The APA and Masculinity

In a stated attempt to improve relational, psychological, and behavioral health outcomes for men and boys, the American Psychological Association (APA) has issued new guidelines for psychological practice. Psychological practice includes such activities as counseling, teaching, research, and social policy development. As the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, the APA previously issued similar guidelines for treatment of other segments of the population, including racial and ethnic minorities, older adults, persons who identify as LGBT, and girls and women. The new guidelines aim to further shape male gender roles in a “gender- and culture-sensitive” direction: toward less emphasis on personal achievement, being in control, or having power; toward greater emotional vulnerability; and toward balance between work and family relationships, including more involvement as fathers with children.

The APA guidelines point out that although men and boys generally hold privilege and power based on gender, as a group they also face some of life’s difficulties to a disproportionate extent. For example, they are more likely to receive harsh discipline in schools, encounter academic challenges such as staying in school, and suffer severe mental health issues as well as physical health problems like cardiovascular illness. Men and boys are also more apt to be negatively affected by certain public health concerns, such as violence, substance abuse, and incarceration.

In steering boys and men toward healthy behaviors, the APA guidelines aim to deter them from behaviors that would “devalue, restrict, or violate themselves . . . or violate others because of gender role stereotypes.” In the process, the APA faults “traditional masculinity ideology” as part of the problem facing boys and men, calling it “psychologically harmful.” This ideology, according to the APA, is characterized by “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” This emphasis of the guidelines has met with controversy—indeed, a backlash. Conservative voices dispute not only many of the APA’s recommendations but also its analysis of underlying issues involving sex differences. As commentator David French put it, “Grown Men Are the Solution, Not the Problem.”

The subject area of the new guidelines is obviously broad and complex, and the APA itself says they are not the last word, and are subject to revision. Individual psychologists must still exercise their own decision-making judgment. Guidelines such as these may be superseded by federal or state laws. But coming from the nation’s accrediting authority for professional education and training in psychology, they will shape the field for years to come.

Image credit: © Shumadinac/Shutterstock

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