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Time to change the outdated narrative that masculinity is the principle cause of men’s health problems

by Dr John Barry

It’s obvious that behaviours can impact health, and some health behaviours show sex differences. However the idea that masculinity is to predominantly to blame for men’s health problems is woefully reductionist when other factors that impact men’s health are not taken into account.

The term ‘victim-blaming’ refers to the tendency to focus on the individual as the source of their problems, without due consideration of other contributory factors, and approaches to men’s health that pathologise masculinity can be seen as victim blaming. This view of men can be seen as creating, or exacerbating, the gender empathy gap, and part of a wider unconscious bias regarding men called gamma bias. In contrast, approaches to women’s health are generally conducted with more sensitivity to the social factors that impact their health behaviour.

As of today, around 65% of coronavirus deaths are male yet very often the narrative in the media and in politics seems to be that although more men die, the main crisis is the inconvenience to women.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the response from academics and health agencies tends to be to presume masculinity and male-typical behaviour is a problem when it comes to men’s health and the coronavirus pandemic. This week men’s greater cigarette consumption in China was given as an example of how men’s health behaviour contributes to their greater risk of death from coronavirus: over 50% of men in China smoke tobacco compared to only around 5% of women, and smokers are more vulnerable to respiratory conditions. However men are more likely than women to die from coronavirus in countries where there is little sex difference in smoking. For example, in Denmark around 35% of both men and women smoke, yet the death rate from coronavirus is around 65% higher in men (as of 30th March 2020). This suggests that in many countries, men’s health behaviour isn’t a good explanation for men’s susceptibility to coronavirus.

Given this prevailing narrative, it was not unexpected that one of the first peer-reviewed publications on sex differences in coronavirus risk restated the mantra that masculinity is bad for men’s health due to increased risk-taking and reduced help-seeking. However the authors, Allessandra Buja et al (2020) from the University of Padua, Italy, went on to make three important points:

 

1/ “…men have a weaker immune response and have also been shown to have more chronic mucus hypersecretion, which may worsen their prognosis and increase the likelihood of death”

2/ “The association of sex with post-hospitalization risk is complex, and likely to be influenced by multiple factors”.

3/ “…there are few studies that evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that promote the access of men to primary care. A recent review found that physical activity, education, peer support-based interventions improve quality of life in men with long-term conditions. More studies are needed to understand what is successful in improving elderly men’s health and reducing the risk of readmission”.

 

Buja and colleagues are to be congratulated for breaking with the popular narrative by highlighting these points, which I predict will be far more successful in reducing men’s deaths than health promotion campaigns that run the risk of patronising and alienating men. Perhaps these three points will inspire other to think of how male-typical behaviour might be useful, not least in the emergency services, populated mainly by men, where risk-taking is to the benefit of other people’s health. It might also inspire others to seek out existing research demonstrating that harnessing traditional masculinity can improve health.

Of course there are examples of where men engage in risky behaviours that harm their health, but casting a negative light on masculinity doesn’t appear to improve these behaviours very much.

This article does not assert that men should take no responsibility for their health behaviours, but that it is time to investigate the ways in which male psychology can be beneficial to health. In the meantime I urge influential players such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be careful not to perpetuate a narrative that stigmatises masculinity, promotes victim blaming and the alienation of men.

I don’t think men’s health is going to benefit from another policy document taking a doubtful view of masculinity. We should take heed of the points raised by Buja et al (2020), and take the hard road of immunological research and meaningful research into how we can harness male psychology in order to promote better health behaviour in men.  In the meantime I would like to encourage health professionals, media pundits, and anyone else with an opinion to please consider retiring the tired old narrative that masculinity is the principle cause of men’s health problems.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1). His new book, co-authored with Louise Liddon, Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction, is published by Wiley later this year.

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Do you underestimate the value of a good father?

by Dr John Barry

In a week that has seen two thirds of coronavirus deaths being men, we have heard claims that the pandemic is tougher on women.

In a week that has seen increasing opportunities for men to be good fathers at home, we have seen calls for the end to the traditional family unit.

