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Myths of Manhood: Breaking Dad, Fracking Fatherhood

by Dr Robin Hadley, author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

“Men can have children at any time in their lives.”

“Men aren’t bothered about being a dad.”

 

These statements are often made, without really considering how much truth there is in them.

These statements are often overheard by myself and many other men who are childless-but-wanted-to-be-dads.

Unfortunately, the belief that men are not interested in reproduction is widely held in the public and across the social sciences.  Marcia Inhorn et al (2009) argue that men have become the ‘second sex’, in all areas of scholarship because of the ‘widely held but largely untested assumption’ that men are not interested and disengaged from, reproductive intentions and outcomes’ (Inhorn 2012: 6).

The reality for men who don’t conform to the ideal of fatherhood is very different than many people realise.

The majority of men are fertile from puberty onwards typically with sperm in constant production. However, there is increasing evidence that sperm is affected by the day-to-day environment – diet, heat, and stress all adversely affect sperm  (Li, Lin et al. 2011). Moreover, sperm declines in efficacy from about the age of 35 years onward with a positive correlation between age and genetic issues (Yatsenko and Turek 2018).

In addition to biological pressures, there are socio-cultural normatives to contend with. Most societies have expectations of when the most appropriate time to be a parent is. In Europe the maximum age to become a parent is commonly thought to be 40 for women and 45 for men (Billari, Goisis et al. 2011). When an older rock star or famous actor becomes a father there is widespread media praise. However, few men become older fathers, with less than 2% of men in England and Wales, registered as fathers aged 50 or over (Office for National Statistics 2017).

Men have reported a ‘biological urge’ or ‘societal duty’ or ‘personal desire’ as factors in their wanting to be a dad (Hadley 2009). Childless men indicate a sense of time running out to become a father deepened from their mid-30s onwards (Hadley and Hanley 2011). Consequently, men described feeling being ‘off-track’ compared to peers and anxious with regards how age would affect the quality of their interactions with their (potential) future children (Hadley and Hanley 2011, Goldberg 2014, Hadley 2018).

The concept that men are unaffected and not interested in reproduction are ‘false and reflect out-dated and unhelpful gender stereotypes (Fisher and Hammarberg 2017: 1307). Moreover, the psychological impact of male infertility is on a par with suffering from heart complaints and cancer (Saleh, Ranga et al. 2003). . Fathers feel more happiness (Nelson-Coffey, Killingsworth et al. 2019) and less isolation (Hadley, 2009) than men who want children, but don’t have any.

Some men and some women do not want to be parents. However, to label all men as ‘not interested’ is to do a disservice to both men and women. In addition to ‘missing out’ in an important element of their identity, involuntary childless men are ‘missing’ from narratives about children and parenting.  Being a dad is rewarding for men, children and families, so maybe let’s think twice before we glibly say that men don’t care about having children.

 

About the author

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health and will be speaking at UCL on this topic on 25th April 2019 at 6.30pm

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How can you help men who are falsely accused of sexual abuse? Notes from the FASO helpline.

by Margaret Gardener

Picture: Margaret delivering a talk at University College London (UCL) on 28th Feb 2019 for the Male Psychology Network.

 

Let me ask you to do a thought experiment:

Have you ever considered the possibility that you could be arrested in your own home in front of your family and friends and neighbours, held in a police cell, interviewed under caution, charged and bailed or remanded to appear in court, when you haven’t actually done anything?

and

That your photograph, name and address, might appear in the local and national press and on TV, insinuating what an evil monster you are?

and

That having been released without charge or with all charges dropped, with your good name and integrity still intact (at least in the eyes of the law) you might be subjected to additional investigation by the social services and other agencies, where you may have no right of representation or comment?

and

That social services could force you to break off contact with your family and children?

and

Without proof, evidence, witnesses, or corroboration you could be convicted and sentenced to several years in prison when you haven’t actually done anything?

Having thought about, how would you feel now if one or more of the above scenarios really happened to you?

 

Empathy is key

When trying to understand the psychology of what the falsely accused feel, you have to firstly put yourself in their position. The first step to helping them is to try to understand how people that seek our support feel.

Some contact FASO regularly; others just occasionally. Some understandably feel they cannot cope and sadly feel suicidal. They tell us that sharing their stories with people who understand what they are going through can be cathartic, and they generally feel better because we know what they are going through.

Families who phone for support for those in this situation feel helpless. They tell us that their loved ones withdraw and won’t speak to anyone. They won’t go out, see a doctor, or take up opportunities for support.  The family member is often scared for the sanity of themselves and their loved ones, including children of course.  Children cry. They can’t understand why they can’t see the accused person. We all feel the huge stress that false accusations bring.

The accused person can experience a huge range of emotions and mental health issues: extreme stress; feeling that no-one will listen despite having to repeat themselves constantly; often having a shaky voice which leads to tears of anger, frustration. Crucially they feel utter disbelief: why would someone make such heinous yet untrue accusations?  Some of the thoughts we hear about are:

  • What made them make an allegation that I am such a monster? Where did such a thought come from?
  • My head is whirling; I feel sick; cannot concentrate; I can’t eat or sleep. I am collapsing and feel suicidal!
  • Where do I go? I won’t go out as friends might believe the allegations. Where/who do I turn to? I am isolated from everyone. I have nowhere to live!
  • My family is destroyed. My partner and children are crying for me as I am for them. 
  • Why is it taking so long to be investigated? How am I to manage in the court – what is it like? I don’t understand what the barrister and solicitor are saying. I can’t even get a lawyer as I can’t afford it. Why can’t all my evidence be used in court – I am told it is not allowed?

 

There is no euphoric feeling if a not guilty vote by the jury is returned

It often takes months/years of heartache, maybe losing the family, costing the earth, losing a job forever with the trauma still within the individual. “No, I cannot get on with life”, they say; “it will never be the same again”.

