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What is the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys?

by Richard Elliott.

[This blog was the winning entry to our competition for a free ticket to Saturday of the Male Psychology Conference 2019. We posed the question ‘What do you see as the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys?’ and this was the winning response].

What is the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys? In a word, gynocentrism: the innate predisposition towards the protection and preservation of women and girls, the limiting and unique source of our species’ biological success.

Men are essential and equally unique, but vastly less limited as seed for the source. This renders them less valuable to the point that they are more readily disposable. When humans make their Sophie’s Choice, they save their daughters. Under the conditions of competing priorities, we are encoded with an algorithm that defaults to the preservation of the female or, under intense environmental pressure, perish.

This is amply illustrated in Asimov’s backstory to I Robot, where the maverick male cop was saved in statistical preference to a young girl by a non-human not programmed to make an evolutionary-scale calculation, but an immediate one. Without such a deep-running programme, Bowie’s Saviour Machine might send an equal number of men and women into the abyss to defend the tribe from predacious chaos, but with that ancient, instinctual, visceral wisdom factored in, it would only be strong young men sent to risk damage and death; its logic incontrovertible. And it has been this way for at least six million years, if not twenty or more.

Behind the apparent patriarchy lies another force. In one of the largest mammals on Earth, killer whales, this matriarchy is observable as the post-menopausal female, in the three dimensions of the deep, high and to the rear of the whale pod, navigating and supervising. In the centre swim the pups surrounded by their young mothers, and around them their parents with the males towards the edges. Front and centre, and darting all around, are the childless and virile young males, scarred from barracuda attack.

If one removes the abstract human notions of power, money and ownership, humans have a dual bi-sexual hierarchy, each hemisphere with its own modus operandi and specialization necessarily and inextricable bound together to drive the whole helix forward through time. Our nursing homes are full of elderly widows, the remaining survivors of their cohort.

The data are clear that it is testosterone in its many manifestations that shortens male life expectancy through a proclivity for high-risk, high reward, lower agreeableness strategies as juxtaposed against the risk-averse, higher-agreeableness, maternal, female strategy. The secondary relative value of male wellbeing is the stumbling block to improving it. Resources are finite; need is irrefutable; perceived need is infinite; there’s always room for improvement. In cases of acute illness and trauma, it demands a strict protocol ensuring the objective assessment of clinical need to determine which patient is a priority over which other. With chronic, sub-clinical need and lower-impact malaise, the vital signs are not so clear and are more subject to cultural, including political, pressure.

I spent some time with an ambulance operator, the survivor of a suicide attempt. He taught me that when you attend the scene of a multi-vehicle incident on a motorway, don’t pay immediate attention to those screaming for help. Instead, seek out the quiet ones slowly turning white. They are the ones in real trouble. And an acoustics engineer taught me that the brain compresses sound for processing by attenuating to the loudest sound at any given moment. On average, women experience more psychological distress and discomfort than men, and complain about it more verbally. The foundation of all social health and care policy, and of the predominate culture, therefore, is to attend more to the female scream. In competition for human, financial, healthcare and emotional support resources, women win.

This genetic preference expressed both personally and politically lies so deep it includes many males’ intrinsic sense of relative worthlessness, particularly without work, family or religion. It is embedded in the training centres of our social care, social science, and education and media institutions, and is fundamental to many our guiding myths and metanarratives.

This is not about apportioning blame, but an attempt to describe and explain. Until we learn to fully apply abstract human constructs like equality, fairness and equal value to the disbursement of our finite resources, empathies towards, and support efforts for, the male of the species, gynocentrism will remain the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys.


About the author

After an earlier career in engineering, Richard Elliott switched to psychology in the late 1980s graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and Sociology from Uni. of Bath in 1992 with a dissertation on research conducted in a forensic setting. From there he moved to Avon Probation, then NACRO, the NHS and local government where he worked as a clinical auditor and commission manager. Having taken an MA in Professional Writing with Uni of Falmouth, he is soon to embark on an MSc in Biological Anthropology at Canterbury. He’s long taken a keen interest in men’s issues and was the UK promoter of Cassie Jaye’s Red Pill documentary, funding the premiere in London and 7 other cinema screenings around the country.



