Strength

How men’s issues show men’s strength | Negative Sum Game 2

Campaign against living miserably’s or CALM is a feminist founded and run charity that deals with men’s mental health. CALM’s chief executive Jane Powell said: “So often their own worst enemies, men need new rules for survival. Outmoded, incorrect and misplaced male self-beliefs are proving lethal and the traditional strong, silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves.

“Men need to talk before they hit a wall in a crisis or feel they are at the end of the road,” she added. “The normality of women freely discussing their troubles is undoubtedly a factor in declining rates of female suicide and underlines the need for a gender-based strategy in suicide prevention. So far, Government and society has failed to act on this self-inflicted yet preventable slaughter of our husbands, partners, brothers and sons.”

From: ‘A crisis of masculinity’: men are struggling to cope with life.

CALM is a feminist-founded men’s mental health initiative. CALM believes that it’s toxic masculinity — the expectation placed on men, by other men, that men be stoic, that they regard themselves as responsible for solving their own problems, that they look to themselves for solutions — it’s toxic masculinity that’s to blame for men’s suicide epidemic.

I think the logic goes… men objectify women, which leads them to disparage women’s ways of knowing which further leads them to not avail themselves of women’s superior methods of mental health management. So if men could just respect women more than they respect other men, they would stop killing themselves so much.

I’m going to offer an alternative perspective. One that I never hear.

What if… just for the sake of argument… What if men are doing mental health right?

In the 1970s Tom Golden, was a new graduate from psychology. He been looking for a job in his field for a year and was finding it difficult when he was offered a position at a counselling centre for death and dying. He was the only male therapist on staff and the 17 other female staff started to refer the male clients to him because they didn’t want to work with them. The women told Tom, “men don’t grieve” and “they don’t deal with their feelings.”

At first Tom applied the techniques he’d learned at grad school to his new rash of male clients, but while those techniques worked with female clients, they didn’t work with male. Tom started to think the female councillors were right. There was just something wrong with men.

Of course that isn’t the end of the story.

Over time Tom realized that men just grieved and healed in a different way than women. They focused on doing, instead of talking. One man decided to write a novel about his son who passed away, interviewing all the people who knew him. Another carved a bust of his deceased wife. Men processed their grief through action.

A few years ago I spoke with Tom on a show about men’s mental health and on that show we spoke about the challenges facing men when it comes to depression and suicide.

I said “because of the expectations we place on men as a society to not talk about their issues and ‘man up’, they end up less resilient when it comes to dealing with their mental health issues.”

Tom replied, “you’re doing exactly what feminists do, you’re expecting men to act like women.”

Tom was right. I was doing what feminists do when I suggested men should cope the way women do—by talking—even if I put the ultimate blame not on men but on society and the pressure women place on men to be stoic.

1996 a group of researchers decided to look into the risk of suicide for doctors relative to the general population.

Their suspicions were confirmed, doctors do indeed have a higher rate of suicide relative to the general population—after all doctors have to take responsibility for life and death decisions regarding their patients, an extremely stressful situation—but they also found something rather startling.

The suicide rate for male doctors increased, yes, but the suicide rate for female doctors increased even more then men’s, to the point where male and female doctors commit suicide at the same rate.

When you apply the same mental health stressors—being a doctor—on women and men, women suicide rate increases 2 times more than men’s. Which suggests women aren’t coping better than men at all.

Circumicison, loss of child custody, having a social identity contingent upon service, selective service, not having emergency support for domestic violence and rape, greater levels of incarceration, fewer options for social support etc. etc.

All of these men’s issues represent a significantly greater mental health burden on men than women in our society. Services like CALM can’t accept this because this reality is in fundamental defiance of feminist theory in which women are oppressed and men are privileged and advantaged. Therefore CALM has to promote the idea that men are doing mental health wrong and women are doing mental health right.

To see how not just ridiculous but potentially a violation of medical ethics this is… let’s apply the logic CALM is using… the fact that stoicism is higher among populations that commit suicide more often to… say, wound healing.

CALM the physician group would notice that there are more white blood cells at a wound site in some people but since CALM doesn’t (since feminist conjecture forbids it because men can’t be facing more mental health stressors than women) control for the severity of wounding, it infers that it’s the presence of more white blood cells that leads to worse outcomes for patients.

They get the causal arrow reversed. Severe wounds means more white blood cells and it’s the severe wounding that leads to worse outcomes, not the presence of more white blood cells.

CALM doesn’t look at long term outcome either. Comparing a population of people who suffer an equal level of wounding but seeing who in that population survives and heals best, those who produce more white blood cells or those who produce less.

