Which Accent Has the Worst Reputation?

Most of us are familiar with the BBC accent, the more refined version of which is sometimes called posh. It’s long been the standard for the British Broadcasting Corporation. But if you listen to the BBC today, you’ll hear a variety of UK accents (in the US, NPR sometimes broadcasts BBC News).

Some accents are stigmatized, associated with a lack of education or criminality. But featuring a variety of accents might reduce negative attitudes. As long as someone speaks clearly and uses correct grammar the accent shouldn’t matter.

What we in America sometimes call neutral or general American is associated with the evening news. But it’s not actually a neutral accent. People from the upper Midwest (like Tom Brokaw) sometimes say they have no accent. For whatever reason, that accent is the basis (with some alterations) of the so-called neutral American accent.

Other accents haven’t fared so well. If you want to imitate a stupid person, talk in a Southern accent. If you want to imitate a criminal, use a New York accent.

I previously wrote that the Southern accent is derived from a now extinct (and stigmatized) dialect from early 1600s Sussex, England. Dialect is not merely about geography. It’s also about time (that is, it changes over time). And it’s about social class.

But contrary to popular perception, regional dialects are not dying. Instead, language is constantly changing, so young folks don’t sound exactly like their grandparents. Regional differences still abound, however.

I’d like to see American broadcasters drop the fetish for neutrality and embrace speakers of all American accents.


Psychology for Men

Writing for the Telegraph, Martin Daubney asks, “Why isn’t there more of a focus on male psychology?” Severe mental health problems are more likely to affect men, and more common issues such as depression occur equally in men despite men being underdiagnosed.

Men have a reputation for not opening up. But people will open up when they feel safe doing so. This means taking men seriously, not minimizing their concerns, and not blaming them.

Sitting down and talking might not always be the best strategy. I know a psychologist who told me that the best conversations he’s had with his dad was when they were playing golf. An activity can be a powerful tool for men. Especially when we don’t push a man to start talking right away, instead letting him take his time, and allowing for the ebb and flow of conversation with silences and interludes of more superficial and even humorous talk.

And sometimes only men can connect with other men. The idea of male only support groups may be met with resistance in some circles, however. But Daubney quotes Martin Seager from Men’s Minds Matter:

…in single-sex groups men can be very blokey one minute, then talk about something incredibly painful the next. It really worked. Men are very worried about shame and embarrassment, and there are rules about masculinity that need to be honoured, not belittled.

He continues,

If men are alone in a room they are tremendously good at supporting each other; they’re like soldiers in combat that really care for each other. So we realised that a men’s group is a really powerful space.

A focus on toxic masculinity, however, may only make things worse. Seager says,

Men don’t need to ‘man up’ and they don’t need to ‘woman up’ – be more like women. We need to allow men to be men and honour that, on their terms – and that comes from 30 years’ experience in clinical practice.

Psychology for men must start with what men need rather than a critique of masculinity, lists of how men need to change, or an analysis of how men’s communication styles are wrong.

Why Are Mass Shooters Almost Always Men?

We are struggling with the senselessness of yet another mass shooting. The shooter at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church identified race as his motivation. We find ourselves asking again why it’s always a white man doing the killing.

Yet, there’s no evidence that race is a factor in most shootings. Based on data Mother Jones compiled, whites are slightly over-represented among mass shooters, as are Asian-Americans and Native Americans. Latinos are notably under-represented among mass shooters, and African-Americans are proportionally represented.  (The data are at the end of this post.)

Mental illness is frequently blamed, and indeed almost 85% of shooters had possible mental illness or behavioral issues. However, this figure could be lower because not all cases are clear. Further, it’s notable that depression plays almost as large a role as psychosis. Workplace problems (and related financial stress); and relationship problems, typically rejection, also seem to be common themes.

What is clear is that the shooter is almost always a man.

Why is a big question. There are more knowledgeable people than myself who have written about the issue. I will note, however, that male depression is often overlooked. It’s a central factor in men being 79% of completed suicides, and it seems to be a factor in mass shootings as well.

I also wonder why Latinos are under-represented among mass shooters. Is there something different about Latino culture? For example, shooters often seem socially isolated. Do Latino men have stronger social ties, and if so, does this give a struggling Latino man a healthier outlet for his stress?


The Data

Mother Jones published information about mass shootings in the United States from 1982 to 2012, and in June 2015 they updated their database, adding eight shootings that happened from 2013 to mid-2015. Oddly, Mother Jones missed a ninth shooting – Elliot Rodger.

Their initial report found that 44 out of 62 gunmen were white men. Only one shooter was a woman, and she was white too. Of the nine mass shootings since 2012, three of the gunmen were white only, and one (Rodger) was multi-racial (white and Asian).

