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What's behind the mask?

‘Traditional masculinity’ harmful to boys and men

Masculinity

A landmark report in the States has concluded old school conceptions of masculinity contributes to male suffering, and offers new guidelines to psychologists in improving men's mental health.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has for the first time issued guidelines to help psychologists improve the health of men and boys, and said aspects of traditional masculinity were harmful. The report has been backed by more than 40 years of research, is about reducing male suffering, and defines traditional masculinity 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.”

The APA report said the pressure men and boys feel to conform to these aspects of traditional masculinity can result in higher rates of suicide, addiction, violence and early death.

Jared Skillings, APA chief, defended claims from American conservatives that it was “an attack on men” by saying, “We’re talking about negative traits such as violence or over-competitiveness or being unwilling to admit weakness. Of course masculinity also has positive traits – courage, leadership, protectiveness – the report includes both sides.”

While some commentators have said the research is a bandwagon reaction to contemporary conversations around gender, harassment and mental health, the guidelines have been in the works since 2005.

The guidelines for psychologists resulting from the report include:

  • Promote healthy intimate relationships among boys and man.
  • Address issues of male privilege and power.
  • Promote healthy father involvement.
  • Strive to understand the factors that lead to male aggression and violence.

This report follows a good deal of discussion in the last couple of years around “toxic masculinity” and is a landmark piece of work in which long-term research is concluding our conceptions of what it means to be a man must change if we’re to improve men’s health.

The guidelines mention that some of the issues psychologists have to contend with is that men often avoid seeking help from others so as not to look weak. Professor Judy Y.Chu from Stanford University told the New York Times, “All of us are born needing, and being able to develop, close personal relationships. And those are essential to our health. So what does it mean that we socialise boys away from that inherent need?”

There had previously been no such guidelines for issues around men as they are historically seen as the “norm’ – meaning, their psychological needs and habits were seen as universal, the standard, against which women and other groups were judged (guidelines for women and girls have been out for a long time.”

Said Chu, “When boys and men challenge patriarchal constructions of gender, they’re at risk of being perceived as failures, or as weak,” but now that these constructions are being questioned by women, people are beginning to realise the system hurts men too, “It brought to light issues that were being overlooked because there was a taboo against talking about it.”

These are important moments in a movement towards a New Masculinity which can free men up from the limiting and ultimately damaging socialised conceptions of what a man should be.

 

Find out about our Festival of New Masculinity.

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