October 18, 2010

Suicide: The Need for Social Solidarity

new sally By Sally Raskoff

Recently, the news has focused on a number of teen suicides, mostly by gay male teens who were bullied and mistreated by their peers and others. These tragedies have prompted a national conversation about how to protect gay teens from bullying.

The debate emphasizes the importance of safe schools, organizations, the impact of hate crime laws and other policies designed to protect people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Many states have anti-bullying laws in place, although these laws may not say more than call for an anti-bullying stance without clearly defining what bullying is. Ellen Degeneres and other public figures have made public statements aimed at teens who are victims of the kind of bullying that those who committed suicide experienced.

clip_image002Organizations like the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have emphasized that supportive and affirming teachers, parents, and others can make all the difference for young people struggling with being bullied.

National Coming Out Day is October 11th, and so discussions about fostering respect and equal rights for people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity typically increase during the fall. That the news of Tyler Clementi's death would yield so much coverage now is a sad reminder of how much these discussions are still needed.

Will the national conversation result in changes that will prevent such suicides in the future?

The news has speculated that many of those who committed suicide in response to bullying were teenage gay males. Perusing the details of these cases, it is not clear that they all self-identified as gay, but it is clear all were assumed to be gay and/or were taunted with gay epithets. And they are all male. These are not trivial facts.

Our culture (and many others) confers privilege to men over women. Yes, some things have changed over time, but patriarchy still guides the structures our society. With that power comes the need for what sociologists call hegemonic masculinity, which defines men as separate and different from women. Thus our gender traits are identified as dichotomous and opposing, with men as dominant and women as subordinate. Hence, masculine traits revolve around power and dominance while feminine traits center on nurturing and support for others.

clip_image004Heterosexuality is a necessary trait for men within hegemonic masculinity, and men often feel pressure to demonstrate to their male peers that they are sexually active with women. Men who are attracted to other men – or who others accuse of being attracted to men - are likely to be punished more than women who are attracted to other women. Men, as the power group, must adhere more completely to their masculine definitions than women to theirs. Women and their sexual interests are not a target for society since, as the powerless group, what they do matters less.

There are many studies that clearly show that the targets of childhood and adolescent harassment are typically those who vary from our society’s norms, including norms of gender.

The teasing, taunting, harassment and bullying that the kids in the news experienced are, unfortunately, not unique. There are young people who experience this every day who have not and will not commit suicide. So, why did these people commit suicide?

To explain this, we can take it all the way back to Emile Durkheim’s dissertation, Suicide, and the importance of social connection. Durkheim identified different types of suicide, including altruistic suicide, egoistic suicide, anomic suicide, and fatalistic suicide.

What most of these types of suicide have in common is a problem with social bonds. Altruistic suicide, the exception, is a death intended to benefit the social group. The others all have some detachment from social groups. Egoistic suicide is committed when people are not highly integrated into a social group and society is characterized by individualism. Anomic suicide results from disappointment amidst the lack of any social bonds and eroding social norms. Fatalistic suicide occurs when people are so oppressed by society that they see no other escape.

All of these types could be used to explain the suicides of these teenagers as the result of social forces.

What, then, is the solution?

Connectivity and societal acceptance would be logical solutions to the problem. Schools and families need to work harder to be respectful of the variation of humans and provide safe environments. Happy, healthy, and productive people should be the goal.

Having safe schools and adults who are “allies” is crucial. Equally important is educating people about sexual orientation so that they do not perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation.

It’s likely that the more we know about sexual orientation, the more accepting we will be of variation, and this greater knowledge may lead to the erosion of the imperative to create identity based on sexual orientation. Linking identity to sexual orientation, as we currently do, is a relatively new phenomenon and many societies have existed without it, including our own.

Forming community and social supports are the effective techniques to lower the rates of suicide. What else might be effective strategies, especially when considering the sources of the problems?


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Some questions one must ask before doing this:

- Have you ever thought that you'd be better off dead or that if you died, it wouldn't matter?
- Have you thought about harming yourself?
- Are you thinking about suicide?

Sally Raskoff made a very clear point about this social topic. Even if you are against heterosexuality you have no need to make fun of or harrass people that are. Bullying someone to the point were they commit suicide is compelty wrong in so many levels even if they are different.

This post is very true, When you bully someone to far to where they commit suicide you should be very sorry for yourself and think to yourself "why, Why did i have to push this person to far enough to where they killed themselves" It just hurts you to think that your the one who made this person commit suicide.

I agree with the ideas of hegemonic masculinity, that males feel heterosexuality is a necessary trait to possess, and that males often feel the need to demonstrate to their peers they are sexually active with females. Many males feel they must adhere to the social norms more than women do, because they are more harshly punished, because females possess the need to support others and nurture, ultimately making them more loving and excepting than males would be. This is why male homosexual suicides are more common than female homosexual suicides.

