A while ago, I came across this fascinating article by Holly Baxter. It discussed the ‘clear gender bias’ in suicide statistics. Jane Powell, the head of the male suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM.) states:
“The simple, numerical fact of the matter is that men are dying by their own hand far more than women. We need to tackle that immediately.”
I mentioned the article to my Mum. She knows many of the people I admire (Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf) all ended their lives through suicide, and she often worries this is the aspect of them that I idolise. It isn’t, I admire the artists, not their demise. However, I am interested in mental health, and strive to understand people and their perspectives. Fortunately, we have never lost a loved one through suicide and hopefully it will always be that way.
The conversation stayed with me, and I have re-read the article several times. The reason it has resonated with me is because without even reading the article, and without me prompting her, My Mum stated the same possible reason for such a high male suicide rate as the article:
‘In many ways, an increased risk of suicide for men can be seen as that old foe, the patriarchy, backfiring on itself. Rigid binary structures of gender have led to a cultural expectation that men won’t voice depressive feelings or problems with anxiety, preferring instead to suffer in silence until the suffering becomes unbearable and they remove themselves resignedly from the fold. This conflation of emotional turmoil with weakness combines toxically with social stigma surrounding mental health.’
My Mum didn’t express it in these exact words, but she suggested the same thing, that ultimately patriarchal society damages women and men and it’s a very difficult thing to discuss, especially when it’s coupled with the publicly taboo subject of mental health.
The feminist movement has led to a fantastic surge in female empowerment, something Jane Powell has benefited from. The article states that she was once ‘refused a job for wearing trousers’, but is now the head of the male suicide prevention charity CALM. Despite the unfair sexism she has encountered, she seeks only to help men who feel confined, confused and helpless when faced with overwhelming patriarchal gender barriers. Fortunately, women now feel brave enough to voice their discontent at such misogynist values, but these statistics suggest that unfortunately men do not feel as confident.
I can understand their concern. As a young woman, I was initially hesitant about involving myself in online feminism, fearing that people would either ignore or object to my ideas. However, as soon as I voiced my opinion, I felt like I had done the right thing and only wanted to share what I had learnt: that feminism is for everybody and benefits everybody. I have received wonderful support from my family, friends and my boyfriend and through social networking we all seem to be ‘doing our bit’ to encourage gender equality. However, I have seen examples of horrific trolling on twitter against amazing women like Laura Bates (founder of The Everyday Sexism Project) and it frightens me to think there are people out there who oppose equality so strongly. I imagine this is how some men must feel when they see that most of this abuse comes from men. It is an awful deterrent.
Baxter’s article concludes with a difficult but achievable ultimatum:
The general erosion of gender barriers…must be a society-wide effort – and until it is, Powell believes that we will continue to lose men in their droves…Faced with the numbers, addressing suicide seems daunting – but a lot can be done through the day-to-day challenging of gender expectations.’
This is what I aim to do through my social and online interactions. It feels like a very small step, but I am slowly realising that if you want your world to change, you have to do something about it, regardless of how big or small that may be.
I would never want any of the men I know to feel that suicide is their only option. Further promotion and acceptance of gender equality and mental health is surely the only way to counter-act this.