Burbidge Principle

“A guiding operational principle in my life was activated: If frustrated in one’s endeavor by a stone wall or any kind of blockage, one must find a way around — another route towards one’s goal. This is advice I have given to many women facing similar situations. I tell them: Try it, it works.”

-E. Margaret Burbidge quoted in Margalit Fox, “E. Margaret Burbidge, Astronomer Who Blazed Trails on Earth, Dies at 100.” The New York Times. April 6, 2020.

Gendered Details

I was struck by two things this morning. We are staying in a hotel room, and every morning, I have to unlatch, then unbolt the door to get out. I don’t think I’ve ever latched and bolted a hotel door overnight. It simply doesn’t occur to me.

Shortly after, I was downstairs getting coffee when the lady at the front desk told her colleague that it was now OK to keep the door to the back room open because “she was there.”

I cannot imagine ever saying this to another person. And, it occurs to me that not having to worry about these things reduces a lot of cognitive overhead, thinking about mitigating risks that simply aren’t there, or are greatly reduced, for me.

All of which is obvious in 2020 after all the conversations about privilege. But, even so, noticing these details keeps surprising me.

Older and Living Apart Together (LAT)

Open Question: Does living alone position people for having a broader social support network?

“I don’t want to take care of anybody. I want to take care of me,’ said Nadell, who divorced her second husband two decades ago. ‘You want to be friends and get together, when I say it’s okay to get together? Fine. But to be in a relationship where I have to answer to somebody else? Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.'”

As these solo dwellers age, the question becomes what happens when they grow frail and need someone to lean on. DePaulo argued that those who live alone often maintain broader networks of support than married couples do, pointing to a raft of international research. Partners who live separately for some portion of the week still tend to each other in sickness, and are well-positioned as caregivers because “we have our own place to recharge our batteries and avoid the all-too-frequent caretaker burnout,” said Hyman, 57, who has lived away from her partner for 20 years.”

-Zosia Bielski, “The new reality of dating over 65: Men want to live together; women don’t.” The Globe And Mail. November 26, 2019.

For Fathers of Daughters [and Anyone Concerned with Gender Equality]

“When I was pregnant with my third son a young colleague asked me whether I wanted a boy or girl. I responded that I thought that the role model pressure of having a daughter would be hard, so I would be more comfortable with a son. She wagged her finger at me and said, ‘You have it all wrong. The most important thing you can do for women like me is to raise fair men who are equally competent at household activities as they are at working collaboratively with women in the office. That’s the role model you should worry about–your being a strong woman who expects her sons to treat women as equals.'”

-Jules Pieri, “For Fathers of Daughters.” jules.thegrommet.com. October 10, 2019.

Advice for all men, not just fathers.

The Toilet Study

“The messages found in over 100 public bathroom cubicles from men and women were documented, analysed and then finally compared. The following is a unique look at how the sexes privately differ on everything from sex and politics to spelling and pop culture.”


Difficult to determine whether this is hilarious or depressing.

Who are the Helots of Modern Masculinity?

The American Psychology Association’s (APA) recently published Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men. These recommendations have raised questions from conservative commentators in the United States about whether psychological practice is turning being male into a mental illness.

Worth noting at the start, there are Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women. So, fundamentally, these two guidelines are acknowledging that different genders, as socially-constructed identities, have different cultures and psychological elements, and they should be treated differently in order to reduce harm. Most conservatives probably agree with that point.

In the interests of gender parity, if gendered differences are enough to have girls and women have their own set of guidelines, then it only makes sense that boys and men should have guidelines as well. The treatment of women have had principles for treating women since 1976. One question is: why did it take the profession so long to come out with a set of guidelines for boys and men?

The fact that there are guidelines does not seem to be the controversial part. The part that conservatives are objecting to is the content that identifies systemic problems of patriarchy as psychologically shaping boys and men in negative ways. Conservatives focus on masculine virtues such as strength, bravery, stoicism and so forth, but they focus only on their positive attributes. These virtues have negative aspects. Bravery in one situation is foolishness in another.

