This article is the first in a series of articles geared to help women get closer to the men and boys they love. If you want more info on this topic you can see Tom’s new kindle book The Way Men Heal now available at amazon. Articles to follow will focus on the reasons men’s emotional pain is invisible, tips for getting close to men, getting close to young boys, and getting close to adolescent boys.
Ladies, how many times have you been frustrated to not be able to connect emotionally with the men you love? Want to learn how to do that? Keep reading.
The first thing to know is that there are a multitude of ways we deal with emotions. What we want to guard against is the idea that “our” way is the “only” way. If we get stuck in that sort of thinking we are in danger of not seeing the many ways that others might use.
What sorts of things help us when we have emotions? How do we help ourselves find balance? Many people, especially women, find talking about their emotions to be a top strategy, others see talking as something to be avoided. We know about the origins of this difference from the research of Shelly Taylor, PhD of UCLA. Taylor has helped us greatly in understanding that men and women have very different ways to deal with stress. She found in 2003 that nearly all of the previous research on stress had been done using male subjects. Given this obvious bias, Taylor decided to find if women might have a different way from the standard “fight or flight” mode. What Taylor found was that when stressed women don’t usually fight or flight, they instead, will “tend and befriend.” When stressed, women are much more likely to move towards people and towards interaction. This is a remarkable difference and starts off our understanding of how men and women might have different ways to process emotions. Taylor helps us see that women will be more likely to talk while men will be less likely to do so.
Why is it that talking and interaction helps many women heal? The bottom line is that this is where they feel safe. The first element of healing is to find safety. Those people who use the tend and befriend mode will usually find help in talking and interacting because this is where they feel safe. Think of your way. When you are upset, do you look towards others for support? Are there certain people who help you feel safer and more likely to open up? Are there certain places that help you feel safer and open up with that person? The more you feel safe the more likely you will feel free to open up, right? You will be sensitive to your own safety and seek interactions that fit your safety needs. When you find that safety you will talk about your problems and difficulties. This is a win.
Men are no different but their safe places are indeed different. Most men simply don’t find the interactive tend and befriend mode to be so safe.
In the late 1970’s when I first started working at a counseling center my clients were mostly men. I started finding that the things that helped women didn’t seem to go over so well with men. I was taught in grad school to sit and face my clients and make good eye contact. Worked like a charm with women. It seemed to help them feel safe. With men? Not so much. Rather then help them feel safe it seemed to be making them more tense. It was only later that I found that eye contact for men (especially with another man) had the tendency to increase tension rather then help them feel safe. Eye contact for men means something very different. For men eye contact often means competition or confrontation. Think about it. Hockey has a “faceoff,” boxers face each other, when men compete they “face” the other team. it took me some time to realize this and also to see that men feel considerably safer not in a face to face mode but by being shoulder to shoulder.
Before we go a step farther we need to back up a bit. The differences that Taylor found and others that we will discuss in just a minute are not black and white. For many reasons, including both social and biological ones, there are some men who process things more like women and some women who process more like men. We are called to not pigeonhole either. We are all very different and each person needs to be understood for their own unique paths. I have found that about 20% of men are going to process things more like women (tend and befriend) and about 20% of women will likely process things more like the men. There are, of course, many people who are a blend of the two. It’s not a simple split.
With that said, it is more likely for women to tend and befriend but what about men? Where do men find safety? If we knew that we would find it much easier to enter into their safe space, right? After working with grieving and traumatized men for over 30 years I have slowly come to see some of these differences.
Exercise one — Think of the man you love. Where do you think he finds safety? Where does he seem to feel safe? There are three basic places that people will find safety, Interaction, Action, and Inaction. Most of us will use all three of those but one will usually be primary and be more helpful than the other two. When he is stressed does he want to talk about things? (interaction) Does he move towards doing something? (action) Or does he isolate himself and get quiet? (inaction) Think of his way. You may want to talk with him about this when you see him. Just ask him where he feels safe and see what he says. You could even tell him what you do and where you fell safe when you feel stressed and ask him if that sort of thing works for him. It could prove to be a valuable conversation.
Men move towards action
In general, men tend to move more toward action or inaction but each man (and each woman) will be different and have different ways to find safety. We also know that men will find being shoulder to shoulder to bring more safety then being face to face. Men tend to get close to one another when they are on the same team and working towards a common goal. This is where men tend to relax and develop friendships especially if the situation is somewhat dangerous. Think of men who become close to each other, war time buddies, policemen who are partners, firemen who are at the same firehouse, players on the same team or even fishing together in a fishing boat all day. These are all places where men are shoulder to shoulder and taking part in an action together with a common goal. This is where men begin to feel close and it gives us a powerful clue about how we can get closer to them.
Once someone finds safety what is the next step? Think of what happens when you find your close friend, you have a safe place and you have time to interact. What happens? It’s obvious. You tell your story. There is something about telling the story that is healing and fulfilling. When you can get that story out and someone hears it you feel differently. Often we feel affirmed. These are the basic elements of healing that can be seen clearly in therapy or even a support group. Both therapy and support groups are built to help people feel safe and to then tell their stories.
These two elements are the basics to how people heal from very strong grief and trauma. It has been my experience that these elements are also used for everyday sorts of emotional bumps and bruises but on a smaller scale. The human mind is built to listen to and tell stories and this is for good reason. Doing this helps us stabilize and find our center. People find safety and then they tell their story within that safety. When I first started working with men I assumed that everyone felt safe sitting face to face and that everyone would benefit from verbally telling their story. I was wrong. It took me quite some time to realize that the basics of safety and story were the same for both men and women but the specifics of safe places and the way the stories were told were very, very different. I began to realize that men often found safety in their action and then would use that action to tell their story. It was right there for me to see but I missed it due to my assumption that everyone healed in the same manner.
I can hear you now saying, “Wait a minute. How can anyone tell their story through their action? How does that work?” I can really understand this question since I struggled to understand it for years. Let’s take an example.
I worked with a man once who experienced the death of his teen son in a car crash. The man was stunned and reeling. What he eventually did to deal with the chaos of such a massive loss, was to begin to write a book about his son. He interviewed his son’s girlfriends, ex- girlfriends, teachers, friends, religious leaders, coaches and anyone he could think of that had contact with him. After interviewing each person he would write up the interview as a section for his book. The conversations the man had with his interviewees were not unlike what some others might have in a support group, or in therapy, but this man had the conversations as a part of his action, the action of writing the book. The project was meant to honor his son and his son’s life. The project also pulled the man into the future: should he have an index? How will he get it printed? Distributed? Who should he interview next? The entire project became a way for this man to tell his story of his son, and his loss. But rather then simply talking about it, he told his story through his action, the action of writing the book. it was an action that honored his son and pulled the man into the future. During this action and interviewing his sons’ friends and talking about his son’s life how could he not experience the emotions of this loss? By honoring his son with his action he was telling his son’s story and his own story and experiencing the emotions that were a part of that loss. How could he not?
Now, imagine you are this man’s wife. How do you get emotionally close to him? Would it work to simply sit with him face to face and say, “Honey, how are you feeling about our son?” Probably not. Much better to simply ask how the book is going. It’s a very good bet that he will be very willing and even interested in talking about the book. The latest thing he had discovered about his son from the son’s friends etc. Better yet, how can you help him with the book? “Honey, maybe I can round up some pictures that you could use in the book? Would that help?” Men sometimes deeply appreciate someone taking an interest in their healing actions and working with them shoulder to shoulder. That is where men tend to feel safe.
I can hear you saying, “Well Tom, my husband does not write books.” And you would be correct. However, it is likely that your husband uses some type of action to tell his story and if you know how he does it you will be in a much better position to both understand him and connect with him. But how does he do it?
Exercise 2 – Think of the man you love and remember where he finds safety. Now think of what he does once he finds that safety. It is likely that he will move into one of four spheres, creative action, practical action, thinking action or inaction. The men I have worked with will generally have one of those that is their primary path to tell their story.
Let’s take just a second to observe these four types of healing action. It’s easiest to start seeing these by observing what men tend to do following a very strong loss. Here are some examples:
PRACTICAL ACTION – This is probably the most common path where men use some practical action as a vehicle to tell their story. Some men might dedicate their work, others might build a memorial or start a trust fund, still others might dedicate themselves to better parenting. Think of the NFL when a player on a team dies. What do these men do naturally and without direction? They honor their fallen comrade with an insignia or patch on their uniform and they dedicate their season (their action) in honor of the lost friend. Their play is now connected to their loss and the future becomes a way to remember this friend and to tell your story. But all of this happens through action, not just sitting in a circle and talking.
CREATIVE ACTION – Many people use creative action to tell their story. You can see this in men who use actions like painting, singing, sculpting, writing music, listening to music, and a host of other creative paths. How many symphonies have been written by men that were in honor of a loss?
THINKING ACTION – Some men write like the man in our example. Some journal, some study grief, some dedicate their learning, some philosophize.
INACTION – This is simply telling the story internally, in our own heads, by ourselves. Some will do this before going to sleep, others while driving, and some others while taking a walk. It can happen anyplace. You simply won’t see it unless they tell you about it. They are likely telling this story over and over again in their heads. Like the other three types of action this one is basically invisible. You can’t see it.
It is this invisibility that kept me from seeing the way men used action in order to heal. Men are very good at making their healing paths invisible. It is likely that you don’t know the first thing about how he does this. The next article will be on why men try to keep their healing invisible and the reasons they do this. When we can understand this basic idea we will be in much better position to see more clearly the healing actions they are taking.
Here is a summary of what we have done thus far:
1. Men feel safer in a shoulder to shoulder mode on the same team
2. Rather than interaction, men often use action or inaction to tell their story
3. Rather than the past, men use the future to tell their story
4. Honoring and rebuilding are the tools that are used
Tom Golden, LCSW has written two books on the way men heal and has co-authored a third. Tom’s work has been featured in CBS Evening News, CNN, ESPN, The NFL Channel and many others. His latest book “The Way Men Heal” is available now at amazon as a kindle book. He offers online consults for women seeking to get closer to the men they love. firstname.lastname@example.org
For a much more detailed version of these natural paths for men and to see how they do actually heal and deal with their feelings you might want to check out my new and very inexpensive ebook The Way Me Heal.
Why is it that men’s grief is so invisible? What do you think?
