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Reactions to contemporary narratives about masculinity

A research paper by John Barry, Rob Walker, Louise Liddon, & Martin Seager, of the Male Psychology Network, UK.

Published in the Psychreg Journal of Psychology, June 2020

Abstract

Background

Masculinity is frequently talked about in contemporary Western media as being in crisis, needing reform or even being ‘toxic’. However, no research to date has assessed the impact that this pervasive narrative might be having on people, particularly men themselves.

Methods

This cross-sectional online pilot survey asked 203 men and 52 women (mean + SD age 46 + 13) their opinions about the terms toxic masculinity, traditional masculinity, and positive masculinity, and how they would feel if their gender was seen as the cause of their relationship or job problems.

Results

Most participants thought the term toxic masculinity insulting, probably harmful to boys, and unlikely to help men’s behaviour. Having feminist views, especially being anti-patriarchy, were correlated with more tolerance of the term toxic masculinity. Most participants said they would be unhappy if their masculinity or femininity were blamed for their work or relationship problems. Further analysis using multiple linear regression found that men’s self-esteem was significantly predicted by older age, more education, and a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity. Men’s mental positivity – which is known to be negatively correlated with suicidality – was significantly predicted by older age, a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity, and more education.

Conclusions

Implications for the mental health of men and boys are discussed in relation to the narrative around masculinity in the media, social sciences, and in clinical psychology.

See the full text of the paper here

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Do you underestimate the value of a good father?

by Dr John Barry

In a week that has seen two thirds of coronavirus deaths being men, we have heard claims that the pandemic is tougher on women.

In a week that has seen increasing opportunities for men to be good fathers at home, we have seen calls for the end to the traditional family unit.

Social isolation is not a recipe for good mental health, so in these times of social distancing and quarantine how can we make sense of this confusing narrative?

My advice is to decide to see the value in all of the things that men and women are doing. If you think fathers are of little value, then allow yourself to be surprised at the evidence that a good dad is of significant benefit to children. If you think men take too many risks with their health, then think of the huge risks taken daily by those protecting us in the emergency services, the delivery drivers and bin men too, and find out how traditional male values can benefit men’s health. And in doing that, let’s of course remember the massive value of the huge numbers of women who are keeping things together for us all too, the mums, the supermarket workers, and of course the healthcare workers.

Decide to take an opportunity to change how you see the world for the better.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

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‘Dehumanizing the male’, by Daniel Jimenez (Book Review)

Book review by Pablo Malo

That our society, culture or system uses and exploits both sexes differently – men in one way and women in another – is an idea whose time is yet to come. Roy Baumeister has stated that culture is humanity’s biological strategy to solve the problems that all species face: survival and reproduction. And cultures compete with each other. To survive in this struggle, cultures have to use men and women effectively and this doesn’t necessarily mean using men and women in the same way. In fact, most cultures have used men and women in different ways.

On the contrary, the discourse that currently dictates how gender relations are to be interpreted is a feminist one, a discourse that describes our culture as a patriarchy: a conspiracy of men to oppress and exploit women. To propose that men are exploited in this society is little less than madness or sin. After all, isn’t it obvious that men occupy positions of power in politics, in the economy, that 90% of the top 500 of CEOs are men and so on? If men rule and govern the world, how is it possible to say that this society doesn’t favor men nor privileges them?

The problem with this popularly accepted discourse is that it comes from looking only upwards, pointing out that positions of privilege are dominated by men and drawing conclusions for society in general and for all men as a whole. Yes, it is true that there are more men on top, but we often forget to look down. And if we look down, we see that there are also more men in the mud and in the sewers of society, in the less privileged places. Men also do poorly in many areas. To give some well-known examples: they commit suicide in a much greater proportion than women, they are 80% of the homeless, they are the main victims of workplace fatalities (of the 652 people killed at their workplace in Spain in 2018, 602 were men and 50 were women), boys have greater school drop-out rates and men are the main victims in military conflicts (the majority of both military and civilian casualties). That men lead easy and privileged lives while women suffer and are exploited is incorrect, or at least not the whole story. While it may be true that some men are doing great, to conclude that it is a bargain to be a man and that society is set up to benefit men represents a view colored by the mistake of not looking down.

