The new The Harry’s Masculinity Report (USA) gives lots of reasons to celebrate International Men’s Day.

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

2 thoughts on “The new The Harry’s Masculinity Report (USA) gives lots of reasons to celebrate International Men’s Day.

  1. Reply
    serpentineeyelash - February 23, 2019

    I just discovered this site from Honey Badger Radio. I absolutely agree that psychological research should be treating men with empathy rather demonization – it’s certainly better than the feminist approach. However I worry that you are making a different error, that of failing to question masculine and other social norms. In a way I agree with the social constructionists, not on the male privilege part but on their critical attitude toward society.

    I’m skeptical about all your statistics on “men in role X feel more positive”. How much can such a subjective measure really tell us? Whenever the data shows that a normative or traditional role results in better psychological outcomes, there’s a part of me that wonders: does this actually prove there is anything inherently better about that role per se? Or is it just that people feel better when they fit into the social norm because it brings belonging, status, purpose, sexual attractiveness etc?

    This factor could be corrupting the data on just about everything mentioned – employment, marriage, military, religion, political party affilliation, etc. In all these cases, a man might be happy because he is fitting into a group and working toward a common goal, but he may also be a mindless drone and/or working against his own best interests, which is arguably NOT psychologically healthy. For example, independent voters may be the most in touch with reality because they are most immune to party propaganda, but naturally they despair because it is difficult for them to find a like-minded tribe to work with. Whereas a Republican or Democrat voter will feel optimistic because they believe the government or opposition party is working on implementing their political beliefs, but if their optimism is delusional then it is arguably not mentally healthy.

    So maybe what is really being measured here is not inherent to particular roles, but more to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (belonging etc). And maybe the focus should be addressing those underlying needs, rather than encouraging men to integrate into institutions that are deeply corrupt in many ways, not least in the ways they arguably exploit men.

  2. John Barry
    Reply
    John Barry - February 26, 2019

    Thanks for your comments. I can see where you are coming from, though I think there is another side to what you are suggesting that could be argued back and forth endlessly.

    “I worry that you are making a different error, that of failing to question masculine and other social norms. In a way I agree with the social constructionists, not on the male privilege part but on their critical attitude toward society”.
    The scientific evidence shows that masculinity is a product of nature and nurture (see ‘Brain Gender’ by Hines, 2005). Social constructionists tend to ignore the evidence regarding nature. This makes it easy for them to say that the things they don’t like about behaviour are a result of socialisation, which leads to the erroneous idea that all we need to do to change problem behaviours is to change society. A psychologically informed view suggests that a lot of problem male behaviour is the result of trauma, often in childhood (see ‘Embracing vulnerability in the midst of danger’ by Murphy, 2018), and not related to faulty ideas / norms about masculinity.

    “I’m skeptical about all your statistics on “men in role X feel more positive”. How much can such a subjective measure really tell us?”
    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs uses subjective measurement. Just because subjective measures aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean they are all useless. If I ask you what music you like, your answer is subjective, but your answer is probably still valid.

    “…is it just that people feel better when they fit into the social norm because it brings belonging, status, purpose, sexual attractiveness etc?”
    No doubt people feel more positive when they fit in.

    “…he may also be a mindless drone and/or working against his own best interests, which is arguably NOT psychologically healthy.”
    Possibly. The survey focused on mental positivity, and didn’t measure whether people were mindless drones. Also it didn’t look into the impact on their future interests, which would be a whole different (though interesting) study.

    “So maybe what is really being measured here is not inherent to particular roles, but more to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (belonging etc).”
    I am sure that fitting into a valued social group gives a sense of belonging and positivity. There is probably a strong positive correlation there.

    “And maybe the focus should be addressing those underlying needs…”
    In addressing the need for belonging, we are probably addressing the need to fit into a social role of some kind.

    “…rather than encouraging men to integrate into institutions that are deeply corrupt in many ways, not least in the ways they arguably exploit men.”
    Hmmm. Your final point is based on the premise that we can judge which institutions / roles are corrupt. But life is complex.and you could argue on both sides endlessly, as we see in politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top