Unfortunately in today's society it is not uncommon for people to be bullied from aspects of their own personality in which they cannot control. Personally I can relate to this article because every so often there is someone at school who accuses me of being gay because I do have characteristics of someone who is nurturing and spreads love, rather than trying to make sure that I am perceived as masculine. In truth, I am not gay, but rather consider myself a fully integrated person because I do things that are considered both masculine and feminine, such as wrestling in the winter and doing musical theatre in both fall and spring. I hope that this bullying is stopped because many lives have been self-destructing and more and more people are falling into depression from the actions of those around. A simple thing as friendship or approval could have saved these kids' lives.

This post is very interesting! Teen suicide is a very tragic thing, and finding ways to prevent it is of the upmost importance. If strong social networks are the key to preventing suicide, then maybe schools should find a way to ensure that every student has strong social ties? It's just very sad that lives could have been saved so easily, yet nobody stepped forward to help.

Teen suicide is a terrible thing. I could also see how homosexual teens can be in danger for suicide. Teen years are a time of uncertainty and other teens can be very cruel. Males have more pressure on being strait than females. This can lead to a lot of homosexual males to suicide because of harassment from other people.

This post has some very interesting views in it. I completely agree with the statement about hegemonic masculinity. In our society, it is assumed that men are supposed to be big and strong, and be attractive and attracted to women. Men who don't fit under this stereotype are often accused of being gay and are then taunted for it. It's not right that all men have to be "masculine" to be accepted. Too many young kids are taking their lives because they feel as though they aren't normal and don't fit in. While people are putting in efforts to stop these things, more still needs to be done to try and prevent it.

I completely agree, there should be laws set in place in every state to protect kids in general not just gay or lesbian. Yes, kids of all sexualities get bullied some more then others but once you get bullied your still affected by it so why let it go on. Stop the bullying now by creating laws to help and protect all kids.

"Solidarity enhancement" skills building prevention programs would be the most effective public health intervention designed to minimize the incidence of suicide.

Really, a brief review of the meaning, history, and various expressions of Solidarity could lead to administration of this social inoculation with booster shots.

How often we miss the obvious.....

I agree with the information, but one would think in today's society that we as a a society have grown to understand and accept the we have varied differences and we should respect each other as human beings.However, human behvior once again becomes the driving force that makes people cruel to one another and for what reason, its not as if we don't know better or understand that what is being done is hurtful or wrong, people do bad things to people becuase they can ad get some sick sense of self satisfaction out of humilating each other because of a difference in SES, race or sexual orientation.

It's terrible that this is happening today, across America. I thought you covered the story very well. It's happening everywhere and to anyone. It should be brought to people's attention.

This article is very relevant to the common problems among homosexuals in modern society. I propose a very simple solution to this problem; if you a a gay or lesbian individual, kill yourself and your problems will go away and society will benefit subsequently.

Very nice use of Durkheim and his concepts in looking at a very current and compelling social issue, Dr. Raskoff.

One of the hallmarks of great sociology, and one of the ways of keeping the discipline fresh and dynamic, is by demonstrating how the "classical" works of the discipline's founders are still absolutely relevant and full of insights into our lives today.

Your Durkheimian prescription: "Connectivity and societal acceptance would be logical solutions to the problem...Happy, healthy, and productive people should be the goal" is right on target.

As always, I think that it's important to remind ourselves (as Durkheim certainly would) that the sensitivity to this issue itself is the result of decades of work and effort by members of the gay community as well as many other Americans.

In other words, not only should "happy, healthy and productive people" be the continuing goal of our society but there are plenty of people who already fit this profile and who are helping to bring attention to this issue and to hopefully help alleviate the suffering of those gay teens who feel so disaffected and alienated...

I agree with saying "Men, as the power group, must adhere more completely to their masculine definitions than women to theirs. Women and their sexual interests are not a target for society since, as the powerless group, what they do matters less." It is so true because men are being more accused of this because they are supposed to be leaders,but question? Why is America worried about people being Gay or not? This is bringing in religious views. Aren't we supposed to have freedom of religion? Yes in the Bible it says being attracted to the same sex is a sin,is that were the Government getting the belief that Gay marriage should be aloud? We all don't have the same religion and for that purpose I believe the Government should be involved with these situation.

It is sad that people are bullied for breaking social norms, especially during a time when social norms are so broad and less defined. The young men who have been bullied broke the norms of sexuality. Their suicides truly do signal the need for social solidarity. Social solidarity is how unified a society is. Since we live in a world where everyone is different and has opposing views, it is necessary for us to strive for a sort of organic solidarity. This would mean that although people are different and have different statuses, they work together. It seems as though some people are more after mechanical solidarity, where everyone shares the same values. When people perpetuate the stereotypes of how a male should act, they are trying to create that kind of solidarity, which is impossible in today's world. Social acceptance is needed, which means that differences are acknowledged and set aside for the common good of society.

