Monday, 15 June 2015

Matt Haig, male suicide and feminism

The writer, Matt Haig has been on the receiving end of some harsh and unkind tweets recently for mentioning that he's thinking of writing a book on toxic masculinity. He's been accused of mansplaining, of ignoring his male privilege and of usurping the aims of feminism to make it about men.
Having followed Matt for some time on Twitter now I know that he is a feminist, or if you prefer ( I don't), an ally to feminists and despite accusations to the contrary he is the antithesis to a men's rights activist.
Feminism is a broad church and as with any such movements there are bound to be people who are fighting for different goals. However, all are under the umbrella of feminism and in-fighting among what should be allies surely helps nobody but those who wish to at least maintain the status quo, if not turn the clock back to when things were even worse.
I'm a feminist, I can't remember deciding to become one, I just am. My version of feminism is about fairness and inclusiveness and that means recognising a patriarchal society can be damaging for men as well as women. It's about believing that if women can be strong then men can be vulnerable and should be able to express this without fear of being mocked. It's not about men co-opting the movement but it recognises the wider societal benefits.
It's a personal issue for me too as my brother killed himself in 2012. He was in many ways a textbook stereotype of a male suicide, working class, drug addict, severe debt... Yet I knew the person beyond this - the little boy who was teased for being small at school until he learned that he could stop them by being tough. The teenager who hated his skinny body and was painfully awkward in social situations. The young man who lost his mother to breast cancer when he was only 19 and could never really talk about his grief, instead bottling up his emotions for years. The addict desperately fighting his demons, winning some battles despite the shame he felt until he ultimately lost his war. The body, cold and alone on a hospital mortuary bed.
If you've never had to identify a body following suicide, never organised a funeral, never read the cold, hard facts in a coroner's letter, never watched your father break down in tears as he blamed himself then perhaps you're free to ignore what is happening to some of our men. I can't do that. I believe a society in which women have equal rights and equal respect will also benefit men who currently fear that not being the strong and silent type is a weakness, that mental health issues should be dealt with by "manning up" instead of by asking for help. Gender constraints harm us all, let's open up the conversation, feminism shouldn't be a closed shop.