Traditional Masculinity is Awesome—Well, Parts of It

Yesterday the APA (American Psychological Association) released a widely covered set of guidelines for “Psychological Practices with Boys and Men.” Stephanie Pappas writes, “Thirteen years in the making, they draw on 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.”

Let me briefly survey the, ahem, “research.”

One study from Rutgers showed that men with “the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with moderate beliefs about masculinity to get preventative health care.”

Beliefs about a gender expression? Not sure how that works. And to do so ‘strongly’ versus only ‘moderately’? Ha. So men don’t like to go to the doctor. Be still my beating heart. Could have asked your grandpa about that one instead of letting a bunch of nerds spend taxpayer money writing questions about the difference between strong versus moderate beliefs in a gender.

Ex. Q. 1) Over the course of the past year, how many car transmissions have you changed?

Circle one:                      0-1                       2-3                        4-5                       5+

Ex. Q. 2) Now on a scale from 1-10 (10 being very enjoyable and 1 being very painful) what were your personal feelings about your last prostate exam?

Another study done at Boston College found that “the more men conformed to masculine norms, the more likely they were to consider as normal risky health behaviors such as heavy drinking, using tobacco and avoiding vegetables, and to engage in risky behaviors themselves.”


For those of us in the know, this reads awfully close to Grandma Nesbit’s Healthy Habits for a Productive Christian Life. I love you, grandma. But don’t tell me what to do.

But this last study is my favorite.

Research done by Omar Yousaf of the University of Bath suggests that “men who bought into traditional notions of masculinity were more negative about seeking mental health services than those with more flexible gender attitudes.”

Heaven forbid.

Here’s a hard math problem. If you’re a psychologist, how do you get more butts to sit on your leather sofa and pay you $200/hour? Do you think perhaps the answer has anything to do with problematizing (or pathologizing) as many behaviors as possible?

But I don’t want to go to therapy.

You know what your problem is? You need more therapy! Call 1-800-We’re-Certainly-Not-Incentivized-to-Prescribe-You-Things-We-Just-Do-It-Because-We-Care.

But I don’t want to go to therapy.

You’re a traditional man aren’t you? Fear not! You can be cured with a stylish handbag and… therapy!

Cured of what?

Toxic masculinity can be cured with therapy!

Toxic? But I just—


It may come as a surprise to some that there are still “traditional” males that read books. Yes I know that’s shocking. But here I am. I have learned how to change my own tires and am also a subscriber to the New Yorker. Yes, straight males who lift weights can also read and enjoy Jane Eyre. (Although I would not recommend doing those at the same time unless it’s an audio-book).

Hey man, what’cha jamming to?

Charlotte Brontë, dude. Can I get a spot?

The reason I bring this up is because I am one of these rare traditional males who knows what an adjective is. To slap words like “traditional” or “toxic” onto another word like masculinity is not making an argument using logic, but appealing to experience which may or may not be empirically supported.

For instance “traditional” is a pretty open-ended word. Something from the past? Like how long ago? Pre-2015? According to the APA, all men before the cutoff date for ‘traditional’ must have been broiling in a fiery hot cauldron of mental instability. Darla, get me my pills! I’m having another episode! Or, again, based on these findings, can you imagine the supposed scale of mental illness in 1850? 1750? Or what about BC times? Ancient Greece and Egypt? The whole world was apparently like an open-air psych ward until along came critical feminist theory and then we all became very sane.

Thanks Judith Butler.

I’m just one person. Maybe I am unique here, but many of the best people in my life have been so-called traditional men. Muscular men with beards who work a day job on the weekdays and go to church on the weekends. Anti-Harvey Weinsteins. I have met and been mentored by men whose tenderness isn’t for show or virtue signaling or to gain some prestige, but is real and heartfelt. They don’t necessarily air their problems, not because they are afraid to but because they don’t want to be a burden and would rather focus on others, their friends and family.

As an aspiring traditional male myself, and one who tries to use adjectives very carefully, I want to bring back two of my favorites. They sound simple but are difficult to use because they are straightforward. They are: good and bad.

Rather than generalizing about behaviors that are secondary to good and bad, such as “traditional”, I think we should return to the source of the river, so to speak. What do you we think is good? Plain and simple. Harder to answer than you might think. How can we aim for that, whatever our gender-expression? What do we think is bad? How can we avoid it?

Of course not all things about masculinity or tradition are good. Some things about each are bad. Some men (not the majority) can tend to be violent under certain circumstances. That’s not good. That has to stop. We should be doing whatever we can to stop violence of any kind. If it comes from men, that’s bad. If it comes from women, that’s also bad. Violence is bad because it’s bad, not because a man does it or a woman does it.

Real legitimate mental illness is also bad and should be treated with good therapy and medicine if need be. Being helped or cured of mental illness is a good thing. We should aim for that. We need good therapists and good science.

But since some of these scientists have taken liberty with parts of what constitute my identity, let me take perhaps a few liberties with parts of theirs as well.

I think a lot of things are bad, but there are two things I really hate. Generalizations (or a lack of precision in language) and elitism. Especially those who don’t even bother to disguise their contempt, and who make condescending sales pitches dressed up as research or entertainment.

This APA study on the whole is not necessarily elitist but it does flirt with the line in a few places.

“The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”

Okay, hold my beer.

  1. Stoicism is bad? Tell that to Epictetus. Oh, wait. He’s a dead man who was born well before 2015. Probably super sexist. Well, I’ll quote him anyway. “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature—to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.” Another just for kicks, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” Okay, okay, one more, “For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.” This guy sounds like he is riddled with mental illness.
  2. Competition is bad? Oh, yeah, man watch out for sack races and ring toss. They could totally ruin your life. Unless everyone gets a trophy.
  3. Dominance is bad? Dominance in what, the accounting industry? In the NBA playoffs? Let me guess, whatever it is, it’s only bad if a man dominates. Otherwise it’s good. Right?
  4. It’s true that aggression is sometimes bad. When directed at another person with the express intent of harming them, then yes it’s bad. Otherwise it just means you’re doing something vigorously. Like vigorously typing a defense of masculinity on a computer built by nerds.

It’s like the APA took a list of my favorite things, shook them up in a bag, and correlated them all with depression. The only things missing are chicken wings and single malt scotch.

Guy wearing a sweater pokes his head in the room, holds up finger.

Actually there have been studies—

Shut up! I’m not depressed!

Wow, you sound angry and sexist. You should go to therapy.