Note that the above issues are the reactions of those who are newly accused. The reactions of the falsely accused who are in prison is another matter. They have ongoing issues to deal with and more to come when they are released from prison.

FASO has been operating now for 17 years. We are volunteers without any funding. We can offer a sympathetic ear, but we can’t give desperate people the answers or practical support they want or need. We are not lawyers and cannot offer legal or counselling services. We can only perform a “sticking plaster” service of being a friendly, supportive ear and try to signpost people to other services that may be able to help. But those services are in very short supply in a broken criminal justice system. The UK government in 2000 estimated that there were around 120,000 false accusations annually. FASO sees just the tip of this very large iceberg, and the number of people who we cannot help is too overwhelming to contemplate.

 

About the author

Margaret Gardener is the founder of the False Allegations Support Organisation (FASO). Her presentation at UCL on this topic will be on the Male Psychology Youtube channel in early March 2019.

Margaret has a background in voluntary emergency nursing and prior to this a career in the civil service, serving abroad during this time, which helped to improve her communication skills. She was a registered foster carer for special needs teenagers and was catapulted through a family experience, as a volunteer, into the False Allegations Support Organisation in 2001. Her fist role at FASO was Secretarial, she then progressed to the helpline (using her empathy skills, and supporting callers in their distress). As the Director of FASO (UK) she addresses parliament and agencies both criminal and family through the medium of consultations and meetings, whilst liaising with Academia and like-minded groups. She addresses in part the issues of the hidden victims, both children/vulnerable adults and the accused parent/individual on safeguarding issues.

The FASO website, with helpline details, is http://www.false-allegations.org.uk/

Email: support@false-allegations.org.uk

Phone: 0844 335 1992

Monday to Friday, 18:00 to 22:00.

 

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Why we need to change the attitude that ‘men are the criminals, women are the victims’

Recently, Justice Secretary David Gauke MP announced community services supporting vulnerable women have been awarded £1.6 million funding as part of the government’s commitment to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system. Further, the government has committed to investing £5 million over two years in community provision for women in the justice system & those at risk of offending and an initial allocation saw £3.3 million awarded to 12 organisations providing a range of specialist support. The funding follows the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy in June last year. As it stands, no such strategy exists for male offenders save for the announcement further prisons are to be built.

The current UK prison population is not a diverse mix of men and women; for every 1 woman in prison there are approximately 22 men and this has been the case for over the past decade. Do men commit 22 times as many offences than women? Is our offending behaviour 22 times as bad as that of women’s?

No.

As an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows, men are not committing 22x as many offences, nor are men’s offences 22x as bad as women’s. In fact, men are arrested, prosecuted & sentenced around 3-4x more often as women despite the fact that the offending behaviours of men and women are largely the same.

So, why are so many more men in prison and why are government strategies being employed to lower the female prison population but not the male? Well, it’s to do with gamma bias, the cognitive distortion that impacts our perception of gender.

In terms of crime, when if a criminal is male the fact of their gender typically is magnified, and if a criminal is a women the fact of their gender typically is minimised. Conversely, when a person is a victim of crime this pattern is typically reversed. In short, men are typically seen as perpetrators and women as victims.

This template receives support from research by Dr Tania Reynolds, discussed on the podcast Heterodoxy. Using vignettes of shapes ‘harming’ each other, Dr Reynolds found “participants more often assume that the harmed target was female but especially when we used the terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’… Moreover, what we also found is that when people assumed the harmed target was a woman, they responded more positively towards her… So they were forced to choose male or female and we found that on average, people assume a female victim. So about 76 percent of the time. But this likelihood was even stronger when we used the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’.” People automatically assume a victim to be female and, when they do, will be much more supportive of her – this does not happen for men. Instead, they are perceived as the cause of the harm because, according to the template, men are the perpetrators.

This template of men as perpetrators and women as victims manifests quite noticeably in the criminal justice system, as found by Dr Samantha Jeffries in her 2002 paper. She notes, of female offenders, they “challenge appropriate ideas of “femininity” through their criminality and involvement in the criminal justice system, both of which are traditionally the domain of men. Thus, when confronted with criminal women, it was found that the justice system tended to see them as either “not women” or “not criminals”. Women were constructed within dominant ideals of femininity in relation to the family and mental illness, and this provided a way to reposition offending women as “real” women and not really criminal after all.” When female offenders are passing through the criminal justice system, those processing them cannot reconcile the gender of the offender with their criminality, thus minimize their perception of the perpetration. Women cannot be perpetrators and perpetrators cannot be women. Instead, they are victims because they have to be.

For men, however, Dr Jeffries found there is another story, that of maximizing perpetration. She writes “[A]n analysis of judicial discourses surrounding male offenders revealed discussions bound by dominant masculine assumptions which usually made punitive sanctions more, rather than less, likely. Dominant judicial discourses of masculinity were focussed on badness, disruption, and criminality. There was no need to reconcile men within dominant gender ideology because criminality is consistent with “manliness”. Thus, judicial sympathy was rarely extended to men because most were seen as a threat to the social order and in need of state-controlled regulation.” The very nature of men being men means they must be criminal, the aspect of their gender is maximized and they are, inherently, perpetrators.

This psychological template is why government policy is to treat women as victims (thus, not criminals) whereas men are discarded and treated as criminals (thus, not victims). Various guidelines (The Female Offender Strategy, Corston Report, President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale OBE’s influential 2005 Longford Trust Lecture and the Equal Treatment Bench Book) all say that female offenders’ life histories must be considered when they are passing through the criminal justice system. Have they endured abuse? Do they suffer from adverse mental health? Ultimately, are they victims? This line of enquiry is not extended to men. By considering the negative aspects of their life histories, female offenders are awarded softer sentences and treatments to support & accommodate them. The template of women as victims and men as perpetrators is applied, leading to a massive sex discrepancy in the prison population.

