politics · Uncategorized

Female empowerment, success objects, and male mental health.

Here’s a chart I discovered recently that concerns me:

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Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1414751/

It shows a steady increase in the male teen suicide rate, while the suicide rate for female teens remains flat.

On my Twitter feed today, this article from Sophia Graham of the Mental Foundation responds to Mark Dawson’s editorial suggesting that increasing male suicide is linked to their relative less prominent role in society.

Mark says:

One explanation for this disproportion may be the growing empowerment of women and their increasing role in society.

Is an unfortunate side effect that men feel less secure, less sure of their place in a world where they were once more dominant?

Perhaps it reflects the work pressures on men – still usually the main bread-winner. Working males make up a significant proportion of the grim statistics.

Sophia is critical of Mark’s editorial. The headline reads ‘A response to the newspaper editor who thinks feminism may cause male suicide’ though Mark never mentions the term ‘feminism’.

Sophia makes a few points I take issue with:

  • Male suicide rates have always been higher than female suicide rates.
    • This is true – but male suicide rates are also growing. She doesn’t acknowledge this. Correction: in New Zealand suicide rates appear to be on the decline. The excel spread sheet linked from here from Stats NZ  shows a steady increase of suicide rate of both women and men of about 50% from 1985 to 1998 and then a steady decline since then.
  • She says his comments are dangerous. She makes the argument that Mark’s article contributes to the traditional culture of male stoicism.
    • I fail to see how this is the case. Mark’s article is precisely highlighting that one aspect of traditional masculinity is seeing men’s value as an economic provider, and that their changing role in society may lead men feeling disempowered and turning to suicide as a result.
    • Instead it’s Sophia that is reinforcing this gender norm, by shutting down an attempt to encourage looking at the the changing definition of masculinity and how that’s affecting men today. Sophia shames men for talking about their  response to currently defined masculinity by labeling it as dangerous and anti-woman’s empowerment.
  • She makes the point that ” male suicide rates are tied more closely to economic pressures than changing social roles”.
    • The source she cites does indeed mention the decline of traditional male industries as a factor in male suicide. However, the same source also makes a point that traditional conceptions of masculinity also play a role – one of those expressions of masculinity being providing for the family, especially amongst working class men.
  • She says that he shows a lack of compassion towards females who live with depression or anxiety.
    • Mark’s article was specifically talking about male suicide. Sophia’s criticism is a ‘whataboutism’ argument. Given that in New Zealand 3/4 suicides are men, it make sense to pay special attention to why men are doing it.

The one thing I would criticise about Mark’s article is where he says

[suicide is] one area where women don’t want gender equality

this is a cheap shot and is a broad generalisation that serves to paint an uncaring picture of women.

Overall – this was an incredibly disappointing response from the Mental Health Foundation. Instead of congratulating Mark for starting a discussion about this one particular aspect of mental health – she attempts to shut it down by labeling it as dangerous.

The Mental Health Foundation is an organisation that I respect and support, but this is one case of I think them doing exactly the wrong thing.

Sophia ends the piece with

I acknowledge your editorial contained some valid and interesting remarks on the how the pressures men face can contribute to suicide. It’s a shame these were left unexplored.

and to be fair – Mark’s article was quite short, all he’s really doing is saying ‘this is an issue that men are uniquely facing, and we need to do more to focus on it’.

But instead of taking advantage of a teachable moment – and articulating just what the factors and trends of male suicide are, she instead just the discussion as dangerous – without, in my opinion, really conclusively refuting it.

So here I go to further expound what I think Mark was getting at.

Sex objects vs success objects. 

The term sex object or sexual objectification has been used in feminist discourse to describe how society reduces women’s value to society as their function to provide sexual gratification.

This has been frustrating to women, where they’ve felt that their potential contributions to business, science etc has been marginalized because of this.

Using the same lens to look at men’s roles in society – we can use the term ‘success object’.

That is – men’s value to society is a function of their ability to win, to be an economic provider.

In our historic society with traditional gender roles this was easier to achieve for the man – even a single low skilled worker’s pay was enough to support a family.

However in modern times average guy’s ability to get this kind of role has disappeared, while the expectation that he can do this remains.

Research shows that despite women’s increased participation in the economy – educated women still prefer to marry men who earn than them. 

Pointing this out isn’t an argument against female empowerment. It’s argument for redefining masculinity in the modern era – and that involves allowing men to say ‘I feel pressure to earn a lot of money so I can attract a mate’. Perhaps then we’ll get a conversation about what society values in men instead.

But shutting these conversations down as dangerous or disempowering to women is not the right way to go. That only causes feelings of male disempowerment to fester unseen.

 

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fashion · social philosophy

To shave, or not to shave?

Every November, I grow a moustache for Movember – the annual event to raise money awareness for men’s health.

I’ve found, probably as a fact of getting old, my moustache gets better every year; better in the sense of being fuller and more well covered.

This year, I opted for a ‘Trucker’.

moustache.jpg.

Toward the end of the month – in an impulsive moment, I thought ‘Ah hah! You know what would suit this look? – An earring!’. I went out and bought a thick earing to put my ear that I’d had pierced and stretched more than ten years ago.

The resulting look was this:

 

Now – charming smile aside, this look is a bit non-conformist and provocative. It has a theme of villainy (a pirate was most common term used), which was part of the fun of doing it in the first place.

When I was younger, I very much did do the ‘non-conforming expression of personal identity’ thing. Here’s an example:

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Since then – my philosophy has more been ‘Having a neutral look opens more doors’.

A non-conforming look can serve as a useful social signal to others with your values; there’s an easy visual identifier, you know that those are ‘your people’.

But this can exclude you from other people who you might otherwise get on well with, when they have to instantly deal with the discomfort, or their ingrained biases,  caused by your unconventional appearance. If a man looking like a pirate knocked on your door asking for directions, the first thing you might think is that he’s actually casing your place for gold and plunder.

Also – a non-conventional dress sense is a fairly superficial expression of values; while it’s probably safe to reason that someone with facial piercings and tattoos is more likely to be gay friendly and otherwise tolerant – a better gauge on this kind of thing would be actually having a conversation with them.

Here’s what I’m currently looking like:

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This image demonstrates the concern I have – my look is a bit scary.

There’s another reason to consider shaving, or not. Comfort.

The moustache is uncomfortable at times, and I find myself stroking it a bit.

Shaving can also be uncomfortable too; I’m not the best at shaving and I often give myself razor burn. I’m typically most comfortable about three days after shaving with a bit of stubble. A few days after that it starts getting itchy and uncomfortable.

But I what I’ve found, is that even though there are good reasons to shave – there’s an perhaps egotistical resistance to it. I’m aware that a big part of my reason to shave is social conformity – and conceding to social conformity feels like a weakness.

I ended up shaving. Here’s what I look like now.

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The earring is still there. I need to go to someone with a pair of reversible pliers to take it out.

I am considering still having an earring, but a smaller one. One that says ‘a bit original and interested in design, but not outrageous’.