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It’s easier to blame men than to see men as victims

by Dr Tania Reynolds

A cursory glance through recent news articles surrounding gender suggests women are struggling in modern society, and uniformly have it worse than men. Indeed, there are many contexts where women are disadvantaged, such as the pattern of fewer female world leaders, CEOs, and full professors. At the top of the societal distribution, men are overrepresented, which is certainly worthy of attention and concern. However, if one were to take a careful look at the bottom of the societal distribution, they might be surprised to see men are also overrepresented. For example, compared to women, men are more likely to be homeless, suffer from substance abuse, commit suicide, drop out of high school, never attend college, be imprisoned, and even die 5 years sooner on average.

Why is it that the social discrepancies whereby men are disproportionately afflicted receive significantly less attention? A reader might espouse the argument, “well these are issues under men’s control”. Perhaps that is true, to some degree. However, there are some cases where these discrepancies are at least partially the result of active biases. For example, legal research demonstrates that men receive longer prison sentences than do women, even when they commit identical crimes (Mazella & Feingold, 1994; Mustard, 2001). Why then, do we fail to recognize these cases where men are suffering?

Researchers in cognitive moral psychology have discovered that when people evaluate situations in which harm occurs, they instinctively cast the involved parties into one of two roles: intentional perpetrator and suffering victim (Gray & Wegner, 2009). That is, the human mind naturally perceives moral actions through a dyadic template, such that we assume those involved are either the harm-inflicting agent or the harm-experiencing patient. Moreover, once we cast a target as a perpetrator, it is incredibly difficult to subsequently view them as a victim, and vice versa.

In our research, we tested the hypothesis that the application of this cognitive template might be biased by gender (Reynolds, Howard, Sjastad, Okimoto, Baumeister, Aquino, & Kim, 2019) Specifically, we predicted that people more readily place men in the role of perpetrator and women in the role of suffering victim. If so, this tendency might suggest it is challenging for us to perceive men as victims and respond compassionately to their suffering.

To test this hypothesis, we had participants evaluate situations involving workplace harm, such as a surgeon bullying their surgical trainee.  We manipulated whether we referred to the targets in the scenarios as either victim and perpetrator or more neutrally, “party A or B”. We asked participants to recall whether the harmed target was male or female, even though the scenario never mentioned this. Across the different scenarios, we found that people overwhelmingly assumed the harmed target was female, but especially when we labeled the targets as perpetrator/victim. This finding suggests we more easily place women in the victim role. Moreover, when participants assumed the harm target was female, they felt more warmly towards her and perceived her as more moral, compared to when they assumed the harmed target was male.

In another study, we had participants evaluate an ambiguous joke made in the workplace. This time, we manipulated the sex of both the employee making the off-colored joke and the recipient of the statement. Participants assumed a female employee who heard the joke experienced more pain than a male recipient of the identical statement.

Moreover, participants also shifted their perceptions of the employee making the joke. When a man made the joke, participants were more willing to punish him, less willing to forgive him, less willing to work with him, and less willing to nominate him for a leadership position, compared to a woman who made the same exact joke. These patterns suggest we not only more easily recognize harm to women, we also more strongly desire to punish men, a response typical to those placed in the perpetrator role.

We then wanted to explore whether this pattern holds for groups of men or women. We had participants evaluate a scenario where a managerial team needed to make the decision to fire a group of employees whose jobs were redundant. We manipulated whether those fired employees were male or female, but kept everything else identical. Participants assumed the fired female employees suffered more pain than the fired male employees, even though real world data suggests men who lose their job suffer worse outcomes (Wang, Lesage, Schmitz, Drapeau, 2008).

Moreover, participants also differentially judged the managerial team based on our manipulation. Managers who fired women were assumed to have inflicted more harm, to have made a more unfair decision, and to be less moral. This pattern suggests we not only more easily recognize female suffering, but also more harshly judge those who inflict suffering onto women than those who inflict suffering onto men.

Altogether, this body of findings indicates that our application of moral typecasting is biased by gender. We more readily place women in the victim role, which makes us more sensitized to their suffering. We also more readily place men into the perpetrator role, which makes us more inclined to punish and blame them.

This gender bias in moral typecasting has many important implications. It suggests that when we encounter men’s suffering, we will be less inclined to notice it, perceive it as unjust, or feel motivated to alleviate it.

Our findings may help explain the asymmetric discussion surrounding gender differences in social outcomes. It is cognitively easier for us to detect women’s suffering and respond with sympathy and aid. However, when we learn these statistics about the negative outcomes suffered by men, we are less inclined to view men as victims, and might instead, either overlook the suffering or just blame it on men themselves.

 

Dr Tania Reynolds will be giving a talk on this topic at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL, 21-22 June 2019.

About the author

Tania Reynolds received her PhD in Social Psychology from Florida State University under Dr. Roy Baumeister and Dr. Jon Maner. Her research examines how pressure to compete for social and romantic partners asymmetrically affects the competitive behaviors and well-being of men and women.

Through a joint appointment with the Gender Studies department, Reynolds offers courses on human sexuality and sex/gender differences. As a collaborative research team with Justin Garcia and Amanda Gesselman, Reynolds hopes to examine the dispositional predictors and physiological correlates of individuals’ romantic relationship experiences, as well as how these associations may differ across gender and sexual orientation.

 

References

Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Moral typecasting: divergent perceptions of moral agents and moral patients. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology96, 505-520.

