Open post

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”.

 

 

 

 

Open post

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.

 

Dr Hashi is a special guest speaker at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL (21st – 22nd June 2019).

Book your ticket here

 

 

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

 

 

Open post

The yin of being looked at and the yang of looking

The “#MeToo” campaign, which was very prominent in 2018 and became a platform for women to complain about male behaviour, also reflects the tendency of society to polarise opposites and set them up in “boxing” mode against each other.  It also chooses to ignore the fact that women can also be abusive of men.  When I lived in Doncaster, South Yorkshire for example, I used to witness the effect of unwanted sexual advances on male friends of mine who were approached by female prostitutes who got into their cars at traffic lights. This kind of casual reverse sexist discrimination is what has inspired me to write a chapter for the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology (2019).

I think we should be celebrating male and female difference rather than setting up men and women in competition against one another. My belief is that the male and female are designed very differently because, as we have developed as humans, we have needed to take on different tasks to survive.  The male has been designed to “look”, not only at the female, but to “look out” for prey, for danger, and for ways to protect his family unit.  The woman, much to the surprise of some, still likes being “looked at” by the male, and will in fact go out of her way to make sure she is seen, unless of course, she dislikes the particular male who is “doing the looking”.

The unprecedented rise in the use of cosmetics and surgical enhancements proves that women feel the need to look good for as long as possible.  The use of botox is no longer confined to the ageing female – it is now used by young women in their 20s, and the number of women between 19 and 34 using botox has risen by 41% since 2011.  This is because the need to look good is “hard wired” into female genes.  It is rooted in mating behaviours which we see also in the animal kingdom.  In the avian kingdom, it is usually the males that display for the females, but for mammals, it is always the other way around.

The eastern concept of Yin and Yang is, I believe, a sensible way to view male and female complementarity.  The ancient Chinese world believed that the interlocking building blocks of the universe were Yin (the feminine) and Yang (masculine). “Yin” is negative, dark and feminine, and “yang” is positive, bright and masculine. Yin needs Yang and vice versa, and the two need to be in perfect balance for health and harmony in the body.

Because the male is “hard wired” to respond initially to what he can see visually, this is not something that he can “turn off” to avoid offending the modern female.  The female on the other hand, in a biological sense is designed to be especially attuned to touch because of regular reproductive cycles and physically nurturing the young from conception.  She therefore has tended, in an evolutionary sense to have a more internal frame of reference, but also needs to “be noticed” so that her primeval instincts can be satisfied.

The male will always need “to look” at the female and the female will always need “to be seen” by the male – even if she continues to re-define exactly how she is looked at and what she wants the male to see.

Looking and being looked at can be thought of as opposite forces interacting to form a dynamic system, in which the whole is greater than the parts.

 

About the author

Jennie Cummings-Knight, MA, MBACP, PGCE, FHEA

www.goldenleafcounselling.com

Jennie is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor of individuals and couples. She works privately near Cromer, Norfolk, as well as lecturing in London and online as a part time Associate of the Existential Academy.  She also runs regular workshops for counsellors in Norwich.  She has a particular interest in Male Psychology.

Jennie explores the topic of ‘the gaze’ in her chapter ‘The Gaze: The Male Need to Look vs the Female Need to Be Seen—An Evolutionary Perspective’, in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (2019)  available for purchase here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834#aboutBook  DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

 

 

Open post

Negative attitudes towards men and masculinity in Spain

by Daniel Jiménez

In the second of our occasional blogs on the theme of Male Psychology and masculinity around the world, Daniel Jiménez describes the surprisingly high levels of prejudice against men in Spain in the past 20 years. The implications for men’s mental health are concerning.

 

In recent times the United States has been witness to a devaluation of masculinity in the public discourse. From academia to mass media and gradually pouring into popular culture, masculinity has been blamed for a range of social illness: mass shootings, intimate partner violence, sex crimes… to the point where some claim that there is no toxic masculinity, but rather masculinity itself is toxic. Male creativity, contributions and achievements are, on the other hand, attributed to individual traits or to a position of privilege. The so-called “masculinity crisis” has been a hotly debated topic, as the State gradually appropriates the role of provider and protector that men held, and modern economy facilitates women becoming financially independent.

From the Unites States it would be easy to perceive these developments as particular to the Anglo-Saxon world, and perhaps Nordic European countries such as Sweden. On the other hand Spain, like most of Southern Europe, tends to be regarded as a place where traditional notions of masculinity remain strong. This is the country the world associates with Don Juan Tenorio, brave bullfighters and the term machismo. Most Americans are surprised to find that a negative perception of masculinity not too dissimilar to that of the United States has developed in Spain, and that its devaluation has been taken even further.

