This week, the American Psychological Association delivered some sad news for fans of “traditional masculinity.” According to the organization’s new “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” the “harmful” ideology of masculinity — marked by “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” together with “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” — has got to go.
Here I imagine a mournful, windswept cowboy — preferably Val Kilmer from Tombstone, or maybe Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones, but wearing a ten-gallon hat — riding off into the sunset, slumped and grim, dragging a sad cache of uneaten rare steaks and unused power tools behind him. Farewell, traditional masculinity! You are too toxic! The APA told us so! Don’t let those swinging Old West barroom doors hit you on the way out, causing the old-timey piano music to abruptly stop and all the dust-strewn poker players who may or may not have tuberculosis to turn and stare at you in shock and dismay!
Reader, I don’t know how you feel about all this. I, for one, find it very upsetting, for one simple and selfish reason: Who is going to kill all the spiders that make their way into my house?
I am now reminded of the movie Annie Hall, in which Diane Keaton’s character phones Woody Allen’s character in a panic at 3 a.m. Her big emergency, as a disgruntled Allen discovers after stumbling over to her apartment, is the existence of a spider in her bathroom. Seeing her copy of National Review, and being no fan of conservatism, his indignation flares into a shout: “Why don’t you have William F. Buckley kill the spider?”
William F. Buckley, as we all know, would have done an unparalleled job of killing the spider, but that is neither here nor there. Also neither here nor there, it turns out, are the APA’s loopy masculinity guidelines, which are the equivalent of 1,000 detached human hands nervously wringing themselves in the corner of a dark maze of funhouse mirrors accented by occasional annoying bursts of extremely woke strobe lights.
After reading the report — and if you ever question what opinion columnists do for America, one example of our lion-hearted public service involves reading goofy quasi-academic “reports” so you don’t have to — I must admit that I questioned the very necessity of its existence. After all, the very idea of “boys” and “men” is quite gendered and outdated, is it not? As the APA’s own new guidelines remind us, “it is critical to acknowledge that gender is a nonbinary construct that is distinct from, although interrelated to, sexual orientation.” Gender, argues Ryon McDermott, a psychologist who assisted in writing the guidelines, is “no longer just this male-female binary.”
So why even bother writing a report supposedly targeted at only boys and men? Who knows? Who cares? Oh, logic, you feckless, roaming tumbleweed! In any case, the guidelines aren’t really designed to discuss boys or men at all. Their main intention, it seems, is to hammer home the belief that everything gender-related is a social construct, that biology doesn’t matter until we want it to, and that we are all bound like helpless mummies under intersectional layers of oppression that are primarily generated by — surprise! — patriarchal men.
Here is a sentence that actually exists on the APA’s website, paired with a summary of the new guidelines: “Indeed, when researchers strip away stereotypes and expectation, there isn’t much difference in the basic behaviors of men and women.” There is no direct or encompassing citation for this impressively sweeping statement, probably because it is a) untrue, b) unscientific, and c) likely to make God laugh. How is it that we can live in a civilization so advanced that we can propel a rocket 33 million miles through the cold abyss of space to successfully land on a hostile and largely unexplored planet, but still manage to publish insouciant nonsense sentences like this? Never say life isn’t mysterious, friends. It is mind-boggling.
In any case, I will not leave the new “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” without a bit of positive affirmation. Amazingly, it is correct a few times. For instance, it is not good to box people into rigid gender roles, nor is it good to teach boys to suppress their emotions just because they’re boys. I don’t see a whole lot of people doing this these days — everyone’s too busy lavishing kids with enthusiastic praise for spending six hours a day watching some guy named Ninja play Fortnite on YouTube — but whatever. Also, violence is bad, except against spiders, and it should not be glorified or celebrated. This is true whether it is a male or a female threatening to unceremoniously punch you in the often-terrifying and anarchic line for the Walmart pre-Christmas sale.
But what about bravery? What about risk? What about, well, testosterone? What about the wild idea that there might be a natural, non-socially-constructed difference between women and men? The APA’s summary report admits that some emblems of “traditional masculinity” might be worth keeping: “courage,” for instance, and “leadership.” Moreover, an APA-affiliated team is now working on a “positive-masculinities scale to capture people’s adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men.” Oh boy. I can’t wait.
Just kidding! I can definitely wait. Luckily for me, it took the geniuses who wrote the current guidelines 13 whole years to put them together, so time might be on my side. In the meantime, people, keep your eyes open — and get your spiders killed while you still can.