Corey Habben, Psy.D.
The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM)
is coming up on its tenth anniversary of its formation as the 51st division
of the American Psychological Association. At times like this, it is
always good to look back at where we have been and ahead to where we
are going. Prior to the APA convention in Toronto last August, I was
doing just that. To ground myself, I took yet another look at our mission
statement. Take a moment and read it again; it is available here at
the SPSMM website. As I reread it, I thought about what I believe we
have done very well. For example, I think this group has done a good
job of examining “how gender…constricts men’s lives.”
We have continued to “erode constraining definitions of masculinity”
and how they have “contributed to the oppression of other people.”
We will forever be indebted to feminist-inspired scholarship on gender.
We have also remained firm in our commitment to women, gay/lesbian (as
well as bisexual and transgendered individuals), and people of color.
This should never change.
As I reflected on this, I also thought about what we may need to build
upon. Particularly, our commitment to “the most healthy interactions
between the genders” and the “enhancement of men’s
capacity to experience their full human potential.” These particular
words caught my attention as I considered the future of SPSMM and our
role in the study of men, masculinity, and gender. Incidentally, some
other recent readings had provided some intriguing context. I had read
an excerpt from Mary Pipher’s new book “Letters to a Young
Therapist,” a book of inspiring and insightful letters to a fictional
graduate student about the art of therapy. In one letter, she remarks
that women see apologizing as saying, "I am sorry I hurt your feelings
or caused you pain." Men see it as saying, "I am eating shit."
To be honest, I thought this observation was funny, and often true.
And yet, I could not help but think that it was also offensive. I am
certain that Mary Pipher meant no wrong, and yet it still reflects the
very kind of gender pigeon-holing and negative stereotyping that we
have set out to oppose.
I had a similar reaction to the recent TV mini-phenomenon “Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy,” a show in which five gay men with expertise
in fashion, food, grooming, culture and design “remake”
a straight man. The show set new ratings records for cable channel Bravo
and was rebroadcast on network sponsor NBC (a very rare thing for a
cable show). My reaction was this; on the one hand, it is condescending
and reinforces stereotypes on both sides (i.e./the catty gay men whose
main expertise is in fashion and interior design, and the clueless straight
man who struggles to put his pants on straight and lives among cinder-block
furniture). Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called it “stereotypes
on parade.” On the other hand, it promotes gay/straight male relationships,
how we can learn from one another as men based on our differences and
similarities, and may help normalize gay men on a widely-viewed network
to some segments of the audience who may be, at worst, homophobic. Should
we be offended by the show, or should we applaud it? As I pondered this,
I considered the reality that the public is constantly being confronted
with messages about gender and gender roles, and that we are a group
standing against sexism and stereotyping. What is our role?
I thought about this as I prepared my presidential address at the APA
convention in Toronto. My goal was to talk about the future of our division
and where we should go from here. To be honest, I was a little concerned
about the reaction of the audience and our members. After I had finished
with my remarks, I was thrilled to see the primary audience reaction
I had hoped for: lively and productive discussion. I was pleasantly
surprised to see that it seemed to resonate to the extent that I had
been asked to publish my remarks here on the web page. Please take a
moment and read the excerpts from this address. As another year draws
to a close, do not forget your role with SPSMM and, better yet, to the
continued discourse on gender, men, and masculinity.
The Death of Cosmo
Fred Rabinowitz, Ph.D.
I recently came back from a trip on a Sunday night, expecting to find the family in their beds asleep. Instead all the lights were on. I was confronted by my 9 year old son in tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Dad, Cosmo died.” More tears. I hugged him as he wept. “Dad, I just held him for a long time and then we just buried him in the garden.” Cosmo is my son’s first real pet of his own. We have a dog but she is considered my daughter’s main companion.
Cosmo was a hamster, who mainly awoke at night to exercise and burrow. He slept during the day. But my son used to wake him up by shaking a box of treats outside his cage, and then take him out to play. Jared had us help him build an elaborate series of tube tunnels for Cosmo on his cage to mimic his natural underground environment. Even though I wasn’t very attached to the hamster, I enjoyed watching Jared interact with him. The feelings I had when Jared came to me in tears were more for my son than for Cosmo. Cosmo only lived with us for two months, yet my son had become deeply attached.
Jared said to me, “Dad, I know how you would feel if I died.” I was blown away by his emotional vulnerability and perspective. I wanted to say that I would be more grief stricken than he could imagine, but I didn’t say it. Instead I acknowledged his pain. “You must really feel bad.” “Dad, this is the worst bad I have ever felt in my life. I loved Cosmo.” I was struck by the clarity of his emotions. There was no minimizing or acting tough. He was wide open to his grief. That night he got into my bed, his head under my arm and on my chest. I could hear him sniffling. Tears were in his eyes. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Dad, I just am going to cry myself to sleep.” And he did.
The next day, Jared told me he wasn’t up to going to school. He thought he might break out in tears in his class and didn’t want to have to deal with that with his classmates, especially his male friends. I understood, having learned early on that crying in front of the guys was only going to bring me shame. My dad would have told me to get over it. “It was only a hamster. You can handle it. You are a big boy and big boys don’t cry.” I would have said, “Okay Dad” and sucked in my tears. I would have tried to deny my grief, like many men do and go on with my life. Did I want my son to learn the same lesson? Did I want to teach him that sadness was taboo? I told him it would be fine if he stayed home, but I didn’t stay home with him.
While I went to work, my wife called in sick. During the day she helped him plant flowers, find a big rock to act as a gravestone, and bought an outdoor chair so Jared could sit near the garden for meditating and being with his grief. I am proud of him for not shutting down. I am proud of his mother for seeing the importance of this first real loss in his life. I feel bad that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my workday to be with my son. Hopefully I will the next time he has a lesson to teach me.
One of the many APA 2003 convention
highlights was the presentation of this
Student of the Year--Scot Boespflug,
M.A.; University of Iowa
Congratulations to this year's award recipients.
Call for Proposals for Hyde Graduate
Student Research Grants
grants, each up to $500, are awarded to doctoral psychology students to
support feminist research. The grants are made possible through the
generosity of Janet Hyde, Ph.D., who donates the royalties from her book,
"Half the Human Experience," to this fund. Past recipients of Hyde Graduate
Student Research Grants are not eligible to apply. Because the purpose of
this award is to facilitate research that otherwise might not be possible,
projects that are beyond the data analysis stage are not eligible.
1. Cover-sheet with project title, investigator's name, address, phone,
fax, and e-mail address.
2. A 100-word abstract
3. A proposal (5-pages maximum, double-spaced) addressing the project's
purpose, theoretical rationale, and procedures, including how the method
and data analysis stem from the proposed theory and purpose
4. A one-page statement articulating the study's relevance to feminist
goals and importance to feminist research
5. The expected timeline for progress and completion of the project
(including the date of the research proposal committee meeting). The
project timeline should not exceed two years.
6. A faculty sponsor's recommendation, including why the research cannot
be funded by other sources. This letter (5 copies) should be included with
the proposal materials. Please do not send it separately.
7. Status of human research review process, including expected date of
human research committee submission and approval. Preference will be given
to proposals that have received human research approval
8. An itemized budget (if additional funds are needed to ensure completion
of the project, please specify sources).
9. The applicant's curriculum vitae
10. Two self-addressed, stamped envelopes
11. All sections of the proposal should be typed and prepared according to
APA style (e.g., please use 12-point font)
Five copies of all documents are required.