This post is really true, well first of all I am a high school student and bullying these days is hard to control. It has gotten out of hand no one can control it. Since we as students gave the bullies this much power to pick on the weaker ones and that can not fight back. We are the ones that kneel down to them and the power they receive no one can take it away from them. The bullying have a weapon that they can not get ride of easy. But I have learned that students bully others at school just because they get bullied either st home or by an older sibling. I mean they has been many deaths because they do not know what to do or how to control it. A bully should be count as a student bringing a weapon to school because its harming others but not physically but mentally.

As a general rule, I think that bullying is wrong and should be stopped. I don't have a solution on how that can be changed quickly, especially for homosexual teens. As a teen myself, I do think that our generation is more tolerant and openly accepting of differences from the "norm" than previous generations. However, many teens are still alienated and harrassed, and sadly, not all of their heterosexual peers are willing to interfere when bullying happens because they are afraid of getting involved and becoming a target themselves.

I agree with you that the uproar of suicide between teens have been increasing. Partially because if what they believe in. The whole nation needs to start paying attention to what is happening with today's youth.

I think this post is very true, because it shouldn't matter how you are because it is your life not someone else. The suicide rate has increased with teens and still is increasing. Everyone in this world should start looking if students actually feel safe in their school or home or anywhere they may be.

I like how you explained why men feel the need to bully men who are attracted to other men or who are believed to be attracted to other men. I think it is true that men have strict gender norms regarding their sexual activities and when these are broken, they can be brutal to one another. I know I've witnessed this a lot in my school, particularly recently. There has been much controversy in Howell schools on whether or not teachers can support the anti-gay-bullying movement, because some fear that it pushes an unwanted gay agenda.

I agree that schools and families need to provide safer environments for kids that are prone to suicide. I've seen kids at school being bullied for their sexual orientation, most of who are men, and it't not right. I also agree that men get punished more than women. Stronger laws need to be put in place to help these kids.

Bullying should be put to a stop. As harmless as it sounds, it really does the opposite. Our children might even be victims of bullying, we never know. So it's best to start with educating our own children that bullying can ruin lives and that they should be careful with saying hurtful things to someone. It's the least we could do as parents. Troubled teens like Tyler would have been saved if only we had started this campaign sooner. I still believe there's hope for our children's future.

In this day in age, much more tolerance is being built up for homosexuals all around, especially with things like the Don't Ask Don't Tell Act being repealed. Also, the media is very into having homosexuals in movies and television, as well as supporting them. The amount of hate is being diffused in many areas, but with the suicides that have happened in the recent past, there has been much tension between teenagers these days. The social changes and movements in society are recognizing that homosexuals have equal rights as everyone else and action is initiated in order to raise awareness in overall equality. We must make sure that all people are protected and equal, but how can we do so if there are so many who are passing hate onto homosexuals, or anyone else for that matter.

I agree with the information and I believe that teen suicide is a terrible thing. People think in our modern society,that we as a nation, become tolerant and understanding of differences that are expressed both physically and mentally. We as human beings, need to respect each other giving everyone as sense of being and self worth. However, in many unfortunate instances, human behavior has tendencies towards cruelty and violence.This is just another part of our human psychology, a very negative one. People may sometimes be unaware or misunderstand that what they are doing is hurtful or wrong. Humans sometimes do bad things to people because it gives them a sense of power and control that they themselves may not be experiencing. Their humiliation of others, because of whatever discriminating factor,gives them a point of power and often times people will not relinquish this wrongful domination of others.

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An attempt to make people more accepting of heterosexuality needs to reach farther than just schools and other public organizations. It is something that parents need to try to instil into their kids. Kids have to be taught that if someone is different they should accept them, and the easiest time to teach kids this is when they are still young. And condfidence is key as well. If kids are taught to be confident in who they are no matter what, I believe that they would be less likely to do something as drastic as suicide.

All deaths are horrible, but the death of a young person is particularly tragic. It is a sad commentary on our world that these teenagers feel pressured enough to end their own lives. I think that what will change these numbers for the better will be a shift in the world's thinking. Obviously, this is easier said than done. However, steps are already being taken to shine a better light on the LGBT community.

These suicides, as mentioned in the article, are forms of anomic suicides, in that the social ties are broken. If we can better create a society where LGBT teens can feel comfortable, it will eliminate these unnecessary and terrible deaths.

The bill defines bullying, essentially as any communication or act from pupil to pupil that is intended to cause harm or understood to cause harm.

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This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject... Regards

I agree that schools and families need to provide safer environments for kids that are prone to suicide. I've seen kids at school being bullied for their sexual orientation, most of who are men, and it't not right. I also agree that men get punished more than women. Stronger laws need to be put in place to help these kids.

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It's terrible that this is happening today, across America. I thought you covered the story very well. It's happening everywhere and to anyone. It should be brought to people's attention.

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