If we really want to understand our culture, we have to look at the way in which society also exploits men, as well as women. And this is what Dehumanizing the Male does, effectively helping us to better understand the society and culture in which we live. The main thesis of the book is that there is no system that harms women and benefits men in a unidirectional way, but that the gender system harms both sexes differently for the benefit of the group, as well as granting them advantages (or privileges) in different areas. According to Daniel, generally, what our culture does is granting greater status to men and greater protection to women. Thus, men would enjoy, generally, the advantages of higher status and women the advantages of greater protection, while men would suffer the disadvantages of lower protection and women the disadvantages of lesser status.

The book takes a tour of the past and the present – although proposals are also made for the future – of the situation of men in society and of the discrimination and disadvantages that they have also suffered and continue to suffer. It is a rigorous book, with references to everything that is stated and that does not fall into antifeminism or competition for victim status. At no time does it deny the disadvantages or discrimination that women have suffered or suffer today but, next to them, places and points out those that impact men. The overall result, I believe, supports the general thesis that most cultures indeed grant men higher social status and women greater protection.

Nevertheless, male problems are invisible or, rather, are rendered invisible. According to Daniel, given the position assigned to the male sex as oppressor and privileged, male problems (those experienced exclusively or mostly by males) are excluded from political discourse, mainly in three ways:

1-Invisibilization or denial. This can be observed in many government surveys or reports on gender discrimination and dating violence in which men are not directly asked about their experience. Examples would be the Macro-survey of violence against women commissioned by the Spanish government and the European Union survey on the same subject. It must be said that in countries like the United States this has already changed and in the main official surveys, such as the NISVS (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey), both sexes are represented.The results can be found here.

2-Reclassifying male problems into other categories: social, racial, class, immigration, etc. Female problems are gendered, but male problems are not. Previously we talked about workplace fatalities. Well, if you read this article in the newspaper ElDiario.es you will realize that data segregated by sex is not provided. The article refers to “dead people” or “workers”. If you read it in Europa Press the same thing happens. But if you read it on RTVE and you have the patience to reach exactly the end of the last paragraph, you will find the sex segregation. Imagine that the numbers of male and female workers killed was the opposite (that is, 602 dead women and 50 men), do you think the media treatment would have been the same? Do you think that society’s and social agents’ response would have been the same? (that is, none) As Daniel repeats throughout the book, there is no gender spinning for men’s problems. If a problem or violence affects primarily women, it is a gendered problem, but the opposite does not happen.

3-Limiting male problems to purely internal issues based on gender roles. Males suffer social pressures to prevent expressing their feelings and they are constrained by their role as providers and protectors, but all they have to do to solve their problems is to change their attitude, learn how to communicate better and ask for help. This approach is present, for example, in the subject of suicide. The discussion of female suicide tends to be focus on external factors: the living conditions of women, the stress they endure, etc. When talking about male suicide, on the other hand, the main focus is on internal factors: men don’t cry, they have to be tough, they can’t ask for help, etc. Why is it not possible to conceive that perhaps men commit suicide at higher rates because they have harsh and stressful living conditions that turn their lives into hell?

I believe the thesis of this book explains very well the changes we are currently experiencing. What happens when a society gives more status to women and also more protection to women? Well, women are claiming, and obtaining, greater status, but without renouncing greater protection, or sometimes even demanding more protection (and special protections) than before. For example, we have heard a vice-president of the Spanish government state that women have to always be believed [literally sí o sí]. When feminism demands greater protection for women, it is not breaking with the traditional rules of chivalry or with its gender identity. In contrast, traditionally, men don’t demand protection. The woman who demands protection doesn’t lose her femininity, but the man who asks for it does damage his reputation as a man in the eyes of society, who perceive him as less than a man (in the case of traditionalism) or as a privileged person who pretends to be a victim and has no right to complain (in the case of feminism). Men do not demand protection, men protect others and especially themselves. A man who is not able to protect himself is simply regarded as not being man enough.