Proposals that fail to meet the guidelines set forth above will not be reviewed.
A panel of psychologists will evaluate the proposals for theoretical and
methodological soundness, relevance to feminist goals, applicant's training
and qualifications to conduct the research, and feasibility of completing
Within 24 months of receipt of the grant, recipients are expected to submit
to the Hyde committee chair a complete and final copy of the research
document (e.g., a copy of the thesis, dissertation or journal manuscript
based on the sponsored research), along with a800-word abstract for
publication in Division 35 newsletter. In addition, grant recipients shall
acknowledge the funding source in the author's notes in all publications.
Hyde award winners will be announced at the APA convention during Division
35 Social Hour. The names of the Hyde award winners may also be posted in
Division 35 newsletter as well as on Division 35 web page and listserv.
Proposals (5 copies of all documents) should be submitted to the committee
chair: Silvia Sara Canetto, Ph.D., Chair, Hyde Research Award Committee,
Department of Psychology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
80523-1876. Phone: (970) 491-5415, FAX: (970) 491-1032. E-mail:
To be considered, proposals should be postmarked by either of these
deadlines: March 15th or September 15th.Silvia Sara Canetto, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Co 80523-1876
Ph: (970) 491-5415
Co-founder and first President of Division 51 Ronald F. Levant is a
candidate for APA President. He received the largest number of nomination
votes in history (2344). Division 51 has endorsed his candidacy.
During these uncertain times, psychology is increasingly called upon
for its scientific knowledge and professional skills. Psychology needs
an experienced leader who has a history of working with all of psychology’s
constituencies, and who can bring us together to effectively respond
to these challenges.
Dr. Levant has served as professor, research investigator, clinical
and academic administrator, clinical supervisor, public and private
practitioner, author, political advocate, and public communicator. Through
this experience, he has developed a broad perspective on the discipline
and profession of psychology. He knows that psychology’s strength
derives from its rich scientific and professional traditions, that the
students in APAGS are our future, that our future will be affected in
unexpected ways by technological change as the 21st century evolves,
and that APA, despite all of our differences, is one family.
He has a vision for psychology’s future in which the growing
integration of the science and practice of psychology will expand opportunities
for knowledge generation and service delivery aimed at addressing society’s
most pressing problems, and thus make psychology a household word.
He stated: “I want to make psychology a household word. As one
of the learned professions, we have much to offer society. Building
on the Decade of Behavior and Talk to Someone Who Can Help campaigns,
I would seek to raise the visibility and perceived relevance of psychology
to solving society’s most difficult problems. Public education
would bring the best of psychological science and practice to the center
of the public eye. Legislative advocacy would aim at significantly enhancing
funding for psychological science and effectively positioning psychology
to emerge as a top tier health profession in the coming integration
He is committed to:
Ron Levant’s Experience
Recent Accomplishments: As a member of the Board of
Directors he chaired the Task Force that resolved the long-standing
issue of representation of small state psychological associations and
divisions on the APA Council of Representatives through the creation
of the "Wildcard Plan." Most recently he co-chaired the “Wildcard
2” effort that now seats all State, Provincial and Territorial
Psychological Associations. He co-chaired the Commission on Education
and Training Leading to Licensure, is currently chairing the APA and
American Psychological Foundation Task Force on Promoting Resilience
in Response to Terrorism.
Academic Experience: Dr. Levant has served on the
faculties of Boston, Rutgers, and Harvard Universities. He is currently
Dean and Professor, Center for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern
University. He has authored, co-authored, edited or co-edited 13 books
and over 120 refereed journal articles and book chapters in family and
gender psychology and in advancing professional psychology. One of Dr.
Levant’s contributions is in the new psychology of boys and men.
He has been developed theory and conducted a fifteen-year research program
on masculinity ideology in multicultural perspective. In addition to
his writing, Dr. Levant has served as guest editor for special issues
of several journals (The Counseling Psychologist, Psychotherapy, Journal
of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, and The Journal of African
American Men), and serves on the Editorial Boards of eleven journals.
He has also received many awards for his work, including the Distinguished
Professional Service Award from APA Division 51, the Jack Krasner Memorial
Award from APA Division 29 (Psychotherapy), the Heiser APA Presidential
Award for Advocacy, the Ezra Saul Psychological Service Award from the
Massachusetts Psychological Association, and the Harold Hildreth Award
from APA Division 18 (Psychologists in Public Service). He is a Fellow
of the American Psychological Association, a Diplomate of the American
Board of Professional Psychology in both Clinical and Family Psychology,
and a Distinguished Practitioner of the National Academies of Practice.
For more information, please visit Ron’s website: http://www.DrRonaldLevant.com
Psychology of Men and Masculinity is among the world’s first scholarly publications devoted to the dissemination of research, theory, and clinical scholarship that advance the discipline of the psychology of men and masculinity. This discipline is defined broadly as the study of how men’s psychology is influenced and shaped by gender, and by the process of masculinization, in both its socially constructed and biological forms. We welcome scholarship that advances our understanding of men’s psychology, across the life span, across racial and ethnic groups, and across time.
Examples of relevant topics include, but are not limited to, the processes and consequences of male gender socialization, including its impact on men’s health, behavior, interpersonal relationships, emotional development, violence, and psychological well-being; assessment and measurement of the masculine gender role; gender role strain, stress, and conflict; masculinity ideology; fathering; men’s utilization of psychological services; conceptualization and assessment of interventions addressing men’s understanding of masculinity; sexuality and sexual orientation; biological aspects of male development; and the victimization of male children and adults.
Submitted manuscripts must be written in the style outlined in the 2001 Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (fifth edition). Psychology of Men and Masculinity will accept both regular length submissions (7,500 words) and brief reports (2,500 words). Submitted manuscripts must not have been previously published and must not be under consideration for publication elsewhere.
Four copies of the manuscript should be mailed to: Sam Cochran, PhD, 3223 Westlawn, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1100, Phone: (319) 335-7294, Fax: (319) 335-7298, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nominations for Fellow Status in divisions 51, APA are presently being accepted for 2005. If you are aware of a member who has been exemplary in the areas of Research or Service for the Psychology of Males and Masculinity (or if you yourself fit the mold), please forward names to our new Fellows Chair: Mark S. Kiselica, Ph.D., HSPP, NCC, LPC Professor and Chairperson, Department of Counselor Education, 332 Forcina Hall, The College of New Jersey, PO Box 7718, Ewing,NJ 08628-0718. Office phone: (609) 771-3462 email: email@example.com
MEN, MASCULINITY, AND THE MOVIES
Special Focus Editor, David S.
The question as to whether Hollywood
simply reflects current cultural attitudes and values or whether it
also influences them will likely be an ongoing debate in scholarly and
political arenas. Social scientists have posited Hollywood as both a
force for consolidating social values and structures and for contesting
them (Slocum, 2000). In either case, an examination of how men and masculinity
are portrayed in Hollywood films and television productions would seem
to be an area worthy of study by New Psychology of Men researchers.
At the least, such explorations can reveal how commercial entertainment
represents current cultural definitions of masculinity; but they also
may be able to suggest and demonstrate how Hollywood can influence –
for good or bad – changes in our notions of what constitutes normative
masculinity and “manly” behavior.
