Inclusivity and diversity… and men

Two letters from our June edition.

We welcome the renewed call from the Society’s new President (Letters, May 2017) to place ‘equality, diversity and inclusivity’ at the heart of psychological practice, research and education in the UK. It is in this same spirit of scientific excellence and humanity that a number of us have been trying since 2010 to draw attention within this Society and elsewhere to the issues facing men and boys. According to the Office for National Statistics, men account for more than three in four suicides in the UK, and yet psychological research into the male gender as a factor in suicide is still relatively rare. This same inattention also applies to rough sleeping (85 per cent men), deaths at work (97 per cent men), and several other issues facing men and boys.

There is a strong evidence base for concluding that males universally are more likely to take risks and less likely to seek help for problems. This is a vital public health area for a scientific and caring profession like psychology, yet there is very little activity amongst psychologists, in contrast to the public and media interest, and even the royal family. Without research we cannot answer important questions such as (a) are men more likely to seek help if they have access to male-friendly services, and (b) would having male-friendly services help reduce suicide and improve other outcomes? Our own initial research (in review) suggests that the answers to these questions are ‘probably yes’.

When it comes to teaching within UK psychology departments, there is a relative silence on the male aspects of being human. Our profession, as acknowledged by our new President, is failing to attract males. Currently the ratio is 4:1 female to male, and whilst it is certainly too simplistic to claim that the ratio should be 50:50, this surely must be an area where a major effort is required to find out why the fascinating field of psychology is so unattractive to men as therapists, clients, researchers, students and lecturers.

As a profession that has the right and just aim of addressing all human suffering inclusively, we feel that it is high time for our profession to take a lead in researching and developing better ways of meeting the needs of men and boys. To this end we have made a start: we have produced a special issue of The Psychologist (June 2014), are writing a handbook, have developed a network for psychologists interested in this field, have an international two-day conference at UCL (the next being on 23–24 June this year; see www.malepsychology.org.uk) and have also been trying to establish a Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society.

In this spirit of inclusivity and diversity we welcome psychologists, men and women alike, to take more notice of what is now an ‘elephant in the room’ of psychology. Harnessing our collective energy will significantly increase momentum in this vital but neglected area of public health and wellbeing. Recognising the importance of male psychology is so much more than a numbers game.

Dr John Barry, University College London

Rico Fischer, University of Strathclyde

Dr H Eli Joubert, University of Surrey

Dr Roger Kingerlee, Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Louise Liddon, Northumbria University

Linda Morison, University of Surrey

Dr Naomi Murphy, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Martin Seager, Central London Samaritans

Dr Brenda Todd, City, University of London

 

Readers have read a lot about the Male Psychology Section (MPS) proposal in these pages. In April’s issue Martin Seager stated he was ‘saddened that our profession [is] blind to the fact that men and boys have…problems arising from their gender’ (p.67). Seager, among others, proposes a new Section to undo such problems including disproportionate homelessness, incarceration, mental illness and workplace deaths.

Having looked through the proposed Section’s website, I am unclear about the Section’s aim or how it will it achieve it.

If the aim of the Section is to focus on bringing together men and masculinities researchers, then the Section must look at what Raewyn Connell calls ‘the patriarchal dividend’. That is how men as a class of people are disproportionately advantaged (e.g. where globally we are better paid, more educated, more often in positions of power, including in the BPS) relative to women. Currently the research presented at its conferences and on the website predominately shows men as victims (e.g. of female partner’s violence or because they are fatherless). This belies the evidence that men are much more likely to perpetrate violence and to abandon their children than women and are afforded the privilege of very often getting away with both.

If the aim is to relieve specific issues such as disproportionate incarceration, workplace deaths, homelessness and mental health, then the Section needs to understand that these issues do not necessarily disproportionately affect men relative to women (for example as Isabel Baptista has found, many women who are homeless are ignored by research, and, as reported by WHO, women and men have comparable rates of mental illness). There are, however, other groups disproportionately affected by these issues (BME and working-class men for incarceration, LGBT people for mental health issues, etc.). If we put aside the question of who is disproportionately affected, these issues need action. Research showing the impact of poverty, the harm of exploitative work and discrimination against black people would provide it. Research seeking to show that these issues are predominantly male will not only fail to help men but will fail women.

Whether we are looking at our own society or the wider one, it is clear that whilst some of the marginalised are men (e.g. 1.8 per cent of BPS members are black), men as a class are not marginalised. I hope the Section proposers remember this.

Dr Glen Jankowski
Leeds Beckett University

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