When I was thirteen, one of my best friends was a semi-professional rollerblader. I know, how swooningly mid-90s, but we were all impressed by his death-defying stunts. Well, some people were impressed. I was mostly terrified. I recall vividly the summer afternoon when he decided that he would launch himself out of his second story bedroom window, onto the trampoline below. There were maybe five of us present that day, and while the rest of my friends cheered him wholeheartedly, I sat in white-knuckled silence, convinced that he was going to maim himself. I also remember thinking: fucking boys. No girl would be stupid enough to jump out of her own window, even if there were a trampoline below.
In this month's O: The Oprah Magazine, short story writer Jim Shepard attempts to explain exactly why "Men Do Crazy Things." "For all our gender stereotyping about the way men fetishize the rational," Shepard writes, "here's one of the more notable things about us as a group: We often seem to make bad choices. The kind of choices that make our loved ones cluster in little informal discussion groups afterward, trying to figure out what on earth their boy was thinking."
Jim describes his own jump out of a second story window, writing, "There was no 'What are you, crazy?' or "Why do we have to jump out of your window?'" the boys, safety be damned, just jumped. Later, Shephard says he believes that men are physically reckless because "it's a way of protesting, and subverting, a feeling of individual impotence, perhaps: I'm not helpless. Look I can shoot myself in the foot..
Which is not to say that men are the only ones who pull idiot daredevil stunts - they just do it in greater numbers. According to the National Center For Health Statistics, accidents (unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death for men, and they don't crack the top three for women. In fact, of the 117,809 accidental deaths in 2005, 72,050 were male. For those of you computing at home, that's 61%.
So does Shepard's theory hold water? Are men more reckless than women because it's a way of making themselves feel powerful? Do they hold onto that teenage notion of invincibility for longer?
What Men Think [Oprah Magazine]
Men's Health [CDC]