The first element that makes men’s grief invisible is our cultural taboo on men’s emotional pain. A man’s emotional pain is a problem while a woman’s emotional pain is seen as a call to action. People tend to avoid and disdain men’s pain.
The second element that makes men’s grief invisible is how men are locked into the provide and protect role. When you provide and protect others, who is providing and protecting you? No one. You better tough it out and do it quietly. If you don’t, shame is coming your way.
A third element that makes men’s grief invisible is the fact that our culture expects men to be independent and punishes men for being dependent. A dependent man is not seen as a “real” man. Is it any wonder that men avoid open expression of emotions? Here’s a quote from Peter Marin from an excellent article he wrote titled “Abandoning Men: Jill Gets Welfare–Jack Becomes Homeless”. Marin says: “To put it simply: men are neither supposed nor allowed to be dependent. They are expected to take care of others and themselves. And when they cannot or will not do it, then the assumption at the heart of the culture is that they are somehow less than men and therefore unworthy of help. An irony asserts itself: by being in need of help, men forfeit the right to it.” Exactly!
A fourth element that makes men’s grief less visible is that men tend to live in a dominance hierarchy. We are all aware of the dominance hierarchy of the Big Horn Sheep with their head butting but few of us are aware that human males are now being seen as living within a similar hierarchy. Within this hierarchy the males strive for status in order to improve their reproductive success. Usually this is done in niches and small groups where males compete but it can manifest on a national or international level. The important point here is that men will strive to portray their best sides in order to insure the best possible placement within the hierarchy. Of course this also means that they will have ample reason to want to conceal “weakness” and “dependency” and that of course includes their more tender emotions.
Women may scoff at this since they don’t have the same experience in this sort of hierarchical arrangement….except for one spot, attractiveness. Women will tend to compete with each other in a hierarchy of attractiveness. Ladies have you ever tried to hide or conceal a part of yourself that you see as less attractive? If so, this is very similar behavior to men not wanting to publicly emote.
The last element that makes men’s grief less visible is their unique biology. The impact of men’s hormones and their likelihood of having a “masculine” brain both play into men’s processing of emotions. Men have about 10 times the testosterone as their female counterparts. This seems to play a role in the processing of emotions by limiting emotional tears and diminishing the man’s ability to articulate his emotions as he is experiencing them. Both of these qualities have been badly misinterpreted with men all too often being seen as cold and unfeeling.
Men’s grief is simply less visible. When people start to understand these differences they are in a much better position to not judge men unfairly. All too often men are expected to emote and process emotions in the same way that women do. Women are seen as the default and men who fail to compare to that standard are deemed deficient. We need to see each person as an individual and avoid the trap of expecting them to be like ourselves. We are all different. Viva la difference!
Tom Golden, LCSW has written two books on the way men heal and has co-authored a third. Tom’s work has been featured in CBS Evening News, CNN, ESPN, The NFL Channel and many others. His latest book “The Way Men Heal” is available now at amazon as a kindle book. He offers online consults for women seeking to get closer to the men they love. email@example.com
Do boys face sexual abuse as children? According to research the answer is a very powerful yes. A CDC study in 20051 showed that 1 in 6 boys experienced unwanted sexual contact by the time they reached the age of 18. The number for girls was a bit larger, it was 1 in 4. So 25% of girls and 16% of boys were reported to have had unwanted sexual activity prior to the age of 18.
I am sure that some of you are wondering exactly how the question was worded in order to get to those numbers. We live in an age where definitions have become so watered down that statistics really don’t tell the story. So for those of you who are wondering let’s look at the exact wording. This is taken directly from the journal article:
“Four questions from Wyatt36 were adapted to define sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence: “Some people, while they are growing up in their first 18 years of life, had a sexual experience with an adult or someone at least 5 years older than themselves. These experiences may have involved a relative, family friend, or stranger. During the first 18 years of life, did an adult, relative, family friend, or stranger ever (1) touch or fondle your body in a sexual way, (2) have you touch their body in a sexual way, (3) attempt to have any type of sexual intercourse with you (oral, anal, or vaginal), or (4) actually have any type of sexual intercourse with you (oral, anal, or vaginal)?” A “yes” response to any of the four questions classified a respondent as having experienced CSA. In addition, the frequencies for each component were calculated.”
This wording seems fairly straightforward and accomplishes the important task of not using the word abuse. We now know that males have been reluctant in the past to answer that they have been abused because males often times simply don’t see their experience as having been abusive. One study6 used a sample of children, both boys and girls, who DHS had defined as having experienced childhood sexual abuse. Of that group only 16% of the boys thought that they had been abused. You can compare that to 64% of the girls who thought they had experienced abuse. In this sample four times as many girls who had been designated as having experienced sexual abuse as children believed their experience was “abuse.” Only a fraction of the boys felt they had been abused even though they had a similar experience. This has likely been a factor in some previous research showing that boys were less frequently sexually abused as children. Simply using the term “abuse” in a research questionnaire would throw off the numbers. Things seem to shift drastically when you only ask about the exact experience and not label it as abusive. This study shows that when you do ask about specific experiences the boys and girls have similar rates of abuse. The men and boys will answer the questions honestly, it is simply they have a different view of the word “abuse.”
The idea of 1 in 6 boys having been sexually abused as children is not limited to this research nor is it new. There are a number of other studies that have come to very similar conclusions. (See references) The range seems to be between 14% and 18% for the boys. We knew even in the 1980′s that boys comprised a sizable number of those children who experienced sexual abuse. The classic and best selling handbook for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse “The Courage to Heal” estimated that 1 in 7 boys faced the trauma of sexual abuse as children. The book, like so many other media sources focused almost totally on female victims.
The idea of 1 in 6 has become so accepted there is now a web site 1in6.org that offers information specifically for boys and men on childhood sexual abuse. It provides a place for men’s stories about their abuse, has information for the men, their family members , therapists and professionals. It is well worth a look. I think it’s a breath of fresh air.
This particular study went farther than only examining the incidence of sexual abuse among boys and girls. It also kept track of the sex of the perpetrator. For many years the assumption has been that the perpetrators of sexual abuse of boys are primarily men. This research and other recent studies challenge that assumption. This study found that of the boys who were abused nearly 40% of the abusers were female. It also found that 8% of the perpetrators of sexual abuse of girls were also female.
The study also examined the life impact of their childhood sexual abuse. It found that both boys and girls were negatively impacted in a similar manner. This also challenges some of the old assumptions that it was the girls who were abused that faced the greatest hardships/trauma and negative life impact due to their abuse. This study says that is far from the truth. They conclude that both boys and girls are impacted and the impact is very similar for both.
I am grateful to these researchers for their even-handed examination of this problem and their ability to ignore the status quo politically correct version that focuses on girls who are victims and ignores the hardships and needs of boys. They take a very important stand on this issue as can be seen in their conclusion (emphasis is theirs):
In conclusion, the data presented provide important implications for public health and preventive medicine. First, childhood sexual abuse is a common
form of childhood maltreatment in both men and women. Second, childhood sexual abuse and severity of the abuse have a similar relative impact on behavioral, mental health, and social outcomes for both men and women survivors, as reported during adulthood. Moreover, it was demonstrated that female perpetration of CSA upon boys was common (40%), and increased the risk of behavioral and social outcomes among male CSA victims.
The Title of This Article
I do have one bone to pick with this research. It has to do with one of the tables of data they offer in their article. Table 2 on page 433. Here’s a graphic of that table:
Notice that this table separates the male numbers from the female numbers of those who experienced childhood sexual abuse. A quick look at the table shows that a total of the various types of abuse sum to 16% of males and 24.7% of the females. Okay. But look at the numbers for the least intrusive sexual abuse. This is the category that one would assume would be the largest for both boys and girls with declining numbers to follow. But what you find is that 13.2% of the boys experienced this lowest level of abuse and 22.5% of the girls experienced this lowest level of abuse. Still not a problem but obviously the girls experienced much more of the least intrusive type of abuse. But look what happens with the more severe abuse. In the next category “forced to touch an adult” the boys outnumber the girls, 8.1% to 7.9%. Then in the next level of abuse of attempted intercourse the boys are 7.3% and the girls 8.6%. But it is the last most abusive category that got me wide eyed. In this category of completed intercourse the boys outnumber the girls 6.7% to 5.6%! This seems to say that more boys then girls were raped as children. That is a notable statistic.
My beef with the researchers is they didn’t highlight this difference and question the reasons for such a startling stat. It was basically glossed over. While I deeply appreciate these researchers focusing on boys and showing they need and deserve compassion. And I really appreciate their focus on boys being just as negatively impacted by their experiences of sexual abuse. I just can’t forgive them for not putting this stat into their discussion and pointing out that their data indicates that boys are more often the victims of severe sexual abuse as children. The more severe the abuse becomes the more boys and girls are in equal numbers with boys being slightly more likely to experience the worst types of sexual abuse. That is what their data says and that is a very powerful message that might wake up some of both our slumbering psychological professionals and the general public. The least they could do would be to get a discussion going about the reasons that boys outnumber girls in that most intrusive category.
The popular percentages of 16% of the boys (1 in 6) and 25% (1 in 4) of the girls having experienced childhood sexual abuse is a bit misleading. The standard 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused may be technically correct but I think it misleads a bit especially when it is compared to the 1 in 6 of the boys. It makes it look like many more girls face sexual abuse. The fact is that many more girls do face the least intrusive category of sexual abuse, nearly 1 in 4. All the while about 1 in 8 boys faces this least abusive category. But when you only look at the more severe forms of abuse the numbers change. Now for both boys and girls it is more like 1 in 14 with slightly more boys experiencing the most severe forms of sexual abuse.
I don’t want to minimize the impact of the less severe forms of sexual abuse but at the same time I think it is vitally important to insure that the fact that both boys and girls are equally susceptible to the more severe forms of abuse gets into the public knowledge base. Our media has painted a picture over the last 40 years that girls are the real victims of sexual abuse in childhood and men are the primary perpetrators. If you think about your own perceptions I would bet that you would go along with those ideas. We have gotten only half the story from the media. When you only know half the story you carry a potent bias. It leaves us with a disinterest and even a disbelief in the pain and hardship that boys face.
