardly represents testosterone-driven
risk-taking. Alcohol and drugs smack of retreat
from engagement. For that matter, success at
suicide is hardly a form of risk-taking.
Among the articles, a full-page Pfizer
pharmaceutical ad gives an odd perspective on all
this. Prostate cancer survivor Bob Dole gazes at
us, looking oddly uncomfortable. The ad encourages
men to talk to their doctors about erectile
dysfunction. "It may take a little courage to ask
your doctor about [it]," Dole tells us. (Notice how
male courage has to be called into the equation.)
That ad mirrors another article, this one about
men's and women's use of medical help. Women go to
the doctor more often, and they're far more likely
to go in for a checkup while they're well. Men are
supposed to be the ones who don't get sick.
So there's nothing casual in the design of that
Pfizer ad. How else do you get men to deal
with weakness than to call their courage into
Other articles deal with cosmetic surgery and
weight training, Viagra and eating habits. It
becomes clear that the old gender stereotypes
cannot be ignored, and that they're more complex
than we thought. The bad news is, those differences
still cut men's lives short. And that is a
problem we need to work on.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds