The hazards of being male are legion but they don't tend to be acknowledged in contemporary mainstream Western culture. This is contributing to a mental health crisis among men, who in the UK account for three quarters of suicides. Death is most likely to take men under 45 at their own hands. The popular myth that we are living in a 'patriarchy' in which women are subordinated and oppressed by men is a confusing and dangerous message to be giving to our boys and men, who could use more positive ideas of masculinity to live up to.
In fact the patriarchy narrative is just that — it has no evidence to back it up. On the contrary, developed countries such as the UK offer women the most equitable and protected status they have ever had, anywhere. Meanwhile virtually all deaths at work are male, and men uncomplainingly keep the wheels of civilisation turning by doing the dirty jobs like rubbish collection, fishing, drilling for oil, construction and fighting wars.
Masculinity is not something to be ashamed of, it should be celebrated for its protective and creative power. It's like a highly calibrated and powerful piece of machinery which, unsurprisingly, can become dangerous when it is neglected. We have largely left our boys to figure out how to run themselves, without initiation rites to guide them. To make it worse we teach them to disown their masculinity. This encourages an internal disconnection that can only block their relationship with themselves and others until it is challenged.
As a therapist I'm interested in creating space for boys and men to be themselves, however that looks, with no judgement. I see a lot that is inspiring about masculine archetypes, so long as we can take what we need from them in mature ways that honour and serve those around us. This is urgent work because many men are desperately lost. Most victims of violence are male. Most parents estranged from their children are male. Fatherlessness affects boys most severely. Boys do worse in school and are more likely to engage in risky behaviour and die through misadventure and addiction. Most prisoners are male and the (UK) Ministry of Justice is frank about its policy of sentencing men more severely than women for the same crime.
The same is true in the area of domestic abuse, where studies have identified a much more complex picture than the 'male perpetrator-female victim' story we are led to believe. When men are victims of domestic abuse they are less likely to seek help and, if they do, less likely to find it because there is hardly any. The British Psychological Society acknowledged these challenges by launching a Male Psychology conference in 2020. It says:
"Male psychology studies the thinking, emotion and behaviour of men and boys and the factors which have an impact on them. The members of the Male Psychology Section believe that these and other issues (especially those which disproportionately affect men and boys, such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, imprisonment and educational underachievement) are not being sufficiently addressed by those in a position to help e.g. in the government, health services and the media.
"For example, many people don’t realise that three quarters of suicides are by men, and that boys have been falling behind girls in education since the 1980s. The Section aims to expand our understanding of the full diversity of the human condition on an inclusive basis by enriching our knowledge of men and boys alongside women and girls, both in their differences and in their common humanity. A better understanding of the gendered needs of men and boys will also enable the development of more tailored and appropriate psychological interventions for male service users to the benefit of all in society."
A moving and disturbing exploration of three outcomes of fatherlessness: ADHD, self harming and inappropriate sexual behaviour. With me and Sue Parker Hall.
Me and my colleague Sue Parker Hall explore the trouble with identity politics in therapy.
I explore evolutionary perspectives on male suicide with the author and therapist Sue Parker Hall.
I discuss the science on testosterone with author and therapist Sue Parker Hall.