Our sad older menI lived among females in the first half of my life — school days — and among males in the second half, or career days. The people I deal with every day at meetings and meals are all men. I therefore have some understanding of the innate characteristics of males, like their penchant to seek justice and goodness, but also their tendency toward weakness and anxiety. What remains certain is a stark gender difference, even as females and males live amongst one another for almost 30 years. Male isolation is a good example.
We heard the appalling and tragic news involving two elderly men. The corpse of a man in his sixties was ignored in a household of five for a month. The family members did not care to ask after their father until the smell of decay filled the house. Another man in his 70s fell and hit his head while changing a light bulb. His wife finished him off with a hammer because she didn’t want to pay any hospital bills.
Of course those are extreme cases. Both would have had unique circumstances behind their tragedies. Whatever the circumstances may have been, what cannot be denied is that people are dying lonely and elderly couples are killing one another. Murders and suicides among the elderly have become frequent. Deadly crimes among seniors are rising every year and 90 percent of the victims are males. Behind various problems related to an aged population — such as solitary deaths, violence, conflict, and abuses — stem from isolation at home.
But we choose not to see male isolation as a social problem. Despite sporadic data on senior crimes and poverty, there are few studies of male isolation. The two recent cases show our society must deal with male isolation in a social context. One hurdle to such endeavors is the men themselves. They are offended by generalizations from certain extreme cases and brush them aside as a typical overreaction by the female gender.
Women have been better at turning individual crimes like sexual violence, hate crimes or dangers to women into a social agenda — as structural and cultural violence and hostility towards the other sex — to start campaigns and force social changes. Their strength derives from their self-consciousness as an oppressed minority. A minority knows that they must come to an awareness of the oppressive social structure and their own constraints and take joint stands to effect any changes. This is how women have not dithered and tackled various disadvantages and prejudices toward their sex despite ridicule and criticism of feminism from the mainstream.
From the minority perspective, I cannot help but notice the gravity of the male isolation phenomenon in our society. More and more men are forced out on the streets to spend their old age astray in hunger and cold because they are no longer welcome in their homes after they lost their breadwinning role. Many of them, even those who have turned into criminals, lived honestly and worked hard to make a living.
The increase in unhappy and unfortunate senior citizens is a sign of an unhealthy society. But we regard their problems as personal misfortunes or family problems instead of as a social issue. Although we are enraged by violence against women by men, we turn a blind eye to the problems of men alienated from their homes and society. Contemporary men have grown up to believe that the male must be responsible for his home and family and protect the weak. They are chained to responsibility and an illusionary vanity.
But the macho male is becoming extinct in today’s society. Male authority in the past was based on blind devotion and obedience from the female sex. But women today do not tolerate one-sided authority. No matter what extremely conservative male groups do and say, attitudes won’t go back to the past. The world has changed and people have to adapt to it. As women realized their constraints and endeavored to overcome them, men too must compromise with their weaknesses and problems to draw social attention and change. I personally wish that all my male friends will live comfortably and happily in their old age.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 17, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.