Can we discuss gender issues rationally? Yes, if we can stop gamma bias.

Martin Seager and Dr John Barry

Consider this:

1/ The careers and achievements of women in science, politics, business and education are publicly celebrated and promoted in the media, politics and academia.

2/ Boys have been falling behind girls in education since the 1980s. Today, for every 13 girls who enter university, only 10 boys do, but this is not the subject of public concern, media awareness or political action.

Some readers at this point will be experiencing “cognitive dissonance”, the uncomfortable feeling of trying to hold in one’s mind two incompatible ideas. In this case the incompatible ideas are:

1/ There is evidence that women are disadvantaged compared to men

2/ There is evidence that men are disadvantaged compared to women

 

Psychologists know that it’s common for people to harbour all sorts of conflicts, biases and distortions in their thinking. In relation to gender, psychologists have identified alpha bias (exaggerating or magnifying gender differences) and beta bias (ignoring or minimising gender differences). Seager & Barry (2019) have now developed a hypothesis relating to a third cognitive gender bias – gamma bias – which represents a combination of alpha and beta bias. Gamma bias occurs when one gender difference is minimised while simultaneously another is magnified.

The gamma bias phenomenon can be conceptualised as a symmetrical 2*2 matrix of cognitive distortions, the gender distortion matrix. The matrix below describes examples of gamma bias, where perceptions of men and women are differentially magnified (capital letters underlined) or minimised (lower case letters in italics).

 

  GOOD HARM

DO

(active mode) 

FEMALE male

(celebration)

MALE female

(perpetration)

RECEIVE

(passive mode)

MALE female

(privilege)

FEMALE male

(victimhood)

 

Within the “celebration” cell, for example, the positive achievements of women are routinely celebrated as a gender issue. Within the same cell in the table, the positive actions and achievements of men are not similarly celebrated or gendered. For example, when a group of boys was recently rescued from dangerous underwater caves in Thailand, it was not reported as a gender issue or as a positive example of masculinity, despite the fact that all the rescuers were male.

In the “victimhood” cell, domestic violence against women, for example, is highlighted as a gender issue, whereas domestic violence against men is played down or completely ignored, despite the substantial numbers of male victims. When men make up the majority of victims (e.g. suicide, rough sleeping, deaths at work, addiction), the issues are not highlighted or portrayed as gender issues.

Within the “privilege” cell, male privileges are magnified in our media and politics as “patriarchy” whereas female privileges (for example relating to children and family life) are played down or ignored as gender issues.

The overall impact of gamma bias therefore, according to this hypothesis, is that masculinity is made to look significantly worse than it really is whilst simultaneously femininity is made to look significantly better than it really is.

What are the implications of the routine magnifying of the worst of men and minimising the worst of women? Well, for a start we might need to reconceptualise the ‘crisis of masculinity’ as a crisis in our attitudes towards men and masculinity.

Let’s make 2019 the year we wake up to the need to explore our conscious and unconscious biases against men. We hope that the concept of gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix will help people to think more clearly about gender issues.

 

Gamma bias is discussed at length in Seager & Barry’s forthcoming book chapter: Seager M and Barry JA (in press). Cognitive distortion in thinking about gender issues: Gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan

 

About the authors

Martin Seager

Martin is one of the founders of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is a consultant clinical psychologist and an adult psychotherapist. He is a clinician, lecturer, campaigner, broadcaster and activist on mental health issues. He has been an honorary consultant psychologist with the Central London Samaritans since 2006 and is also a member of the Mental Health Advisory Board of the College of Medicine. He did a regular slot on mental health for BBC Essex Radio (2003-2007) and BBC Radio Five Live (2007-2009). He set up an advisory group for the last Labour government on mental health issues. He has been an honorary lecturer in psychological therapies at UEL, UCL and Essex University/Tavistock Clinic and has also presented at many international, national and regional conferences on a variety of themes relating to mental health and psychological well-being. Martin is an advisor to the Royal Foundation for issues around men’s mental health.

John Barry

John is one of the founders of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. After completing his PhD in psychological aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome, he joined University College London’s Institutefor Women’s Health at the UCL Medical School in 2011. Since then he has published over 60 papers in various peer-reviewed journals, including in international-standard journals in gynaecology, cardiology and ophthalmology. Prompted by the considerable suicide rates among men and the establishment’s inertia in dealing with men’s mental health problems, in 2011 John led an independent research programme investigating the mental health needs of men and boys. John specialises in research methods (especially surveys and questionnaire development) and statistical analysis (e.g. meta-analysis, meta-regression), currently practices clinical hypnosis on a part-time basis and is an honorary lecturer with the Dept of Psychology, University College London.  John is an advisor to the Royal Foundation for issues around men’s mental health.

 

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “Can we discuss gender issues rationally? Yes, if we can stop gamma bias.

  1. Reply
    AJ - January 11, 2019

    “The overall impact of gamma bias therefore, according to this hypothesis, is that masculinity is made to look significantly worse than it really is whilst simultaneously femininity is made to look significantly better than it really is.”

    The overall impact is more than this it also means that women are made to appear as victims more than they really are and males are made to look like victimisers.

