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When did Psychology start adopting a negative view of masculinity?

by Tom Golden.

The popular discourse on men and masculinity has become toxic in the past few decades, and it looks like the profession of psychology has not been immune.

There are many places where one can easily observe this, but none quite as blatant as in the ways that psychologists have labeled the “norms” for men and women.  I ran into the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI; Mahalik, 2003) and was shocked to see this misandry starkly presented. I wrote an article criticizing this inventory and a part of the criticism was looking at the history of labels psychologists had used in describing men and their norms.  I was shocked to see that the CMNI labels used for men were things such as violence, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and being a playboy.  As I noted in my article, these four “norms” seemed to pass harsh judgment on men and boys. Moreover, they seemed much more like cartoonish stereotypes than norms, and begged the question: do they even belong in a science of human behaviour?

My doubts about the validity of the description nudged me to pull together examples of terms that had been used as norms for men previously in psychology.  and the CMNI.  The chart below offers examples of the terms that have been used to describe masculine norms during the period of 1974 to 1986, and Mahalik’s (2003) CMNI for comparison:

Notice that the norms that were used prior to the 1990s seem to be neutral. Examples included competency, level headed, independence, aggressive, forceful, suppressing emotion, willing to take a stand, assertive, and self-contained.  All of these could be seen as being close to neutral with some like “level headed” or “self-confident” seeming even a bit complimentary.  Someone could have some of any of these qualities, like some aggressiveness, some forcefulness or some assertiveness and depending on the situation would be considered okay.  Now think of having some violence.  Nope, you can’t even have a little bit of that before you are judged harshly.  Same thing with power over women, playboy or disdain for homosexuals.  A little bit of any of those and you are sunk.  These four categories from the CMNI seem quite different from all of those from 1970-1986.

It seemed obvious to me that anti-male ideas were leaking into psychological journals.  Those four “norms” had no clear research showing that they were common among men.  They simply seemed to appear.  I contacted the researcher and asked about his reasons for including those four norms and he didn’t have much of an explanation. Very odd and what I thought at the time was this was simply a psychological version of male bashing.

Still I wondered if maybe I was a bit too critical.  I found that the same researcher had done an inventory for women, the CFNI or Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory.  I thought that maybe the harsh treatment of men in the CMNI might be a shift in the times and that a similar harshness would be played out in the female version of the inventory. Would they talk about relational aggression?  Queen bee? Hypergamy? Gossip? I found the CFNI and the feminine norms.  The chart below will show you those norms and list the CMNI along with the CFNI.

Needless to say, that earlier wondering was put to rest.  The female norms were sweet and nice while the male norms were harsh and unforgiving.

At the time I was looking into this I was a member of the APA Division 51 (the study of men and masculinity) mailing list.  I brought this idea up to the list and it was immediately dismissed as ridiculous.  Among the hundreds on that list, not one would admit that the norms for men were anti-male and not one would admit that the female norms were very different from the males.  They either couldn’t see it or they couldn’t admit it.

The redefinition of masculinity is one small indication of the confused state of our psychological world today, but here is a novel idea for you to think about:

Men are good!

 

Further information on this topic

Read the full article which is part 5 in a five part series on bias against boys and men in psychological research. It goes into much greater detail. Or have a look at a short video on this topic.

 

About the author

Tom Golden is a counsellor and author of several acclaimed books. He gained note for his first book  Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing which is seminal in the psychology of men’s grief.  It was acclaimed by notable psychologists and psychotherapists such as Kubler-Ross, Hope Edelman, Robert Bly and others. Tom has also written The Way Men Heal and recently a book for mothers called Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: Understanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom conducts workshops in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia, having been named the “1999 International Grief Educator” by the Australian Centre for Grief Education.  His work and his web site webhealing.com (which was the first interactive site (1995) on the internet to serve grieving people) have been featured in the NY Times, Washington Post, as well as on CNN, CBS Evening News, ESPN and the NFL Channel. He served as the Vice Chair of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health and maintains a private practice in Gatihersburg Md.

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Born to lose: the sad start and tragic end of Sid Vicious

by Dr John Barry

It’s easy for psychologists to feel empathy for a little old lady, sobbing quietly in a comfy chair in your therapy room. The cause of her pain is obvious – she has willingly told you all about it. You understand her pain, empathise with her, and she eagerly engages with your suggestions for therapy.

Much more of a challenge is the young man who acts in an erratic and violent manner, doesn’t want to talk to you, doesn’t want your help, and has little interest in what he is feeling or why he is feeling it. He doesn’t want your help, and you – very naturally – don’t feel inclined to help him.

John Simon Beverley (aka Sid Vicious) died 40 years ago today. He is exactly the kind of person who represents a challenge to psychologists, because he is such a challenge to our capacity for empathy.

The public image is of someone uncontrollably violent and anarchic, and ultimately a convicted murderer. But the underlying story is of a boy who grew up without a dad, raised by a mum who was a drug user and dealer. Clearly, not a good start in life. Prenatal exposure to substance abuse can impact behaviour throughout the lifespan, and we know that dads can have a stabilising influence on their sons. His own drug abuse began early in life and he became a heroin addict, which some would argue is a form of self-medication for emotional problems.

Some of the people around him who could have helped (for example, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren) simply encouraged his bad behaviour. In fact many people would have been disappointed if Sid Vicious didn’t live up to his name, and when you get positive reinforcement for behaving badly it doesn’t make sense to behave like a saint.

The violence of Sid Vicious is interesting: although he started lots of fights, he was in fact pretty bad at defending himself. One has to wonder whether getting beaten up was part of a pattern of deliberate self-harm, something he did in other ways, such as cutting himself with broken glass on stage.

Self-harm, violence and drug addiction are not the acts of a happy person, and one wonders whether Sid might have had a much different life had he found a therapist or a friend who could have influenced him for the better.

You have to wonder too how many other young men who are out there today who have similar problems and act out in intimidating ways, and have similar prospects for a tragic future if we can’t bring ourselves to listen to what they are telling us, through their words and actions.

One of the greatest challenges to psychologists, and society, is to empathise with people whose behaviour is violent or upsetting. This is a challenge we need to rise to if we want to work with such people and change their behaviour, ultimately to the benefit of us all.

 

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”.

 

 

 

 

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