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Sociable, Mentally Disturbed Women and Angry, Rejected Men: Cultural Scripts for the Suicidal Behavior of Women and Men in the Austrian Print Media

Abstract

This paper analyzed gender-specific reporting differences in Austrian newspapers on suicidal behavior related to portrayals of and language about suicidal motives in order to shed light on cultural scripts that may both reflect and shape gender stereotypes in a country where conservative gender-role models dominate. A total of 126 Austrian print-media reports on female suicidal behavior were compared to 381 reports on male suicidal behavior. The linguistic text analysis program LIWC was used to compare the use of language indicative of emotions, assess text complexity and detect indicators of social processes in the stories.

Mental illness as a motive for suicide was more prevalent in reports on women’s suicidal behavior and was often portrayed in a stigmatizing manner. Consistent with Austria’s prevalent conceptions of gender-role functions, stories about female suicidal behavior contained more words indicating sociability and more references to other persons, and motives for female suicide were often linked to family situations. Words indicating anger were more prevalent in articles on male behavior, and male suicidal behavior was contextualized as stemming from breakups and spousal rejection. Articles on female suicide contained more tentative wording, and the language used to portray women’s suicidal behavior was more complex. These findings are consistent with a script that conforms to sociable, mentally disturbed women and angry, rejected men. This script reflects sexist cultural attitudes relevant to public education efforts.

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Correspondence to Brigitte Eisenwort.

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Eisenwort, B., Till, B., Hinterbuchinger, B. et al. Sociable, Mentally Disturbed Women and Angry, Rejected Men: Cultural Scripts for the Suicidal Behavior of Women and Men in the Austrian Print Media. Sex Roles 71, 246–260 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-014-0395-3

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Keywords

  • Print media
  • Suicide
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Gender
  • Content analysis
  • Linguistics
  • Social constructivism
  • Austria