The APA recently published guidelines for psychological practice with men and boys.

The guidelines make some good points about the psychological struggles men face. It likewise does a good job of identifying possible causes. For example, in its press release on the guidelines, the APA points out (correctly I think) that

From a young age, males are often taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. “Boys don’t cry” is a common refrain. But according to research, the rigid suppression of emotions is linked 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. The guidelines acknowledge that men are not biologically hardwired for displaying violence or aggression, but note that compared to women, men have higher rates of violence and substance use, and are more likely to die by homicide or suicide.

Likewise,

Research also shows that men and boys who are taught to bury their feelings are less willing to seek help for psychological distress. As a consequence, many boys and men who need help aren’t getting it. The guidelines are intended to change that fact. By making the guidelines widely available, APA hopes that more men and boys get the message that it’s not only OK to seek help, but also shows strength.

Several conservative scholars have criticized the guidelines (for example, here). More helpful in my view are the criticism offered by a dozen social scientists posted recently on Quillette (here).

For example, Chris Ferguson of Stetson University calls the APA’s “poor track record of biased and scientifically misleading policy statements.”

Specifically, as Pamela Paresky, Ph.D. observes the Guidelines “contain an overarching ulterior motive,” What is that motive?

As Natalie Ritchie argues, the Guidelines are part of the “passive war of attrition” feminists have fought against masculinity. She continues

With its 2018 guidelines, the inherently feminist APA has gone on the offensive. This assault is not as simple as misandrist pay-back by feminism for a history’s-load of oppression. It has its roots in the feminist need to be man-identical. When your idea of gender equality is a 50/50 breakdown of men and women in any given situation—that is, when you think that 100 percent of women should do what 100 percent of men do—masculinity poses a threat. Making men less like men (and more like women) becomes a backdoor route to making women more like men. Such gender denial is the new Aryanism; unscientific, unprofessional, immoral. Insisting that each gender is “wrong” and must be more like the other to be “right” cripples both, and shrivels the human footprint to only what the genders have in common.

While this may seem harsh, “If the APA were truly concerned about males” writes Shawn T. Smith,

…they would strive to help those who are suffering by building on the time-tested virtues of masculinity. Instead, they frame the “patriarchy”—that nebulous bête noire of radical feminism—as the root of all suffering. Seeing the world through that tainted lens, their response to men and boys can only be that of the radical feminist: tear men down. Denigrate noble traits. Advance feminist ideology at all costs.

For all their shortcomings, and there are many, they have highlighted a number of important points about the emotional health of men in American culture.

For example, as AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers points out that Guidelines suggest that

… conventional talk therapy may work less well for young men than for young women. They are suggesting the need for male-specific mental health protocols. That goes against decades of theory denying the relevance or legitimacy of anything male-specific. Unfortunately, the authors offer very little advice beyond the passage quoted above. But it’s a start.

Likewise, the Guidelines advocate “for the vocational well-being of young men” when most “mainstream organizations avoid” the question.

Finally, Sommers commends the Guidelines for ” stress[ing] the importance of fathers and present dozens of statistics that belie the idea of ‘male privilege.'” Unfortunately, she goes on to say, “they bury their message in distracting passages about ‘Eurocentric masculine ideals of restrictive emotionality.'”

As I think about it, it’s no surprise that some men struggle because they misunderstand or wrongly express the received view of being a man. For both good and ill, the traditional view of masculinity is the raw material from which men (and women for that matter) build their self-image.

To use a bad analogy, good sturdy wood can be used to build all sorts of things. For example, a house or a barn.

But the quality of the building depends on factors besides the wood itself. The skill of the builder, the quality of his tools, the accuracy of the plans, the ground of the building site. All of these and more influence the final product.

Even if the traditional view of masculinity is 100% wholesome (and in a fallen world it can’t be), the “final product” (you and me and all me) will still be flawed. And our flaws will track with our culture’s view of masculinity because that’s the raw material we used.

Where I think APA Guidelines go wrong is that those who developed them seem not to even consider (as Smith points out) the positive qualities of the traditional view of masculinity. Besides reason gender ideology, I think they didn’t because psychology–as a discipline–tends to shy away from considering any tradition as helpful.

In Christ.

+Fr Gregory