Psychologists defend claim of “destructive aspects” to masculinity

A boy looks sad while other, out-of-focus boys appear to laugh at him.

The American Psychological Association is on the defensive over its newly released clinical guidance (PDF) for treating boys and men, which links traditional masculinity ideology to a range of harms, including sexism, violence, mental health issues, suicide, and homophobia. Critics contend that the guidelines attack traditional values and innate characteristics of males.

The APA’s 10-point guidance, released last week, is intended to help practicing psychologists address the varied yet gendered experience of men and boys with whom they work. It fits into the APA’s set of other clinical guidelines for working with specific groups, including older adults, people with disabilities, and one for girls and women, which was released in 2007. The association began working on the guidance for boys and men in 2005—well before the current #MeToo era—and drew from more than four decades of research for its framing and recommendations.

That research showed that “some masculine social norms can have negative consequences for the health of boys and men,” the APA said in a statement released January 14 amid backlash. Key among these harmful norms is pressure for boys to suppress their emotions (the “common ‘boys don’t cry’ refrain”), the APA said. This has been documented to lead to “increased negative risk-taking and inappropriate aggression among men and boys, factors that can put some males at greater risk for psychological and physical health problems.” It can also make males “less willing to seek help for psychological distress.”

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