So far, with a few exceptions, we
have left the study of masculinity and popular culture to other disciplines
(e.g., cultural studies, cinema studies, the close text analysis enjoyed
by psychoanalytic scholars). Yet, when we psychologists think about
masculinity, try to define it, conjure up images of men who symbolize
masculine traits, my hunch is that most of us can not get very far without
some movie characters or male movie stars popping up in our minds. We
cannot but help to refer to celluloid heroes as part of our discourse
on gender role socialization. Note this paragraph from David’s
and Brannon’s The Forty-Nine Percent Majority, that small book
that has been seminal in our theories and research for almost 40 years.
It is in the section where the authors first describe “The Sturdy
Oak” norm of masculinity.
"There is something rather
unreal about this formidable creature that everyone us (men) is supposed
to be – something illogical, impossible, and for most of us, deeply
thrilling. Growing up in America as life became increasingly civilized,
urban, and complex, we sat in darkened movie theaters and watched these
unreal men, fashioned by some Hollywood scriptwriter, larger and far
more compelling than our real lives. We watched Gary Cooper standing
alone on that long, dusty street, in High Noon…ready to die, but
not to run. Usually the man we longed to be was big and fast on the
draw like that, but sometimes it was a seemingly ordinary guy who showed
real strength when the chips were down. Montgomery Clift’s unforgettable
Corporal Prewitt, in From Here to Eternity, couldn’t be broken
by anything a whole army could dish out, and he showed us that “real
men” come in all sizes" (David & Brannon, 1976, pp.24-25).
If it is about time that we engage
in serious thinking about the interrelationship of Hollywood and male
gender role socialization, some warnings to the potential researcher
are in order. Blanket generalizations about how Hollywood portrays men
will not hold up. Just as we have discovered in new psychology of men
research that there is no one masculinity but instead multiple masculinities,
we will find the same when we examine movies and television shows. As
Hubert Cohen has pointed out, Gary Cooper, whose portrayal of cowboys
has become synonymous with the “strong, silent type”, was
“one of the most loquacious cowboys ever to appear on the screen
(in The Virginian)” (Cohen, 1998, p.57). The 1930’s gave
us both the tough-guy gangster and the graceful, dancing Fred Astaire.
The 40’s had Bogart, who was all No Sissy Stuff, Big Wheel, and
Give’em Hell – but not such a Sturdy Oak. Casablanca, considered
by the American Film Institute to be the second greatest Hollywood movie
ever made (Citizen Kane was ranked #1), was ultimately about an openly
depressed man coping (badly) with feelings of abandonment. The 1950’s
featured the corporate man in countless films, motivated by the success,
power and competition values described by O’Neil et al (1986);
but it also gave us James Dean, an iconic male whose great talent was
to wear all of his vulnerabilities on his sleeve. The 60’s was
both The Graduate and James Bond. And so on.
That being said, this special focus section features three articles by authors who have taken the risk of pondering in public (well, at least the Division 51 public) some of the ways males are currently portrayed in cinema and television. Dennis Palumbo, a therapist and former screenwriter (My Favorite Year, and others) shares some insights about the ways in which our culture’s conflicting and ambivalent attitudes about how men are supposed to be are reflected in Hollywood’s portrayal of male psychotherapists. I will follow with a piece on the male client, noting some positive trends regarding Hollywood’s view of men in therapy. Finally, Ed Tejerian writes about father-son relationships in the original Star Wars trilogy, and in contemporary cinema.
Comments on this section can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT (former screenwriter)
Private Practice, Los Angeles
Two iconic images, from two memorable films: In the first, Now, Voyager,
a sage, kind-eyed Claude Rains walks with a forlorn Bette Davis on the
pastoral grounds of the
Because it seems that, with rare exceptions, that’s where we
are, at least according to the depictions of male therapists currently
displayed on film and TV. From evil and homicidal at worst, to bumbling
and self-deluded at best. Not to mention frequently unethical, manipulative,
and sexually predatory. In today’s popular media, the male therapist
has become a kind of symbolic catch-all character, representing the
failure of patriarchal authority and the emptiness of academic or intellectual
understanding, while reaffirming a tacit suspicion of the concept of
While we’ll discuss other examples illustrating these themes,
from various TV series and films, the salient one for me is that of
the psychiatrist in the play and film Equus. Portrayed in the latter
by Richard Burton at his most stentorious, he is learned, sober, a pillar
of the medical community. At first disturbed by and worried for his
patient, a young man who has blinded six horses in a frenzy of psychosexual
torment, Burton comes to be awed by and envious of the unmediated passion
the boy possesses. At story’s end, the psychiatrist puts his patient
on medication that will leave him tranquil but denuded of that unique
passion, which prompts Burton’s character to look into the camera
and admit his personal ennui, professional impotence, and cultural hypocracy.
(See, the crazy guy is psychologically “healthier” than
the mental health professional!)
The image of the male therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist has undergone
some troubling permutations in the past forty or so years, in both film
and television. And while it’s always a good idea to bring a well-earned skepticism
to Hollywood’s depiction of any profession, it can be very instructive
to observe as a mirror to the culture’s perceived notions.
This re-evaluation of standard male traits coincided, over the post-war
decades, with a withering of patriarchal values in general. The masculine
center was not holding. Examples are abundant, from popular fiction
(Catch-22, The Ugly American), to harried sitcom husbands and dads (from
"I Love Lucy" to "Bewitched" to the present), to cartoons of the pompous,
without-a-clue big-shots in the New Yorker. Like most male professionals
during this period, male shrinks became...well...funny. Hence, Dr. Bob
Hartley in the popular "Bob Newhart Show." Larry Hagman’s military
psychiatrist/friend in "I Dream of Jeanie." And, currently, the uptight,
overly-intellectual Niles and Frazier Crane.
This coincided with a trend, during these same years, of popular films that threw cold water on the whole idea of psychological inquiry as a positive tool for the alleviating of suffering. Films as diverse as The Manchurian Candidate, Spellbound, The Snake Pit, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest and others suggested the nefarious ways psychological understanding could be exploited or used for evil, often conflating its concepts with those of brain-washing and drug-induced manipulation. Even such recent films as A Beautiful Mind depicted the horrendous misapplication of electro-convulsive treatment---at the hands, of course, of a cooly assured male psychiatrist. A real Poster Boy for the clueless patriarchy.
In terms of the depiction of male therapists, this wary view of the profession itself only amplified the themes discussed earlier. Plus, there was another cultural shift in attidude toward gender to assimilate. In recent post-feminist times, with the mantle of patriarchal authority removed from their shoulders, yet with no alternative image to replace it, we find conflicting views as to what men should actually be like. The “sensitive” man is suddenly under assault. As a result, there’s the sense that being a male therapist has become somewhat unseemly---or, at the very least, suspicious. As though, for a real man, it was no longer a respectable profession.
Now, it seems, there appear to be two opposing depictions on screen:
in the first, we find the male therapist as severely troubled, often
predatory, or even homicidal: Bruce Willis in Color of Night. Alan Alda
in Whispers In the Dark. Richard Gere in Final Analysis. On TV, Nicol
Williamson and George Hamilton each played murdering psychiatrists on
episodes of "Columbo." And, frankly, most male therapists portrayed on
"Law and Order" or "NYPD Blue" are of questionable character. Even when
they’re not suspects, they’re usually uncaring and/or unethical.
