Dolan, A., Lomas, T., Ghobara, T., & Hartshorne, G. (2017). “It's like taking a bit of masculinity away from you”: Towards a theoretical understanding of men’s experiences of infertility. Sociology of Health & Illness. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12548
In the UK, nearly half of all cases of infertility involve a ‘male-factor’. Yet, little empirical work has explored how men as men negotiate this terrain. Three interrelated concepts; ‘hegemonic masculinity’, ‘embodied masculinity’ and the linkages between ‘masculinities’ and male help-seeking, provide the theoretical framework that guided a qualitative study conducted with 22 men experiencing infertility. The paper explores men's propensity to delay their help-seeking in relation to infertility despite their desire for children. It also demonstrates how, in the context of infertility, the male body can be defined as both a failed entity in itself (unable to father a child) and a subordinated social entity (unable to measure up to hegemonic ideals) that characterises men's masculine identities. The paper also illustrates how men appear willing to accept responsibility for their infertility and adopt aspects of hitherto subordinate masculine practice. This does not, however, constitute the total unravelling of well understood and accepted expressions of masculinity. Finally, the paper demonstrates how infertility is perceived as having the potential to fracture current and even future relationships. Moreover, regardless of how well men measured up to other hegemonic ideals, ultimately they can do little to counteract the threat of other (fertile) men.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). New ways of being a man: ‘Positive’ hegemonic masculinity in meditation-based communities of practice. Men and Masculinities, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Connell’s (1995) concept of hegemonic masculinity is often reduced to a singular construct, consisting of ‘toxic’ traits viewed as detrimental to wellbeing. However, the concept allows for variation in hegemony, including the possibility of forms more conducive to wellbeing. Through in-depth interviews with 30 male meditators in the UK, we explore the social dimensions of meditation practice to examine its potential implications for wellbeing. Most participants became involved with ‘communities of practice’ centered on meditation that promoted new local hegemonies; these included ideals experienced as conducive to wellbeing, like abstinence. However, social processes associated with hegemony, like hierarchy and marginalization, were not overturned. Moreover, participants faced challenges enacting new practices in relation to the broader system of hegemonic masculinity – outside these communities – reporting censure. Our findings are cautionary for professionals seeking to encourage wellbeing behaviors: there is potential for adaptation in men, yet complex social processes influence this change.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). Cultivating equanimity through mindfulness meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the development of decentring capabilities. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills. Such skills may be especially useful for male meditators, as men are thought to have particular difficulties regulating their emotions, partly due to masculinity norms around emotional toughness. However, there have been few studies pertaining to mindfulness focusing specifically on men, exploring the intersection between wellbeing and masculinity. Uniquely, we sought to examine the development of decentring capabilities in a non-clinical sample of male meditators using a longitudinal mixed-methods design. Thirty meditators were recruited in London, UK. Participants completed an emotional Stroop task – at two points, a year apart – to assess changes in emotional reactivity linked to meditation. Participants also undertook qualitative interviews at both time points, analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Together, the two datasets converged to suggest that men did develop decentring skills through meditation, leading to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia. In addition to offering insights into the mechanisms underpinning the impact of mindfulness on wellbeing, the study provides a gendered dimension to the analysis of wellbeing strategies like meditation, a dimension which has hitherto been conspicuously absent from recent literature in fields such as positive psychology.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Engagement with meditation as a positive health trajectory: Divergent narratives of progress in male meditators. Psychology and Health, 29(2), 218-236.
