Reclaiming the male identity in the age of “toxic masculinity.”
Posted June 5, 2019 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
This article was co-authored by Margot Loren.
"Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, and vice sometime by action dignified.” —Romeo and Juliet
Masculinity is under attack. If you haven’t noticed, then you've been living under a rock. By now, you’ve probably heard that the American Psychological Association has joined the fray by reframing masculinity as a mental illness. The APA claims that “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.” Who’s to blame for corrupting innocent boys with these toxic urges? According to the APA, it’s the patriarchy. So men are to blame for ruining men. And now it’s up to therapists to save their damaged psyches by encouraging them to be more like women, which shouldn’t be too hard since it’s only misguided societal pressures that make men masculine: “Indeed, when researchers strip away stereotypes and expectations, there isn’t much difference in the basic behaviors of men and women.”
The APA is late to the game. Feminists, parents, teachers, universities, politicians, the media, and even therapists have already been on a mission to convert masculine men into obsequious cucks for quite some time. Their campaign has been most effective with the young minds that shape our future. America’s youth have been brainwashed into believing that the males are predators and females their prey. Girls are relentlessly empowered to believe they can do anything boys can, and boys are admonished to be more like girls. Perhaps they would prefer it if boys were never born in the first place.
It feels silly to have to say this since the science is so basic, but men and women are different. Our differences begin with the Y chromosome that triggers testosterone in males during embryonic development. The facts are that men are stronger, taller, and and better at STEM. There are more male geniuses, and men are more suited to succeed in the workforce. Boys play rough, take risks, and prefer toys that foster visuospatial skills such as trucks and Legos. But you don’t need the data. You can just observe your kids (without bias), and the sex differences will be instantly obvious. If your child deviates from the norm, then he or she may be in the company of a small minority.
Thank goodness for sex differences. The qualities of masculinity that the APA takes issue with are the very traits that make men great providers for our families, protectors of our nation, and leaders in innovation. Nature is brilliant. It has given us the yin and the yang that can coexist in perfect harmony if we allow it. We need both sexes, and they are not interchangeable. While the concept of gender has somehow become infinitely fluid in today’s culture, our sex is written into our DNA and cannot be changed. So attacking a person for being male (or female) is prejudiced on the most fundamental level.
One sex is not superior to the other and neither has the moral high-ground. All humans can succumb to their worst tendencies, though men and women typically differ in how those are expressed as well. Men are more prone to criminality, addiction, sociopathy, and suicide. Women are more prone to borderline personality disorder and indirect forms of aggression such as guilt-tripping, passive-aggressiveness, manipulation, and meanness towards other women. Toxic behavior is not more prevalent in one sex, and neither gender should be shamed as a whole.
Masculinity is essential, but these days men are being socially castrated. Countless men have come to my practice feeling lost and ashamed. They are facing an existential dilemma: how do I be true to the core of who I am when society tells me that’s wrong? The forces working against men today are oppressive. The APA’s proposal of what amounts to conversion therapy is only the tip of the iceberg. Many men have responded by genuinely trying to suppress their inherent nature, but this inevitably leads to discontent, at best. The APA suggests a straightforward solution: if the patriarchy has conditioned boys to be masculine, then the matriarchy can simply reverse those errors by reprogramming boys to be the emotional, nurturing, docile beings they should be.
Several of my male patients came to me after seeing therapists who advised them to abjure their masculine ways. In my work with them, I try to help them reclaim their manhood and realize the best version of themselves while respecting their intrinsic strengths and limitations. I also try to help them develop a more honest perspective of the world that incorporates an understanding of the biological, genetic, and evolutionary forces that influence human behavior and distinguish men from women.
Some patients are receptive to a more realistic explanation of sex differences, but others seem indoctrinated. One such patient was a young college student who found it difficult to socialize and avoided attending class because he felt he might be “triggered.” He was eager to be in a relationship, but women kept “ghosting him,” and he couldn’t understand why. He told me he had been seeing a therapist who is an expert in male mental health, who encouraged him to “always express his emotions freely,” as this was “truly who he was.” His therapist suggested that the patient put it all out there on his dates with women for this is the nature of intimacy and the sine qua non of the modern man.