    I struggle to understand why the bias described is sperated into alpha and beta biases. To me ther eis a single bias which is men do not matter but women do. This is why men’s achievemenst are not celbrated. They are men so while the achievement itself may be celebrated then men involved will not be because they are men and therefor eof no significance. A situation where men suffer disproportionately wheher as victims of violence, poor educational outcomes, life expectancy are of no interest because it is men and therefore the fact that they are disadvanatged is not of significance. If women are victims of violence even if fa rless frequently than men then this is of significance because the victims are women, similarily if educational outcomes for women are generally far better than men except for a few limited areas such as the physical sciences womens general educational achievements will be celebrated and the areas where they do worse than men will be foussed on as needing attention because it is only women who matter.

    This is why it took so long to get a male psychology section – who needs it men don’t matter and having one distracts from women who do matter.
    It is why there is a government VAWG policy despite violence against men and boys being signifcantly greater.
    It is why there is a minister for women and not for men.

    You can explain this as a combined alpha and beta bias but really it is single bias with a profound impact on society.

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - January 11, 2019

      You make some good points AJ. And you are right – it is a single bias, which we call ‘beta bias’, which simultaneously magnifies one aspect and minimises another.

  2. Mr. Tom Golden
    Reply
    Tom Golden - February 9, 2019

    Excellent article and will be interested to hear more of how this plays out. I would add just one tidbit. I think the driving force behind this bias is gynocentrism. It is in our blood and our cultural hive mind. (similar to how racism was in the hive mind in the early/mid 20th century) By default women are seen as needing protection and provisions while men are automatically judged on the basis of how well they do the providing and protecting (agency). This has been instrumental to our survival and our progress. But at this point it has become a lethal harness. There is some evidence that this may be partly driven by our biology. This is a factor worth our researching. If we fail to name the culprit we will likely stay stuck.

  3. Reply
    Alex Schulz - March 15, 2019

    Violence and domestic violence, it’s a lot more complex than this articles summary “If we really want to stop the violence, we need to focus on the male-dominated minority of folks who are violent and understand how different factors work together to lead them down a violent path.”
    Firstly we need to be clear about what constitutes “Violence”
    ……….(oxford dictionary = Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. ‘violence erupted in protest marches’ ‘domestic violence against women’)…….
    .
    If we only used “physical force” the stats would be easy to understand and interpret. But unfortunately the oxford dictionary definition of violence has been corrupted/shortened in many discussions to include “Abuse”.
    ………(Abuse has 3 relevant meanings. covering ‘ ‘bad’ intents and results from cruelty, malice and violence’.)
    The current narrative has gone down the path of including a muddied definition of “abuse” in the language and statistics of “Domestic violence” or DV/Abuse between intimate or cohabiting people.
    .
    This article only looks at the physical violence dominated by one group.
    .
    What we need to research is clarity of language from which governments and statutory bodies can extract 1) meaningful information of what is causing fatalities by either self harm or harm to others from intimate /cohabiting relationships and 2) what is reducing the quality of life for one or both of intimate or cohabiting parties.
    .
    For this in Australia we need a definitive meaning of what constitutes “Domestic Violence” and have all statutory bodies provide statistics under the same definition compared to the higulty/pigulty data definitions in use across Australia.
    .
    We may then be able to work against the “gamma bias” as identified by Tom Golden from https://malepsychology.org.uk that is prevalent across much of the western world and their Judicial Systems and societal expectations . This Gamma Bias is a large part of what is pushing the male suicide rate to “real” epidemic proportions. For with this Gamma Bias there is little hope for men and a loss of the lives they were building with no hope of recovery which is proven to lead to suicide and or the implications of leading to violence as last or even first resort.
    .
    My experience personal and volunteer work leads me to believe that a separation of violence and abuse in research would go a long way to reduce the Gamma Bias and shed light on the plight of good men who are in relationships with toxic personalities.

    1. Reply
      Douglas - September 25, 2019

      Not all violence is bad, while all abuse is by definition. It is therefore only abusive violence that really matters. This leads to those who care about how one group or individual treat other groups or individuals to be concerned more with abuse than with violence.

      Very little abusive violence starts with physical actions. Whether from one nation to another or one partner to another, violence is normally preceded by other abusive behaviours. To prevent the violence, it is therefore sensible to concentrate on the early, non-physical abuse.

      Where this gets muddied is that the United Nations Beijing Conferences for peace determined that a major part of the peace they were concerned about was peace towards women (the United Nations being a self-declared feminist organisation). Hence the rise of actions about ‘violence against women’, from which flow and massive diplomatic pressure and a great deal of money. That in turn means that anyone wanting to catch violence early – at the abuse stage – needs to be seen to address violence. The way many have done that is to muddle up just what is abuse and what is violence.

      In short, the root cause is a confusing mix of top-down feminism driving the VAW policies and bottom-up earnest attempts to deal with real-world issues by people who need to get the funding and support. The solution is clear but by no means easy.

  4. Reply
    allposts - September 15, 2019

    It’s actually very difficult in this busy life to listen news on TV, therefore I
    just use world wide web for that purpose, and take the newest news.