Social isolation is not a recipe for good mental health, so in these times of social distancing and quarantine how can we make sense of this confusing narrative?

My advice is to decide to see the value in all of the things that men and women are doing. If you think fathers are of little value, then allow yourself to be surprised at the evidence that a good dad is of significant benefit to children. If you think men take too many risks with their health, then think of the huge risks taken daily by those protecting us in the emergency services, the delivery drivers and bin men too, and find out how traditional male values can benefit men’s health. And in doing that, let’s of course remember the massive value of the huge numbers of women who are keeping things together for us all too, the mums, the supermarket workers, and of course the healthcare workers.

Decide to take an opportunity to change how you see the world for the better.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

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Gamma Bias: A new theory

[This post is was first published on the BPS website (28th Feb 2020)  and reproduced here by kind permission].
Martin Seager and John Barry on ‘cognitive distortions’ around gender

A few weeks ago there was a heated but welcome discussion on Twitter regarding whether The Psychologist gave too much space to identity politics and left-leaning views (Relojo-Howell, 2020). Many seemed supportive of the magazine’s position on this question, but regardless of the balance of individual opinions, it was refreshing to see this level of debate and an openness to the idea that the British Psychological Society might need to represent a greater diversity of views. After all, cognitive bias is a common feature of the human condition (e.g. Beck’s theory of cognitive distortion in depression; Yurica & DiTomasso, 2005) and understanding cognitive biases is, arguably, at the very heart of what psychological science is all about.

Accepting that individual and group identities are a vital part of human psychology, and that different identities, voices and experiences can be unconsciously highlighted or hidden within certain cultures and narratives, we have proposed a new concept of cognitive bias called gamma bias (Seager & Barry, 2019). This builds on the existing concepts of alpha bias (the magnification of gender differences) and beta bias (the minimisation of gender differences) and shows that these two opposite distortions can operate simultaneously.

Gamma bias operates within a matrix of four possible judgments about gender: doing good (celebration), doing harm (perpetration), receiving good (privilege) and receiving harm (victimhood). The theory predicts that within mainstream western cultures, masculinity is highlighted only in the domain of ‘privilege’ and ‘perpetration’ but hidden in the domains of ‘celebration’ and ‘victimhood’. This means for example that the heroism performed mainly by men (e.g. firemen) will be gender neutralised (‘firefighters’) by the inclusion of a small minority of women, whereas a much larger proportion of female perpetrators and male victims will be excluded from our highly gendered narratives and policies about sexual and domestic violence.

Such cognitive distortions, we believe, are leading to a systematic exaggeration of the negative aspects of men and masculinity within mainstream culture, and a minimisation of positive aspects. These embedded distortions could be having a significantly harmful impact on the psychological health of boys and men and therefore on our society as a whole, including the psychology profession.

We welcome collaboration with all those with a passion to research and study these vital issues and this theme will form one part of our inaugural British Psychological Society Male Psychology Section conference in June.

Martin Seager (Past Chair) & John Barry (Current Chair) 

The Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society

 

References

Barry, J.A. (2020). Would the British Psychological Society (BPS) be improved by promoting a diversity of views? Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://malepsychology.org.uk/2020/02/24/would-the-british-psychological-society-bps-be-improved-by-promoting-a-diversity-of-views/

Male Psychology Section Conference. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020  https://www.bps.org.uk/events/male-psychology-section-conference-2020/registration

Relojo-Howell, D (2020). Diversity, Oppression, and Decolonisation – Are There Too Many Social Justice Articles on ‘The Psychologist’? Created 24th Feb 2020, Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://www.psychreg.org/diversity-oppression-decolonisation/

Seager, M., & Barry, J. A. (2019). Cognitive distortion in thinking about gender issues: Gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix. In The Palgrave handbook of male psychology and mental health (pp. 87- 104). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1_5

Yurica, C.L. & DiTomasso, R.A. (2005). Cognitive distortions. In Encyclopedia of cognitive behavior therapy (pp. 117–122). Boston, MA: Springer, US.

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Would the British Psychological Society (BPS) be improved by promoting a diversity of views?

