Understanding boys': thinking through boys, masculinity and suicide.Soc Sci Med 2012; 74(4):482-9SS
In the UK, the media are reporting increasing rates of childhood suicide, while highlighting that increasing numbers of pre-adolescent boys (in relation to girls) are diagnosed as mentally ill. In response, academic, professional and political commentators are explaining this as a consequence of gender. One way of doing this has been to apply adult defined understandings of men and masculinities to the attitudes and behaviours of pre-adolescent boys. As a consequence, explanations of these trends point to either 'too much' masculinity, such as an inability to express feelings and seek help, or 'not enough' masculinity that results in isolation and rejection from significant others, such as peer groups. Using a discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews with 28 children aged 9-13 (12 male, 16 females) and 12 school staff at a school in North East England, this article questions the viability of using normative models of masculinity as an explanatory tool for explaining boys' behaviours and suggests that researchers in the field of gender and suicide consider how boys' genders may be constituted differently. We develop this argument in three ways. First, it is argued that studies that use masculinity tend to reduce the formation of gender to the articulation of power across and between men and other men and women. Second, we argue that approaches to understanding boys' behaviours are simplistically grafting masculinity as a conceptual frame onto boy's attitudes and behaviours. In response, we suggest that it is important to re-think how we gender younger boys. The final section focuses specifically on the ways that boys engage in friendships. The significance of this section is that we need to question how notions of communication, integration and isolation, key features of suicide behaviours, are framed through the local production of friendships.