Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. As I look back on 2012, the year I seriously contemplated taking my own life, I started to contemplate what the world has achieved to raise awarness and reduce deaths through suicide. Of course, today is not about male suicide, but we can’t ignore the gendered aspect of this phenomena considering in the UK and the USA, over 3/4 of annual suicides are men.
What makes men want to end their lives in such large numbers? I have always maintained that the gendered expectations we place on men are harmful. It’s is usually unhelpfully and misleadingly called “toxic masculinity” as though only other men are responsible for the problem. Because society is made up of men and women and it’s not just men who promote the “Real Man” dynamic. It’s the silent epidemic whose very nature is promoted by the social structures around us.
Huff Po asks following a poll in which the inevitable answer to the question “Who has it harder?” was “women”:
I’ll let you think about that one for a little while because clearly we’re going wrong somewhere. Are we so caught up fighting for women’s rights that we’ve forgotten to look after the other 50% of the human population?
Men Don’t Kill Themselves, Society Kills Men
So concludes the HuffPo report and I am inclined to agree. It’s the conclusion I have always given. Sure, you can call it simplistic and you can shirk your responsibilities as a member of that society, or even attempt to pretend that women are not in any way a cause of this, but it’s about time we all started to question our own expectations of men. Men and women, young and old, we all have different expectations of men – to ride the storm, to man up, to be self-reliant, to lead, to know stuff, to do stuff, to take control, to be prepared to step up to the plate, to be a winner, to never fail, to show resilience, to endure, to come out the other side, to “Be a Man”, to “grow a set”, to “stop being such a girl.”
- A man with a low paid job is a loser
- A man with a good job is desirable, even if nothing else about him is
- A man who is emotional is weak
- A man who leads is doing what is expected of him
- A man who won’t lead is spineless
- A man with a divorce behind him is the assumed guilty party until proven innocent
- A man who is cheated on is asked: “What did you do to her?”
- A man who is abused by his partner gets laughed at
We can call this “toxic masculinity” but as I said above, this suggests that only men are responsible for this. Most women don’t date unemployed men regardless of the reason for his unemployment – reinforcing the idea that a man’s worth is in his success level. But it goes far deeper than this and women’s expectations alone are not to blame. We will never tackle this problem until we tackle and change the Real Man dynamic, and that requires both men and women to change their expectations of the men in their lives.