By Dr John Barry

The past two days have seen some intense discussion on Twitter about the alleged obsession with social justice issues and left-leaning views in the BPS magazine, The Psychologist. I would like to add these thoughts to the discussion, based on answers I gave to a BPS survey a few weeks ago.

The survey asked: “… we would like to know what changes and additions you would prioritise and like to see in the BPS of the future. …Please give us your top 3 suggestions”.

These were my suggestions (edited a little for clarity):

 

1/ Promote a diversity of views on gender

Diversity is a good thing, but the BPS needs to think about how diverse it is in the gender ratio of members, especially among clinical psychologists, of whom around 80% are female.  At present men make up a minority of clients, and this might be in part related to preferring to talk about some issues (e.g. sex-related issues, or domestic violence) with a male therapist. But more important than the sex of the therapist, is the therapist’s outlook on gender issues. As a profession – men and women – we need to consider moving away from views such as the notion that patriarchy and traditional masculinity are a major cause of men’s mental health problems (for example, as shown in pages 124-8 of the long version of the PTMF ). Although these views about patriarchy etc might resonate with some male clients, I suspect they could alienate many others.

 

2/ Diversity of sociopolitical views

It is a fact that – generally speaking – psychologists lean to the left in terms of their sociopolitical views. To the degree that the general public know this – and I think many do – the BPS might consider the impact of this on the therapeutic alliance  and how likely clients with other views are likely to see a therapist if their views are likely to different strongly. I don’t offer a solution to this, except that the BPS might reflect on how this large trend to the left might be seen by the general public and potential therapy clients.

 

3/ ‘Hard to reach’ clients

We need more flexibility in thinking about how to reach ‘hard to reach’ clients, and the therapeutic approaches that are likely to work for them. My two previous points are relevant here.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

 

 

 

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Man Make Fire – and five reasons why you still should.

by Tom Gold

What is it about sitting around a campfire at night that is so special?
Is it the light? The warmth? The sparks twisting away into the darkness?
Perhaps it’s feeling the cool breeze, or looking up and seeing the treetops and the stars beyond them.

Our early human ancestors discovered how to manipulate fire about 1.7 million years ago and it changed everything for them.

Eating meat that had been cooked in fire increased their protein uptake leading to improvements in  stamina and muscular strength.

Heating certain types of rock in fire made them easier to work into tools and fire enabled them to harden the tips of wooden spears.

The ability to create what we now know as the campfire gave people a means to offset the cold and to ward away predators. It was also a reason to congregate in groups during the hours of darkness.

It was thrive or die for our ancient ancestors but it’s hard to believe that even with all the hardship and uncertainties they faced there wasn’t a time when they all just sat in silence round the fire, each lost in his own thoughts.

While we have largely abandoned all the other elements of their hunter gatherer lifestyle this one still one works. It’s in still our nature, the great outdoors is still the environment we were designed and built for and when we’ve finally finished uploading our campfire pics to our social media channels and done griping about our jobs to all our mates there’s going to come a moment when everyone is just quietly watching the flames or the stars or listening to the wind in the trees (ask me how I know this). I believe that in that moment we’ve briefly ‘come home’. You don’t need to bare your soul or tearfully comment on the futility of your life, you only have to be there.

5 Reasons to get out there

1 Confidence
That’s right, learning to exist in nature and be ready for whatever it throws at you will make you feel awesome. If you can learn to split wood with a hatchet then build and ignite a fire then you’ve mastered one of the most game changing outdoor skills there is. You’d be amazed how easy it is and how few people know how to do it.

2 Decreased stress levels.
Whether it’s sitting by the fire, looking at trees, or going for a short walk around your neighborhood, time spent in nature can seriously help reduce your stress levels. In fact, researchers in Japan (where the concept of ‘forest bathing’ originated) have discovered that sitting in natural surroundings can drastically boost your immune system while simultaneously lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.

3 Shedding excess baggage
The natural environment has a way of steering us down the path of what we actually need to do and bring in order to stay healthy and productive or to achieve our objectives. Amazingly you can meet all your needs with what’s in your rucksack, even for an extended stay in the wilderness and perhaps, even more surprisingly, you can sometimes be happier and more fulfilled as a result. It can also serve as a powerful analogy for identifying elements of your life that bring you joy and get you closer to your objectives and which ones don’t.