Just imagine that our media was biased in the opposite direction. Just imagine they were much more interested in the hardships that boys face and preferred to ignore the hardship of girls. How would they go about taking the findings of this study and promoting their bias? A media like that might produce the following headlines:
These headlines show what a biased media might do if they were only concerned about the needs and hardships of boys and men. We have had nearly 50 years of the opposite: a media that is only concerned about women and girls. The above headlines don’t lie, they simply only tell half the story. This engenders a very false image in the minds of their readers. We have all been duped. Most people believe that women and girls have a corner on the market of hardship and discrimination. This is a completely false message as can be seen by the research discussed in this article. We need a media that shows compassion and interest in the needs and hardships of boys and girls. Not just girls. This research study is a good example of the beginnings of this sort of thing.
And let’s not forget, Men Are Good!
Tom Golden, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice. His office is in Gaithersburg MD. Tom also does consults via the internet and phone. His newest ebook “The Way Men Heal” offers a quick look at the masculine side of healing. You can find him here: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430–438.
2. Briere, J. & Elliot, D.M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in a general population sample of men and women. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1205–1222.
3. Holmes, W.C., & Slap, G.B. (1998). Sexual abuse of boys: Definition, prevalence, correlates, sequelae, and management. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 280, 1855–1862.
4. Lisak, D., Hopper, J. & Song, P. (1996). Factors in the cycle of violence: Gender rigidity and emotional constriction. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9, 721–743.
5. Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 14, 19–28.
6. Widom, C.S. & Morris, S. (1997). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization part 2. Childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Assessment, 9, 34–46.
When men enter into couples therapy with their wives or significant female others they will often come into what seems like foreign territory. Things don’t make sense and the language used is not so familiar. It seems like they are “out of place.” The first section of this article intends to offer men a primer on the basics of why they may feel out of place. The later section will focus on ideas about what they can do about it and tips for getting the most they can from the experience. It is worth noting that for biological reasons there are probably about 1 in 5 men who will feel more comfortable in the couples therapy setting. It is also true that 1 in 5 women will be more like most men. When this article addresses “men” it is directed towards that 80% of men and 20% of women. Bottom line? We are all very different and if you are a man or a woman and want to know more about the nature of couples therapy you may find this article useful. (For more information on these differences see my ebook The Way Men Heal at Amazon)
1. Men and Couples Therapy - Why is this hard for men?
The whole idea of sitting face to face and talking about emotions and hurt seems odd to many men. Men might feel more comfortable taking this sort of problem and hashing it out as they play a game of horse or shoot 18 holes of golf. They may feel more comfortable shoulder to shoulder or even by themselves but that is not the way this system of couples therapy is set up. This is just one of many factors that make this experience one that is more difficult for men.
Couples therapy uses a unique language that most men simply don’t know but most women speak fluently. This has an impact on what happens in couples treatment. Imagine visiting France. Your wife speaks fluent French and you speak a little. A Frenchman invites you to his table at a restaurant and a conversation unfolds. Who is he going to speak with? How will the conversation flow? Likely you will be secondary since you are simply not as fluent and your wife will translate to you the details that you miss. You rely on her to keep you informed about what is happening and you make your best guesses about the rest. Both your wife and the frenchman will probably not judge you harshly for not being fluent but even so, you will likely feel on the outside. Now think about a couples therapy session. You are likely not as fluent as the therapist and your wife, you will probably feel on the outside in a similar manner but there may be a difference. In the couples therapy arena when you are not as fluent you are likely to be judged and seen as inferior, ignorant, even as cold and uncaring. The truth is that many therapists think that men should be fluent in the language of feelings and tend to judge them for their apparent deficiency. They believe that men, if only they wanted to, could easily learn this feeling language and would then want to talk about their emotions. Simple right? “Just try a little harder honey, it’s not so hard if you will just try.” What these therapists don’t seem to know is that men’s biology is working against them. Their brains are more geared towards building and understanding systems and are not as interested in the emotional side of things. There is some evidence now that testosterone actually limits a man’s ability to articulate emotions even when in the midst of feeling them. Men have a very different way to process emotions but this difference is rarely acknowledged in couples therapy and men’s unique ways are often interpreted as being deficiencies or are simply ignored.
Another aspect to the language problem is that it likely creates a bond between your wife and the therapist and just as you depended on her translations at the French restaurant you now depend on her. The difference is that in a couples therapy scenario, she may be antagonistic towards you since your interests are now in conflict. The likelihood of getting a good translation goes down as you must depend on her emotional maturity and only a truly mature woman will be considering your needs at a time like this. I have seen women use their fluency in the language of emotions as a tool to prove her side and to show the man as being the problem.
Another difference is in the details. Have you ever noticed that women seem to remember in great detail relationship events from years ago? You know, the time you insulted her by saying she was fat in 2007. She remembers. You don’t. Why is it when you are in a session with a couples therapist, she can rattle off a long series of your indiscretions over the past several years? All the while you are struggling to remember the events she is describing much less coming up with your own examples. This sort of memory gives women a distinct advantage in couples counseling since they have a much better grasp on details of problems and disagreements from the past. She often keeps a scorecard. You usually don’t. Her barrage of memories and your silence make it appear that you have no case.
We don’t know why women remember and men don’t. Maybe it’s that men seem to treat their relationship problems and upsets like fishing. When they catch a fish that is too small they simply throw it back in, forget about it, and focus on catching the next one. Most men don’t keep score and catalogue the small everyday relationship deficiencies. Could it be that men see small indiscretions in relationships as being like the small fish and let them go by just throwing them back in rather then hold on to them and file them into a growing pile of hurts and resentments? Could it be that men are simply forgiving and letting the small stuff go? Perhaps when it comes time for couples therapy the men don’t have a huge stockpile of past hurts since they have already let them go while his female partner has a bucket of old hurts which seem geared to prove he is an uncaring sort? You be the judge. YMMV.
Avoiding Men’s Emotional Pain
Also at work are misandrist attitudes that are held by almost everyone in the US culture that have an impact on men in couples treatment. These attitudes are led by the idea that a man’s emotional pain is basically taboo. No one wants to touch a man’s pain, no one wants to hear a man’s pain, no one knows what to do with a man’s pain. Men are aware of this distaste for his emotional pain and avoid publicly emoting. No brainer. Men are simply not dumb enough to emote publicly, they know the judgement they would face. Contrast this with the norm for female emotional pain which rather than being taboo is more a call to action. When people see a tearful women in public the first thing that comes to their mind is “How can I help? Oh, poor thing, she needs support.” When they see a tearful man they will often see him as someone dangerous who needs to be avoided. These vastly different responses to men and women’s emotional pain has an impact on couples treatment. I have noticed that at least some therapists carry a portion of this bias. Those who do carry it seem unaware. It is obvious that if this bias is present in therapy the man’s emotional pain is going to get little attention while the women’s emotional pain will likely be the focus of treatment. Add on to that many couples therapists are female and this will give the female therapist a much better understanding of what it is like to grow up as a girl and be a woman but leaves her devoid of the same understandings about men and boys. She will be more likely to compare him to the female norm she has in her minds eye. This sort of thing can leave the man terribly misunderstood. I have known men who had huge stressors like recent major surgery, the loss of a job, and the death of a parent all having happened in the previous month and the therapist decides not to focus on his pain but instead focus on the wife’s emotional pain from something much less significant and question why he hasn’t been more attentive to her needs. This simply disenfranchises his reality and reinforces the therapist’s and the wife’s avoidance of the man’s pain. My experience has been that when the men’s emotional pain is avoided in therapy the men are left feeling even more bewildered and alone.
There is yet another important and related factor involved in the bias we see in couples therapy. It has to do with sex roles. Women’s sex roles have been changing over the last 40-50 years but men’s? Not so much. The traditional male sex role calls for him to provide and protect. Specifically, it calls him to do those things for his spouse that provide her with the supplies she needs/wants while also offering her a safe place. This idea of a safe place can and does include the idea of being cared for. If a woman does not feel cared for she is likely not going to feel safe so it is rolled into one big package for which the man is responsible. Bring her the provisions she needs to do her job and help her feel safe and cared for. On the other hand, the traditional sex roles of women were to birth, raise, and nurture the children and care for the home. He may get some benefit from this but her focus is not on him, it is on the kids and the home. These roles link the spouses in a very different manner. Her happiness is linked directly to how he performs in his providing and protecting. Does he give her what she wants? Does he give her a safe place? If not, he is open to judgement and criticism from his wife. This is his primary responsibility, to make money to provide and to insure safety. Her needs are his responsibility and his needs and his happiness are not attached in a similar manner. He needs to get the job done first and provide for her. This makes it simple to see the flow of energy in a traditional marriage as being from man to woman, and her flow of energy is from woman to children and/or home. This gives the woman a platform to judge his success or lack of success in providing for her. It gives her reasons to complain about his failures. Her needs are seen as primary. But what about his needs? No one is responsible. His needs are his problem. There is no one mandated to provide and protect for him. No one. It’s easy to see how this plays out in couples therapy. The woman’s needs and satisfaction are a primary element. His needs are much less front and center if they are even dealt with. This being the case it would be easy to see how most couples therapists will have a tendency to focus on HER and not so much on HIM. It would also be more likely that he wouldn’t even think of focusing on HIS needs and wants. He is programmed to care for her needs, not his. Plus, he is graded on how well he performs his providing and protecting for her but she is less likely to receive a grade for her treatment of him. “I can’t do everything, I’ve been taking care of the house and kids.”
To make matters worse the man’s role of provide and protect leaves him with a mandate to maintain his independence. Being dependent or needy is not acceptable. In order to be the best provider and protector he needs to be independent and he will usually struggle to do so. What do we ask of men in therapy and specifically in couples therapy? We ask them to talk about their problems, their vulnerabilities, and their feelings. All of the above are huge signs of dependency and neediness. So we are asking men to do a 180 degree turn and suddenly they are supposed to just magically be comfortable with showing neediness and dependency. The women think this should be easy since their roles are not as demanding of them to be independent. In fact what are the old demands of women’s roles? Nurturing and caring right? So just imagine for a moment putting women into a situation where they had to talk in ways that would show they were not nurturing and caring! Would they have an easy time with that? I don’t think so. We need to have some compassion for our men and the bind they are placed into by coming into couples therapy.
