Open post

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.

 

 

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

Open post

The provider role indicates that masculinity is prosocial

by Belinda Brown

For decades now, masculinity has been under assault – largely by visionaries who anticipate a new gender-free social order. Creation of the new involves destruction of the old, so ‘new man’ can arise phoenix like from the patriarchal dust.

And masculinity is, after all, an easy target. Men appear to be more physically violent than women, they are more likely to kill themselves and they are much more likely to commit crime. All this has provided ballast for the concept of toxic masculinity, and has had potentially damaging consequences for male self-understanding by drawing attention to stereotypes of dysfunctional male behaviour and treating them as if they are the true nature of all men

My chapter From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role  for The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health takes a different approach.

In the chapter I ask why it is that since the beginning of recorded history men have, by and large, done the hardest most gruelling labour, given the proceeds of their labour to women and children, usually deriving little benefit for themselves. I also ask why it is that, despite earning less than men, women have extensive control over resources and, why even welfare is largely spent on women and children while the taxes to pay it are earned by men.

All this points to extraordinarily altruistic behaviour by men and this, I argue, is mystery which we should explore.

A clue to male motivations lies in men’s family role. A rich seam of data has shown that partnered men earn more than unpartnered men, married men earn more than those who are cohabiting and married men living with their own children trump the lot. And this is not simply a case of female selectivity. The data show that men appear to be responding to female preferences and need.

In order to understand why men should do this I turn to the vineyards of evolutionary psychology. This field explores how our psychological adaptations are rooted in genetic and neuroendocrine systems, which have evolved in ways that help to ensure that our descendants survive.

One of the mysteries for evolutionary psychologists is paternal investment – why do human males invest so much time and effort in women and children, when the majority of primate males do little for their own offspring. This has spawned a great deal of creative thinking about the benefits of paternal investment to evolutionary fitness, and theories have focussed on mechanisms which have brought this investment about.

My own explanation is that males have evolved to be responsive to human females. As human females choose mates who can provide for them, the corresponding desire to provide may have become biologically embedded in males. Males then become deeply attached to those infants, who they help to socialise and provide with food. The result is that men are in hock to potentially self-sacrificial behaviour because this is what ensures the survival of their genes.

If men are impelled to be responsive to females and possibly to provide for and even become attached to their children, we would expect some accompanying biological scaffolding to have evolved. My paper is only exploratory but some clues point us in directions to look.

Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that little boys start out in life more sensitive and responsive than little girls. Later, men and women experience emotion to the same depth and in similar ways. So why is it that when it comes to emotional literacy or emotional awareness women tend to assume men are second best?

The key difference is emotional expressiveness; this is the domain in which women have the upper hand. When we think of men as stoical this is only in contrast to female emotional expressivity – the other side of the coin. Female emotional expressiveness is ultimately evolutionarily adaptive. It involves the rapid translation of cognitive information into a form of behaviour which will spur others into a response.

It is not just that this female emotional expressiveness appears inbuilt. So does the male capacity to respond. Men have been found to have higher levels of empathy for women than they do for other men. If male empathic responsiveness is particularly honed to female need, then males are likely to be vulnerable to female emotional expressiveness in ways that elicit altruistic behaviour. Even where this incurs a cost.

If masculinity is essentially responsive, what underlies male providing is not the desire for status or dominance but rather to be desired by women themselves.

And this too is supported by the data. Some of the most extensive studies conducted in the social sciences are on mating preferences. And what these incontrovertibly show is that women are looking for men who will be a good financial prospect. Men respond to female cues by providing them with resources because this will further their own genetic fitness.

But what I suggest is that the value of male provisioning does not necessarily lie in its nutritional content. Male provisioning stimulates paternal attachment in the same way maternal attachment is stimulated; through the experience of having others dependent on you. Male provisioning is the cornerstone on which fathering work is built. It is linked with paternal care and having a father in the home.

That men are primed to develop paternal attachment is again suggested by the male physiological response. As men marry and have children their levels of testosterone drop which is thought to facilitate a nurturant behaviour. Research on couvade has shown that men experience many of the symptoms of pregnancy as well. Men are primed to respond to infants. Not only is there evidence they experience hormonal changes in response to the cries of their infant but they can also recognise their infant by touch.

Research from the animal kingdom has found links between provisioning behaviour and reductions in testosterone. If this was found in humans, it would provide a biological link between the act of provisioning and a nurturant response. Although such evidence may not yet exist,  there is evidence to show that when it comes to childcare it is those men who have more traditional attitudes, or those men who are actually engaged in providing for their families, who are more likely to be involved.

There are a number of hypotheses in my handbook chapter which need to be explored further and tested. They raise the possibililty that the male provider role is not simply a social construction belonging to a bygone age. Rather the provider role may be not only socially, but psychologically acting as a trigger for nurturing behaviour. It may even, as I suggest in my chapter, play a vital role in transforming a more immature and potentially ‘hegemonic’ dimension of masculinity into a more socially responsible, co-operative and nurturing form.

