A Catch-22 Taboo?

Last week the ‘youth culture’ (whatever that means) magazine, Vice, made a rather ill-advised decision to run a fashion article depicting female models recreating the suicides of famous writers.

Just reading that synopsis of the shoot makes you wonder how it got past the ideas stage – even more so when you realise that one of the suicides depicted was that of historian Iris Chang, who killed herself in 2004 and whose son is still around.

So, without doubt, a thoughtless move on the part of Vice. However, I’m not interested in jumping on the bandwagon of hate which has

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been directed towards this subject in the past week – to be honest I haven’t even seen the pictures so I can’t comment further than as a response to the writing of others.

What has stuck with me more about the situation is that it seems to me that the taboo of suicide is one that is impossible to tackle – a Catch-22 Taboo.

To truly bust a taboo it cannot be put on a pedestal. It has to be opened out and be free for all discussion – which unfortunately means open for parody, ridicule and ill-informed debate.

But here’s the problem with suicide: the Samaritans have guidelines about how and when it should be discussed, which includes not reporting instances of people throwing themselves under a train. The idea behind this is to stop people getting ideas and so reduces copycat suicides.

And it seems to work. The Samaritans tell us that the voluntary restrictions on reporting subway suicides reduced their occurrence by 75% in Vienna and Toronto.

And yet in England and Wales around 24,000 people between the ages of 10 and 19 attempt suicide every year. Globally, around 1 million people kill themselves every year.

Now far be it from me to second guess the Samaritans ….

….but surely saying we can’t openly discuss suicide in all its forms makes it more of a taboo. Suicide exists; ignoring it won’t make it go away.

What we need to do is destroy the pedestal and make it an approachable subject. That way, those in the grip of suicidal thoughts know it is a subject they can talk about and they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Here at WMD, we are big believers that a Man has to deal with his own shit. That means being able to openly approach a situation and sort it out.

Think about it this way: if your washing machine breaks do you sit around ignoring it, hoping it’ll fix itself, or do you get a guy in who knows what he’s doing to fix it?

You break your arm. Do you stare at it in the expectation that it’ll magically fix itself, or do you go see a doctor who can mend it?

You’re suffering from a bout of depression, your thoughts turn suicidal … why is talking to an expert about that any different to dealing with the other issues by ‘getting a guy in’?

It is different because anyone can talk openly about washing machines and broken arms and no-one bats an eyelid. As soon as depression and suicide are raised we’re told we have to be careful what we say. That’s what makes it a taboo.

So let’s stop pussyfooting around here and make this an open conversation where we can encourage guys to sort out their own shit – with a little help – rather than suffer in silence. Otherwise those stats aren’t going to go down.

And we reckon a good place to start that conversation is with our friends over at CALM. As they say, ‘the silence is killing us’, so let’s make some noise.

Why Every Guy Should Have A Copy Of What Men Do

A writer would say that about his book, wouldn’t he? But this is sincere.

This week the Guide offered me a level of comfort I really needed. And that’s the point of What Men Do. We started writing it as a means of using the lessons we’ve learnt through our own life experience to help other guys on the journey to find out what it means to be a Man today.

That’s not to say we hold the answers – we’ve said from the beginning that we’re still on the journey ourselves – but the thinking was that if we’ve been through it, chances are lots of guys will. As males we’re alone on this planet so by sharing our experiences we might ease the loneliness of other men and be of some solace to guys dealing with their own shit.

Over the last week I think What Men Do has helped me in this regard. We are a triumvirate (not so much The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit; more The Shouter, The Stubborn and The Sneaky), so we’ve three different sets of experiences and three perspectives on life. This means that some of the content of The Guide will naturally be drawn more from the well of one of us than the others.

I think I’m just starting to understand that some things aren’t explainable.

In the What Men Do Guide we’ve written about Mythos and Logos, the two means of comprehending life’s events (or non-events). Logos, translating as logical explanations. Why did the crop fail? Because it didn’t rain this winter.

Mythos, translating as, roughly, mythical – the unexplainable. Why didn’t it rain this summer?

In the Guide we also quote Pascal, “The heart has reasons that Reason cannot understand.” This is something you can only really comprehend through experience. It’s a strange thing to have your head point you one way but your heart drag you another.

And on this blog, we’ve discussed Thinking Man, Sensing Man and Feeling Man. At What Men Do we further this distinction as linking the three Men with, respectively, the head, the gut and the heart.

So, if we’ve studied, thought and written about it, why am I only just now coming to understand it? Because of Experience. Life’s lessons are all in Experience.

You have to have a broken heart, grieve, love, father for yourself to ‘get it’. I say ‘get it’ because ‘know it’ is too simplistic. And for me, that’s the greatest lesson for What Men Do. You have to get out there and live your life your way. No book can give you the answers; you’d have to write that book for yourself and only in hindsight. All a book can do if is offer solace and guidance.

That’s something every man needs to know.

If this has resonated with you, or you think The Guide might be of use to a guy you know, then we urge you to get them a copy or fire the blog their way.

We’re alone and dealing with our own shit here fellas, but knowing that other guys are going through it helps and makes sure the journey isn’t lonely.

