Along with many other participants, as I have seen from feedback comments, I wish Ben’s talk had been on just one of the two topics, (toxic masculinity and banter) not both.  I would like to deal with the two topics separately in this review as the connection between the two is not clear to me.

Toxic Masculinity

I very much liked Ben’s definition of Toxic Masculinity as ‘a construction of what it is to be masculine which harms men in the narrowness of its view.’  Clearly it is not only men (and boys) who are harmed by this view but women and girls too.  We were given chilling statistics such as 1 in 7 female university students being the victims of sexual assault or violence.  Here are some other statistics and a definition that Graham Shavick sent me:

Toxic masculinity in the wider world…

  • Men commit 90% of homicides in the US. 
  • Men represent 81% homicide victims in the US.
  • Men are most at risk group of being victims of other types of violent crime.
  • Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s globally.

Sources: Violence and Gender, Leibert (2017)

 Another broader definition of Toxic Masculinity is ‘the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence’.

-Dr Terry Kupper, MD

I should like there to have been a greater exploration of toxic masculinity in the talk, and a look at the view of women, other men and society that it fosters.  Also, what can be done about it or what is being done about it in the counselling room and educational institutions? What does the literature say?  We heard very little about this. The links and reading list at the end of this article however are useful material to look at.

In our break-out groups, which I always enjoy, it would have been interesting to discuss this topic more.  We therapists have all had experience of working with toxic masculinity and its harmful effects, and more time for sharing practice and experience more would have been helpful.

Banter

Interleaved with the topic of toxic masculinity was an exploration of ‘banter,’ which was also interesting but not obviously connected with toxic masculinity.  Surely banter is only a small aspect of toxic masculinity and surely banter is not confined only to men.

Banter was defined by Ben (rather too negatively in my view) as ‘at the expense of the other’ and can be equal where it is reciprocal, or unequal when one person has greater power. Then, it can be hurtful.

This connects with the issue of humour in the counselling room.  To what extent is humour (and banter) evading ‘the work’ and to what extent may it be useful, to lighten the mood for example or to establish some kind of rapport?  Can it be over-done or under-done?

The discussion made me reflect on my own use of banter, particularly with groups, and made me wonder whether I over-do it.  Then there is the question of what to do if a client begins to banter.  How to respond?  Can it become a competition or a collusion? What is the place of humour in the counselling room?  That topic elicited a variety of strongly-felt views, and would have been worth exploring further.

All in all, the exploration of banter left me wondering about the extent to which banter can be an engaging device and to what extent it can dis-empower the therapeutic process. I am also left wondering about the differences between one to one and group process. This gives me a mild feeling of discomfort which perhaps indicates some insight or growth for me may follow!

In conclusion, I feel that the two topics of Ben’s talk in combination did not fit together very well and were a topic too many for a two hour talk.

Having said that, I found the evening stimulating and enjoyed Ben’s openness, honesty and exploratory attitude. Clearly Ben came to us to raise questions and initiate discussion and reflection rather than give us a lot of information and suggestions. Perhaps this was a bit frustrating for some people including me who wanted more information, but thank you Ben for an enjoyable evening.

If you didn’t go to the talk and would like Ben’s slides, please email [email protected] to ask for them.

David Brown

Suggested reading by HACP member, Karen Gunn:

* ‘Sons of our fathers.’  BACP’s Therapy Today, November 2019 Volume 20 Issue 9 written by Manu Bazzano (an existentialist).

*’How do we detox toxic masculinity?’ BACP’s Therapy Today, February 2019 Volume 30 Issue 1; written by Nick Duffell.

Suggested links by HACP member, Graham Shavick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0  (2 minutes long)

https://www.goodladinitiative.com/ Watch the TED talk by Ben Hurst on the home Page (10 minutes long).