Research by Tony Cassidy and his team at Ulster University reported in Therapy Today, suggests that families with lots of boys are more vulnerable in times of divorce. It appears that girl’s in the family promoted a more “open attitude”, and encouraged family members to “talk about feelings” more often. The implication is that this helps mitigate the worst effects of family breakup.

The Therapy Today article then went on to suggest that boys, as men do, tend to keep their problems to themselves, and try to work them through on their own. This is just a restatement of what we already know, that men and women’s emotional lives are quite different (see earlier post).  The significance of Professor Cassidy’s research is that this is evident in children and has implications for both boys and girls. There is nothing new in these ideas. In fact it is one of the central premises of the classic book by John Grey, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.

What rattled my cage, though, was that this research was reported in Therapy Today (representing a female dominated profession), with the headline “Sisters ‘make people happy’”. I have to state at the outset that I have not read Tony Cassidy’s research.  I am content to take his evidence at face value.  What I found frustrating was the headline itself – the subtext being that boys and men’s emotional styles make ‘people’ unhappy.  If this was a claim made about girls and women, there would be plenty of people to stand up and condemn such a remark as being sexist.  They would be right.

What we have to be so careful to do is not to draw the implication that somehow girls (and women) get full marks for emotionality with men’s emotionality being second best. It’s simply not good enough continuing to “blame” boys and men for being the way we are. The methods that work for girls and women are great … for girls and women. We should stop giving boys the message that they should be more like girls and start looking at how best to support boys (and men) in terms that are relevant and accessible to them.  I suggest that Tony Cassidy’s research contributes to that debate, whereas the Therapy Today headline cheapened it.

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