Men with disabilities have long faced a plethora of issues with respect to body image, relationships, sexuality, employment and financial stability. Even in an age when women are fully present in the workforce (although still earning less money on the dollar than men), men continue to cope with the image of the ‘primary earner’, ‘the provider’, and similar stereotypes. But, men still find they must live up to the images that confront them on a daily basis – the image of the ‘well-made’ man, the physically fit metrosexual, the sexy single man, and the solid married, family man.
If a woman walks into a bar and has a choice between a man who uses a wheelchair, and the man standing next to him, would she make a choice based on ‘notions of ableism’? Or, would she wait until she actually has the opportunity to meet and talk with both men?
In Part 1 of this series, the focus was on women with disabilities. The research world-wide continues to support the premise that they face double discrimination; that they are at far more of a disadvantage than a man with a disability. That does not however imply that men with disabilities don’t also face their own challenges and barriers. In the example of the woman in the bar, it is likely that a high percentage of women would first go for the man they perceived of as ‘able’. Why? Because society continues to portray the average man as being fit, healthy and handsome – that implies able.
Manhood and Masculinity
In very real ways, men face distinct forms of social pressure to be a certain kind of man and to uphold society’s outdated notions of manhood and masculinity. At no time, should we ignore or even lessen our efforts to substantially reduce and hopefully eliminate violence and abuse of women with disabilities. Still, it is also true that men with disabilities have been demonized, abused and assaulted.
I know dozens of disabled men who have suffered serious violence or sexual abuse who have been afraid to tell someone for fear of being disbelieved, blamed or ridiculed. Marginalizing the issues of disabled men in the service of a one-sided gendered approach ultimately undermines the good work of the disability rights movement during the last 50 years – it shifts the focus from a humanitarian movement to a largely sexist one from within its own culture.Read More
In 2011 The Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study on the sexual abuse of men with disabilities. While the topic of abuse of women with disabilities is being widely studied and recognized, the situation for men with disabilities is not as well known.
Men with disabilities are at a heightened risk for lifetime and current sexual violence victimization,” according to lead investigator Monika Mitra, PhD, Research Scientist, Center for Health Policy and Research, and Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School. “The most notable finding is that the prevalence of lifetime sexual violence, completed rape, and attempted rape against men with disabilities was comparable to that against women without disabilities, and past-year rates for men with disabilities exceeded those for women without disabilities.” Read More
For men with mental health issues, the barriers are often significant. As discussed in a previous article series on mental illness in Canada, there continues to be a high prevalence of stigma in the lives of people coping with mental illness. Men may feel this to be especially difficult given that there are still additional stigmas for men who reveal themselves to have a weakness of any kind. Ideas of masculinity and sexuality may be considerably difficult for a man with a disability. Some would suggest that the notion of masculinity has begun to evolve and society no longer believes in the concept of the ‘rugged man’ as the ideal. Many would like to believe that this notion of masculinity is no longer important. But, is that actually true?
Conceptually speaking, the common definitions of masculinity and disability are like oil and water and as such, in practice, each tends to assume something different about the person: disability as limited to the other and masculinity as proof of the self. Read More.
Because disability has often been constructed as the ‘other’ in our society, it often eclipses other aspects of a person’s identity. For example, once the late actor and activist Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic as a result of a horse-riding accident, he was invariably described as having a disability and everything else became secondary. The same has been true for actor Michael J. Fox who has Parkinson’s. He has helped to raise millions of dollars for medical research yet every article first lists the fact that he copes with Parkinson’s (even though this is already well-known). an actor, father, and husband all somehow fit into the description of him later in the articles. Disability becomes an all-encompassing way of viewing a person no matter how much they accomplish, or how recognizable they are.
Networking & Friendship
Another aspect of our society is the value on independence. Anyone who has to ‘ask’ for assistance or support is somehow deemed to be weaker or ‘less able’. Yet, society also recognizes the importance of networking, connecting, friendship, moral support, and togetherness. For all these values, a man with a disability somehow has to navigate the two worlds and do so without asking for support – he must be the rugged individual, the capable metrosexual who is invariably successful and stable, yet also own the disability and accept that people will see him as the ‘other’.
Gender and disability is not an easy topic, nor is it fully covered here. These ideas are simply the tip of a much deeper and more complex situation. Even with the evolution of roles and insights into gender and identity, masculinity is somehow still connected to ideas of power and autonomy, whereas disability is still connected to notions of dependency. These constructs will not easily be broken down. But, with the power of the disability rights movement continually on the rise, there is at least hope in the future for men with a disability.