Saturday, August 23, 2008

Masculinity and Suicide

This cool post is from Sammi at One Woman's Thoughts -- suicide is more common in men, even though more women attempt it. In general, men are serious when they decide to get out (guns and other success-rate choices), while women tend to use pills or cutting that is more of cry for help.

I've lost several people close to me by suicide -- a teen boy who succeeded on the first try, a woman who tried at least once a year for 15 years before getting her hands on a gun and making the final shot. There have been others, as well.

Having lost these friends. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a son to suicide. BUT, I do have some idea what it's like to lose a father to suicide -- my dad's heart attack came after he quit taking his medications, which is a form of suicide if you ask me. So I know the pain a son feels when his father gives up on life.

Boys and men need to know that there are other options (unless there is a terminal illness involved, which to me is not suicide). Whatever emotional pain there is, it can be healed.

Masculinity and suicide

I’ve been a bit behind on reading some of the longer posts on my blogroll, but had a look today. This feature is just awesome. We really need more mothers who are willing to let their sons do what they want, however “feminine” that might be. I seriously recommend you take a look.

Penni (the author of the feature) has implied a really important point, too: given that society teaches that “masculinity” (whatever that is) is more valuable, any boy or man who displays any feminine characteristics is going to be looked down upon. The patriarchy hurts everyone: men and women are expected to live up to certain gender roles, which is, quite simply, limiting. And it is true, I believe, most definitely, that men are expected not to express emotions, or whatever. Obviously there are certain times and places where this isn’t the case - but these are far more limited than those times and places for women, who are, let’s face it, walking balls of hormones.

However, there is an often quoted statistic that men are worse off than women, which is shown by the often quoted fact that men are more likely to commit suicide than women. I think a lot of the time this is used to dismiss the claim of feminists that women have it bad! Penni didn’t suggest this one bit, but she did say the following:

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that it is teenage boys who have the highest suicide rate. They’re conditioned to believe that they can’t ask for help because it is ‘unmanly’.

I’ve said above that I totally agree with the second sentence of this quote. However I’d like to offer an alternative explanation for the fact that more young men (and in fact men in general) commit suicide: quite simply, men are more likely to succeed. More young men commit suicide, but more young women attempt it. This is not only true for young people, but at all age groups. There are a number of explanations for this. Firstly, men tend to use more violent methods. A woman is more likely to take an overdose or similar, which is actually incredibly ineffective. This might well be due to the fact that men are conditioned to be more violent.

There are other considerations, of course. It’s possible that a woman might take an overdose as a “cry for help,” whereas you’re a lot less likely to shoot yourself, or hang yourself for that purpose. And of course, that does tie in with Penni’s comment that I quoted above: men can’t ask for help. Although, I would like to make this point. The first time I took an overdose, I wasn’t certain I would die, I wasn’t even certain that I wanted to - but I thought it was a possibility, and I thought that it would definitely cause problems. I really did not understand how ineffective overdoses were.

Penni’s post deals with a really important issue. As I said above, the patriarchy hurts everyone. I can’t emphasise that enough! But the issue of suicide is often oversimplified.

I hesitate to blame patriarchy -- it's much more complicated than that. But certainly there is much in the way we raise our sons that contributes to the male belief that certain things (such as emotions, same-sex attraction, and so on) are taboo. That sucks.

But we definitely need to change the way we teach boys how to deal with their feelings -- like, that it's OK to have and express emotions, even sadness and fear.

1 comment:

sammisal said...

Hey, I just saw your post. I always get worried about posting stuff like this - suicide is a horrible thing in everyone and I don't want to suggest that some people have it easier or harder, or whatever - anyone who commits or attempts suicide is finding things difficult!
Anyhow - yeah, it's a shame that boys aren't taught it's ok to express emotions. I would say that is the influence of the patriarchy, as emotion is feminine, and men can't be feminine. But in some ways it doesn't matter.