Therapy is Friendly to Women
Therapy has evolved over the years to be friendly to women. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple, women are the ones who come into therapy. Therapists will naturally move towards creating an environment that caters to and welcomes those who are showing up and paying! This is one of the reasons that therapy is based on the more feminine ideas of who is relating to whom and who cares about whom. This is the currency. This is what drives things. In a more masculine environment the currency would more likely be who is governing whom or who is admiring or respecting whom. These are very different spaces. If you are presently in couples counseling it is likely that your wife is attempting to make the point that you simply don’t care about her and she will go through the litany of things you have done that prove you don’t care. Caring is the index. She attempts to convince the therapist that you have committed numerous sins of not caring and now need to change your ways and that her negative behaviors are justified by your indiscretions. This puts you into a defensive position. You spend most of your time defending yourself and trying to rebut her claims about your uncaring behaviors. This is yet another problem for men in couples treatment. They will often find themselves in such a defensive position that they neglect telling their own story, their own needs etc since they are so overwhelmed with just trying to defend themselves.
This sort of imbalanced approach neglects to look at the man’s side of things. He probably isn’t even thinking about voicing his own needs. It is partly his fault for not bringing things up but he is all too often under water in trying to defend himself and feeling out of place in a world that shows little interest in his needs or his feelings. This pattern has been going on for thousands of years and continues to this day, that women voice what they need in relationship whether it is about their own safety or the provisions they feel they require. The men do their best to provide what is requested or protect them if they are in danger. The men are then evaluated on their performance. It’s easy to see how in couples counseling it would be simple to focus on the woman’s complaints and needs and expect the man to step up and meet those needs while at the same time placing his wants and desires a step down. The byproduct of this formula is that men’s emotional pain and needs are marginalized and avoided.
Another problem that often surfaces is that of volume. Women have a very different threshold for determining when someone is yelling. Two men can be actively and politely arguing a point at what seems to them to be reasonable volumes but if that same tone and volume is used with their wives, she often claims he is yelling. This often frustrates the man no end. He simply says, “I am not yelling.” And in his mind this is the objective truth. But remember when entering couples therapy your masculine rules and limits stop being applicable. You have entered a more feminine space. The biggest danger of this dreaded “you are yelling” meme is that it is sometimes used when the man is making a very good point, a point that can’t be easily countered. By claiming he is yelling the focus of the conversation shifts quickly and completely. Now the focus is whether he yelled or not…AND how hurt she is that he was yelling at her. (remember the keyword is “caring”, a caring person wouldn’t yell) Now the focus leaves his point and instead centers on how hurt she is and his responsibility for this. This is a devastating development and leaves the man feeling ambushed, helpless and completely unheard. It also importantly lets her off the hook.
Now let’s change gears and look into what a man can do to improve the chances of couples therapy being helpful to him and his relationship in Part Two.
Tom Golden, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice. His office is in Gaithersburg MD. Tom also does consults via the internet and phone. His newest ebook “The Way Men Heal” offers a quick look at the masculine side of healing. You can find him here: email@example.com
In order for couples therapy to be effective the needs of both men and women need to be given equal time and attention. We have seen how there are multiple factors that impede that from happening. The language differences, the sex role bias, and the taboo towards men’s emotional pain all contribute to the avoidance of the depth of a man’s emotional experience. This sets up a situation where women’s stories, emotions, frustrations, desires etc are the focus in treatment. Given this bias the first thing that needs to happen is to help the man get his side of the story into the conversation. Otherwise the work is not about the couple but instead can become a cheerleading exercise for one spouse over the other. The man is clearly at a disadvantage. So what can be done?
One of the first things that needs to happen is to insure the man is voicing his side of the story and making what he wants and needs in the relationship an important part of the conversation. The man will be fighting not only the cultural bias against his own personal pain but also his own tendency to maintain his independence and to care for others rather than himself. These two factors conspire to make it less likely a man will present his own needs in relationship. The obvious question is what can be done about this?
Voice His Side
If you are a man in this position here’s a simple formula to help you come up with your side of things. Think back to when you were first dating. What did she do that you enjoyed? How did she treat you differently? What did you like about the ways she treated you and would you like to have some of those ways rekindled? Think about those things and bring them up in your couples therapy. Was the sex more frequent and more enjoyable? Did you feel admired? Appreciated? Was her complaining greatly reduced during those early times? Just say the things you miss and would like to see again. You might even want to jot down a list before you go in for the session so you will have them handy.
If you have a hard time directly saying the things you want you can always take a more indirect route. Remember in couples therapy the client should be the relationship rather than either you or your wife. Therefore it will always go over well if you talk about the things you want in terms of the way it will improve the relationship. Here’s an example, you want more sex and feel you have been cut off. You could say something about your needs and how they aren’t being met but you might also say something more indirect that will be more effective in the feminine environment of couples therapy. Here’s possibility: “I remember when our relationship was really good and one of the things that made it that way was a great sex life. I’m sure our relationship will improve if we try to rekindle that.” Basically you reframe “I want” with “The relationship needs.” You are saying the same thing it just has a much better chance within the confines of couples therapy to be heard and acted upon if it is framed in terms of improving the relationship. It will be very difficult for wife or therapist to shoot this down since it was presented as being helpful to the relationship. What may happen is the wife will now be forced to openly discuss her reasons for not having sex and if they are not very good reasons she will be seen as the one who is “blocking a good connection in your relationship.” Don’t be surprised if you hear from both the therapist and your wife that “sex is a result of closeness in the relationship and needs to come after you start feeling close again.” To that you can simply say that you have a different way of seeing this. You think that sex can actually rekindle intimacy and closeness and that is just what you both want, right? This at least puts it on the table that you want more sexual contact and think it will be helpful.
Remember, if both you and your wife are fairly happy with the relationship and the way things are going it becomes much more likely that you each will want to go out of your way to do things for the other. If someone is stuck in resentment they are much LESS likely to want to offer kindness. Kindness, like resentfulness is contagious. It’s just hard to get the kindling lit for kindness to start to burn, it’s too damp to light when soaked in resentment. In order for couples therapy to be of any use both members of the relationship need to feel they are getting what they want, or at least a part of what they want. Bring up the thing that YOU miss, bring up the ways you would like to be treated. When you get those things it becomes more likely that you will want to reciprocate.
When you say the things you want it never hurts to mention the emotional pain that the absence of those things has caused you. ie “It’s been really hard on me for our sex life to dwindle.” This is difficult for most men since we live under the heavy rule of needing to appear independent. When we ignore this rule it places us squarely into a needy and dependent stance. If you can speak of how things have been tough on you be sure to note the response of your wife and of the therapist. Do they ask you more about what this is like for you? Is your wife questioned about whether she has been supportive to you? Is there a similar amount of time spent on your unhappiness as that is spent on your wife?
Saying What You Want
When you tell your side of things the obvious result is you will begin to frame what it is you want in the relationship. This is critical. If you don’t voice what you want you are likely going to be inundated with only her side of things and what she wants. Think about the things you want and see if you can quantify them. For instance, if you want more sex can you quantify that? Well, I’d like us to have sex at least 3 times a week. Make it a number and put it out to your wife and the therapist. Maybe, I want you to cook dinner for the family at least twice a week like we used to do. If they concur that is a realistic goal then you have a good start. In the week ahead you can count the times the target goal is reached and you then have a gauge for success. All too often men in couples therapy walk away wondering what just happened. Did we get anywhere? Are we any closer? It seems nebulous and hard to gauge. Using the masculine strength of putting a number on things can be a good strategy in couples therapy for men.
Men Too Often Unheard – Are Their Issues Swept Under the Rug?
This is a very important question because my experience, as described in the first part of this article, with couples therapists in general is that they are much more interested in the upset and needs of the woman than they are with the man. His pain is all too often seen as an afterthought and hers as the main dish. I have sent clients into couples therapy with another therapist and have gotten feedback from my male clients that their pain is simply not attended to. Yet they are expected to spend much of the time on the emotional states of their wives. This may not happen so often, maybe it is infrequent. I certainly hope so but my experience tells me it happens more than a little. If you see this happening in a session it is your right to bring this up. Men are hesitant to do this since we are swimming in the provide and protect thing and this tells us to focus on her and shut up about ourselves. Keep in mind that in couples therapy both parties should get loving attention. Not just one.
One of the things you can do that will help getting positive outcomes in couples therapy is to work on listening. Many men are naturally pulled to want to help her out and fix things. The first thing we think of is to get her to see the simple solution that is so obvious to us but doesn’t seem so obvious to her. We tell her and what do we get? A sneer and a tear that they are not being heard! In the workshops I give I tell women straight up that they need to tell their men when they want a “consultation” as opposed to when they want “consolation.” Men will usually assume she wants a consultation which they can understand and try and help solve. Since men’s nature is to move in this direction it is incumbent upon the women to let the men know that they don’t want an answer or a solution, they simply want to be heard. They want consolation. When men truly understand this they are usually relieved! I don’t have to DO anything? Nope. Just listen. This is gold. A little bit of this can bring huge help and change. Here’s an example: Wife: “I am just so frustrated by Jimmy not sleeping at night.” Husband: “The thing with Jimmy not sleeping is really getting you upset.” She will then say “Yes, exactly.” And at that point you are both on the same page and in agreement. She feels that she has been heard and this is often very important to her. You didn’t have to do a thing to help Jimmy or her, you just acknowledge her situation. That’s it. For this small effort you will get kudos in the feminine world. The therapist will nod and your wife will likely feel good about things. All the while you have made no commitments, no offers to do anything, no nothing but you are getting good results. This is efficiency! Try it.
Voicing your side is an essential start. The next thing to work on is the language problem. They are more fluent so what do you do? You take your time. One of the things I have noticed over the years is that the man’s mental processor of emotions is much slower than the woman’s. If they ask you how you are feeling give yourself plenty of time. A couple of minutes or even more if you need it. Let them know you are considering your inner state and need more time then they might need. Don’t be rushed. The immediate response is to be rushed and to say something. Forget that. Take your time and get a sense of what is going on for you, then say it. Also, don’t feel you have to give a definitive answer. You can say you seem to be feeling this or that. You can also say you are not sure if that is the case. Don’t be rushed. Your processor is slower in working with emotions. You have a 286 and she has a quad core I7. The 286 is a good chip, it just takes more time. Slow is okay.
