Many men need help to break free of traditional ideas about masculinity, according to me, a person who has interacted extensively with men throughout her lifetime, as well as to the American Psychological Association, who recently issued guidelines for how psychologists should treat boys and men. And predictably, men who cling to traditional ideas about masculinity are freaking out.
The guidelines, the first to focus exclusively on the treatment of boys and men, are fairly pedestrian. Practitioners should “strive to help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors” is one; others recommend that psychologists should acknowledge that boys and men are impacted by gender norms as well as their race and other aspects of their lives. What has drawn the most attention is the APA’s explanation for the need for these gender-specific guidelines: men are being failed by “traditional masculinity ideology” that “has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, resulting in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”
The APA defines “traditional masculinity ideology” as a “particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” It is the idea that men must be “marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression,” wrote the APA’s Stephanie Pappas in an article announcing the release of the guidelines, and “is, on the whole, harmful.” Pappas added that “men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors”—including seeking mental health treatment. Men are four times more likely than women to die by suicide, yet are less likely to be diagnosed with depression—partly the result of what the guidelines label as gender bias against men who are in therapy.
None of this seems particularly groundbreaking or controversial. “Getting that message out to men—that they’re adaptable, emotional and capable of engaging fully outside of rigid norms—is what the new guidelines are designed to do,” Pappas wrote in explaining the purpose of the APA’s report. But predictably, rightwing media pundits (all men, naturally, from my quick survey) have spent the past few days fretting that the APA is waging a war on men.
Here’s David French in the National Review, in an article titled “Grown Men Are the Solution, Not the Problem,” in which he argues that it is men’s “essential nature” to be “tough” and “risk-taking,” and includes this analogy where he likens men to dogs:
Why should a man who works in a cubicle and types on a keyboard all day be strong? How does he productively satisfy that quest for adventure? How do you shape an identity as a sheepdog in safe suburbia?
And here’s another David, writing in Frontpage magazine:
If gender is just a state of mind, then masculinity easily becomes a mental illness. That is what happens when the inmates run the APA’s asylum.
According to PJ Media, in an article that admits that “some norms do need to be altered” and that while “something is wrong with men,” “something is right with men” as well, we must return to the “true wisdom” of masculine virtue:
Shame on the APA for repeating liberal talking points and bashing “patriarchy” rather than returning to the true wisdom of traditional masculinity.
And Rod Dreher, writing in the American Conservative, likens the idea that men may benefit from questioning rigid ideas about gender to getting their dicks cut off:
To be fair, it’s not all PC codswallop, but given the social justice warrior jargon throughout, I suspect this is mostly about psychologizing the gelding of American males.
Dreher apparently continued thinking hard about being castrated, because he issued an update:
UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more Soviet this seems. Dissent from gender ideology (not just the transgender stuff, but the establishment’s view of what men and women are)? Well, then you must be insane. Expert opinion says so!
I am sure these men did not intend to prove the APA’s thesis, but here we are! The APA notes that men who display a strong attachment to traditional gender roles and ideology are the least likely to seek help. Unfortunate for them, and for us.
Update (3:24 p.m.): After we reached out to the APA, they sent us this statement:
Unfortunately, some of the people reacting to the guidelines have misinterpreted the term “traditional masculinity” as referring to all masculine traits. The term is used by some researchers and experts who study men’s issues to refer specifically to negative aspects of masculinity, such as violence, dominance and suppression of emotions.
The guidelines are a tool for mental health professionals who treat men and boys. We hope that they will use the guidelines to help get the message to men that they are emotional, adaptable and capable of engaging fully outside of rigid norms that make “maleness” difficult for some men. We also hope this will lead to more men and boys asking for, and getting, help when they need it.