Trigger warning for discussion of suicide.
Recently, I came across this very interesting study about suicide rates as they relate to unemployment. Since I basically read everything with my Masculism Goggles on now (seriously, I do, it’s terrible), I happened to notice a few interesting statistics.
A 10% increase in the unemployment rate (for instance, from 5% to 5.5%) increases the suicide rate by 1.47% for men. However, the increase in the unemployment rate has no statistically significant effects on the suicide rate for women. This, frankly, is a crisis for men, especially given that the unemployment rate has risen immensely during the recession with little to no hope of a decrease in sight. Thousands of suicides have occurred that otherwise wouldn’t.
Why are men more likely to commit suicide when they lose their jobs? Presumably it’s not because women are naturally more resilient and able to cope with the problems life throws at them, or have a natural skill (possibly evolved because of cavelayoffs in cavecorporations) in working out how to satisfy all their creditors when there’s only enough money to keep the lights on or pay the mortgage, not both.
Feminists have long discussed the toxic narrative of women as “sex objects”: in general, our culture encourages women to have their sense of self-worth depend entirely on their youth, beauty, thinness and general fuckability, as opposed to their dignity as human beings. What has been less noticed is the comparable narrative of men as “success objects.” In general, our culture encourages men to have their sense of self-worth depend entirely on their wealth, income, profession and general ability to provide to those dependent on them, as oppposed to their dignity as human beings.
The success object narrative can be seen throughout the culture. Sayings like “it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” Occasional New York Times articles getting up in arms about how a quarter of wives make more than their husbands and this is clearly emasculating and horrible. The expectation that men pay for the first date. The shaming of unemployed men as lazy layabout loser slackers who play video games all day. And, tragically, in suicide rates.
If a man’s sense of self-worth is tied to his employment– to having a prestigious career, a high income, a nice house and car and possibly a pool– then when he loses his employment he essentially loses his self-esteem and purpose in life, not to mention his sense of himself as a man. To deal with that, in addition to the stresses of money problems and the constant rejection of job applications that never seem to lead to jobs, is a lot. That’s quite enough to drive some men to suicide.
Especially if, as can happen, he doesn’t have adequate support from friends, family and romantic partners. The success object narrative pervades society. Those closest to a man may also think of him as somehow “lesser” or “inferior” because he lost his job and his ability to support his family. That’s… not exactly productive to the goal of maintaining a man’s mental health and sense of confidence in himself and his masculinity.
It seems to me that two goals may reduce the rate of suicide among men related to unemployment and so should be core to the masculist movement:
1) Reduce the unemployment rate. As voters, masculists should hold their elected officials responsible for high unemployment rates and be willing to vote people out of office until someone solves the employment crisis. Being informed and reading articles from a wide variety of economists can provide insight into which candidates have the strongest plans for economic recovery.
2) No longer tie men’s masculinity to their employment status. A man is equally worthy whether he is employed or unemployed– or stays at home, is retired, is going back to school or spends his free time saving the world from tentacle monsters. After a man is laid off, he is exactly as worthy as he was before he got the little pink slip. After all, the net worth that really matters is not in the bank, but in your character.