This template is why, at every step of the way, men are treated far more harshly than women in the criminal justice system. The idea of perceiving women as criminals or men as victims is alien to those whose jobs it is to administer justice. They work with a sex-discriminating template which places men & women onto different paths through the criminal justice system, causing this massive sex discrepancy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine the Criminal Justice System did treat men and women the same. Let’s fantasise, just for a moment, that male life histories and extraneous variables were considered by the Justice System as they are for women. They could start with the fact men and women process mental distress differently, ergo, will behave differently in times of mental distress.

Men and women typically process distress differently. Men are more likely to externalise their feelings, become aggressive, abuse substances and become prone to suicide; women show classic signs of anxiety or depression. No surprise then that distressed men are more likely to be dealt with by the prison services, where any therapy is likely to be directed towards the need for behavioural change rather than emotional distress. In these conditions, men might be less inclined to seek help if they fear that their anger might be interpreted as a sign of criminality.

Because male psychology is so poorly understood and misrepresented, men can find themselves falling through the criminal justice system when, in fact all they require is therapeutic attention. Thus, I find myself asking some serious questions. How many men are in prison when they should have been given help for adverse mental health? I do not know. How many men have suffered adverse mental health (or, mental distress) and have acted out, only to be sent to prison? How many men have suffered mental distress (lost their children because of the family courts, lost their jobs, are feeling suicidal) and, in acts of desperation & loss of control, find themselves involved with the Police and Justice System and are imprisoned because they are seen as a ‘bad man’ when, really, they just need help?

But how many men in the Criminal Justice System should be receiving psychological help instead of punishment? At the Male Psychology Conference 2017, Dr Naomi Murphy from the Fens Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Service at HMP Whitemoor spoke of her work with offenders in her care. She found:

• 66.1% reported childhood sexual abuse
• 72.6% reported childhood physical abuse
• 80.6% reported childhood neglect
• 66.1% reported childhood emotional abuse
• 59.7% reported parental antipathy
• 43.5% reported parental domestic violence
• 54% of the men who were sexually abused were victimized by a woman

Thus around 65% of the men she worked with had suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if it had been caught sooner by the system, could have resulted in these men being directed away from incarceration and towards the help they need.

It’s not just emotional trauma but, physical as well which can set a man on a dark path. A review in Lancet Psychiatry suggests that bumps to the head from accidents, road traffic collisions, assaults/violence, etc – things guys suffer from more than women – can lead to neural injuries which affect how the brain operates, and may increase the risk of violent offending. The authors show that of people in the criminal justice system, around 20% have had a moderate to serious Traumatic Brain Injury and another 30-40% had something less serious. Thus at least half of the prison population (around 40,000 inmates) have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. When we compare this to the 0.5% of TBI in the general public, we see a vast discrepancy.

Speaking of the effects of identifying these injuries early, lead author Professor Huw Williams of the University of Exeter said “[A]ddressing traumatic brain injury offers a means to not only improve the lives of those who offend, but also to reduce crime. A range of measures could reduce the risk of crime following traumatic brain injury. These could include any form of neurorehabilitation, and better links between emergency departments, community mental health services, GPs and school systems that might lead to early identification and management.” Imagine that: if their head injuries had been properly addressed both by the Criminal Justice System and the Health System, up to and beyond 40,000 men today could potentially not be in prison.

These are not numbers to be trifling with. Around 65% of men seen by Dr Murphy suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if extrapolated to the whole prison population, is over 50,000 people and an estimated 40,000 have suffered some form of Traumatic Brain Injury.

How many men would not be in prison today if these factors were considered? How many men could instead be receiving the help they need and be healing their injuries (both physical and psychological) rather than being behind bars? How many lives could truly be turned around if male life histories were considered rather than dismissed?

Remember, because of the psychological template applied: at conviction, women are more likely to be awarded a community sentence, they are more likely to be awarded a suspended sentence, yet men are far more likely to be subject to immediate custody – and, their sentences will be longer. Also, mitigating factors will be more accepted for women than men and aggravating factors will be accepted more for men than women, despite them being present. Think how much better the system would work if all the measures which have been introduced for women were also made available for men.

This serves the interests of not only the men in the Criminal Justice System but society at large as the cost per year per prisoner in England and Wales in 2016/17 was £22,933. Let’s say the prison population was halved because these men were correctly redirected to therapeutic measures rather than punitive, such a reduction in prison population could save the Criminal Justice System an estimated £917,320,000 every year in prison costs alone. Yet, because of the template of ‘perpetrators are men and victims are women’, this prospect seems far off in the horizon.

The prognosis, however, is not all doom-and-gloom. For example, as a preventative measure, the charity JourneymanUK helps troubled young boys & men pass through a rites-of-passage, teaching them how to be good men who will contribute positively to society. They provide therapeutic measures to help craft them into healthy men and fathers of the future. The charity A Band of Brothers works with young men & boys in the criminal justice system, providing for them guidance and support as they transition into manhood. Both of these charities recognize men & boys have their own methods of emoting and behaving which requires care and attention, not scorn and contempt. If only the Criminal Justice System could see this too.

 

About the author

Jordan Holbrook is an Honorary Research Assistant with the Male Psychology Network. His key area of interest in the sex-of-target empathy gap, how it evolved, why it did so and how it manifests in today’s society. He is also interested in sex differences and male mental health.

