Young men’s minds: Looking beyond mood and feelings


Last week the latest UK suicide statistics reminded us of the grim reality of the depths of teenage despair. Out of every 100,000 boys aged 15 to 19, more than seven took their own lives last year. The equivalent figure for girls was less than half that, at 2.9.

With that in mind, perhaps there should be no surprise that a government-funded study into mental health in teenagers has concluded that

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages.

And so say all of us. The only issue is that the very same recommendation continues like this:

Policy makers should take into account the differences between boys and girls in their experiences of mental ill-health at different ages. The report shows that between the ages of 11 and 14 girls are significantly more likely than boys to experience poor mental health.   

The study, from UCL and University of Liverpool and apparently co-sponsored by a charity called the National Children’s Bureau is entitled ‘Mental ill-health among children of the new century’.  Here is how it reported in the Guardian today:

One in four girls have depression by the time they hit 14, study reveals.

Before we go any further let me spell out my premise here, indeed, pretty much my entire point:

IT IS NOT A COMPETITION.

I am not for a moment denying or disputing that somewhere up to a quarter of 14-year-old girls have severe depressive symptoms and I am not for a moment minimising the seriousness of that or the necessity for our society to take note of it and hopefully do something about it. I actively applaud all efforts to address these issues and alleviate the suffering it causes.

On the other hand I do have a bloody huge issue with government-funded research which goes out of its way to mimimise and misrepresent the evidence of mental ill-health among boys and which produces policy recommendations which more or less explicitly demand that fewer resources be devoted to boys in need than to girls.

The study concerned uses data from the longitudinal Millenium Cohort study and used something called the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire. This tool asks subjects to self-report whether they have felt each of 13 symptoms of depression. From this, the study established that girls (at age 14) are much more likely to be depressed than boys. Alongside the children’s self-report symptom inventory, the researchers got parents (to be more precise, in 90% of cases it was mothers) to fill in a matching questionnaire recounting whether they felt their child was showing the same symptoms.

It should be stressed at this point that the findings here are not especially new. Epidemiological studies of adolescent mental health using inventories and questionnaires have always found similar results – young boys and girls report similar rates of depressive symptoms until puberty, after which girls’ self-reported depression scores rise markedly and boys usually don’t.  This has been true since the 1980s at least.

So, what is the problem?

Well, also since the 1980s at least, psychologists and psychiatrists have been aware that the tools which are sensitive in measuring or detecting depression in women and girls are not always equally sensitive in measuring depression in men and boys. Crucially, the male subjects who are found to be least accurately assessed by traditional depression inventories are those with the most marked and extreme masculine traits and attitudes. Like macho sportsmen, for instance. Or teenage boys, perhaps.

Firstly, there are huge question marks around the how male and female subjects behave when a self-report questionnaire is put in front of them. This is even true of physical symptoms, never mind psychological.  There are numerous reasons for this. Perhaps the most significant is that boys are generally less likely to admit to vulnerabilities, weaknesses and perceived personal failings than girls are, even on an anonymised questionnaire. Some researchers go further, pointing to ‘male normative alexithymia’ – difficulty in identifying one’s own emotional state and then putting it into words.

One of the most striking claims made in the new study is that there was a marked difference between the results of the self-assessment questionnaires and those completed by parents.

According to self-reports, 24% of girls and 9% of boys showed high scores for symptoms of depression. According to parents the differences were much narrower, at 18% of girls and 12% of boys. The only explanation offered by the report’s authors is this:

“The fact that such a high proportion of girls – 24% – suffers from high levels of depressive symptoms suggests that some parents may not be aware of their daughter’s depression.”

Well, yes, that is one possibility. Another is that boys are failing to own up to their own depressive symptoms when even their mothers can see what is going on. The fact that the authors of the paper do not even raise this as a possibility is, frankly, scandalous. What is more, if one looks at the source research for the sMFQ, it says explicitly that “the parent-version of SMFQ-short was found to be a better predictor of depression than was the child self-report of this measure. However, the combination of both the parent and child versions of the SMFQ-short was a better predictor than was either measure when used alone.”

In recent years there has been a growing and immensely important body of academic work around gender-based expressions of depression. As a broad, widely accepted principle, men (and boys) with mental ill health tend to externalise those feelings into aggression, violence, criminality and drug and alcohol abuse, whereas women and girls are more likely to internalise into self-harm, self-reflection and dwelling on intrusive thoughts.

Perhaps the most influential and important work on this front has been the contributions of Lisa Martin who found that if we redefine depression to include symptoms more typically displayed by men, the 2:1 gender differences in reported depression pretty much vanish at a stroke.

Alongside this, many different researchers and clinicians have recently been developing instruments for detecting and measuring depression in boys and men, with names like the Male Depression Risk Scale and the Masculine Depression Scale. The tools are there, the knowledge is there, the research is there. All that is missing is the willingness to accept it

In short, if you want to know whether a 14-year-old boy is depressed, don’t ask him how often in the last month he has sat around feeling unhappy. Ask him how often he has chosen to sit in his room playing video games rather than seeing his friends and you are likely to get a very different answer. Ask him how often he has smoked weed on his own. Ask him how often he has wanted to punch someone – or did – or found himself smashing up some inanimate object.

The truth is you will get a better measure of boys’ mental health from asking how much harm they have done to others than to themselves. And here’s the kicker – this study today has a whole section on behavioural problems which notes that not only do boys significantly outnumber girls on that front, but that the difference increases steadily from age 5 through to 14.  Presumably the authors of this report are aware that disruptive and anti-social behaviour is often a strong indicator of mental ill-health, since they went to the trouble of recording and reporting the statistics on behavioural problems. They then made a conscious decision to exclude those findings from their conclusions and recommendations.

