We have been sadly speaking a lot in our house about men dying by suicide lately, one of those numbers in the statistics has become a name, and a face for us.
Coincidently on Tuesday, The Office for National Statistics released its numbers and it found that the suicide rate among men has hit a two-decade high in England and Wales. So, I cannot make the topic about anything else this week, I am talking about this because this is a feminist topic.
(Here is the video or you can keep reading! or do both!)
I will always defend that men should be feminists because it is the right thing to do. Even if there was nothing in it for them they should support enthusiastically and unapologetically the movement because half of the population deserves better. That should be enough. But even those who disagree with that assessment should also be feminist, and they should do it for selfish reasons. The patriarchy is killing them!
I am talking about a society that strips men from everything associated with feminine from very very early stages (parents comfortable with their BABY son wearing a pink outfit in public please raise your hands!). The problem is that the association of what belongs to who is arbitrary and absurd in most cases (like the colour pink, for example), and some of the inherently human things that men are forbidden to embrace on the name of manhood can actually improve their lives, and in some cases, save it.
If I ask around who is more emotional, men or women, there will be an overall consensus that it's women. I hope you are all visualising Bridget Jones eating ice-cream in tears. But when asking parents of both boys and girls about specifically their 2 kids the answers are much more diverse, and if something, my feeling is that it gravitates towards the opposite. But of course that changes at some point. Women are indeed perceived as more emotional because they show their emotions more and have fewer limitations to express them, while men carry a social penalty of some sort if they express them, so they bottle them up. Men are tough that toughness is their currency, the same way women's is beauty.
I love the way Gloria Steinem explains it "There is a full circle of human qualities we all have a right to, and men are confined to the ‘masculine’ ones, which are seventy per cent, and women are confined to the ‘feminine’ ones, which are thirty per cent. Women are missing more, but men are still missing a lot." I will add to this that men, despite their privilege, have a disadvantage in this situation and face extra strong societal barriers of access to those feminine areas.
Girls and women take some sort of pride being identified as tomboys, being one of the guys... there is a sense of achievement and almost upgrade to be accepted in the men's group as a peer. We talk about the empowerment of women when they are conquering male-dominated areas, when they are demanding their legitimate place in the desk. But what positive words do we have for men when they are making the journey in the other direction? .
Women through history have been wrecking walls that kept them away from a better place (a lot of times legal walls!) a place of money, power, sexuality... I am not saying that those places are always easy, but they are very socially rewarded and valued and they come with choices. These is little reward or incentive for for men when society has made it very clear who is winning and who is not?
It is relatively easy and instinctive to tell your daughter that she should aim to be whatever and whoever she wants, that she can be the superhero that saves the day too. Are we doing the same with our boys? Are we putting twice the effort to educate them emotionally because once they go in the big bad world they will need to overcompensate the monotonous message about what manhood looks like? Does it feel like we are telling them that they can also be less? That they don't have to be as much? Have we bought into the stupid idea of what is more and what is less?
Even those who refuse women in "masculine" arenas respect, in a way, the "balls" that granted them a place there. They value all the qualities that those women needed to get there (determination, bravery, resilience...) because they consider that those qualities are, indeed masculine. But for those same people, it is considered a shame the man who dreams to be the main caregiver, the man who puts relationships and mental health before success and career, the one who prefers connections above admiration. And how much they are missing out with that lack of choice.
I love men. Sometimes I think that I love men more than most men! I love them and want more for them and from them. And because I love them I know that their narrative of manhood is not enough, even if it is more privileged than womanhood. But because it is framed in a space of victory, of more, of better, it is more difficult to escape, who would want to downgrade? Who wants to give up power, measured in toughness, if vulnerability is perceived as its biggest enemy, weakness.
We need to do better, we need to explore why men are dying by suicide every day. We need to have the difficult talks and try to figure things out. Men need to be aware of what they are lacking and the importance of it and keep each other accountable to build something better, to redefine what they want the expression"to be a man" to mean for them and the generations to come.
I am going to challenge you today, now, to write to a man or a group of men about the suicide rate in men. To ask them what they think about it, what they think there is behind it all, how they see things changing. It all starts with a conversation.