What makes this more irksome is the contrast with the current depiction of female therapists: Barbra Streisand’s Dr. Lowenstein in Prince of Tides. Jennifer Melfi on "The Sopranos." The recurring character of Dr. Elizabeth Olivett on "Law and Order."
Not that there aren’t positive portrayals of male therapists on film and TV. (Two that come to mind are Gregory Peck’s Captain Newman, M.D., from the film of the same name; and camp psychiatrist Sidney Freedman on the TV series "M*A*S*H," played with rueful warmth by Allan Arbus.) What’s striking now, however, is the pervasive split in terms of how the personalities of male therapists are usually presented. Again, with rare exception, male therapists are currently caught in an unmediated black-or-white dichotomy: the good guys are warm and fuzzy (Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting), the bad ones are psychotic (the above-mentioned Hannibal Lecter). (In some attempt at balance, I should mention the recent, short-lived WB series "Birds of Prey," in which Mia Sara portrayed an evil female psychiatrist named Dr. Harley Quinn. Grandiose, homicidal, the works. Then again, what else would you expect of the Joker’s girlfriend?)
So, is the situation hopeless? Define your terms. B.D. Wong portrays a police psychiatrist on "Law and Order: SVU" as a positive, effective--though irritatingly bloodless--character. More multi-faceted, and therefore believable, is the testy, driven consultant Dr. Emil Skoda (apparently the replacement for Elizabeth Olivet’s character) on the flag- ship series "Law and Order." Then there’s Dr. Melfi’s own analyst on "The Sopranos," played as a caring though sadly limpid colleague by Peter Bogdonavich. At least he’s not shown having a sexual relationship with her.
Regrettably, it seems the manner in which male therapists are portrayed on screen reflects our culture’s ambivalence toward both the profession in general and notions about its male practitioners in particular. Like the range of attitudes from guarded suspicion to outright hostility with which priests are currently viewed, male therapists suffer from the expectations of a disillusioned public, whose disappointment is masked by pop culture depictions of either warmly-accepting “soft males” or coldly calculating manipulators. A thwarted paternal imago, perhaps, buffed to a stereotypical finish by the narrative demands of film and TV. So that now, to the hallowed images of tough private eye, brilliant physician, and ruthless attorney, we’ve added the warm/cold, empathic/psychotic character potentialities of the male therapist. Take your pick: The father we never had, or the husband we fear. The caring doctor, or the insinuating mastermind. The lover of life, the taker of life.
Hmmm. Sounds like we could all use a walk with Claude Rains right about now.
David S. Shepard, Ph.D.(also
a former screenwriter)
I was recently watching on a cable movie channel Alfred Hitchock’s classic film, Spellbound, made over 50 years ago. Here was a film with a male hero, played by the late Gregory Peck, who is psychoanalyzed (by beautiful analyst, Ingrid Bergman). His panic attacks, as well as the mystery story at the heart of the movie’s plot – are resolved by dream interpretation. I was struck by the fact that Spellbound never implies there is something weak or unmanly about Gregory Peck’s needing help. The film implicitly conveyed the message that a male hero could allow himself to be analyzed without threatening his masculinity.
Fifty years later, we have a seen a spate of recent major Hollywood productions about men who become psychotherapy clients. Good Will Hunting, Analyze This, "The Sopranos," and most recently, Antwone Fisher are some examples of critically and commercially successful films and television series featuring extensive psychotherapy scenes. What messages do these works convey? When successful Hollywood productions feature their male protagonists as clients, messages about the therapeutic experience are being sent to an audience of millions of men. Given the well-documented reluctance for men to seek counseling help (and the costs in well-being men pay for their avoidance of therapy), these messages have real significance: are they telling men that the therapeutic experience is something positive, or do they validate, at least for the traditional man, the fear that therapy is an emasculating experience? In other words, how do these films deal with the tension between traditional male role prohibitions against disclosure of vulnerable feelings and admitting the failure of self-reliance--and the process of psychotherapy, which inevitably challenges these prohibitions?
Hollywood would seem to be acutely aware of this tension and its dramatic possibilities. All of the films I have mentioned feature highly traditional males, uneducated men, raised in tough neighborhoods. Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting is from the Irish-American blue collar world of South Boston. Antwone Fisher is a soldier in the Navy, raised in orphanages, foster homes and reform schools in African-American sections of Cleveland. Analyze This and "The Sopranos" feature protagonists who are tough Mafia bosses. Most of these men are extreme embodiments of all four of David’s and Brannon’s (1976) characteristics of the traditional male gender role, what Pollack later termed, The Boy Code (Pollack, 1998). The Big Wheel – the need to be dominant; No Sissy Stuff – the denial of feelings associated with femininity; Give-em Hell – embracing violence and bravado as marks of masculinity; The Sturdy Oak--stoic and self-reliant. The tension inherent in the psychotherapy portrayed in these films is the clash between these men’s adherence to these gender role beliefs and the therapeutic process. Perhaps, to some degree, these films are portraying the drama that can be inherent in any psychotherapy with traditional men. Thus, these productions seemed worthy of analysis from a New Psychology of Men perspective.
I specifically examined three works, the drama,Good Will Hunting; the comedy, Analyze This; and the HBO series, "The Sopranos." Two themes emerged from my analysis.
In Good Will Hunting and Analyze This, the male therapists themselves represent this more flexible and integrated masculinity, and so the fact that they successfully treat their clients, despite the power struggle, validates their more integrated definition of masculinity. In Good Will Hunting, Will is, in plot construction terms, the protagonist, fighting to hang on to his tough guy identity; and Robin Williams is the antagonist, fighting with Will to give it up. And Will loses; the climax of the film, after Will recalls the physical abuse he received as child, is the release of tears, and his allowing himself to receive the containment his therapist can give him. Similarly, the battle is over in Analyze This when DeNiro remembers a traumatic moment of helplessness from his childhood and collapses in tears in Crystal’s arms. The tears and his surrender to his need for comfort by the therapist are the signals to the audience that the client is now on the path to healing. Whether the films want to move us or amuse us, they are asking us to feel good about what has happened to these strong men. (Analyze This cements this theme in a later scene where DeNiro cries when watching a father-son moment in a TV commercial, ratifying that he is now a man “in touch with his feelings.”)
In the ongoing series, "The Sopranos," the battle between Tony’s need to resist therapy and protect his traditional male identity, and his therapist’s insistence that Tony experience both painful memories and their associated affects, remains unresolved; the series continues to air new episodes. However, it is still clear from the flashbacks to Tony Soprano’s childhood that we, the audience, are intended to believe that the therapist is correct in viewing him as a male whose traumatic lessons in becoming his father’s definition of a man have left him with unresolved wounds.
One sequence in the series’ third year is a particularly striking example of the dark side of male socialization and the price men pay. If the reader is not familiar with the series, Tony Soprano’s life is about power, control and domination – and the tribulations he experiences when not only his mobster rivals, but also his wife and children, refuse to comply. He also struggles with an inner conflict of unknown origin, manifesting as anxiety attacks, and which send him into therapy with a woman therapist.
