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Male Suicide: MRAs weigh in on #MeToo

Suicide prevention is vital, but that doesn’t mean ignoring harassment to spare men’s feelings.

CN: Suicide, Misogyny.

I knew that this would happen. Women gaining a voice, swiftly followed by an impassioned plea for them to pipe down for the sake of vulnerable men. Those impudent women, making their allegations outside of a courtroom (and within it), with no regard for the impact on men. Because no matter what it is, it’s always about men. This time, we are hearing about suicides of alleged abusers, following the increase in reports attributed to #MeToo. Talk about an emotive subject — how can we appropriately balance discussions of expected male behaviour when their lives are at risk? The answer is that we shouldn’t have to have that discussion.

Any suicide is a tragedy, even of someone universally hated, but it’s a shame that so-called Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) are using these deaths to get at women — rather than doing something to help reduce the frequency of male suicides. These deaths, and the people that are left to cope in the aftermath, are being exploited to promote an agenda. A more sensitive approach is needed, both for survivors of abuse, and those affected by suicide.

Names obscured to protect the guilty & innocent.

Suicide is complicated. There’s rarely a single, identifiable cause: there might be some awful thing happening in a person’s life, but other factors come into play. There could be some unaddressed issues that magnify the impact of a traumatic experience. Sometimes it’s the accumulation of many things until life becomes unbearable. Whatever the reasons contributing to a suicide, there has to have been a deep, underlying, emotional problem for somebody to make the decision to end their life. Perhaps one truth is that victims of suicide feel that they have no other option & this is their only way out. 90% of suicides are of people with a mental illness — but both they, and the other 10% might be fuelled by fear, desperation, loss, or any number of dreadful circumstances. Let’s say that being outed as an abuser could be a contributing factor, or even a dominating one. It still doesn’t mean that transgressors should go unpunished, or that accusers are to blame.

Being publicly accused of sexual misdemeanours could put someone under great pressure, and so might the guilt of having committed such offences. A stain on one’s image can be devastating — especially if one’s external persona is integral to their identity. But we will never know the full story of what these men were thinking when they ended their lives. They must have struggled with some complex and painful thoughts before reaching that conclusion — it is not a place that one arrives at lightly.

When we play one social problem off against another, it distracts and spreads misinformation and suspicion. Both problems remain unaddressed. It’s possible to acknowledge that these men did terrible things, that deserve condemnation, while also recognising that their deaths are tragedies that may have been preventable. Counselling and support is necessary for everybody at some point, no matter who they are or what they have done — they are still human beings.

When we reprimand someone for their actions, we do so to demonstrate that justice has been done, to deter and prevent future bad behaviour, and to promote safety and change in the wider community. In committing an offence, one takes their chances on whether or not they will be caught and punished. Many of those found out during #MeToo felt it was their god-given right to behave in the way that they did — consequences and punishment were unimaginable to them. It must have been a weighty blow when we collectively decided that we wouldn’t tolerate it any longer — but it still needed to happen.

All of us will fail at some point in our lives, some of us more spectacularly than others. The men unveiled as harassers have definitely done so; some on an epic scale. This is a time for reflection and learning, in which offenders can, and must, change their ways. Being caught out is painful and embarrassing, and dealing with the consequences is hard. However, it is necessary. The process of changing one’s behaviour and dealing with the ire of friends, family, colleagues, and the wider world is not meant to be easy. Someone in that situation would likely feel terrible, whether it be from genuine remorse, or the sting of their actions being publicly known. In the case that somebody has done wrong, those negative emotions are good.

Rightly, society is changing its views on sexual mores and abuse, and these men’s failures are publicly shared and used to make an example. Most of them won’t actually face criminal proceedings, and there are already cases of powerful abusers carrying on as normal; such is our tacit approval of shitty behaviour. This public conversation needs to happen, and it is important that it is public. By downplaying behaviour that is inappropriate and criminal, we have socially approved the right to harass as being greater than safety from harassment. This needs to stop, and to use men’s suicides as an excuse to not do so is repulsive, for anyone affected.

Perhaps now could be a useful time to talk about male suicide, and mental health generally — but not off the back of #MeToo. The first reason is obvious: male suicides are being used as another way of blaming women for men’s problems. But secondly, if we only speak about male suicide in conjunction with women’s issues, we dilute the importance of that subject, too. The complexity and uniqueness of that problem warrants its own campaign. There is a lot of work being done, not that the MRAs have anything to say about it.

There are a few problems running side-by-side, and yet we should not feel that there are ‘sides’ to pick. The habitual harassment and denigration of (mostly) women at the hands of (mostly) men, is an ingrained problem that we need to end. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged under 50, and it is preventable. The criminal justice system is unsuitable for purpose and does not rehabilitate. Our prisons are overcrowded. Many people feel that justice is not done when seemingly light sentences are handed out for sexual crimes. Suicides in prison occur at a higher rate than in the general population. All of these issues need tackling, and they cannot be resolved in isolation.

Moreover, we should not be letting perpetrators’ crimes go unpunished because there is a risk of them harming themselves. We need to prevent them from feeling that that is the appropriate response, by supporting them through this period of adjustment. We need to look at how perpetrators cope when they are dealt with, both in and out of the criminal justice system, and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions in a constructive way. We can recognise both problems at once: we need to stop the wholesale abuse of women by powerful men, and we also need to care appropriately for those who are caught behaving in awful ways. These are vital steps in creating a fairer and kinder society.

The MRAs attempting to hijack the narrative are using their regular tactic of throwing men under the bus to blame women. There are men in distress and despair for all sorts of reasons, some of them in situations of their own making. They need a different sort of help to victims of harassment; what they definitely don’t need is Men’s Rights Arseholes exploiting their misfortune to normalise harm to women.

People make mistakes. Some people deliberately hurt others and have to face the consequences. We are capable of managing a problem from more than one angle — whereas MRAs reduce everything to an “us vs. them” dichotomy. It might create the illusion of solidarity for those who buy into it, but it actually reinforces the conditions conducive to a high male suicide rate. We need to create an environment where toxic behaviours are not tolerated, and where we appropriately sanction those who fall short of what we expect. This can be complemented, not opposed, by showing compassion for those who are harmed, and for those who fail. If you really care about men, you’ll want both — not one or the other.

If you are in the UK, you may find the following resources useful:

Samaritans 116 123 or email available 24/7 365 days/year

C.A.L.M. 0800 58 58 58 open 5pm — Midnight 365 days/year

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