Mazzella, R., & Feingold, A. (1994). The effects of physical attractiveness, race, socioeconomic status, and gender of defendants and victims on judgments of mock jurors: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology24, 1315-1338.

Mustard, D. B. (2001). Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in sentencing: Evidence from the US federal courts. The Journal of Law and Economics44, 285-314.

Reynolds, T., Howard, C., Sjastad, H., Okimoto, T., Baumeister, R. F., Aquino, K., & Kim, J. (invited revision). Man up and take it: Gender bias in moral typecasting.

Wang, J., Lesage, A., Schmitz, N., & Drapeau, A. (2008). The relationship between work stress and mental disorders in men and women: findings from a population-based study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health62, 42-47.

 

 

Open post

Who is best placed to help male victims of domestic violence?

By Paul Apreda, Manager of Both Parents Matter.

According to new data from the Mankind Initiative charity, 41% of men who experience domestic violence suffer from mental or emotional problems as a result. Male victims of domestic violence have been largely invisible of the years, but a change is in the air: finally there is recognition that not only do men experience abuse, but also that their needs should be supported. The BBC documentary about the life of Alex Skeel cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact in the corridors of power and on the frontline in Police and Local Authority offices. Real investment in developing services for men is on the agenda, yet the favoured groups to secure this new cash are perhaps surprising, because they hold the view that domestic violence is caused mainly by patriarchy, and that the most important victims are female.

The past 10 years have been a roller-coaster experience for male victims of domestic violence. Back in 2007/8 the British Crime survey found that as many as 15% of victims of abuse were men. Ten years on that has grown to more than 37% in the latest Crime Survey of England and Wales.  The Mankind Initiative – the UK’s leading specialist support service for male victims remind us that for every 3 victims of DV – 2 will be women and 1 will be a man.

In a survey of 728 male victims of abuse undertaken by our charity we asked ‘How important is it that services for male victims should be grounded in the experience of men and separated from services primarily designed for women?’ More than 84% though it essential or important. We agree.

You might be forgiven for assuming that support services, strategies and funding would have mirrored this meteoric rise in the number of men suffering abuse. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.

In Wales new legislation to combat domestic abuse was introduced in 2015. It’s called the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. There is a clue in the title. It has spawned a range of programmes, initiatives and strategies such as Ask & Act – delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid – where public sector workers are trained to understand the ‘Violence against Women’ agenda. Welsh Government also fund a helpline for ALL victims of abuse called ‘Live Fear Free’ – also delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid. Sadly just 2% of callers to the service are men.

The Welsh Government’s National Strategy emphasizes that:

’…violence against women is a violation of human rights and both a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men, and it happens to women because they are women and that women are disproportionately impacted by all forms of violence.’

Male victims get a somewhat less significant statement about their experience

‘Whilst it is important that this Strategy acknowledges and communicates the disproportionate experience of women and girls this does not negate violence and abuse directed towards men and boys or perpetrated by women’

That will be little comfort to the 1 in 3 victims who experience abuse and have the misfortune of being male.

In terms of practical help there is a chasm between need and provision for men. In Gwent, the official data shows that 36% of victims – over 8,000 in total – recorded by the Police were male – yet support services helped just 69 men compared to 2678 women in 2015/16 across the five local authorities. In North Wales it’s even worse –2,401 women were supported and just 32 men.

There have been some important changes, and surprising ones at that. You’ll struggle to find many organisations called ‘Women’s Aid’ across huge swathes of Wales. Whilst some have retained the clue in the title many have changed their name – Cyfannol, Threshold, Calan, Atal Y Fro, DASU, Thrive and many more.  Almost all are still member organisations of Welsh Women’s Aid and retain their commitment to a gendered view of domestic abuse that emphasizes the role of the patriarchy, and mirrors the Welsh Government strategy’s statement about this happening to women BECAUSE they are women.  To be clear, these organisations are powerful advocates for the women who experience domestic violence and abuse, who undeniably make up a majority by all ways of calculation in the UK.  If you were a woman you’d want these people on your side. But what if you’re a man?

The question that will come before local politicians in 2019 will be – ‘Should ‘Women’s Aid’ organisations receive public funding to provide support to men as well?’ There is also a question about potential conflicts of interest where both parties are supposedly being supported by ‘women’s aid’ as victims / survivors of abuse? We think that’s another important reason for separate services delivered by separate organisations.

It has never been more important for men’s voices to be heard.

 

About the author

Paul Apreda is National Manager of Both Parents Matter (BPM) in Wales. BPM is a service of FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru – a registered charity that provides information, advice and assistance to parents and grandparents with child contact problems. Since 2017 the charity has responded to the growing number of service users who identified as male victims of domestic violence and has developed a service to provide drop-in support as well as helping men (and some women) to access Legal Aid for Family Court proceedings.

Website www.fnf-bpm.org.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Families-Need-Fathers-Both-Parents-Matter-Cymru-263187500387675/

Twitter:  @fnf_bpm_cymru

Paul Apreda
National Manager – 07947 135864

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

by Margaret Gardener

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

 

Let me ask you to do a thought experiment:

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

and

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

and

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

and

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

and

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

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

 

Empathy is key

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

About the author

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

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

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

Email: support@false-allegations.org.uk

Phone: 0844 335 1992

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

 

Open post

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the author

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

 

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

 

 

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