I’ll know we have a leader in Albany, not just a politician, when he proposes a 10-point Men’s Equality Agenda. I have read Gov. Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda and found that eight of the 10 points are gender-neutral issues being touted as women’s issues. Only one item is really controversial, the one that expands abortion, and it is the only item that might keep the agenda from becoming law.
But I am not interested in discussing the governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda. Instead I would like to suggest that he also propose a Men’s Equality Agenda. Because the governor has highly paid advisers, I will only suggest the fi rst few points, and they can take it from there. The purpose of a Men’s Equality Agenda is not to detract from the proposed agenda for women, but to shine a light on areas where men do not fare as well as women.
Men will never be equal with women as long as our prisons contain a ratio of nine men to one woman. If the genders are going to be equal, there shouldn’t just be equality at the top of the heap, but also at the bottom.
Not only are there more men than women in prison, there are more on probation and on parole. The total number of people in prison, jail, on probation or parole in New York state is over 300,000 — more than 90 percent of them men.
Since most of these men are felons, their right to vote and ability to get a decent job and a decent place to live are affected dramatically.
Of course, we don’t want to increase the number of women in prison in order to equalize the situation. Rather we need to find out why men are more prone to violent and criminal behavior and what we can do to reduce the number of men in prison. If we are going to help women break through the glass ceiling, we need to help men break through the concrete ceiling.
Secondly, while we do need to end sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, we also need to create an atmosphere in the workplace where men do not have to be afraid of being falsely accused of sexual harassment and other sexual crimes. All it takes is the word of one child or women to ruin a man’s reputation and possibly send him to jail.
CASE IN POINT
Take the case of Joe Bruno — not the politician who has a stadium named after him, but the 30-yearold Saratoga Springs middle school teacher who was acquitted on May 24 of having inappropriately touched a 14-year-old student. Considering we live in an era of sexual McCarthyism, it is something of a miracle that Bruno was acquitted. It was essentially a case of “he said, she said” — no physical evidence — and the jury chose to believe the teacher, not the student.
Saratoga County First Assistant D.A. Karen A. Heggen, in a facesaving statement, said, “Our offi ce believes in this 14-year-old woman’s version of events, which is why we brought this case to trial.” I wonder if Heggen called the 14-year-old a woman during the trial or did she call her a girl or even a little girl to elicit jury sympathy.
What is really revelatory about Heggen’s post-verdict statement is that the prosecution’s case was based on faith (“our office believes”), not evidence. Sorry, but a case should have more than just the prosecution’s faith in an alleged victim’s story before a person is arrested and his reputation smeared.
This is not just a minor problem. A teacher told me this week of a number of situations in just one school. For example, one teacher was talked to and a notation made in his file about a complaint a student made that he was looking at her inappropriately. Another teacher lost his balance and fell against a female student. She complained to the school that when he fell against her, he deliberately lingered.
Many good male teachers are scared to death of being falsely accused. Many go to great lengths to protect themselves. More troubling is that there are many good men, myself included, who will not even take jobs, paid or volunteer, working with children or teens because of the climate we live in. Thus many students who lack good male role models in their lives are robbed of the opportunity of having them.
Third, there is still a great deal of discrimination and prejudice against men taking jobs that have been traditionally female. Due to lack of space, I cite only one example. People who work in hospitals and nursing homes have told me of men who refuse to have male nurses or aides take care of them because they say that a man who becomes a nurse or an aide must be gay.
Except for the expansion of abortion, I support the governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda, but I would also like to see the government pay more attention to issues affecting men. Improving the lives of both genders are not mutually exclusive interests.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to The Sunday Opinion section.