I began this blogpost talking about suicide rates, as they are such a pressing issue, they should never be far from our thoughts. But these are only the most extreme and tragic indicator of a serious problems with our boys and young men. Their emotional and mental health is inescapably tied to their social engagement, their ambition, their academic performance. Read Zimbardo’s book Man (Dis)connected or Rebecca Asher’s Man Up for sheaths of evidence of how we are failing our boys and young men repeatedly and egregiously on those fronts. It is bad enough that we routinely turn our uninterested gaze away from these issues without government-sanctioned academia striving to actively divert us.

The shorter Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, used properly, is a perfectly valid and useful instrument. It is cheap, rough and ready and a perfectly acceptable instrument for collecting some rough and ready data on the mental health of a given group. To use it as a comparative measure between different groups who are known to approach it differently is questionable, to say the least.

To then use those findings to attempt to influence policy priorities, for instance by stating baldly and without qualification that girls are “significantly more likely than boys to experience poor mental health” is downright irresponsible.    

Comments

  1. Carnation says

    This is very interesting, Ally. A few general thoughts.

    I don’t think this conversation can be had without pointing out that toxic masculinity, or as you once put it, internal misandry, is being inculcated early and in the high pressure environment of a high school, particularly endemic and harshly policed.

    This can surely be addressed – how, exactly, I’m not quite sure.

    Based on my own personal and professional experiences, young males can and do open up in the right circumstances – but their plight needs spotted and discussed with total confidence. Arguably, young females can access a peer group for support in a way that young males dare not. Teachers are probably too detached and not cool enough.

    So who could young males turn to? I’m not too sure – but there’s got to be someone. Maybe older but still fairly young males, probably quite masculine in terms of attitude and appearance but switched on to the importance of addressing and tackling fears and feelings?

    My mind wanders to this article and film; https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/10/the-work-review-folsom-prison

    This isn’t Scared Straight – it’s far more involving than that.

    Radical… But it could work.

  2. Ally Fogg says

    That’s really interesting, Carnation. (All else aside, that film about Folsom looks incredible)

    And I agree with you to an extent but it is only half the picture, I think.

    On the one hand, we have to talk about what we do to make men (and I literally mean ‘make’) into these impermeable emotional cacti and the individualistic factors which contribute both to men’s mental distress and also their difficulties in accessing help.

    At the same time, I think that side of things is reasonably well recognised and widely discussed.

    What I am more interested in (largely because it is less well recognised & less well discussed) is how society and state fails men as they are.

    Totally agree with you that:

    Based on my own personal and professional experiences, young males can and do open up in the right circumstances

    but I am frustrated by the lack of meaningful efforts to identify & create those circumstances. Instead the prevailing attitude seems to be “well if boys aren’t prepared to be more like girls then they’ve got no one to blame but themselves” & I think that approach is particularly cruel & corrosive.

  3. That Guy says

    Yeah, but, why don’t men just stop being such daft men and just tell people about their feelings?

    And they way they have to go make things worse by behaving like Bad Boys, being violent and self destructive, on account of being programmed from a young age to repress and confine their emotions until they burst open like a pressure cooker IED?

    We all know, that Bad Boys are simply Bad, or products of the soft-touch nanny state that won’t give them the caning they desperately need to bring them back in line.

    Boys just need to do the exact opposite of what literally everyone tells them to and talk openly about their feelings. Sure, in the eyes of their peers, they’ll be throwing away any dignity they had, turning themselves into an undesirable nancy boy, or even worse, a homosexual, but really, boys just need to talk about their feelings.

    So to summarise, to the uninitiated, it may look like men’s mental health problems are exacerbated by an environment that promotes the impossible ideal of a stalwart cross between Judge Dredd and Clint Eastwood that suffocates any efforts to self-report or access support structures, but really that’s not the case.

    Really it’s just silly boys who put themselves in this position, and Bad Boys who are trying to abuse the system so that they get given a therapy dog or a safe space instead of thirty lashes and a stint of national service.

    P.S. this study makes me sad.

  4. That Guy says

    Ally you absolute bam you have stolen my thunder by saying what I wanted to say in a much less obtuse way.

    On a related note this is part of the reason Paloma Faith’s new song grates on me.

    It’s something I see frequently by well meaning female feminists, “men just need to open up more, *I* wouldn’t think less of you if you opened up more”.

    This is totally admirable! but totally mis-targeted. you shouldn’t be telling *me* that I’m not less of a man for opening up, or crying, or whatever, you should be telling everyone else.

    I’m sure Paloma Faith, and many prominent feminist commentators (who mostly seem to come from upper middle class backgrounds) wouldn’t care if I cried, or wore a skirt or guyliner or whatever, but I would’t be sure of what my local plumber, the woman who works in the chippy, her off of TOWIE, or my postman would think. And that’s the issue.

  5. Ally Fogg says

    ah, you snooze ya lose mate, you knows the rules.

    Haven’t heard the Paloma Faith single but yes, get your point & largely agree.

    More or less an article of faith for me that pretty much all gender norms & gendered traits have virtually nothing to do with the opposite sex / genders and are everything to do with how we think we hold up against other members of our own sex & gender. So yeah, your girlfriend or whatever saying “well I like you to be like XYZ” is pretty much beside the point.

  6. Paul says

    It’s been established that male victims of dv are far less likely than female victims to seek help.And even when they’ve been seriously injured they’re less likely than females to see themselves as victims.So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that males who’re feeling suicidal and depressed are less likely than females to seek help.And if/when they do the seriousness of their condition is less likely o be detected by healthcare professionals than it is with females..For i do believe our culture is still underpinned by the belief adage that ”only girls and cissies cry”.And that as a society we’re still uncomfortable with the notion of males being vulnerable.

    I do agree that addressing this shouldn’t translate into some sort of competition between the sexes.For taking suicide as an example it’s a fact that whilst males are more likely to succeed in killing themselves females are just as likely as males to attempt to commit suicide.It’s also a fact that NHS mental health services in the UK are grossly underfunded and don’t meet the needs of those with mental health problems irrespective of whether they’re male or female.

