Moving beyond the ‘disadvantage stakes’?

The debate continues over the potential formation of a 'Male Psychology' Section of the British Psychological Society.

Glen Jankowski (letters, June) questions the aim behind our proposal to form a Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. His criticism reiterates familiar arguments that men as a gender group are privileged, powerful and even toxic. According to such a (sadly common) view men cannot suffer or become victims through their gender unless they are also part of another minority or marginalised group (e.g. BME, LGBT).

Jankowski’s letter is actually helpful in illustrating precisely why a Male Psychology Section is so badly needed. If Jankowski’s views prevailed, UK psychologists would be actively discouraged from addressing or even noticing the many issues that, as Jankowski notes, we have often discussed in these pages and elsewhere.

The real question therefore is what could be so powerful that it prevents even psychologists – trained to recognise cognitive biases – from being curious about or even thinking about the psychological characteristics and problems of one half of the human gender spectrum? At present, men are being neglected in terms of research, social policy, service provision and even basic compassion. The male gender is the only ‘class of people’ that is not covered within the formal structures of the BPS. If this if not corrected it would indeed constitute marginalisation.

Our aim then in proposing a Male Psychology Section of the BPS is simple. It is the very same aim that the BPS as a whole claims for itself. We simply wish to live up to the BPS’s standards of inclusivity, science, ethics and humanity and apply these same standards to male gender issues on an equal and equitable basis. We wish to promote theory, research and new ways of helping men and boys that will also benefit and enrich our understanding of the women and girls with whom they share their lives. We are hoping that in this way we can help the BPS become proactive in taking a lead in correcting this ‘male gender blindness’ across society as a whole, rather than continuing to collude with it.

Martin Seager, Central London Samaritans

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

Dr Linda Morison, University of Surrey

Dr Naomi Murphy, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT)

Dr Brenda Todd, City, University of London


When discussing whether men are advantaged or not in relation to women we need to move away from the sociological concepts Jankowski uses (Letters, June 2017), such as ‘patriarchal dividend’, and drill down to facts.

The facts are that the gender pay gap is only a significant feature amongst the most privileged. It is not a feature in the lives of ordinary men and women. The ‘gig economy’ with its dearth of employment rights may be 76 per cent male. Men are paid 8 per cent less than women for part-time employment. The median hourly pay rate for women in their twenties working full time is 8 per cent higher than men’s. Men are more likely than women to be working in the lowest-paid sectors.

These facts reflect greater hourly earnings inequality among men than women. The fact that the majority of our highest paid employees are male disguises the situation of ordinary men. From the ranks of ordinary men the most disadvantaged in society are drawn. Men make up 95 per cent of people in prison, 88 per cent of rough sleepers and 97 per cent of those who die at work. Men are highly represented among the disadvantaged partly because 51 per cent fewer men than women go on to higher education in the lower socio-economic groups.

But these ‘disadvantage stakes’ should not be a pre-requisite for a Male Psychology Section. Males have their own problems that need to be addressed.

Higher rates of substance abuse and suicide are witnessed among men. Despite this, men have lower rates of mental illness, suggesting mental illness is defined too narrowly or these problems can occur without mental illness, in which case resilience needs to be taught. Either interpretation suggests male psychology needs attention.

Males are less likely to draw attention to their problems leading to the lack of awareness. Boys are six times less likely to talk to ChildLine counsellors but twice as likely to die. Men are much less likely to tell anyone of the partner abuse they are suffering from although chances of physical injury are as great. They constitute 5 per cent of the service users or the Rape Crisis Centre but 14 per cent of the victims of rape.

Jankowski suggests rather than focusing on their disadvantage as men we should focus on the other identity groups to which they belong. This would obscure the difficulties they experience qua men.

As males, they are particularly affected by the absence of fathers from families. Stresses may result from being told they belong to a highly privileged group when their life experience may tell them otherwise. Men have to deal with the assumption that their essence, their masculinity, is ‘toxic’, with the assumptions about violence and sexually predatory behaviour this implies.

Problems may stem from the fact that men have had to accommodate a tectonic shift in the landscape of manhood and masculinity largely initiated by women. When it comes to how men feel about these changes, their voice has not been heard. Enabling men to find the best ways of coping with these changes is a worthy enterprise in itself.

Belinda Brown
University College London

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