Abstract: Objective: Studying personal narratives can generate understanding of how people experience physical and mental illness. However, few studies have explored narratives of engagement in health positive behaviours, with none focusing on men specifically. Thus, we sought to examine men’s experiences of their efforts to engage in and maintain healthy behaviours, focusing on meditation as an example of such behaviour. Design: We recruited 30 male meditators, using principles of maximum variation sampling, and conducted two in-depth interviews with each, separated by a year. Main outcome measures: We sought to elicit men’s narratives of their experiences of trying to maintain a meditation practice. Results: We identified an overall theme of a ‘positive health trajectory,’ in particular, making ‘progress’ through meditation. Under this were six main accounts. Only two articulated a ‘positive’ message about progress: climbing a hierarchy of practitioners, and progress catalysed in other areas of life. The other four reflected the difficulties around progress: progress being undermined by illness; disappointment with progress; progress ‘forgotten’ (superseded by other concerns); and progress re-conceptualised due to other priorities. Conclusion: Men’s narratives reveal the way they experience and construct their engagement with meditation – as an example of health behaviour – in terms of progress.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Men developing emotional intelligence through meditation? Combining narrative, cognitive, and EEG findings. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 15(2), 213-224.
Abstract: Traditional masculine norms around emotions (e.g., inexpressiveness) can mean men have difficulties managing their emotions, contributing to potential mental health problems. However, it is recognized that men and masculinities are diverse, and that some men can positively self-manage their mental health, although this has received little attention in the literature. Uniquely, we sought to find men who had discovered ways to engage constructively with their emotions, in this case through meditation. Thirty male meditators, recruited using a maximum variation sampling strategy, participated in a longitudinal mixed-method study in the UK. Participants undertook two cognitive neuroscience sessions – approximately one year apart – comprising cognitive assessments of attention, in combination with EEG measurement during task performance and meditation. In-depth narrative interviews exploring men’s experiences of meditation were also conducted at both time-points, analyzed using a modified constant comparison approach. Taken together, the quantitative and qualitative results suggested men developed attention skills through meditation, although there were variations according to previous meditation experience (e.g., a sharper longitudinal increase in theta amplitude under meditation for novice practitioners). Moreover, development of attention appeared to enhance men’s emotional intelligence, which in turn could be conducive to wellbeing. The paper has implications for psychologists working with men, pointing to the potential for teaching men about better regulating their emotions for improved wellbeing.
Abstract: Against a backdrop of increasing secularization, the number of Buddhists in Britain continues to rise (Office for National Statistics, 2012). However, few studies have explored the reasons people are drawn towards Buddhism, with none focusing on men specifically. Uniquely, we conducted in-depth narrative interviews with 30 male meditators in London, UK, to explore the appeal Buddhism held for them. Buddhism was portrayed as a nexus of ideas and practices which improved men’s lives. Analyzed through the prism of a multidimensional biopsychosocial model of wellbeing, Buddhism appeared to have the potential to promote wellbeing in biological terms (e.g., health behaviors), psychological terms (e.g., generating subjective wellbeing), and social terms (e.g., offering a supportive social network). From a gendered perspective, Buddhism offered men the opportunity to rework their masculine identity in ways that enhanced their wellbeing. This was a complex development, in which traditional masculine norms were upheld (e.g., Buddhism was constructed as a ‘rational’ framework of ideas/practices), yet also challenged (e.g., norms around alcohol abstinence). Our study offers new insights into the hazards and the attractions – particularly for men – of engaging with Buddhism.
Brani, O., Hefferon, K., Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Painter, J. (2014). The impact of body awareness on subjective wellbeing: The role of mindfulness. International Journal of Body Psychotherapy, 13(1), 94-107.
Abstract: Positive psychology has been criticized for the lack of research on the role of the body in wellbeing. As the research into the many variables that influence subjective wellbeing (SWB) continues, the important role of body awareness (BA) on SWB has been neglected. It was hypothesised that there would be a significant predictive relationship between BA and SWB, and moreover that this relationship would be moderated by mindfulness. One hundred and nineteen participants from the general population completed relevant self-report scales through an online survey. BA had a positive relationship with SWB, but this relationship was not moderated by mindfulness. These findings have implications for positive psychology that reinforce the argument for more body-based interventions and overall embodiment within the discipline.