 

I have learned many things that I did not know in this book (about rape of men in military conflicts, human trafficking in forced labor, the history of partner and family violence, etc.). In my view, the evidence that men experience discrimination and violence in numerous settings, both disproportionately and/or because they are men, is strong. It is also true that the press, the media and society as a whole ignore these disadvantages and discriminations. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this will change in a long time and one of the reasons for this is that our mind is programmed by our evolutionary history to value women’s lives more than men’s. There are many tests and experiments where it can be observed that both men and women value women’s lives more, consider that the suffering of women is greater and show more sympathy towards women than men (in this Twitter thread you have several links: https://twitter.com/Scientific_Bird/status/1095403852214472706). This empathy bias is completely logical from an evolutionary standpoint: women are simply more valuable biologically and genetically than men and men are more disposable. Cultures that have evolved with this bias have survived better and displaced those that haven’t. It has never happened but if a society had sent its women to war, to explore the oceans and to work in the mines, that society would have committed suicide.

In any case, if you want to learn about gender issues that have little coverage in the mainstream media, Dehumanizing the Male is a highly recommended book. Racism, homophobia and sexism towards women continue to be part of our reality. They are incompatible with human dignity, we reprove them socially, they are even punished by law, and we are fighting them even if not everyone has advanced at the same speed. But males also experience problems overwhelmingly in some areas and this society has to fight for their rights and dignity. It is not a zero-sum game and the empathy and solidarity of our society must reach all the people who need it.

 

Dehumanizing the Male is available in Spanish, and can be purchased in the UK in both digital and print versions at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deshumanizando-var%C3%B3n-presente-masculino-Spanish-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/ and in the US at https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Daniel-Jim%C3%A9nez-ebook/dp/B081HWBYYT/  ISBN 0578575337

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The season of goodwill to all dads?

by Dr John Barry

One of the iconic images of Christmas is the family sitting around the tree opening presents. Although images of this kind are commonplace at this time of year, for some people it serves as a cruel reminder of what they are missing out on. A large number of such people are fathers who won’t see their children at Christmas due to family separation and child custody issues.

In a survey of over 1,000 divorced parents, fathers went on average over three years without spending Christmas day with their children, and travelled on average 392 miles to see their children at Christmas. Another survey of 402 parents by Families Need Fathers (FNF) found that about half the children of separated families only saw one parent at Christmas. In many cases court orders for contact with the child were ignored. For those who didn’t see their children, around three quarters didn’t get a card, gift or phone call from the child. Many respondents said that parental alienation was an issue.

The mental health impact on fathers who are unable to see their children at Christmas must be enormous, inducing in some a state of grief. Very little research has been done on this topic however, which tells us some important things:

  • There is a gender empathy gap. In general, it seems likely that problems facing men aren’t noticed as much as problems facing women
  • It is the fashion to view fathers negatively. Fathers may see themselves as important to their children’s wellbeing and development, but are often viewed in a negative light by organisations that deal with issues, such as domestic violence, that can result in family breakdown
  • Sympathy for fathers is discouraged. The legal rights of fathers are often minimised or dismissed, and sympathy is sometimes actively discouraged, as shown by this workshop which makes the harmful claims that “Father’s rights groups… are interested only in reducing their financial obligation to their children [and] Are interested only in extending or regaining power and authority over ex-partners and children” (p.47).

These three issues mean that fathers don’t receive the support that they should do, and are left at risk of mental health problems, especially at key family occasions such as Christmas. Moreover, we don’t even know the true scale of the problem, because interest in this topic is discouraged so funding is virtually non-existent.

 

What can fathers do?

