An open letter to the American Psychological Association
Though not a psychologist and not by any means a “traditionally” masculine man—I am, in fact, a gay man—I find your guidelines with regards to treating male patients so misguided that I must register a strong complaint.
Because so many others have expressed their dismay, I’ll confine myself to a few non-technical problems that trouble me personally. Before proceeding: I’ve read summaries of the guidelines and many comments on them, not yet the final text.
Barbara Kay has compared your guidelines for treating female patients with these new ones for treating male patients. The comparison is very instructive. Both rely on feminist ideology, not scholarship, but there is one big difference.
The former relies on the ideological premise that society (that is, men who have allegedly created and sustained a “patriarchal” culture in order to privilege themselves at the expense of women or even in order to oppress women) is responsible for what leaves female patients in need of therapy.
The latter relies on the ideological premise that men themselves, not society in general and certainly not women, are responsible for what leaves male patients in need of therapy.
Taken together, the two sets of guidelines suggest that what is at stake for the APA in these guidelines for treating men is not ultimately the psychological health of male patients (the “few” who suffer from collateral damage) but that of female patients.
This means that the APA is not merely blaming the victims (“a few” male patients) implicitly but also replacing therapy, let alone scholarship, with a political ideology. One implication is that the ultimate cure for masculinity is conversion to feminism.
My field is religious studies, and my specialization is in “secular religions” such as political ideologies. I know proselytism when I see it.
This ideological slant contaminates many, many features of the guidelines for both male and female patients. How else can you explain references to “masculinity ideology” but not to “femininity ideology”?
Does the APA really assume that women have not, at the very least, colluded historically and cross-culturally with men in the production of culture and received support for their own needs in return? Does the APA really assume that feminism itself, in one form or another, is not an ideology? And whether you call it that or not, how does feminism—I refer here specifically to the pervasive and relentless shaming that feminism has unleashed—affect boys and men?
The evaluation of its effects, both beneficial and harmful, would be an appropriate topic in the guidelines for treating female patients, but any guidelines for the treatment of male patients that fail to acknowledge this problem in the face of massive evidence of increasing dysfunction among boys and men is therapeutically, morally, intellectually bankrupt.
Young men, in particular, are giving up and dropping out in a world that apparently has no room for them specifically as men. They’re dropping out of school, dropping out of society and dropping out of life itself at much higher rates than those of young women.
How could it be otherwise when “society” keeps telling them that either masculinity or maleness itself (or both) causes every conceivable societal problem from violence (which is to say, “violence against women”) and domination (a.k.a. “hegemony” or “privilege”) to “manspreading,” “mansplaining” and who knows what accusation will be invented next?
I’ve written four books, along with my co-author, Katherine Young, on misandry. I still need to explain, for some reason, that misandry is the sexist counterpart of misogyny. Both are rampant but only one, misogyny, is carefully monitored, publicly denounced and punished.
Among the few academics to focus attention on young men at all is Michael Kimmel, and he’s a sociologist. Unfortunately, he’s also a feminist. His main argument (which the APA has clearly adopted) is that they feel a sense of “aggrieved entitlement” to privilege.
Deprived of unearned status and power as men, supposedly learned from their alpha-male fathers, they turn against women. This is a spurious and pernicious theory.
It’s true that young men feel a sense of aggrieved entitlement, yes, but to a healthy collective identity as men, not to privilege. A healthy identity is surely something to which every human being has a right.
Young and I have written about this problem—the meaning of “healthy identity” (in the hope of stimulating research by psychologists) and historical factors since the Neolithic period that have made it increasingly difficult for men to sustain a healthy identity.
I want to conclude with a note on “traditional” masculinity. The APA has identified that with a perversion of tradition, not tradition itself.
My father’s masculinity was very traditional but not even remotely “macho” (which now refers to a grotesque stereotype of masculinity). He was a gentleman. I never heard a vulgar word from him. I never saw him drunk or violent.
He taught me, by both precept and example, the importance of courtesy. His idea of being a good father was to visit museums with me, attend synagogue and study groups with me or take me to his class reunions at MIT—not to go hunting, drinking or whoring.
He didn’t understand homosexuality, it’s true, because no one did in those days (certainly not the psychologists or psychiatrists), but he never threatened to abandon me or withdraw his support for me.
He treated my mother protectively (although he often tried to teach her, without success, about money), because that’s what she and other women of her class expected husbands to do.
When she decided to go into business as an interior decorator, he encouraged her to take courses and set up shop with her friend (although she soon realized that she had neither the interest in nor the aptitude for the business, as it were, of business). In short, he was a good father, a good husband, a good citizen and a good man. He deserves admiration, not contempt.
And he wasn’t alone. I think that my father was the best one in the entire world and in all of human history, of course, but I do know that he was not some kind of genetic mutant.
He was produced largely, though not entirely, by a cultural tradition. And that tradition was far more widespread than his own particular community. It was the paradigm, for example, in countless movies from before the 1960s.
Not all men were gentleman; some were cads or worse. But the ideal was indeed a gentleman (until all hell broke loose during the Sexual Revolution seemed to make earlier ideals for both men and women obsolete).
Even today, though, millions of men become fathers and struggle to do what many, including some psychologists, now consider superfluous or even oppressive. Without taking Psychology 101, these men understand that fathers are not merely assistant mothers or walking wallets.
Some, in fact, are beginning to realize that their distinctive function in family life becomes increasingly as children prepare to leave home and enter the larger world. The American Psychological Association owes every male patient a sincere and unambiguous effort to promote the traditional Western ideal of manhood, not to heap scorn on it or try to replace it with something that no healthy male, gay or straight, could ever accept without pay a high cost in self-hatred (a psychological problem that the association should consider carefully).