Sarah Suzuki on how psychology and feminism need to work together to understand both men and women.
My field, psychology, is doing a terrible disservice to men.
Hear me out.
I am a feminist. I acknowledge and realize all of the ways in which our society continues to oppress women, to hold them to impossible double-standards, to invalidate their feelings and experiences, and to limit their opportunities. The work in empowering women is hardly done, and in many ways has just gotten started.
An important aspect of feminism, however, is realizing ALL of the ways in which gender norms, standards, and societal expectations affect our society. This means taking into full account the lived experience of men, as well as transgender and intersex individuals.
Why focus on men? After all, our society in the USA is patriarchal, with a hierarchy dominated by men, with male standards dictating our culture, laws, and systems.
The problem is that, in focusing on male privilege and patriarchy, we have inadvertently neglected men in the field of psychology. Are most studies in psychology based historically on experiments with men, specifically, white men? Yep. And that is not cool. To what extent, however, are we as a field of professionals taking into account the specific needs of men in need of counseling, and having that inform our actual practice?
Our tendency to judge and exclude “perpetrators” and to sympathize with and support “victims” is inherently based on the assumption of men-as-perpetrators, and women-as-survivors. What this does is limit our ability to see when the roles are actually reversed, or in taking time to understand the context of our clients’ lives. It also limits our perception of abuse in same-sex relationships, as we tend to apply similar gender norms on an often unconscious level.
The implications are far-reaching. Men don’t want to go to couples counseling because they (often incorrectly) assume that the therapist will “side” with the female partner. Men avoid going to therapists in general because the message has been communicated by our society that their needs are less-than: they should solve their own problems, pull up their own bootstraps, and man-up. They want our validation, but are afraid that we only want to validate women.
Imagine that you are a man looking for help. You do a Google search: “counseling for men.” What pops up? That certainly depends on where you conduct your search. Here in Chicago, you get a list of articles about men “avoiding” counseling, and the reasons they pathologically try to solve their own problems. You get articles about how the psychology of masculinity is a barrier.
There is truth to that – and yet, the stance of viewing men as the problem to helping themselves does a disservice to men. We have failed to make counseling seem accessible, reasonable, or even appealing. Men feel they have to choose between Oprah and Dr. Phil if they want to get help.
Rather than pathologize masculinity, we need to better understand it and change the way we practice. We need to challenge ourselves to have as much empathy and compassion for the acting-out behaviors we tend to associate with masculinity (drinking and drugging in public/fighting/legal problems) as we do for the acting-in behaviors we tend to associate with femininity (cutting/ eating disorders/drinking and drugging at home).
Feminism is about freeing all humans from the restrictive, oppressive norms we impose on ourselves. It’s time to get radical and honest about the way we practice, and who we inadvertently exclude from getting help.
This article originally appeared on Drink Like A Man
Photo credit: Getty Images
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