  7. says

    @ Ally #3

    You write, “What I am more interested in (largely because it is less well recognised & less well discussed) is how society and state fails men as they are.”

    That’s what I’m very interested in, too. You may recall that in our 2015 general election manifesto (which you attacked) we explored 20 areas where the human rights of men and/or boys are assaulted by the actions and/or inactions of the state, almost always in order to privilege women and girls. Female privileging causes male disadvantaging and suffering. How could it be otherwise?

    Men and boys are ending their own lives because of reactive depression brought on by the state’s actions and inactions e.g. not addressing the 30-year-old education gender gap, denial of access to children after family breakdowns, denial of support to male victims of domestic violence, men treated a great deal more harshly than women in sentencing terms, men’s identities being revealed after claims of sexual offences, some going back half a century, and so much more besides.

    My article on suicide for International Business Times:

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/male-suicide-scandal-uk-men-are-paying-system-that-drives-thousands-them-death-1493340

    It was published shortly before the company ended my short spell as a columnist (they said they’d wanted some ‘balance’ against their two feminist columnists), and replaced me with you. That may have provided some gender balance, but it simply returned the website to its historical feminist ideological monoculture. I am unaware of a single columnist in the mainstream media who regularly and forcefully challenges feminism.

  8. says

    @ Ally #9

    Ad hominem attack, utterly failing to address the points I made. Predictable. Only the last paragraph was about me, and it was made only to point out the utter capitulation of the mainstream media to feminists, such as yourself. You’re on the wrong side of history, Ally, are you smart enough to realize that?

  9. Danuta says

    Ally, you have COMPLETELY and UTTERLY over reacted to Mike Buchanan’s comment,
    and have embarrassed yourself with the lack of respect you have shown to a male who devotes his life
    to raising awareness of the real injustices men and boys face every day, in our own Nation, right underneath our noses.
    If you genuinely believe as you say that ‘…we have to talk about… the individualistic factor’s which contribute… to men’s
    mental distress…’ then that is exactly what Mike Buchanan has done.
    Mike Buchanan and his party ‘Justice for Men and Boys,’ lists in detail the individualistic factors which contribute
    to men’s mental distress in their Manifesto. Their Manifesto is a profound and intense document. I as a female was deeply
    moved and haunted by the many ways that men and boy’s suffer and our disadvantaged in our society, a lot of the time caused by the unfair and ( moving towards extreme privileges) feminists have won for females. Feminism has gone too far. It’s looking more like supremacy than equality. Just take a look at the messages on this past season’s T shirts on sale in a number of shops- ‘The future is Female,’ ‘Girls do it better.’ You don’t have to look very far to see why males are depressed and suffering.
    We live in a society that just doesn’t want to admit the bloody obvious that feminism is causing a lot of harm to our males,until we admit it then male suffering will continue.

  10. Groan says

    I agree that this report is sophistry. If its contention were true then the obvious thing to look at would be the “protective” factors that make boys so much less prone to anxiety and depression. As is the trend with reports on adults, if males are generally in better mental health than women then surely the priority would be to research what gives males much greater mental resilience. In order to replicate that in the female population. Of course this doesn’t happen because no one remotely interested in mental health seriously believes males are so immune to mental distress. Deeply dishonest is putting it politely.

  11. Groan says

    Just picking up on Paul’s point about “opening up”. Here again there is some lapses in logic. As is known women do indeed “open up” more than men and share. However the same lines of research and advice emphasise the much greater proportion of women with anxiety and depression. So it would appear that the favoured behaviour, is certainly not acting as a protective at all. Now of course this is hardly surprising as “sympathetic” sharing is shown to reinforce the negative cycles of thought in anxiety and depression. Thus “sharing” can frequently simply contribute to worsening mental health. The point is that empathy in the listeners needs to be matched by strategies to break cycles of thought. The fascinating thing is that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy essentially “prescribes” combinations of what one might conceive of as “male” responses. Keeping busy, distracting from unhealthy thinking, physical activity, training, shared activities/hobbies. Heresy I know but right out of some of the old text books of responding to “nerves” “shellshock” and the like in men.
    What is clear is that “talking” isn’t the panacea it is presented in popular advice.

  12. Lethe says

    @ Ally Fogg #6

    “More or less an article of faith for me that pretty much all gender norms & gendered traits have virtually nothing to do with the opposite sex / genders and are everything to do with how we think we hold up against other members of our own sex & gender.”

    I think it would be foolish to deny that gender norms are created, sustained and enforced in significant part through a process of self-policing as you describe. However, it seems equally implausible to claim that women play little to no role in creating, sustaining and enforcing gender norms for men, or that men play little to no role in creating, sustaining and enforcing gender norms for women. Do you have any evidence to support this rather extraordinary assertion?

  13. Ally Fogg says

    Lethe – I’ll confess I was using a broad brush for dramatic effect, and I used the words “article of faith” because it is a claim that is literally unproveable, either way.

    But if you want a more moderately phrased version of the same thing, I would argue that overwhelming bulk of gender conditioning and gender policing is performed among people of the same gender. When men worry about being inadequately masculine that is overwhelmingly about what (they perceive) other men think and say about them, not women. When women worry about being inadequately feminine (whether that is in terms of being the right kind of good mother or wearing the right clothes or being skinny enough or whatever) it is almost entirely about adequately impressing other women, not men.

    Now of course we live in a plural society where men & women closely interact & share culture and all the rest, so of course all of this is not entirely the complete story, but as a description of the everyday mechanisms of hegemonic gender, I think the above gets pretty close.

  14. Carnation says

    @ Paul

    “For i do believe our culture is still underpinned by the belief adage that ”only girls and cissies cry”.And that as a society we’re still uncomfortable with the notion of males being vulnerable.”