This means that 48 out of 71 shooters, or 67.6%, were white only, non-Hispanic, as are 62.6% of all Americans according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Asians were 8.5% of the shooters and 5.3% of the general population, while Native Americans were 4.2% of shooters and 1.2% of the general population. African-Americans are 13% to 14% in both cases. But Latinos, who are 17.1% of Americans in general, were only 5.6% of mass shooters.

Of the 71 shooters 68, or 95.8%, were men.

Mother Jones did not say whether anyone was mentally ill or not, and instead noted how others described the person, and whether the person was known to have been under psychiatric care. Including Elliot Rodger, 46 out of 71 (64.8%) mass shooters might have had mental health issues. Eight were described as depressed (11.3% of all shooters, and 17.4% of those with possible mental health issues). Nine were described as schizophrenic or paranoid (12.7% of all shooters, and 19.6% of those with possible mental health issues). Another 13 shooters (18.3%) may have had previous behavioral issues.

Just Your Garden Variety White Guy

That my family has a certain amount of Native American ancestry has long been a legend. It goes back at least as far as my great-grandparents, who told it to my grandparents. And perhaps further back for all I know.

But it turns out that I’m your garden variety white guy.

Where do family legends like this come from? Really, it’s not that boring being white.  I am from Maine, after all. I can entertain people by talking in a funny accent (even if my real accent is neutral white American).

In my defense, I’ve always checked white on forms. I fit the stereotype. I like old country music like Johnny Cash (though not new country) and classic rock, I’m boring, I dance like I have a pole stuck up my ass, and I hope to visit Ireland some day.

Recently, my sister and I did an experiment. We had our DNA tested with different companies. The results were consistent: 100% European ancestry. We are more than half Anglo-Irish, though the amount of French is less than we thought it would be (despite having a French last name).

Something unexpected did turn up, however. There’s a notable percentage of Iberian ancestry (Spain). And my Y chromosome is predominantly found among people of Middle Eastern descent. Among people of European descent this Y chromosome is found mainly (but not exclusively) among Jews.

This doesn’t mean I’m Jewish, though it’s possible. Spain expelled its Jews around the time Columbus sailed for America, so the Iberian combined with not as much French as I expected could indicate that a male ancestor left Israel during the diaspora back in Greco-Roman times, then ended up in France after being kicked out of Spain.

I’ll never know. The genealogical records only go back to my ancestors’ arrival in the New World.

Doesn’t matter. I still can’t dance.

Lone Wolf & the Myth of the Alpha Male

The Grey starring Liam Neeson was a good action flick, but its portrayal of the wolf as a lone psychopathic killer was way off base. Dogs, after all, are simply domesticated wolves. Disney’s 1983 film Never Cry Wolf was far more accurate in its portrayal of wolves as social animals, though I more enjoyed the non-fiction book by Farley Mowat which inspired the movie.

Carl Safina, in a New York Times op-ed, reminds us that wolves are pack animals, not loners. But the lone wolf is symbolic of the alpha male. Safina writes that, “Alpha male connotes the man who at every moment demonstrates that he’s in total control in the home, and who away from home can become snarling and aggressive.”

A wolf pack is actually quite different. While the alpha male wolf will be aggressive with outsiders in defense of his family, but within the pack he is most often cooperative. Safina quotes wolf researcher Rick McIntyre, who compares the alpha wolf to a human man who is emotionally mature and who leads with a quiet self-confidence.

Another myth is that wolf packs are male dominated. Safina writes,

Biologists used to consider the alpha male the undisputed boss. But now they recognize two hierarchies at work in wolf packs — one for the males, the other for the females.
Doug Smith, the biologist who is the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project, said the females “do most of the decision making” for the pack, including where to travel, when to rest and when to hunt. The matriarch’s personality can set the tone for the whole pack, Dr. Smith said.
Or, as Mr. McIntyre put it: “It’s the alpha female who really runs the show.”

There are various permutations of patriarchy theory, but most boil down to the notion that all men are privileged by male domination of society, and all women are oppressed. Western culture today accepts this as self-evident, and only a right-wing reactionary would disagree.

Indeed, no one can credibly deny that the public realm – government, business, and religion – is a patriarchy.

But there are certain things patriarchy theory has difficulty explaining (and therefore often denies). For one, it isn’t just the top of society that’s male dominated. The bottom of society is also predominantly male. The majority of chronically homeless are men, most school dropouts are male, 4 out of 5 suicides are male, almost all war casualties are men, and 9 out of 10 workplace deaths are male.

The retort that these men are to blame for their own fates because it’s men who start wars misses the point that no innocent person should be blamed for the actions of another, even if they do share certain physical or demographic characteristics.

Besides, other men are competition for the men in authority, so it’s in the authority’s interest to keep those men down. Put another way, being used as a beast of burden or as cannon fodder by other men is not a privilege.