If we applied the logic behind feminist conjecture — ignore potential confounds and dependant variables in favour of assumptions based on your shit for brains belief system — to healing wounds… feminist doctors would give white blood cell suppressing drugs to people with grievous injuries.

And, of course, the inevitable deaths from feminist medical idiocy would be blamed on hemeiarchy, toxic white blood cells and wound privilege.

All because CALM can’t science.

So instead of men needing to do mental health more like women, maybe women need to do mental health more like men.

Toxic Charity is a book by Robert D. Lupton. It’s subtitled: How the Church Hurts Those They Help and How to Reverse It.”

Robert Lupton is the founder of FCS Urban Ministries. He’s one of the many Christians involved in ministering to the poor who are questioning service-based charity in the spirit of self-reflection and offering long term help to the poor.

Lupton says “Giving to people in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative, may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”

Paraphrasing Lupton as he describes his Presbyterian church mission to a remote Honduran village:
The villagers were an isolated people struggling daily to survive and the Church leaders of the mission decided that they would make this a long term mission and build a true partnership with the village.

The initial visit to the village revealed the need for a source of clean water in the village; women had to carry water from miles away for their families and households.

The church had contacts with well-drilling engineers and money to cover the costs, so they came in and drilled the well for the villagers. When the first fresh, cool water was pumped to the surface, there was celebration in the village.

The villagers thanked their benefactors profusely, the Church had truly changed their lives.

Except it hadn’t.

The next year when the church returned, the missioners observed women trudging up the same road carrying the same water jugs full of water they’d been carrying a year before. Baffled, they asked around what had happened at the village.

The well had broke down and the villagers, who had no hand in drilling it, financing it or setting up the pump had no ability to fix it.

The ministry team quickly set about fixing the pump and once more fresh water flowed to the surface. The following year when the ministry team returned, the same thing had occurred, the pump was broken and the women were hauling water.

Year after year, the pump would work for a time, then break and the villagers would wait until their benefactors returned to fix their well.

Those who question toxic charity call this the “poverty of being.” They emphasize how people in poverty describe poverty not just as a lack of material things but a lack of ability to do for oneself, or a lack of belief that one can do for oneself. A lack of belief that you can solve your own problems and make your own life better. Toxic charity only makes poverty of being worse.

Lupton describes a second village in Nicaragua. Its circumstances resembled those of the one in Honduras. It was remote, poverty stricken, the villagers subsisting from day to day. The village had a similar need for fresh, clean water, and one man in the village, Don Blas, dreamed of building a well. His vision was dismissed by the village as the dreams of an old man until one day a community developer from Chicago heard what he had to say.

The community developer decided to help Don draw up a business plan for his dreamed-of well. She assisted the villagers in finding information on drilling and material costs. She helped them with a budget and arranged for a loan conditional on the villagers drawing from their own meager savings. She connected them with a reliable Nicaraguan engineer, helped organize a water commission to oversee setting fees, bill collection and the overall management of their new utility.

The village men provided the labor, digging the trenches, laying water pipe.

When the pump was switched on and the water surged, the entire village celebrated their accomplishment with pride. They found out that they had more than enough water for themselves and started to arrange contracts with the local government school and adjacent villages to supply water to them as well.

The villagers, inspired by Don’s dream, now had not just fresh water, but a wealth producing asset.

None of what happened in Don’s village was charity. The original idea wasn’t a solution outsiders decided upon, it was Don’s dream. The villagers weren’t given anything except assistance in organizing their own assets and a loan that was expected to be repaid.

That wasn’t charity; it was a partnership.

And at the end of the day the Village that received charity has nothing to show for it but a broken well and women still hauling water up a hill in pots. The village that did not receive charity but assistance organizing their own assets not only has water but a profitable business.

Lupton calls the approach taken in Honduras a “needs-based” assessment. Ministries using a “needs-based” assessment look at the communities they want to “help” and ask “what’s wrong with you and how can I fix you?”

Lupton advocates that all ethical charity interventions should avoid “needs-based” assessment in favour of the asset based assessment used with Don’s Nicaraguan village and follow several basic principles.

1) An ethical charity should identify the assets not needs of a person or community that they want to help.
2) An ethical charity should never do for an individual what the individual can do for themselves.
3) An ethical charity should focus on building up a sense of self-reliance.

In my last instalment of this series, I covered the “negative sum game.” Simply the negative sum game is what I call the phenomena that when we recognize male victims of a social ill we lose compassion for all the victims, male and female. So if a problem affects 50 women, we’re eager to help, but if we see it also affecting an additional 50 men, we don’t double our compassion or even split it, we stop caring about all 100 victims, including the 50 women.

