The Story: An influential psychological organization claims that “traditional masculinity” can be psychologically harmful. But in criticizing masculinity they reveal the danger of androgyny.
The Background: The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States. The APA possesses a significant influence over the field of psychology through such actions as accrediting college degree programs, overseeing more than 70 professional journals, and hosting professional conferences and meetings. Another way APA wields influence is by providing resources for continuing education (CE).
Licensed psychologists are required by their state licensing boards to meet annual mandatory CE requirements, which can often be met by using APA’s resources, such as “CE Corner.” For example, to earn CE credit a psychologist can read an article, complete an online learning exercise, and then take a CE test.
In the most recent CE Corner, one of the “learning objectives” states, “After reading this article, CE candidates will be able to: Discuss the research that suggests that aspects of ‘traditional masculinity’ can be ‘psychologically harmful.’” As the article notes, “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”
APA’s new Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men strive to recognize and address these problems in boys and men while remaining sensitive to the field’s androcentric past. Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.
Gender and sexual minorities, too, must grapple with societal views of masculinity. This is an ever-shifting territory. When Levant and Rabinowitz launched the guideline-drafting process in 2005, only Massachusetts recognized same-sex marriage. Today, transgender issues are at the forefront of the cultural conversation, and there is increased awareness of the diversity of gender identity.
“What is gender in the 2010s?” asks Ryon McDermott, PhD, a psychologist at the University of South Alabama who also helped draft the men’s guidelines. “It’s no longer just this male-female binary.”
The APA’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men, released last August, says, “The present document articulates guidelines that enhance gender- and culture-sensitive psychological practice with boys and men from diverse backgrounds in the United States.” However, by “boys and men,” they are referring to gender identification, and not to anything rooted in biology. As the document clarifies, “These guidelines address conflict that cisgender, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals may experience due to societal expectations regarding gender roles.”
Why It Matters: The APA article has rightly drawn criticism for its pathologizing of “traditional masculinity” (see, for example, David French and Rod Dreher). While this is certainly a valid objection, it can lead us to miss the underlying trend the APA is promoting. In focusing solely on the anti-masculine propaganda we may miss the even more pernicious pro-androgyny agenda.
Androgyny often refers to a manner of presentation that mixes masculine and feminine characteristics. Outwardly, this often results in a more gender-neutral appearance. When we think of androgyny today we often associate it with a “unisex” look, made famous by David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase. But androgyny is more than mere fashion. It’s a mixing of characteristics in a way that almost always privileges men.
Two years ago, in writing about how transgenderism is about redefining reality, I said:
Those who accept the idea that we can ignore biological sex for the mental construct of “gender identity” are endorsing metaphysical subjectivism, the view that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience.” They are not only disagreeing with those of us who believe reality is created by God, but are attempting to make metaphysical subjectivism the standard that trumps all others in determining norms and ethics.
An inevitable result of metaphysical subjectivism is the domination of the strong by the weak and vulnerable.
Androgyny gives the appearance of promoting equality and egalitarianism between the sexes. What it really does, though, is to provide men with numerous advantages associated with being female while allowing them to reject any obligations of being a biological male. For example, the “traditional masculine” perspective holds that because of differences in physiology (e.g., men tend to be physically stronger than women because we have, on average, more total muscle mass) men have certain obligations of behavior (e.g., “Never hit a woman.”).
But the androgyny of transgenderism, rooted in metaphysical subjectivism, says that since what really matters is our mental activity we can reject biological reality. This allows men to retain their physical advantages in competing against women—even if it leaves women bloodied and broken. It’s why we find “trans women” (i.e., biological men pretending to be women) beating up women in mixed-martial arts (MMA) fights yet never see “trans men” (i.e., biological women pretending to be men) fighting against biological men.
We miss the point if we think the objection to “traditional masculinity” by the APA and others is simply about making men more feminine. The indoctrination efforts are also attempts to allow men to reject normative standards of behavior. By co-opting aspects of femininity, androgynous men are able to shirk their “traditional” responsibilities as men. Because these responsibilities were often put in place to protect women, discarding all aspects of traditional masculinity ultimately harms women. As Brian Attebery observes, “To critics of the androgynous vision, the integration of masculine and feminine into a single self is another, sneakier way to eliminate the feminine.”
An astute observer of this phenomenon is Camille Paglia. She is an academic who has been studying androgyny for decades. Although she identifies as transgender she says she’s “skeptical about the current transgender wave.” Several years ago she claimed that the explosion of gender identities is a recurring sign of cultural collapse throughout the history of civilization:
The movement toward androgyny occurs in late phases of culture, as a civilization starts to unravel. We find this again and again throughout history. . . The people who live in such periods, the late phase of culture—whether it’s the Hellenistic era or whether it’s the Roman Empire or the “mauve decade” of Oscar Wilde in the 1890s or Weimar Germany—people who live in such times feel they are very sophisticated, very cosmopolitan. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, so what, anything goes. From a distance, though, you can see it’s a culture that no longer believes in itself.
We don’t need much distance to see the post-Christian culture of the West “no longer believes in itself.” What we need is a plan to counter our androgynous future by showing the world that beauty is found in the binary gender design as male and female (Gen 1:26–28). What we need is a renewed commitment to showing all men and women that their only hope in life and death can be found in our Savior Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:13).