In this particular sequence, Dr. Melfi, is facilitating his recollections of childhood scenes that might hold clues to his anxiety attacks. We see in this flashback Tony, about nine or ten, witnessing his father, also a Mafioso, chopping off the finger of the local butcher, who has failed to pay off gambling debts. Later at home, the father praises his son for not crying when he saw the violent incident, and explaining that this kind of brutality is necessary in life. In the following scene in the Sopranos’ kitchen, Tony watches as his father uses the gift of some raw meat taken from the butcher as a prelude to seducing his wife. As young Tony silently observes his father and mother tenderly dancing around the kitchen table, that slab of beef just a few feet away on the counter, we can feel with Tony the mélange of sex, violence and power swirling in his mind. So this is what it means to be a man. Intertwined with all of this is Tony’s lesson just moments ago that a real man suppresses normal fearful emotions. As Mom and Dad caress each other, Tony literally faints from the overwhelming confusion. Following the flashback, we cut back to Tony in a therapy session, where Tony wriggles uncomfortably as the therapist explains the traumatic nature of these events in a child’s life. His struggle to resist taking this in, and the plain truth of his trauma, tell us that therapy has won.
Tony grows up to emulate his father, but at a cost, the price being
the uneasy unconscious, disturbed dreams, and panic attacks that plague
him. Here, the multi-episode storyline is a virtual manifestation of
the gender role strain construct – Tony Soprano’s socialized
compliance with the extremes of the traditional male role is virtually
untenable. Maintaining this role is simply too difficult.
Ultimately, I see these films as endorsements for therapy for men.
The men heal. Will Hunting is happier at the end of the movie then he
was at the beginning. Robert DeNiro’s mobster is a better man.
Tony Soprano is having fewer anxiety attacks and resolving old issues.
Most importantly, whatever men fear most about the therapeutic process
– loss of control, unendurable shame, the undermining of their
masculinity, or stigmatizing by their peers – never happens in
these stories. The fact that male clients and their therapists engage
in power struggles reflects the reality that therapy is a challenge
to men’s gender role straightjackets and that the jacket won’t
come off without a fight. The power struggles also normalize therapy
as a process. It is a process that takes courage and persistence; as
in Spellbound 50 years earlier, there is nothing unmanly about it.
Portions of this article were presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention 2003, Toronto.
In the early part of the last century, Freud said that he could not imagine anything more important to a child than a father's protection. One might argue that there has been a steady erosion of this concept of the father in the child's life since that time, to the point that, by the beginning of the present century, questions have been raised about whether it is essential for a son to have a father in his life at all. In fact, many men have grown up to be successful adults who had a flawed relationship or even no relationship with their fathers. But that fact has only a tangential relationship to something else that is equally important—the subjective, inner lives of men. And it is the subjective, inner meaning of the father and son relationship that constitutes the primary focus of its cinematic treatment. The father–son theme extends across commercial and cultural boundaries. In this country, it is found in mainstream Hollywood as well as independent films, and it occurs in European and non-European foreign films.
While a film can originate in the idiosyncratic experience of its author, in order to find an audience it has to touch the inner lives of others as well. At times, the vision of a particular director can express themes that resonate across an entire culture. Such is the case with George Lucas's Star Wars series. The first episode of the original trilogy was released in 1977, three years after the end of the Viet Nam war. This was not a coincidence. In the psychoanalytic concept of "splitting" the image of the parent is split into "positive" and "negative"—light and dark—sides. In Star Wars, Darth Vader, the sinister embodiment of the "dark side" of the force, can be seen as symbolic of the dark, negative side of the nation's "father"—the president who drove its sons into the furnace of war. In fact, the war abroad had its parallel in a war at home, as the generation of sons rejected traditional concepts of patriotism as well as masculinity held by the generation of the fathers.
But beyond culture, for some men the dark side of the father is also a palpable, personal reality as the father who has wounded his son deeply through abandonment, emotional rejection, or even physical abuse. Star Wars is about healing the breach between father and son, individually as well as culturally. In fact, that healing is a recurrent and trans-cultural theme in films about fathers and sons.
In The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the trilogy released in 1980, Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker, the hero of the series, that he is his father. Stricken and in tears, Luke screams, "That's impossible," and rejects his father's invitation to join him on the "dark side" and rule the galaxy with him. As father and son duel, one of the son's hands is severed at the wrist and he falls into an abyss where, clinging to a support by his good hand, he is rescued by his friends. Later, as the spaceship carrying Luke hurtles away, Vader sends his thoughts to Luke, saying, "Son, come with me." Luke, who cannot help being deeply moved, murmurs, "Father."
Three years later, in The Return of the Jedi, the final episode of the trilogy, a three-way confrontation takes place between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor whom Vader serves. The Emperor wishes Vader to persuade Luke to join them. Again Luke refuses, and once again father and son duel. But as Luke gains the upper hand, the Emperor intervenes, sending near-lethal electrical currents through Luke's body, with the intention of killing him. As the son writhes on the ground in pain, he begs his father to help him. After a moment's agonizing hesitation, Vader picks up the Emperor bodily and hurls him screaming into outer space. Vader, who knows he is dying, asks Luke to take off the fearful mask that is also his life-support system, saying, "Just once, I want to see you with my own eyes." Luke complies, and in the final scene, we see him solemnly lighting his father's funeral pyre.
Looking closely at the father–son drama in Star Wars, we see three related elements. The first element is two-sided—the potential for dark or light—rejection or love—on the part of the father. The second element is the son's need for a loving connection, wherever possible, with the father. The third element is the father's own need to be completed by the connection with his son.
Looking at father and son films before Star Wars, it seems to me that the focus was primarily on the second of the above elements—the son's need for the father. Perhaps the most notable of such films, East of Eden, appeared in 1955 and starred James Dean in his first major role. Raymond Massey played the father whose goodness and moral rectitude is a constant rebuke to the wildness of his moody, unpredictable younger son. In a pivotal scene, the father refuses to accept a gift of money that his son has made through agricultural speculation (the time is World War I). Dean creates a wrenching portrayal of adolescent grief and need as he begs his father to take the money, desperately throwing himself on his father's rigid, unyielding body. It is only after his father suffers a massive stroke and wordlessly agrees to allow his son to care for him that the breach between father and son is healed.
If we fast-forward to the beginning of this century we see the elements of the father-son story in Star Wars in today's films as well, although they are arranged in different ways and in different dramatic contexts. In particular, we see an emphasis on the third element present in Star Wars epic—the father's love and need for the son, the love that turned Darth Vader away from the "dark side." A number of films have shown this in the intense grief of the father for his lost son. In In the Bedroom—an American movie, and The Son—a Belgian film, the son is murdered. In The Son’s Room—an Italian movie, he dies in a scuba diving accident. In The Road to Perdition, released in 2002, Tom Hanks plays a hit man who, like Darth Vader, ends up giving his own life in order to save his son.
Antwone Fisher, another film released the same year, quite deliberately addresses one of the realities of the African-American experience today—the boy growing up without a father. Denzel Washington plays a Navy psychiatrist who takes under his wing a young African-American man whose father died before he was born, and who was raised first in institutions and then in a brutal foster home. The defining moment of the film is when Antwone, the young man, is urged by Dr. Jerome Davenport, the psychiatrist, to try to find his family. The young man, says, "Why do I have to look for my family? I have you, Doc." In the end, he agrees to go and as he is about to embark on his journey, Davenport, who is himself childless, says to Antwone, "I love you, son," to which the young man replies, "I love you too."