4 Gratitude
The practice of gratitude is one of the most time-tested and proven methods for enhancing our resilience. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. That being the case it’s a wonder we make so little conscious effort to experience it. If there is a better way to appreciate having a roof over my head than spending time in nature I haven’t found it yet. If you’ve ever watched a storm roll in over the city of Glasgow from the heights Cathkin Braes or experienced fifty mile an hour winds on the footway of the Erskine Bridge you’ll know what I mean.

The more wild and inhospitable it gets the more I appreciate my couch and TV when I get back to them!

5 Green exercise
At this time of year might be thinking you’d rather be somewhere warm if you’re going to exercise.

Taking a rucksack and heading out into the trees, setting up camp, tensioning tarp lines, sourcing and processing firewood with saw and axe and collecting rocks to ring the fireplace are all forms of exercise. It might seem daunting at this time of year and it can be tough but crucially, unlike thrashing the  treadmill or the exercise bike or lifting weights only to put them down again, green exercise almost always benefits you and those around you and usually sooner rather than later.

It doesn’t have to involve bushcraft and you certainly don’t have to be alone. Scotland has plenty of conservation groups who meet regularly to plant trees, lay paths, clear brush and build picnic tables etc.
Or you could go to the gym, plug your earphones in and hammer the treadmill for an hour while watching Sky Sports.

 

About the Author
 
Tom Gold is a Life Coach who has worked with combat veterans, incarcerated offenders, excluded students, people dealing with a range of mental health issues and a lot of people who wanted to find out how the outdoors can change their lives.
He has an ICF Acreditted diploma in Life Coaching, a BSc Honours degree in psychology and is a qualified Bushcraft Instructor
He lives in a village just outside Glasgow with his two sons and his faithful lurcher Pippin.

 

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The Male Psychology undergraduate module – a first for the UK and the world

by Dr Becci Owens

Male psychology is a recent development in academia, having first being proposed by UK consultant clinical psychologist Martin Seager in 2010. Male Psychology values any perspectives – including biological factors – that can help in the understanding of the psychology of men and boys. In fact one of the topics of interest in Male Psychology is the question of why it is such an under researched area. (Spoiler alert – we believe that a cognitive distortion called gamma bias plays a role. You will learn more about this on the module).

Although several universities run men’s studies modules, these tend to magnify social-constructionist explanations of behaviour, and mostly minimise the importance of biological, genetic and evolutionary influences. Also men’s studies, like gender studies (which mostly focuses on women), takes a relatively negative view of masculinity. In contrast Male Psychology takes the pragmatic view that there is much more to be gained by harnessing the positive aspects of masculininty.

The really exciting news is that this week I give our stage two students at the University of Sunderland the chance to study the first – to my knowledge – Male Psychology undergraduate module, at stage three.

In this new module, we will consider sex differences in evolved cognitive architecture which provides a basic ‘template’ with which men and women develop and interact with their environment. This predisposes men and women to experience many things differently, and embody these differences in ways that are dismissed as some people as stereotypes, or recognised by others as archetypes (Seager, 2019).

The module will also explore the concept of masculinity from cross-cultural and comparative perspectives, and challenge the fashionable notion that masculinity is inherently toxic. We will also examine sex differences in the experience of trauma, and sex differences in how trauma is managed. For example, women are more likely to internalise trauma, experiencing anxiety and depression, whereas men are more likely to externalise trauma, developing difficulties with inhibition control leading to risk taking behaviours.

This module will consider the impact of gender roles and stereotyping in mental health. For example, if we see men as interested only in uncommitted sexual relations, how much empathy do we have when it comes to the long-term mental health impact of involuntary childlessness on men? Also, if we see men as dominant, aggressive, assertive and power-seeking, but how does this stereotype impact the way we view male victims of intimate partner violence?

