By now the rules of toxic masculinity are well-established: men must be strong above all else, they must be stoic, feelings are for the weak and violence, regardless of the question, is usually the answer.
Toxic masculinity has, in recent years, become something of a feminist punchline – mostly albeit in good faith. Exposing the stereotypes that belittle and diminish all genders is part of the dichotomy that has long formed the basis of any movement towards equality. Today, however, comments made by one prominent British figurehead about male suicide has opened up an important discussion about the role of feminism within male mental health – and how, for some, it remains dangerously misunderstood.
“Maybe other people’s feminisms are about making the world better for men,” Chidera Eggerue, aka The Slumflower, tweeted yesterday. “As for me,” she continued, “I don’t have time to think about the reasons why the system you created at my expense to benefit you is now choking you.
“If men are committing s*icide [sic] because they can’t cry how is that my problem?”
Her comments have attracted a justified rage from many others on Twitter especially in the wake of The Prodigy star Keith Flint’s early death by suicide, aged just 49, last week. It barely needs pointing out – though it is infinitely worth doing so – that suicide is still the biggest killer of UK men. Research conducted by the Samaritans reveals that, while suicide rates are the lowest they’ve been for 30 years, UK men remain three times as likely to take their own lives than women (and, in the Republic of Ireland, four times as many). Suicide among young men in Scotland increased for the third consecutive year in 2017.
Against a backdrop of a generation of men increasingly left in despair through systemic oppression of their voices on this topic, Eggerue’s comments appear cruel and reckless where lives are at stake, but also just… misguided. It is society’s rejection of femininity that holds a hand over the mouths of men – the soft and womanly connotations of being “emotional” is the root of their inability to seek help. The very same thing affects women in just the same way, just perhaps not to the same extent. It is hard for everybody to talk about suicide, and death, in a society that prides a stiff upper lip and believes to be strong is to be impenetrable.
It is, of course, good practice to prioritise issues you are set to tackle as an activist – perhaps this was Eggerue’s obscurely hidden point. But being a feminist has not and does not mean flippantly dismissing the lives of men. In fact, I’d go as far to say that, when it comes to feminism and male mental health, there is no either/or – they are inextricably linked. One life is not more important than another; there is no hierarchy in the finality of death. Suicide is preventable but, whatever your gender, you can’t do it alone.
UPDATE: Chidera Eggerue responded to this article with a statement which appears below: "In a world where men have disproportionate access to power (this is known as patriarchy), women and girls face the result of this by being murdered for going on walks at night, having acid thrown in their faces for declining sexual advances and being married to men at the age of 9. Until men are systemically disadvantaged by patriarchy, women will always be my priority. Men have a responsibility to show up for themselves and each other and should no longer wait for women to nurse them before we nurse the wounds they have inflicted on us. Patriarchy harms everyone, including men. But it is no woman’s responsibility or obligation to centre any man’s healing. I wonder what the world would look like if men did the work on themselves and women were given room to actually exist without fear."