For these reasons, the provider role – as an important dimension of masculinity – deserves further investigation. If it emerges that it is not only socially but also psychologically salient, then perhaps we need to start encouraging provisioning in men.

 

About the author

Belinda Brown is a Social Anthropologist who writes about family and gender issues.

Belinda’s chapter, From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role, appears in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health, is available here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834#aboutBook

DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

Open post

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys?

by Dr John Barry

The APA’s Division 51 (Men and Masculinities) recently released their guidelines for working with men and boys. While guidelines on this topic are much needed, the APA’s contribution leaves room for improvement. In this article I will outline issues with two of their 10 guidelines:

Guideline 1 of the APA guidelines suggests that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms”. However although it is true that masculinity is, in part, constructed, it is also partly innate.

What is the evidence that masculinity is, in part, innate? Well, sex differences in cognition and behaviour  are found worldwide, and their universality suggests something that transcends culture. Moreover, most of these clearly map onto masculinity. For example, the tendency to being more competitive, aggressive (physically), and interested in sports than women maps onto the male gender script of being a fighter and winner. The tendency to working longer hours, working in male-typical occupations, exploring the environment, more willing to take risks, maps onto the male gender script of being provider and protector.The tendency to show less fear, less crying, more inclined to substance abuse (self-medication) maps onto the male gender script of having mastery & control of one’s emotions.

The crucial point for therapy is that because some aspects of masculinity are innate, changing them is not a simple case of cognitive restructuring or behaviour change, any more than changing other deeply-held aspects of gender identity or sexual identity is straightforward or even desirable.

However we live in a culture steeped in the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’, telling us that there are ‘more similarities than differences’ between men and women. Of course this idea is not wholly untrue, but it typically deflects our attention away from the fact that it is the differences between men and women that ‘make all the difference’. Thus in many ways we are not encouraged to notice sex differences, and we might even experience cognitive dissonance if we are asked to focus on sex differences and consider the implications for, to take one example, treatment approaches in psychology.

Guideline 3 states that “in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society”. This statement is an example of what we have identified as gamma bias in psychology, a type of cognitive distortion in which examples of male privilege are magnified and female privilege is ignored or explained away. Examples of male disadvantage are boys’ educational achievement and the high rates of male suicide. Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs. In fact recent evidence has found that men are disadvantaged in many countries worldwide, especially those with medium to high levels of development.

Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.

As an alternative to guidelines 1 and 3, I would suggest that we recognise that masculinity is to some degree innate and potentially positive for mental health, and the vulnerabilities of male clients are more important to us, as therapists, than any hypothesised patriarchal power. We shouldn’t presume that the bad behaviour of the minority of men are representative of some underlying aspect of men in general, and we should recognise that negative views of men are a barrier to an appropriate level of therapeutic empathy.

I would encourage Division 51 to revise their guidelines to bring them in line with research evidence and common sense. I would also urge authors of any other guidelines relating to male mental health to make similar revisions. After all, men seek therapy less than women do even when suicidal, so we need to do what we can to make therapy more male-friendly.

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys? Well the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health offers practical advice to therapists and a more positive theoretical perspective on men’s mental health and male psychology in general. Guidelines based on this handbook will be issued soon, and I hope the 32 chapters offer therapists and academics a realistic and useful way of understanding and working with men.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

Open post

Is our attitude to men based on substandard research?

Professor Guy Madison & Therese Söderlund

Much of our attitude towards men comes from high profile feminist and Gender Studies scholars in academia. There is a strong association between the theorizing amongst such academics and the ideologies expressed in public debate. In fact, it is often the same individuals who write op-eds, scholarly papers, and pamphlets, and engage in political activism. It is only the type of platform that varies. Much of the ideas about male privilege, quotas, “rape culture”, and the patriarchy, for example, began in academic departments. But what is the scientific quality of publications from the world of gender studies?

We were compelled to investigate the quality of gender studies publications after some alluring lectures given at Umeå University, arguing that Gender Studies (GS) outperforms the old-fashioned, bigoted, and boring positivist methods. GS, it was argued, is an alternative and superior kind of science.

This aroused our interest, so we compiled a database of all GS publications we could find in a certain time frame, written by scholars active in Sweden. This Swedish Gender Studies List (SGSL) contains 12,414 cases, and has to date been used in three studies, all published in the journal Scientometrics (Söderlund & Madison, 2015; 2017; Madison & Söderlund, 2018). As they are already reported in detail, we provide only a brief summary of selected results here.

