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.

 

 

Open post

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

Martin Seager and Dr John Barry

Consider this:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

  GOOD HARM

DO

(active mode) 

FEMALE male

(celebration)

MALE female

(perpetration)

RECEIVE

(passive mode)

MALE female

(privilege)

FEMALE male

(victimhood)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

About the authors

Martin Seager

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

John Barry

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

 

 

 

 

Open post

Men Bereaved by Abortion

by author and journalist John Waters

One of the more commonplace arguments that crops up in relation to abortion is that it is a matter on which only women should have a voice. Even if we are to take this argument on its own reductive “gender” terms, an obvious question arises: may anyone speak on behalf of the male 50 per cent of those human creatures whose existences are snuffed out by abortion?

But there is another unspoken category of overlooked humans here also: the might-have-been fathers of those obliterated children. It is noticeable that, when this issue is referred to at all in these discussions, it usually gets disposed of in the conventionally censorious terms our society has contrived to dispose of fathers: “Oh, he won’t be seen for dust”, etc. etc. Just as self-styled “liberals” use hard cases to bludgeon problematic principles, they also like to advance worst-case caricatures to disallow the claims of inconvenient parties whose involvement might complicate things more than liberals like (a pretty low threshold, generally speaking).

But imagine a 19 year-old boy, perhaps your son, brother or nephew, who gets his 18-year-old girlfriend pregnant. The pregnancy is unplanned, i.e. in conventional terms “unwanted”. In the culture we have constructed of recent times, the question of the child’s survival is a matter primarily for the woman. Perhaps her parents will become involved, but nowadays this is unlikely to alter the dynamic significantly. The man or his family have no right to an opinion. The culturally-allocated role of the might-be father is to offer “unconditional support”.

But let’s imagine that the woman has not quite made up her mind.  She is taking her time with the decision. This, we insist, is her prerogative entirely. The man – the putative father of the child-in-the-balance has no entitlement to speak for himself or his would-be son or daughter. He waits to hear the fate of his child.

In that period of uncertainly, what is to be his disposition? He may be about to become a father or he may not.  Indeed, in his own mind he may already be a father, but this is something he will be well advised to keep to himself.

Western societies increasingly take the following view: If his child is allowed to live, this man must be available, for the rest of his life, to love and provide for his child – emotionally, materially, psychologically, and in manifold other ways. He will be expected – by the mother, her family and friends, and by society in general – to step up to the plate and become a loving, caring and responsible father. He will also be expected to live his life thenceforth as if these days or hours of indecision and mulling-over have never occurred –  as if the idea of obliterating his child had never been considered. From the moment his child is delivered from the threat of the abortionist’s knife, he must locate in himself the qualities of love, devotion, duty and protectiveness that society feels entitled to demand from a father while implacably refusing him the legal basis from which to protect his child.

If, on the other hand, it is decided that his child is to be destroyed, he should be able to go about his life as if nothing has happened, as if he never had a child, the prospect of a child, even the thought of a child.

You do not hear or read much in the media about male bereavement by abortion, but it is nonetheless a real syndrome, documented in numerous academic studies. This research tells us that abortion causes many men to become emotionally overwhelmed, to experience disturbing thoughts, feelings of grief and loss. They react either by silence or hostility.

Reviewing how abortion impacts intimate relationships, Coleman, Rue & Spence (2007) reported that men tend to exert greater control than women over the expression of painful emotions, and so tend to intellectualize grief, and cope alone. The study also found that men are inclined to identify their primary role as providing support for their partners, even after an abortion—even if they opposed the decision. The study also revealed that men are more likely than women to experience feelings of despair long after the abortion, and are accordingly more at risk of suffering chronic grief.  Another study, (Coyle, 2007) found that men whose children have been aborted experience feelings of grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, helplessness, powerlessness, and other feelings akin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that they tend to repress these feelings rather than expressing them.  PTSD symptoms, which manifest in 40% of men implicated by abortion, can take an average of 15 years to manifest. Some studies (Coleman & Nelson, 1998; Kero & Lalos, 2000; and Lauzon et al., 2000; Mattinson, 1985) have found evidence that some men grieve more than the mother following the loss of an unborn child, giving the lie to conventional notions about the male as emotionally disconnected from his child. In fact, a great number of men experience abortion as the actual death of a child. Such feelings are frequently exacerbated by the man’s inability to understand what the woman expects of him, with many women experiencing ambivalent feelings which cause them to emit contradictory and confusing messages. Due to the relentless propaganda that attends such matters, many men assume that their role is to ‘support’ the woman even when he disagrees with the decision to abort, whereas in truth the woman may secretly wish for the father to talk her out of killing the child.

I wonder: in the event that his child is not permitted to live, at what precise moment is the father expected to extinguish in himself the love, duty, affection and devotion that would have been required to parent a living child – and demanded of the father by society, even though it simultaneously forbids him to have any say in the matter? Or, conversely, if the child is given the green light, does the father’s responsibility to ignite in himself the various qualities that are expected of a good-enough father begin from the moment of the announcement of the baby’s reprieve? Or is such a suddenly incorporated father entitled to a period of time to initiate the process of ignition in himself? If so, how long might he have to do this?

Of what do we imagine a man is made?

Does modern Western society imagine that its young males come equipped with some hidden mechanism for use when their children are annihilated – when, having been briefly invigorated with the possibility of fatherhood, they find that the emotions normally called upon in this context are not needed? Or, on the other hand, do we—collectively, I mean—believe that a man who has started in himself the process of grieving his child should be able to arrest this procedure and behave as though his child had merely had a miraculous recovery from a serious illness?

