How do we define masculinity?

Two letters from our July edition.

Martin Seager and John Barry seem to deploy a traditional ‘not all men’ argument in their response (June issue) to Carol Murphy’s letter about murder-suicide in the April issue. This seems unscientific. The fact that the base rate of murder-suicide perpetrated by men is low, is not enough to say male gender conditioning has nothing to do with it.  

The rate is much higher than the rate of murder-suicide perpetrated by women, which is close to zero. Therefore, the difference between male and female conditioning (or genetics, but that seems unlikely to me) must be a key factor in the different rates of murder-suicides by emotionally damaged men vs. emotionally damaged women.

Perhaps there is a question of defining masculinity in these debates. Seager and Barry are keen to talk about protectiveness vs destructiveness. I would suggest that those are two facets of the masculine stereotype. It is not prejudice to talk about both.

Susan King, CPsychol, AFBPsS

I was surprised by the complimentarian and conservative position that the Male Psychology Section seems to hold as expressed in the letter from Martin Seager and John Barry – ‘Toxic acts, not toxic masculinity’.

Whilst I agree that men can be easily stigmatised as dangerous people I am concerned by their description of masculinity. Defining masculinity in terms of ‘offering protection to women, children, families and communities’ is very limited. It overlooks the fact that many women step up to protect others – men, women and children in paid and unpaid capacities. Furthermore, viewing women as people who primarily need protecting by men leads to inequality between the genders, and oppression of women, as I experienced when working in Afghanistan.

Instead of contrasting the ‘destructive’ acts of a few, with the ‘protective’ acts of many men, the authors could champion men’s ‘constructive’ acts of partnership. As a woman, I want men to work with me, as equals, to make the world a better place together. On occasions they may protect me, as I hope I would protect them, but let’s not make ‘protection’ a defining aspect of masculinity. Let’s change the narrative from destructive / protective acts to the constructive things we can do together. Going forward can the Male Psychology Section challenge prejudice and bias against men, without resorting (however unintentionally) to disadvantaging women?  

Faith Newton
School Based Occupational Therapist

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