    Very genuine question and asked in good faith – how do you feel about men being vulnerable around you? How do you react to a man crying, for example?

    Same question to Ally?

    I find it extremely difficult and challenging – I know it’s wrong, but I still do. It hits a raw nerve somewhere that I’ve spent a long time trying to soothe.

    Society in general, and men in particular, understand male anger far more than male vulnerability or emotionality.

    I think this is basically why prisons and the streets are predominantly populated by men.

  15. Ally Fogg says

    Groan (and Paul)

    I think there are a few things here that are easily mixed up and conflated.

    > How do we (men, human beings etc) develop strong, everyday mental health & emotional resilience, and what are the risk factors for someone becoming mentally ill?

    > How do we prevent unhappiness, loneliness, stress etc from becoming unmanageable and crossing the line into mental illness?

    > When someone is mentally ill, what kinds of help will bring them back & help them get better?

    > When someone is in the depths of despair, what kind of help & support will prevent them from taking their own lives or doing something similarly desperate?

    At the same time, there are several different social and/or clinical interventions that look quite similar but may not all be the same thing:

    > Being surrounded by supportive, friendly & loving company
    > Having someone to whom we can ‘offload’ when we’re in emotional crisis
    > Having someone who is good at giving us advice, guidance or practical help
    Etc etc etc.

    Those questions are not all the same for different individuals, nor are the necessary answers.

    So (I think this is kind of what you were getting at) I would quite agree with those who say that the solutions to all of men’s mental issues are not just ‘opening up’ and ‘sharing’ and all of that. Sometimes can be true, but often not. However there are ways of accessing essential social support that aren’t necessarily about that. I think the success of the Men’s Shed movement is a good example of that. Men don’t necessarily need to be sitting in a circle talking about their deepest fears in order to be helping each other. Fixing a bike together might be all it takes.

  16. Ally Fogg says

    Carnation (16)

    Same. I still find it very awkward & difficult, and that is quite revealing, I agree.

  17. Groan says

    More than just boys and men , I do think we fall into a trap with women and girls, presuming that the various behaviours that are popularly supposed to be protective are so. Yet the broadly the evidence appears to be the reverse for anxiety and less acute depressive illness. For if the behaviours supposed to be protective or therapeutic are far more common in women, how is it that the incidence and prevalence are so much higher? For instance as you mention the “men’s shed” movement, perhaps the positives of working “alongside” might equally benefit women? I don’t have answers but I do think things don’t “add up” and far too many presumptions are made on flimsy or weak evidence. It is perhaps the old problem of trying to sort out what being well is from only looking at illness.

  18. redpesto says

    Groan @ #19:

    For instance as you mention the “men’s shed” movement, perhaps the positives of working “alongside” might equally benefit women?

    That’s the opposite to the mistake made when the first men’s sheds were set up, where the assumption was that the men wanted to work face-to-face (i.e. ‘like women’).

  19. lucythoughts says

    I just have a couple of personal observations. Firstly, when we talk about men’s mental health it always comes up that men need to open up and share (like women), or are being prevented by the constraints of their gender roles from opening up and sharing. I am sure this is true, but the problem for me is that it frames this behaviour as if it they were making a choice to conceal their feelings and not seek help when they need it. I think this seriously overestimates how consciously aware of their own mental state most people, and men in particular, actually are. To “share” you’re feelings with others you have to have a fairly good understanding of what you are feeling and why. People don’t talk about problems they don’t understand they have got; they don’t share feelings they don’t recognise, or which come and go apparently out of the blue for no reason; they don’t go to see their doctor if they don’t realise they are ill. The Mum’s of these boys answering the questionnaire may well be seeing something which the boys themselves are not actively hiding “so as not to appear vulnerable”, but are unaware of themselves.

    Ally, you mention that, typically, men externalise their symptoms of depression into aggression, substance abuse etc. Agreed. I would also say that they often externalise their attribution of the causes. So, for example they will say “my job sucks,” but what they won’t say is “I am not coping with the stress at work.” If you see the problem as external to yourself, you are likely to demand that the solution has to be external as well. It is the job that has something wrong with it; therefore it is the job that needs to change its behaviour for things to get better. You are just reacting reasonably to unreasonable external conditions. I don’t say this is the whole story, but for some men I think this is a big factor in why they don’t look for help or support, and often won’t accept that they need it even when it is offered. Even when the people who love them can see that they are in a terrible state, they themselves may be the hardest people to convince.

    Groan has made the comment that he doesn’t think all this sharing is necessarily making women’s mental health any better. That may often be true, but if it doesn’t actually make them any better it may serve another purpose because it is part of a process of self-analysis that probably makes them more alert to their own mental condition. It may be why, when faced with a questionnaire, they are more able to say, “yes, I am anxious a lot, I do feel overwhelmed, I am not coping well.” Ultimately it may make them more likely to seek help when things tip into dangerous territory.

  20. Marduk says

    22.
    I think this is correct, as I have lamented in the context of Agony Aunt columns, men will often be condemned for the same actions women are sympathised with on the basis of how they have articulated their often all but identical problems. He “pressures for sex and sulks” (gets told there is more to marriage than getting his end away and is regarded as a borderline sex criminal), she “firmly requests intimacy and withdraws when her needs aren’t met” (everyone agrees you can’t have a marriage with intimacy, how terrible for her) etc. Its not pure double standards, its in the articulation also. If nothing else its obvious that most men who write in haven’t even come across relationship problems outside their own immediate experience and probably have never actually read the column before writing to it.

    In many areas of life men are rank amateurs expected to play emotional tennis with Olympians. I wonder how much is differential expression and how much is the frustration that follows anyone playing a game they aren’t good at (smashing their racket?).

