The New York Times reported on a controversial set of guidelines released by the American Psychological Association to “help” psychologists treating boys and men -- by discouraging “traditional masculinity.” It’s there in the headline to Jacey Fortin’s story: “Traditional Masculinity Can Hurt Boys, Say New A.P.A. Guidelines.”
They acknowledge that ideas about masculinity vary across cultures, age groups and ethnicities. But they point to common themes like "anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."
So courage, risk-taking, and achievement are now black marks on a man’s character under the APA's guidelines.
The document was written in academic language -- not built to go viral. But last week, an A.P.A. article about the guidelines, and then a tweet about that article, captured widespread attention. Negative comments flooded in on Twitter, as well as from conservative news outlets.
“If men are struggling more the farther we move from those traditional norms, is the answer to continue denying and suppressing a boy’s essential nature?” David French, a senior writer for National Review, wrote in an article about the guidelines on Monday.
Fortin let liberal academics put positive spins on the controversial guidelines, and let them criticize the conservative point of view without rebuttal.
The primary purpose of the new guidelines, said Fredric Rabinowitz, one of the lead writers and a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands, was to help men and boys lead happy, healthy lives.
“We see that men have higher suicide rates, men have more cardiovascular disease and men are lonelier as they get older,” he said. “We’re trying to help men by expanding their emotional repertoire, not trying to take away the strengths that men have.”
And the document’s critics? “They’re taking a very binary perspective,” he said.
Judy Y. Chu, who teaches about boys’ psychosocial development at Stanford University and is the author of “When Boys Become Boys,” was not involved in drafting the document but said it contained good insights into the needs of boys, who are often taught to avoid showing emotion.
The guidelines note that men sometimes avoid seeking help from others, including from psychologists, because it could make them look weak. And they note that even when men do seek help, psychologists sometimes err by diagnosing them in outward-looking ways -- with substance abuse problems, for example -- rather than with more internalized disorders like depression.
The guidelines also cite research on health risks that are particular to men. They die sooner than women, in part because of poorer diets and more risky behaviors like smoking. They commit the vast majority of violent crimes in the United States and make up most of the reported victims, even though men have “greater socioeconomic advantages than women in every ethnic group.”
The report actually has some nuances, but those have been lost in the liberal media’s rush to condemn “traditional masculinity.”
“When boys and men challenge patriarchal constructions of gender, they’re at risk of being perceived as failures, or as weak,” she said. But she added that when women, girls and nonbinary people criticized patriarchal systems that oppressed them, another idea began to take shape: Maybe those systems hurt men, too, even as they conferred certain privileges.
French, the conservative writer criticized in the article, faulted the APA in a follow-up for playing damage control after blowback.
The APA issues guidelines that do indeed target traditional masculinity as commonly understood. Then, under pressure, they issue a statement that redefines the term.... Called out for the sweeping denunciation of traditional masculinity, the APA’s statement retreats.... Oh no, they say, they’re just concerned with “extreme behaviors that harm self and others..... In fact, traditional masculinity rejects harmful extremes. A man properly brought up to be traditionally masculine seeks to protect others from those harmful extremes.”
Stephanie Pappas’ explainer on the APA website went even further than the guidelines, stating, “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity -- marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression -- is, on the whole, harmful.”
The guidelines themselves are suffused with sex-blurred “non-binary” terms de rigueur in today’s intelligentsia circles: “Understanding the socially constructed nature of masculinity and how it affects boys and men... When trying to understand the complex role of masculinity in the lives of diverse boys and men, it is critical to acknowledge that gender is a non-binary construct that is distinct from, although interrelated to, sexual orientation. Heteronormative assumptions often falsely conflate sexual and masculine identity for men....”