People who don’t live in northern climates may not realize that construction doesn’t stop even in the coldest months. I live in North Dakota and was driving by a building site just the other day and saw a bunch of men stoically working in subzero temperatures and generally miserable weather conditions. I then started thinking about the other difficult and dangerous jobs that are dominated by males such as logging workers, fishing workers, roofers, and iron and steel workers.
For some strange reason, men seem to be uniquely willing to do dangerous jobs. In fact, economist and American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark J. Perry has documented a gender occupational fatality gap. Turns out that even though men make around 53 percent of all workers in the United States, they account for about 93 percent of workplace fatalities.
Thanks to the new guidelines from the American Psychological Association (APA) for practice with men and boys, male psychology is no longer a mystery and mental health professionals are now equipped with the tools they need to combat the worst forms of it. According to the APA, boys and men are at risk of suffering from traditional masculinity which is on the whole unhealthy. Turns out, the traditional masculinity that drives many of us men to be confident, assertive, adventurous, stoic, and willing to take risks for our goals, the people we love, and sometimes even complete strangers are bad for us and society.
Biologists, philosophers, theologians, physicians, parents, and really almost all regular folk have long believed that there are meaningful and biologically-based psychological differences between males and females. Fortunately for us mere mortals, the APA is setting the record straight. It is an oppressive patriarchy, not biology, that has shaped our psychology. Gender and the masculine traits associated with being male are social constructs. The APA obviously isn’t denying that evolution is true. They aren’t some kind of silly group of religious fundamentalists. But like most educated progressives, they understand that evolution stopped at the neck.
There is this odd group of evolutionary psychologists who seem hell-bent on holding onto antiquated views about human mental and social life. It seems pretty clear that these individuals are the academic wing of the alt-right. Don’t be fooled by surveys suggesting the majority of evolutionary psychologists self-identify as liberal. We can’t trust people to self-report their own politics. Only the most enlightened are in a position to tell everyone else what they really think. I would laugh at how ridiculous the academics are who continue to insist that males and females are distinct in any meaningful way, but I now know that comedy is a form of oppression.
Perhaps the saddest part of reading the new APA guidelines is realizing just how many American boys and men suffer from traditional masculinity and don’t even realize it, and how many mothers and wives tolerate and even promote this sickness. There are millions of couples and families across the United States who are living lives imprisoned by traditional gender roles and on the surface appear to be happy and flourishing. I especially feel for all the conservatives and devout Christians who are most vulnerable to this illness. It doesn’t help when alt-right institutions such as Harvard publish research suggesting that children may benefit from being raised in such traditionally religious homes.
In fact, it is surprising the number of universities that are willing to allow scholars to publish research that gives credence to traditional ways of approaching life. For example, I recently read a peer-reviewed research paper reporting that conservatives have a stronger sense of meaning in life than liberals. Other studies find that conservatives are also in many ways physically healthier than liberals.
It must be difficult for the APA to do the good work of promoting a progressive psychological agenda at the same time as some researchers are annoyingly documenting a lack of viewpoint diversity in psychology and related fields. For instance, studies indicate that the vast majority of psychology professors are liberals and that many of them admit they would discriminate against a conservative academic when it comes to hiring decisions, conference invitations, and research grant funding. How exactly is this a problem? Most of the academics I talk to certainly don’t find it concerning. And as I already pointed out, despite this supposed lack of viewpoint diversity, some academics still manage to sneak through the peer-review system research findings that appear to be promoting the idea that some traditional ideas and lifestyles have psychological, social, and physical health benefits. Clearly, the real problem is we haven’t done enough to purge conservative and traditional ideas from the academy.
With great shame, I have to confess that after some introspection I now realize that the problem of traditional masculinity has taken hold of my own household. For years, I thought my wife and I were making division of labor and parental role decisions as equal partners and in a way that allowed us to balance as best we could our practical needs with our natural inclinations and interests. I thought my traditional masculinity and her traditional femininity were totally natural and healthy. Now I realize that we were both victims of a suffocating patriarchy. I am trying my best to get her to see the light but she may be beyond help. She still seems so happy and fulfilled. Maybe I should ask her to take some gender studies classes.
Now that I think about it, my past has been punctuated with multiple outbreaks of severe traditional masculinity. I’ll never forget an episode from my college years when my friends and I were walking through a parking lot late at night after going out to a club. I saw a man beating on a young woman. Traditional masculinity overwhelmed me and without a second thought I immediately ran over and attacked the man. A fight ensued and I successfully submitted him just before a couple of police officers arrived. My act of violence almost landed me in jail but thankfully the cops were sympathetic to my condition. Of course, the woman would have been more badly hurt had I not intervened, but why is her physical safety any more important than me keeping my masculinity illness in check?
Just think about all those horribly afflicted soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters who regularly engage in physical risk-taking behaviors that could and sometimes do cost them their lives out of some sense of masculine duty. This isn’t just a personal pathology. It is a public health crisis.
We should acknowledge the true courage of the APA. It must have been very awkward to craft their guidelines knowing they were doing so in the safe, comfortable, temperature-controlled buildings that were constructed by men, many of whom no doubt suffer terribly from the very traditional masculinity the APA is trying to address. I bet some of these workers occasionally congregate at a bar after a hard day’s work to drink a few beers. A few of them, the really ill ones, may even tell or laugh at politically incorrect jokes. Imagine. Those poor souls.
Even more courageous was the APA’s willingness to openly state that social justice activism is associated with healthy masculinity. Many good progressives know this to be true but are too afraid to so brazenly say it. They prefer a more cryptic approach to equating being a well-adjusted human being with having the correct political ideology. God—I mean Judith Butler—bless the APA!
At the risk of revealing my own ignorance, I’ll admit that I was at first puzzled by the fact that so many academics and prominent public figures have been for many years encouraging girls and women to adopt some of the unhealthy characteristics of traditional masculinity. But now I understand the master plan. If we can push men to be more like women and women to be more like men, they can converge into being interchangeable units who are much easier to manipulate in the service of creating a progressive social utopia.
I look forward to the day when we no longer are slaves to gendered names and pronouns but can refer to each other by the identification numbers issued to us by the state. This will help us realize the true utopian vision of anti-natalism in which our descendants won’t have to suffer from oppression because they won’t be burdened by existence.
Clay Routledge is a Quillette columnist and professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. You can follow him on Twitter @clayroutledge.
Feature photo by Sundry Photography / Shutterstock