The catalyst that triggered the change was the killing of Ana Orantes in 1997. Domestic violence was starting to be discussed openly in the Spanish media, and Orantes appeared on national television to tell her story. She was burned alive by her husband the next day, and this brutal killing shocked public opinion. This wasn’t the death of an unknown person, but a familiar face that people could recognize and a story they empathized with. Over the following years domestic violence killings (when committed by a man) became treated not as the isolated actions of evil or unstable individuals, but were rather understood according to gender theory postulates. Domestic violence was explained as a manifestation of male oppression, and the dismantling of structures and socio-cultural practices that made this oppression possible was said to be the only way to eradicate it, because domestic violence emanated from the imbalance of power.

In 2004 the view of domestic violence as a gendered phenomenon materialized into the Organic Act on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence. The adoption of the term “gender violence”, instead of alternatives such as “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, framed the conversation in terms of violence against women by their male romantic partner or ex-partner. The law would impose higher penalties to these men in a subset of domestic violence crimes, as shown in Title IV. The act would include, among other measures, special courts designed only for these crimes: the juzgados de violencia sobre la mujer, which presently number over a 100. To my knowledge Spain is the only country that has courts exclusively focused on male crimes (as gender violence is defined), making the U.S. Violence Against Women Act seem soft in comparison. The law has also been weaponized during divorce processes, as accusations often activate a protective order against the male and give automatic custody of the children to the accuser until the accusation is resolved. Depending on the circumstances and the region, making an accusation – regardless of the outcome – can confer other benefits such as a small stipend, free college tuition, job placement or the granting of permanent residency in the case of immigrants.

The complexity of the 2004 law would merit a separate article, but what needs to be pointed out is that it marked a turning point in Spain. Gradually, mass media, education at all levels and public policies came to be interpreted through the lense of gender theory, cementing a discourse that fuels a sex war where the male sex is widely portrayed as a problem in need of fixing.

While the United States has also fed on ideas about masculinity based on gender theory, having lived in both countries I would assert that the negative perception about masculinity is more pronounced in Spain. In fact, the Spanish media has not only created expressions such as “violencia machista” to replace the less explicit term “gender violence”, but has shown itself eager to adopt terms that originated in the United States as well. Aside from expressions like toxic masculinity (mascunilidad tóxica), neologisms such as manspreading, mansplaining and manterrupting have either been borrowed or translated by the Spanish media, with machoexplicación (the translation of mansplaining) becoming candidate for word of the year by Fundeu (Fundación del Español Urgente).

Masculinity, and men in general, have become an acceptable punching bag for the media and public officials. While there are many examples, I will only mention some of the most recent. On one occasion a journalist declared on national television that celebrating Men’s Day would be akin to celebrating “The day of the terrorist”. There is also the case of a judge specialized in gender violence that described males as “acorn-fed animals.” And not long ago, in a regional government-run campaign against gender violence, male bystanders were accused of sexist attitudes or even domestic abuse by an actor who introduced himself as “your (inner) machismo.” [1]  In the political arena, the 2017 State Pact Against Gender Violence included in its congressional discussion terms such as “patriarchal justice,” “patriarchal domination,” “male domination,” “structural machismo,” “patriarchal violence” or “privileged-oppressed relationship.”

While discontent (and disconnect) about men’s negative portrayal in the media and public institutions is growing among the Spanish population, the negativity doesn’t seem to be waning. And while it’s true that ideas from the United States have had an influence on the perception of masculinity in Spain, if the latter country were to be considered its student, it would no doubt have surpassed its master.

 

[1] Machismo in the Spanish sense of the word, which implies a sexist sense of superiority over women and even a sense of entitlement over them in more recent uses of the term.

 

About the author

Daniel Jiménez is a Spanish Language and Culture Instructor for the U.S. Defense Language Institute. Raised in Spain, he has been living in the United States since 2006. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of any agency of the U.S. government

 

 

 

Open post

Light at the end of a long dark tunnel for male victims of domestic violence?

by Dr John Barry

Picture: outside the European Union (EU) Parliament in Brussels. L-R Dr John Barry, Marta Iglesias Julios, Prof Joaquim Soares, Prof Nicola Graham-Kevan, Eduardo Zugasti.

Many of us will have found that when we try to discuss men’s mental health issues we are met with disinterest or even derision. It has even been suggested that men in general are so privileged that they don’t need any male-specific help.