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Why Male Psychology matters: an evolutionary perspective

by Dr Rebecca Owens & Dr Helen Driscoll, University of Sunderland, UK.

On August 30th 2018, there was a revolutionary step forward in psychology: 71.5% of voters supported the creation of a Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS). It is now one of 19 Sections of the BPS (as well as lots of Divisions, Groups etc), alongside the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section, established 30 years ago as the Psychology of Women Section.

In this article we discuss why the new Male Psychology section is so important, and explain the relevance of Male Psychology from an evolutionary perspective.


Why a Male Psychology Section matters

We hear a lot about male privilege – how men supposedly have a status in society which benefits them. Of course there are ways in which this is true, although there are also numerous ways in which society arguably favours women. Both sexes however face particular challenges, which require a gendered approach to effectively understand and address, and which necessitate investment in research. Some of the big issues facing men were discussed at the male psychology conference, and include high suicide rates, mental health issues, and domestic abuse. There is a lack of awareness of the extent to which these issues affect men, and this means that often men have no one who will listen to them and relatively little help or support.

Lack of awareness also means research and understanding is limited, impairing our ability to tackle these issues; the development of a Male Psychology Section is crucial to furthering our understanding of issues facing men.

We believe  ‘toxic masculinity’ is an unfair and unhelpful term. Whilst there are men who behave in ways that are harmful and some of these behaviours can be linked to some aspects of masculinity, to imply that masculinity is toxic is unfair to men, and deflects us from recognising the many positive aspects of masculinity. We hope that the development of a Male Psychology Section will facilitate research and understanding of the positive aspects of masculinity.


How evolutionary psychology can provide a framework for the study of male psychology

Evolutionary psychologists examine how the brain and behaviours of modern humans have been shaped by our evolutionary history. The environment in which we evolved was largely very stable, which is why we are adapted to it. Since the agricultural revolution, c10,000 years ago, the environment has been very unstable, changing rapidly. But physically and psychologically we have not changed a great deal because human reproduction is a slow process, and evolution is therefore slow too.

Many of the psychological differences between men and women are due to sex-specific selection pressures in our evolutionary history. This is because the keys to successful reproduction (and therefore passing on genes) were different for men and women. Men had the potential to successfully reproduce by acquiring multiple partners and offspring, whereas women, constrained by pregnancy and lactation, reproduced successfully by investing heavily in a smaller number of offspring. This fundamental difference between men and women has profound implications for psychological sex differences.

It is important to note that these evolved sex differences are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is no moral judgment on this, it just is.

To fully understand male psychology, we need to understand how the male brain and behaviour have been shaped by sex-specific selection pressures in the human ancestral environment. This does not need to be the focus of all research, but if all research is informed by this understanding, it will result in a more complete and accurate understanding of male psychology.

Many of the issues that affect men more than women are rooted in our evolutionary past – men are more inclined to take risks than women, which often have negative repercussions, such as substance abuse, homelessness and suicide (in contemporary environments). This is not to say that women cannot be affected by these issues – they are –  but on average, more men are affected by such issues than women.


We will blog more about the relevance of evolutionary psychology to Male Psychology in the next few weeks.


About the authors

Dr Becci Owens is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an evolutionary psychologist with a research focus on male psychology and mental health, sex differences in mating behaviours and mating strategies, and body image and modifications.
Email: ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens

Dr Helen Driscoll is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland. She gained her BSc (Hons) Psychology degree from Newcastle University and PhD in Psychology from Durham University. Helen is a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her PhD examined sex differences in intrasexual aggression and intimate partner violence from an evolutionary perspective. Helen’s current research interests include sexual behaviour and sexuality, male psychology, dark personality and adult play.

Email: ; Twitter: @mirapiform




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