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.

 

 

 

 

4 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.

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