The negative sum game is an aspect of toxic charity.

Truly compassionate people care about all the victims of a social ill, not just the aesthetically appealing ones and they recognize you can’t solve a problem by addressing only half of it. But that’s not what the negative sum game is about. It’s about creating a narrative in which the Charity giver swoops in and saves the destitute and unfortunate woman, thereby increasing his own status and self regard.

It’s impossible to present this bit of theatre with visible male victims. Men who are incapable inspire contempt, not sympathy. They represent the Charity giver’s own potential frailties as a man and the possibility he could be a victim.

So women will be presented as the only victims, and utterly incapable victims at that.

Charities, competing for those charitable donations, will seek to minimize male victims and maximize the impression that women are being targeted because they’re women, thus uniquely incapable and uniquely in need of a male benefactor.

This is the exact opposite of an ethical charitable intervention. It breeds generations of poverty of being in women; women who are incapable of understanding self-reliance.

The social effect of this toxic charity on women as a group may be one main reason why women have worse mental health outcomes when experiencing the same mental health stressors as men.

Like the first village, the Hondorus villiage, women are fine as long as they have someone else to fix their well, but as soon as it breaks… as soon as they’re in a position where they have no outside help to rely on, they suffer because they can’t rely on themselves.

There’s no reason to believe that men’s way of doing mental health is harming them and at least some evidence to suggest it’s protective against negative mental health outcomes relative to women’s; the real problem is that men are dealing with _more mental health stressors than women._

It also becomes apparent that Jane Powel’s CALM violates every single principle of ethical Charity when it comes to men.

Like an arrogant contemptuous do-gooder on a mission of mercy to an impoverished community Jane Powel committed the first sin of toxic charity, she decided before she even left her house what that community’s needs were based on her own self-aggrandizing belief that as a rich western woman she’s coping fine, so she must be the gold standard for doing everything right.

Jane decided men were in need of fixing.

Jane never even considered that maybe women have better mental health outcomes—and as an aside Jane actually means wealthy, western, mostly white women because women in rural areas and in developing countries use stoicism as a coping strategy significantly more. One story of mexican women in a commune comes to mind: the women would sleep on the ground and wake up with rattlesnakes nestled on their stomachs. What did they do? Cut off the snakes’ heads and fried them up for breakfast.

Hey every problem’s an asset depending on how you look at it.

Jane never considered that maybe wealthy mostly white western women experience positive mental health outcomes from talking about their problems because when privileged people talk about their problems, there are other people who come in and fix them. Women do fine as long as someone else is doing for them, when there isn’t, they stop doing fine.

She didn’t consider that perhaps the community is already experts at coping, they are just coping with MORE issues than she as a wealthy western woman could imagine.

She never went into men’s community and identified the assets they bring to the issue of mental health. I doubt she ever really talked to men at all, except for the ones who confirmed her own beliefs.

Jane would have looked at the Hondorus village with it’s broken well and concluded that complaining about their well being broken is what fixes their well.

Jane would further condemn Don’s Nicaraguan village as having toxic self reliance and well privilege for fixing their well instead of complaining it’s broken. Maybe Jane’s real problem is that self-reliance means less reason to embrace Toxic Charity.

Look at all of these adorable posters and coasters CALM has made to help illustrate what’s wrong with men, men’s culture and their current methods for coping with mental health issues.

CALM-coasters

From CALM’s About section: “We believe that there is a cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help as they are expected to be in control at all times, and failure to be seen as such equates to weakness and a loss of masculinity.”

Ironically CALM doesn’t actually challenge the idea that there are issues outside of men’s control. Looking at their materials, they only mock and belittle men for putting pressure on other men. I don’t see any “womanpressuring” or “womanforcing” or any recognition that women enforce gender norms on men in their clever little coasters.

CALM upholding the taboo of recognizing anything out of men’s control is best illustrated by the absurdity in Robert Webb’s “How not to be a boy.” An author and a book that CALM sings praises of on its website.

In one chapter Robert describes in detail how fear of judgement from his girlfriend and his dead mother prevented him from seeking out mental health help. And then in an astounding demonstration of lacking introspection contradicts himself in the same chapter by blaming lad culture for him not seeking mental health help.

Lets just run through this again. CALM was founded and run by people deeply invested in the fantasy that men control all aspects of society. And patriarchy fantasy is a fantasy, it has been proven to have no scientific validity as it has failed to demonstrate predictive power multiple times. So people deeply invested in magical thinking about how men control all of society are the ones who say they’re going to challenge the expectation that men always be in control?