In Frequency, released in 2000, the protagonist, John Sullivan, has been depressed ever since his father died fighting a fire, thirty years before. The plot gimmick in the film is that, due to the extraordinary effects of a brilliant and prolonged Aurora Borealis, a time warp occurs in which, via his father’s old ham radio, John receives a message from his father, who was is still alive in another time dimension. In the son’s time dimension, it is the night before the 30th anniversary of his father’s death. In his father’s time dimension it is the night before the fire that will kill him. The now thirty-six year old John desperately tells his father how to avoid the mistake that, thirty years before, cost him his life in the fire he was fighting.
When they meet via the airwaves the day after the fire, both father and son realize that the son has saved the father's life. They talk, catching up on the lost years, and when the father, who used to call his son "little chief" when he was small, learns that he has become a police officer instead of following the family tradition and becoming a fire fighter, he at first feigns shock. But then, he tenderly asks his thirty-six year old son, "But you're still my little chief, right?" And then, using the same phrase as Davenport does in Antwone Fisher, his father says, "I love you, son," to which the son, fighting back his tears, replies, "I love you too, Dad—I missed you so much."
In Monsters Ball and City by the Sea, both shown in 2002, the relationship of father to son has direct consequences not only for the son's emotional well-being, but also for his life. In Monsters Ball, when the father physically attacks his grown son, the son first responds with violence of his own, and then asks his father, "You hate me, don't you?" We see the dark side of the father turned against his son in cold fury as he replies, "Yeah, I hate you...I've always hated you." "Well," the son says softly, I always loved you," and shoots himself in the heart.
City by the Sea concerns itself with another expression of the dark side of the father in contemporary America—his virtual abandonment of his son after divorce. Robert DeNiro is a New York City detective, Vincent LaMarca, whose son Joey is being sought in connection with two murders. Joey, who has not seen his father since before adolescence, is being asked by his father to turn himself in. He refuses, and in a final confrontation with his father in a warehouse surrounded by police swat teams, threatens to commit "suicide by cop" by showing himself in the window while holding a gun. The professional detachment from his grown son that Vincent has until now maintained begins to crumble. No longer the cop, he becomes completely the father, desperately imploring his son to live. In turn, the son lets slip the angry, scornful mask that has protected him from his need for his father. He whispers, "Hold me," and moves into his father's arms. In Monsters Ball, the father's hatred killed his son. In City by the Sea his father's love saves him.
The treatment of the father-son theme in recent cinema tells us that what we have called the new psychology of men has a parallel in a movement that is underway in cinematic culture. These films, some of which include major Hollywood stars and are aimed at a mass audience, are in the process of redefining and broadening the concept of masculinity—that is, of what it means to be a man—as they demonstrate that men are deeply emotional beings for whom the relationship between father and son is a uniquely important emotional bond.
Corey Habben, Psy.D.
As I consider the approaching ten-year anniversary of
SPSMM’s creation, I look at what we have done and where we are
going. I look at our mission statement, and I feel that we have mostly
been pretty good at following our original mission statement. We remain
profeminist, gay-affirmative, valuing diversity in all its forms, and
stand steadfast against sexist and constricting gender roles. This should
never change. And at the same time, I see room for growth and evolution
in our division. I believe that the future of the psychology of men
is different than the current psychology of men. Not a change, but building
on a foundation. Less shame, less afraid, more balanced view of men…the
good, the bad, and the in-between.
There had also been some interesting discourse in the
SPSMM email listserv. In fact, many email listservs seem to provide
provocative exchanges on gender. One of the problems with email listservs
is that it often becomes a sounding board for radical extremist views;
our list is certainly no exception. Yet, I believe it is upon us to
listen to what people are saying about our division, as well as men
and masculinity, as we consider our future because we may have something
to learn from these discussions. I had read one three-part exchange
posted on a general career listserv in which someone was seeking advice
on working with men, to which another replied that she believed that
“some older men seem to devalue women,” followed by a reply
third individual who simply stated that “all men devalue women.”
Was it sexist? Yes. Was it ignorant? Yes. Did I want to say something
in response to that? Absolutely. Did I? No. I did not, because I was
afraid of how I would be misinterpreted as sexist or misogynist. So
what happened? The extremists spoke up instead. The radical men’s
rights activists, whose mission departs from ours, end up speaking as
representatives of men and masculinity.
Every time we refuse to speak up for something like this
and act as the voice of reason, we empower extremists to speak instead.
We cannot blame extremists for speaking about something we should be
speaking up for ourselves. I firmly believe that anytime something like
this is said and those of us with any interest in gender equity do not
oppose it or express outrage, we are partially accountable for not being
true defenders of sexism. We must oppose sexism in all its forms. Is
negatively stereotyping men true to our mission statement? Does it promote
“the most healthy interactions between the genders” and
the “enhancement of men’s capacity to experience their full
human potential?” I believe that there may be something to be
learned from the process of how we react or respond to these discussions.
Many of us are afraid; I have heard many express that
fear, and I often feel it myself. And yet, some of the greatest things
done by men and women have been done in the face of fear. We cannot
let fear hinder the study of men and masculinity. Fear and polarity
are the enemies of gender studies. We are all studying the same thing,
albeit from different angles. Some of us study men, some study women,
some study gay men or black men, some study Asian women (and so on)
and we often do this passionately. Our passion should not be taken to
an extreme that we lose our objectivity; truth should not be the victim
of indignation. For many years now, the preferred method of communication
about politically charged issues seems to be expressing righteous indignation.
Frankly, it has grown very tiresome.
We should never give up seeing bad in the world, but never
at the expense of forgetting to herald the good. I believe that we too
often have done this in our division, and we often lose sight of what
is good about masculinity. This was first crystallized for me as a graduate
student when I read the introduction to Ron Levant’s book “Masculinity
Reconstructed”. Yes, men have tendencies that are aggressive,
violent, or emotionally distant. However, men also have tendencies toward
sacrifice, loyalty, and resolve. Ideals often associated with masculinity
have been driving forces for individuals, men and women, who we have
considered heroes of late: firefighters, police officers, soldiers.
Throughout history, men have traditionally been the attackers; yet,
they have also traditionally been the defenders and rescuers. Men have
caused many problems, but have also solved many others. It pains me
when I see men, whether in our division or elsewhere, ashamed to be
men. We should not be ashamed to be men. We should have shame for some
of the things that men have done and what masculinity has represented,
but we should not be ashamed to be men. Although I often see problems
and needs for change in men and masculinity, I am proud to be a man…and
I do not hear that enough in our division.
During an APA convention in 1997, I was fortunate enough
to serve as a discussant for an SPSMM symposium as a graduate student.
During my remarks, I had this to say: “And one other skew that
I would dare say I noticed is the tendency to focus on the dark side
or shortcomings of men. Sadly, men are often categorized primarily as
violent aggressors, absent fathers, emotionally devoid partners, misogynist
pigs, brutal rapists, and so on and so on. And while these are crucial
elements of masculinity to investigate, often the strengths of men,
or the victimization of men…are overlooked in its place. I for
one hope to see that trend change; not to overlook the dark side, but
to provide a more balanced and accurate depiction of men.” At
the time, it seemed like bold words from a graduate student. Nevertheless,
I still not only believe that to be true today, but I believe it to
be an even bigger reality.
