The Psychology of Masculinity

A minor internet brushfire erupted a few days ago when the American Psychological Association announced it was issuing it's first ever guidelines for practice with men and boys. On the face of it, it didn't seem like that big of a deal- I dug a little deeper and actually read some of the APA's summaries of the guidelines and it's less bad that it's being made out to be. Consider this 'graph from the APA:
But something is amiss for men as well. men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United State sand represent 77% of homicide victims. They're the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more like than women to die by suicide and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women's. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls and they face harsher punishments in school- especially boys of color.
Seems eminently reasonable, right? Certain segments of the Right have been banging on this drum for years now. There's a 'War On Boys' in our educational system. Men commit suicide more. Men work in more dangerous jobs. Men are on strike. It doesn't take much digging to find the 'won't somebody think of the men' segment of the internet- so I don't understand why the hell these guidelines are causing such a shit fit. The APA seems to be acknowledging, 'hey, there's a problem here and we should probably figure out how best to tackle it.' Isn't that what these people have been wanting for awhile now?

"Grown Men Are The Solution, Not The Problem" proclaimed the National Review. The APA was declaring war on 'traditional masculinity.' "So long, masculinity, you're a relic of unenlightened times," proclaimed another headline. Psychologists have become 'activists, not healers' and you only have to look at the demographics of psychologists to see the real problem! As a field it's becoming overwhelmingly female!

I haven't done a deep dive into a lot of the literature on the 'war on boys' business, but I know it's out there. As a man, I find a lot of it both interesting and annoying. Interesting because if concepts of femininity and what it means to be a woman can be explored through things like feminism, it kind of makes sense that me that you'd see similar explorations of what it means to be a man in 21st Century. That's all fine- I may not particularly agree with the notion that these explorations need to be conducted through the lens of feminism exclusively- but it makes sense. Traditional gender roles have shift a lot in the past five decades alone- dudes trying to figure out what it all means in a contemporary context makes sense to me.

Where it becomes annoying is that a lot of it seems unnecessary. I don't need to fit into a box. I don't need definitions. I believe there are many different ways to "be a man" and trying to force men and boys into defined 'boxes' of masculinity, traditional or not is an incredibly unhealthy message to send- to young boys especially. I would really, really love to never hear the words 'toxic masculinity' ever again. The idea that you're telling young men that who they are is wrong...  that it's unhealthy. It's sickening and disgusting. Any starting point needs to be there. You can't send the message that somebody is wrong. If we were talking about 'toxic femininity' or about how 'traditional femininity' was bad, people would lose their damn minds. We need to start the conversation somewhere else.

That, however, doesn't mean that we shouldn't have the conversation at all. Basically, it all comes down what I would describe as the Billy Elliot problem. Basically, if boys want to dance, they should be able to dance. I mean this is 2018 and to be honest, I'm not sure anyone should care all that much. True story: I was in ballet for like ten minutes when I was a wee lad. Didn't stick, because here I am writing this blog post instead of being the lead in a production of Swan Lake somewhere or something- but if they want to dance, let them dance. To me, that just seems like common sense- but when the Eldest Spawn who had previously claimed pink as his favorite color came home from kindergarten and announced he wasn't going to where pink any more it was kind of soul crushing to realize he was picking this crap up from the playground- because- and I had to really sit myself down and think about it, just to be sure- he wasn't picking it up from me.

The fact that he brought that home from school suggests that the Billy Elliot problem is more embedded in society than people think. (The whole Kevin Hart thing is kind of illustrative of this as well. As a comedian, his tweets may well have been intended to hold a mirror up to the preposterous and ridiculous fears we have- or they may well have been his actual fears, but the fact is that as little as a decade ago, they were real fears for a lot of men out there. They probably still are, for a lot of men, but not nearly as many men.)

If you want to fit every John Wayne stereotype of masculinity, you should be free to do so. I don't think being all stoic (though, depending on who you talk too- stoicism is en vogue in some quarters these days) and repressing your emotions is that health and someone should tell you that. You shouldn't feel like you have to hide your real feelings away. You want to cry at a sad movie? Go ahead. I know it'll probably make people roll their eyes to read this, but real men aren't afraid to feel things and let their emotions show. Taking care of yourself and keeping yourself in good shape isn't a a bad thing. Taking care of your family and your loved ones isn't a bad thing either.

Do men face problems today? Yes. Should psychologists maybe consider how best to tackle those problems? Yes. Do we have to change how we talk about masculinity for anything useful to come out of this never-ending shouting match? Yes. Does society have a lot of work to do to end the stigma of mental illness and addiction? HELL YES. Is it increasingly silly with our divorce rates, the amount of both genders in the workforce and the increasing majority of women on our university campuses to put the words 'traditional' next to words like 'family' and 'gender roles' and 'masculinity'? Indeed it is. While I'm happy that the APA has recognized that men face problems today, the debate that's erupted from the recognition only proves that the debate and discussion about masculinity today has a long way to go before anything useful can actual emerge from it.

UPDATES: Well, this seems to be the trending topic of the week...  this article makes some good points and Gillette ran into the buzzsaw of 'Get Woke, Go Broke' yesterday, which was incredibly disheartening to see. Though some of the more cynical replies have a point: their bigger problem is probably that beards are in style and there are better blades out there than theirs. I know I haven't used a Gillette razor for years now. 


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