Although Christmas can be a very challenging time to be a father without his children, there are several things you can do, including:

  • Don’t give up. The new year is around the corner, and things might change for the better, especially if you set out a few achievable goals for yourself.
  • Talk to someone about how you feel and what you want to do about your situation. Families Need Fathers have helplines to offer practical advice and emotional support . Other helpline numbers are listed below.
  • Realise that you are not alone. There are many fathers in exactly the same situation as you are, and despite the efforts from some quarters, sympathy for your situation is increasing, even amongst the judiciary. No doubt one day common sense will prevail and fathers in the UK will no longer be treated in a way that causes such deep distress.

 

For further help over the Christmas period:

CALM is open 5pm – midnight (365 days), phone 0800 58 58 58 or webchat https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/

Samaritans are one of the few helplines that is open right through the holiday period (open 24/7, 365 days) Tel. 116 123 (UK & Ireland)

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

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The double whammy of being a survivor of domestic abuse who is blind and male

by ‘Ken’ (real name withheld).

 

In the Beginning

 

When I first got together with Alison, (not her real name), she presented her best side to me and friends. We rarely quarrelled until our wedding day.  Then on our wedding night, she complained continuously, saying  the wedding was a disaster, blaming me for everything that didn’t go 100% .

 

Early warnings

 

At first, I didn’t spot the red flags. Confusingly, she would say: “I am your carer”, and “I never said I was your carer”. When reading printed letters to me, she would deliberately omit crucial information like contact details. I’d ask for them, and she’d tell me I was hard work, as if I’d asked her for the moon. She’d tell friends and strangers alike that I was a burden:  ”… if that’s not bad enough I’ve got a blind husband to see to”. Such comments left me feeling virtually worthless.

 

Financial

 

She’d decide what my money was to be spent on, but treat me as ‘The Bank of Husband’. I thought she had no money of her own. However, after she left, she bought a £115,000 home in a single down payment, with money I didn’t know she had. I felt scammed.

 

Escalation

 

She would not let me hold her elbow, the prescribed way to guide long cane users, saying I was damaging her arm. Once, returning with friends from a holiday in Devon, we stopped at a motorway service station. After my repeated attempts to get her to guide me correctly, she broke away, leaving me in the middle of a slip road with traffic hurtling around me. Our friend rescued me from the melee. I’d frozen, fearing I’d be run over if I moved.

During that holiday, walking back to our B&B, she kept insisting our friends they were going the wrong way. When I told her to calm down, she pushed me in front of a moving car. The driver had swift reactions, but I came within inches of collision. Later when I mentioned the incident, she told me that because she could see and I couldn’t, everybody would believe her over me. Besides, she alleged, I’d imagined it. I said it had happened in front of sighted witnesses. She replied that she’d pushed me with with good reason. That comment traumatised me more than by the original incident.

 

I have married again, and my present wife is thoughtful, kind and loving, so my fears, stoked by Alison’s attitude during our marriage, that hers was my best and last chance of love proved groundless. Alison and I are on friendlier termsnow.

 

Reporting

 

Once when she threw stiletto heeled shoes at me, I reported to the police. The duty officer was brilliant. But the officers in the squad car he sent round told me to go home and kiss and make up.  He said I was wasting their time, they’d been chasing guys threatening each other with knives and I was reporting thrown objects? Alison followed me to the squad car and claimed in soft tones that she was the victim. Instantly, she got >>There There My Dear, I got <<Now Look, Sir!

 

Effects

 

After an episode, I’d struggle to sleep for a couple of nights, then things would settle. About a week later, I’d have a nightmare themed around the traumatic event. Friends said I had become wary and on edge, afraid to displease her. One said: “When she’s not with you, you seem ten years younger”.

