MASCUPATHY by Charlie Donaldson and Randy Flood
When discussions arise regarding gender and oppression, the picture frequently painted is that of women as the oppressed and men as the oppressors. This understanding, developed by important and strong voices over the last 50 years, primarily female voices, has meant radical change for women, impacting areas such as family roles, personal well-being, career choices, and parenting—important and welcome developments for girls and women in our families, our communities, and around the world. Holding men accountable for actions and attitudes that have oppressed women has been an important corrective in our world. Many men have welcomed these challenges, some reluctantly, while others have reacted with defensiveness and even aggression, which has too long characterized male posturing when under threat. Unfortunately, the environment has not always been welcoming enough to help men enter the conversation with openness and vulnerability.
Into this critical dialogue on men and gender comes Mascupathy: Understanding and Healing the Malaise of American Manhood, a new book by counseling psychologists Charlie Donaldson and Randy Flood. With the daring suggestion that men, too, are oppressed by gender stereotyping, Donaldson and Flood develop a picture of the pervasive dynamics of male socialization that suppress the fullness of our humanity and exaggerate those characteristics that are increasingly outmoded and unfit for today's world. With an invitation to men to honestly recognize and critique the ever-present messages about masculinity, they declare that their "purpose in developing the concept of mascupathy is not to demonize men but to facilitate an understanding so they aren't demonized." Further, they construct their thought on their belief that "understanding men's unhealthy behavior as stemming from a disorder of the psyche and not an inherent orientation toward malevolence will lead to greater insight and compassion."
As a therapist working with men individually, in struggling relationships, and in therapeutic group settings, what I experience men needing more than anything is compassion and understanding. This book, with deep empathy along with a clear calling towards healthier ways of existence, offers men both the compassion and understanding that they require to take the risk to honestly look at the depths of their personal lives. Recognizing the "pervasive insecurities" that haunt men's inner lives and drive their "proclivity for criticism, derision, and abuse," Donaldson and Flood move from a thorough description of the realities of male socialization—i.e., the devastating effects on self, family, and society—to a framework for change. Drawing on the writings of men and women who have challenged the status quo and laid the groundwork for a more just and life-giving vision for gendered existence, and personalizing the concepts with anecdotal reflections of their clients, the authors envision a rich and hopeful alternative reality for moving forward as men. The road to this healing of masculinity is mapped out via a three-stage Resocialization, Reclamation, and Recovery protocol, which is highly dependent on a well-developed, well-supported, peer-driven group process. Built on the understanding that peers and group processes will result in deeper and longer lasting change, this model aims is "to facilitate men's understanding of mascupathic disorder, ameliorate its symptoms, and find a sense of self most haven't experienced since childhood."
With deep empathy along with a clear calling towards healthier ways of existence,
this book offers men both the compassion and understanding that they require to take the risk
to honestly look at the depths of their personal lives.
Having the privilege of seeing the healing dynamics of therapeutic groups for men, I get excited about the powerful possibilities of such things as an intentional community of accountability and support to bring change. The development and resourcing of such a male-positive service would be a challenge for many in the field, especially given that funding for men's programming has traditionally been limited primarily to models endorsed by the judicial sector, lacking the credibility and safety that would draw men to seek out their own healing. Changing trends in responding to men's health, partly driven by books such as this, might one day sway the willingness of our society to fund services that would transform men's experience, and in turn that of their spouses, their children, their communities.
Donaldson and Flood conclude their book by moving from the clinical setting to a description of opportunities for social change through public education and advocacy. With a call to continue to join women at center stage of the transformation of gender roles, the authors inventory initiatives and personalities already active in this pursuit and challenge sectors which hold significant sway in men's lives (e.g., corporations and sports) to take up opportunities to impact change in positive ways.
An accessible read for men, for those who love them, and for those who must interact with them, Donaldson and Flood's book provides an insightful and encouraging window deep into the darker places of men's existence and the possibilities for healing. This relatively short book also provides solid material for those in clinical practice or policy development and is a significant contribution on the road towards a more just and mutually life-enhancing existence as men and women together.
Don Neufeld has been a clinical social worker for 23 years, currently in private practice as a general therapist with individuals, couples, families, and groups. A specific growing interest is working with men, and speaking and writing on issues related to men, masculinity, and gender justice from a faith perspective. He is a husband and the father of three sons, and he lives in Virgil, Ontario.