There are some things you can do while you are pondering the emotionally related questions that may help you come up with your truth. You have likely never been taught the basics of your own emotional states so let’s take a moment to go over some of the basics for men. Feel free to skip this if you don’t need the basics.
The first thing is to be aware of what is happening in your body. Oftentimes men can help themselves become more aware of their emotions by being aware of what is happening in their body. Think of the last football/soccer/basketball game you watched. What did the player’s bodies do as they were sad and were beaten? Slumped downward, looked heavy, gravity wins. What did their bodies look like when they played well? Everything points upward, jumping up, pointing up, high fives etc. Everything is pointing up. Gravity loses. Sadness will often have a simultaneous body experience that feels heavy or weighted down. Gladness and happy is the opposite, you are lifted up. What does your body feel when you are angry? Most men experience tightness in their arms, fists, or jaws. If your body is showing any of that it is a tipoff that maybe some of what you are experiencing is anger. Fear often has an accompanying sense of wanting to protect oneself, a sense of needing to put up one’s guard so to speak. that can be a tipoff for you. Is your body feeling heavy? Is it feeling trapped? Does it feel like surging upward? These are likely clues about what you are feeling. These point towards the building blocks of emotions. Almost all feeling related experiences can be boiled down to these four: sad, mad, glad, and afraid. When and if you get stuck in wondering what you might be feeling just run those four through your mind and ask yourself which one is closest to what you are experiencing? Is it more like sadness, gladness, anger or fear? Then again, maybe you aren’t feeling anything and that is ok too. Remember, it is okay to say something like, “I think I am feeling some sadness but I can’t put my finger on why.” You will get points for that sort of answer.
One of the things that men will sometimes forget to mention when they are saying what they want in the relationship is the lack of admiration. When relationships are first started the woman is often enamored with how the man cares for her. The man will usually get admired for this and it is the admiration that fuels him to do more for her. This cycle keeps up in healthy relationships. The woman maintains her admiration (and respect) for the man and he continues to help her feel cared for and cherished. It’s a positive feedback loop.
It’s an interesting fact that research has shown repeatedly that a good relationship will always follow the 5 to 1 ratio. Both man and woman will say five positive things to the other for every one negative comment. It seems that this ratio maintains the bond. When couples are fighting this ratio goes awry as the relationships fall apart. Bringing this ratio back can re-invigorate things.
What can be done about the volume problem? Learn to whisper. Speaking very softly has the advantage of not being vulnerable to being labelled as yelling and also has the advantage that when you speak softly people will often strain to listen to what you are saying. It’s an interesting gambit and takes a bit of self-control but the payoffs can be big since you can say things that might otherwise have been verboten.
Another variation on whispering is singing. Often times women will accuse you of having a mean tone of voice. This accusation has the bad habit of shifting the ground away from the issue at hand and throwing the focus on her and whether she is being hurt by your “insensitive” tone. I have found one of the best ways to completely negate this accusation is to sing to her what is pissing you off. When you sing you have absolutely no tone of voice. Not only that but it is so unusual and unexpected that it will often bring laughter from both of you while also getting the message across. This is a win. When I see couples and they are having tone issues I will often get them to sing and it is effective and hilarious. Everyone gets laughing, your side of things gets heard and the issues get on the table.
Couples therapy is feminine territory. The language used, the default importance of caring, the reliance upon talking, and the focus on feelings all play together to make this a place that is not particularly male friendly. By getting to know the territory and assessing your weaknesses and strategy you may be able to increase your chances of getting something from this process. Best of luck to you.
And don’t forget. Men are good.
Tom Golden, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice. His office is in Gaithersburg MD. Tom also does consults via the internet and phone. His newest ebook “The Way Men Heal” offers a quick look at the masculine side of healing. You can find him here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The last study we will examine in this series will be the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI). (Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Vol 4(1), Jan 2003, 3-25.)7
This inventory purports to measure the conformity or lack of conformity to what it considers the masculine norms for this culture.
The first problem I see in this inventory is that the norms they have chosen as being masculine norms don’t seem like norms at all. Here’s a list of what this inventory considers masculine norms:
Power Over Women
Disdain for Homosexuals
Primacy of Work
Pursuit of Status
It’s the first four that I find most off target, Power over Women, Violence, Disdain for Homosexuals, and Playboy. I just can’t see them as masculine norms for our culture. These four actually seem more like negative stereotypes which is hardly the sort of thing that will be effective in a professional inventory. My initial reaction was to think this inventory is painting masculinity in a very poor light. These “norms” are clearly negatively charged and not what one would expect. Why would any inventory choose such negatively charged words? Are they claiming these are generic masculine norms?
The study clearly states that it is studying the reaction to the masculine norms of the dominant culture of the US. It says:
The inventory was constructed to assess the extent that an individual male conforms or does not conform to the actions, thoughts, and feelings that reflect masculinity norms in the dominant culture in US society. (page 5 Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory)
This sounds very much like they are examining generic norms. The article also states:
Gender norms also operate when people observe what most men or women do in social situations, are told what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior for men or women, and observe how popular men or women act (page 3, Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory).
So they are claiming that violence, power over women, disdain for homosexuals and being a playboy are all norms in the US and men are encouraged to act out these behaviors? That seems to be a very outlandish claim given that the norms for men are usually based on the ideas of provide and protect. Many normative messages received by males include things like “never hit a girl” or some other imperative that says the opposite to what this inventory is claiming are cultural masculine norms.
The CMNI is not claiming to study some arcane aspect to masculine norms but instead is stating they are interested in the basic masculine norms as described above. That is pretty straight forward but the researcher throws in another twist and claims that the norms the inventory wants to study are only the norms of white heterosexual middle and upper class males. The reasoning, according to this researcher, is that these white males are the “dominant” group and other males would be affected by this dominant group. So this inventory is not just about male norms for the United States, it is specifically about white heterosexual middle and upper class male norms. Here’s the explanation from the article:
“The construct was chosen because Mahalik (the researcher) posited the gender role norms from the most dominant or powerful group in a society affect the experiences of persons in that group, as well as persons in all other groups. Thus, the expectations of masculinity as constructed by Caucasian, middle- and upper-class heterosexuals should affect members of that group and every other male in U.S. society who is held up to those standards and experiences acceptance or rejection from the majority, in part, based on adherence to the powerful group’s masculinity norms.” (page 5-6 Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory)
This inventory seems to assume that white heterosexual male middle class norms impact the rest of men in our culture. This seems a bit off to me when you look at the sorts of things that young men are looking up to and emulating. It seems to me that hip hop, word choices, language styles, and dress styles, and behaviors of black males are having a greater impact on young men then stuffy middle class and upper class whites. Furthermore, aren’t the rates of violent crimes much higher for blacks than whites? Aren’t the violent crime rates for lower socioeconomic groups much higher than the middle and upper class? If this is correct why are they ascribing violence as a prominent norms for middle and upper class white males? It doesn’t add up.
So this inventory clearly states that it is not attempting to gauge the norms of all men, it is looking to isolate the norms of a very specific group, the white heterosexual middle and upper class males of the US and then labels them in a very negative fashion. This is beginning to remind me of the way white males are isolated on TV as being recipients of bashing and shaming and sidesteps the problem of voicing any sort of negative comments about women, gays, blacks or other minority males.
Let’s have a look at the four categories that seem most ill placed in this inventory.
Is violence a masculine norm? I don’t think so. In 2008 99.82% of men in the United States were not arrested for a violent crime. That leaves about
.18% who were. Very far from being a norm. Of the men you know how many are violent? How about your father, brother, nephews or other male relatives, are they violent? Probably not. And if they were, do you look up to their violent behavior? Do they model what you would like to be? Saying violence is a masculine norm in this culture shows a hateful attitude towards men and masculinity. In actuality, violence occurs when the role for men breaks down. Men’s roles have traditionally been to provide and protect. Are men sometimes violent while protecting others? Yes. But that is far from lumping all men into a norm of violence. Yes, some men can be violent, but no, violence is not a descriptor of men in general and to imply that violence is a norm for men goes beyond being anti-male and moves into being a hateful attitude toward men and masculinity.
Just imagine that we are creating a scale of norms for women. We know that women commit child abuse more often than men and that women initiate violence in intimate relationships more often than men.4 Knowing this, should we add to our norm scale that women are child and spouse abusers? Or that women are violent? Of course not, and anyone who tried to do this would be laughed at. Only a small percentage of women abuse children or initiate domestic violence. In 2001 243,000 women were labelled child abusers by HHS. Out of the population at the time of about 143 million women that comes out to about .17%. That is about the same percentage abusers per capita as there were males convicted of violent crimes and yet we wouldn’t dream of saying child abuse was a norm for women would we? Of course not. So why is it that no one objects when researchers try the same thing on men and even boys? This double standard, I suggest, is a strong indicator of misandry.
Disdain for Gay People
Some men and some women surely have disdain for gay people, but is this even close to being a defining characteristic of masculinity? Again, if this were about women, the offenders would be thought of as witless. The idea that most men have disdain for homosexuals is simply nutty. Implying or outright claiming that this sort of characteristic is representative of a birth group is again misandrist.
Power over Women
The norm of power over women is as perplexing as the previous two. Where is the data showing that most men have a tendency to want power over women or that that behavior is frequent enough to consider it a norm? I could find nothing to support this. This may indeed be the case in a tiny minority not unlike the female child abusers mentioned above, but hardly the frequency to call it normative. There are likely some men who do want power over women, just like there were indeed some men who were violent, but I see no reason to believe that most men do. Making a claim that one birth group wants power over the other birth group seems to be on very shaky ground. It seems to me that this is just another way to shame and stereotype men. Again, there is no evidence to support such a claim.
Is playboy a norm for men? It seems like the same problem with this one as with all the others. Yes, some men are interested in continuous and multiple relationships and behave in a way that would be consonant with the playboy role but is that the norm for men? I don’t think it is even close.
