What are the criticisms of the proposed Male Psychology Section, and are they valid?

by Dr John Barry and Martin Seager

Criticism and alternative views are part of science, and we at the Male Psychology Network have benefited from both. We welcome healthy debate, and have held two public debates at UCL in the past year.

After several years of listening to various opinions about male psychology, today we feel that we have developed the basis for a field that is of real scientific and humanitarian worth. Many people within and outside Psychology see the inclusive value in having a male psychology section of the BPS, so it’s perhaps surprising that there are still some people in the field of psychology who are actively opposed to the idea of promoting understanding of male gender issues. What could be the basis for such opposition?

The main source of opposition is a website by Dr Glen Jankowski, lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and committee member of the BPS Psychology of Women and Equalities Section. He claims to use feminist theory to justify his opposition to the creation of a Male Psychology Section. You can find his 6-page website here https://notomalepsych.wordpress.com/ and make up your own mind about it, but here we will simply point out some of the more glaring flaws packed densely into his brief website.

Page 1: The author claims that a feminist approach to masculinity will help men more than the approach advocated by the Male Psychology Network. Feminism is indeed one possible approach to masculinity but not the only one or the most promising from the viewpoint of men themselves. The feminist approach suggested by Dr Jankowski is predicated on negative views of masculinity rather than a sincere empathy for men experiencing mental health issues.

We believe that the notion that masculinity is somehow toxic and in need of wholesale reconstruction is in itself a toxic belief that does not reflect the scientific evidence or everyday life. The prevalence of these toxic views and the need to test them scientifically means that there is even more need for a Male Psychology Section, not less. We are not convinced that blaming masculinity or patriarchy for the mental health problems of men provides a basis for helping men. For example, the Duluth model of domestic violence is blind to the possibility that men can be victims of violence from women. This obviously is a total failure of science and a failure of compassion towards male victims given that men make up anything from 33-50% of the victims of domestic violence.

The author also claims that men are disproportionately advantaged over women (“the patriarchal dividend”). However he ignores a great deal of evidence of male disadvantage, for example, the fact that 75% of suicides are by men, 85% of rough sleepers are men and boys have been doing poorly in education compared to girls for some 30 years.  We suggest that the existence of differences, disadvantages and inequalities in either direction relating to gender are an argument for a Male Psychology Section, not against it.

Page 3: In an apparent attempt to minimise the significance of the fact that most suicides are by men, the author of the ‘say no’ website presents a graph showing that women think about suicide more than men do. No doubt contemplating suicide is serious in itself, but it is bad science and unempathic – especially for a psychologist – to conflate thinking about suicide with the completion of the act of suicide.

Page 4: The Male Psychology Network takes a balanced view of masculinity in both its positive and negative aspects. We have stated very clearly in publications and lectures that men are capable of committing terrible crimes (e.g. Barry, 2016). We are sincere in wanting to understand why these behaviours exist, and how we can address these problems as psychologists. The ‘say no’ website however seems to be arguing that we are trying to deny female suffering and victimhood. This is simply false and a ‘straw person’ argument, attributing beliefs and opinions to us that we have never expressed. We fully accept that women’s issues and victimhood need addressing too, and we hope that women too can benefit from our research. After all, men, women and children share this planet together.

Page 5: The ‘say no’ website tries to make the argument that our research, presentations and publications ignore minority men e.g. BME and gay men. This is simply incorrect. Our research is inclusive of all categories of men, and we are interested in masculinity as a whole. The available data suggests that suicide rates in black men are higher than in black women and higher in gay men than in gay women, thus although it is important to see suicide from an ethnic and sexuality perspective, we also need to recognise the ever-present gender perspective. Without a more scientific approach, the core gender issues behind suicide and other predominantly male behaviours are in danger of remaining overlooked.

Dr Jankowski’s categorisations of our work tend to obscure examples of minorities e.g. one of our most downloaded studies is one about Black men’s mental health (Roper & Barry, 2016). We have also done research in which ethnic and sexual minority variables are taken into account (e.g. Seager et al, 2014). Moreover, we would strongly argue that by and large our work is relevant to men in general, and minority men can benefit from our work. More recently, our work is increasingly focusing on the (less unpalatably “patriarchal”) working class men who make up the majority of prisoners, soldiers, drug addicts, and school drop-outs. The ‘say no’ website has overlooked this.

Page 6: The final page of the website reveals what might be the underlying reason for opposition to creating a Male Psychology Section: “We fear that the new proposed section will divert resources, effort and good will away from helping not only men but also women.”  This defensive ‘zero sum’ mindset is surely not what we want to see in a healthy scientific environment, and it is not clear to us how it can be reasonably argued that having a Male Psychology Section could be bad for men. As to women, who share their lives with men and boys, it must surely be a good thing if psychological science helps society to understand men better.

Dr Jankowski also claims in his website that there has been a lack of discussion about Male Psychology. However we have always been very open about our research, presentations and debates (which he seems to acknowledge on page 5 of his website), and although he has been invited to discuss or debate with us both privately and in public, to date he has not done so.

We think it is a shame that a new Section of the BPS that is potentially so useful to a huge number of people might be blocked by the misguided views of a few. We hope that this short article has helped to persuade you that a Male Psychology Section would be a positive and practical source of help not only for men and boys, but for the women and girls who share their lives.

 

About the authors                                                      

John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network.

Martin Seager is a consultant clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network

 

You can vote now for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.
Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

References

Barry, J. (2016). Can psychology bridge the gender empathy gap? South West Review, Winter 2016, 31–36.

Roper, T., & Barry, J. A. (2016). Is having a haircut good for your mental health? New Male Studies5 (2), 58-74.

Seager M, Sullivan L, and Barry JA (2014).  Gender-Related Schemas and Suicidality: Validation of the Male and Female Traditional Gender Scripts Questionnaires. New Male Studies, 3, 3, 34-54

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