And, for what it’s worth, we don’t take a penny from any book. The money made from each sale goes back into The Workshop, a youth charity in Yorkshire whose membership is roughly 70% male.

The Rush To Judgement

There’s a section in the ‘What Men Do’ Guide entitled ‘The Tribe of Heroes’, the theme of which is that Heroes exist all over the world.

A guy who follows the WMD Code can easily become dismayed by the Fear of finding himself on his tod; he’s trying to live a Life based on what he considers are Real Values which feed Self Respect and a sense of enriching the lives of others, verses the standard capitalist dogma of selfishness, greed and grab all you can whenever you can.

And sure, you can find other Heroes at home here in Yorkshire; from time to time we Yorkshiremen meet a Southerner who, somewhat to our amazement, turns out to be, well, OK…

            …even though he’s called Lance, drinks G&Ts and supports Chelsea.

Where you really become aware of Heroes worldwide is when you decide to do some backpacking abroad, doubly so if you don’t speak the native language and they don’t speak English.

In those circumstances what you find is that things happen that don’t happen in Huddersfield; a guy does you some kind of favour – it happened to me once in Southern Egypt where a guy dressed in the native Nubian costume shared his cold water when he could see I was at a point of exhaustion and was totally tapped out of money.

Kissed his ass? That’s the least I was prepared to do…but fortunately I didn’t have to. He was clearly overjoyed by my attempts at a profuse thanks made doubly so, I confess, when I lied and said I supported Manchester United.

But thinking about it since, that and other instances like it has made me realise how much our personal knowledge of the other guy is actually an inhibiting factor to a relationship. The knowledge – as in the case of the aforementioned Lance – prompts all the negatives in my own conditioning to rise to the surface, so instead of behaving spontaneously as I did at the fringes of the desert, I began – at least initially – to build on my prejudices.

And I ask you; how many times does this happen? Isn’t it the instinctive reaction of knowing too much? Aren’t we allowing ourselves to be separated from each other rather than bonding naturally as guys?

Sure, we’re Alone because we’re male. We’re programmed to clean up our own shit and that only Action Counts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to become untrusting. To have a sharpened awareness of Sensing, just as we had a couple of million years ago when we were the hunting band’s tracker, has always been a Positive force, allowing us now to sniff out fellow Heroes when in the old days it was a bison.  

But we guys haven’t really changed all that much, so let’s go along with the present system to earn a crust, but don’t let it fuck us up as human beings.

Males Push. Females Pull.

Three weeks ago the Labour Member of Parliament, Diane Abbott, made a major speech on what she described as the ‘crisis of masculinity’ which she claimed would lead to a generation of disaffected young men.

Somewhat hysterically, in our opinion, she claimed this ‘negative social pressure’ would ‘fuel homophobia, machismo and misogyny’.

Viewed from our base here in West Yorkshire, this alarmist propaganda, we think, is very much

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based on the pressures of Big City living and is particularly London based. Having said that, there is much in the speech which we believe has a national validity, particularly where she speaks of unemployment, today’s economic downturn and the rapid economic changes which ‘warps male identity’.

Not surprising, all this has resulted in an outpouring of comments from various sources, most of which we find almost laughable in their naïve understanding of what it is to be a male – old or young. What is worse is that these observations have been written by males.

Two misunderstandings in particular stand out. The first is that that there is little grasp of the basic truth that males and females are programmed differently. Males push – for a shag, thereby asserting their drive as a masculine force; females pull – to be shagged, thereby asserting their desirability and, ultimately, their deeper purpose.

It’s amazing to us that the sensible observations originally highlighted by Germaine Greer in ‘The Female Eunuch’ and other early writers of the Women’s Lib movement have been distorted and extended by pseudo feminists with their own agenda to the extent that this gender-related programming has been (so innocently) absorbed by subsequent writers on social issues.

The other item which has been thrown up by Ms Abbott’s speech is that many of those who have responded to it have highlighted that, whereas there is always a response from women when issues that primarily concern them are raised, there is no equivalent response from men. The masculine mode remains silent,

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a situation which, to these writers, is clearly a surprise.

But to any male who has a grasp of the aforementioned difference between the sexes, there is no surprise here at all. Whereas females draw strength from the camaraderie of talk and conversation, to males it is only Action that counts.

All this is spelled out very clearly in the What Men Do Guide (a copy of which we have sent to Ms Abbott) which was published last year for those young guys who have been finding the speed of change somewhat bewildering and who might value some clarity of ‘what it is to be a man’, at least as perceived by three Yorkshire lads.

It is because ‘Only Action Counts’ that males exist in a state of Aloneness whereby they have a primordial need to ‘take care of their own shit’.

Even their reluctance to consult the doctor bears witness to this male sense of self-sufficiency as being a major part of his Self Respect.

We’ve come to the

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conclusion that whilst some of the thoughts expressed in Ms Abbott’s speech were alarmist and, by their very nature, deliberately dramatised for their negative aspects – particularly of violence – subsequent writers, whilst male themselves, have revealed a lamentable understanding of what it is to be a man.