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– By Demet Soyyilmaz
The problem with APA’s masculinity
American Psychological Association (APA), the main governing organization that all psychologists look up to, published a new set of guidelines for Psychological Practices with Boys and Men a few weeks ago. It is an important publication because it will affect the way many mental health professionals practice and because it is the first time that APA is concerned about men specifically. I thought it was a great initiative to focus on what specific needs men might have from psychologists. But after reading the document, I saw that APA’s initiative is not actually about helping men, but to present masculinity as a dangerous and socially constructed ideology. For anyone who wants to read these guidelines, here is the link. The guidelines’ central claim is that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and imposed on boys’ development by sexist cultural practices.
What is wrong with this view of masculinity?
First, I think this publication showcases how much trouble psychology as a discipline is in . If we want to understand what specific psychological issues men face, why don’t our experts draw on the multidisciplinary scientific progress from fields such as developmental psychology, cognitive science, biology, anthropology over the last decades? Instead, they rely on picking concepts and literature from ideological and non-scientific studies on intersectionality. For instance, masculinity ideology is defined as “standards of anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” (p.2).
There has never been this much influence from postmodern and intersectionalist literature on an APA document. It seems like APA psychologists are prioritising an ideology before the truth. Many authors are trying to pose as scientific while bringing more constructs and variables everyday to explain gender. I just really ask myself, do these complicated theoretical models and tens of regression equations really help decide how to have a good psychological practice with men? Or do we need these just for the sake of publication, and to seeml academic and smart?
Masculinity and emotions across cultures
A more serious concern that disturbed me in these guidelines is how the authors choose to phrase and fix the problems that specifically men and boys face in society. Their message is
simply that men face serious mental health issues because of masculinity ideology restricting their emotionality. For example, we know that men are much less likely than women to seek help for any trouble they face. APA cites this well founded observation too: “many men do not seek help when they need it, and many report distinctive barriers to receiving gender-sensitive psychological treatment”. APA associates this observation as a product of “White Eurocentric ideals of restricted emotionality” (p.7).
Generally in every culture, men don’t prefer to accept that they need help. They tend to fix things themselves, look for a solution themselves. This is an honorable position and not an alarming one in normal conditions. It promotes a strong attitude that we don’t need to immediately seek help and expect our problems to be magically fixed. It is the attitude of providers, engineers, and scientists to be so concerned and possessed by a problem that you find a solution for it, to share it with others to help ease their lives. If all men asked for help with ease when they were suffering, they wouldn’t be as motivated as they naturally are to provide for and fix things for others.
Contrary to what intersectionalist psychologists believe, men are cross-culturally less expressive in emotions. Among the basic emotions, men express more anger while women express more sadness (Safdar et al., 2009). These differences in emotional expressivity is consistent across 37 cultures (Fisher & Manstead, 2000). Then why try to explain the emotional aspect of masculinity as a White European ideal?
How to help men?
It is true that men need a special focus from psychologists. Numbers of suicides are increasing. When we analyze the demographics of suicide the most apparent distinction is by gender. In 2017, 3.5 times more men died by suicide than women, this 3 to 4 times ratio is consistent in Europe every year (AFSP, 2017). Men are also in trouble with the most harmful addictions and drug-induced deaths. Drug use and overdose cases are double for men than women in Europe. Men experience more loneliness and social isolation, even though they tend to admit loneliness much less than women. Boys are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with an attention disorder than girls.
All these problems are recognized in the APA guidelines, but the problem is they don’t even mention what are the best therapeutic practices we have to deal with these problems. As long as the message of psychologists is that “masculinity is a harmful ideology” they won’t be helping men. The truth is we are all led by various ideologies and societal expectations that interact and conflict with our biological drives. But the problem is that, with this report, APA is confusing the biology of masculinity with an ideology. We need to first accept our biology, respect it, and then think of ways as a society how to use our potential for the best of everyone. It is only when you respect the masculinity of men that they may respect you back, and come to ask for your help, dear APA.
About the author
Demet has an honorary bachelor’s in Psychology from Istanbul Bilgi University. Since graduation, she has been a research psychologist, worked as part of various international research groups on cognitive science and educational psychology, and conducted individual studies in experimental psychology. She is currently finishing her master’s at University of Copenhagen in
cognitive science, researching associations between ideologies and attitudes towards scientific theories. She is also exploring applied aspects of psychology such as psychoanalysis and yoga therapy.
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention. afsp.org.
Fischer, A. H., & Manstead, A. S. R. (2000). The relation between gender and emotion in different cultures. In A. H. Fischer (Ed.), Gender and emotion: Social psychological perspectives (pp. 71–98). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Safdar, S., Friedlmeier, W., Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., Kwantes, C. T., Kakai, H., & Shigemasu, E. (2009). Variations of emotional display rules within and across cultures: A comparison between Canada, USA, and Japan. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 41(1), 1.