This post is going to explore the rising trend in male suicides as a gender issue through this article.
Japan has a long history with suicide, from the samurai only hara-kiri that protected them from being killed by executioners to lover’s suicide through to family suicide. Suicide has been seen in Japanese society as a means of vindication or to protect people from even worse ends. In war whole families and even villages would commit suicide to prevent capture by the enemy. Suicide has also long been viewed as a way to save face in a situation that might otherwise disgrace them.
Modern suicide trends show that these attitudes are still firmly emplaced along with the patriarchal responsibility placed upon men since the Edo period. In 1980 the suicide rate was 22.9 men and 13.3 women per one hundred thousand people. Thus was a time when the economy was good and Japan was prospering. The statistic for 2003 was 40.1 for men and 14.5 for women per one hundred thousand people. Why did the women stay the virtually the same but the men double? The rate has been increasing since the major recession started in 1997 suggesting that the suicides are attached to the economy.
As the article explains the probable explanation for the increase in suicides is because of the different gender role expectations between men and women. It explains that the further evidence for the gender role playing a significant role is shown through the age breakdown. Men 50-64, especially the 55-59 range, have the highest suicide rate; this trend is recent and not present in the women’s statistics. The number of suicides is increased in the middle-aged men with financial problems show that the weight of financial responsibility towards their family weighs heavily on the Japanese male. Many suicides are being committed in an attempted to get life insurance money for their family. This bears through in that many suicides by these men happen just after the immunity period ends on their policies. According to the article, women of the same age perceive their role to only be for the care of the family members. The suicide rate for housewives remains low and while they may be in charge of the household financial disbursement they do not see themselves as responsible for the generation of those finances.
While the data seems to support those who wish to argue against feminist movements as evidence that men are treated just as unfairly as women, it is more indicative of the problem of the traditional patriarchal gender roles in Japanese society. It shows that, like the increase in male suicides, the oppression of women in Japan may have more to do with being a byproduct of a societal system still heavily entrenched in the patriarchal household system established in the Edo period.
by Michael Dwyer