The core textbooks for the module include the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, and a forthcoming textbook Perspectives in Male Psychology (published by Wiley). The Palgrave Handbook consists of 32 chapters from the leading academics and practitioners in Male Psychology from around the world. Our stage three students will begin a critical introduction to male psychology, including guest lectures from members of the Male Psychology Section of the BPS, and authors of the Handbook of Male Psychology.

I hope that this module will be useful not only in bring new light to how we understand the psychology of men and boys, but will inform a new generation of psychologists in ways that will be of practical and theoretical value no matter what their main area of interest is. For example, those who are interested in mental health will find insights from male psychology invaluable, as will those interested in health, sports, crime, child psychology, education, and the workplace.

Male Psychology is a brand new and rapidly expanding field, and I look forward to welcoming new students to this subject.

 

About the author

Dr Becci Owens is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an evolutionary psychologist with a research focus on male psychology and mental health, sex differences in mating behaviours and mating strategies, and body image and modifications.
Becci’s chapter in the Handbook of Male Psychology was published recently: Barry JA and Owens B (2019). From fetuses to boys to men: the impact of testosterone on male lifespan development, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1
Email: rebecca.owens@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens
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‘Dehumanizing the male’, by Daniel Jimenez (Book Review)

Book review by Pablo Malo

That our society, culture or system uses and exploits both sexes differently – men in one way and women in another – is an idea whose time is yet to come. Roy Baumeister has stated that culture is humanity’s biological strategy to solve the problems that all species face: survival and reproduction. And cultures compete with each other. To survive in this struggle, cultures have to use men and women effectively and this doesn’t necessarily mean using men and women in the same way. In fact, most cultures have used men and women in different ways.

On the contrary, the discourse that currently dictates how gender relations are to be interpreted is a feminist one, a discourse that describes our culture as a patriarchy: a conspiracy of men to oppress and exploit women. To propose that men are exploited in this society is little less than madness or sin. After all, isn’t it obvious that men occupy positions of power in politics, in the economy, that 90% of the top 500 of CEOs are men and so on? If men rule and govern the world, how is it possible to say that this society doesn’t favor men nor privileges them?

The problem with this popularly accepted discourse is that it comes from looking only upwards, pointing out that positions of privilege are dominated by men and drawing conclusions for society in general and for all men as a whole. Yes, it is true that there are more men on top, but we often forget to look down. And if we look down, we see that there are also more men in the mud and in the sewers of society, in the less privileged places. Men also do poorly in many areas. To give some well-known examples: they commit suicide in a much greater proportion than women, they are 80% of the homeless, they are the main victims of workplace fatalities (of the 652 people killed at their workplace in Spain in 2018, 602 were men and 50 were women), boys have greater school drop-out rates and men are the main victims in military conflicts (the majority of both military and civilian casualties). That men lead easy and privileged lives while women suffer and are exploited is incorrect, or at least not the whole story. While it may be true that some men are doing great, to conclude that it is a bargain to be a man and that society is set up to benefit men represents a view colored by the mistake of not looking down.

If we really want to understand our culture, we have to look at the way in which society also exploits men, as well as women. And this is what Dehumanizing the Male does, effectively helping us to better understand the society and culture in which we live. The main thesis of the book is that there is no system that harms women and benefits men in a unidirectional way, but that the gender system harms both sexes differently for the benefit of the group, as well as granting them advantages (or privileges) in different areas. According to Daniel, generally, what our culture does is granting greater status to men and greater protection to women. Thus, men would enjoy, generally, the advantages of higher status and women the advantages of greater protection, while men would suffer the disadvantages of lower protection and women the disadvantages of lesser status.

The book takes a tour of the past and the present – although proposals are also made for the future – of the situation of men in society and of the discrimination and disadvantages that they have also suffered and continue to suffer. It is a rigorous book, with references to everything that is stated and that does not fall into antifeminism or competition for victim status. At no time does it deny the disadvantages or discrimination that women have suffered or suffer today but, next to them, places and points out those that impact men. The overall result, I believe, supports the general thesis that most cultures indeed grant men higher social status and women greater protection.

