What’s the matter with men? The American Psychological Association has the answer. The matter with men is masculinity. And traditional masculinity is to blame for much of what ails society.
That’s the upshot of a new manifesto it released earlier this month. Its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men could not be more clear. "Traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful,” says a summary commentary on the APA’s website. This explains why men are responsible for the vast majority of violence in society.
You might think that masculinity has some good points. After all, history shows that dominance, aggression, stoicism and competitiveness are woven into the fabric of human progress. They have given us scientific discoveries, global trade, and great cities, art and literature. But no. On the whole, it’s a bad thing.
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“Men commit 90 per cent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 per cent of homicide victims,” the summary says. “They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school.”
Nowhere in this remarkable document is “evolution” discussed. Apparently the American Psychological Association doesn’t believe in it. Nor is there any real acknowledgement that certain male behaviours might be rooted in biology. Nowhere do the authors of the APA report mention that males are the more aggressive sex in every society on Earth, as well as in primate species. In fact, in most of modern academia, the topic of innate differences between the sexes is a no-go zone. All identities are constructed by society, and all differences between the sexes have been shaped by the patriarchy.
The American Psychological Association influences the work of thousands of practitioners and researchers in Canada as well as the United States. It shapes clinical practice. It influences the way kids are treated in schools. And its guidelines are deeply anti-male. For instance, it claims the research shows that “traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.” Its caricature of masculinity ignores the more positive traits of manliness, such as leadership, strength, courage, endurance, hard work, sacrifice, and protection of the weak.
The APA would basically like us to treat boys as if they were defective girls. It tells us that typically male behaviours, such as bonding through physical activity, or restraining their shows of affection to other men, are not healthy because they reinforce traditional masculinity. The good news is that these men can be helped. A good therapist can gently point out the errors in their beliefs, in order to liberate them from their destructive male habits.
The guidelines do get one thing right. Boys and men are in trouble. Apart from the highest stratum of society – where men still reign supreme – women are beating them everywhere. While men’s incomes have stagnated, women’s incomes have soared. Women outnumber and outperform men at every level of education and in almost every field – including psychology, the majority of which is made up of women. In much of the Western world, all too many boys grow up without fathers – and they’re worse off because of it. What they need is more male influence, not less.
The modern economy is no friend to men – especially men without the temperament and social skills to navigate their way forward. The real problem for those strong, stoic types who work with their backs more than their brains is not that they need therapy. It’s that they need a job that can support a family and give them a place in the world. This is shaping up to be one of the more urgent issues of our age.
The APA report is just the latest depressing example of the way that theories grounded in social constructivism and critical gender theory have leached from academia into wider society. The problem isn’t trivial. Such notions are distorting the way we view our world, often for the worse.
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Issues of men, women, power and gender have never been more political or more hotly contested. “The fight over men is shaping our political future,” reads the headline on a recent New York Times column by Thomas Edsall. He writes that “[h]ow you see the role of men and women at work and at home has become an integral element of contemporary political conflict.” Conservatives, for example, are more likely to agree that the obstacles to women’s equality have largely disappeared, while liberals believe there’s a long way to go.
In the meantime, don’t let some psychologist tell you the problem with your son is that he’s too masculine. His problem may be that he needs to man up. It’s time to redeem the good things about masculinity. And it’s time to reject the people who think it’s a dirty word.