    I agree with Ally’s observations about the use of data, I had to laugh a bit at the Guardian letters page in response to their coverage despite the seriousness of the issue. The column should have been titled “These Findings Demonstrate My Hobbyhorse Is Really Important” as DV charities linked it to violence, anti-porn campaigners linked it to porn, educational charities linked it to schooling, nutrition charities linked it to food, training charities linked it to training opportunities and on and on. There was a point where I wondered if the Worshipful Company of Braziers were going to link it to the decline in welding as a vocation. While i’m sure the intentions were good and convictions deeply held in each case, seeing it there all in one place presented the grim spectacle of a feeding frenzy. Which is the other problem with reports like this, once the blunder has been made they are very hard to unwind because of the instrumental purpose that is served.

  21. Amalec says

    @Ally 15
    [quote] I would argue that overwhelming bulk of gender conditioning and gender policing is performed among people of the same gender [/quote]

    I consider myself strongly feminist, but I would argue that bulk of gender conditioning is actually done by women. Most of our attitudes towards gender are set at a very early age, and the simple fact is that vast majority of child rearing is left to women. It is, by and large, women telling their sons to get back on their bike and try again after they’ve fallen off and skinned their knees and women dressing their daughters in pretty pink dresses and warning them not to get dirty. They’re the ones at home raising them, after all.

    Female influence continues well into adolescence. A teenage boy’s actions are largely driven by the search for approval or attention (positive or negative..) from their female peers. A teenage girl’s actions are hugely influenced by the threat of judgement or ostracism from those same peers. Most of a child’s authority figures, from daycare workers to teachers, will be women.

    Feminists have long lamented that child care and education is hugely undervalued. They argue it’s the most of aspect of shaping our future generations, yet does not come with the prestige/status/compensation/etc. it deserves because it is seen as ‘women’s work’. They’re right on both counts. Part of becoming aware of the value child care and education provides is being aware of just how much of our society is shaped by it.

  22. Ally Fogg says

    Amalec

    Most of our attitudes towards gender are set at a very early age, and the simple fact is that vast majority of child rearing is left to women. It is, by and large, women telling their sons to get back on their bike and try again after they’ve fallen off and skinned their knees

    I’d agree with that, more or less.

    A teenage boy’s actions are largely driven by the search for approval or attention (positive or negative..) from their female peers.

    I’d strongly disagree with that. In my experience, teenage boys would like the approval or attention of their female peers, but by and large they know themselves they are clueless as to what they need to do to get that, whereas they are highly sensitive to what they can do to win the approval and respect of their male peers, and are constantly adapting their behaviour in pursuit of that. They are not constantly adapting their behaviour in pursuit of girls’ approval.

  23. That Guy says

    I have much love for this thread, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from reading it.

    Ultimately I think Carnation and LucyThoughts are on the money here- Men being able to discuss their feelings is more of a jack-in the box rather than a proper goal-

    I’d say that the goal is being able to introspect, it is really, really hard to talk about how or why you feel the way you do when you’ve had a lifetime of more or less ignoring that sort of thing. It’s like being asked to identify and describe different sorts of radio static. The frog and pot of water comes to mind- If you haven’t got that sort of self-awareness, the first you realise when anything is wrong, is when you’re in really, really deep shit.

    tl:dr, I’d say that there’s a significant difference in methods to catch and diagnose mental wellness amongst men (introspection, acceptance of vulnerability), and methods to improve mental health among those already suffering (men’s shed, CALM, etc)

    P.S. @Amalec: I think you vastly overestimate how much teenage boys understand teenage girls. When I was younger, I literally did not understand girls (in a romantic/sexual sense).

  24. Amalec says

    @Ally / That Guy

    To be fair, I said that teenage boys are driven by a search for attention and approval from teenage girls, not that they were particularly successful at getting approval or positive attention or had any understanding of teenage girls. But I’m still basing my assumptions on my own experiences, which it seems are different from those of yourself and Ally. Probably the real answer is that it’s both generational and geographical and I should not have made such a general statement.

    In any case I’d stick to my main point which is nearly universal in Western society: Since the vast majority of primary parents, caregivers and authority figures until throughout a person’s childhood and teenage years are women, the vast majority of gender conditioning is done by women.

  25. That Guy says

    @ Amalec

    I get what you’re saying, but I still disagree. Regardless of who does the care giving I think (particularly in teenage years) male behavior is modelled on male role models, whether the role model is yer da, a male teacher, Wayne Rooney, or some terrible internet misogynist is another matter. For Teens, it’s particularly salient as this is the point when people tend to really make a point of forming their own identities, which can often be very distinct from that of their guardians.

    That’s not to say that female guardians don’t have a role, but its far from the only relevant one, IMO.

  26. Ally Fogg says

    Yeah, I agree ThatGuy.

    Generally I think people overestimate the influence of the immediate caregiver in socialising values etc & underestimate the influence of the broader culture – TV & media in particular but also peers at school, teachers etc etc etc.

    It’s why well-meaning parents can still raise girls to eschew pink princesses or boys with toy guns then get confused & frustrated when within about 10 minutes of starting nursery they are aping the behaviour of all the other kids around them.

  27. 123454321 says

    Meanwhile, as the local village fuckwits congregate around a dim streetlamp discussing the prosperity downfall of men and boys, pontificating expressively that they haven’t a fucking clue why males keeping topping themselves, Mike Buchanan politely points them towards the big fuck off limelight down the street – you know, the one powered by a gravy train of feminist friendly Government funding, the one that illuminates entire cities, providing a brighter future for women and girls whilst completely fucking ignoring issues that affect men and boys and pushing them closer and closer to the dim streetlamp at the other end of the road.

  28. mostlymarvelous says

    lucythoughts

    People don’t talk about problems they don’t understand they have got; they don’t share feelings they don’t recognise, or which come and go apparently out of the blue for no reason;

    You can’t speak about topics you don’t even know the words for. If you’ve never heard anyone talk about that stuff, let alone anyone you recognise as being like you (or worth your attention) you can’t even get started on the thinking before speaking.