Abstract: Although theorists like Connell (1 995) have emphasised diversity in men and masculinities, there remains a tendency to present masculinity in singular terms as an assemblage of toxic traits, constructing men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill & Haywood, 201 2). However, an emergent body of work suggests men are able to resist or define traditional norms to negotiate a more ‘positive’ construction of masculinity, e.g., conducive to health. Thus the present article makes the case for introducing a new perspective within the study ofmen and masculinities: Critical Positive Masculinity. Influenced by the field of positive psychology, this perspective draws together work showing the potential for men to find more constructive ways of doing masculinity, including a series of articles on men adopting new masculine practices throughinvolvement with meditation. However, drawing on the Critical Studies on Men approach, the new perspective still seeks to problematize men and genderedpower relations, as even ostensibly ‘positive’ forms of masculinity can have deleterious consequences for marginalised groups. Critical positive masculinity offers a fresh perspective that is neither fatalistically negative nor naively optimistic about the possibility for positive change in men.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2013). ‘I was so done in that I just recognized it very plainly, “You need to do something”’: Men’s narratives of struggle, distress and turning to meditation. Health:, 17(2), 191-208.
Abstract: Traditional masculinities can mean men are unable or unwilling to deal constructivelywith distress. However, researchers increasingly acknowledge that men and masculinities(including hegemonic styles) are diverse. Moreover, men can positively manage theirwell-being, although little research explores how they do so. Uniquely, our study soughtto find men who report finding ways to care for themselves to examine narratives abouthow such self-care originated. We aimed to do this by exploring issues underpinningmen’s journeys towards meditation, focusing on implications for well-being. In-depthinterviews were conducted in 2009 with 30 meditators, selected using principles ofmaximum variation sampling, and analysed with a modified ‘constant comparison’approach. Men’s journeys towards meditation were fraught with difficulties. Mendescribed crossing a threshold from boyhood into ‘manhood’ where they encounteredtraditional forms of masculinity (e.g. stoicism), and most described subsequent strategiesto disconnect from emotions. While men eventually found ways to engage moreconstructively with their emotions and well-being, this article explores the struggle anddistress of their journeys.
Abstract: There is a prominent discourse in academic literature, and society at large, that presents men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill and Haywood, 2012: 483). Incorporated within this idea is the notion that ‘masculinity’ itself is problematic and represents a ‘risk factor’ for health (Gough, 2006). For example, traditional masculine norms, like ‘toughness,’ have been linked to poor emotional management skills in men, which in turn are implicated in mental health problems (Aldao et al., 2010). However, it is increasingly acknowledged that there is diversity within and across men and masculinities, and that men are capable of positively managing their well-being, although little research exists exploring how they do so. To address this deficit, this study sought to find men – meditators – who were likely to have found ways to positively manage well-being to examine factors relating to this engagement.
Meditation was selected as it is associated with positive outcomes on a range of mental health indicators (Mars and Abbey, 2010). Thirty male meditators, mainly from one organisation in London, were selected using principles of maximum variation sampling. The study employed a longitudinal mixed methods design, including in-depth narrative interviews analysed using a modified constant comparison approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1998), and also a cognitive-neuroscience component, involving EEG measurement across a battery of cognitive tasks and a meditation sitting. All participants were interviewed and tested twice,1 a year apart, between 2009 and 2010.Drawing on various theories, including Connell's (1995) notion of hegemonic (i.e. dominant) masculinity, and Mayer and Salovey's (1997) model of emotional intelligence, the analysis explored themes relating to men’s involvement with meditation, including how engagement came about, and its impact upon well-being.
The findings suggested that men negotiated difficult journeys towards meditation: for example, they came up against traditional and other hegemonic forms of masculinity, and most described subsequent strategies to be emotionally tough and/or disconnect from difficult emotions. Meditation itself was linked to well-being in various ways, notably through the cultivation of emotional intelligence via the development of attention – this was indicated by emergent themes in the qualitative analysis, and results from the cognitive neuroscience component.Overall, the analysis was unusual in exploring masculinities and meditation, as well as the wider social context of practice, and how the social dimensions of meditation also impacted upon well-being. For example, many men meditated within a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991), which influenced their behaviour, e.g. reducing alcohol use. The findings also highlighted various problems linked to meditation that have received less attention in the literature, including mental health disorders, and ostracism from peers. In summary, the study discusses implications for helping men to better manage their well-being.