So my patient adopted this approach, but after being repeatedly rejected, he came to me feeling overwhelmed with frustration and confusion. I proposed that in therapy we work on building his resilience so he could feel more in control of his emotions. I also pointed out to him that he was probably scaring women off with his wanton emotional neediness. He should use therapy to manage his stress rather than unload it onto unwitting women, and he would achieve greater romantic success if he chose to focus on listening to and supporting their emotions, rather than vice-versa. The patient acknowledged my points but preferred to think of himself as a “sensitive modern man” and continued to struggle in his search for a girlfriend.
Another patient was a man in his early 50s with a history of marital conflict and alcohol abuse. In treatment with me, the patient successfully moderated his alcohol consumption but continued to report a high level of discord with his wife. I noticed that in arguments with his wife, the patient would respond in an intellectual manner that the wife felt was invalidating. She complained that he didn’t care enough and wasn’t meeting her emotional needs. Over time, I helped the patient understand the subtext in his wife’s words and to effectively listen before responding with his perspective. I explained that with a little bit of effort and compromise, men and women can learn to support each other without having to subjugate their true nature. I reminded him that it is in their sex differences that men and women can find both balance and synergy.
Despite making improvements in his communication, the patient would describe sessions with their couple’s therapist where his wife would repeatedly silence him. He explained that whenever he tried to express his point of view, his wife would become hysterical and claim that he was attacking her. She would frequently guilt-trip him for his “callousness” and implied that his masculinity was the problem. He felt the therapist didn’t allow him the space to speak up and only validated his wife’s emotions.
I acknowledged that it seemed that their couple’s therapy sessions focused solely on his wife’s needs in the context of his former foibles. He had become the “identified patient” and the part of the relationship that needed fixing. However, it was obvious that his wife too had flaws that contributed to their conflict but weren’t being addressed in couples therapy. The patient conveyed these points to the couple’s therapist, who then promised to be more mindful of the wife’s manipulation.
A final case epitomizes today’s zeitgeist in which young men are pilloried for embodying an intellectual and iconoclastic spirit. An adolescent boy was referred to me after being suspended from his private San Francisco Bay Area high school for suspicion that he might be violent. One of the boy’s classmates noticed that he had written something “aggressive” in his notebook, but the boy explained that these were merely lyrics to a punk rock song and he meant no harm. The school administrators were unconvinced, citing other instances in which the boy’s conduct had created an “unsafe atmosphere” for other students. Apparently, the boy spoke proudly of espousing Christian values and was an advocate for traditional gender roles and refraining from sex until marriage. In other instances, he would take politically conservative positions in school debates, which led teachers and administrators to feel that the boy was not sufficiently “progressive or sensitive” in his viewpoints and was therefore prejudiced and potentially dangerous.
In my interview with the boy, I noticed at once that he was both intelligent and thoughtful. He saw himself as a freethinker and wished to challenge the prevailing progressive orthodoxy. He had no history of violence, had good relationships with his friends and family, and did not use drugs or alcohol. He was polite and articulate and strived to speak his mind, even if it meant offending others.
I advised the school that the boy posed no risk of violence and in fact exhibited qualities befitting a leader. And I told the boy’s parents that if the school continued to squelch his quintessentially masculine traits, they should seek to transfer him to a more accepting environment. Indeed, I would encourage any parents to remove their son (or daughter) from a school so obviously intolerant.
In today’s misandrist climate, it is essential for therapists to take a stand in support of manhood. In my practice, I offer men a safe space where they can express themselves without fear of judgment or reproach. I worry not enough therapists are doing the same. In the social justice crusade to promote the purported underdogs of gender (women, trans, queer), masculinity has become the bête noire, and the APA has jumped on the bandwagon.
Contrary to what psychologist Mary Pipher warned about in her feminist manifesto from the late 90s, “Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves of Adolescent Girls,” Ophelia is doing great. It is Romeo who is in danger. Boys are struggling in school, dropping out of the workforce, and committing suicide at increasing rates. Even their sperm count is dropping. They are searching for safe spaces and male role models, but instead, they face opprobrium and the demand to neuter themselves or risk being banished from society.
Bien-pensant progressives are on a mission to save American women from inequality while simultaneously condemning masculinity. Men and the patriarchy have become the scapegoat for virtually every societal ill, real or imagined. This is a disservice to everyone because women and men need each other. The modern feminist agenda preaches “diversity” as a panacea except when it comes to sex roles since supposedly women are better off without men. But deep down most women want to marry a man who can protect and provide for her and her children. Most men want to do this for women. The partnership can yield beautiful results.