I first want to say I’m not one who cares to typically comment on the current news or the trends in the media. Quite honestly, I don’t read a lot of the news as I tend to find it being overly sensational and provocative than actually useful for my everyday life. I also don’t tend to participate in social activism as I’ve found it’s currently more focused on noise than actual civil discussion and constructive solutions.
So why am I writing this now? For those who’ve already seen the article title and heard the current news, you may start to think in your mind: “This is a political issue”. I can assure you in this post that is not my intention. So for those of you who think I’m writing this to take some sort of political stance, for those of you who may want to box my thoughts with a political party, I’m sorry to disappoint you: I’m not looking to make this post some political us-versus-them thing.
If it helps me adding further context for you all, I don’t engage much in current politics. I certainly keep aware of current affairs in the world, but most often I’m not too engaged. If I had to even put a label on my “political views”, I’d say my views tend to lean towards the moderate. I don’t see many of the current issues in our society today as black-and-white. In fact, I see a lot of life filled with paradoxes and contradictions. Life is far more complex, detailed, and might I add beautiful, than we give it credit for. So, when I’m not having a casual conversation with a friend, my mind tends to lean more towards the systemic and analytical. And then a post like this flows out of my head.
I’ll also add I’m not writing this here to be some outlier or come off like some pseudo-intellectual. I’m not a genius, I’m not perfect, and I will never claim I am. As with anyone else, I’m making my way through this experience called Life as best as I can. I write this now because this not only hits close to home with my mission to Transcend Labels but also because I know what’s currently happening in the area of Psychology may very much affect our current society and culture in the coming decade if it’s not addressed.
“So what are you talking about, Donald? Get on with it!”
What’s the Story?
• The American Psychological Association released their first-ever set of guidelines on working with boys and men for current and future psychologists. The guidelines will last for 10 years. Guidelines: https://www.apa.org/about/policy/boys-men-practice-guidelines.pdf
• The APA’s definition of “Traditional Masculinity” in the Guidelines, which they conclude as “harmful”, is being heavily criticized. Their definition of “Traditional Masculinity” is: “standards that have held sway over the large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
• Criticisms are arguing this definition heavily distorts and pathologizes the actual definition of masculinity and will cause harm to the treatment of men in future Psychology practices (e.g. “Since when is ‘achievement’, ‘adventure’, and ‘risk’ a bad thing?”). Additional criticisms include the presuppositions of the guideline’s claims, the subjective nature of their arguments given, their hypocrisy of “gender biases” as defined in the guidelines themselves, and the guidelines failure to include any biological explanations as playing a key roles in a male’s behavior and development (e.g. “Masculinity is only a social construct.”). A detailed nit-picking by an online user: https://bit.ly/2M2hARL
• “Masculinity and femininity represent the yin and yang of any romantic relationship and are crucial for lasting love. When they cease to exist, children suffer and families disintegrate. So you can imagine my shock and disdain for the APA’s new guidelines that claim traditional masculinity is ‘harmful’…to have the the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the country formally reject the inherent nature of men is both profound and appalling.” ~ Suzanne Venker, https://washex.am/2SOJGCB
“It is not good to box people into rigid gender roles, nor is it good to teach boys to suppress their emotions just because they’re boys. I don’t see a whole lot of people doing this these days…But what about bravery? What about risk? What about, well, testosterone? What about the wild idea that there might be a natural, non-socially-constructed difference between women and men?” ~ Heather Wilhelm, https://bit.ly/2FnmJCs
“It’s positioning traditional masculinity as a problem to be solved…If you’re a man who holds traditional values, why would you go see a psychologist when the starting point is that traditional masculinity is the problem?” ~ Joseph Vandello, Social psychologist
For the first half of 2018, while on my mission to Transcend Labels, I personally advocated for less labels and more understanding of ourselves and each other (I have an extended blog post on my mission here). I very much held the initial perspective that labels were what was hurting ourselves and our culture.
But I’ve since evolved from this perspective to understand there’s actually a Labeling Paradox at work. To make a long story short: we need to be aware as well as careful of the labels we give (as much as we don’t give) to things. We need labels to help us understand the world, but simultaneously we also don’t want them running the show. Without labels, we have no understanding of our physical reality. But with labels also comes the potential issue of boxing and oversimplifying our understanding of things, such as mental disorders. Labels help us understand while simultaneously limiting our understanding. That’s the paradox.
What if I told you no one sees anything exactly 100% the same? We all see the world filtered through our own beliefs, values, biases, etc. Say I meet someone someone and nevertell them about my diagnosis of Autism; they would only perceive me from a frame of reference for how they’ve met other people. But say this same person found out I was diagnosed with Autism before ever meeting me. Do you think they’re going to treat me exactly the same way had they not known this piece of information? Will their actions and words towards me now be filtered because of their understanding of Autism?