And sex isn’t the largest factor with privilege. For example, in the Middle Ages a princess had more privilege than a male peasant, though the prince had more privilege than the princess.

Further, women have more power at home, as both Iowa State University and Pew Research Center find. A study by Dr. Elizabeth A. Bates of the University of Cumbria also finds that at home women are often more controlling than men.

While men have often resisted greater equality for women in the workplace and in the public realm, corresponding to that is women’s resistance to men being stay-at-home husbands. Yet men desire a greater role in family life. Greater gender equality is not just about men’s attitudes toward women, it’s also about women’s and men’s attitudes toward each other.

Recognizing that the lone wolf is a myth means a shift away from Hollywood’s unrealistic loner, action film tough guy to the man who leads with quiet self-confidence rather than force; and who is central and personal rather than peripheral and impersonal in his social unit, be it his family, his workplace, or his neighborhood.

In other words, more Captain Picard and less Captain Kirk.



Men & Suicide

In the United States 77% of people who commit suicide are men. In every country (except China) men are more likely to die by their own hands.


June is men’s health month, and mental health is as important as physical health. So let’s take a look at men, depression, and suicide.

Some answers are facile. Men are more likely to use extreme methods, such as a gun, while women are more likely to swallow pills. But using a more fatal method simply shows a greater desire to die. It doesn’t explain why men are more likely to feel that way.

On the other hand, women report more suicidal thoughts than men do. But is it possible that men have as many (or more) suicidal thoughts but don’t report it?

Men aren’t supposed to need help. Recently I had to put air in my tires, but I couldn’t get the cap off one tire stem. I asked a fellow traveler if she had pliers. She grabbed a pair from her trunk and removed the cap. I thanked her, but her irritation with me was evident.

No big deal. But what if I needed help with something far bigger – with my emotional life disintegrating to the point where I felt suicidal?

There’s a reason men don’t ask for help.

Solid data on suicide attempts are hard to come by, but anecdotally women are more likely to attempt suicide. However, those attempting suicide often don’t want to die and instead are communicating their need for help. A cry for help means the person believes someone may actually help them.

But no one attempts suicide with a gun – they really want to die. Are men less likely to believe anyone will help them, leaving a final exit as the only perceived option?

Depression plays a large role in suicide, and here too we find a gender difference. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with depression. But if women suffer from depression more than men, why do men commit suicide at such higher rates?

Perhaps mental health professionals don’t recognize depression in men because there are differences in the way men and women experience depression. This is not a new idea: the evidence that men suffer from depression at similar rates as women goes back more than a quarter century

Psychiatry’s manual of mental disorders, the DSM-5, lists symptoms of depression such as fatigue, loss of interest in fun stuff, feelings of guilt, sleeping too much or too little, and of course suicidal thoughts. But depressed men are more likely than depressed women to be more aggressive, to engage in risky behaviors, and abuse substances.

One problem is that there’s a shortage of men in the mental health field, and a consequence is treatment more geared toward women than men. Alternative approaches such as ManTherapy, which uses humor to engage men, have yet to catch on.

Though teen suicide is a big concern, middle age suicide is often overlooked. Alice G. Walton writes in Forbes that “there’s still a lot of pressure on men to fill out the masculine husband role, whatever socioeconomic class one is in, and the reality is that today this classic role may be somewhat unrealistic.” Somewhat?

Poor and divorced men are especially vulnerable for suicide because they have experienced a loss of the primary male role, which is to serve as a resource for women and children (specifically, to provide and protect). Divorced women don’t face a similar loss of the traditional female role (caring for children) because mothers are far more likely than fathers to get custody of the children. But most of all, women have greater social networks and social supports than men.

Let’s recap: Men experience depression as often as women but are less likely to be diagnosed. Women attempt suicide more because they believe their cry for help will be heeded. Men are much less likely to believe anyone will help, and men are more likely to be shamed for asking for help. Men are more socially isolated than women. And job losses and divorce have a far more negative impact on men because traditional gender role expectations are more rigid for men.

It’s not just about what men need to do differently. That men must take action is a 1950s ethos which no longer serves men’s interest. Were it more socially acceptable for men to ask for help, men would do so. But this isn’t just about men’s view of the male gender role: women must also change their perceptions (see Heather Gray’s Are We Really Ready For Emotionally Intelligent Men?).

Further, we must raise awareness that suicide is a gendered issue. This requires rowing against the zero sum current which says that any focus on men’s issues comes at the detriment of women’s issues. Mental health professionals, and especially substance abuse counselors, must be educated on how to spot depression and suicide risk in men. Finally, mental health treatment should consider unorthodox approaches such as the humor of ManTherapy to reach men who might otherwise avoid therapy.