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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Flood, Professor of Sociology, Queensland University of Technology


Most young adult men in Australia reject traditional ideas of masculinity that endorse aggression, stoicism and homophobia. Nonetheless, the ongoing influence of those ideas continues to harm men and the people around them. These are some of the findings of a new survey of men in Australia.

The Man Box survey, led by The Men’s Project at Jesuit Social Services in partnership with Respect Victoria, spoke to 2,523 Australian men aged between 18 and 30.

We asked men how much they agreed with a stereotypical model of how to be a man. In this model, men are expected to always act tough, be aggressive, take risks, be stoic, heterosexual, homophobic and transphobic, emotionally inexpressive, hostile to femininity, and dominant.

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The results showed most men don’t endorse this model of manhood, and most don’t think society is encouraging this version of manhood among them. This suggests healthier, more gender-equitable, and more inclusive norms of manhood are relatively common among young adult men in Australia.

That said, one-quarter to one-third of young men did agree with some of the attributes.

Although the results are largely encouraging, it’s discouraging that men’s levels of endorsement of traditional masculine beliefs have remained steady over the past five years.

Three men sit next to each other chatting in the sunset
Most men rejected that masculinity is defined by aggression and domination.

Comparing the most recent Man Box survey with the previous survey in 2018, there has been little change in men’s attitudes towards male aggression, stoicism and self-sufficiency, domestic labour as women’s work, homophobia, and hypersexuality.

The only substantial areas of change in young men’s own beliefs have been in their comfort with men spending time on grooming and fashion and their acceptance of men not always knowing where their intimate partner is. That is, young men these days may be spending a little more time in front of the bathroom mirror, and checking up a little less on where their wives or girlfriends are.

Although only a minority of young men support male dominance and control in relationships and families overall, this has not declined much in the past five years.

On the other hand, young men report less societal pressure to conform to those stereotypical masculine norms than five years ago. While they now report feeling less pressure to be self-sufficient, stoic, and act strong, large numbers say it remains an issue for them.

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Harmful for all genders

Young men’s endorsement of traditional masculine norms plays out in a range of problematic behaviours. These include behaviour that is harmful to women and also to men themselves.

Our survey shows one-quarter of young men have used physical violence against an intimate partner, and one-fifth have used sexual violence against an intimate partner. Both behaviours are more likely among the young men who more strongly endorse more traditional stereotypes of masculinity.

Traditional masculine norms also limit young men’s own health and wellbeing. Among the men we surveyed, some had considered suicide and self-harm, were drinking at dangerous levels, taking risks while intoxicated or drug-affected, or problem gambling. Again, all of these are more common among the men with the highest conformity to traditionally masculine stereotypes.

Promoting healthy masculinity

To address the harms of stereotypical masculine norms, three tasks are crucial.

First, we must highlight why these are harmful in the first place. This means alerting policy makers, service providers and the community to the costs of men’s and boys’ blind conformity to masculinity.

Second, we must weaken the cultural influence of stereotypical masculine ideals, particularly the ones that cause harm to men and the people around them. That may involve highlighting the positive diversity among men and boys, promoting spaces where men can support each other in breaking free of rigid masculine stereotypes, and amplifying alternative male voices.

Third, we must promote healthy alternatives to rigid masculine ideals, based on qualities such as gender equality, non-violence, respect and empathy. This can be done through schools as part of respectful relationships education. There can also be social marketing and communications campaigns and changes to the policies and workplace cultures that constrain men’s parenting, among other strategies.

Building work with men and boys

The “healthy masculinities” field is taking off in Australia. There are new programs aimed at boys and men, national violence-prevention frameworks for men and boys, and new funding opportunities. Most people in Australia agree men and boys will benefit from breaking free from traditional masculine stereotypes.

If this growing field is to make a real difference, however, there are some important ways forward. The work must be scaled up, beyond programs reaching small numbers of boys in schools.

Because gender norms and patterns of interaction are embedded in organisations and communities, work must be done in those spaces too.

Intensive intervention is needed in the settings that sustain unhealthy and gender-inequitable forms of masculinity. These may include particular workplaces, informal male peer groups, and online platforms and networks on Reddit, X/Twitter and elsewhere.

There is a rich body of scholarship on how stereotypical masculinity shapes men’s and boys’ poor health, use of violence, and other social problems.

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However, we need to know more about the positives. What are the factors that shape healthy attitudes, behaviours and relations among men and boys? How do we then build on them?

We need to build services’ and practitioners’ capacity to work well with men and boys: through university teaching, professional development and practitioner networks.

Finally, we need standards for effective practice in work with men and boys, so initiatives and programs in Australia are not merely well-intended but actually make a difference.

The Conversation

Michael Flood has received funding from the Australian Research Council, the Department of Justice and Community Safety in the Victorian Government, the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) Foundation, and other organisations. He was commissioned by Jesuit Social Service to contribute a commentary within the Man Box 2024 report.

ref. Aggressive? Homophobic? Stoic? Here’s what thousands of Australian men told us about modern masculinity –