I believe that it is our responsibility to understand and examine both sides of masculinity; this includes not being afraid of seeing men as victims. Perhaps the least controversial example is men’s health. As many of us know, of the top ten leading causes of death, men die from every single cause of death at a higher rate than women. All ten, including: heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidental deaths, diabetes mellitus, influenza/pneumonia, suicide, chronic liver disease/cirrhosis, and homicide (National Center for Health Statistics, 2002). This should represent one of our future roles; helping not only with the problems that men and masculinity have caused, but also the problems from which men suffer.
Perhaps the biggest danger to this division is groupthink, and our lack
of awareness of it. There are other voices, which may not agree with
ours, and we need to listen to them. Not agree with them, not appease
them, but listen to them. We have a tendency to turn our ears deaf,
reject them as ‘not being one of us,” and automatically
assume that they are wrong. As with any organized body, whether individual
or collective, an important part of development is to question what
we believe. Let us not make the same mistake of arrogance so many others
before us have made: claiming to be so absolutely certain about what
is right and wrong, that we shut out any of those who disagree with
The membership of this division will evolve over time
as the generations evolve. Future generations grew up in a different
era; those from my generation may share my experience; where feminism
had already brought about important changes that shaped my view of men
and women; growing up in an era in which a working, empowered woman
did not look unusual, where non-traditional men did not stand out or
look unusual. The fathers of my generation, and future generations,
were not necessarily the Ward Cleavers and the Ozzie Nelsons. And there
were a lot more Maudes, and fewer Donna Reeds. During the 1950’s
or 1960’s, you would watch a television show about a patriarchal
family, and it seemed pretty normal. Today, the average American watched
“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and just wanted to see
more of it. I look forward to seeing how this division evolves as the
times and our membership also evolve. I hope to still be with SPSMM
decades from now, and I hope we still stay true to our mission statement…and
I hope that we also look at men and masculinity in a balanced, accurate,
and complete way.
Lorne Opler, M.A.
Strange but true. I never learned to hit a ball, to bunt
or steal a base when I grew up. As a kid, unlike most other boys, I
chose not to play ball, even though my father wanted so badly for me
to learn the sport that influenced his own childhood. Dad was a formidable
ball player in his youth. He lived for afternoons on the sandlots of
Lockport, a small western New York town, just south of the Lake Ontario
shoreline. Dad would have liked nothing more than for his first-born
son to share his love of second base. But I was too terrified to learn
how to play; too intimidated by my athletic peers whose competitive
and confident personalities drove home my all too obvious lack of physical
But even that kid who refused to tangle with those neighborhood
rough-skins, knew that playing sports was the ticket to childhood popularity.
I learned quickly that the best schoolyard jocks were usually the best
liked classmates; at first, respected and envied by all the other boys,
and later fawned and fantasized over by lovesick girls in training bras.
At the cusp of my young manhood, I learned how unfair life could be
sometimes. I understood that no matter how artistic or expansive my
imagination was, such traits would never make other guys jealous nor
launch doe eyed babes into fits of unrestrained ecstasy.
As I gradually realized that the creative juices I had
been blessed with would never merit the peer respect that an athletic
body would, I concealed my G-d given gifts and began an earnest attempt
to morph into that icon of adolescent worship…the high school
jock. But just how does one born to be artist go about transforming
himself into a teenage heartthrob without years of after school team
workouts, sloppy handwriting, and bad table manners? I knew I would
never make it into that closed, intimidating circle of varsity athletes
– guys in letterman jackets, who ruled the school corridors with
absolute authority; whose arms always seemed to be draped over the shoulders
of prom queens I couldn’t say even say hi to. So what's a teenage
jock in training to do?
It then hit on me to fashion myself into something I had
never heard nor seen before. I would not strive to be just another brain
challenged teen macho man. I would become something completely different,
something totally unique. I would teach myself to be…the sensitive
jock. Soon, I was tossing baseballs against the side of a nearby junior
high, destined to be the ball player I felt I should have always been.
I taught myself how to throw, and how to catch. But then it all stopped…the
dream of being a sensitive jock, I realized, was just a dream. I would
never really be a true jock. I would never continue the legacy of my
dad’s athletic prowess. Who was I kidding? And besides, I was
going off to college, and had other things to be concerned with.
But even after moving away and starting a new life for
myself in the United States, I still felt the urgency to cultivate a
sense of masculinity that I believed was chronically invisible. While
mourning the reality that I would never be a team sports hero, and never
experience the bonding, the friendships, the affirmations and validations
to my masculinity that come from being a team player, I saw opportunity
to both develop my athletic ability, and to satisfy my craving for masculine
self identity through endurance sports. Such activity, I surmised, neither
required gifted genes, nor a history of athletic ability and experience.
I was always a decent swimmer I remembered, swimming being one of the
few sports I actually enjoyed and pursued with regularity as a child.
So, I began lap swimming in the athletic center, teaching myself how
to flip turn, reading up on technique and stroke improvement, eventually
joining a master’s swim group. I complemented my swim workouts
with running sessions and pretty soon I was competing in triathlons.
The sense of physical accomplishment I experienced was both gratifying
and rewarding. I soon added weight training to this athletic regimen.
I became dedicated to a life of physical fitness. It was my priority.
So much so, I decided to enter graduate school and pursue master’s
level work in health education. I wanted to turn my passion into a profession.
And so I did. And I have been working for the past three years in the
arena of physical fitness promotion, using my personal experiences to
motivate others towards a life of health and well-being.
I have physically built myself up to a level of strength
and endurance I have never really known before. And yet, my goal has
only been half accomplished. Privately, I have had to admit my attempts
at physical self –improvement have done little if anything at
all to enhance my sense of masculinity. The sense of shame I have carried
for decades, a shame for feeling I am only half a man, has never gone
away. I had hoped that through a life completely focused on and dedicated
to physical enhancement, I would finally gain the healthy male ego that
has long eluded me . But that never happened.
For years I had been singularly pursuing a career track
based on its potential and capacity to obliterate any outward trace
of my male insecurity. What better way to accomplish this I thought,
than through the very route that I was denied as a teenager…physical
activity. At last, this would give me the needed credentials to join
that fraternity of masculinity from which I was barred as a high schooler.
By achieving competency among a class of men I once saw as threatening
and intimidating, I would finally become one of them… a complete
man. How obvious that I was seeking affirmation in all the wrong places.
There was always someone faster, stronger, and bigger than me, wherever
I ran, swam, biked or lifted. By hoping for a complete overhaul to my
male ego through exercise alone, I was clearly setting myself up for
more self-dissatisfaction and disappointment.
It was only recently however, that I realized other options
existed to help me achieve the masculine self-acceptance I’ve
been searching a lifetime for. Soon after finishing graduate school
I learned about the “men’s movement” and began searching
for ways of connecting to other men through the open discussion and
sharing of feelings, thoughts and emotions. Gradually I found my way
to a men’s retreat, in the fall of last year. The weekend provided
a forum for men to relate to each other in an honest, authentic and
vulnerable way. I appreciated that. But something for me was missing
from the weekend. I was encouraged not to think…just feel. There
was a strong emphasis among the organizers to have participants bury
their thoughts in order to uncover their feelings. In follow up sessions
after the retreat, I was told directly not to think, just feel. While
I understood the basis for such a directive, I also felt angry and frustrated.