We’re here folks. This is peak insanity.

Ethical charity is about identifying the assets and coping skills communities already have. It’s obvious that CALM fails that test abysmally in relation to men’s health.

But do I?

Am I creating learned helplessness in men by pointing out that the issues they face aren’t under their control, but are systemic issues, the result of a system that’s failing them?

What if what I’m offering to men is toxic charity? What if I am doing everything wrong by bringing attention to men’s issues. Or working for a world that cares about men in the way the world “cares” about women?

Am I the one offering men Toxic Charity by saying there are issues beyond their control?

Am I turning men into a victim group?

 

Unlike Jane Powel I can recognize the role women play in putting pressure on men to conform to the masculine ideal of control. I can recognize the asymmetrical influence women have over men’s identities. And by recognizing it rather than charity I can offer something different.

When Elizabeth came to Don Blas’ village to help them realize a better standard of living, she didn’t come to give them charity. Don’s village did not believe they could realize Don’s dream of a well.

Elizabeth believed they had everything they needed already to do it. She believed in their ability to cope, even if there were circumstances beyond their control, they had survived them, meaning they had tremendous grit and strength. She believed in the assets they already possessed.

Elizabeth believed in them. And that’s what they needed to triumph.

All those commenters who say I’m taking away men’s ability to cope by pointing out that men’s issues are beyond their control? I call bullshit!

Being able to distinguish what you have control over from what you don’t is where real solutions come from.

I’m not turning men into a victim class, I’m not giving men charity.

If you’re here listening to me now you’re not a charity case, you are tough enough to bear witness to men’s issues, most men can’t. The rest of the world cannot look at these issues without screaming like little girls and running away pissing themselves and hiding behind lies and snake oil and canned laugh tracks.

Yet you can. You can stand up under the emotional barrage, the existential horror, that cripples others.

Strength is a matter of perspective. In our society a strong man is one who responds to the negative sum game with a feverous, drugged compulsion. He saves women like a mindless puppet, jerked along by the strings of his own ego and need to be perceived as strong.

 

Men on top don’t define themselves by what they share with other men, but how they’re superior to other men. Men who succumb to men’s issues are just losers. And Jim’s a winner!

And the worst losers of all are men who say that men’s issues are beyond men’s control.

This represent society’s idea of strength, but they doesn’t have true strength. True strength is facing your vulnerabilities and turning them into assets.

Society doesn’t see you as strong because you introspect, you deliberate, you doubt. You recognize places where men do not have control.

Your ability to doubt yourself is strength in a world that needs to doubt its convictions because those convictions are going to destroy it.

Your ability to see the data others refuse to look at, is strength in a world ignorant to it’s own undoing.

You not a charity case. Far from it. You have strengths our world can’t even begin to comprehend. Can’t comprehend because your strengths exist outside of everything they know should work.

You exist outside the negative sum game. The force that defines Jim’s entire existence.

That might as well be a mutant super power you’ve got there.

So I’m not offering you charity. I don’t think you’d want it anyway.

I’m offering you a partnership.

I believe in your strength, I believe in your ability to cope, I believe in your grit.

I believe in you. You have the assets, and like Elizabeth and Don, I have the belief in those assets.

Being able to bear witness to men’s issues is like being able to stand up under constant fire. Fighting through that recognition to build?

It’s what makes you bulletproof. Unbeatable.

I have a powerful thirst to find out what exists beyond the negative sum game; what a society strong enough to bear witness to men’s issues can do.

Let’s find those real solutions. Let’s build our well, together.

 

 


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Alison Tieman
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Alison Tieman

Artist/Writer at Xenospora
Alison has been researching men's issues since her mother gave her "Princess at the Window" by Donna Laframboise in 1994 when she was 16. She's taken part in men's rights communities since she started posting on soc.men in 2003. Since 2011 she's run the gender apostate blog Genderratic with her pal Gingko the wonder leaf and she founded Honey Badger Brigade in 2013 with Hannah Wallen and Karen Straughan. According to Vice the pony she most resembles is Fluttershy.
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  • MD Egon

    I can’t say that I outright agree with everything said here, but I am kind of a sucker for being told that I have mutant powers. Certainly a thought provoking piece, I think, it’s been a while since I’ve actually thought about things….

  • tired

    Those CALM coasters are pretty nuts.
    Good find with the doctor suicide rate study. I hadn’t seen that before. I find the idea the that higher male suicide rates is just because men are much worse at handling stress than women to be pretty darkly funny. Thanks for helping to debunk it, Alison. Keep up the fight against ignorance and censorship.