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On Fire but Blacked Out: The Thomas Ball Story

The war against men and boys continues.

by
Helen Smith

Bio

June 29, 2011 - 12:00 am

Imagine, if you will, that a 16-year-old girl is denied an abortion and tries to get justice through the court system. She is jerked around and told “tough luck honey” a number of times and finally becomes distraught and sets herself on fire in front of the courthouse. Now, imagine what happens next in the media: The story becomes a firestorm. MSNBC and CNN have the incident scrolling along the bottom of the news every hour while the New York Times interviews feminists who pontificate about this brave “political move” and its implications for women’s individual freedoms.

Now, on to what really happened. A 58-year-old New Hampshire man by the name of Thomas James Ball set himself on fire in front of a courthouse because he was “done being bullied for being a man” by the family court system. And despite his horrible and public death, he got little media attention. Just a few activists on the web and a few news outlets such as International Business Times and the Keene Sentinel picked it up. Even Wikipedia took his page down.

Basically, Ball’s last act was treated by the traditional news media as that of a lone nutcase with no political significance whatsoever. The difference in these two cases comes down to what the American media finds relevant: girls and women, they’re important; men and boys, not so much. Christina Hoff Sommers was right: the war against boys and men is still going strong.

And Thomas Ball knew it. He left a long letter to the Keene Sentinel explaining his grievances with the court system and with the society that devalues men. When often is the case when men complain, his grievances were seen as whining rather than as real problems.

As one of my commenters pointed out in a post I put up on the case, when a woman burns her husband to death in his sleep, it’s seen as a major wake-up call regarding violence against women, and is immortalized in an award-winning movie starring Farah Fawcett titled The Burning Bed.

But somehow, when a man like Thomas Ball burns himself up, it is not seen as a wake-up call for how men are treated unjustly by the court system. Instead, some “compassionate souls” see his death as  yet another wake-up call regarding the needs of women. Do men ever matter to these “feminists,” or do they get pleasure out of men’s pain? I am thinking the latter.

There are some pundits and commenters who have said that Ball does not deserve any compassion or that he should hardly be the poster boy for men’s rights because he may or may not have been jerked around by the family court. He did slap his then four-year-old daughter, giving her a cut on the lip, when she refused to obey him after three verbal warnings, etc. This isn’t great, but it doesn’t warrant jail time, arrest, or having one’s children taken away. If it does, there are so many women out there who qualify for the same treatment, I shudder to think about it.

But whether you think Ball is a good man, a bad man, or a crazy man doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Ball’s death — and the reaction to it — should serve as a wake-up call to how men and boys are being treated in a society that devalues their very existence. Males commit suicide at much higher rates than women and no one cares; they are treated unfairly by courts and no one bats an eye. They are abused by the women in their life and people say “tough shit.” So they ratchet up the game a little and start setting themselves on fire to get some attention to their cause and, once again, the media and society react with: “So what?”

Can we really stand by and do nothing about the treatment of men and boys in our society much longer? When I think of the picture of Mr. Ball in flames on the steps of that courthouse, I think the only answer is a resounding, “Hell, no!”

PJM FLASHBACK: Manning Up or Wimping Out: Men Don’t Exist to Serve Women’s Desires

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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