I wanted to be able to both feel and think. By requesting that I refrain
from thinking, I was asked to give up a big part of who I was. I am
a thinker. I like ideas. I value thought. I wanted to be validated for
my capacity to analyze and reflect as much as for my ability to feel
and empathize. But that was not going to happen. I realized I was not
going to be affirmed by the very group of men in whom I initially anticipated
such a hopeful sense of bonding. I could not be a robot. I could not
suppress such a vital element of my being in order to secure the support
of a group of men, no matter how vulnerable, and sensitive they were.
After several weeks of post retreat encounter sessions, I left the group
demoralized, alienated and misunderstood.
Almost a year later, I decided to visit the APA conference.
Having made the decision to apply to counseling doctoral programs, I
felt it would behoove me to attend the convention and make contact with
faculty who would be interested in my research goals. When I learned
about Division 51 through the conference catalog, and read of their
social hour, I knew this was one event I would have to attend. And what
came of my encounter with the group, was everything the men’s
retreat weekend was not. It did not take long at all to realize I was
in a room full of men who were like me…feelers and thinkers! As
I mingled among the crowd, and spoke with several Division 51 members,
I felt instantly at home. I honestly could not believe the consistently
warm reception I was given by everyone I met. Everyone! People took
time to talk to me. People took time to ask me who I was…to find
out what brought me to the social hour…to enquire of my interests.
In the entire week I was at APA, I never received or experienced such
an effusively hospitable welcome. Unlike all the other social hours
I had attended previously, this one had the uncommon feel of a family
reunion…and of a family where all the members were happy to see
each other. Soon, I was invited to join the Division dinner at a nearby
restaurant. Honestly, such kindness and hospitality I have never experienced
at any professional conference. Throughout the course of the dinner,
I engaged in absorbing and substantial conversation with so many men.
I kept thinking to myself, “these men are bright, interesting,
curious, informed….and warm, sensitive, open and embracing.”
The sense of identification I felt that evening was unparalleled.
When I say I left the company of these uncommonly special men transformed,
I mean no exaggeration. For that night offered me not only a sense of
feeling “at home” and of belonging, but it did more. That
night showed me how healthy masculine identities form. The night gave
me an opportunity to validate my manhood in ways never granted me before.
I did not have to prove myself to anybody. I did not have to compete.
I did not have to impress. I did not have to suppress any of my intrinsic
talents to be accepted.
It took little time for me to realize why that evening was special for me. Finally, and I believe for the first time in my life, my manhood was affirmed by other men in whom I identified with instinctively…men who thought and men who felt. What I was spending an adulthood seeking, I found not just in the men of Division 51, but really in the spirit, the essence and the meaning of Division 51. This essay therefore, is a thank you to everyone who made that night for me so memorable. It is my hope that I may one day have the privilege to give to other men, what each of you whom I met that evening, gave to me.
Participate in SPSMM-L, the listserv for SPSMM members. It is a place to share current psychology of men and masculinity news, as well as updates regarding organizational aspects of SPSMM. If you have access to the Internet, you can subscribe to SPSMM-L at no cost. Send your request to email@example.com—Michael E. Addis, PhD.
The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM) promotes the critical study of how gender shapes and constricts men’s lives, and is committed to an enhancement of men’s capacity to experience their full human potential. SPSMM endeavors to erode constraining definitions of masculinity which historically have inhibited men’s development, their capacity to form meaningful relationships, and have contributed to the oppression of other people. SPSMM acknowledges its historical debt to feminist-inspired scholarship on gender, and commits itself to the support of groups such as women, gays, lesbians and peoples of color that have been uniquely oppressed by the gender/class/race system. SPSMM vigorously contends that the empowerment of all persons beyond narrow and restrictive gender role definitions leads to the highest level of functioning in individual women and men, to the most healthy interactions between the genders, and to the richest relationships between them.
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Send me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jazz. Kansas City is renowned for
its rich jazz legacy. A legacy that started
Barbecue. One of the best known
features of Kansas City is the barbecue
"Negro Baseball League Museum.
The new Negro Leagues Baseball Museum features
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Member (Psychology Doctorate, APA Member/Fellow) • $25
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Make check payable to Division 51, SPSMM. Send application & check to Division 51 Administrative Office, American Psychological Association, 750 First St., NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242.
SPSMM provides book reviews for members to learn about the latest books in the field. Currently, book reviews are published in the SPSMM Bulletin because page space in the Division’s journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity (PMM) is at a premium with priority being placed on publishing manuscripts. This policy could be revisited once additional pages are allocated to PMM.
Persons interested in reviewing books or having their books reviewed in the Bulletin should contact the SPSMM Book Review Editor. The SPSMM Bulletin Book Editor will exercise his or her discretion as to which book will be reviewed in any given issue based on his or her judgment about the interests of the membership and mission of SPSMM. The current SPSMM Book Review Editor is Dr. Jay Wade, Department of Psychology, Fordham University, Dealy Hall, 441 E. Fordham Rd., Bronx, NY 10458.
Book reviewers must assert in writing that they do not have a conflict of interest or personal relationship that would interfere with providing an objective review. The Book Review Editor will select reviewers in response to an author’s request, and the author will provide a copy of the book to the Book Review Editor.
Fred Rabinowitz substituted for Glenn Good at the Council Meeting in Toronto. I found the meeting interesting, but often concerned with details and agendas that had only tangential relevance to division 51. Although I took lots of notes I have summarized the three main points that might be affect SPSMM membership:
1. APA is currently in much better fiscal shape due to refinancing of buildings and low interest rates. The implication is that there will be some more money available to fund projects within APA, including the reinstitution of committee and task force meetings. Membership dues will rise slightly but not at levels predicted by earlier budget deficits.
2. APA will be starting a new database called PsycExtra in 2004 that will use content from APA Monitor, State and Division Newsletters, and other non-journal (but significant)documents to link consumers, policy makers, librarians, clinicians and researchers to credible sources of information concerning psychology, health, and behavioral sciences.
3. APA Council of Reps will maintain its current structure of inclusivity despite some calls to eliminate smaller membership groups to streamline decision-making.
The Division’s Cookbook is ready for release and people are raving about it. In the words of Sam Cochran, “This is a spectacular collection of recipes and stories, truly distinctive in the world of cookbooks . . . I will treasure this book for many years to come. After all, in what other cookbook will you find Lenore Walker’s Holiday Turkey, David Lisak’s inspirational recipe for red chile sauce, Murry Scher’s ‘best blueberry muffins in the world’ recipe, Ron Levant’s couscous-stuffed green pepper recipe, or David Rose’s Teppanyaki Pancake recipe (yum). All the recipes in the book are clearly ‘family favorites’ that are conveyed with a loving and charming sense of personal history. This is a cookbook that everyone must own!” The Division’s Cookbook is now available by sending a $20 check to Larry Beer at Child and Family Psychological Services, 5380 Holiday Terrace, Kalamazoo, MI 49009. Make your check payable to “Larry Beer.”
Division 51 of the American Psychological
Marty Wong, PhD
Neil A. Massoth, PhD (2001-2003)
Holly B. Sweet, PhD (2001-2003)
LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY COORDINATOR
CODAPAR LIAISON TO DIVISION 51
Mark S. Kiselica, Ph.D., HSPP, NCC, LPC (2004)
MEMBERSHIP AND RECRUITMENT
NOMINATIONS AND ELECTIONS
DIVISION 51 WEB SITE COORDINATOR
Division 51 Webmaster: Laura Anibal Braceland
Last modification on: October 31, 2003