 

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Psychological treatments for erectile dysfunction

By Dr John Barry

About a third of men experience difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection, and this percentage increases in older men. Around 85% of men find that sildenifal (Viagra) improves their erections. This is a good success rate, but it doesn’t address any underlying psychological issues the man might have in relation to sex or relationships. In fact the success of Viagra has led researchers to focus almost entirely on organic factors in erectile dysfunction (ED) rather than psychological factors.

Research shows about 40% of cases of ED are caused by psychological (psychogenic) factors alone, though psychological and physiological (organic) causes can interact. If you can achieve an erection through masturbation but not with a partner, then the cause is probably psychogenic. If you can’t achieve an erection at all, the cause is probably organic.

The main causes of psychogenic ED are depressed mood, low self-esteem, anxiety, and stress. The causes can be grouped into three categories: performance anxiety, recent stressful life events, and vulnerabilities from childhood and adolescence.

The main organic causes of ED are: cardiovascular disease (blood pressure, cholesterol), diabetes, surgery to prostate (prostatectomy), loss of T (e.g. due to ADT androgen deprivation therapy in prostate Ca), drug & alcohol intoxication or side effects.

We know that Viagra has a good success rate, but how well does ED respond to psychological therapies? Well, hypnotherapy has been found to be successful in 70% of cases of ED. A meta-analysis of 11 randomised controlled trails (RCTs) of 398 men found that group therapy improves ED compared to no-treatment, and combining Viagra with group treatment caused a significant improvement in ED compared to those who received Viagra alone. Psychological interventions also compared well to local injection and vacuum devices for ED. The success of group interventions echos evidence that group therapy and educational (information-sharing) interventions a sometimes more successful in ED than more traditional one-to-one psychological approaches, and this would be in line with other research on gender differences in preferences for therapy.

So what should you do if you experience ED? First of all, try not to worry about it because effective therapies are available, and worry can become a vicious cycle. Try to establish the cause by asking yourself questions such as: can you achieve and erection by yourself but not with a partner? Do you have an undiagnosed medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes? Are you under a lot of stress at work? If in any doubt visit your GP. And remember that although most men don’t exactly brag about it, ED is a pretty common condition, and one that can be successfully treated.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

 

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Ambivalent Men? Male Experiences of Eating Disorders

by Dr Russell Delderfield.

When health inequalities abound, someone, somewhere, is always falling by the wayside. In some respects, I feel that eating disorders represent the conditions where men are routinely getting a raw deal (that’s not to say there aren’t many others). The successful vote for the Male Psychology section is an opportunity to highlight the needs of men, and in my case, that means drawing attention to our lack of understanding around the needs of men with eating disorders.

Almost a decade ago, a senior clinician, who is incidentally the only other UK author of a book1 tackling the issue of male eating disorders, affirmed that something was stunting the expansion of our understanding. Referring to the tradition of feminist research, he suggested that this had enriched our knowledge.

This work has involved women sharing experiences in a way that challenges or humanises the information obtained through anonymised clinical, medical research. This type of research has focused on the women’s stories, trying to foreground their voices, rather than those of the professionals involved. As such, what can be gleaned often lies beyond the bounds of what can be known through clinical case reports, assessments, questionnaires or surveys.

It was Morgan’s contention2 that we were suffering from a lack of similar work by, with and for men. In short, we were working into an experiential vacuum. Without knowing what men endured and survived how could we ascertain their medical or psychological needs in their totality? How we could transform existing or design new services to meet those needs?

I’ve attempted to contribute to the growing endeavour of sharing men’s experiences. I asked a small group of men to share their stories with me, and rather than try to map them on to existing medical criteria, I tried to work qualitatively with each story on its own merits, exploring what they had to teach us about our society and culture, and how these in turn impacted on the men’s lives. This resulted in the book Male Eating Disorders: Experiences of Food, Body and Self.

I examine prevalent psych understanding, exploring concepts such as:

  • the part that bullying, trauma, and control have to play
  • the pervasiveness of stigma
  • gender role conflict
  • muscularity-oriented disordered

However, woven into this are ideas from critical men’s studies, drawing on masculinities and embodiment:

  • ‘fugliness’
  • what it means to be a fat man (through bingeing)
  • pro-Anorexia website use
  • male ideals of muscularity versus desire for slenderness
  • compulsive exercise
  • food and exercise configured as crime and punishment
  • the self as a site of battle
  • Men’s desire to pass as ‘normal’.

I also further Matthew Campling’s work on the eating disorder-as-coloniser of the man’s body/self. What we discover is that these men experience ambivalent masculinities.

Last but not least, I am a man with an eating disorder. My work is reflexive and unapologetically interpretive. I am part of our social world, trying to make sense of others’ meaning-making of it. This means that there is a personal element that drives my desire to know more, that feeds the scholarly work.

I do not want to end without a word about the men who got in touch with me. I’m truly thankful to the men who came forward. They are part of a change I’ve seen in the last ten years, where more men are willing to add their voices to a small-but-growing throng of those willing to speak out to help others know they are not alone.

 

About the author

Dr Russell Delderfield

@MaleEDResearch

 

References

1 Morgan, J. F. (2008). The invisible man: A self-help guide for men with eating disorders, compulsive exercise and bigorexia. Routledge.

2 Jones, W., & Morgan, J. (2010). Eating disorders in men: A review of the literature. Journal of public mental health, 9(2), 23-31.

 

 

 

 

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Born to lose: the sad start and tragic end of Sid Vicious

by Dr John Barry

It’s easy for psychologists to feel empathy for a little old lady, sobbing quietly in a comfy chair in your therapy room. The cause of her pain is obvious – she has willingly told you all about it. You understand her pain, empathise with her, and she eagerly engages with your suggestions for therapy.

Much more of a challenge is the young man who acts in an erratic and violent manner, doesn’t want to talk to you, doesn’t want your help, and has little interest in what he is feeling or why he is feeling it. He doesn’t want your help, and you – very naturally – don’t feel inclined to help him.

