By Tim Wernette
Reflections on the Death of Another Man
The apparent suicide of Matthew Whaley, a UA senior, is tragically typical of how we socialize men in our society.
Many of Matthew's friends were shocked because he didn't seem to be depressed or having a crisis. Males are taught to "be tough" and "don't cry," so many boys and men keep their hurt and pain inside until it erupts in destructive behavior. We laugh at men who won't pull over and ask for directions when lost, but the tragic consequence is that it is not "masculine" to be vulnerable and ask for help. When we add all the deaths from reckless "accidents" and drug/alcohol with which males are involved, the self-destructiveness of the traditional male role is even more evident.
Another message males receive is to be independent, like the Lone Ranger or the Marlboro man. This results in many men not being able to reach out to others, being more isolated and having fewer emotionally intimate friends, especially of the same sex. Homophobia (fear of homosexuality or being perceived as gay) keeps many men from being affectionate to or nurturing one another. Isn't it sad and ironic that Matthew belonged to a fraternity, and yet he couldn't reach out to his "brothers" for support? For men in relationships, separation/divorce or death of his wife/partner dramatically increases the likelihood of death (unless he replaces his wife/partner with someone else who can take care of him). This is part of the reason that men remarry so much faster than women: women grieve, men replace; women repair (their lives), men repair (with someone else).
Males tend to be more "successful" in their suicide attempts than females because they use more violent means, such as guns or jumping from tall cliffs. I've read that for ages 15-24, young women attempt suicide three times as often as males, while young men actually kill themselves five times as often as females. Men receive messages that they should be powerful, strong, aggressive and (if necessary) violent. Beneath much of men's anger and violence is the pain and hurt that they're not encouraged or permitted to express, so those feelings get distorted into destructive behaviors, either toward others or self. Our juvenile detention facilities and adult jails/prisons are filled with the males who have taken their violence out on others rather than themselves. Isn't it ironic that one of the central messages that men receive about being "a real man" is to always be "in control" and this often leads to the ultimate of not being in control: imprisonment or death?
Changing the gender role messages and socialization that kill so many males (and encourages them to do violence to others) is more than can be addressed in this brief editorial. If you or someone you know is in pain or crisis, here are some constructive alternatives to suicide:
The tragic death of Matthew Whaley reminds me of lyrics to a Geof Morgan song: "American men, they die so young./ Machismo killing them off, one by one." I would suggest that one way to honor Matthew Whaley's too-brief life with us would be to examine the gender role influences we have received and to actively live and work to resist and change these destructive messages.