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Book Review: ‘Perspectives in Male Psychology’

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This is an important book. Do not even think of not buying it. It’s available from PsychHub and other usual suppliers. 

It is important, not only because it provides a much needed ‘primer’ on male psychology, but because it presents an opportunity to begin a new era in psychology. There is no point in dissembling, and the book itself does not do so. Psychology is intrinsically personal, so when the personal was made political, so was psychology. The ethos the authors promote is that science, as an empirically grounded discipline, is not politics, and so male psychology, if it is to be a science, is not gender politics. That the book will be controversial is inevitable, but the reason does not lie in the book itself but in the prevailing academic environment. The authors are to be congratulated on facing this prospect bravely. 

The book is male psychology 101 – or it would be if undergraduate courses on male psychology were the norm. They are not. In the UK there is currently only one such course, at Sunderland University, and taught by Dr Rebecca Owens. But Perspectives provides ideal material for similar introductory courses to be included within psychology degrees. 

The book is intended to be the first in a series, the remainder concentrating on more specialist areas. Perspectives, however, is extremely broad in scope. After an elucidation of the aims and orientation of male psychology, the scene is set with a brief discussion on the hazards of researching sex differences. The bulk of the book systematically addresses a wide range of issues in terms of their impact on male psychology – or the impact of male psychology on them – including child development, education, sport, work, criminality, the armed forces, and physical and mental health. These are followed by a chapter on masculinity (thankfully expressed in the singular not the plural). 

The book is well structured, being divided into relatively short sections and so is easy to assimilate rapidly. The use of text boxes to highlight certain issues is also an aid to accessibility. Similarly, technical terms are generally defined where they arise. Throughout, at key points, the authors refer forwards to the final chapter which draws out some good advice and common themes distilled from the topics overall. In short, the book is ideal as an introduction at a level undergraduates and the general public will find easy to read. 

I was particularly pleased to see a discussion of the impact on boys of growing up in a culture of pervasive negative portrayal of masculinity. That the same sources of opinion who are so sensitive to the harms of gender stereotyping in one context have themselves created and promoted negative stereotyping in another context is one of the reasons why this book is so badly needed. 

Perhaps as a hallmark of a successful book, one is stimulated to think of additional topics which might have been included. However, virtually every sub-section could be expanded to the length of a major academic publication, with the addition of fifty references where just one or two are used. But to burden individual topics with too much detail would defeat the purpose of the book which, in the approach actually taken, it successfully achieves. Hence I struggle to have grounds for criticism, which is an uncomfortable position for a reviewer. In that spirit I offer a few observations, none of which greatly detract from the book.  

In the context of education, the book mentions assessment bias against boys, citing evidence from Israel and France. Actually, there is similar evidence in the UK, though I doubt it has been published in the academic journals. That fact is, in itself, a concern.

In the chapter on criminality, one causal factor which is not discussed is IQ. Our prisons are not packed with people of high intelligence. In an increasingly technology-driven world, gainful employment has become increasingly difficult for the less intellectually gifted. And men have a larger IQ variance than women, so there are more men with especially low IQ. The preponderance in prisons of men with a history of exclusion from school is undoubtedly related. Add to this the importance to men of being providers, and the frustration of being unable to do so by the legal means of gaining employment is likely (one surmises) to encourage criminality. 

It was good to see veterans discussed. But I would point out that is not only mental ill-health issues directly from which they commonly suffer. Important though PTSD is, it can be addressed if the man seeks help. What proves more intractable in practice is veterans’ contact with their children, because partner separation is disproportionately common amongst veterans – perhaps as a result of their mental state. So one problem creates another. 

Perhaps the most important issue that the book mentions is that, in the context of gender, women tend to have in-group preference whereas men have stronger out-group than in-group preference. Arguably this is a cause of much misunderstanding. It is an especially important observation whose implications for our changing society have not yet been grasped. Women dominate as lecturers in tertiary education as regards ‘people’-oriented subjects, which are also strongly dominated by women students. Consequently, women dominate as professionals in areas such as teaching, mental and physical health, social work and domestic abuse services, the latter two being of central importance after parental separation and hence impacting fathers as much as mothers. The implications of skewed gender-group preference should be of concern, but currently is not precisely because it is perceived as ‘right and proper’. 

That the book encourages thoughts like those above is a measure of its success, for surely that is one of its key aims. The book is an excellent entry point to the literature across a very broad range of issues. But more importantly it provokes the reader into thinking more deeply about what lies behind the many phenomena involving male psychology whose treatment at present is either neglected or unconvincing. As such it will make an ideal undergraduate text in psychology as well as being suitable for a general audience.

Richard Bradford is a researcher from the University of Bristol. 

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