What is “traditional masculinity” and is it at threat?

What is “traditional masculinity”? It sounds like a ridiculously general term for a start. Masculinity must vary a lot, and will always have varied, between cultures and within cultures.

But it has been claimed that it is threatened. It would be kind of ironic that the ‘strong male’ (stereotype) succumbs to a new wave of whatever takes it’s place.

Heather Wilhelm (National Review) – Farewell, Masculinity: We’ll Miss You When You’re Gone

This week, the American Psychological Association delivered some sad news for fans of “traditional masculinity.” According to the organization’s new “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” the “harmful” ideology of masculinity — marked by “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” together with “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” — has got to go.

Reader, I don’t know how you feel about all this. I, for one, find it very upsetting, for one simple and selfish reason: Who is going to kill all the spiders that make their way into my house?

I don’t kill spiders. I prefer not to have to deal with them at all. I don’t aspire to be dominant over insects, I prefer to co-exist, but I do deal to some, like flies, and wasps.

After reading the report — and if you ever question what opinion columnists do for America, one example of our lion-hearted public service involves reading goofy quasi-academic “reports” so you don’t have to — I must admit that I questioned the very necessity of its existence. After all, the very idea of “boys” and “men” is quite gendered and outdated, is it not?

As the APA’s own new guidelines remind us, “it is critical to acknowledge that gender is a nonbinary construct that is distinct from, although interrelated to, sexual orientation.” Gender, argues Ryon McDermott, a psychologist who assisted in writing the guidelines, is “no longer just this male-female binary.”

So why even bother writing a report supposedly targeted at only boys and men? Who knows? Who cares?

In any case, the guidelines aren’t really designed to discuss boys or men at all. Their main intention, it seems, is to hammer home the belief that everything gender-related is a social construct, that biology doesn’t matter until we want it to, and that we are all bound like helpless mummies under intersectional layers of oppression that are primarily generated by — surprise! — patriarchal men.

Here is a sentence that actually exists on the APA’s website, paired with a summary of the new guidelines: “Indeed, when researchers strip away stereotypes and expectation, there isn’t much difference in the basic behaviors of men and women.” There is no direct or encompassing citation for this impressively sweeping statement, probably because it is a) untrue, b) unscientific, and c) likely to make God laugh. How is it that we can live in a civilization so advanced that we can propel a rocket 33 million miles through the cold abyss of space to successfully land on a hostile and largely unexplored planet, but still manage to publish insouciant nonsense sentences like this? Never say life isn’t mysterious, friends. It is mind-boggling.

In any case, I will not leave the new “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” without a bit of positive affirmation. Amazingly, it is correct a few times. For instance, it is not good to box people into rigid gender roles, nor is it good to teach boys to suppress their emotions just because they’re boys.

Also, violence is bad, except against spiders, and it should not be glorified or celebrated. This is true whether it is a male or a female threatening to unceremoniously punch you in the often-terrifying and anarchic line for the Walmart pre-Christmas sale.

The glorifying of violence is bad, but very common. I have watched (in part at least) quote a few kids cartoons and movies over the last few weeks, and there is a lot of violence in them. The latest big movie, How to Train Your Dragon is full of glorified violence (enjoyed by the girls as much as the boys in the group I was in, who aren’t violent kids).

But what about bravery? What about risk? What about, well, testosterone? What about the wild idea that there might be a natural, non-socially-constructed difference between women and men? The APA’s summary report admits that some emblems of “traditional masculinity” might be worth keeping: “courage,” for instance, and “leadership.” Moreover, an APA-affiliated team is now working on a “positive-masculinities scale to capture people’s adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men.” Oh boy. I can’t wait.

There are certainly some male-ish traits that could do with some improvement, but how should this happen? Parenting classes prior to raising kids? Schools for bricks in the wall?

We should look at ways of improving behaviour, of individuals, societies, countries.

But I doubt many of us will look to the American Psychological Association for help.

Back to ‘traditional masculinity’. What the hell is that? I’ve seen a lot of manifestations of masculinity in my lifetime, moulded by many influences.

I think I’ll just work on being myself.