 

Lessons Learned

 

  1. Remarks like “I’m telling you how ugly you are for your own good”, put me off ending the relationship. I began to fear that loneliness was the only alternative to the abusive relationship. I got a feeling of “I’m not ok, everyone else is ok’. Finally, counting how many friends and family members she’d driven away, I ended the marriage. By then I felt life with her was a more daunting prospect than life alone.
  2. Withholding information from important printed material, such as utility bills unavailable in other formats was particularly hard to challenge, as I’d often not know the information was there to be had.
  3. I could not easily have moved out, as I’d need to move to an unfamiliar area. As a blind person, before I can visit the nearest pub, for instance, I have to be shown where it is.
  4. To be a disabled survivor and a male survivor is to be a disabled male survivor. That is, the cumulative impacts on gender and impairment are greater than the sum of their parts. You are a minority within a minority. A male survivor can often feel they are ‘a man in a woman’s world’ because of gamma bias. It is still not known how or whether the few support services available to male victims are accessible to disabled people. Efforts to find out must not put disabled men behind disabled women in the queue. Rather, experts must study the subject of disability and domestic abuse in an open, gender-inclusive way.
  5. One social identity cannot trump another. I felt in my dealings with some police officers, as though I were treated firstly as a man (assumed to be a perpetrator), but they’d overlooked risks associated with my impairment. Example: How can you dodge a missile you don’t see coming?
  6. Where the abuser exploits a victim’s disability to gain control, we should treat the behaviour as both disability hostility and domestic abuse, because the disadvantage of the impairment is the ‘weapon’. Example: A partner deliberately locking essential medication out of reach of a wheelchair user.

 

Conclusion

 

Experts could gather the stories of other male victims with a wide range of different impairments. Only then will we begin to find out:

  • How the experience of disabled victims differs from that of non-disabled victims; and
  • How domestic abuse may affect disabled men and boys differently from women and girls

 

In the meantime, I would encourage any disabled male survivors and victims to come forward with their stories, and go to Mankind Initiative or Abused Men In Scotland for support.

If you have a disability that impacts you in a way relevant to male psychology, and would like to blog on it for the Male Psychology Network website, please contact me john@malepsychology.org.uk

 

 

 

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the author

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

 

Open post

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

by Professor Gijsbert Stoet

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

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

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

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

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

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

So basically, there are 3 objections listed here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The findings

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

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

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

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

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

 

Equality for all

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the author

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

 

Open post

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

What are the criticisms of the proposed Male Psychology Section, and are they valid?

by Dr John Barry and Martin Seager

Criticism and alternative views are part of science, and we at the Male Psychology Network have benefited from both. We welcome healthy debate, and have held two public debates at UCL in the past year.

After several years of listening to various opinions about male psychology, today we feel that we have developed the basis for a field that is of real scientific and humanitarian worth. Many people within and outside Psychology see the inclusive value in having a male psychology section of the BPS, so it’s perhaps surprising that there are still some people in the field of psychology who are actively opposed to the idea of promoting understanding of male gender issues. What could be the basis for such opposition?

The main source of opposition is a website by Dr Glen Jankowski, lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and committee member of the BPS Psychology of Women and Equalities Section. He claims to use feminist theory to justify his opposition to the creation of a Male Psychology Section. You can find his 6-page website here https://notomalepsych.wordpress.com/ and make up your own mind about it, but here we will simply point out some of the more glaring flaws packed densely into his brief website.

Page 1: The author claims that a feminist approach to masculinity will help men more than the approach advocated by the Male Psychology Network. Feminism is indeed one possible approach to masculinity but not the only one or the most promising from the viewpoint of men themselves. The feminist approach suggested by Dr Jankowski is predicated on negative views of masculinity rather than a sincere empathy for men experiencing mental health issues.

We believe that the notion that masculinity is somehow toxic and in need of wholesale reconstruction is in itself a toxic belief that does not reflect the scientific evidence or everyday life. The prevalence of these toxic views and the need to test them scientifically means that there is even more need for a Male Psychology Section, not less. We are not convinced that blaming masculinity or patriarchy for the mental health problems of men provides a basis for helping men. For example, the Duluth model of domestic violence is blind to the possibility that men can be victims of violence from women. This obviously is a total failure of science and a failure of compassion towards male victims given that men make up anything from 33-50% of the victims of domestic violence.