    In Australia, beyondblue does some good advertising from time to time – especially that directed mainly at men and boys. There’s even a beyondblue Cup! https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/media-releases/media-releases/afl-beyondblue-cup-makes-mental-health-the-game-changer In the last few years it’s become not exactly commonplace, but certainly acceptable, for footballers – all codes, not just AFL – to be granted the same kind of time off and general sympathy and support from commentators, fans and the general public when they are dealing with mental health problems as when they suffer on-field injuries.

    (It’s not all wonderful. Two or three of the most public instances were driven by foul racism, mostly but not all from crowds, directed at a few indigenous or other not-white-enough players who, unsurprisingly, eventually cracked after repeated bouts of this kind of nastiness.)

  29. WineEM says

    It’s a fair point about these methods being used to marginalise and ignore male suffering, but what I fail to understand is why this gynocentric culture seems to be adopted by pretty much everyone in positions of power and influence at the upper echelons of society (and especially so in the media) all across the board.

    I tend to follow gender politics fairly closely and regularly (saddo that I am), and I’ve never really heard anyone give a coherent account as to why this is going on.

    People on the left, traditionally, will generally say ‘oh, it’s because of the patriarchy’, and a tendency towards masculine pride, and these are the things which have need to dismiss the possibility of male suffering, and yet we have seen this is not the case: in fact it’s been ‘progressive’ politicians on the left, i.e. Caroline Lucas, Phillips, etc who have tried to step in to stop male gender inequalities being explored.

    Moreoever, we’ve had currents within capitalism which have, in advertising (and therefore we can say in the culture generally), actively celebrated – and indeed revelled in – male economic and social disempowerment, whilst simultaneously applauding women’s relative economic and social empowerment.

    This advert by Barclays I’ve cited before as being a very good example of this trend:-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWO0n7ypPiY

    Now, when I’ve asked lefty progressive types how this can happen, with their model of ‘patriarchal capitalism’ (that women are being put on a pedestal while young men are being put down), I’ve been told, oh well, capitalism is an amoral force, therefore there’s nothing to exclude the possibility of this kind of thing being produced.

    But that still doesn’t explain why this cultural phenomenon has arisen and what the forces are behind it.

    And, I’m afraid, that MHRA’s model of gynocentrism offers a far better explanation of these matters, in truth, especially when Fawcett and Guardian feminist join in with this trends of braying and celebrating male socio-economic marginalisation, than the progressive’s model of capitalism and ‘patriarchy’.

    So this is the thing, really: for me, good writing and good journalism, at its best, tries to seek the truth, and to describe this as accurately as possible. This is far better, surely, than starting out with these thoroughly idiotic models such as those of ‘masculine entitlement’ and ‘masculine privilege,’ and forcing these models onto social problems in order to explain them, regardless of the actual truths behind what’s been going on, or how well the said models fit what’s been happening the first place.

  30. mostlymarvelous says

    the progressive’s model of capitalism and ‘patriarchy’.

    My own feeling on this is probably similar to Ally’s. Capitalism and its proponents are perfectly happy to see the worries and ills of unemployed and otherwise disenfranchised men attributed to feminism. It lets them off the hook for suppressing wages, extracting the teeth of the unions and destroying jobs left, right and centre and, especially, minimising the opportunities for satisfying full-time work other than the well-paid jobs of the management classes. Everyone else can scramble and scrap over the few hours of casual work they just might get – but only if they toe the employer’s very tough line.

    I rather suspect that feminists have too often allowed themselves to be sidelined to the gender wars rather than holding firm to the stronger union and jobs focus the movement started out with in the 70s. Their arguments about patriarchy and its effects on women’s working and personal lives are, by and large, valid. But it very much suits those who benefit most from the rapacious uber-capitalism of the last few decades to keep women and men battling each other rather than standing shoulder to shoulder. There’s a real full-blooded class war being waged against all of them, the principal cause of the problems both men and women face.

    Men and women alike would do well to keep their eye on that very carefully camouflaged ball rather than letting themselves be distracted from the people and the institutions who are doing the most and the worst to make their lives harder.

  31. WineEM says

    @34. Yes, but it’s possible that it’s not a question of either capitalism or feminism causing these problems, but from what I’ve seen (and also hinted at in 33.) is that it’s seems to be a combination of modern capitalism and feminism combined.
    Yes, young men have been damaged by the red in tooth and claw nature of modern capitalism, but this is then further compounded by powerful feminists like Lucas and Phillips wanting to deny a chance to examine and evaluate their specific gendered problems on the select committee especially created to explore inequalities related to race and gender. Similarly, I’ve seen high profile feminists like Jane Garvey and her feminist mates on Twitter sneer at Tory backbenchers when they’ve tried to raise issue of male discrimination using their public platform. That is some nerve, from someone whose radio programme has a near monopoly on hosting discussions of gender politics in public life.

    Indeed, it might be said that feminism and capitalism society (and government of course) are dancing a merry dance to the detriment of young men’s life chances: positive discrimination schemes; media concern almost exclusively focussed only on female problems (not by chance, but deliberately and in a wholly calculated fashion); government committees and enquiries lead by feminists only into women’s difficulties,and so on and so forth.
    If some powerful feminists, either in the media or in politics spoke out against any of this, I think I’d probably have more sympathy for the above argument.

  32. That Guy says

    Wine, you tell some good jokes. I like how your example of “male social disempowerment” was an ad run by a bank, that featured the camera slowly zooming in on the bemused face of a would-be sexual predator.

    I mean, it’s really funny to joke about how a man no longer having forced social interaction with an unwilling woman, especially one purposefully picked to resemble a sneezy Simon Pegg, is considered social disempowerment by some nutty MRA’s.