It could be that there is especially little sympathy for male victims of domestic violence, even amongst male victims themselves. There are lots of reasons for this. In general, neither men nor women want to see men as victims. Also, the domestic violence industry is focused almost exclusively on female victims, and any sign that funding will be diverted to male victims is not welcomed with open arms. Campaigners such as Erin Pizzey and researchers such as Prof Murray Strauss have experienced threats and abuse, and it is true to say that the decades since the 1970s have been bleak times for people sympathetic to male victims of domestic violence.

But now in 2018, perhaps we are seeing the first green shoots of fresh thinking about domestic violence:

Since September 2018 we have seen Mark Brooks and the Mankind Initiative in the UK feature prominently in the mainstream media, including the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC1  They – especially Mark himself – are to be congratulated for the determination and professionalism.

27th November 2018 saw Dr Liz Bates (University of Cumbria, UK) be honoured with an award for her research on male victims of domestic violence as one of the ‘UK’s Best Breakthroughs’ in academia this year.

4th December 2018 saw a meeting in the EU parliament in Brussels, focusing on research evidence of the extent of domestic violence against men worldwide, compiled by Professor Joaquim Soares (Mid Sweden University). In the same meeting, Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan (University of Central Lancashire, UK) discussed research into the sometimes devastating impact on children of witnessing domestic violence. Marta Iglesias Julios, a PhD candidate from Portugal, gave a very thought-provoking presentation on the potentially far-reaching harm caused by non-physical violence (e.g. spreading malicious rumours) of the type that women tend to engage in more than men do on average. The forum was organised by MEP Teresa Giménez Barbat and Euromind, and was very positively received. For me it was a very pleasant surprise that support for male victims of domestic violence is alive and healthy in Europe.

So it appears that this topic is moving from the hinterlands and breaking into mainstream consciousness. What we need to see is this progress continuing in a sustainable manner. To facilitate this process, it would be helpful if the following developments were to occur:

1/ We need for the mainstream media – especially the BBC who we pay a tax for –  to tell the people of the UK the truth about domestic violence, not distortions of the truth. Failure to devote proportionate time to male victims should be condemned as a breach of the BBC code of impartiality.

2/ Greater recognition of the lack of services for male victims is needed. For example, male-specific treatment programmes – not the widely discredited Duluth model –  and other types of male-friendly support are urgently needed.

3/ We need greater recognition of the huge sacrifices made by people working in the field of male victims of domestic violence. Many people are doing incredible work voluntarily, or survive on a shoestring, in their efforts to help male victims.

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, this tunnel is filled with obstacles. Funding to help male victims is still almost unheard of. Even the excellent MankindInitiative charity recently almost had to shut down due to lack of funding. Ironically, because of the recent heightened awareness of male victims, the domestic violence industry – after years of focusing only on helping women – are apparently now keen to apply for funding so that they can extend their services to men. This isn’t a solution, mainly because the domestic violence industry has a reputation for treating men as perpetrators rather than victims, and because most women (and probably many men) will not be happy with having mixed-sex shelters and other facilities in this highly sensitive field.

So is there room for optimism when it comes to male victims of domestic violence? My answer is that we should be realistic and recognise the gains that are being made, strive to build upon them, and be prepared to have to work hard to finally reach the light.

 

About the author

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

 

 

 

Open post

Domestic abuse is a public health issue that impacts men too.

by Teresa Giménez Barbat [1][2]

In April 2018, I presented a written question to the European Commission on male victims of domestic abuse, in light of the scarce attention they met in the European Programmes of assistance and prevention. In her response, the European Commissioner of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Ms Vera Jourova, recognized that “men and women can also be victims of gender violence”, but justified the current bias in European policies with the fact that “the immense majority of victims of gender violence are women and girls”.

The explanation did not satisfy me. On one hand, it is problematic that the Commissioner founded the EU official position on a survey that deals with violence against one sex only. On the other hand, it contrasts with available scientific evidence, according to which, men, and of course boys and adolescents, also suffer domestic abuse –including sexual abuse– in a way that is far from trivial.

Since the 1970’s, several studies and meta-analyses (studies of studies) consistently show that there are male victims and female aggressors in the domestic sphere. This work is based on confidential and anonymous surveys administered to different population groups, including students, clinical and community samples. Using this methodology, researchers try to minimize the bias of police and hospital records, which usually –according to experts– tend to underestimate male victimization. This methodology, of course, has its own limitations (such as the danger of underestimating the prevalence of aggressions), but some basic conclusions are stronger year after year, and decade after decade: women tend to use physical violence against their partners in a similar proportion to men, according to the summary by Medeiros and Strauss (2016). Men are not exempt from severe aggression, though it is clear that more women are killed by their intimate partners than men are.