Nevertheless, male problems are invisible or, rather, are rendered invisible. According to Daniel, given the position assigned to the male sex as oppressor and privileged, male problems (those experienced exclusively or mostly by males) are excluded from political discourse, mainly in three ways:

1-Invisibilization or denial. This can be observed in many government surveys or reports on gender discrimination and dating violence in which men are not directly asked about their experience. Examples would be the Macro-survey of violence against women commissioned by the Spanish government and the European Union survey on the same subject. It must be said that in countries like the United States this has already changed and in the main official surveys, such as the NISVS (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey), both sexes are represented.The results can be found here.

2-Reclassifying male problems into other categories: social, racial, class, immigration, etc. Female problems are gendered, but male problems are not. Previously we talked about workplace fatalities. Well, if you read this article in the newspaper ElDiario.es you will realize that data segregated by sex is not provided. The article refers to “dead people” or “workers”. If you read it in Europa Press the same thing happens. But if you read it on RTVE and you have the patience to reach exactly the end of the last paragraph, you will find the sex segregation. Imagine that the numbers of male and female workers killed was the opposite (that is, 602 dead women and 50 men), do you think the media treatment would have been the same? Do you think that society’s and social agents’ response would have been the same? (that is, none) As Daniel repeats throughout the book, there is no gender spinning for men’s problems. If a problem or violence affects primarily women, it is a gendered problem, but the opposite does not happen.

3-Limiting male problems to purely internal issues based on gender roles. Males suffer social pressures to prevent expressing their feelings and they are constrained by their role as providers and protectors, but all they have to do to solve their problems is to change their attitude, learn how to communicate better and ask for help. This approach is present, for example, in the subject of suicide. The discussion of female suicide tends to be focus on external factors: the living conditions of women, the stress they endure, etc. When talking about male suicide, on the other hand, the main focus is on internal factors: men don’t cry, they have to be tough, they can’t ask for help, etc. Why is it not possible to conceive that perhaps men commit suicide at higher rates because they have harsh and stressful living conditions that turn their lives into hell?

I believe the thesis of this book explains very well the changes we are currently experiencing. What happens when a society gives more status to women and also more protection to women? Well, women are claiming, and obtaining, greater status, but without renouncing greater protection, or sometimes even demanding more protection (and special protections) than before. For example, we have heard a vice-president of the Spanish government state that women have to always be believed [literally sí o sí]. When feminism demands greater protection for women, it is not breaking with the traditional rules of chivalry or with its gender identity. In contrast, traditionally, men don’t demand protection. The woman who demands protection doesn’t lose her femininity, but the man who asks for it does damage his reputation as a man in the eyes of society, who perceive him as less than a man (in the case of traditionalism) or as a privileged person who pretends to be a victim and has no right to complain (in the case of feminism). Men do not demand protection, men protect others and especially themselves. A man who is not able to protect himself is simply regarded as not being man enough.

 

I have learned many things that I did not know in this book (about rape of men in military conflicts, human trafficking in forced labor, the history of partner and family violence, etc.). In my view, the evidence that men experience discrimination and violence in numerous settings, both disproportionately and/or because they are men, is strong. It is also true that the press, the media and society as a whole ignore these disadvantages and discriminations. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this will change in a long time and one of the reasons for this is that our mind is programmed by our evolutionary history to value women’s lives more than men’s. There are many tests and experiments where it can be observed that both men and women value women’s lives more, consider that the suffering of women is greater and show more sympathy towards women than men (in this Twitter thread you have several links: https://twitter.com/Scientific_Bird/status/1095403852214472706). This empathy bias is completely logical from an evolutionary standpoint: women are simply more valuable biologically and genetically than men and men are more disposable. Cultures that have evolved with this bias have survived better and displaced those that haven’t. It has never happened but if a society had sent its women to war, to explore the oceans and to work in the mines, that society would have committed suicide.

In any case, if you want to learn about gender issues that have little coverage in the mainstream media, Dehumanizing the Male is a highly recommended book. Racism, homophobia and sexism towards women continue to be part of our reality. They are incompatible with human dignity, we reprove them socially, they are even punished by law, and we are fighting them even if not everyone has advanced at the same speed. But males also experience problems overwhelmingly in some areas and this society has to fight for their rights and dignity. It is not a zero-sum game and the empathy and solidarity of our society must reach all the people who need it.