  • The 2015 study found that the annual growth rate of GS publications was greater than for research in general. In the period 2000 to 2010, GS publications from Sweden increased ~12% per year and ~7% internationally, while other research both in Sweden and internationally grew ~3-7%.
  • GS articles are substantially more often book chapters, dissertations, and conference contributions, and less often peer-reviewed journal articles (~20% of GS and 70% on non-GS publications).
  • Overall, non-GS articles had 2-3 times more citations than GS articles, and ~90% have 3 citations or more compared to only ~28% of GS articles.
  • 50% of GS journals were not even indexed in Thomson’s Journal Citation Reports, and the bulk of the remaining journals’  had an impact factor of less than half that of the average for non-GS journals (~1.0, as compared to ~2.0).
  • The 2016 and 2018 studies were based on ~2,800 statements culled from 36 journal articles with more and less gender perspective, and found significantly higher proportions of biased and normative statements in GS articles, and lower proportions of statements about biology/genetics and individual/group differences, than in non-GS articles. Consistent with this, non-GS articles had significantly lower proportions of statements about environment/culture and societal institutions.
  • The 2018 study found that GS texts were more abstract, less empirical, and focussed to a greater extent on societal factors. The proportion of statement of fact was 82% for GS articles but 48% for non-GS articles. Correlations were mentioned as a relationship between variables in 10% of GS statements and 37% of non-GS statements, but there was no difference in the proportion of causal relations (~5% for both GS and non-SG).
  • GS articles had less mention of limitations and earlier theories, results, and research in general, and had less support for their statements in terms of arguments or references.
  • In conclusion, GS articles appear to focus on communicating examples of different experiences and viewpoints of certain groups of people, rather than comprehensive models of the real world.

It is quite unusual that scholars comment on each other’s articles in print, but our 2015 article was challenged by ten pages listing alleged errors, asserting that it “falls well short of adequate good practice”, that we “distort” the conceptual framework, are “unreflecting”, and “lack…understanding” and ”…knowledge” (Lundgren, Shildrick, & Lawrence, 2015). We were, however, unable to find any argument as to how the many but relatively minor concerns listed might, separately or taken together, challenge the main result that more gender perspective was associated with lower scientific quality. The implication was not lost upon us that only gender studies scholars can be trusted to criticize gender studies publications (Madison & Söderlund, 2016).

From an epistemological perspective it is interesting and potentially illuminating that GS scholars find it worthwhile to launch arrows that so clearly miss the mark. The data are in. We are just saying what they look like. A comment to our 2018 article was just published (Lykke, 2018), again with a long list of grievances about definitions of concepts and our lack of competence. In essence, however, both comments argue that the differences we document are expected, and are therefore not valid critique. Maybe so, but that does not refute our argument that this field could achieve a greater impact if those differences were reduced.

Surely, it stands to reason that any communication would be more useful as a source of knowledge and guide for action and change if its scientific quality were higher? Is it not obvious that such quality is associated with more, rather than less, data, reliability, validity, non-bias, self-criticism, and most other quality indicators addressed in our studies, the very same indicators that scientific journals in general apply as criteria for peer-review? (Although perhaps not all journals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%22Grievance_Studies%22_affair).

We welcome the debate, and look forward to hear representatives of GS develop their arguments for why these criteria are undesirable for, or do not apply to, their field.

About the authors

Guy Madison is a professor of Psychology at Umeå University (since 2011) and holds a PhD from Uppsala University (2001). He has authored some 150 scientific papers, including five book chapters and about 100 peer-reviewed journal articles across diverse fields of study. His main areas of research are human timing modelling, music psychology, intelligence, personality, and individual differences, to a large extent employing an evolutionary perspective and behavioural genetic methods. He mainly teaches behavioural genetics and advanced level scientific methodology. See his publications and research projects at ResearchGate, Loop, or https://www.umu.se/en/staff/guy-madison/

Therese Söderlund has Master’s degrees in Psychology and in Worklife and Health, and Bachelor’s degrees in Swedish and English. She has been employed as a researcher and project assistant at the Department of Psychology at Umeå University since 2009.

 

References

Lundgren, S., Shildrick, M., & Lawrence, D. (2015). Rethinking bibliometric data concerning gender studies: a response to Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 105, 1389-1398.

Lykke, N. (2018). Can’t bibliometric analysts do better? How quality assessment without field expertise does not work. Scientometrics, 117, 655-666.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2016). Can gender studies be studied? Reply to comments on Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 108, 329-335.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2018). Comparisons of content and scientific quality indicators across populations of peer-reviewed journal articles with more or less gender perspective: Gender studies can do better. Scientometrics, 115, 1161-1183.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2015). Characteristics of gender studies publications: a bibliometric analysis based on a Swedish population database. Scientometrics, 105, 1347-1387.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2017). Objectivity and realms of explanation in academic journal articles concerning sex/gender: a comparison of Gender studies and the other social sciences. Scientometrics, 112, 1093-1109.

 

 

 

Scroll to top