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Gender Stereotypes: Men's Health Worst Enemy

Interview with Willie J. Parker, MD, MPH, MSC, Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington

By Jorge E. BaƱales

What issues do you see affecting minority men's health?

When it comes to reproductive health, men are not often thought of in terms of having needs. Men are at risk for sexually transmitted infections just like women and need to be thought of in terms of preventing infections for their primary health as well, not just in terms of interrupting their transmission of disease to women.

Similarly, unplanned, unwanted pregnancies affect men as well as women, as men are expected to take parental and financial responsibility for any offspring they produce. My work in understanding men's needs and desire for family planning and disease prevention goes hand-in-hand with my work as a women's health provider and expert in family planning. Health for both men and women leads to healthy couples and, hopefully, planned, healthy families.

What are some of the gender stereotypes among minorities as it relates to men's health?

A major gender stereotype is that many people, especially people of color, think that men should be strong and invincible and that they should never acknowledge not feeling well, whether that be mentally or physically. To be ill is a sign of weakness for a man, but is accepted for a woman.

In reproductive health, a major stereotype is that contraception is a woman's responsibility; hence men don't feel like they have to think about that issue. Also the feeling of invincibility often leads men to not think about preventing disease transmission and pregnancy with the correct and consistent use of condoms.

What are your optimist predictions?

I am excited about the fact that the discipline of men's health is growing with a focus on getting men to pay attention to their primary health care needs and not just the prevention of disease. Targeted efforts [that] draw attention to issues unique to men of color and to focus on them foster hope that gains can be made in raising their life expectancy and productivity.

Documenting disparate mortality from causes like HIV, homicide, male-related cancers, heart disease and the like, can begin the process of resource allocation and prevention efforts to close these gaps in health inequality by race and ethnicity.

And, what hampers your optimism?

There are still many social determinants of health that undermine wellness and productivity for all men, but in particular for men of color. High rates of unemployment and higher rates of incarceration pared with much lower rates of higher education persist and are rising for men of color. Despite the progressive movement of the current government, many of these key determinants won't change for men of color any time soon.

What is the focus moving forward?

Men are important. The recognition that men play a role in the health and well-being of their families and kids is highlighted by the creation of a commission which I am co-chairing with Dr. Michael Lu from UCLA. The Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes (CPIPO) focuses on the Role of Expectant Fathers in Healthier Pregnancies and Babies, recognizing that men can play a critical role in their families, particularly their children, before the moment of conception. Recognizing efforts like these can build momentum to involving men in their own health and the health of their families.

About Willie J. Parker
Willie J. Parker, MD, MPH is Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington. He most recently served as the Director of Family Planning for Washington Hospital Center in Washington DC and formerly was the Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. He holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Berea College in Kentucky; an M.D. degree from the University of Iowa; an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health; and a MS in Health Services Research from the University of Michigan where he completed a fellowship in Family Planning in 2008. He served residencies in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Cincinnati and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; and was an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the Centers for Disease Control. He is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and trained in preventive medicine. His more recent work focuses on the prevention and response to violence against women; sexual assault; increased male responsibility in family planning; and the preservation of women's reproductive health rights through advocacy and the provision of reproductive services.

Content Last Modified: 6/3/2011 10:27:00 AM
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