What does the conference have to do with men’s suicide rate in the U.S.?
Among the featured speakers at Texas Council on Family Violence’s 10th Annual Battering Intervention and Prevention Program Conference, Dr. James Mahalik, a professor at Boston College investigating gender norms and social influence, identified 11 masculine norms that tend to guide men’s role in society and their health behaviors.
Primacy of Work
Power Over Women
Disdain for Homosexuality
Pursuit of Status
These norms have a significant impact on how men live and define their lives. Men wanting to live up to these expectations may over-conform and engage in risky (ier) behavior. Men valuing individuality over conformity may make more informed decisions about their health based on a multitude of factors.
While the CDC data doesn’t draw conclusions about why men are more likely to kill themselves than women, Mahailk’s research provides insight to how norms may factor into the elevated male suicide rate in the U.S.
Most masculine norms are held together by a man’s ability to make money or keep a job: self-reliance, pursuit of status, and primacy of work. Other norms, such as being seen as a winner, dominant and playboy can also be entwined with a man’s wealth.
Men who have a broader definition of masculinity will reach out to family, friends, their congregation or other support systems to find the assistance they need. Those heavily relying on these norms to define their manhood may find themselves in an impossible situation: in need, without the ability to ask for help.
Others may become a statistic in the CDC’s report.
So are men opting out of life because they aren’t meeting society’s standard of manhood?
Research indicates suicide rates tend to correlate with business cycles: higher rates are observed during times of economic hardship. Perhaps we are putting too much pressure on our fathers, husbands, sons and brothers to gain wealth and power as a way to demonstrate their manhood. Years of not living up to expectations can have dangerous impacts.
A resolution isn’t easy. Men need to reach beyond antiquated definitions of manhood and include vulnerability, as a form of strength—learning that sometimes asking for help is essential for contentment and survival. Secondly, we all must learn to draw new lines to what constitutes success that include healthy bonds with those who enrich our lives and the continual growth of ourselves.
It’s easy to fall into the traps of traditional expectations. It’s obvious they’re impossible to live up to…and I think we can all agree: it’s not worth dying for them.
*Locke, Benjamin. Mahalik, James. Scott, Ryan P.J.. Talmadge, Tracy. W.. “Using the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory to Work with Men in a Clinical Setting.” Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2005. Pages: 661-674
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