IF MEN could just learn to show some affection, share emotions and hug each other more they could literally save themselves a lot of heartache, researchers say.
The tough, fearless and self-reliant self-image of Western men is holding them back from showing love, leaving them more vulnerable to addiction and disease such as heart problems, according to a study presented yesterday at the International Congress on Applied Psychology.
Dr Ryan McKelley from the University of Wisconsin said men needed to become more emotional, open up and not be afraid to be vulnerable with each other, and that they would reap the benefits in better health...
Closer male-to-male relationships could be the key to changing the manly image that stops men from feeling like they can reach out for help, the study showed.
But men's health expert Kerry Cronan said that most men in our culture are afraid of being emotionally close - or platonically intimate - with other men.
"In many cultures, touch does not signify the same taboo attitudes as it does in Western societies," Mr Cronan said. "Outside of the sporting field or a drunken night out, men in our culture are generally afraid of any form of affection or closeness with each other."
I'm sceptical of such advice. It seems to me that men need more than ever to be emotionally strong in order to succeed at work and at home.
So I decided to do a little internet digging on Dr Ryan McKelley and Kerry Cronan. Is there something about these men that might lead them to be biased against masculinity?
I decided to begin with Kerry Cronan. When someone tells you to overcome the taboo against touching other men, then it's right to have suspicions about their motivations. In short, I suspected that Kerry Cronan might be a gay activist of some sort.
What did I find? It turns out that Kerry Cronan is both a psychologist and a priest (though he doesn't seem to be attached to any parish). In 2002 he was investigated by the Health Practitioners Tribunal in Queensland for touching the genital area of one of his male patients:
in Queensland, a priest working as a registered psychologist is facing disciplinary action after massaging a patient - a fellow priest - behind his genitals. Kerry Richard Cronan applied the pressure point technique in the Maryborough presbytery as part of "body work" therapy on a priest who sought his professional help as a counsellor...
Fr Cronan provided the Health Practitioners Tribunal of Queensland with literature stating that massaging the perineum region was good for menstrual and genital conditions, constipation and insanity.
But the tribunal said there was no scientific data to support this - a fact Fr Cronan failed to tell the complainant.
The Age told its readers that Kerry Cronan was a "men's health expert". It didn't tell them that he had been investigated for the inappropriate touching of male patients. That would have cast a different light on Kerry Cronan's advice to men about getting touchy-feely with other men.
And what of Dr Ryan McKelley? His story is different. He seems to be a regular family guy who publishes his academic research in psychology journals. But I think there is a case for bias in his advice as well on four grounds.
a) Touting for business
What is one of Dr McKelley's key research areas? It's the thesis that traditional masculinity makes men less likely to engage the services of psychologists like himself.
Therefore, he has a possible motivation of self-interest in attacking traditional masculinity, as he anticipates that this would increase the number of clients for the psychology profession.
b) Academic influence
Psychology, just like other academic disciplines, is heavily influenced by the liberal orthodoxy on campus. When you browse through the kind of research being published, you get the usual liberal themes, including an assumption that masculinity is a restrictive social construct to be overcome.
Dr McKelley himself uses terms such as "traditional masculinity ideology" and "restrictive gender role norms" when referring to traditional masculinity.
If you assume that masculinity is "restrictive" (because it is not self-determined) and an "ideology" (because it is assumed to be a social construct) you're unlikely to write positively about it.
c) Defining masculinity
And how do researchers like Dr McKelley define masculinity? I discovered they use something called the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI). But this is a crude measure of masculinity, one that makes being ultra macho the measure of masculinity.
The twelve norms of masculinity are taken to be: Winning, Emotional Control, Risk-Taking, Violence, Dominance, Playboy, Self-Reliance, Primacy of Work, Power Over Women, Disdain for Homosexuals, Physical Toughness, and Pursuit of Status.
It's not that these aren't related to masculinity. But the way you get to be rated as "more masculine" is dubious. For instance, when it comes to violence you are considered the most traditionally masculine if you agree with the statement "I am always the first to start a fight". Similarly, you get rated as more masculine on the playboy scale if you agree with the statement that "Emotional involvement should be avoided when having sex."
And how did being a playboy get to be on the inventory of masculine norms? That in itself is an interesting story. The academic who established the inventory (James Mahalik) justified it on the grounds of research presented in one book. But when one sceptic checked out the book he discovered that its author had actually presented four roles that expressed masculine ways of loving: breadwinner, faithful husband, nurturer and playboy. Only 1% of men had described their dominant role as that of playboy. And yet it was the playboy role that made it onto the list of masculine norms.
The categories chosen were then refined by focus groups chosen by James Mahalik. But another odd thing happened with the focus groups. According to Mahalik the masculine norms dominating all men in the US were those of upper- and middle-class white men. But who was in the focus groups? Of nine participants only three were white males! The majority of participants were young female graduate students - and those who have been at uni will know that such women are the most heavily indoctrinated into feminist theories about men.
So it was not even the views of middle- and upper-class white men which were used to refine ideas about the gender norms of such men. It was mostly young graduate women.
So, again, the definition of masculinity being used by Dr McKelley isn't to be taken as the scientific last word on the subject.
Finally, if you read the most recent research of Dr McKelley the results are not as straightforward as presented in the Age article. Dr McKelley expected to find that those rated as most traditionally masculine would be less likely to seek help when confronted with a problem - but that wasn't borne out by his research. He did find partial support for the view that those rated as most traditionally masculine attached more stigma to going to counselling than other men.
In other words, even when using a crude measure of masculinity based on extreme A-type personality traits, Dr McKelley's research didn't find any strong differences between men rated as "traditionally masculine" and those rated as less traditionally masculine.
Furthermore McKelley stressed in his paper how new and uncertain the research is and how much it is still lacking in a conceptual framework.
And yet you'd think there were no doubts at all about the research when reading the article in The Age.
There's an increasing amount of academic research now on the topic of masculinity. A lot of it is going to present masculinity as something negative, restrictive and artificial that men must cast aside for the sake of themselves, women and society.
What men need to be aware of is the bias behind such research, especially the political bias. The research will be presented to the public in a straightforward way as the neutral scientific findings of experts. But it only takes a little research to discover just how sceptical we should be of such claims.