These basic conclusions converge with a new international study that I presented in the European Parliament last week –it will be soon be published online in the Forum Euromind website, about the intimate-partner violence impact on men and children. This study is authored by Joaquim Soares, Emeritus Professor of Mid Sweden University, and Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan, expert in forensic psychology in the University of Central Lancashire. Both researchers have an important academic curriculum in relation to domestic abuse, including research projects financed by the European Commission, like DOVE. The research of Professor Soares, based on the evaluation of 153 studies from 54 countries about victims, and 151 studies from 44 countries about perpetrators (both men and women), support previous evidence, showing only modest sex differences in average perpetration and victimization associated with intimate-partner violence. This general symmetry in aggression holds, according to the same study, across the different “world regions” analysed: Africa, Europe/Caucasus, Asia/Pacific, Latin-America/Caribbean, Middle East and English-speaking industrialized countries. More research is needed to refine our understanding of these findings, but to achieve this goal there is a need to remove unnecessary obstacles to research, and an increase in financial resources.

As regard to the impact of intimate-partner violence on children, studied by Professor Graham-Kevan, and based on results of 14 studies from 2009 to 2018, the conclusion is that both boys and girls are adversely affected, through different health dimensions, irrespective of the abuser’s gender. This is inconsistent with the current EU and UN focus on “women & girls”. The same author notes the lack of empirical studies on domestic abuse specifically committed by mothers against fathers, a constraint that, maybe, is hiding the real impact of this type of aggression on children.

Another participant in the EU Parliament’s event was the young researcher Marta Iglesias, an expert in female aggression, post-doctoral fellow in Lisbon and active science commentator (she is also the first Spanish author to be published in the digital magazine Quillette). Iglesias lectured on the evolutionary basis behind female aggression, a more indirect type of aggression compared to that of males, but far from “non-existent or harmless”. The fact that a significant part of violence against women is committed by other women, like harassment in school or in the workplace, should be of more concern to us as a legitimate subject of study than it currently is, according to Iglesias.

It is time to deal with domestic abuse between the sexes as a public health issue, with scientific evidence as the basis. Listening to researchers, and not only recognizing the complex and multifactorial nature of the issues –something that the Spanish programmes to detect “homicide risk” in gender-based crimes are beginning to take into account– but also promoting participation and dialogue between all stakeholders in society, is what is needed.

It is also time to expand our empathy toward men and boys. Particularly in a world where male suffering is harder to appreciate, and where most of people naturally tend to “favour policies that benefit women”, as social psychologist Tania Reynolds recently has explained. These evolutionary-based predispositions are maintained across different cultures and could be a “human universal”, but they could also constitute what evolutionary psychologists call a “mismatch” between our ancient, less socially complex, and evolved traits and the new global societies that celebrate equality and cooperation.

Taking into consideration female aggression and male victimization does not harm women’s rights and does not pose a genuine threat to gender equality. Quite the opposite. Male and female violence are more often intertwined in the domestic sphere, including its unfortunate impact on children’s wellbeing.

We need a policy based on evidence, not ideology. With a more compassionate, collaborative and efficient approach to protect our wellbeing, health and security. We owe that to our families, friends and citizens.

 

[1] Originally published in Spanish in “El Mundo”

[2] Teresa Giménez Barbat is a Member of the European Parliament, anthropologist and writer.

 

 

 

 

The first BPS Male Psychology Section Committee

The Male Psychology Section is British Psychological Society (BPS) branch of the Male Psychology Section. The BPS is the professional body for psychologists in the British Isles. A vote at the BPS Annual General Meeting in Leicester on 29th Nov 2018 decided the members of the first BPS Male Psychology Section Committee.

The Committee members are:

Chair: Martin Seager, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section

 

Secretary: Dr John Barry, Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section

 

Treasurer: Dr Kevin Wright, Fellow of the BPS and counselling psychologist.

 

Committee member: Dr Roger Kingerlee, Consultant clinical psychologist, with special interests in male psychologies and Veteran psychological health

 

 

 

 

 

Committee member: Louise Liddon, Trainee Health Psychologist, and Research Assistant with the Male Psychology Network

 

Committee member: Dr Eli Joubert, Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-Sexologist, and Teaching Fellow (Clinical).

 

Committee member: Professor Gijsbert Stoet, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Essex.

 

Committee member: Dr Rebecca Owens, Lecturer in Psychology, Sunderland University.

 

Committee member: Dr Deborah Powney, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire.

 

Committee member: Simon Vearnals, Consultant Psychologist

 

Committee member: Dr Caroline Flurey. Senior Lecturer in Public Health, University of the West of England.

 

 

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