IU professor is co-editor of handbook on men and masculinities

Guest post by Steve Hinnefeld, who normally writes at the Policy Briefings blog:

What does it mean to be a man? Not long ago most people would have answered with clichés about courage, assertiveness and responsibility. But in recent years researchers have produced a more complex picture, suggesting that gender stereotypes can be harmful to men as well as women.

Joel Wong

Joel Wong

The “APA Handbook of Men and Masculinities,” co-edited by Indiana University professor Joel Wong and published this summer by the American Psychological Association, brings together theoretical, empirical and practical research on the psychology of men and masculinities.

“This is the first comprehensive attempt to synthesize, summarize and evaluate the entire field of study,” said Wong, associate professor of counseling and psychology in the IU School of Education. “The area is relatively new, and this is the first handbook in our field.”

Addressing how men and boys are shaped by biological, psychological, sociological and cultural factors, the volume includes sections on historical, theoretical and methodological issues; specific populations of men; and topics such as sexism, stereotypes, violence, fathering and sport.

Wong is co-editor of the handbook with Stephen R. Wester, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Many of the chapter authors are members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, an APA division that seeks to advance knowledge in the psychology of men through research, education, training, public policy and improved clinical practice.

Wong credits the feminist movement starting in the 1960s with changing the way psychologists think about gender and ultimately reshaping their approach to the psychology of men.

Prior to the movement, he said, psychology was largely oriented to men’s experiences, because research was often done on college students, who were then overwhelmingly male. Yet gender was not a focus of such research. But feminist scholars and activists made the case for change, arguing that women should be seen as “gendered beings” living in a society in which different rules, expectations and images applied to women than to men.

“Eventually, some scholars began to say, if we’re studying women as gendered beings, shouldn’t we also be studying men as gendered beings,” he said.

Thinking about men in terms of gender often leads to the conclusion that sexism and patriarchal views can be harmful to men. The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity says in its mission statement that traditional gender roles can “often lead to negative consequences and unhealthy interactions.”

The "APA Handbook of Men and Masculinities"

The “APA Handbook of Men and Masculinities”

It says narrow ideas about masculinity have “inhibited men’s development, reduced men’s capacity to form meaningful relationships, and contributed to the oppression of others.”

The primary audience for the handbook, Wong said, is likely to be academics, including researchers and teachers of the growing number of men’s studies courses being taught in the nation’s colleges and universities. Practitioners and others with interest in the topic will also find the book helpful.

Wong pointed out that stereotypes about what it means to be a man are constantly reinforced by cultural norms and even everyday language. Taking responsibility is to “man up.” Men aren’t supposed to cry or otherwise show emotion. Questioning a man’s manliness is the worst sort of insult.

“Once we look at the world from a gendered perspective,” he said, “we realize gender is everywhere.”

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