At the start of this year Calm named 2014 as 'Year of the Male', an opportunity to understand why 77% of suicides in the UK are men. We'd wanted to test the thought that part of the reason for this might be cultural so a debate about the subject seemed reasonable.
A challenge has come back that even the name 'Year of the Male' is too political and would upset feminists. This has left me thinking long and hard. It seems strange that it's OK to talk about women's issues but not men's. Is the assumption that if we're talking about men's issues then whatever follows must by definition be equal and in opposition to women? That's very binary. Is the reluctance because there are some men who believe that feminism is at the root of all men's problems? I'm sure feminism has impacted upon society, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have happened.
Does the fact we can't talk about issues facing men, mean there aren't any? Surely not. Men make up 73% of adults who 'go missing', 90% of rough sleepers, 94% of the prison population and 79% of drug-related deaths. For many then the 'man's world' isn't working out too well. Should we disregard them as collateral damage? Men and boys do worse than women and girls in every level of education. And whilst this may 'all even out in the end', labelling swathes of children's lives as below par/failing at school cannot be right, and may even create further problems.
This isn't about starting a debate about who has it worst in society. Could we, for a fleeting moment, think about what we expect from men given the above statistics? They impact upon us all.
If feminism is about battling the inequality of society which crushed women's lives because of their gender, and critiqued a socio-economic-political structures; then such a system must also impact upon the lives of men, a pertinent point this year when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One and the deaths of almost a million British men. Should we only criticise the system insofar as it impacts women and back off at the point where it touches upon the lives of men?
The problem with the word feminism is that it is taken as binary, only about women. Feminism has transformed the life I have - what I can do, wear, walk, sit, eat, and smile. If the belief that discrimination based on gender is wrong lies at the heart of feminism, then feminists should be at the forefront of looking at society from a male perspective to think through what is wrong.
The purpose of launching The Year of the Male is to look at the strictures and structures that exist in society from a man's point of view. A novel idea, but surely not wrong, not offensive?
After over 10 years of working to prevent male suicide it has become crystal clear to me that there is immense discomfort around discussing the needs of men as a gender. This Guardian article epitomises the deeply selective blindness we have to the needs of men. It would be comic if it were it not for the fact that even a single suicide is like a bomb going off in a community. It has felt like a long battle - still not won - to have gender named as a key factor in suicide. I've seen an academic present slide after slide with the difference between male and female suicides graphically demonstrated, and then leave it off the list of risk factors. I sat through a nation's suicide prevention policy which was being launched prior to consideration being given to gender. Why did no-one laugh?
The Department of Health put the cost of one suicide as £1.7million(i) , and last year announced an 'investment' of £1.5million(ii) into research over three years into six projects. You guessed it, not a penny of that research is focussed upon looking at gender.
One in four of us will seriously or fairly seriously consider suicide as an option, yet latest figures show 77% of suicides in the UK are male. Why? Not I would suggest because they're braver - but rather I believe because they feel they can't legitimately get help and still be a proper man.
A bereavement through cancer is always tragic, but rarely does it leave the legacy of guilt and shame with family, friends and colleagues that a suicide can bring. A legacy that can impact across generations, brother followed by brother, father and son. Cancer doesn't raise a fear of contagion within the local community, but suicide can. The damage of a single suicide impacts upon everyone, regardless of gender. I don't have the words to even try to describe the impact it has on immediate family. We can't afford this loss, we can't afford not to have this discussion.
Because it's so hard to have gender tackled head-on with regard to suicide we announced 2014 as Year of the Male (see yearofthemale.com). Feel free to join in. Absurdly this feels like a revolutionary piece of work. I know, men are big and strong, invincible and as the polar opposite of women they don't need to talk, can't and won't express themselves and never ever need help, need to talk, or feel the need to take a different path. Or is that just a stereotype? Discuss.
Radically, let's talk about men, not just about how much damage they cause, but looking at the world from their point of view.
i) Preventing Suicide: a cross government strategy to save lives, Impact Assessment no 7037, 11/07/11
ii) Preventing suicide in England: One year on First annual report on the cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives, Jan 2014 (revised)