    I had a good belly-laugh at your parody of the Tory Defence Force jumping of the perceived slights by women against the party that is largely responsible for the economic shit pit that creates the vacuum of opportunities for working class men. I mean really, who would genuinely think that the tories are on the side of anyone working class, be they men or not?

    I really like this comedy persona you’ve adopted and I’m looking forward to seeing him in future posts.

  33. WineEM says

    @36 ‘bemused face of a would-be sexual predator.’

    Ok, I will confess I’m not quite familiar with this particular vein of thinking (I presume it’s posssibly an American thing?) Is it perhaps a meme within social justice thought that having romantic (nowhere is it suggested, sexual) notions towards a woman based upon her beauty amounts to ‘sexual predation’?

    As for this:

    ‘I had a good belly-laugh at your parody of the Tory Defence Force jumping of the perceived slights by women against the party that is largely responsible for the economic shit pit that creates the vacuum of opportunities for working class men. I mean really, who would genuinely think that the tories are on the side of anyone working class, be they men or not?’

    I’m not quite sure I recognise the syntax as English (‘jumping of’, what on earth does that mean?!)

    But anyway, if you are familiar with British politics, you will be in a position to differentiate between the Tory backbenches and the Tory leadership (the latter often self-describing as ‘progressive’, constantly banging on about gender parity and the ‘gender pay gap’ etc.) Backbenchers, on both sides of the house, who hold ideas in favour of men’s equality have always been quite clear that they never expect to become members of the executive, due to their ‘non-PC’ beliefs. It’s quite irrelevant, all in all, to official government practice, as decided by ministers.

  34. That Guy says

    @37

    Do you read the Viz? someone linked me a comic of a character called “Major Misunderstanding” about a pompous imperial retiree whom often mis-interprets situations as some gross affront to his backwards looking ideology and empire-worship.

    I’m only asking as your character has a very similar bent to that of the above, and I am curious to what your inspiration to this elaborate trolling attempt is, it really is quite clever.

    How did you come across the idea of using policing of language and opinion as a signifier for nationality (and implicitly, intelligence)? It’s elegant the way that it confers the sheltered and privileged life of the character, at the same time delivering a xenophobic bent- as they say, “those who can only speak english are by far the harshest in policing it!”. It really is a case of ‘show, don’t tell’ characterisation I admire.

    Do you have a blog or something? (CW/TW, homophobia, transphobia) I’d like to contribute, I’m working on a character called “Keen Timmy”, he’s a white blogger who’s a member of the local young conservatives- his stick is that he tries to adopt marginal identities feeling that it might lend a veneer of protection against whatever political criticisms his way, but ultimately he comes off as being much more offensive than otherwise. I was thinking that in the first post he could talk about how he’s totally not a homophobe because he’s bisexual (but never dated or gone further with another man) and how he thinks that the local gay scene has led to an increase in child molesters, but being bi, he’s ‘allowed’ to say it, and posts screenshots of his extensive transgender pornography collection to justify himself, the titles of each work more lurid and derogatory than the last (black trannies get what’s coming to them, revenge on the shemales, etc).
    Would that work with you? do you have any tips on how to develop this character? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    My only concern about your posts, is that the punchline is too subtle, maybe you could amp it up? I was thinking about your custom avatar- maybe you could get someone to photoshop a rees-mogg haircut onto a pile of £100 notes? or maybe a union jack bowler hat or something. I’m just concerned that other less insightful visitors might think you’re being sincere! how weird would that be?

  35. WineEM says

    LOL, sorry, ThatGuy, think you’ll have to direct that post to the Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Society, as I’ve no admiration for or interest in him at all. Don’t even think he’s even spoken out on any matters of men’s equality AFAIK. I heard he’s expressed views on abortion, but that’s more to do with the rights of the mother and the unborn child, I reckon, not men’s equality. (Though I know some MRA’s would disagree on that one).

  36. replicant2589 says

    In short, if you want to know whether a 14-year-old boy is depressed, don’t ask him how often in the last month he has sat around feeling unhappy. Ask him how often he has chosen to sit in his room playing video games rather than seeing his friends and you are likely to get a very different answer. Ask him how often he has smoked weed on his own. Ask him how often he has wanted to punch someone – or did – or found himself smashing up some inanimate object.

    The truth is you will get a better measure of boys’ mental health from asking how much harm they have done to others than to themselves.

    When I was 12 we moved from a large urban centre to a small city. My first year at school there I was bullied on an almost daily basis. Physical violence, or threat thereof, was a major component of this “experience.” Being a rather naive child I took those “when someone picks on you, turn the other cheek” sermons to heart and attempted to ignore my tormentors. It was not a successful strategy. So I remained passive and did what I could to avoid being pummeled and harassed.This was not a very successful strategy either so I retreated into myself and lived in books and music for most of that year.

    I did not tell my parents what was happening because they were dysfunctional and not approachable with such matters. I did not feel depressed but had an attitude of numb acceptance. Teachers and school staff knew what was going on but I got no sympathy or advice from them. Quite the opposite in fact, with two teachers openly ridiculing me.

    The bullying gradually stopped after an older boy took pity on me and taught me how to fight back and defend myself. Hurting my tormentors stopped them from hurting me.

    Were they all depressed? I don’t know, but I doubt it. They were just boys doing what boys of that age do to a peer they have marked as an outsider and a weakling. Bloodying their noses and knocking the wind out of them made me feel a whole lot bettter though and I will always remember the kid who helped me out without demanding anything in return.

    While it is likely true that some, or even many, depressed boys harm others as a kind of coping mechanism I think social isolation and a reluctance to talk about their situation is more reliable guide than looking at incidence of physical violence.

    The idea that all males react to negative emotions by beating on somebody is itself a stereotype that needs to be addressed. The gendered strait jacket heterosexual males must wear if they want to mate successfully and gain the respect of their peers is aw massive isssue. While feminism has radically changed what is “acceptable” behaviour for a female gendered person, no such broadening has happened on the male end of the spectrum.

