Being a Manly Man Can Hurt You: New Thinking about the Effects of Patriarchy

By Linda K. Armacost, Ed.D

Women have suffered under the hegemony of patriarchy for centuries. For my dissertation, I wrote about the patriarchal takeover of religion, medicine, and education. Turns out patriarchy is not only bad for women, it harms men as well.

For decades, the traditional masculine stereotype of say, John Wayne, was thought to guarantee men happiness and respect. In fact, being a manly man may lead to depression and loneliness. The American Psychological Association (APA) for the first time ever, released guidelines to help psychologists work with men and boys. For decades, The APA has focused exclusively on white men and some questioned the necessity for new guidelines. The APA, new guidelines were developed over 13 years and used four decades of work.

Ronald Levant, who was the APA President when the guidelines were initially conceived, and who has worked on them ever since said: “We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those [masculine] beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.” Men who rely on stoicism and self-reliance have limited tools for coping, which can lead to self-destructive and violence. It almost makes me feel bad — almost.

Make no mistake, men still dominate professionally and politically: “As of 2018, 95. 2 percent of chief operating officers at Fortune 500 companies were men…. 80 percent of all high-ranking executives were male … the 115th Congress (2017) were 81 percent male.”

But the news isn’t all rosy for men; “Men commit 90 percent of homicides….and represent 77 percent of the homicide victims” [APA E Corner, Stephanie Pappas, January 2019, Vol. 50 no.1 p.34]. Suicide rates for men are higher than women and their life expectancy is nearly five years shorter than women. Boys are diagnosed with ADD more than girls and face more punishment, especially boys of color.

The new guidelines represent a paradigm shift in the APA’s treatment of men and boys. Of course, some traditionalists will rebel and fall back on the real reason men are hurting … women. Some men think a better solution would be to ‘fix’ women and stop them from taking their jobs and complaining about sexual advances!

To be clear, I really like most men and think they are wonderful. I do also agree with Margaret Atwood’s observation; “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.”

Further reading: The men who hold onto notions of ‘traditional masculinity’ suffer the most

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