I wrote to the creator of this inventory, James Mahalik, and asked him about these four “norms” and the reasons for their inclusion in this inventory. He referred me to the journal article being discussed here and claimed the article might explain this for me. I went back and re-read it. I was not surprised to see that the only reference to how these norms may have appeared was a list of articles dating from 1975-1995 that Mahalik claimed were used for his search of the literature. One of those he cited was a book by I. M. Harris written in 1995 and titled “Messages Men Hear: Constructing Masculinities.”9 I found this book and discovered that “Playboy” was one of the roles the book mentioned. It was one of four roles under the category of men’s ways of loving. The other three in that category were “breadwinner, faithful husband and nurturer.” Each of those sounded complimentary as opposed to playboy which seemed more judgmental. As I went through the book I found that the book’s author stated that the playboy role was only chosen by 1% of the men surveyed as their dominant role. This leaves us with the obvious question of why would Mahalik choose playboy as a norm when the source he claims to have used to find those norms listed playboy as a very infrequent choice for men? It just didn’t add up and it looks very suspicious.
These four “norms” violence, power over women, playboy, and disdain for homosexuality seemed to pass harsh judgment on men and boys and seemed much more like stereotypes than norms. But questions arose in my mind. Was I overreacting? More specifically, had no one done this before? Was naming norms of men as being very negative new or was it a continuation of earlier research? To answer this question I pulled together examples of words that had been used as norms for men during the period of 1974 to 2003 and the CMNI. The chart below offers examples of the terms that have been used to describe masculine norms.
Notice that the norms that were used prior to 1990 seem to be neutral. Examples included competency, level headed, independence, aggressive, forceful, suppressing emotion, willing to take a stand, assertive, and self-contained. All of these could be seen as being close to neutral with some like “level headed” or “self-confident” seeming even a bit complimentary. Someone could have some of any of these qualities, like some aggressiveness, some forcefulness or some assertiveness and depending on the situation would be considered okay. Now think of having some violence. Nope, you can’t even have a little bit of that before you are judged harshly. Same thing with power over women, playboy or disdain for homosexuals. A little bit of any of those and you are sunk. These four categories from the CMNI seem quite different from all of those from 1970-1986.
The Shift in Thinking
Why would any academic psychological inventory be willing to place such negative labels on a birth group in this manner? In order to even partially answer that question we will need to momentarily divert our attention away from this inventory and take a quick look at the ideological shift that has occurred since the late 20th century in the academic psychological community.
Prior to the 1980′s the psychological community thought of sex roles in terms of traits. Men and women were seen as different but not seen in terms of one being better or worse then the other. The trait theory was in its heyday and different traits were assigned to each sex. Norms such as strong and aggressive went to the men’s column, norms such as nice and nurturing went into the women’s column. Very simple and obviously inadequate as a measure of both masculinity and femininity. After the 1980’s feminist writings started gaining influence in the academic study of men and masculinity. It’s not a big surprise that with this shift men/masculinity started being seen as “the problem.” Prior to this time men and masculinity had been seen as a group of traits, now this perception shifted and instead men and “masculinity” starts catching blame for the world’s ills. I know that is hard to believe but it is true. Feminism, which had found men to blame through “patriarchy” for many of women’s problems now was beginning to become dominant in the discourse about men and masculinity. One of the influential writers in the late 20th century was feminist R W Connell. It was in the mid 1980’s that Connell began writing about “hegemonic” masculinity. Connell’s book on Masculinities and specifically hegemonic masculinity came out in 1995 and was considered a top resource by academic psychologists on the study of masculinities. Since that time these ideas about hegemonic masculinity have become entrenched into academic psychology. But just what does Connell mean by hegemonic masculinity? According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2005 Connell defines hegemonic masculinity as “the dominant notion of masculinity in a particular context which serves as a standard upon which the “real man” is defined. Connell claims it is built on two legs, one being the domination of women and the other the hierarchy of intermale dominance. It is also shaped to a lesser extent by the stigmatization of homosexuality.”
Now in the academic psychology world masculinity through its perceived domination is seen as THE problem. We have gone from an overly simplistic trait view to an even more overly simplistic view of masculinity as being bad, as being responsible, as being the problem. It is amazing to me that so many educated people can take such a misandrist viewpoint. Masculinity is obviously very complex, there are multiple models pushing multiple norms, some violent, some peaceful, some yin and some yang. “Never hit a girl” or “girls first” were surely messages that most boys received loud and clear. But they were among many. It is very complex and to try and boil it down to men being bad seems incredibly simple minded. So many different voices it is preposterous to claim that only one very negative voice defines the masculinity that all other males will follow.
It is worthwhile noting that R W Connell changed sexes from male to female in 2006. He was Robert W Connell and then became Raewyn W Connell. I have heard that Connell went to a professional conference after this change and presented a paper as a woman, Raewyn Connell, without giving any sort of notification to many of his peers of his profound change. I understand there were more than a few dropped jaws at the professional meeting. Yes, what many academic psychologists believe about masculinity was drawn directly from the writing of someone who at best had an ambivalent perception of what it is to be a male. Someone who decided to cease being male. Hard to see this viewpoint as anything near fair and balanced.
Apparently academic psychologists in the U.S. have taken Connell’s theories of hegemonic masculinity and siphoned out the negative traits and distilled it down to what they now call “Toxic Masculinity” which is characterized by: ruthless competition, violent domination, inability to express emotions other than anger, unwillingness to admit weakness or dependency, devaluation of women and all feminine attributes in men, and homophobia.
It should be getting more clear about the origin of those four categories of the CMNI. (Violence, Power over women, Disdain for Homosexuality and Playboy) They are the basis to the ideas of hegemonic and/or toxic masculinity. It seems that Mahalik must have liked the idea of hegemonic masculinity and toxic masculinity and liked them so much that he just inserted those into his inventory as norms not because there was any research that backed up those choices, but because they were the foundation of the latest and hottest theory among his peers.
I can personally testify that the ideas of toxic masculinity are alive and well in the American Psychological Association’s one place to study men and masculinity, APA’s Division 51. It’s a hotbed of feminism and attachment to the ideas of toxic masculinity. I was on the mailing list for this group for some time (until I was unceremoniously tossed out) and was continually shocked at the adherence to these ideas. The basic unvarnished theory is that masculinity is the source of our problems and that men need to learn to be more mature which is “code” for men need to act more like women. One of the list members actually wrote a message where he stated just that. Men needed to be more mature like women and the world would immediately improve! This is the primitive feminist lens through which they see the world. They don’t even seem the least bit aware of the ideas and psychological theories around mature masculinity. Here is what the mission statement of the APA group that studies men and masculinity says:
“Acknowledges its historical debt to feminist-inspired scholarship on gender, and commits itself to the support of groups such as women, gays, lesbians and people of color that have been uniquely oppressed by the gender/class/race system.”
I don’t mind professionals being interested in this or that theory but what I do mind is when that theory becomes a sacred cow which limits open discussion. On the mailing list of Division 51 feminism was that sacred cow. It was highly discouraged to question anything about feminism. It was also not a good idea to make any references to possible biological factors in masculinity, or to consider men worthy of choice and compassion. None of those flew very well. Actually a man, a PhD, was banned from the list for bringing up male victims of domestic violence too many times. Hard to believe but in the wackie wonderland of the feminist Division 51 it is totally true.
During my time on this list I would receive emails from other list members who did not post to the list but wanted me to know that they appreciated my willingness to question the feminist ideas and stand up for boys and men. They all said the same thing. “I wish I could post to the list and support you but I fear for my professional career.” They were worried that the bullies on the list, which included a number of very prominent psychologists, would blackball them. This tells the story of this list. It is run by bullies who try and force messages to the list to conform to the feminist standard. Many list members are very aware of their power and simply lay low.
It is of critical importance that every person interested in the MHRM knows that our professional psychological community routinely blames men and boys and expects them to change and be more like women in order for the world to advance. Much of the research being done has this underlying attitude as do the “experts” that are called on by the mainstream media, and also many of those who are doing therapy with men and women. It will take a great effort to expose the misandry that is embedded in their ideas and related practices. The more these ideas can be challenged publicly the better. We need our helping professionals to have concern and love for both sexes, not just one.
Now that we have a better idea of the origins for these four categories let’s get back and take a look at more of the ways that misandry underlies this inventory.
The Focus Groups
How had Mahalik come up with these categories? Were variables such as “power over women” and ”violence” pulled out of thin air, from the ideas of toxic masculinity, or was there some other rationale behind their selection? Had there been any attempt to choose norms that fit with white heterosexual men of all age across the United States? The article states that the researcher first reviewed the professional literature on masculine norms and then started two focus groups to discuss and refine them.
The groups met for 90 minutes each week for 8 months with the researcher. The curious part of this is that of the nine people in these two focus groups, only 3 were white men! Five of the nine were women. Here is the demographic composition of each focus group: (Group 1) 1 Asian American man, 1 European American man, 2 European American women; (Group 2) 2 European American men, 2 European American women, 1 Haitian Canadian woman.
Notice that men are in the minority and that white men make up only 1/3 of those in these focus groups. Importantly, white men are in the minority even within each focus group. This is odd, to say the least, considering that the overtly claimed goal was to develop norms of European American men. Why include so many women? Why have the group that you want to study be the minority? I started to wonder if the researcher had some pre-conceived ideas that he wanted to propagate. I wondered if having too many men and especially too many white men, after all, might foil his attempt to plant the seeds of his favored ideology? Who knows but it is a gaping question why white males were so underrepresented.
To see the absurdity of having white males be only 1/3rd of the focus group participants let’s try an exercise. Imagine that the same researcher is studying African American norms. He puts together focus groups to try and refine these norms. He has 3 African Americans, 4 whites, 1 Korean, and 1 Hispanic. These nine people form two focus groups where the African Americans are in the minority of both groups. It’s simple to see how that could be considered racist and intentionally marginalizing African Americans. It’s simple to see that groups such as that would be less likely to come up with an accurate representation of norms for African Americans than a group that solely consisted of African Americans might be able to provide. I hope it is also simple to see the misandry of this researcher’s using a minority of white males in the focus groups.
It’s worth noting that these focus groups included only grad students in counseling psychology. According to an e-mail from Mahalik, moreover, all were in their mid-20s. In a nutshell, the groups lacked diversity in age. Hardly the sort of group one would want to make decisions about the norms for all ages of white American boys and men.
Inventing the CMNI, supposedly an academic enterprise, were young men and women who relied on their own moral and ideological judgments about masculine norms. A better name for the result would be the Conformity to Adolescent Masculine Norms Inventory. Some of the conclusions that it presupposes do make sense when applied to immature and adolescent boys. Middle school boys may exhibit similar sorts of immature behavior. In some ways that is normative for that age group. Perhaps the authors are simply unaware of and have little experience with the mature masculine? We simply don’t know that at this point. What we do know is that the inventory, whatever its origin, is misandric.
