A New Psychology of Men

By Farrell, Michael P. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 1997 | Go to article overview

A New Psychology of Men


Farrell, Michael P., Journal of Marriage and Family


A New Psychology of Men. Ronald F. Levant & William S. Pollack (Eds.). New York: Basic Books. 1995. 402 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-46508656-X. $40.00.

There was a time when male psychology was seen as the model of health, and female psychology was seen as pathological. Assertive, active masculinity was contrasted with passive, dependent femininity. But those days are gone. As Pollack (1995) states, "The monuments built of men, by men, and for men are tumbling.... Even their virtues are suspected as vices." Although the pace of change is slow, men's roles at home and at work are being redefined, and the psychology of men-how they develop and how they function psychologically as adults-is also changing.

Perhaps the rate of change in men's roles crossed a threshold in the 1990s, triggering a surge of new interest in men's needs, their responsibilities, and the roles they have entered in post-industrial, post-feminist, post-modern America. For example, the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, DC, brought attention to African American men, along with a public debate about their roles in families, the economy, and the community. Several national conferences have made fatherhood the central focus for the year. National debates have centered on the responsibilities of single and divorced fathers, as well as the rights of gay men. Robert Bly's Men's Movement continues to attract new warriors, despite the attacks by critics. On many fronts, men and women are actively redefining what it means to be male.

To understand the changes in men and to become current with some of the most solid research programs aimed at both the old style masculinity and the emerging new psychology of men, Levant and Pollack's edited volume is essential reading. It is a readable collection of theoretical papers on male development and psychological functioning, reviews of research on men, clinical approaches to men's changing roles, as well as analyses of the diverse developmental experiences of minority males. The papers present a refreshing social-scientific approach to men's roles, without the ideological cliches of either radical feminists or neo-masculinists.

The chapters document a 15-year program of theory development, research, and applications spawned by Joseph Pleck's (1981) gender rolestrain paradigm. Pleck's theory was one of the earliest attempts to integrate the emerging critical views of traditional male roles, and it laid the groundwork for the social constructionist perspectives on gender roles that emerged in the 1980s. He argued that the traditional ideals of masculinity-which include the demands for achievement, aggressiveness, toughness, sexual prowess, and psychological autonomy-were bad for men's health. First, the standards were inconsistent with human needs and were so unachievable that many men felt they never lived up to them. Second, in trying to live up to the self-destructive standards, many boys and young men went through traumatizing experiences that damaged them psychologically.

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