Well guys, the APA has spoken. Manhood is over. Psychology has declared war on your fantasy football league, putting the seat up, and thinking burps can be counted as art forms.
I mean, that’s what all of the news outlets are telling me about the report. And conservative news sources wouldn’t lie to me, right?
I went to look at some of the commentary-free sections of the American Psychological Association’s report on “traditional masculinity” and it amounts to a discussion more on “let’s define our terms” than “why do you hate men?”
John Wayne Syndrome
One of the big things on the chopping block is the idea that men are encouraged to suffer alone, in silence, and, really, not at all.
Men who were bought into traditional notions of masculinity were more negative about seeking mental health services than those with more flexible gender attitudes.Stephanie Pappas, “APA Issues First-ever Guidelines for Practice with Men and Boys,” Monitor on Psychology, January 2019. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/ce-corner.aspx, accessed 12 January 2019
At this point in time, the entirety of the organized world utters a giant, “Well, duh.” This is definitely something within the Zeitgeist of American masculinity that is on its way out anyway. Due to the advancements in mental healthcare, especially in the military, over the last decade and a half, the stigma associated with mental injury has reduced to the point where it is not what it was 30 years ago.
Back in the knuckle dragging days of the Regan era, a soldier who admitted he needed access to mental healthcare or counsel for some issue in his life would receive some pittance of help, and a good referral to a career counsellor. Thanks to the popular tropes of John Wayne and the like, there’s a cartoony idea that men don’t ever feel anything except gas, heroism, and the occasional need to punch a bad guy.
It’s a well-made point though. Men do not, as a rule, seek help for the hurts within our hearts. It is part of our hard wiring to become a sufficient provider that creates the need to manufacture completeness, so that we can provide completely. We were never intended to be complete all by ourselves, though. You can find this in the Bible, right after God created man and commented that it is not good for man to be alone.
This is not commentary just on man’s need to marry, but also on his need to partner in his work. We were created to be powerful, yes. But we were also created incomplete in and of ourselves so that we would need other people.
That, my friends, is true traditional masculinity.
Which is Wrong the Trait or the Embodiment?
The APA lists a few markers of traditional masculinity that are harmful traits.
The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.Pappas, 2019.
The problem with the research is that it almost got this right. Those traits, in and of themselves, are not bad. They are also not good. They are traits. However, couple them with other things developed alongside of them help to define a villain or a hero.
If a man aims to be dominant as a marker for his life, giving up all else and using such an end-state to justify all methods of acquisition, then you define despots and bullies.
If a man becomes dominant because he has become so in the process of creating a good, service, company, ideal, or movement, then you get Martin Luther King, Jr; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Tom Hanks, and Terrance Mann.
It’s the same difference between Christian denominations that emphasize the justification of the end-state over the process of achieving it. There is one in particular, excluded from fellowship from most of the others, that has a much vaunted product of large and happy families. It has helpful community members. It makes the best commercials.
The problem is that many in that denomination get there because it is their justification. If they present that picture, they’re righteous.
In the other corner is a man who walks into church reeking of booze and tobacco, having lost a bout with addiction again and laying his life in contrition at the throne of grace yet again.
One of these people has a future, submitted to the lordship of God. The other, sadly, looks nice, but is not a subject of the authority of God.
The APA is wrong in defining aggression as unhealthy, stoicism as dangerous, and dominance as harmful. These are simply traits that, if developed with generous attitudes and loving hearts make the world go round and round.
Time for a Broader Tradition
I mentioned Terrance Mann earlier. If you don’t know who he is, just google him. He created the standard for many famous characters on Broadway, including Javert in Les Mis, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, to name a few. He is a powerful stage presence with a unique voice to match.
I remember the first time I saw him. I was working a theatre conference in the South, and he was there to recruit for his summer stock program. He walked into the room in such a way that made it look like he did not walk like most mortals. He glided across the room with the grace and sophistication I would require of a man who has won as many Tonies as he has won. He moved with poetry, purpose, and poise.
If you were to match that up against the very narrow definition of masculinity, to which very few actually desire to adhere, he would come up rating as “light in the loafers.” Most would assume he was homosexual and not manly simply because he is an artist and doesn’t scratch his butt in public.
However, very few things have conveyed to me a greater sense of masculinity than Terrance Mann and the personal possession with which he conveyed himself at SETC.
We need to expand our definition beyond the cartoon of a man which is exemplified by a minority of us. Indeed, we need to include such men because there are some who actually drag the ground with their knuckles according to design and do so without compromising the dignity of their fellow human being.
In our definition, we need to also include men who are sensitive, caring, and paternal to all people around themselves. We need artists whose speaking lisps. We need men who know how to dress themselves perfectly, and we need men who can decorate a house without watching “Color Splash” with David Brome.
Shoot, we need David Brome too.
We need men to rejoice that they exist and if they apply their nature and what brings them joy and joy to the world around them, we need to look at that fellow and say, “there goes a real man. A man’s man.”
Even if his hands, bringing perfectly cooked quiche out of the oven, are adorned with perfectly quilted oven mitts.
A Big Hairy Deal
Traditional masculinity was never meant to imply a toxic standard for men where we develop into fulness apologizing for our Y chromosomes. It was never meant to be just one picture of a man. Traditional masculinity, and healthy masculinity embraces manhood of many flavors.
This is mandated by God.
Look at Jacob and Essau.
Essau, the eldest son of Issac, and grandson to Abraham, was a hairy, hairy dude. He was a ruddy hunter and outdoorsman. He would spend all of the time necessary to chase down game, including starving himself for the effort.
His voice was deep and he was a vengeful man.
Essau, however, was not the chosen vessel whose virility was set aside by Jahweh to bless the world with God’s chosen people and ultimately, The One.
God chose his mama’s boy little brother. Poor dude had to wear sheep skin just to emulate Essau’s hairiness.
He cooked in the tent.
And yet… this is the man chosen by God.
Forward… Always Forward
Look, there are some things that are way overgeneralized in this report from the APA. There are some other things that are exceptionally self-serving, such as the condemnation of men falling to seek mental health help because of their nature.
Let’s be honest, mental health help is not alway what we need. Sometimes we need to run around the woods and chop down weeds with machetes with each other. Sometimes we just need to explore emotional intimacy with another man, which is horrifying for most of us.
This report is not an assault on masculinity.
But that will not stop people who have not read it from using it as a way to attack masculinity.
It will not stop people who have not read it from using it as a way to attack non-conservatives.
Let’s move forward, instead, and emphasize the importance of process as well as outcome. Let’s treat men like they were meant to happen, and even like they were designed to happen.
Let’s have a huge wide array of acceptable expression of masculinity and defend manhood from those who want to use the word “toxic.”
No, I haven’t said anything about women or femininity here. That’s another post, another day, and another widely vaunted article from the APA.