John Simon Beverley (aka Sid Vicious) died 40 years ago today. He is exactly the kind of person who represents a challenge to psychologists, because he is such a challenge to our capacity for empathy.

The public image is of someone uncontrollably violent and anarchic, and ultimately a convicted murderer. But the underlying story is of a boy who grew up without a dad, raised by a mum who was a drug user and dealer. Clearly, not a good start in life. Prenatal exposure to substance abuse can impact behaviour throughout the lifespan, and we know that dads can have a stabilising influence on their sons. His own drug abuse began early in life and he became a heroin addict, which some would argue is a form of self-medication for emotional problems.

Some of the people around him who could have helped (for example, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren) simply encouraged his bad behaviour. In fact many people would have been disappointed if Sid Vicious didn’t live up to his name, and when you get positive reinforcement for behaving badly it doesn’t make sense to behave like a saint.

The violence of Sid Vicious is interesting: although he started lots of fights, he was in fact pretty bad at defending himself. One has to wonder whether getting beaten up was part of a pattern of deliberate self-harm, something he did in other ways, such as cutting himself with broken glass on stage.

Self-harm, violence and drug addiction are not the acts of a happy person, and one wonders whether Sid might have had a much different life had he found a therapist or a friend who could have influenced him for the better.

You have to wonder too how many other young men who are out there today who have similar problems and act out in intimidating ways, and have similar prospects for a tragic future if we can’t bring ourselves to listen to what they are telling us, through their words and actions.

One of the greatest challenges to psychologists, and society, is to empathise with people whose behaviour is violent or upsetting. This is a challenge we need to rise to if we want to work with such people and change their behaviour, ultimately to the benefit of us all.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

 

 

 

 

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Why would ‘The Conversation’ reject a conversation about gender inequality?

by Professor Gijsbert Stoet

The Conversation is a well-known online news outlet. It works closely together with the many UK universities it receives payments from. This is, in principle, a good deal for all parties. The Conversation gets paid by universities to brings academic work to the general public in lay terms.

In the past, I have published a few short contributions for The Conversation about my own research.

Early January 2019, I called one of the editors I had worked with in the past, and I suggested that our latest paper might be of interest for them. The editor was enthusiastic and agreed. After a few days of me following the various suggestions by the supportive editor, a contribution titled “Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too” was ready to go.

Or so I thought. All of a sudden there was a problem! The editor I had worked with needed approval from someone higher up in the editorial team. The superior was opposed to publication, despite the fact that it had been fully edited after several days of work on it! My university’s press office told me that this was the first time a The Conversation article gets pulled in this late stage of editing.

So what was the reason for not publishing it? I quote from an email I received from The Conversation:

“Unfortunately, after filing your article this morning to the news desk, my editor has rejected the piece. [anonymous*] explained that in this instance, we won’t be taking your article forward as the research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are. She felt the end result was an article that doesn’t work for us or stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.” (*Name not disclosed here)

So basically, there are 3 objections listed here:

1) “The research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are”. This objection is absurd, given that we report that in some countries women fall behind and in others men fall behind (read it yourself below). The whole point of the paper is that countries differ in terms of gender inequality.

2) “an article that doesn’t work for us” – that is strange. On the PLOS ONE website, our original research paper was viewed/downloaded more than 60,000 times in just the first 2 weeks after publication, that is a very high level of popularity for PLOS ONE. The Conversation regularly publishes about research that receives far less attention!

3) It does not “stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.”  What is the rigour they expect then? They regularly publish articles that regurgitate old data, rather than being based on the latest innovative research. I have no problem with that at all (and it can be worthwhile), but I would argue that our paper has at least the same rigour as such articles that just reinterpret old data with a moral message (such as for example, this article).

Of course, senior editors at The Conversation have every right not to publish an article I have worked on for days with one of their editors. But still, you wonder why they really do not want it, given that the above mentioned objections seem hard to follow. I can only speculate!

I speculate that one of the issues that played into it is that many people seem to get angry when their accepted view on the world needs revision. Our research article argues that, in highly developed nations, men and women have it nearly equally good, but that men often fall somewhat behind women due to a shorter healthy life expectancy and less education. And therefore, men need a bit of help. That contrasts with the widely held view that women fall behind in every single country of the world (of course, it depends how you define “falling behind”, and our paper addresses exactly that issue).

Unfortunately, raising awareness for men’s disadvantages can lead to real frustration among gender warriors. For example, there is much opposition against the idea to put “men’s day” on university equality and diversity agendas. In 2015, staff and students of York university had protested the fact that men’s day was put on the agenda. It just shows that many highly educated people in this country are not ready for the idea that men need help and attention too, or that men and boys can suffer from disadvantages just as well as women and girls (and our paper actually addresses women’s issues just as well).

Interestingly, John Barry and Martin Seager recently argued that there is a general tendency to magnify both positive achievements and negative actions of women more than those of men. This cognitive distortion, which they call gamma bias, means that when women suffer from inequalities it is seen as a more serious issue than when men suffer from inequalities. For those people suffering from  gamma bias, our paper seems to do injustice to women. Hopefully, raising awareness of gamma bias will help to overcome it. I fear it will take some time though!

Now without further ado, here is the text of my contribution for The Conversation, that was pulled by a senior staff member of the UK editorial team last minute. Read it and draw your own conclusions.

 

Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too

by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex

 When it comes to gender inequality, many people believe women are still (on average) worse off in life than men. The #metoo campaigns have certainly exacerbated this impression.

When measuring gender equality, typically a number of different variables are considered. This often includes the number of female politicians in a country or how many years boys and girls go to school. Then, using such numbers, an “inequality score” for each country is calculated. A popular index, for example, is the Global Gender Gap Index.

