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Psychologists Declare War Against 'Traditional Masculinity'

The American Psychological Association (APA) effectively declared war on "traditional masculinity" in its newly released rules on how psychologists should deal with men. Acting like masculinity is a disease will only further alienate the men psychologists aim to serve, however. It will also serve to blind psychologists and academics to the good aspects of masculine virtue.

In announcing the new guidelines on the APA website, Stephanie Pappas noted that most of the top CEOs, business leaders, and politicians are men, but that men also commit most homicides, are most likely to be victims of violent crime, have a shorter life expectancy than women, and face harsher punishments in school.

"APA's new Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men strive to recognize and address these problems in boys and men while remaining sensitive to the field's androcentric past," Pappas wrote. "Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly."

The guidelines themselves warn against "masculinity ideology," which refers to a "particular constellation of standards" such as "anti-feminity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The guidelines mention gender role conflict, defining masculinity as separate from femininity and focusing on "four domains:" success, power, and competition; fear of experiencing vulnerable emotions; discomfort with expressing affection among men; and conflict between work and family relations.

"The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful," Pappas explained. She cited research that the men who most believed in masculinity were less likely to seek preventive health care and more likely to "consider as normal risky health behaviors such as heavy drinking, using tobacco and avoiding vegetables."

Because masculinity emphasizes stoicism — keeping your struggles close to the vest — men are less likely to seek help when they need it. Men are less likely to voice their struggles and therefore less likely to be diagnosed with depression, even though they successfully commit suicide at rates higher than women.

Boys and men are also far more likely to drop out of school at young ages, damaging their prospects long-term. Even retirement can prove difficult, as men struggle with a lack of accomplishment and a sense of not being needed.

While Pappas and the APA were right to note the struggles of boys and men of color who are more likely to be viewed with suspicion by schools and law enforcement, they also jumped down the rabbit trail of gender confusion. "Boys and men who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender still face higher-than-average levels of hostility and pressure to conform to masculine norms," the writer noted.