More than a decade ago, the American Psychological Association released a set of guidelines for treating women and girls: a document that addressed sexual violence and inequality, discussed how women disproportionately suffer from eating disorders and anxiety, and advised clinicians with female clients on how to be more sensitive and more effective. The APA has also, over the years, released guidelines for treating older folks, and racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community. What the largest psychological organization in the United States had never done was release guidelines for treating men.
“Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of color.”
One cause for this consortium of maladies, the guidelines suggested? “Traditional masculinity” itself — the term refers to a Western concept of manliness that relies — and sometimes over-relies — on stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness.
“Everybody has beliefs about how men should behave,” says Ronald Levant, who was the APA president when the guidelines were initially conceived, and who has worked on them ever since. “We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.” The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely.
The guidelines are saying some men are sick, in other words. But are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to gently care for them with aspirin and a thermometer? Or are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to put them in Hannibal Lecter masks and keep them away from everyone else?
Levant was shocked this past week by how many people responded as if the guidelines were suggesting the latter — people who read the 30-page document as an indictment not of rigid, traditional masculinity but of all masculinity, and of men themselves.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham accused the APA of conflating masculinity with “Harvey Weinstein”-like behaviors.
Supporting the positive
It’s also important to encourage pro-social aspects of masculinity, says McDermott. In certain circumstances, traits like stoicism and self-sacrifice can be absolutely crucial, he says. But the same tough demeanor that might save a soldier’s life in a war zone can destroy it at home with a romantic partner or child.
“There are times when you need to be able to power through,” McDermott says. “But if you only do that, and you believe that if you don’t do that then you’re somehow less worthy as a person, that’s where you have a problem.”
The clinician’s role, McDermott says, can be to encourage men to discard the harmful ideologies of traditional masculinity (violence, sexism) and find flexibility in the potentially positive aspects (courage, leadership). He and his team are working on a positive-masculinities scale to capture peoples’ adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men, something that has yet to be measured systematically.
American Psycological Assocation January 2019, Vol 50, No. 1
In that vein, psychologists strive to develop in boys and men a greater understanding of the diverse and healthy ways that they
can demonstrate their masculinities in relationships. page 11
Father involvement for resident and nonresident fathers has been consistent linked to positive child outcomes (Marsiglio,
Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000). Longitudinal studies continue to support early findings of the positive influences father involvement has on children’s behavioral, psychological, cognitive, and financial stability (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, &
Father involvement with infants and young children has been associated with advanced language development, a lower likelihood of cognitive deficits on the Bayley Short Form—Research Edition, a facilitator of positive pre-feeding behavior, and fewer behavioral problems later in childhood (Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano,Horowitz, & Kinukawa, 2008; Erlandsson,
Dsilna, Fagerberg, Christensson, 2007; Pancsofar & Vernon-Feagans, 2006; Trautmann-Villalba, Gschwendt, Schmidt, & Laucht, 2006). For school-aged children (approximately 4–12), father involvement has been associated with increased
levels of academic achievement, more positive school attitudes, literacy development, academic competence, nonverbal cognitive functioning, fewer internalizing behavior problems, higher levels of
emotion regulation and math and reading skills, and social adjustment (Cabrera, Cook, McFadden, & Bradley, 2012; Cook,
Roggman, & Boyce, 2012; Pougnet, Serbin, Stack, & Schwartzman, 2011). For nonresident fathers, children’s well-being is tied
less to fathers’ general behaviors (spending time or money) and more to being involved in activities with their children
that nurture the father-child relationship (Adamsons & Johnson, 2013). For adolescents, father involvement has been
associated with healthier eating patterns, lower internalizing problems especially or daughters, higher self-esteem, less delinquency, fewer depressive symptoms, less violent behavior, better grades, and less substance use (Booth, Scott, & King,
2010; Day & Padilla-Walker, 2009; Stamps Mitchell, Booth, & King, 2009; Stewart & Menning, 2009).
For many men, becoming a father clearly has consequences for their lives and identities (Habib & Lancaster, 2006).
Being a good father is an important factor in their definition of success (Tichenor et al., 2011). Becoming a father can be a time for growth by resolving wounds from a man’s own father (Levant, 1996) and for reinventing fatherhood, or at least trying
to become the father one always wanted.
Paternal identity has been positively correlated with generativity, which is concern for future generations and thus important
for fostering healthy family relationships APA | Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men 13 (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1998). A father scoring high on generativity would presumably demonstrate growth and be on a positive life course trajectory (Palkovitz & Palm, 2009). Habib and Lancaster (2006) found a positive correlation between increased emphasis on paternal identity and paternal–fetal bonding, which was defined as a subjective feeling of love for
the unborn child. Therefore, a high importance placed on one’s identity as a father facilitates bonding and investment.
Correlational evidence has found a positive association between parenting involvement and positive changes in new fathers’ health (e.g., psychological well-being) (Knoester, Petts, & Eggebeen, 2007;Schindler, 2010). A longitudinal study that
tracked males from boyhood to fatherhood (ages 11–31) revealed that following the birth of their first biological child, criminal behavior and tobacco and alcohol use all decreased among new fathers (Kerr, Capaldi, Owen, Wiesner, & Pears, 2011).
Evidence from a sibling and twin model found that becoming a father after very young adulthood is associated with fewer
chronic illnesses among mostly married men (Pudrovska & Carr, 2009). First-time fathers have reported positive changes in
their relationships with health professionals, friends, and family; an increased sense of responsibility; and a more united relationship with their spouse (Chin, Hall, & Daiches, 2011). Other studies have found that first-time fathers begin to wear their
seat belts more often, learn new parenting skills, and engage in positive coparenting practices, less risk-taking behaviors, and more self-care activities (Chin et al., 2011; Genesoni & Tallandini, 2009).
Furthermore, many fathers describe the birth of their child as a “magical moment,” “jolting,” “transformative,” and the catalyst for “settling down” (Cowan, Cowan, & Knox, 2010; Palkovitz, 2002). As stated by Knoester and Eggebeen (2006, p. 1554):
“In other words, there is evidence that becoming a new father transforms men’s lives.” However, some men experience
difficulties in the transition to fatherhood. Postpartum depression affects roughly 10% of fathers in the 3- to 6-month period
following birth and is associated with more negative and fewer positive parent-infant interactions (Paulson, 2006, 2010). Men
also experience grief and loss due to miscarriages and pregnancy loss (Rinehart & Kiselica, 2010) Pages 12 -13 APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men - August 2018