Mahalik also created an inventory for women, the Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory. It gives us a way to understand the CMNI more deeply by comparing it to the related CFNI. That is what we will do next.
CFNI Female Conformity to Norms Inventory
When I first saw the CNMI, I was a shocked at the misandric content but wondered if that was merely a millennial shift for the 21st century toward examining the shadowy, unconscious aspects of life. That thought was dashed, though, when I saw the companion inventory for this the CFNI (Conformity to Femininity Norms Inventory), which the same researcher had created. I wondered if this version, for women, would contain similarly negative and judgmental “norms” for them. Would it refer to gossip, relational violence, the queen bee, or the gold digger as norms? What I found was that these norms were almost completely positive, all sugar and spice. Here is a list of them:
nice in relationships
care for children
investment in appearance.
All of these “norms” are either flattering to women or neutral. There is not a hint of judgment towards women in the naming of these feminine norms. All of them could be manifested robustly without causing harsh judgments. A woman could invest greatly in her appearance and be very concerned about her sexual fidelity or children or her modesty and she would be considered fine and dandy by our culture’s standards. Contrast this with the men’s “norms” such as violence where even a little of that “norm” is a horrible thing that deserves scorn and harsh judgment. I won’t argue if these feminine norms are right or wrong, only that they are distinctly different from the norms for the men and are much more positive and non threatening towards women.
It seemed to me that the researchers were reluctant or even afraid to make any negative claims about traditional feminine norms. Even more interesting was the way in which Mahalik established these norms for women. He created focus groups, as he had done for men, but this time he included students of only one sex, only women. These focus groups had a wider range of ages, moreover, and included middle-age women. The mean age was 32 with a standard deviation of 10 years. This means that most of the group members were likely between 18-46. Indeed, the women were asked to join not two but five focus groups. Several groups included mainly young women. Two included adult women from the community. Unlike the male focus groups, these represented more than the adolescent population. Somehow Mahalik switched gears and only chose women for the focus groups for the CFNI. I wonder what sort of reaction might have come if women were in the minority of each of the five focus groups?
Comparing the CMNI and CFNI
Both inventories used focus groups to refine the norms that would be used. In the masculine version (CMNI) the focus groups included many women. In its counterpart, the feminine version (CFNI), these groups included only women. One would think that if you wanted to get a clear idea of the norms of a group you would want members of the group under study to make those assessments. To create a group deliberately with most members coming from outside the group almost defies explanation. I e-mailed Mahalik about this. He never responded directly to my question.
Focus groups for the CFNI had a greater age range than those for the CMNI. It is easy to assume that the older women would have a markedly different perspective on feminine norms from that of the younger women. The younger men and women in focus groups on masculine norms would be likely to have a very similar perspective: that of an adolescent.
The two inventories contained remarkably different “norms,” with the masculine ones being negative and judgmental and the feminine ones either flattering (despite being, according to feminists, inconvenient) or neutral. Why didn’t the feminine norms include any negative stereotypes, just as the masculine ones did? I found a hint about the reasons behind this from Mahalik in a section of the journal article about the CFNI.
In addition, because the CFNI is intended to measure conformity to traditional norms of femininity in the U.S., we thought it should also relate to women’s development of a feminist identity. In describing women’s feminist identity development, Downing and Roush (1985) proposed a five-stage model in which the first stage, passive acceptance, reflects acceptance of traditional European American, North American, gender roles, beliefs that men are superior to women, and that these roles are advantageous. The second stage, revelation, is in response to a crisis or crises that lead women to question traditional gender roles and to have concomitant feelings of anger toward men. Sometimes women in this stage also feel guilty because of how they may have contributed to their own and other women’s oppression in the past. The third stage, embeddedness-emanation, reflects feelings of connection to other women, cautious interactions with men, and development of a more relativistic frame of life. The fourth stage, synthesis, is when women develop a positive feminist identity and are able to transcend traditional gender roles. (page 425 Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory)
This quotation is very different from my earlier one about the culpability of white men. The women are described as developing a “feminist identity” and learning that they have been living in a world that oppresses them. This is the first time identity has been connected to social norms and is only found in the CFNI, not in the men’s CMNI. The women are told that men and their traditional roles are what has been holding them back because of the belief that women are inferior. It is clear that the researchers frame women as “good” and in need of space to grow while at the same time framing men as “not good” and needing to change. It is also worth noting that good is now conflated with victim in the CFNI. The assumption is that women are inherently good, and this goodness manifests more robustly when they can transcend the oppression they have suffered at the hands of males. This creates a picture of a good human being who is perpetually victimized by “the way things are.” It is this sort of characterization that allows feminists to paint women as good and also in need of protection and special services. Sadly these two inventories boil down to the creaky dichotomy between good women and evil men. Cartoons, in short, have made their way into academia.
Let’s just look briefly at the norms chosen for women and the norms chosen for men and compare the two:
I am going to avoid comparing these and will leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. I will say that the Nursery Rhyme for each seems to describe the contents fairly well. How far have we come since the days of Nursery Rhymes?
It was obvious to me that a part of the misandry of this inventory was in the choice of names for the different categories. But it dawned on me to examine whether the actual questions on the CMNI were connected to the names. The first one I thought of was disdain for homosexuality. I found myself wondering what questions you could ask in a questionnaire such as the CMNI that would allow you to determine if someone truly had disdain for homosexuals. I found the actual questions of the CMNI and guessed at which ones were related to the disdain for homosexuality category. You will see them below:
5. It is important to me that people think I am heterosexual
16. Being thought of as gay is not a bad thing
23. I make sure that people think I am heterosexual
37. I would be furious if someone thought I was gay
42. It would not bother me at all if someone thought I was gay
51. It would be awful if people thought I was gay
63. I like having gay friends
73. I would feel uncomfortable if someone thought I was gay
80. If someone thought I was gay, I would not argue with them about it
91. I try to avoid being perceived as gay
Each of those questions seems to ask about a man’s worry and fear over being seen as gay. Please note that none of them are remotely related to a man’s “disdain” for homosexuals. Disdain is defined as having to do with contempt, scorn, or some might even say hatred. But do those questions in any way evaluate the respondents contempt, scorn or hatred? I would say no, but somehow the researcher seems to ask that series of questions and then label those who answer that they are indeed fearful of being seen as gay that they have disdain for homosexuality. This is ridiculous. Someone can be afraid of tigers and not hate them. They can be afraid of lightning and not hate it. The two are very different and this is one more example of this inventory’s questionable construction. It seems to me that it would be like asking a group of people if they were afraid of bumblebees and then labeling them bumblebee haters if they answered that they were afraid.
Yet another questionable part of this inventory can be seen when we compare the questions of the CMNI with those of the CFNI. If we look at the questions for the Playboy section of the CMNI and compare it to the questions in the Sexual Fidelity portion of the CFNI we find that the two sections have almost identical questions. Here they are:
PLAYBOY – CMNI
3. If I could, I would frequently change sexual partners
13. An emotional bond with a partner is the best part of sex
28. If I could, I would date a lot of different people
33. I would only have sex if I was in a committed relationship
38. I only get romantically involved with one person
47. I would feel good if I had many sexual partners
58. Long term relationships are better than casual sexual encounters
66. Emotional involvement should be avoided when having sex
83. A person shouldn’t get tied down to dating just one person
90. I would only be satisfied with sex if there was an emotional bond
SEXUAL FIDELITY – CFNI
4. I would feel extremely ashamed if I had many sexual partners
21. I prefer long-term relationships to casual sexual ones
29. I would feel guilty if I had a one-night stand
39. It is not necessary to be in a committed relationship to have sex
47. I would feel comfortable having casual sex
50. Being in a romantic relationship is important
56. I frequently change sexual partners
65. I would only have sex with the person I love
67. When I have a romantic relationship, I enjoy focusing my energies on it
72. It would be enjoyable to date more than one person at a time
78. I would only have sex if I was in a committed relationship like marriage
Some of the questions are exactly the same and some are simply worded differently but are asking very similar sorts of things. But the titles are very different. Calling one of these categories sexual fidelity and the other playboy seems very suspect. Why not call them both what they are, an assessment of sexual fidelity? Either call them both sexual fidelity or change the female title to something that matches the playboy title. What is a female who has lots of relationships called? Well, a hussy or a slut. Name it sluts and playboys! I bet that would have gone over very big with the feminists but the playboy label doesn’t seem to draw much ire does it?
It seems clear that misandry is embedded in this inventory. When I wrote messages on the APA mailing list for men and masculinity that questioned this inventory and pointed out many of the things you have seen in this article I was told that there was no misandry. I think this article clearly shows their claims are indeed false. There is misandry in this inventory and it is clear for all to see. That these professionals were unable to admit to this is yet more proof of the academic psychological community being enablers of females and feminism in the worst sort of way. The problems started as feminist writing and thought started to influence the thinking of psychologists. This resulted in the adoption of feminist thinking about men which then resulted in rigid and misandrist attitudes about men and the resulting misandry we see placed in this inventory. I simply can’t see any other explanation for the willingness to lump an entire birth group into such negative categories. If this sort of thing were done to any other group of people, the result would be immediate negative reactions from the groups involved and the press with multiple calls for apologies. However, when it is done to men we hear nothing of the sort. The problem can be likened to an ideological infestation. It is not merely popular culture, which everyone likes to attack, but also elite culture—that of academics, lawyers, politicians, social workers—and psychologists. We need to move to a point where we can see both men and women, masculine and feminine as having positive and negative qualities and learn to value each individual. We have a long way to go. You can help things along by speaking out.
