What's sex got to do with suicide?

A researcher says cultural expectations influence whether men or women are more likely to kill themselves

Published August 13, 2010 10:40PM (EDT)

On this glorious Friday, at the end of yet another work week, I wish I could reward you with news about a major feminist triumph -- or, in the very least, hula hooping puppies. Instead, I'm going to risk killing your T.G.I.F. buzz by asking you to read about -- put on your serious faces, now -- suicide. Look, I don't make the news, I just report it, and new findings on how suicide is culturally scripted by gender are truly fascinating, so just bear with me.

It's generally accepted as fact that despite women engaging in more suicidal behavior, men are far more likely to actually succeed in killing themselves. That is certainly true in the United States, but according to researcher Silvia S. Canetto, that isn't the case across all cultures. The Colorado State University professor presented research at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association on Thursday finding that the sex-suicide relationship is correlated with gendered expectations. In the U.S., where men are more likely to commit suicide, it is considered an unfeminine behavior, she said. On the other hand, explains LiveScience:

Among the Aguaruna of the Peruvian Amazon, where women have a high rate of suicide death, suicide is considered a feminine behavior and a sign of weakness and the inability to control strong emotions. So when a man kills himself he is considered to have acted in a womanly fashion, researchers have found.

Canetto puts it like so: "In [some] countries, the dominant view is that 'successful, completed' suicide is the masculine way to do suicide. In the U.S., women who kill themselves are considered more deviant than men. By contrast, in other cultures, killing oneself is considered feminine behavior (and is more common in women)." The causation here isn't clear, and it's certainly perplexing to think that cultural norms could hold such strong sway on a behavior that is, well, profoundly anti-social. It certainly calls for more research, but Canetto's conclusion is an interesting one:"Everywhere, suicidal behavior is culturally scripted. Women and men adopt the self-destructive behaviors that are expected of them within their cultures."

Now, as for those hula hooping puppies: this is the best I could find.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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Broadsheet Gender Gender Roles Love And Sex Suicide