That’s why I share this news with you today. What’s happening here is not so much a political problem but a human one at its root. What’s happening right now is a clash of philosophies, how people believe we “need” and “should” see the world, in this case men. It’s a clash between the Nature vs Nurture debate, facts vs ideology, objective vs subjective.
The issues many people (including myself) have with the APA’s guidelines is in their unscientific approach to their guidelines. For an organization that says in its very website description it’s a “leading scientific and professional organization”, it greatly calls into question their credibility and reliability:
• The assumption that the concept of “Traditional Masculinity” is only rooted in our environment, not including any biological and genetic factors, promotes ignorance in future psychology practices to our greater understanding of men.
• The fact a subjective, philosophical theory is treated as an objective scientific fact is highly irresponsible. The fact there is plenty of scientific evidence on the biology of men as well as their naturally inclined behaviors which was not included in these guidelines is also highly irresponsible. AKA Cherry-picking evidence
• I won’t throw out the baby with the bathwater in this post: Environmental factors without a doubt exist and contribute to men’s growth and development. I am not at all denying that. It should continue to be researched. But also along with our biological understanding of males so we can better help men.
As I said before, this as a very complex issue; this is not black-and-white. I feel especially compelled to say all this because I’m a big fan of psychological research myself. When I’m aware this information will be shared with millions of people and will be part of the future understanding of Psychology, I feel compelled to say this. The Nature/Nurture debate has gone on for centuries, and perhaps it will go on for many more. But it’s important we see both sides as bringing something to the table.
Perhaps another reason why I feel so compelled to speak this evening is for a while on my mission to Transcend Labels, I was on the Nurture side of the debate myself. Similar to these guidelines, I also embraced a theoretical worldview of the world. For a while, I myself was quite fond of it too.
I embraced the philosophy Existentialism, learned about how “existence precedes essence”, saw that nothing in the world had any essence until I gave it that meaning. Take for example a person who believes we’re all born with a soul. Through this philosophy, I could argue that the person only believes in souls because they gave a meaning to their life that people have souls. In other words, the philosophy could argue from the moment we are born we are a “blank state” and we are solely mixed and molded by our surroundings. By Nurture, Nature being a byproduct of Nurture. For a while I embraced this and an “I am anything and everything I want to be” philosophy. Scientific studies? Who needed that when I could do whatever I wanted?!
But as liberating as the philosophy felt, I eventually found it to be problematic. For one thing, a philosopher to say “Life is meaningless” is in and of itself a meaning they gave to “life”! Secondly, I was forcing myself to do things that didn’t feel “natural” to me. I was trying to tell myself that I wasn’t gay but only that I “identified” as gay, therefore inferring I could change it if I wanted to. The problem was I was trying to act like the Nature side of the coin didn’t exist. I became caught up in my ideology. And I only read articles, books, and social media pages that only reaffirmed my worldview. In Psychology, they call this “confirmation bias”, our human cognitive tendency to interpret and remember evidence that only confirms our current worldviews.
Eventually the pendulum started moving again outside of my ideology and into objective reality. I started educating myself again. I learned how we as humans all have cognitive biases, for example. I learned how we as males and female have genetic and biological differences that influence how we act and grow in our environment. I learned about inductive reasoning, ways hypotheses are tested, and how 1 scientific study does not make a scientific fact. There’s still so much we have yet to learn in the hard sciences!
That’s not to say I still don’t love and engage in philosophy and other intellectual curiosities. But I consider myself to have a far more balanced and central approach when I do now. It’s why instead of seeing Labels now as a bad thing, I now see them as both essential and inessential. They’re not intrinsically bad; they’re a tool. Just like social media, which some will argue to get rid of altogether. But any tool can be used and abused just as it can be used in a constructive and empowering way.
But for now, I embrace both the Nature AND Nurture and what each side provides us in our ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) search for truth. 🙂 #TranscendLabels
(I’m aware my post here can easily be dismissed by others as “uncredible”. I don’t have a Psychology degree; I have a Computer Science degree. I don’t have a Psychology certification or license; I self-educate myself (and no, I very much am careful about factual information online). The guidelines have a bunch of sources; I don’t. I don’t have an organization like American Psychological Association to approve this paper for public consumption; I have my brain as I wrote this in the couple of hours sitting here at my computer. The burden of proof lies on me to prove my stance, right?
Perhaps I may do a follow-up on this in the future. I’m exhausted from all the typing and editing I’ve done this evening. My thoughts were flying this evening, so I wanted to get all this down before it fell out of sight and mind. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you’re having an amazing week!)