5 myths about men

Ryan McKelley

Ryan McKelley, UW-L assistant professor of psychology, is a regular guest commentator on the online radio talk show “The Secret Lives of Men.” The show has been downloaded more than 160,000 times since its launch in April 2009.

Professor discusses men’s issues on Internet radio show

Ryan McKelley says most men are often misunderstood. The UW-L assistant professor of psychology has been busting myths about them for nearly four years on an Internet talk radio show, “The Secret Lives of Men.” As a guest commentator, McKelley inspects stereotypes and addresses issues boys and men face with host Chris Blazina, author of the book “The Secret Lives of Men.”

McKelley wants to offer men another way to live that isn’t restricted by the traditional masculine stereotype prominent on TV — the man who is independent, stoic, misbehaving and substance abusing.

Judging by the show’s following of 15,000 weekly listeners, the two hosts are hitting on some significant topics. Discussion typically centers around a book about contemporary psychological issues, which McKelley relates back to men and masculinity. Topics range from the science of self control to a psychological analysis of the characters on “Mad Men,” a drama TV series featuring the lives of men and women at a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the 1960s.

“We don’t have esoteric, metaphorical discussions,” says McKelley. “The idea is to give listeners tools to make little changes in their lives.”

McKelley, a licensed psychologist, has been surprised to learn how much is hidden under the surface of men’s experience. While many stereotypes divide women and men into vastly different categories, McKelley reminds listeners about the iron rule of gender differences: Studies often show more within-group variation than between-group variation. For instance, women, on average, may score higher on empathy measures than men, but there is a greater variation on levels of empathy between women and other women than between men and women.

McKelley says an additional benefit of the show is incorporating the new research and books he is reading for the talk show into psychology classes. McKelley and Professor Jodi Vandeberg-Daves applied for a grant from the College of Liberal Studies to co-develop a UW-L course on the history and psychology of men and masculinity, which was offered for the first time in fall 2012.

McKelley has studied men’s issues since graduate school. “Critics say, ‘Why study men when it’s always been about men,’” says McKelley. “I say, ‘Yes, but it’s not been about men’s inner lives.’”

McKelley hopes listeners learn new skills, such as how to communicate emotional experiences in healthier ways.

Listen online
Download the podcast on iTunes and subscribe to “The Secret Lives of Men.”


McKelley shares five common myths about men

Myth 1: Men think about sex every 10 seconds — or some other ridiculous interval.
A 2011 study had undergraduate men and women record when they thought about food, sex and sleep during a seven-day period using random reminders. While men thought about sex modestly more frequently than women did — a median of 19 versus 10 times a day, ranging from 1 to 388 for men and 1 to 140 for women — they also thought about both food — 18 versus 15 — and sleep — 11 versus 8 — significantly more often than women did. Part of the difference might be explained by objectification theory, which suggests that women learn to focus on others’ perceptions, which reduces women’s attention to their physical needs.

Myth 2. Mothers are nurturing by nature. It doesn’t come naturally for fathers.
A 1977 study observed new mothers and fathers of infants in the first days and weeks after their child’s birth. There were no significant differences in infant care-giving skills. When they returned one year later, they found that mothers, on average, were more in tune with their child’s needs than were the fathers. However, they also found that the difference occurred because many fathers worked full time outside of the home while mothers were at home with the child. That time with the child explained the apparent difference (and stereotype) that men are less skilled in that area. Three of McKelley’s studies on at-home fathers have shown that most are very satisfied and competent in their role as primary childcare provider.

Myth 3: Body image is a women’s issue.
Recent research found that men’s body dissatisfaction tripled from 1975 to 2000 (from 15 percent to 45 percent), and money spent on cosmetic procedures (pectoral implants, chin surgery and hair removal) increased by 60 percent from 2000 to 2007. Many are familiar with research showing that viewing women’s magazines can result in negative self-evaluation by women — the same has been found for men who frequently read men’s muscle and fitness magazines. And although 94 percent of European-American men and 78 percent of African American men have some degree of chest hair, a recent study of adult men found that up to 82 percent had removed some of their pubic hair (chest, back, etc.) over concerns about appearance.

Myth 4: Men are less emotional than women.
In the first 4-5 years of early childhood, boys and girls experience and express the full range of human emotions. It isn’t until around age six when boys start to show differences in what they express, which gets further restricted by middle childhood and adolescence. Anger, pride, and loneliness emerge as the few emotions that men are “allowed” to express freely, while often getting punished socially for expressing sadness, hurt, shame, and other tender emotions (unless in very specific contexts). However, studies of the internal experience of emotion show that men and women feel similar things, but men learn that only some emotions are acceptable to express in certain contexts. Recent research on emotion suppression shows that when people choose to suppress or restrict negative, vulnerable feelings, they often lose the ability to experience their opposite, positive ones. Psychologists have dubbed this a “pact with the devil” where emotional numbness comes at the great cost of losing experiences like joy and contentment.

Myth 5. Men and women want fundamentally different things from a relationship.
The narrative suggests that men want sex and women want emotional intimacy. A 2011 study first asked heterosexual couples to indicate things they desire most in a relationship. Out of four major categories, there were no differences for the following: scripting (“You mean so much to me”), sex (“Telling me what s/he wants in bed”), or caring actions (“Do my laundry once in a while”). The second study asked what their partners actually provide in the relationship. There were no differences on any of the categories. This means men and women want and provide similar things in relationships. More recently, three national surveys of single men and women also showed no differences in the top three “must haves” in relationships: A partner they can trust, someone whom they can confide in and someone who treats them with respect.