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A BCTR student on misogyny, men, and mental health treatment

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crpsir logoNarayan Reddy gives a student's perspective on working with the BCTR's Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery in a recent Cornell Daily Sun column. Reddy, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, discusses the ways that misogyny also negatively affects men, specifically in the realm of seeking mental health support. The full column:

I have been a research assistant for the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, now known as the Youth, Risk and Opportunity lab, for a few years now. One of the projects I worked on last year was transcribing interviews. The interviews were conducted to clarify the course of one’s relationship with NSSI throughout one’s life as it relates to the trans-theoretical model. This model reflects an individual’s readiness to act on incorporating a healthier behavior into their lives, which in the cases of these individuals would be working towards ending their engagement in NSSI [non-suicidal self-injury].

The interviews themselves were of many perspectives. Some were teenagers who faced bullying, young adults struggling with their relationships and older individuals who confided in us that self-injury had been a fixture in their life for a long time. One thing they shared in common was their gender identity. All were women, with the exception of one young man.

No, this gender distribution is not representative of the overall population. Countless demographic studies on NSSI have consistently found that its prevalence is half women and half men. However, significantly less men seek treatment for their NSSI, or rather, the underlying mental health causes maintaining the behavior. It then follows that a large amount of men experiencing mental health issues do not seek treatment for them, and another body of research can confirm that the results of this negligence can be devastating.

This is one example of how sexism is damaging to men. The movement is entitled feminism because women comprise the gender seeking equality; they are the marginalized. It is a social-justice cause that has implications for better opportunities available to women by reforming a male-dominant system to allow for the realization of ambitions, aspirations, hopes, dreams and basic fundamental rights. However, it is often neglected that men are also affected by sexism in that many feel they must live up to the expectations that a male-dominant system entails. Stereotypically masculine features are those of strength, resilience and detachedness, being minimally emotional and stereotypically feminine features are the binary opposite: weakness, delicateness and affectedness, being overtly emotional.

American Male, a short film released by MTV, effectively illustrates the toxic effects a fragile masculinity can have. American because the United States is a country horribly beset by sexism, and the setting of a fraternity grounded in ‘bro’ culture is a specific aspect of American society in which such toxicity seeps into almost every conceivable social interaction.

“Order beer not wine.” “And beef not chicken. Never light beer though. And not tofu. Never tofu. Can’t get more gay than tofu.”

The narration of how to be a man eventually makes what is implicit explicit: directly comparing the social cues that define appropriate behaviors based on gender. As he recites the laws, they begin to touch on deeper levels of personal adjustment and consequently depict stronger repressions of emotional expression and vulnerability.

“Steer clear of the arts unless you live near the coasts. That means no theatre, dancing, painting, poetry or prose. Too much reading is also risky because it makes you look soft and bookish.”

“Women move their hips when they walk, men move their shoulders.”

“Women use exclamation points when they talk, men use periods.”

“Women second guess, men go with their gut.”

“Women write in diaries, men journal.”

“Women sing, dance and perform on stage. Men play sports, watch sports and talk about sports.”

As conversations about mental health are inherently discussed through emotions, men are as a result less likely to seek help for mental health issues they are experiencing. If an adolescent is engaging in NSSI, he may fear telling his friends or even his parents because he will lose any chance of cultivating an image of toughness; the fear of not living up to his manhood.

A similar phenomenon occurs with other areas of mental health, with one prevalent example being the stereotype of those suffering from eating disorders being exclusively young, middle to upper-class women with body image issues. Along with women, a large amount of men also suffer from eating disorders. Their causes are as diverse as the people who deal with them. For a man who shows symptoms of an eating disorder, however, their internalization of masculinity actively prevents them from receiving treatment. It is not a stretch to say that even the way in which NSSI usually presents between genders is also gendered. Women are more taken to forms of cutting, and men, punching. Furthermore, men are barred from participating in mental health research that also requires dialogue about emotions. This can explain the lack of information regarding mental health in men and the proceeding lack of mental health treatments that could be effective for male populations. This is a particularly troubling aspect of disparity out of the entire systemic issue of stigma that mental health advocacy is fighting to address.

In accordance with de-stigmatization, we must double down on efforts to have men be open up about their emotions, or just what they are going through in general, with feminism. This sentiment is related to the fundamental importance of fighting discrimination leveraged against women because of stereotypes surrounding their emotional states. It should be noted that women are not necessarily better off than men even in this aspect.

