Wednesday 23 October 2019

Patricia Casey: 'Men are the new women in world of US psychology'

Suppressing male spirit: Sylvester Stallone has played archetypal masculine characters, but the American Psychological Association suggests masculinity is harmful to men
Suppressing male spirit: Sylvester Stallone has played archetypal masculine characters, but the American Psychological Association suggests masculinity is harmful to men

Patricia Casey

Yes, it's official. Masculinity is toxic. Never mind that 100pc of men probably possess the relevant attributes. In its 'Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Men and Boys', the American Psychological Association (APA) has swept aside centuries of evolutionary and biological studies. The authors claim that their work is based on over 40 years of scientific writing on the topic. The problem is, that while claiming to be scientific, it reads like a manifesto for the ultra-hard-left feminist wing of the Marxist Party. Indeed, the whole document is a political wolf barely disguised as a benign sheep.

At first glance it seems to be worthwhile. Who doesn't' want to help men who have mental health problems such as depression? Who doesn't want to reduce the scourge of suicide, three times more common in men than women, and who does not think ending violence in domestic or indeed in any setting is desirable? Surely encouraging help-seeking behaviour in men is an admirable aspiration that public policy should strive towards?

The first sentence in the introduction sets the tone: "Boys and men are diverse with respect to their race, ethnicity, culture, migration status, age, socioeconomic status, ability status, sexual orientation, gender identity and religious affiliation. Each of these… contributes uniquely and in intersecting ways to shape how men experience and perform their masculinities". Notice there is no mention of biology. The Y chromosome, testosterone, brain function - the hunter-gatherer roles of ancient times are all irrelevant.

There then follow a number of definitions for the terms: Gender, cisgender, gender bias, gender role strain, masculinity ideology, gender role conflict, oppression, privilege and so on; a predictable list from gender theory warriors. Guideline number three says that psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege and sexism on the development of boys and men and relationships with others. Elsewhere it says that "traditional masculinity ideology discourages men from being intimate with others and is the primary reason men tend to have fewer friends than women". One of the authors, Ryon McDermott, asks: "What is gender in the 2010s? It's no longer just this male-female binary." The document is heavily peppered with ideological terms like those above, thus politicising what should have been a scientific document.

The overarching perspective is to single out traditional masculinity as being "anti-feminity, achievement, risk and adventure focused, violent and eschewing weakness". It claims that traditional men enjoy privilege, and engage in oppression and experience role conflict. The terms used to define masculinity are extraordinarily negative and judgemental. It's as if they have been selected to lead the authors to conclude that masculinity is harmful to men. They castigate African-American men who strive hard in the face of adversity, referring to it as John Henryism after one John Henry, a folk hero who worked hard enough to compete with a steam-powered machine but died as a result of his labours. There is a statue dedicated to him in Summer County, West Virginia. They criticise questionnaires that diagnose depression in men for failing to consider that perhaps men really do experience less depressive illness than women.

The thrust of the arguments predictably promulgate the view that traditionally masculinity stems from prejudice, power and patriarchy. It also concludes that "there isn't much difference in the basic behaviours of men and women" and that emotional displays between boys and girls are small - ergo, boys and girls are the same. This disregards basic genetics, neuroscience, physiology and anatomy.

The problem with this document is that it will be the metier to guide the training of future psychologists in the US. The toxic masculinity hypothesis will now achieve the status of infallibility that cannot be disputed. As Prof John Wright of the Central Michigan University pointed out in his commentary, this document will be used in the family courts in custody disputes and in the workplace. According to him, it encourages discrimination against men with traditional views of masculinity.

A further difficulty relates to the research on which it claims to be based. Much of this is now old, as is clear from the dates on the reference list in the document. The second problem is a broader one, known as the replication crisis, presently bedevilling the social sciences and preoccupying scientists. It refers to the failure to obtain the same results from studies that are conducted using similar methods either in different locations or in different times. For an area as controversial and politicised as masculinity in this document, this is likely to be a significant impediment to its wide acceptance except by some radical groups.

The press release from the APA hits the nail on the head when it concludes that spreading the message that men are adaptable, emotional and capable of engaging fully outside of rigid norms is what the guidelines want to do. Judging by the language and perspective in this document, the clear goal is to change the nature of men and make them more like women. This is deeply flawed and probably impossible. The strategy should be to channel the unhealthy behaviours of men into more positive lifestyles while reinforcing the positive aspects of traditional masculinity.

If men in need of psychological help are hectored and undermined, like political puppets or female clones, they will react against it. Attempting to suppress the male spirit may worsen the problems that the authors argue are so damaging to men. This will not be achieved by simply pretending that men and women are the same. As we say here in Ireland, "Briseann an dúchas trí shúilibh an chait" (True nature is seen in the eyes of the cat).

Irish Independent

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