‘Toxic’ mas­culin­ity harm­ing boys, say top psy­chol­o­gists

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Julie Henry

TRA­DI­TIONAL mas­culin­ity is toxic and en­cour­ag­ing boys not to cry is dan­ger­ous to their health, ac­cord­ing to the world’s lead­ing psy­chol­ogy group.

In its first of­fi­cial guide­lines on the treat­ment of men and boys, the in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion says many male traits in­clud­ing sto­icism, com­pet­i­tive­ness, dom­i­nance and ag­gres­sion are harm­ful and can lead to vi­o­lence, de­pres­sion and sui­cide.

It ar­gues that this ‘ tra­di­tional mas­culin­ity ide­ol­ogy’ pushes boys to­ward ‘anti-fem­i­nin­ity’ and forces them to mask the ap­pear­ance of weak­ness while en­cour­ag­ing risk­tak­ing, ag­gres­sion and vi­o­lence as a means of solv­ing prob­lems.

As a re­sult, it lim­its men’s psy­cho­log­i­cal devel­op­ment, con­strains their be­hav­iour, causes ‘gen­der role strain’ and has a neg­a­tive im­pact on their men­tal and phys­i­cal health.

But crit­ics have ac­cused the re­port of tak­ing an anti-male stance, which de­picts tra­di­tional male val­ues as ‘nearly mon­strous’.

The re­port paints a pic­ture of gen­er­a­tions of boys un­der con­stant pres­sure by so­ci­ety to con­form to mas­cu­line ex­pres­sions who are cen­sured by their par­ents and peers if they fail to main­tain the ex­pected be­hav­iour.

Its au­thors say trans­gen­der is­sues are at the ‘fore­front of the cul­tural con­ver­sa­tions’, with ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing a link be­tween ad­her­ence to rigid mas­culin­ity in gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der men and higher rates of self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iour, such as drug-tak­ing.

The APA is re­garded as a lead­ing au­thor­ity on psy­cho­log­i­cal mat­ters. Its man­ual of men­tal dis­or­ders is taken as the bi­ble of men­tal ill­ness and con­sulted by British psy­chol­o­gists and health ex­perts.

While the con­tro­ver­sial guid­ance was years in the mak­ing, its pub­li­ca­tion in the wake of the #MeToo move­ment against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault feeds a pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive about the dangers of tra­di­tional mas­culin­ity.

Crit­ics last night ac­cused the au­thors of ‘ anti- male rhetoric’. Frank Furedi, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy at Kent Univer­sity, said: ‘Sud­denly the re­luc­tance of some men to cry on de­mand is re­cast as pathol­ogy. This is not a sci­en­tif­i­cally in­formed doc­u­ment, it is an ide­o­log­i­cally driven at­tempt to de­value male iden­tity.’

Pro­fes­sor Chris Fer­gu­son, a fel­low of the APA, com­plained that the guid­ance read like an ac­tivist’s agenda, say­ing: ‘In sweep­ing terms, tra­di­tional men are por­trayed as nearly mon­strous, their cul­tural val­ues as­so­ci­ated with ev­ery­thing from sex­ism to promis­cu­ity, to their own de­clin­ing health.’

But psy­chol­o­gist Ryon Mc­Der­mott, who helped draft the re­port, said the pro­fes­sion needed to help men ‘ break free of mas­culin­ity rules that don’t help them’ and f ocus on po­tenti al l y posit i ve as­pects of mas­culin­ity such as courage and lead­er­ship.

And Dr Glenn Wil­son, a British psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor of The Great Sex Di­vide, said: ‘ Male­fe­male dif­fer­ences are not so­cially con­structed, they have early evo­lu­tion­ary ori­gins.

‘Male and fe­male-typ­i­cal traits have both ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. For ex­am­ple, psy­chopa­thy in­creases the like­li­hood of crime but is use­ful in bat­tle.’

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