Statement on Violence, Mental Health, and Masculinity
Background and Overview
The mission of The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM) is to promote the critical study of how gender shapes and constricts men’s lives and to enhance men’s capacity to experience their full human potential. Our members have advanced theory and research on violence and aggression, as well as on the mental health of boys and men from diverse backgrounds. Our focus has been to prevent violence and mental health problems through (1) developing a greater understanding of how masculinity is constructed and reinforced in our society; (2) conducting research on the outcomes of gender role socialization; (3) improving men’s psychological and relational well-being; and (4) improving psychotherapy treatment processes and outcomes for men.
Though there are many forms of violence (e.g., sexual), gun violence has received much attention in the media lately. There have been 74 school-based shootings alone since the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut. The recent school-based and community shootings are a call to engage in violence prevention from a gender-sensitive and intersectionist approach. Gun violence is a complex problem that requires multi-faceted approaches that address risk factors and heighten protective factors (American Psychological Association, 2013). Given that most of these events have been perpetrated by men, the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity believes that it is important to (1) understand the role of gender in shaping the perpetrator’s thoughts and actions; (2) understand the complicated relationship between gender, race, and social class in some of these cases; (3) highlight how violence perpetrated by males extends beyond tragic high profile cases of gun violence to daily use of physical aggression in schools, communities, and relationships; (4) advocate for increased nuanced interdisciplinary dialogue regarding the role of masculine gender role socialization and how men think about their masculinity in order to help promote men’s engagement in positive behaviors, and; (5) argue for more research on men’s mental health and well-being to further reduce the risk that men will resort to violence as a way of coping with their problems.
Men, Masculinity, and Violence
The vast majority of men do not act out violently (Kilmartin, 2010a). However, many men in America are socialized from an early age to conform to a narrow definition of masculinity. This masculinity ideology has been summarized as: breadwinning, stoic, independent, avoiding intimacy, and approving of violence(Levant et al., 2007; Mahalik et al., 2003; O’Neil et al., 1986; Smiler, 2004). Men, within and across different dimensions of identity, vary in their conformity to masculinity ideology. Thus, it is also important to consider how issues of social class, cultural values, race and racism, and homophobia contribute to men’s expression of their masculinity (Wester & Vogel, 2012). For instance, cultural values, perceived racism, and masculinity ideologies may intersect to shape the behaviors and attitudes of men (Liang, Rivera, Nathwani, Dang, & Douroux, 2011). Finally, the role of privilege, and its intersection with masculinity ideology, may play a role. For example, male privilege interacting with White privilege may be associated with men’s acting-out internal conflicts through destructive and/or self-destructive external behaviors (McDermott, Schwartz, & Trevathan-Minnis, 2012).
Within this belief system, boys and men are not taught to express or reflect on painful feelings, but rather that anger and aggression are acceptable ways for coping with emotional distress (Courtenay, 2011). Anger, whether it leads to spontaneous violence or well-planned displays of vengeance, is one of the key commonalities across these killings, nearly all of which are perpetrated by males.
In order to better understand and prevent these events, it is critical that we better understand the processes by which boys and men are taught to restrict their emotions, acquire a limited set of coping skills, and what differentiates those who become violent from those who “drown their sorrows.” Indeed, if males were no more violent than females, there would be eight million fewer violent crimes per year – 22,000 per day, and 11,000 fewer murders per year – a reduction of more than 30 per day (Kilmartin, 2010b).
The reasons for a perpetrator’s engagement in violence are complex and nuanced. Although mental illness has been highlighted as a cause of gun violence, the overwhelming majority of individuals with mental illness do not engage in gun violence (APA, 2013). Furthermore, although most men do not engage in acts of violence, most perpetrators have been men. Thus, we believe that male gender role socialization may be potent risk factor for engagement in violence that must be understood more fully.
Therefore, consistent with the American Psychological Association’s (2014) Resolution on Firearm Violence Research and Prevention, the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity strongly encourages the following:
- Public health officials, mental health professionals, policy makers, and the media need to be made more aware of the influence of gender role norms on boys and men on prosocial as well as aggressive behaviors.
- The American Psychological Association, and other professional health organizations, take a more active role in working with SPSMM to: (1) disseminate information regarding the destructive aspects of rigid notions of masculinity, (2) further identify and promote the positive aspects of masculinity, (3) clarify the factors that allow boys and men to resist the destructive aspects of masculinity, and (4)utilize multiple platforms (print media, video, etc.,) to encourage healthier socialization and more positive masculine role models for boys and young men.
- Development of a national dialogue on men, masculinity, and violence.
- Initiation of more psychological research to address how men may experience masculinity based on their race, social class, sexual orientation, and gender role socialization.
- Relevant foundations such as the National Institute of Health need to provide financial support for: (1) research studies aimed at studying how masculinity ideology and biology intersect with other social identity-based experiences (e.g., racism, homophobia) to play a role in men’s behavior, their mental health and their use of violence; (2) intervention studies to prevent violence and successfully address mental health issues that are more congruent with masculine gender role norms, and; (3) ongoing interventions based on this research.
- Mental health training programs incorporate male gender specific training so that boys and men may receive gender-sensitive treatment.
The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity will be working with our membership as well as other relevant organizations and individuals to take constructive action towards helping men get the mental health services they need and reduce the degree to which boys and young men are socialized into violent ways of action.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, June 18, 2014
This is an official statement of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, Division 51 of the American Psychological Association, and does not represent the position of the American Psychological Association or any of its other Divisions or subunits.
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