Most existing measures of gender inequality tend to focus on issues such as women in politics, women on company boards, and gender pay gaps. All of which are, of course, highly important issues, but often these same calculations fail to recognise factors that statistically are more likely to impact men – such as suicide, imprisonment, homelessness and negative experiences in family courts.

So with this in mind, in our recent research we wanted to look at three issues that are critically important to everybody’s well-being to create our own equality measure. The factors we looked at were healthy life expectancy (expected years living in good health), basic education (primary and secondary) and life satisfaction.

 

The findings

What we generally found, based on our three factors, was that in very highly developed nations – such as the UK – men and women have it nearly equally good with regard to well-being. The UK actually does really well – coming in at second place in our ranking after Bahrain.

But in these nations men fall typically behind on healthy life expectancy. So despite the fact that modern medicine has improved the lives of both men and women – in today’s world, women experience good health for a longer time than men.

Industrialisation and modern lifestyles have also increased exposure to toxins – including easily accessible alcohol and industrial toxins – which often affect men more than women. On the flipside, we found more maternal deaths during births in the less gender equal countries – such as Chad and Nigeria.

Our research also showed that despite greater access to education than ever before, in many countries girls often receive less of an education than boys.

This is why most part of Africa and also parts of Asia, women fall behind enormously on our gender equality index – mainly because of lack of education. So although education has been on the agenda for a long time, the outlook for girls in many developing nations is still grossly unfair.

 

Equality for all

Using our measure for equality, it seems then that in the most developed countries, men and women have it nearly equally good – with a slight advantage seen for women. In contrast, inequality often prevails in the less well developed nations – with Chad, Benin, and Liberia found to be the least equal in our measure.

Our gender equality index shows a need for more awareness of men’s health issues in very highly developed countries. This is particularly important given that countries such as the UK have a national health strategy for women, but no such thing for men. And although a few Western nations – such as Ireland and Australia – have now recently started to create a men’s health strategy, it is clear more needs to be done.

Our study also shows a focus on girls’ education in the developing world is of crucial importance to reaching gender parity. Particularly, as the degree to which girls fall behind in the developing world is often larger than the degree to which men fall behind in terms of a shorter life expectancy in the wealthiest nations.

And while our research does not take variables such as women in politics or company board diversity into account, such positions are only occupied by a very small fraction of the population.

If these factors were to be included, we would also need to look at the larger number of men than women in prisons, the fact that more men than women live rough, or that more men take their own lives. So we chose to ignore the tiny proportion of people at the top of politics and economy, because we felt it wasn’t relevant to the opportunities of people to live a good life and their overall well-being.

 

About the author

Gijsbert (English: Gilbert) Stoet is originally from The Netherlands, where he studied psychology at the well known Groningen University. In 1998, he was awareded his summa cum laude PhD at the Ludwig Maximilian’s University (aka University of Munich). In 1999, he was also awarded the Otto Hahn Medal for his doctoral research. From 1998 to 2006, he worked at the Washington University Medical School in St.Louis in the USA, one of the world’s leading universities and medical schools. Here, he focused on the neurobiological foundation of cognitive processes. In 2006, he moved back to Europe and has since worked at a various UK institutions, including Leeds University and Glasgow University. He is currently working as Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex, which is a research-focused university in the South East of the UK, not far from London.

 

Open post

We need to listen to young men, even when we don’t like what they are saying.

Interview with Dr. Mahamed Hashi, MSc BSc Director, Brixton Soup Kitchen, by Dr John Barry, co-founder of the Male Psychology Network

Mahamed Hashi’s dedication to the Lambeth area of South London is not in doubt. When he tried to calm down a fight there in 2008 he was shot and almost killed. In another incident, he was brutally attacked in a knife attack as a result of an attempted robbery. Despite these ordeals and resulting PTSD, his devotion to the people of Lambeth over the years as a tutor, youth worker and councillor has been steadfast, as has been his determination to improve the mental health of the socially disadvantaged young men who drift into gangs and violence.

 

Pictured: Dr Hashi’s injury in 2008 from a bullet.

 

Drill music is a type of rap music. ‘Drill’ is slang for ‘machine gun’, and drill is known for it’s diss tracks, where gangs insult each, encouraging retaliatory violence. In part it’s easy to see why some people have blamed the genre for the rising murder rate in London, and even called for drill to be banned.

As a psychologist specialising in Male Psychology, the violence of young men is obviously an issue of concern, so when I saw Dr Hashi give a talk on gang violence at the Men & Boys Coalition (MBC) conference recently, I was all ears and keen to find out more. I invited Dr Hashi for an interview and we met at my hypnotherapy clinic in central London.

Hashi is a big man with a warm nature and infectious though earnest enthusiasm. I started the interview by following up on a couple of things he raised at the MBC conference. Firstly, did he think that unruly behaviour in boys could be remedied by having fathers in the home and more male schoolteachers? His response was that male role models per se do not magically cure anything, but having men around provides an environment in which the behaviour of boys is more understood and therefore less criticised.

Hashi: “My dad died when I was 13, and I went on to achieve things under the guidance of my mother, a single mother. However without role models around, young men can be attacked for their behaviour. For example, a young guy’s masculinity can be interpreted as aggression. It’s difficult for people who are not male to understand what it’s like to be a male”.

The question that most interested me was Dr Hashi’s contention that drill music should be seen as a potentially positive phenomenon, because it is an excellent example of men talking about their feelings rather than bottling them up. This is what many mental health campaigns have been urging men to do for years, but the response to drill has been calls to ban it outright. This situation reminds me of the irony of campaigns (such as Childline’s ‘Tough to Talk’ campaign) urging boys to speak about their feelings, when the reality is that lots of boys sense that nobody really wants to listen:

Hashi: “We have created a society where we are offended by different people expressing themselves in different ways. Unless it’s expressed in an acceptable way, within ‘guidelines of expression,’ its not acceptable. How can we ask young men to express themselves, and then criticise them? At the end of the day there is a culture, whether you call it rap or grime or drill, of young people expressing themselves in a particular way – you are supposed to listen.