 

Dehumanizing the Male is available in Spanish, and can be purchased in the UK in both digital and print versions at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deshumanizando-var%C3%B3n-presente-masculino-Spanish-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/ and in the US at https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Daniel-Jim%C3%A9nez-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/  ISBN 0578575337

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The season of goodwill to all dads?

by Dr John Barry

One of the iconic images of Christmas is the family sitting around the tree opening presents. Although images of this kind are commonplace at this time of year, for some people it serves as a cruel reminder of what they are missing out on. A large number of such people are fathers who won’t see their children at Christmas due to family separation and child custody issues.

In a survey of over 1,000 divorced parents, fathers went on average over three years without spending Christmas day with their children, and travelled on average 392 miles to see their children at Christmas. Another survey of 402 parents by Families Need Fathers (FNF) found that about half the children of separated families only saw one parent at Christmas. In many cases court orders for contact with the child were ignored. For those who didn’t see their children, around three quarters didn’t get a card, gift or phone call from the child. Many respondents said that parental alienation was an issue.

The mental health impact on fathers who are unable to see their children at Christmas must be enormous, inducing in some a state of grief. Very little research has been done on this topic however, which tells us some important things:

  • There is a gender empathy gap. In general, it seems likely that problems facing men aren’t noticed as much as problems facing women
  • It is the fashion to view fathers negatively. Fathers may see themselves as important to their children’s wellbeing and development, but are often viewed in a negative light by organisations that deal with issues, such as domestic violence, that can result in family breakdown
  • Sympathy for fathers is discouraged. The legal rights of fathers are often minimised or dismissed, and sympathy is sometimes actively discouraged, as shown by this workshop which makes the harmful claims that “Father’s rights groups… are interested only in reducing their financial obligation to their children [and] Are interested only in extending or regaining power and authority over ex-partners and children” (p.47).

These three issues mean that fathers don’t receive the support that they should do, and are left at risk of mental health problems, especially at key family occasions such as Christmas. Moreover, we don’t even know the true scale of the problem, because interest in this topic is discouraged so funding is virtually non-existent.

 

What can fathers do?

Although Christmas can be a very challenging time to be a father without his children, there are several things you can do, including:

  • Don’t give up. The new year is around the corner, and things might change for the better, especially if you set out a few achievable goals for yourself.
  • Talk to someone about how you feel and what you want to do about your situation. Families Need Fathers have helplines to offer practical advice and emotional support . Other helpline numbers are listed below.
  • Realise that you are not alone. There are many fathers in exactly the same situation as you are, and despite the efforts from some quarters, sympathy for your situation is increasing, even amongst the judiciary. No doubt one day common sense will prevail and fathers in the UK will no longer be treated in a way that causes such deep distress.

 

For further help over the Christmas period:

CALM is open 5pm – midnight (365 days), phone 0800 58 58 58 or webchat https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/

Samaritans are one of the few helplines that is open right through the holiday period (open 24/7, 365 days) Tel. 116 123 (UK & Ireland)

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

Open post

The double whammy of being a survivor of domestic abuse who is blind and male

by ‘Ken’ (real name withheld).

 

In the Beginning

 

When I first got together with Alison, (not her real name), she presented her best side to me and friends. We rarely quarrelled until our wedding day.  Then on our wedding night, she complained continuously, saying  the wedding was a disaster, blaming me for everything that didn’t go 100% .

 

Early warnings

 

At first, I didn’t spot the red flags. Confusingly, she would say: “I am your carer”, and “I never said I was your carer”. When reading printed letters to me, she would deliberately omit crucial information like contact details. I’d ask for them, and she’d tell me I was hard work, as if I’d asked her for the moon. She’d tell friends and strangers alike that I was a burden:  ”… if that’s not bad enough I’ve got a blind husband to see to”. Such comments left me feeling virtually worthless.