A woman’s openness about mental health issues is not only recognized, but is often perceived as signs of being over-exaggerators attention-seekers, and has in many cases led to speculations about her sexual promiscuity. This perception deems a woman’s mental health less worthy than a man’s, who is applauded for speaking up about his mental health, whereas it becomes deceptive when a women does it. This can be seen in the discussions of celebrities’ mental health, what separates Amanda Bynes, Tila Tequila, Kehlani and Lindsay Lohan from Kanye West, Ryan Adams and most recently Kid Cudi. To take on sexism in this regard, we must empower both genders and encourage men to be more open about mental health while at the same time discouraging biased reactions when women choose to be more open about theirs.

The man who narrates the short film ends it by describing himself as a chameleon, one who must constantly alter his presentation to fit his social environment. Ultimately, he admits to sacrificing his personhood in exchange for becoming a set of social cues. In one sense, however, being a chameleon can be a good thing in that it can represent both the dark shades associated with manhood, and the bright associated with womanhood, to display the full range of colors, the emotional expressions, that paint our existence as unique human beings removed from our gender expression. Consequently, we must all learn to be dysfunctional chameleons if we truly seek to improve access to and acceptability of mental health as well as the quality of mental health treatment.

Chameleon - Cornell Daily Sun

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Light bulbs or seeds? Metaphor and understanding genius

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elmore

Kristen Elmore

Ideas are commonly described using metaphors; a bright idea appears like a “light bulb” or the “seed” of an idea takes root. However, little is known about how these metaphors may shape beliefs about ideas or the role of effort versus genius in their creation, an important omission given the known motivational consequences of such beliefs. We explore whether the light bulb metaphor, although widespread and intuitively appealing, may foster the belief that innovative ideas are exceptional occurrences that appear suddenly and effortlessly—inferences that may be particularly compatible with gendered stereotypes of genius as male. Across three experiments, we find evidence that these metaphors influence judgments of idea quality and perceptions of an inventor’s genius. Moreover, these effects varied by the inventor’s gender and reflected prevailing gender stereotypes: Whereas the seed (vs. light bulb) metaphor increased the perceived genius of female inventors, the opposite pattern emerged for male inventors.

The above is the abstract from a new article in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius, co-authored by Kristen Elmore, postdoctoral associate in the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement in the BCTR. A recent New York Times article on the findings further discusses the light bulb vs. seed metaphor in the context of gender:

These two metaphors are often used to describe scientific discovery and what we perceive as genius. Along with them come ingrained, subconscious associations that may have unintended consequences, according to a study published Friday in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers found that we find an idea more or less exceptional depending on the metaphors used to describe it. And not just that: Those metaphors had different effects depending on the gender of the idea’s creator.

Kristen Elmore, a developmental and social psychologist at Cornell University and lead author of the study, saw metaphors about ideas everywhere. She saw light bulbs on bulletin boards at schools and in student essays about inventions. Less frequently, young people were exposed to metaphors that describe nurturing ideas like seedlings.

Dr. Elmore and her colleague, Myra Luna-Lucero, a researcher at Columbia Teachers College, set out to study whether these metaphors carry unexplored implications. In a series of three experiments, more than 700 adult men and women, mostly in their 30s, were exposed to a variety of male and female inventors whose ideas were described as emerging like light bulbs or nurtured seedlings.

They found that people tend to rate discoveries that came about “like a light bulb” as more exceptional than those that are “nurtured like seeds.” But not when the inventor was a woman. In that case, people rated “nurtured” ideas as more exceptional.

 

Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius - Social Psychological and Personality Science

Metaphorically Speaking, Men Are Expected to be Struck by Genius, Women to Nurture It - New York Times

 

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“Women, Science and Motherhood” features Wethington

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Elaine WethingtonThe BCTR's Elaine Wethington talks about the career vs. motherhood choice that female academics face and her own decision to pursue her academic career in a new video produced by the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. Stanka Fitneva, professor of psychology at Queen's University, Canada, also describes her personal experience of having a child while working in academia. Additionally, Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development at Cornell and founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, offers commentary and historical perspective.

Women, Science and Motherhood: Then and Now

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