One problem is that you can find whatever you are looking for [in the lyrics] – if you are looking for criminality in the music you will find it. But their reality is that criminality, their reality is that trauma, their reality is that pain. If you are offended by their reality that you need to stop listening [to drill] instead of trying to find ways of stopping them from expressing themselves. Not listening puts us in a dangerous position – when they have found a therapeutic way of expressing themselves and we try to stop that, what then?”

Barry: “Catharsis is generally considered a good thing therapeutically. I guess some people would prefer it is they could work out their feelings through Morris dancing”.

Hashi: “…or Salsa”

Barry: “… but that’s not going to do it. If you hit your thumb with a hammer you aren’t going to say ‘oh, bothersome’, you are going to need to swear properly”.

Hashi: “Where are the campaigns for mental health support for these young people? Critics are trying to shut down their method of expression, without even trying to understand it”.

Barry: “Is drill a sufficient way of dealing with these feelings?”

Hashi: “It’s not a sufficient way, but it is a good indication that these young people are trying to deal with these feelings. As a practitioner and youth worker, I listen to drill music to understand what they are going through, and put in support mechanisms for them off the back of that. Drill music is part of the solution and part of repairing themselves. If you take that away… I am really really anxious about what would happen”.

Barry: “If they are not going to do drill, they will do something else”.

Hashi: “100%. Would critics rather that they did the violence without announcing it? Or talking about where it comes from?”

Barry: “If you have an outlet… would boxing or martial arts be an alternative way of channeling-?”

Hashi: “Some people would turn around and say that’s too violent, why would we teach a gang member how to hurt someone professionally? They have arguments for everything. And for me it’s a question of asking where do you want young people to go, what direction?”

Barry: “If we parachuted in a load of counsellors… would they sit down and talk to counsellors?”

Hashi: “100%. But they need to talk to people who come from where they come from. We don’t need counsellors that are so disconnected from their experiences that they sit through their stories in awe, rather than supporting them through therapy. A lot of therapists don’t come from that background, and the young person says ‘someone chased me and shot my friend’ and the counsellor says ‘oh my gosh – does that happen regularly to you?’ I’m not a psychologist, but maybe they could be asked ‘and how did that make you feel?’

We need more mental health first aid training, we need more trauma informed practice already embedded in that person’s life, because the environment they live in is already traumatising – not just their own trauma, but the trauma of others makes the environment of fear that makes it traumatic. We have to change the environment, which means introducing adults who have had those experiences in these environments be part of their lives. But that’s the first thing that gets cut by government – youth services, youth workers – so now we have young people who don’t know the system and have nobody to intercede on their behalf, nobody to talk on their behalf, and explain why they behave in a particular way”.

Barry: “What is the key thing that psychologists can do?”

Hashi: “Easier access, and more empathy. These kids can be quite rude, brash, brazen, but these are just defence mechanisms that often happen when they come across authority figures. These kids often come across adults that want to have dominion over them, purely because of their age, and I think that so disrespectful.” Dr Hashi adds that psychologists should, with their enhanced knowledge of non-verbal communication, be better equipped to recognise the difference between aggression and fear, thus be less intimidated by apparently threatening behaviour.”

One of the lessons of history is that a cease fire gives everyone a chance to calm down, have time to cope, allow the bereavement process to start, and let old wounds heal. However what the boys in Brixton experience is a life where they go from one trauma to another without any opportunity to deal with the pain, leaving them in a vicious cycle of acting out angry feelings. As Dr Hashi points out, these are people who need some time out, and some way of coping.

As psychologists, we need to take his suggestions seriously. Firstly, we might help facilitate more widespread mental health first aid training of people in the community. Secondly, and more challengingly for a largely white, female, and middle class profession, the BPS needs to offer better provision of suitable mental health professionals in the field. Brixton – and places like it all over the UK – needs more black male psychologists, not as part of an academic equality quota scheme, but as an urgent response to a real-world issue. For my part, I know that the newly established Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society will be putting these crucial issues on the agenda for 2019.

 

About Dr Mahamed Hashi

Dr Hashi also has an MSc in forensic science and an honorary PHD in youth and community work. Dr Hashi is the founder of the Community Champion Award winning Brixton Soup Kitchen, a service for the homeless in the Brixton area. He is also a Labour counsillor in Lambeth’s Stockwell ward in South London. Dr Hashi is involved with many other community groups including leading roles in the Lambeth Safer Neighbourhood Board, the Independent Advisory Group for Lambeth police, and the Community Network Forum. He is co-chair of the Lambeth Stop and Search Monitoring Group, a member of the Black Mental Health Commission in Lambeth, the Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group, the Pan-London Community Monitoring Network, the Independent Custody Visitors group, the Deaths in Custody Panel, and the London Probation Trust Serious Group Offending Forum. He is also involved in a number of police advisory groups including the Territorial Support Community Reference Group, the Special Select Committee for Stop and Search and the Public Order Community Reference Group.

 

 

 

Open post

Do we really need Gillette to encourage the majority of men to be what they already are?

by Dr Becci Owens

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the new Gillette advert. There are men and women who fiercely oppose the advert, and men and women very much in support of it.

The advert highlights the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace by men, boys fighting, bullying, and sexism. The advert calls for men to be better, showing examples of them as fathers, husbands, intervening in bullying scenarios and when children are fighting, being the hero, someone to look up to. This is the best men can be, say Gillette.

