I caught the end of the Panorama Programme on male suicide in the UK last night. Whilst I know something about the statistics around male suicide and understand some of those things which stack up against men, causing loss of hope and a spiral into despair, even I was shocked that 100 men are killing themselves every week in the UK.
100 men every week. It is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50. It is happening in our country right now and yet, apart from the exhortation to ‘talk about it’, we have, as yet, no national strategy, no national awareness of what is happening and no real idea of what to do about it other than telling men they need to talk about it.
So it’s all their fault then and if only men would be more like women and talk about it, all would be well. Is that our strategy? Make men more like women and all will be well? According to Calmzone’s CEO Jane Powell it is. Powell, who ended the programme last night by saying
the answer is in…simply talking about it..in that sense, the answer is free.
and then went on to talk about how there had been a massive cultural change for women over the years with the implication that if men would only get on and talk about it, the rates of suicide amongst men would drop and it wouldn’t cost a penny.
Was I the only one whose jaw dropped to the floor on hearing this? My first reaction was laughter at the nonsensical idea that all men have to do is talk about their feelings and they won’t feel like killing themselves anymore. My second reaction was serious concern which grew into anger at the realisation that the sole idea that was being put foward in this documentary was a feminist construct that if men were more like women and talked about their feelings, their despair would not drive them to death. So let’s look at what talking about it does for the men who are most at risk of suicide in the UK.
Men under fifty whose lives are fragile and based upon the whims of the woman they live with and her approval of him being a good enough husband or partner.
If he fails to live up to this and his wife or partner decides that the marriage is over, what happens to our man under the age of fifty?
a) his behaviours are routinely analysed as being based upon his inherent advantage under the rule of patriarchy. He is judged wanting because he is a man because men are advantaged and women are not.
b) he is asked to leave the house he lives in.
c) leaving his children behind
d) he comes home one night to an empty house, his wife and his children are gone
e) he is regarded as a perpetrator, it must be his fault because he is a man
f) he faces systemic discrimination in the services he turns to for help, including even those services set up to support him it would seem, as their core belief is that if he just talks about it he will feel less like killing himself. Meanwhile he is homeless, forcibly separated from his children and
g) forced to pay 20% of his gross income to support the children he can only see if their mother is willing to allow that
h) when he enters the housing system he is told he has no priority and so he spends much of his time sofa surfing in his friends homes or lives with his mother and father, alternatively he goes onto the streets and becomes one of the invisibles, the ones we don’t care about because if they are on the street it must be their fault mustn’t it?
i) When he tries to see his children, using the family court system he pays for it financially, emotionally, psychologically and physically.
j) He applies to see his children using a C100 form and is asked to attend mediation which he does. His children’s mother however refuses because she has reconfigured their relationship through her ‘consciousness raising’ as being abusive…he is doomed but he doesn’t know it yet.
k) He goes into court and secures that which is afforded to him now that he is regarded as deficient as a father, contact. Contact with his children, those kids who he held in his arms on the day of their birth and promised them the world. He is now allowed to have ‘contact’ with them.
l) ‘Contact’ is stopped when allegations are made and the criminal court takes a year or more to conclude that he is not guilty.
m) now his kids don’t want to see him anymore, he is too sad, too bad, too not what a dad should be.
n) He goes in to the court system believing he will get justice and comes out shredded, bullied, coerced and shamed.
0) He suffers from PTSD
p) his working life has suffered for a very long time, now he faces losing his job.
q) losing his job is the final straw, now he is homeless, childless, jobless and worthless.
r) he asks for help from one of the local services who tell him that all he needs to do is talk about it.
s) he staggers out into the street and wonders why he doesn’t just throw himself under that bus, who would care?
t) he drifts listlessly from one day to the next, his friends have given up on him, or been turned against him by his ex
u) his mother is seriously concerned about him but cannot get through to him
v) he starts planning how to end the pain
w) he wakes up one morning after a night drinking to kill the pain of the loss that he has suffered and the post traumatic stress that causes his brain to spin around the same questions over and over again…what did I do that was so wrong?
x) he cannot cope with it anymore, he has talked it and walked it for too long.
y) he knows his mother is not in the house today
z) he takes the rope from the garage
If only he had talked about it….
Telling men who face external barriers and obstacles to those things that keep them mentally well and healthy to talk about it is like shouting into a force 10 gale and thinking the person over the other side of the hill can hear you. The sickening thing about telling men who face these levels of discrimination to ‘talk about it,’ is that it is like sticking a plaster over open heart surgery in the belief that it will heal itself eventually. What we are doing to men is wrong, it is not healthy and it is very definitely not about equality.
For those who believe that when I write about men that makes me a men’s rights activist and those who believe that because I have abandoned feminism for what it is, a discriminatory cult which is about women’s rights and not equality, I am biased against women. Let me tell you that I am not an activist for anything other than equality, that which is based upon enabling men and women to be who they are and different, not the same. What I also am is someone who believes that if we are to be a truly equal, just and fair society, in which our boys and girls can grow up to have choices across the whole spectrum of their lives, we have to undersand that victim blaming is not just for women, it is for men too. And victim blaming is something which starts when we see the struggles of men and women as being of their own doing. This is exactly what is happening when we tell men who face systemic barriers to their wellbeing that they will feel better if they simply ‘talk about it.’
What happens when men do talk about it is that we collectively start a process of man shaming. When men clmb on buildings to highlight their plight they are irresponsible wasters who clearly should not have anything to do with their children, when they march for their rights, we say they are bullies and are showing their true colours and when they kill themselves we say that if only they talked about it, all would be well. Man shaming. It is rife in our culture. It is wrong and it is killing men at the rate of 100 per week in the UK.
Instead of telling men to talk about it, isn’t it time that those of us who want a fairer, safer, more just world for our children, got on and did something about it?
And I don’t mean talk about it.