Men’s Issues  

Why work on men’s issues?

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Why work on men’s issues? The most extraordinary thing about this subject is that we should have to ask this question at all, says clinical psychologist Martin Seager.

— This is article #26 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys 

All human beings have a gender. It is one of the great defining features of human identity and behaviour from the dawn of our species. Gender is universal across all cultures. Gender inevitably relates to our biological sex and is rooted in our evolution. If we are truly interested in humanity then we must be passionately inclusive about all aspects of human nature and how they relate to each other. If we don’t start to understand men and masculinity better therefore, then we will all lose out as a human family.

The striking thing for me is that even though I am a practising clinical psychologist and adult psychotherapist who has worked with men and women in the NHS and elsewhere for many years, it still took me until I was well into my forties before I saw past the enormous barriers and prejudices that were blinding me like everyone else in society to the fact that men too are gendered beings.

‘There are deep rules about masculinity’

This wasn’t just about Feminism which has always been an important and necessary reaction to social and political inequalities facing women, even though Feminism clearly makes it harder to speak up for men because it can sound like you are defending privilege. It is also about masculinity itself.

Being a man means that you don’t seek help, speak out or draw attention to your needs and vulnerabilities. This is so much deeper than a social stereotype or a cultural issue. This is something that transcends culture and is much deeper within the gendered heritage of the human condition.

There are clearly deep rules about masculinity and femininity which are universal. The most obvious femininity rule is the glamour rule which hasn’t changed since the beginnings of known civilization and probably beyond. In our modern world there is no sign that the glamour rule is disappearing due to cultural influences. If anything, there is even more pressure on our young girls these days to be glamorous. These rules weren’t invented by men or women but have evolved collectively as a core part of human sexuality and gender identity in our species.

‘We are in this together’

The time has surely come therefore to recognise that gender is not just an equality issue but a diversity issue. Men and women are different and their differences need to be honoured and respected just like other human differences. Our obsession with equality has made us blind to important and valuable gender differences.

However, even if inequality is our chosen narrative, then it is also high time that we drew attention also to the inequalities faced by the male gender in terms of, for example, physical and mental health, suicide, death by violence and overall life expectancy, drug addiction, dangerous working conditions, homelessness, child custody and educational performance.

As our troops pull out of Afghanistan, one of the legacies is that little girls in that country have now a much better chance of being educated thanks to the large number of predominantly male soldiers who died. There is no battle of the sexes. We are in this human story together. The most ancient masculinity rule is that of the fighter and protector. We are also honouring the dead of two world wars and a mature society that cares about gender will honour the gender of the vast majority of those who died for our collective freedom.

Photo: Flickr/taberandrew

You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.

The views expressed in these articles are not necessarily the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.

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  • CitymanMichael

    “This wasn’t just about Feminism which has always been an important and necessary reaction to social and political inequalities facing women”.
    I agree that feminism was an important part through the sixties & seventies to take women out of their rigid roles in the face of evolving technology. I do not agree that women had social and political inequalities – what they had was social and political DIFFERENCES. And feminism did this job wonderfully.
    The rigid roles which men faced – well, they still to a very large degree face them. Whereas women have moved on, men have been trapped in the past, unable or unwilling to change with technological changes which have in turn created a different social and political world.
    Today, the very last thing men need is feminism. What they do need is good women to help them through the transition and I am heartened by the number of great women – Christina Hoff Sommers, for example, who are most eloquently showing the way.

  • Nigel

    Martin I do so agree. Many “men’s issues” are to do with the rapid pace of change in our society in the west. Long lives , control over fertility , material wellbeing  and sheer numbers of people are all novel conditions in all of human history. This has meant major changes for people in the “west”. 
    Longevity. material plenty and having few babies all have meant major changes for women in particular as now few will spend comparatively little of their lives pregnant or nursing. For men of course in essence the same factors have made little change other than to reduce the proportion of men in mortal danger at work. 
    Yet in fact socialisation has not caught up. Following the high Victorian anachronistic flowering of Christianity and Chivalry a gynocentric privileging remains one of the core values of our society. Women are still on this “pedestal” and much of what passes for feminist theory is old wine in new bottles. 
    Even in the field of “Challenging Behaviour ” one not infrequently finds exactly the same observed behaviours being given( all to quickly and without thought) different meanings according to sex. Of course this may reflect an understanding of gender as a social construct. But often in fact what happens is that different values are imputed. And these are remarkably consistent with studies of the differential treatment of babies’ behaviour according to the assumed sex.  
    With the result that males remain in the engine room of our society, a few supervising but the majority uniform( often literally as our society is still pretty hostile to self expression for males ) replaceable parts ” taking care of business”. 
    And so Psychology offers some challenge to the status quo. But it is slow and painstaking in it’s methodology. Sociology sometimes painstaking but too often in thrall to the exitements of polemic and power and the real power houses of the new bottles for gynocentric thinking literature. law and social administration/politics. All mesmerised by anecdote and a thrilling story. 
    The result is of course that addressing the issues thrown up for some or many males by our dramatically changed circumstances becomes “men’s issues” only because our whole way of thought is atavistically gynocentric and until very recently there was simply no way of conceptualising men as part of understanding gender. The reason of course is deep within feminist theory as it proved a failure on it’s own terms , to understand gender, because it cannot cope with male gender and that failure means it is quite blind to humanity. 

  • Jennie C-K

    Some interesting comments here – my belief as a woman is that feminism has subtly changed its agenda over the years and is now a very different “animal” than it was when “Votes for Women” was such an important topic. I celebrate the differences between male and female – how BORING it would be if we were not different!

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