At first glance, to many people, this is a nice message. It is nice, and warming, and encouraging – we should all be nice to each other. so why are so many people – myself included – taking issue with the new Gillette advert?

The underlying assumptions made in the advert are that men are inherently bad – men are violent, sexual predators who have had their way for long enough. Only through the power of encouragement and social grooming can we protect society from the menace that is toxic masculinity.

But the advert shows men in positive ways too – being good fathers and good role models. If you think about it, this is not exactly breaking news. Most of us will have known many good men in our lifetimes, who have stepped in to stop bullying and to protect women in various ways. So perhaps part of the insult is that the ad is focussing on the minority of men as if they are the majority. Why do we need to encourage men to be what the majority of men already are? Furthermore – why is it up to Gillette to do this?

Maybe a hair removal brand should promote some positive femininity too. Let’s encourage women to be good people: ets encourage women to not incite violence towards others, even towards men and children. Let’s encourage women to not use children as pawns in the breakdown of a relationship, or to make false rape allegations. Let’s encourage them not to be indirectly aggressive – bullying and berating others for their appearances or inciting gossip about the reputation of others.

What was that…? Women – the fairer sex – don’t engage in such behaviours? Oh, but they do! And for long enough now, the negative perception and reputation of men and masculinity has been demonised in the press and in society. Women are apparently untouchable!

I wonder if this shift in power imbalance is the result of the previously male-biased power imbalance. However, as I discuss in a previous blog, this male-biased power imbalance has been misconstrued. Throughout history – I am talking thousands of years – it has been a minority of men who have held the power. The majority of men have suffered – have gone to war, have been denied mating opportunities, wealth and status, all for the sake of a minority of men.

I am by no means trying to downplay the suffering of women throughout history. Women have for long enough struggled to be taken seriously, to gain the same opportunities as men before them – we often still struggle to be taken seriously and face many barriers. However, my argument here is that this is not a gendered issue. Power imbalance may, on the surface, appear, to be a gendered issue, but you scratch the surface you will see the majority of men and women are in similar situations, but in different contexts. Women have, for a long time, struggled to gain access to an education, to have a career. Men are more likely to be incarcerated, have untreated mental illnesses, and to die by suicide.

There is a gendered issue here somewhere… but it is not about showing people how to be a good person. Terrible people are all around us – I would like to  emphasise they are the minority! But You can’t presume that man in the street is any more capable of atrocious things than the woman over the road. It is not about sex or gender. It is something more complex, maybe something about the fallibility of human nature.

So in the end it seems that all Gillette have done here is jump on the man-bashing bandwagon. It is something society doesn’t need. It is something men do not need. No one benefits from the perception that ‘men are inherently bad and cannot be good unless we train them’. Let’s move beyond this please.

 

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.
Email: rebecca.owens@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens

 

 

Open post

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys?

by Dr John Barry

The APA’s Division 51 (Men and Masculinities) recently released their guidelines for working with men and boys. While guidelines on this topic are much needed, the APA’s contribution leaves room for improvement. In this article I will outline issues with two of their 10 guidelines:

Guideline 1 of the APA guidelines suggests that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms”. However although it is true that masculinity is, in part, constructed, it is also partly innate.

What is the evidence that masculinity is, in part, innate? Well, sex differences in cognition and behaviour  are found worldwide, and their universality suggests something that transcends culture. Moreover, most of these clearly map onto masculinity. For example, the tendency to being more competitive, aggressive (physically), and interested in sports than women maps onto the male gender script of being a fighter and winner. The tendency to working longer hours, working in male-typical occupations, exploring the environment, more willing to take risks, maps onto the male gender script of being provider and protector.The tendency to show less fear, less crying, more inclined to substance abuse (self-medication) maps onto the male gender script of having mastery & control of one’s emotions.

The crucial point for therapy is that because some aspects of masculinity are innate, changing them is not a simple case of cognitive restructuring or behaviour change, any more than changing other deeply-held aspects of gender identity or sexual identity is straightforward or even desirable.

However we live in a culture steeped in the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’, telling us that there are ‘more similarities than differences’ between men and women. Of course this idea is not wholly untrue, but it typically deflects our attention away from the fact that it is the differences between men and women that ‘make all the difference’. Thus in many ways we are not encouraged to notice sex differences, and we might even experience cognitive dissonance if we are asked to focus on sex differences and consider the implications for, to take one example, treatment approaches in psychology.

Guideline 3 states that “in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society”. This statement is an example of what we have identified as gamma bias in psychology, a type of cognitive distortion in which examples of male privilege are magnified and female privilege is ignored or explained away. Examples of male disadvantage are boys’ educational achievement and the high rates of male suicide. Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs. In fact recent evidence has found that men are disadvantaged in many countries worldwide, especially those with medium to high levels of development.

Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.

As an alternative to guidelines 1 and 3, I would suggest that we recognise that masculinity is to some degree innate and potentially positive for mental health, and the vulnerabilities of male clients are more important to us, as therapists, than any hypothesised patriarchal power. We shouldn’t presume that the bad behaviour of the minority of men are representative of some underlying aspect of men in general, and we should recognise that negative views of men are a barrier to an appropriate level of therapeutic empathy.

I would encourage Division 51 to revise their guidelines to bring them in line with research evidence and common sense. I would also urge authors of any other guidelines relating to male mental health to make similar revisions. After all, men seek therapy less than women do even when suicidal, so we need to do what we can to make therapy more male-friendly.

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys? Well the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health offers practical advice to therapists and a more positive theoretical perspective on men’s mental health and male psychology in general. Guidelines based on this handbook will be issued soon, and I hope the 32 chapters offer therapists and academics a realistic and useful way of understanding and working with men.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

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