Masculinities and Men's Suicide

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Jo River

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

This study explores gender-relations in the lives of Australian men who have engaged in nonfatal suicide. With a focus on the relationship between masculinity and the practice of suicide, the study examines the connection between men’s suicide trajectories and their emotional, work, and help seeking practices.

There is a striking gender difference in suicide rates worldwide with men accounting for approximately 80% of all deaths. In contradictory public discussions, men are presented sometimes as victims of a masculinity crisis and sometimes as victors in suicide, i.e. superior practitioners of suicide compared to women. A more substantive theory of men’s suicide, which moves beyond homogenizing accounts, is now required.

Seventeen life-history interviews were undertaken with men who engaged in nonfatal suicide. Individual case-studies were written for each man. Four of these case-studies are presented in the thesis.

The thesis then examines major analytic themes, on the basis of the full set of case studies. It reflects on; the multiple ways that suicide is practised in reference to masculinity; patterns of intent in nonfatal suicide; the construction of masculinity through the gender division of labour; the gendering of emotion, and emotional practice and finally, different patterns of help seeking in relation to health service frameworks.

The findings challenge homogenising and crisis views of men’s suicide. They capture issues of agency, plurality of practice and the complex intersection between gender and other social structures that constitute a hierarchy of masculinities. Whether men pursued a hegemonic pattern of masculinity, remained ambivalent or resisted hegemony, their projects remained vulnerable to work, relationship and emotional issues. In many cases, suicidal action provided a way out of distress and, paradoxically, an alternative practice for constructing masculinity, where the body was both the vehicle and object of violence.

Supervisor: Professor Raewyn Connell