Men, Stoics, and the American Psychological Association

The recently released American Psychological Association’s (APA) Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men has caused quite a stir. Is it a welcome effort to better society and save men from their own worst traits? Or is it a politically trendy set of generalizations that emphasize the bad in traditional masculinity, obscure the good in men, and proffer an ill-advised attempt at social engineering?

It is an interesting question, and if we want to move forward from here, today’s customary response (“I have my preset answer, my side is 100% right, and the other side can have no good points because they are de facto 100% wrong”) is probably not going to get us very far.

Take the following oft-quoted passage: “Traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful.”

There is no doubt that some men are over the top in these categories, resulting in harm to themselves and those around them, but are all four traits intrinsically negative or can they (or some of them) contribute to positive outcomes (in men and women) as well?

Let the debate continue on the other three, but my nerdish bookishness forces me to defend my brothers and sisters of the stoical persuasion. The APA may make some fine points, and they may not be all that different in tone from the 2007 Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Girls and Women (although a tone-test would be interesting), but for an organization of this stature, the disdain for stoicism reflects an astonishingly simplistic and anti-intellectual attitude toward that rich philosophical tradition.

Let me refer the curious reader to this very brief summary of stoicism, and he or she can weight the merits from there.


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8 thoughts on “Men, Stoics, and the American Psychological Association

  1. Civilization seems to have leaped headlong into emotivism and anti-intellectualism; it shall not end well.

    “Destruction never comes weapon in hand. It comes on tiptoe seeing good in bad and bad in good.” -The Mahabharata

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Generalizations never work, even in psychology. Depending on circumstances any of those characteristics could be good ones. And any person devoid of all of them, well, what are they? It’s context that matters. Having said that I am dismayed by male colleagues in the 50-65 range who have defended the worst examples of these characteristics as “boys being boys.”

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  3. I would defend stoicism, too, properly understood. I wonder if they are misusing the term, thinking it describes the practice of “not expressing feelings” or “repressing emotions in an unhealthy way” or something along those lines. Those are negative traits often ascribed to males.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect they are using the term just as you say. The problem is that an organization of this stature should know better. Using the term in that way merely suggests that they are ignorant of cultural history, and ignorant about the history of ideas in general, which doesn’t exactly boost confidence in their services. (Indeed, if one considers that institutions, like species, are driven by underlying laws of self-preservation, the operative point may be that stoical men don’t spend enough money on APA services.)

      Liked by 1 person

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