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The Gender of Suicide

Jaworski, Katrina

Ashgate, Aldershot (2014)
ISBN: 9781409441410 (hb)

Reviewed by Nicole Marie Hughes, Bangor University

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Cover of The Gender of Suicide The Gender of Suicide provides an extensive academic investigation into suicide and its associated themes. A “discussion” fails to encapsulate the meticulous dissection of the subject matter that has been provided. The book seeks to find a reading of suicide that fully encompasses all variables and seeks to determine whether supposed neutrality exists within the facts pertaining to gender and suicide. Instead of providing a simple investigation, Jaworksi has become engrossed in a complex and varied explanation regarding both diversity and difficulty of suicides. In doing so, a number of ambiguities concerning gender are uncovered which raises questions regarding the subject matter but also results in a heightened understanding.

It is touted that our interpretation of gender differences may stem from “living, with the researchers and practitioners working on suicide prevention, rather than those who want to die” (p,107). Certainly this provides a challenge to our current perceptions. Jaworski urges us reconsider the knowledge regarding suicide, we have previously taken for granted. Through the exploration of theoretical and textual sources, Jaworski has presented a detailed and provocative analysis of the ways in which gender plays a pivotal role in our interpretation of suicide in both overt and covert ways. Jaworski succeeds in identifying faults in our current understanding of suicide as a concept and our view of the suicidal individual. This is achieved through a meticulous identification of “rifts and cracks” that have been adopted within the foundation of our philosophies. Using the concept of “gendering”, Jaworski explores how dominant epistemologies regarding gender have influenced societal preconceptions on suicide and its associated themes.

Jaworski undertakes an extensive examination of multiple sources spanning several eras to gain a comprehensive understanding of suicide. By examining the work of classical philosophers in addition to drawing on contemporary textual sources, Jaworski is able to identify that the notion of suicide as a masculine concept remains consistent throughout. Regularly, it is suggested within the sites of knowledge that only men are truly capable of killing themselves whereas women, in contrast, retain far more passive tendencies and as such their attempts are perceived as attention seeking behaviour. Although suicides are more frequently attempted amongst women, very few are completed resulting in the passivity label they receive. The notion of “success” therefore becomes associated with masculinity, since men are more likely to complete their suicide attempt. Meanwhile, notions regarding “failure” take a feminine gender role to underline the passive tendencies of women as opposed to the fatalistic nature of males. Through an exploration of Emile Durkheim’s work entitled “Suicide” Jaworski aims to explain how the correlation in suicide statistics has emerged. Durkheim firmly believed that the patterns that emerged within the statistics regarding gender arose due to fundamental differences between sexes. Despite attempting to maintain a neutral approach to his work on suicide, Jaworski identifies the ways in which gender influenced Durkheim’s conclusions and ultimately led to the prevalent ideology that suicide is masculine and masculinist.

In addition to the historical analysis of suicide and gender’s influence upon successful matters, Jaworski gives an insight into various other sources such as medical practitioners’ autopsies and coroners’ reports. It is here that Jaworski produces some of the most interesting content arguing that gender bias is a continuous theme amongst these medical practices. A common misconception is that such sources maintain a neutral standpoint, as gender continues to influence much of the information they propose. Despite previously being considered devoid of gender bias, such aspects remain ingrained and result in suicide’s masculine label. For these reasons, Jaworski is quick to note that gender continues to heavily influence our knowledge regarding suicide and suicidology. Furthermore, through careful examination of autopsy photographs and documentation, Jaworski concludes that fundamental differences exist between the markings observed on the bodies of males than females reinforcing the notion of gender influence and assumptions upon such practices.

Although the book challenges current understanding of suicide and gender, it is significantly marred by the lack of user compatibility. Throughout, Jaworski continuously uses unnecessarily complex synonyms which convolute many of her points and lead to general confusion. Instead of expressing her findings in a reader-friendly format, some may find Jaworski’s book difficult to engage with. Despite touching on areas of interest, particularly those pertaining to bodies and their markings, I feel my experience was impaired as a result of limited fluidity in reading.