 

Financial

 

She’d decide what my money was to be spent on, but treat me as ‘The Bank of Husband’. I thought she had no money of her own. However, after she left, she bought a £115,000 home in a single down payment, with money I didn’t know she had. I felt scammed.

 

Escalation

 

She would not let me hold her elbow, the prescribed way to guide long cane users, saying I was damaging her arm. Once, returning with friends from a holiday in Devon, we stopped at a motorway service station. After my repeated attempts to get her to guide me correctly, she broke away, leaving me in the middle of a slip road with traffic hurtling around me. Our friend rescued me from the melee. I’d frozen, fearing I’d be run over if I moved.

During that holiday, walking back to our B&B, she kept insisting our friends they were going the wrong way. When I told her to calm down, she pushed me in front of a moving car. The driver had swift reactions, but I came within inches of collision. Later when I mentioned the incident, she told me that because she could see and I couldn’t, everybody would believe her over me. Besides, she alleged, I’d imagined it. I said it had happened in front of sighted witnesses. She replied that she’d pushed me with with good reason. That comment traumatised me more than by the original incident.

 

I have married again, and my present wife is thoughtful, kind and loving, so my fears, stoked by Alison’s attitude during our marriage, that hers was my best and last chance of love proved groundless. Alison and I are on friendlier termsnow.

 

Reporting

 

Once when she threw stiletto heeled shoes at me, I reported to the police. The duty officer was brilliant. But the officers in the squad car he sent round told me to go home and kiss and make up.  He said I was wasting their time, they’d been chasing guys threatening each other with knives and I was reporting thrown objects? Alison followed me to the squad car and claimed in soft tones that she was the victim. Instantly, she got >>There There My Dear, I got <<Now Look, Sir!

 

Effects

 

After an episode, I’d struggle to sleep for a couple of nights, then things would settle. About a week later, I’d have a nightmare themed around the traumatic event. Friends said I had become wary and on edge, afraid to displease her. One said: “When she’s not with you, you seem ten years younger”.

 

Lessons Learned

 

  1. Remarks like “I’m telling you how ugly you are for your own good”, put me off ending the relationship. I began to fear that loneliness was the only alternative to the abusive relationship. I got a feeling of “I’m not ok, everyone else is ok’. Finally, counting how many friends and family members she’d driven away, I ended the marriage. By then I felt life with her was a more daunting prospect than life alone.
  2. Withholding information from important printed material, such as utility bills unavailable in other formats was particularly hard to challenge, as I’d often not know the information was there to be had.
  3. I could not easily have moved out, as I’d need to move to an unfamiliar area. As a blind person, before I can visit the nearest pub, for instance, I have to be shown where it is.
  4. To be a disabled survivor and a male survivor is to be a disabled male survivor. That is, the cumulative impacts on gender and impairment are greater than the sum of their parts. You are a minority within a minority. A male survivor can often feel they are ‘a man in a woman’s world’ because of gamma bias. It is still not known how or whether the few support services available to male victims are accessible to disabled people. Efforts to find out must not put disabled men behind disabled women in the queue. Rather, experts must study the subject of disability and domestic abuse in an open, gender-inclusive way.
  5. One social identity cannot trump another. I felt in my dealings with some police officers, as though I were treated firstly as a man (assumed to be a perpetrator), but they’d overlooked risks associated with my impairment. Example: How can you dodge a missile you don’t see coming?
  6. Where the abuser exploits a victim’s disability to gain control, we should treat the behaviour as both disability hostility and domestic abuse, because the disadvantage of the impairment is the ‘weapon’. Example: A partner deliberately locking essential medication out of reach of a wheelchair user.

 

Conclusion

 

Experts could gather the stories of other male victims with a wide range of different impairments. Only then will we begin to find out:

  • How the experience of disabled victims differs from that of non-disabled victims; and
  • How domestic abuse may affect disabled men and boys differently from women and girls

 

In the meantime, I would encourage any disabled male survivors and victims to come forward with their stories, and go to Mankind Initiative or Abused Men In Scotland for support.

If you have a disability that impacts you in a way relevant to male psychology, and would like to blog on it for the Male Psychology Network website, please contact me john@malepsychology.org.uk

 

 

 

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