What kind of men might such a society expect to produce? Automatons with switches secreted in various regions of their bodies for turning on and off their human passions and emotions? Or – if flesh-and-blood males with real human desires, affections and capacities – what might we expect to happen to the hearts of men under such a regime? Would a society such as ours be entitled to be surprised if it ended up producing male humans who were incapable of loving, or grieving, or telling the difference between?

 

About the author

John Waters is a Permanent Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. Having started his career in 1981 with the Irish Music journal Hot Press, he later wrote in The Irish Times from 1990 to 2014. His first book, Jiving at the Crossroads (1991), about Irish politics around the 1980s, became a massive best-seller. He has written a number of books and plays for stage and radio and currently writes a fortnightly essay for the American magazine of religion in the public square, First Things. His latest book – Give us Back the Bad Roads – has just been published

 

 

 

 

 

Open post

You can’t help men by attacking masculinity

by Dr John Barry

You might not have noticed it, but in many countries November 19th was International Men’s Day.  The UN has four international days for women, but for the UN November 19th is World Toilet Day.

It seems to be the fashion today to attribute many of the world’s ills to men. Although some people directly attack men, often the attack is presented as a way of helping men by rescuing them from masculinity.

The term ‘toxic masculinity’ is often seen in the media, but the evidence that toxic masculinity explains men’s bad behaviour is based on the circular argument that 1/ violence and sexism are part of the definition of masculinity, and 2/ violent and sexist men are proof that masculinity is toxic. However the reality is that 1/ masculinity does not need to be defined by violence or sexism and 2/ psychologists know that violence and sexism are usually rooted in trauma, not masculinity. In fact, some of the very worst examples of violent sex offending are caused by men having been sexually abuse in childhood, often by female caregivers.

It is surely difficult to empathise with violent and sexist men, but we know that there are evidence-based ways of dealing with them. Professional psychologists have an ethical obligation to use treatments that are evidence-based, not faddish programmes offering to help men overcome their burdonsome masculine traits.

The forerunner of such programmes is the Duluth Model, a psychoeducational perpetrator program based on the notion that all domestic violence is caused by patriarchy, which causes men to exert control over women through violence. A meta-analysis found that Duluth, and interventions using similar ideas, showed only about half the benefit of other programmes, such as relationship enhancement. This, and the failure of the Duluth model to even recognise that at least a third of victims of domestic violence are male, should persuade us against using models based on flawed ideas about men and masculinity. Unfortunately this lesson has not been learned, as demonstrated in pages 124-8 of the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF). Attempts to change masculinity have been compared with conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexuality. Conversion therapy has recently been condemned by the BPS, yet attacks on masculinity go unquestioned.

Some people might say they want to change masculinity rather than change men, but this is based on the mistaken belief that masculinity is merely learned, and independent of biology. However there are obviously biological aspects to masculinity. Using Martin Seager’s dimensions of masculinity to demonstrate this, being a Fighter & Winner is supported by men’s physiology, such as greater muscle power and upper body strength. Having Mastery & Control of one’s feelings is supported by the tendency of testosterone to reduce fear and increase stress resilience, and being a Provider & Protector is seen in the fact that for men wellbeing is strongly linked to job satisfaction. The tremendous value of these attributes should not be forgotten, especially in 2018, the centenary of the end of World War I, a time when so many men were the protectors of civilisation.

There are undoubtedly many positive things about masculinity, and stigmatising masculinity is likely to make men feel ashamed and alienated. If negative views are internalised they could even become a self-fulfilling prophesy, putting boys on a mission to live up to the toxic label imposed on them.

Psychologists need to lead the way in offering evidence-based solutions to men’s mental health problems, and should not stand idle when 50% of the world’s population is being stigmatised in the media and elsewhere.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Open post

The new The Harry’s Masculinity Report (USA) gives lots of reasons to celebrate International Men’s Day.

by Dr John Barry

We hear a lot of negativity about men and masculinity these days, and that can’t be good for men’s mental health. The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has become so commonplace that the Oxford English Dictionary declared ‘toxic’ the ‘word of the year’.

Most of the negativity comes from the media, but gender studies, sociology, and even some people in psychology have decided that the root of men’s problems is in their masculinity. Although perhaps well meaning, efforts to help men by blaming masculinity are inevitably inferior to efforts to help men by trying to understand men by using some empathy. Empathy and the scientific method are staples of psychology, but all to often seem to be forgotten when it comes to understanding men’s mental health.

That is why the Harry’s Masculinity Report USA, launched today, is such a welcome step in the right direction. Harry’s, a firm best known in the US for selling barber’s products, have sought to understand the core values of their target audience – men.

With input from the Harry’s team I designed a questionnaire, used last year by 2000 men in the British Isles, to gain insights into what factors promote mental wellbeing in men in the USA. From our sample of 5000 men, we found that – like the UK sample – men are happiest when they are in fulfilling work and a stable relationship. They value ideals such as honesty over athleticism. Interestingly, some of the happiest men are those in active military service, and some of the least happy were those who identified as non-binary rather than male.

The findings of this report, which are published on International Men’s Day here should be a wake-up call to anybody who thinks that masculinity is something that needs to be changed. I would suggest that rather than devalue masculinity and try to change it – as psychologists used to do with homosexuality – we should start to see the positives in masculinity, and explore the ways in which masculinity can benefit men’s mental health.

My call to psychologists is: let’s start treating men with the empathy that we would extend to any other client group. Let’s stop the imaginative theorising about the ways in which men and masculinity are flawed, and start to open our eyes to the positives about men and masculinity. It’s my belief that taking a positive approach to masculinity will not only benefit men, but benefit women, children, and society.

 

The report is available to download here from 19th Nov 2018

About the author

John Barry is co-founder, with Martin Seager, of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. John and Martin are giving two talks on the week of International Men’s Day, both of which are free and open to the public. Details are here

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