My Take On “Toxic Masculinity”: A Heads-Up

My Take On “Toxic Masculinity”: A Heads-Up January 18, 2019

I’ve been contacted by a lot of readers and those in the media asking for my opinion on the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men—especially given the controversy surrounding its use of the phrase “toxic masculinity.” I’m sure many of you have seen the Gillette ad surrounding this hot topic (click here to view it).  Given how much chatter there’s been over it (both positive and negative) in the media over the last few days, the topic of masculinity seems to be at the top of every newsfeed.

The short version of the controversy is this: the APA guidelines are generally based around the definition of masculinity as a social construct that is “harmful.”  The guidelines rightly note that men are more likely to be aggressive, competitive, and so on, but they focus almost entirely on how to train that “toxic” stuff right out of our men and boys rather than recognizing the positive sides of those traits, and the many men who are using those traits in healthy, wonderful, honorable ways. Rather than how to encourage and support men and boys who aren’t using them well, to channel them in the right direction.   

I wanted to post this quick heads-up note today, because so many people are talking about it, and asking what I think, given my 17 years of research into the deep, private ways that men think and feel, and how they are biologically and neurologically wired.  I’ll be writing a purposeful piece about this next week in response. (I wish I could have done it this week, but we’re in the middle of one of our main surveys for our next book, and I just haven’t had the spare minutes!)

But here’s the bottom line of what I think: when I started reading the APA guidelines, it made me so sad I couldn’t get through the whole thing. About halfway through I started skimming. I wanted to be a good little researcher and truly dig in, but I was simply overwhelmingly saddened by the lack of recognition of the positive side of masculinity. I speak with so many men who simply don’t feel validated for the healthy, honorable people they are, and it was shocking to see that be perpetuated by the psychological professionals who should be helping men.

Now please hear me: I’m absolutely positive that the APA’s intentions were good, sincerely trying to confront what is actually a problem—masculine norms can be abused, there can be an inappropriate excusing of “boys will be boys” and we have to hold each other to high standards. The intention was good but unfortunately in today’s society with some groupthink, political correctness and denial of biology (and frankly, the denial of what is healthy for men), the APA’s report is actually perpetuating the problems that they are sincerely trying to solve.

So stay tuned for my upcoming (more in-depth) post on this important subject of “toxic masculinity” and how we can be a part of the solution in supporting our men and sons to be the best they can be—with our full support, love and appreciation for who they are designed to be.

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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.

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