Crisis, what crisis? A feminist analysis of discourse on masculinities and suicide

Abstract

High male suicide rates are often constructed as evidence for an apparent “crisis of masculinity”. Conversely, “crisis of masculinity” has been used to explain differential rates of male and female suicide in the UK (and elsewhere). We analyse three public cases where male suicide and “masculinity-crisis” discourse are employed together. Our feminist analysis demonstrates that “crisis talk” and male suicide are addressed in divergent ways. We therefore distinguish between “progressive” and “conservative” crisis narratives. Conservative narratives position high male suicide rates as a pernicious outcome of “threats” to traditional gender roles and norms, suggesting the solution is to return to them. Contrastingly, progressive crisis accounts use male suicide to demonstrate that existing gender norms harm men as well as women and argue they should be altered to address male suicide. Conservative narratives often map on to anti-feminist politics, whereas progressive accounts reflect aspects of feminism. There is no neat feminist/anti-feminist distinction, however, as postfeminist ideas are also evident. We argue that, overall, each of the articulations of a “crisis of masculinity” as evidenced by high rates of male suicide reinforces problematic gender politics. Further, in reifying simplistic, dualistic models of gender, they may ultimately constrain efforts to reduce suicide

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