For example, while there are advantages to “the stiff upper lip” of Sparta and the kind of discipline their way of life inculcated into their male population, there are also disadvantages. Sparta was a regimented, military state. They were focused on physical strength over other qualities. Most problematic, their way of life was predicated on slavery of the majority of their population, the helots. No helots, no Spartans.

More generally, a focus on physicality and on mastering emotions such as fear creates individuals that are training to sublimate their emotions and to respond to challenge with physical aggression. Sure, there are contexts where these are valuable virtues and useful skills to develop, but like everything, there is a price to be paid. It is not an unqualified good.

This is precisely what the APA’s guidelines are trying to address. Baked into male culture are not only virtues but also harms, many of which are psychological in nature. This is also true of female culture, although it is less systemic, and therefore, it involves less harm. Psychologists have an obligation to reduce or mitigate the harms of gendered enculturation to the best of their ability as part of their practice.

Acknowledging that there are elements of modern masculinity that are harmful is the first step in reducing that harm. But, we all have trouble acknowledging our faults and weaknesses. No one wishes to believe that they are a bad person. Although if we are honest with ourselves, we can each acknowledge that the seeds of evil and/or bad behavior are in our own heart as much as in anyone else’s. To deny that fundamental fact and that we are part of the problem is to entertain idealized notions of ourselves that not only harm us but others.

Who are the helots of modern masculinity? Wouldn’t it be just to set them free? Slavery harms everyone it touches, Masters live in fear and that fear harms society as a whole, transmogrifying it to a grotesquerie.

Identity & Unspoken Privileges

Privilege is frequently discussed in term of race, gender and sexual orientation. If you are white, male and heterosexual, you are one of the most privileged members of society, according to most frameworks of privilege.

Intersectionality is certainly a useful way of looking at societal systems of oppression and an aid in offering critiques of it. But, I think there are many kinds of privilege beyond race, gender and sexual orientation. Perhaps one of the most important is class.

I remember being in the military and having a friend explain to me how much harder life was for him than it was for me because of his race. At the time, I was not really aware of how black enlisted men tend to have to do worse jobs than white enlisted men. But, it was obvious if you cared to look and think about it. I was also not aware of the differences in incarceration rates for black and white men and other forms of systemic oppression in society at large probably because they didn’t effect me.

My focus was on something a little more immediate. I observed, “It looks to me like you and I are scrubbing the same toilets.” We were only cleaning toilets and not sewer lines because we came from middle class backgrounds and were able to do well on the military’s standardized tests. Being able to do well on these tests was a kind of privilege, one influenced by economics.

But, I’ve met a gay, female of color who laughed at the notion of joining the military. “I’d never do that.” She was able to go to college without first spending four years earning the G.I. Bill. How does that factor in to the conversation on comparative privilege?

Or what about the fact that education is a privilege. I knew another white, heterosexual male that enlisted in order to send back money to his family. He likely retired from the military and did not get to go to college. Does the fact that he needed to work to support his brothers and sisters and could not afford to attend college even under the G.I. Bill count in our calculus of privilege?

Today, I posted an article on age discrimination in the workplace. Older workers are more expensive. Some of them get stuck doing things the same way year after year, so they might not be as effective. Our culture also puts a premium on youth. Is there a youth privilege? The fact that older workers tend to make more money seems similar to the fact that men generally make more money. It’s also why they are the first to be fired. How can you do an accounting of these competing benefits and drawbacks?

And you might identify a whole range of other privileges. Some that come to mind include: intelligence, sociability/likability, attractiveness, health/hardiness/ableism, etc. It’s pretty clear that when you start getting beyond gender, race and sexual orientation, it becomes really difficult to assess comparative privilege.

If you have the vocabulary and the theoretical framework to talk about privilege, you probably come from a privileged background. Someone who is from the middle class and able to go to college isn’t going to be aware of the problems of the poor, just as the problems of race were, and in some ways still are, invisible to me. It’s a blind spot in the discussion of privilege, and there are many of them: the old, the ill, the disabled, the socially disconnected and the many others that often don’t make it into the conversation.

In the end, we only talk about the categorizations that reduce reality to acceptable representations. Those that are too complex get dropped by the wayside.

Project Implicit

“Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.”

You can take the tests of Project Implicit at their website.