  5. Reply
    Kuni - October 27, 2019

    “. . . whereas female privileges (for example relating to children and family life) are played down or ignored as gender issues. . .”

    Not really seeing the “privilege” of being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - December 26, 2019

      By not recognising the existence of female privileges you are proving my point. There are lots of very significant examples (e.g. access to children following family breakdown, military service, prison sentences etc) but gamma bias makes them hard to see. Here is an interesting blog about prison sentences https://malepsychology.org.uk/2019/02/27/why-we-need-to-change-the-attitude-that-men-are-the-criminals-women-are-the-victims/ The Palgrave Handbook (chapter 5) lists lots of examples.

      Unless we are discussing very deprived parts of the world, then women’s choices extend massively beyond being “barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen”. In the developed world, female privilege is a verifiable fact https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205349

  6. Reply

    […] Women face difficulties because of sexism — being treated as sex objects and stereotyped as less capable than men. But while men far less often experience these biases, there are other, invisible gender biases.  […]

  7. Reply
    kurt klingbeil - December 2, 2020

    how much of this is at its root attributable to the imperialist patriarchy which is still well embedded in governance, institutions, traditions, and cult-ure ?

    Clinton Callahan has some great insights into this:

    If you were born and raised in a modern society, then you hold the
    viewpoints of patriarchal empire. Patriarchal empire blatantly encourages maximum numbness. (incapacity to feel feelings below a certain intensity level)

    Since the beginnings of patriarchy some five thousand years ago,
    authoritarian voices have delivered clear proclamations against feelings. After all, patriarchal empire needs its mercenaries and merchants
    to siphon the wealth of conquered lands into the empire’s sequestered
    coffers.


    No fear that this is political diatribe
    The majority of his work is about de-numbing and feeling feelings and using that energy consciously both to _do_ things and to _heal_ past traumas
    The disparity in facility with feelings may account for some of bias

    https://hohmpress.com/free-downloads/11142016DPCF.pdf

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - December 2, 2020

      What you are calling ‘patriarchy’ most likely goes back much further than 5,000 years. Sure it’s reinforced by culture, but the roots are most likely in evolution.

  8. Reply
    Corinne - March 23, 2021

    Hello,

    It’s not a matter of biases. We have those for every subject under the sun, as we humans are a mixture of objectivity and subjectivity. If we weren’t, wed’ be robots with AI. The matter is to do with mainstream media. We are undergoing an onslaught of divisive propaganda, whose aim is to decouple humans from any sense of collective identity, whether it’s national, racial, ethnic, sexual or gendered, by making all those identities “self-defined”. Hence the de(con)struction of manhood. Simply put, it is gaslighting on a massive scale.

    This has devastating effects on mental health for those who believe them. Gaslighting does. It’s psychological torture. The solution is in your hands. You are the professionals.
    I am a woman as my name implies, by the way.

    Have a very good day, and please do your utmost to save our boys.

    1. Reply
      FEMINISM - May 10, 2021

      “We are undergoing an onslaught of divisive propaganda”

      Enough of this nonsense, humans are divisive creatures. They are Tribalistic, there’s no grand conspiracy to make humans act like this. Politics are reflective of human nature and human nature is not good.

      “Hence the de(con)struction of manhood”

      One of the biggest problems of the 21st century is Women trying to define what is Masculinity, such ideas of masculinity not only needs to be deconstructed, it needs to be purged with Vengeance.

  9. Reply
    MIke - April 29, 2021

    Notice how you characterize that, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That’s the way you hold it in your mind, along with a lot of thoughts about how restrictive that is. But, you could notice that, in custody suits, women mostly fight tooth and nail to hold onto custody. That would pretty strongly indicate that they want to be with their children. (So, do men, by the way.) And, we have copious evidence that many women prefer being a stay-home, traditional mother. That means there are other ways to think about it, aside from the one you present.

    Being FORCED into a traditional female role is restrictive. So is being forced into a traditional male role. I don’t know if you’re male, female, don’t identify with either, identify with both, whatever. But, if you don’t notice how often we’re told n our culture that women are wonderful and men, at best, are shady and suspicious, then you have reasons not to want to notice that. It seems likely to me that we’re all prejudiced – as in, we all pre-judge things, based on our experiences and on what we focus on, and what we ignore. Cognitive bias, is the phrase, now. Things get better all around us when we try to notice our own cognitive bias.

  10. Reply
    Dora - August 10, 2021

    We can start the discourse with how many on the first world know someone who has had female genital mutulation. Thats far less than 0.01 percent.

    Now how many on the first world know someone having their male genitalia cut as an non consenting infant? That is 33 percent.

    Let’s start there.

    Is unconsented circimcusion genital mutulation – yes or no only?

    Do male infants consent to having their own genitals cut – yes or no only? Parental consent is not the same as the affected infant giving consent.

    One third of the millions of male infants suffering genital mutulation without their consent is worthy of loud public campaign.

    When those saying they stand for equality stand up for infant boys body integrity, the meaningful discussion can start.

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