The American Psychological Association has triggered debate with its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, published in August 2018 and followed with an essay posted on the APA website CE Corner in January, with a statement that “… traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful …,” by Stephanie Pappas.
According to the authors, the Guidelines provide “general recommendations for psychologists who seek to increase their awareness, knowledge, and skills in psychological practice with boys and men.” Other beneficiaries of the guidelines include all consumers of psychological practice including clients, students, other health professionals, institutions and agencies, write the authors.
The Guidelines are authored by Fredric Rabinowitz, Matt Englar-Carlson, Ryon McDermott, Christopher Liang, and Matthew Kridel, with assistance from Christopher Kilmartin, Ronald Levant, Mark Kiselica, Nathan Booth, Nicholas Borgogna, and April Berry.
“Masculinity ideology is a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men,” write the authors.
“Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: antifemininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology (Levant & Richmond, 2007).”
“The present document articulates guidelines that enhance gender- and culture sensitive psychological practice with boys and men from diverse backgrounds in the United States,” write the authors.
For its definition section the Guidelines cover topics of gender, cisgender, gender bias, gender role strain, masculinity ideology, gender role conflict, oppression, privilege, psychological practice, and gendersensitive.
In the 30 plus page document, available at APA, the 10 Guidelines are: 1) Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms; 2) Psychologists strive to recognize that boys and men integrate multiple aspects to their social identities across the lifespan; 3) Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege, and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.
And, 4) Psychologists strive to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the interpersonal relationships of boys and men; 5) Psychologists strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships; 6) Psychologists strive to support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men; 7) Psychologists strive to reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide.
And also, 8) Psychologists strive to help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors; 9) Psychologists strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services; 10) Psychologists understand and strive to change institutional, cultural, and systemic problems that affect boys and men through advocacy, prevention, and education.
Dr. Edward Adams, past president of Division 51 on Men and Masculinities of the American Psychological Association, defended the guidelines as supporting cooperation, respect, appreciation, and courage.
Dr. John Grohol, founder of the popular PsychCentral published a review of the guidelines with a neutral, positive, and brief explanation of the meanings.
Primary author, Fredric Rabinowitz, Professor of Psychology at University of Redlands, links to two January media articles, “Traditional Masculinity Can Hurt Boys, Say New A.P.A. Guidelines,” a The New York Times, and “Traditional masculinity’ labeled ‘harmful’by major psychologist organization,” reported by public radio in Southern California.
However, the guidelines and essay attracted criticism from various groups. In a January article in National Review, “Grown Men Are the Solution, Not the Problem,” David French wrote “We are in the middle of an intense culture war focused around men.”
In another report, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, criticized the Guidelines saying that the authors reject biological and genetic factors, and also embrace a folk myth that expressing negative emotions is better than restraining them with selfcontrol.
Andrew Sullivan, in a critique in the New York Intelligencer, titled “The Pathologized Male,” noted “It felt demeaning to read. To tell you the truth, it reminded me of the way psychologists used to treat gay men: as pathological, dangerous, and in need of reparative and conversion therapy.” And he wrote, “If this document were designed to encourage men to seek psychotherapy, it is a catastrophe.”
Similar comments appeared across the web. “We should be able to celebrate masculinity and its positive attributes while making it clear that there are behaviors that are unacceptable, without insulting and demonizing men.” And another said, ” I don’t think we should be shaming anyone for who they are.”
On January 14, APA tried some damage control with, “A Closer Look at the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” with a section on “Embracing Masculinity.”
“Psychologists who treat men and boys already know that their male clients aren’t stereotypes. They have feelings, needs and desires. They’re adaptable. They possess many positive masculine characteristics. The guidelines are designed to give psychologists a framework to help men and boys embrace their masculinity in ways that are helpful, rather than harmful, to their health and quality of life.”
APA “In the News” links to an article “How ‘Traditional Masculinity’ Hurts Those Men Who Believe in it the Most,” by a Washington Post columnist.
And APA gives the headline, “Many people responded as if APA’s guidelines were an indictment not of rigid, traditional masculinity but of all masculinity, and of men themselves.”
The essay by Pappas appears to be removed from the January APA news, and in CE Corner the learning objective about traditional masculinity being harmful has been noted to be edited for clarity from the original version.