Twelve years after the American Psychological Association (APA) approved guidelines for working with women and girls, it has released a 10-point plan for working with boys and men.
While acknowledging that ideas about masculinity vary across cultures, age groups and ethnicities, the report’s authors noted common themes that cut across culture, including: “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” Despite being written in dry academic language, the guidelines went viral and drew immediate negative backlash from conservatives and men’s rights activists who saw the guidelines as an attack on conventional masculinity. “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?” wrote David French, a senior writer for National Review. French did not provide any data to support his claim that conventional masculinity is “essential” to a boy’s nature because none exists.
The guidelines outline many challenges experienced by men including a fear of appearing weak if they seek out help from psychologists; increased health risks; perpetrating and being victimized by violent crimes; and incarceration. “We see that men have higher suicide rates, men have more cardiovascular disease and men are lonelier as they get older. We’re trying to help men by expanding their emotional repertoire, not trying to take away the strengths that men have,” said Fredric Rabinowitz, one of the lead writers of the guide and a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands.
The guidelines acknowledge the intersectionality of gender, race, and income and how such variables impact outcomes ,including the fact that “men in the United States go to jail more often than women, but men from minority ethnic groups are more likely to be incarcerated than white men, even when crime rates are the same.” While appreciating the guidelines overall message, “they don’t explicitly recommend group therapy, psycho-educational groups or men’s circles as a means of resocialization,” noted Randy Flood, director of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan and coauthor of Mascupathy: Understanding and Healing the Malaise of American Manhood. “Still, the guidelines challenge psychologists to embrace a wellness paradigm where we cross-train boys into their full humanity, rather than sacrificing half of it by only prizing stoicism, aggression and competition—the triumvirate of traditional masculinity,” Flood said.
Nevertheless, he predicted more backlash from those who falsely conclude “that the standards are just another example of the war on men, rather than view it as thoughtful, well-researched and precisely constructed gender-specific guidelines to help men be better versions of themselves and ultimately more emotionally and relationally fit for the new millennium. It’s sad that, for some, identifying toxic masculinity is conflated with being antimale rather than what it actually is—being pro-male.”
The guidelines will expire in about 10 years to consider evolving ideas, Jacey Fortin reported in an article in the New York Times. The guidelines are primarily a resource for professional counselors, Dr. Rabinowitz noted. “Psychologists are encouraged to see men as being impacted by culture, by race and by relationships, rather than just assuming that there is one sort of standardized set of behaviors. We want people to be aware that men are complex beings.”