Mental health and male privilege

This tweet popped up on my timeline, I was busy at the time, so I didn’t see the context or know about any twitter storm.

It irritated me though, and I expected better from this particular person. So I responded and thought no more about it.

I was a little surprised when I started to see tweets from Matt Haig pop up on my timeline complaining about being silenced and abused, and a lot of RTs (by him) of people calling out the feminists who’d responded negatively to him of being “not real feminists” or “looking for a fight” or, my personal favourite in this context, “crazy”.

I decided to read up on how it all started, and I have to say, it doesn’t quite fit the narrative being presented.

I just want to start by saying, while I haven’t read his book, it sounds fantastic and he’s been a complete pleasure to follow. Hence why I am still following despite finding some of the tweeting and retweeting seriously dubious right now.

As far as it is being presented, all he said was that he wanted to write a book on how a culture of masculinity actually hurt men. He did say this, and I think it’s a wonderful idea, but that wasn’t all he said. Pretended he said nothing more controversial is offensive to those who’ve been critical of him.

I just want to focus on that one tweet, others have written far more eloquently than I could on the more general conversation.

Less clear cut?

Really?

Now, as I’m sure everyone is aware, mental health is so much more than suicides. In fact, I can’t help feeling the focus on suicide as the be all and end all of mental health has serious disadvantages, as it puts across the idea that someone’s mental health isn’t that bad if they haven’t attempted suicide. I’ve heard people before say things like, “they can’t be that unwell if they didn’t succeed in killing themselves.” Suicide is seen as proof of illness, there’s something very messed up in the fact that death via suicide is referred to as “succeeding”. Just try and think of words you’d use to describe a suicide as opposed to an attempted one? Someone succeeded in killing themselves? They accomplished taking their life? It’s become such a link in our collective conscience that we don’t even notice it.

In the hierarchy of mental illness, you are seen as really ill if it results in your death. Everything else? Varying shades of legitimacy.

Obviously we all know that mental illness is so much more varied than that. While suicide is something that disproportionately causes more male deaths than female, there are many other mental illnesses that affect women more.

I read recently that while more men “succeed” at suicide, many more women actually attempt it. The blame for this is normally attributed to methods of suicide. Men are more likely to go for more violent and definite methods than women. (Source)

Then there are problems like eating disorders, self harm, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder which disproportionately affect women. (Source)

I’m not posting this to say who has it worse, I want to explore it with regards to male privilege.

Now, Matt has referred to the suicide rates as in some way not backing up the idea of male privilege, so we need to unpick that. The idea behind male privilege is that men (as a class) are advantaged over women, they have more power over women than vice versa.

So do male suicide rates change that balance? No, men’s suicide is not a result of women’s privilege over men. While it is attributed in part to more “masculine” methods and partly to it not being seen as “masculine” to ask for help, this is not a system set up for the advantage of women. That masculinity is expected to mean violent, tough and unemotional is not something that puts men on a lower rung.

But if you then look at something like PTSD, which is so much higher (internationally) in women, and look at what those statistics are attributed to it’s a different story. It appears that higher rates of PTSD are connected to higher rates of sexual violence against women. In which case it is women’s biology which has made them vulnerable against male biology and “masculine” violence. This mental health problem is directly related to a gender hierarchy in a way that suicide rates are not.

PTSD isn’t the only one though. How about eating disorders? Obviously eating disorders exist for a variety of reasons, but let’s focus on two of the main motivations behind them (this is going by my own experience of talking to others with EDs).

Firstly body image, and the worship of thinness. Where girls and women are taught their value is dependent on how little body fat they have, because in a patriachal society a woman’s worth is primarily based on her appearance and her ability to have sex/bear children. Which brings me on to the next one, many girls begin their struggle with eating disorders when confronted with puberty. Severe weightloss of course will limit or even stop menstruation and minimises the visible bodily changes. These girls are desperate not to inhabit the body of a grown woman and all it entails. Many will do this in the hope that an aesthetically pre-pubescent body will be less likely to draw sexual attention their way, maybe due to past sexual abuse.

Again we can see that this is directly affected by the gender hierarchy in a way that male suicide rates are not. Both are built on a culture where women are seen as sexual objects who are there to be viewed and used by men, and these are two horrific methods used to either fit in or drop out of that expectation.

Higher rates of depression have been linked to women more often being in the role of carer than men, of being affected by poverty more than men, of being more at risk of sexual violence than men, of being more at risk of domestic violence than men.. and these are all things that exist as part of a hierarchy, not in a vacuum. Women are the carers, because it’s seen as being below men. Women are more affected by poverty as they are often working part time or in low paid jobs, because they are expected to do childcare and fit work around it, because they have to take far more time out of their careers if they have children or have to act as carers for relatives, because they are often refused promotions, wage raises or even jobs based on the idea that they may want to have children.

Whereas if we look at suicide attempts and depression for men and what they are often attributed to, it’s the pressure of having to provide for the family, stressful work, stress about finances. All of these are awful and not to be minimised, but none of these are because of men being disadvantaged in comparison to women. Providing for the family is stressful, but it’s because women are often denigrated for choosing career over kids. A mother who chooses to work rather than stay at home, unpaid, is seen as a failure of her gender. An unnatural evil woman. While men choosing to stay at home are often mocked as being a bit feminine (in itself an insult to women) they are not seen as being nasty.

So no, higher suicide rates in men does not make male privilege “less clear cut”. But saying it does makes your support for feminism look a lot less clear cut.

Edit: Just wanted to leave this here

Yep, that’s exactly what happened. You were picked on because you are a man. Of course. Reverse sexism obviously?

Well hello there straw feminist.



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