APA Calls Traditional Masculinity ‘Harmful’

By Tom Gilson Published on January 14, 2019

Last year the American Psychological Association issued new guidelines for working with boys and men. It got little attention until earlier this month, when psychologist Stephania Pappas wrote this bombshell line in an article on the APA website: “Thirteen years in the making, they [sic] draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful.”

What do we do with a punch on the face like that? A conservative’s reaction could be knee-jerk: “There goes another progressive pansy undermining everything.” I get it; in fact I was tempted to go there myself. Give me grace, okay? My father — who is in the hospital today and may be on his death-bed — has always been a man’s man. An engineer, a builder, a supervisor, a hunter and fisherman, he has also been for 95 years a supreme lover of his family and a very good man.

That’s my own experience. Not everyone has the same, I know. And look, we all know traditional masculinity (whatever “non-traditional masculinity” might mean) can be unhealthy. You didn’t really need the APA to tell you that, did you?

Men take more risks than women, so they’re more likely to hurt themselves. They’re more aggressive and they have a stronger need to dominate, so they’re more likely to harm others in certain ways, some of them quite horrific. Men start more wars, and more men die in them. Men want to do things more on their own, so they’re a lot more likely to strain both their backs and their psyches. That’s actually unhealthy. So far the APA has it right.

So far, that is. There’s a lot that’s wrong with this report, too.

Progressive Sexuality Bias

The APA is hopelessly biased with respect to sex and sexuality. For example, one of the “harmful” effects it cites is that traditionally masculine men often think transgender men — women taking men’s role and appearance — are “not real men.” That’s harmful, they say. In reality the APA has re-defined mental health; for them it means being able to deny reality. And I thought counselors were supposed to cure clients of “denial.”

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There’s a lot to find wrong with that. For one thing, the APA takes claim is authoritarian. They’ve hooked their own very powerful engine on the back of the the transgender train, and they’re giving it a huge push. But there is no science behind it. Psychology claims to be a science-based discipline, and in some areas it is; but not this one. In this case, professional guild is using its clout to push its members’ personal opinions.

And that misuse of power overflows into other errors. Like saying “traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful.”

Mental Health Bias

The APA has a bias, too, regarding what it means to be healthy. It’s pretty much all about individual emotional, physical and relational health, as if that were all there was to the world. It isn’t.

Boys who are taught to solve their own problems grow up preferring to solve problems on their own, according to the report. (It cites three peer-reviewed studies, in case it wasn’t obvious enough.) This is harmful, says the APA, since self-reliant men are less likely to get help when they’re depressed or suicidal. Okay. But what about the real problems self-reliant man solve? Is there nothing healthy about that?

Or consider risk-taking. Traditionally that’s more prominent in men than women. The APA informs us this is part of the reason men tend to die younger than women. That’s unhealthy, too, right?

Not so fast. Is eating fish good for you and me? Thank a commercial fisherman, who’s got one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. Is it healthier to live indoors or outdoors? Thank a construction worker; his work has its risks, too. Ever cross a bridge? Same answer.

Every strength has a corresponding weakness; that’s just the human condition. Why should masculine strengths be any different?

My dad used to deal with entire truckloads of highly explosive hydrogen gas — one of which caught fire on their grounds. He also ran a plant that for a time produced 90 percent of the world’s electronics-grade silicon. Think there’s nothing healthy that’s come out of that? Did I mention he volunteered for the Army in World War II? Nasty, nasty risk he took there. You’d better be thankful for him, and many thousands of other volunteers, then and now.

There’s no simple way to say risk-taking is either healthy or unhealthy. It depends on the costs and benefits, and on whose health you’re talking about — the individual’s or the community’s — or the world’s.

Furthermore, a man who sacrifices himself for the sake of a loved one could be doing the most spiritually healthy thing he could ever do (John 15:13). The APA, it seems, knows nothing of true spiritual health.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Every strength has a corresponding weakness; that’s just the human condition. Why should masculine strengths be any different? The APA didn’t get everything wrong in this report. Men are fallen. Women are, too. When men do wrong, we tend to do it in more traditionally masculine ways. If you focus on that you’re bound to think masculinity is the problem. It isn’t. Sin is.

The solution isn’t for men to deny their maleness. It’s to repent and turn to Christ, who alone can overcome. That’s how men get healthy. My dad did that long ago, and I’ve reaped the benefit. It’s been very healthy, I assure you.

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