  37. That Guy says

    @40 Replicant;

    I’m really sorry to hear about that, and I truly sympathise- I think maybe there’s some wires crossed though.

    I’d say that targeted bullying- (while perhaps motivated in some respects by masculinity’s need to show physical strength and dominance- blah blah blah) is a different thing than what’s described here.

    Bullying has a conceivable motivation, be it trying to fit in, bigotry, or simple entertainment. Turns out that a lot of people, including children, are fucking horrible human beings.

    HOWEVER- the rage being described here, is directionless. It’s just a feeling of being so pointlessly fucking mad at really nothing in particular, that you get madder because you can’t do anything about it. It’s the kind of anger or violence that gets holes kicked in walls, or fights picked with total strangers on a seemingly random basis. Unlike bullying, there isn’t any delight, or entertainment had from these actions- it’s really just total self destruction.

    That’s my reading/experience at least. I hope that you realise that nobody was trying to minimise your experiences or suffering.

  38. Paul says

    I’ve no time for people like Phillip Davies.But he does make a valid point when he says that the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee should be simply called The Equalities Committee.For its current name shows a clear bias in favour of addressing issues facing women .And in the following clip Caroline Lucas does herself no favours when she in effect admits that issues affecting women should take priority in the Committee rather than those which affect men.

    Surely issues such as the one under discussion on this thread should be deemed important enough for discussion by the Women And Equalities Committee without in any way detracting from issues that disproportionately affect women.It’s not a competition ffs.

    Contrary to what some feminists have been saying it’s actually the sick and disabled of both sexes who’re bearing the brunt of austerity and the welfare reforms.For they make up 8% of the population but are being hit by 29% of the cuts.So i was genuinely appalled to hear Caroline Lucas talk about the work the Women and Equalities Committee is doing on Women and Disabilities completely ignoring the plight of disabled men and their families and carers.And it kind of proved Davies point that this committee is sexist insofar as it discriminates against men..And whilst i agree with Lucas that Davies has no useful contribution to make in ANY Equalities Committee i’d have been interested in her views on committee member Maria Millar who was Disability Minister during the Coalition Government and who actively played a part in kicking the sick and disabled in the teeth.For using the same criteria Lucas used to question Davies’s suitability i’d argue Millar is just as unsuitable.

    I’ve no problem with a Women And Equalities Political Party but i think any parliamentary committee addressing inequalities should be gender neutral.

  39. Paul says

    ps not sure gender neutral is the right term given some issues clearly affect one sex more than the other.However whilst more committee time is likely to be on issues which disproportionately affect women given women suffer greater levels of inequality than men the inequalities which disproportionately affect men should be treated as being equally deserving of attention.

  40. Carnation says

    @ Ally

    Late to the party, but just a random thought…

    “Men don’t necessarily need to be sitting in a circle talking about their deepest fears in order to be helping each other. Fixing a bike together might be all it takes.”

    Whilst not exactly fixing a bike, I wonder if the male-bonding-over-16-pints-and-a-few-grams-of-ching is basically an attempt at the same outcome, sometimes, but unfortunately with dire long-term consequences.

  41. mostlymarvelous says

    I wonder if the male-bonding-over-16-pints-and-a-few-grams-of-ching is basically an attempt at the same outcome, sometimes, but unfortunately with dire long-term consequences.

    I think this is the point where the Men’s Shed movement – or something like it – steps in. Their motto Shoulder to Shoulder is a pretty good indicator of how they work. The only long term consequence here is in the amount of money raised for charities and/or the number of hand-made children’s toys given away.

  42. WineEM says

    @42. Funnily enough, Paul, I agree with you in many respects with regards to Davies’s politics, which in many regards are the absolute opposite of mine. It’s a bit bizarre, really, in that most of his political positions I would completely reject (I don’t like his free-market radicalism and a hang-em-and-flog ’em approach towards law and order, etc.), but when he talks about creating genuine, honest egalitarianism in policy between men and women then he completely has my support and sympathy in that specific endeavour.( And to be fair, when he debates that stuff, often he does make a distinction between his own right-wing leanings and the general principle of equality, and makes the point, quite fairly, I think, that the two ideas can be discussed distinctly and on separate occasions as different debates.)

  43. voidwalker says

    Another is that boys are failing to own up to their own depressive symptoms when even their mothers can see what is going on.

    What a wonderfully gendered way of putting this. Do you think that if we were speaking of girls seemingly underrepresenting their own suffering that we would use the language of dereliction from duty and responsibility to describe this deficiency or do you believe that we would be asking who other than the girls are responsible for suppressing them?

    IT IS NOT A COMPETITION.

    But it is a competition. We live in a finite world with finite resources. Empathy, of the useful kind that actually gets money out of wallets and boots on the ground, is a limited resource. Why is it that when men start asking for their due we pretend that this isn’t the case?

    Because resources for men would have to come from somewhere, and presently there’s only one place that this can come from: resources for women. Either men fight over the pie that exists, or men will have to fight women over where new resources will be allocated. If men don’t fight over them, they will keep going to women again and again and again. And I think that’s the goal of this disarming rhetoric. To ensure that men never, ever, get anything.

  44. voidwalker says

    Do you think that if we were speaking of girls seemingly underrepresenting their own suffering that we would use the language of dereliction from duty and responsibility to describe this deficiency or do you believe that we would be asking who other than the girls are responsible for suppressing them?

    Could it be that this precise reaction is indicative of the reason that boys might choose to underrepresent their suffering?

  45. Carnation says

    Has anyone else noticed the #SOSManDown?

    I thought it seemed very positive, then realised that the clowns at F4J were involved, and it was an attention seeking way to spout nonsense about “fatherless” homes and “8 times more” money being spent on female than male health.

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