The author also claims that men are disproportionately advantaged over women (“the patriarchal dividend”). However he ignores a great deal of evidence of male disadvantage, for example, the fact that 75% of suicides are by men, 85% of rough sleepers are men and boys have been doing poorly in education compared to girls for some 30 years.  We suggest that the existence of differences, disadvantages and inequalities in either direction relating to gender are an argument for a Male Psychology Section, not against it.

Page 3: In an apparent attempt to minimise the significance of the fact that most suicides are by men, the author of the ‘say no’ website presents a graph showing that women think about suicide more than men do. No doubt contemplating suicide is serious in itself, but it is bad science and unempathic – especially for a psychologist – to conflate thinking about suicide with the completion of the act of suicide.

Page 4: The Male Psychology Network takes a balanced view of masculinity in both its positive and negative aspects. We have stated very clearly in publications and lectures that men are capable of committing terrible crimes (e.g. Barry, 2016). We are sincere in wanting to understand why these behaviours exist, and how we can address these problems as psychologists. The ‘say no’ website however seems to be arguing that we are trying to deny female suffering and victimhood. This is simply false and a ‘straw person’ argument, attributing beliefs and opinions to us that we have never expressed. We fully accept that women’s issues and victimhood need addressing too, and we hope that women too can benefit from our research. After all, men, women and children share this planet together.

Page 5: The ‘say no’ website tries to make the argument that our research, presentations and publications ignore minority men e.g. BME and gay men. This is simply incorrect. Our research is inclusive of all categories of men, and we are interested in masculinity as a whole. The available data suggests that suicide rates in black men are higher than in black women and higher in gay men than in gay women, thus although it is important to see suicide from an ethnic and sexuality perspective, we also need to recognise the ever-present gender perspective. Without a more scientific approach, the core gender issues behind suicide and other predominantly male behaviours are in danger of remaining overlooked.

Dr Jankowski’s categorisations of our work tend to obscure examples of minorities e.g. one of our most downloaded studies is one about Black men’s mental health (Roper & Barry, 2016). We have also done research in which ethnic and sexual minority variables are taken into account (e.g. Seager et al, 2014). Moreover, we would strongly argue that by and large our work is relevant to men in general, and minority men can benefit from our work. More recently, our work is increasingly focusing on the (less unpalatably “patriarchal”) working class men who make up the majority of prisoners, soldiers, drug addicts, and school drop-outs. The ‘say no’ website has overlooked this.

Page 6: The final page of the website reveals what might be the underlying reason for opposition to creating a Male Psychology Section: “We fear that the new proposed section will divert resources, effort and good will away from helping not only men but also women.”  This defensive ‘zero sum’ mindset is surely not what we want to see in a healthy scientific environment, and it is not clear to us how it can be reasonably argued that having a Male Psychology Section could be bad for men. As to women, who share their lives with men and boys, it must surely be a good thing if psychological science helps society to understand men better.

Dr Jankowski also claims in his website that there has been a lack of discussion about Male Psychology. However we have always been very open about our research, presentations and debates (which he seems to acknowledge on page 5 of his website), and although he has been invited to discuss or debate with us both privately and in public, to date he has not done so.

We think it is a shame that a new Section of the BPS that is potentially so useful to a huge number of people might be blocked by the misguided views of a few. We hope that this short article has helped to persuade you that a Male Psychology Section would be a positive and practical source of help not only for men and boys, but for the women and girls who share their lives.

 

About the authors                                                      

John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network.

Martin Seager is a consultant clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network

 

You can vote now for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.
Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

References

Barry, J. (2016). Can psychology bridge the gender empathy gap? South West Review, Winter 2016, 31–36.

Roper, T., & Barry, J. A. (2016). Is having a haircut good for your mental health? New Male Studies5 (2), 58-74.

Seager M, Sullivan L, and Barry JA (2014).  Gender-Related Schemas and Suicidality: Validation of the Male and Female Traditional Gender Scripts Questionnaires. New Male Studies, 3, 3, 34-54

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