by Dr John Barry
We hear a lot of negativity about men and masculinity these days, and that can’t be good for men’s mental health. The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has become so commonplace that the Oxford English Dictionary declared ‘toxic’ the ‘word of the year’.
Most of the negativity comes from the media, but gender studies, sociology, and even some people in psychology have decided that the root of men’s problems is in their masculinity. Although perhaps well meaning, efforts to help men by blaming masculinity are inevitably inferior to efforts to help men by trying to understand men by using some empathy. Empathy and the scientific method are staples of psychology, but all to often seem to be forgotten when it comes to understanding men’s mental health.
That is why the Harry’s Masculinity Report USA, launched today, is such a welcome step in the right direction. Harry’s, a firm best known in the US for selling barber’s products, have sought to understand the core values of their target audience – men.
With input from the Harry’s team I designed a questionnaire, used last year by 2000 men in the British Isles, to gain insights into what factors promote mental wellbeing in men in the USA. From our sample of 5000 men, we found that – like the UK sample – men are happiest when they are in fulfilling work and a stable relationship. They value ideals such as honesty over athleticism. Interestingly, some of the happiest men are those in active military service, and some of the least happy were those who identified as non-binary rather than male.
The findings of this report, which are published on International Men’s Day here should be a wake-up call to anybody who thinks that masculinity is something that needs to be changed. I would suggest that rather than devalue masculinity and try to change it – as psychologists used to do with homosexuality – we should start to see the positives in masculinity, and explore the ways in which masculinity can benefit men’s mental health.
My call to psychologists is: let’s start treating men with the empathy that we would extend to any other client group. Let’s stop the imaginative theorising about the ways in which men and masculinity are flawed, and start to open our eyes to the positives about men and masculinity. It’s my belief that taking a positive approach to masculinity will not only benefit men, but benefit women, children, and society.
The report is available to download here from 19th Nov 2018
About the author
John Barry is co-founder, with Martin Seager, of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. John and Martin are giving two talks on the week of International Men’s Day, both of which are free and open to the public. Details are here