Over the weekend I stopped into a local convenience store to purchase some obscenely expensive propane for the grill (long story) and had the pleasure of standing in line for several minutes studying a t-shirt with this charming graphic on it:
Needless to say it was a delightful experience, all the way around.
Later in the day, in an unrelated conversation with babydaddy, the topic of suicide rates came up. We were talking about how, in Wyoming, the wind whistles through the house in a spooky, haunting way sometimes no matter how tight your house is. And some people sort of half-jokingly attribute the very high suicide rate in Wyoming to the incessant wind.
But that got me thinking. The suicide rate in Wyoming is very high among white middle-aged males. Extremely high. And for most white middle-aged men in this state, gun ownership is extremely important. Central-to-their-identity important. And, as this t-shirt demonstrates, gun culture tends to coexist with some pretty sexist attitudes and behaviors.* Those sexist attitudes and behaviors are probably really not all that conducive to establishing and maintaining meaningful, fulfilling long-term relationships with women.** And being single is a risk factor for suicide. In fact, having a string of failed romantic relationships in your past is even more of a risk factor. So it seems like maybe having this worldview in which women are just a giant pain in the ass, and an object to be used and disposed of, and inherently flawed, unpredictable creatures, etc might just lead you to be a total failure with women, which might result in a depressing and lonely life. And since your gun is your best friend, why not let it help you out with this little problem you have?
Or maybe it's just a coincidence that gun culture tends to track with both sexism and high male suicide rates.
And maybe there are other causal factors involved here. For instance, it is generally true that middle-aged white and Native American males are the two demographics that are most likely to commit suicide, and we just have a lot of those here in Wyoming, so that's going to naturally push the suicide rate up a bit. Then there's the relatively high male-to-female ratio. That probably contributes to cultural attitudes about gender and relationships, and decreases the chances that a middle-aged man will be in a relationship, or that a woman will stay in a relationship that isn't fulfilling to her. Then there's the prevalence of oil and gas jobs, and ranch work, which tend to isolate married men from their families and keep single men away from places where women tend to be. Fewer interactions with women allow these overgeneralized, stereotypical, demeaning views of women to flourish, and make it less likely that a man will be able to successfully interact with women when he does come in contact with them. So I'd venture to say that there is a bit of a feedback loop going on here, complete with self-fulfilling prophecies and preexisting attitudes that doom relationships from the start and history repeating itself and a howling wind that makes you feel more isolated and lonely than you felt to begin with.
At any rate, it seems like it's probably a little more complicated than:
gun culture + sexist attitudes and behaviors = bitter and lonely single men = high suicide rate.
But it is an interesting correlation, isn't it?
*Isn't this why images of women like Palin hunting and posing with guns is such a spectacle in our culture? Like the image of a woman driving her own Harley, rather than being the bitch on the back. In subcultures that tend to be fairly sexist, or at least dismissive of women, those women who do integrate into the culture seem to be incongruous, and images of them are kind of jarring and fascinating to us.
**Leaving the plight of the "gay cowboy" out of the conversation completely for the time being. Obviously there's a whole range of other issues that come along with being gay in a heavily hetero-centric, male-centric culture, and no doubt those issues correlate with suicide rates as well.