Final Word on This Series
The three research articles that have been discussed in this series have one thing in common. They all rely on an ideological assumption, which the researchers try to bolster and confirm. In the process, they ignore the needs of men and boys by heaping contempt, either implicitly or explicitly, on masculinity, maleness or both. In the first study, on teen dating violence the questionnaires offered convincing data that boys were victims. But the researchers ignored that. Instead, they relied on a preferred ideology, one that assumes the primacy of female victims and therefore (despite the non sequitur) the primacy of their need for more care than male victims (if, so goes the argument, there are any male victims at all). In the second study we examined on reproductive coercion, researchers relied on the ideological belief that women are victims and men perpetrators, and their study showed just that, but they used an impoverished population that in no way generalizes to the population at large. Even though the researchers were aware of this limitation, the press release and articles by journalists ignored this limitation and treated the study as if it were indeed generalized. This was a huge boon for those researchers who wanted to “spread the word” of their chosen ideology. I can hear them saying, “Well, it was not exactly portrayed correctly but, you know, it was for a good cause.” In other words, the end justifies the means. Then the third article on the CMNI showed distinct signs of misandry in psychological research. The researcher believes that masculinity, or at least the version of masculinity that he considers prevalent in our society, is to blame for our problems. Consequently, the CMNI becomes a way of promoting an ideology.
The problem is that these researchers are standing science on its head. Real science requires astute and unbiased observers, who are eager to find the truth wherever the search leads them. This stands in stark contrast to ideologically based “studies” that use science as a means to some political end. This is very dangerous, in my opinion, but not enough people are aware of what is happening. Confidence in scholarship must be earned, continually, by scholars themselves. Even my confidence in my own field has declined. Scholars must be vigilant and not allow those who grind political axes to promote their own ideologies in the name of scholarship. But that’s not all. Journalists, too, must wake up. In fact, everyone must participate in the renewal of intellectual and moral integrity in academe.
One of the best summaries of the ways that misandry is found in current psychological research is found in Appendix Three of Nathanson’s and Young’s Legalizing Misandry. The title of that appendix is “Misleading the Public: Statistics Abuse”
1. Nathanson, Paul & Young, Katherine R. (2001), Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture, Harper Paperbacks, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, ISBN 9780773530997
2. Nathanson, Paul & Young, Katherine R. (2006), Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systemic Discrimination against Men, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, ISBN 9780773528628
3. Fiebert Bibliography which contains abstracts of over 150 studies many of which
show that women initiate domestic violence at a greater rate than men
5. Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680. (Meta-analyses of sex differences in physical aggression indicate that women were more likely than men to “use one or more acts of physical aggression and to use such acts more frequently.” In terms of injuries, women were somewhat more likely to be injured, and analyses reveal that 62% of those injured were women.)
7.Mahalik, J.R., Locke, B., Ludlow, L., Diemer, M., Scott, R.P.J., Gottfreid, M., Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 4, 3-25.
The greeting card industry is a lucrative business. Their clientele is largely women. According to the Greeting Card Association those who purchase greeting cards are 80% female. It’s not hard to imagine that these companies produce cards that will please their female customers. Most cards engender a sense of being cared-for. This is what women seem to want in a card. However there is another sub-set of cards that these companies seem to think that women want: cards that are hateful to men. If you look at the cards that are on the shelves you find that a minority of them are literally hateful to men. If these cards were about any other group they would be branded as hate speech but since the hatefulness is directed towards men no one seems to care.
Look at this first example. The cover shows a woman and a man on the couch. He has obviously been struck and is laid out on his back. She is upright and speaking. Then when you open the card….
You see that she admits, no brags that she has violently abused him due to his not having looked for a card. She name calls, complains vociferously and says that she hit him so hard that she bent her wedding band. This sort of violence would not be considered funny if it were perpetrated on any other group. It would be considered hateful and unacceptable but with men, well, it really doesn’t matter. This is misandry.
Gibson Greetings Inc.
The next card shows a quiz show host saying “Birthdays and Men”
Then the response shows the two men as losing by a landslide, one seems to not know what to do with the clicker and the other seems to be sucking on it. Both look stupid. All the while the woman says “What are the two most useless things in a woman’s life.” Try and imagine that card in reverse. Two women losing by a landslide and confused while the man explains that women are useless. Would that card go over big? Probably not. Why would women like this card? Why would the card company think that women would like this card? It calls men useless. That is called misandry. Imagine that her response was “Birthdays and Blacks.” I bet you can see a bit easier the hatefulness of the card when you switch the group being attacked.
American Greetings americangreetings.com
The next card starts innocently enough. A woman asking if they can send a man to the moon…
Then it turns misadrist. She asks “Why can’t they send them all there?” The message is similar to the last card, men are worthless and are just in the way. Imagine that reversed. Women are worthless and just in the way? Wouldn’t sell many cards now would it?
Gibson, Speed of Life
I wanted to get you something impractical for your birthday…
But you already have a man. Again, the misandrist theme of men being useless. Imagine the saying was “I wanted to get you something impractical but you already have a Jew.” That would be clearly seen as hate speech. Not so with things pointed towards men. There is a cultural veil that covers the hatred towards men and boys and renders it invisible and therefore allowable.
Design Design Inc. (Emerson)
The last card is a doozy.
American Greetings (Just My Style)
Some might say that these cards are just meant to be funny and I have no sense of humor. Frankly, if your definition of a sense of humor requires misandry then I think I would prefer to avoid it. Think back to the pre-civil rights days when blacks were often made fun of for a wide variety of reasons and everyone laughed. If a black had protested during those racist years I think the first thing he would have heard was that he simply didn’t have a sense of humor. If you can’t see that this sort of humor is hateful towards a birth group then you are a part of the problem.
It has been brought to my attention that my web site menaregood.com has been listed as a hate site via Symantec/O2. This is a preposterous claim. I have been working with men for many years as a mental health professional. During that time I have specialized in learning and then teaching other mental health professionals about the uniqueness of a man’s way of processing emotions. I have written three books on the topic and have appeared on CBS Evening News, CNN, the Washington Post, NY Times and many others. I have presented workshops in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia teaching mental health professionals about men’s uniqueness. When NFL Films chose to do a documentary on the NFL and Grief they called me in as their expert. The show ran on both ESPN and the NFL Channel.
It was through this work in understanding men that I first began learning of the places where men face discrimination and hardship for simply being men. It was crystal clear that men in emotional pain were routinely ignored and expected to figure it out on their own while women were offered support and understanding. The emotional pain of men was taboo while a woman’s pain was a call to action. I started bringing these discrepancies to the attention of the public and found out very quickly that people simply didn’t want to hear about it. Not only was there very little interest, the media was complicit in their stories published to be sure to focus on females in need and not males.
As the years went on I started seeing many other areas where men faced discrimination and hardship. Places like family courts, domestic violence treatment, false accusations, health care, and many others. Again, it was clear that the public was allergic to these issues when it came to the needs of men, no matter how true they might be. They were supported by a media that stuck to the politically correct theme of women as victims in need of help and men as the problem.
Then along came the internet and suddenly there was a voice for men that came alive. Sites were popping up daily to bring awareness to the discrimination and hardship of men and boys. Now, even without the help of the media the word was getting out, no matter how much people didn’t want to hear about it.
Then along comes Norton/Symantec/O2 who decide that those sites that are voicing the needs of men aren’t really voicing the needs of men, they are hateful! We have seen this before. It’s the same turning of the head we have seen from the media for years, now it’s just a little different and much more lethal since the free speech of humanitarian activists is being silenced by a group that is hidden from view and exercises control over the lives of others from behind a screen. No voting about this, no discussion about this, no notes sent to site owners about this, no rules that map out what can and can’t be done. No. Just a silent and invisible group that imposes their will and judgements upon millions. I will avoid drawing the obvious comparison.
I am asking you to please remove my site from this list immediately. If you choose to not do so I think it is only fair that you let me know what violations I have committed that justify classifying a humanitarian effort as hatefulness.
I would also ask that you do the same for the other men’s sites listed below that you have dubbed hateful. Either take them off the list or explain exactly why they are there.
My video site thewaymenheal.com is now open and offers nearly five hours of videos on the topic of men and healing. Below is a portion of one of the videos on the site that looks at the connection of anger with healing.
The movie “The Princess Bride” is one of my favorites. I mention it because when I was reading the book I am about to tell you about that movie kept coming into my consciousness. Replete with male sacrifice, murder, damsels in distress, males receiving serious injury as a result of dedication and caring and on and on. The one missing component that was present in the movie but not in this book was, um, “twoo wuv.” Sacrifice was expected but there was no return of love in response, no appreciation, only harsh judgement, complaints, blame, and an endless pit of requests for more than they had received.
The book is written by Frank S. Zepezauer, a male octogenarian and he writes in a way that struck me as being like a storyteller similar to the grandfather who relayed the story in The Princess Bride. This author sets the tone for the book with a basic plot that is applied to each chapter. First create myths (often with a bogus and later discredited “study”), then appear to be tied to the tracks due to these myths, then garner all of the male rescue you can suck out of your mark. The title “The Feminist Crusades: Making Myths and Building Bureaucracies” reflects this standard plot. The intro offers this basic plot and then each remaining chapter goes into the details of how, who, and when the feminists created the myths and then proceeded to set up bureaucracies with the loot they had plundered with their inaccuracies and damseling. He is very specific about who was spreading these myths, who was supporting them and names the bureaucracies that have been created. At one point the author asks rhetorically how the feminists were able to get so much so fast and he states that it can be summed up in two words, “They lied.” He backs this up repeatedly with the details of how the myths (lies) were born and how they gained traction through chivalry and cheerleading from the media to beat the band. It is a bit overwhelming to see the massive wall of bureaucracy that has been created.
The book also offers a view into the counterpoint to the radical feminist myths that surfaced during their crusades. There were often people who disagreed with their myths and spoke out publicly. Warren Farrell, Christina Hoff Sommers, Judith Kleinfeld are just a few of those he mentions that spoke out. Sadly, each time a myth was being created the opposing voices were ignored while the media blindly promoted the feminist myths as fact. He starts with the issue of health care for women and then moves to education, the workplace, sexual harassment, rape, DV and many others. Each time he tells the story of just how the feminists created myths, promoted the myths, identified as victims of the myth and then applied pressure due to their being “tied to the tracks.” Every man, or most every man can’t resist helping a woman tied to the tracks especially if the media is blaring this myth to the general public as if it is gospel. For politicians this is the sort of photo moment that they know will get them re-elected…even if they know it is not true. And that my friends, is what happened.
Published in 2007 the book stands today as a wonderful archive of the years of feminist myth making offering a birds eye view of the step by step construction of the bureaucratic fortress we see today. It can be especially helpful to those who have an interest in these issues but were very young or not even alive during the times described in the book. You can find this as an ebook that costs only 3.99. The paperback is a little more pricey at 19.98.