A new Australian study has been released by the Jesuit Social Services’ “The Men’s Project”#1, modeled on research in the United States, United Kingdom and Mexico that was released by Promundo in 2017#2. It’s perplexing to note that the Promundo study was undertaken by Unilever’s leading male grooming brand. The Australian study focuses on attitudes to manhood and the behavior of young Australian men aged 18 to 30, from a sample of 1,000 young men.
The study reveals that there is still pressure on young men to conform to male stereotypes — the so-called seven pillars of masculinity — to be self-sufficient; tough; physically attractive; stick to ‘gender roles’; be heterosexual; hypersexual; in control and use violence to get respect#2. Collectively these are known as the ‘man-box’.
Study respondents who ‘comply’ with perceived pressure to be a ‘real man’ (i.e. are ‘inside’ the man-box) compared to those ‘outside’ the man-box, were:
- twice as likely to have considered suicide in the last two weeks (44% to 22% ‘outside’)
- almost 50% more likely to get drunk at least once a month (31% to 22%)
- 47% had perpetrated physical bullying and violence in the last month (7% outside)
- 46% had made sexual comments to a female they did not know (7% outside)
- more than three times as likely to have experienced bullying or physical violence in the last month (52% to 15%)
- more than three times as likely to have been involved in a car accident within the last year (38% to 11%)
I must admit to being bitterly disappointed in these findings, as so many young people in the media show a refreshing new perspective on gender roles and masculinity. In the light of #metoo it’s particularly disturbing. I had imagined that’s today’s well-informed, socially savvy youth had worked out for themselves a better way. However, two-thirds of study respondents said they had been told since they were a boy that ‘real men’ behave in a certain way.
The study unsurprisingly reports the adverse effects of these young men’s negative beliefs about masculinity on their mental health. I hate to consider the implications on today’s suicide rate, currently the biggest cause of death in Australian men#3 between 15 and 44 years of age#4. Not far behind is the drug overdose rate and the incidence of assault to ambulance crew and hospital emergency department staff, frequently reported as drug-related.
Earlier this year there was extensive media coverage of sexual harassment and assault amongst university students in Australia#5, which had been allowed to run virtually unchecked for years. Finally, this week we are seeing a political response to this#6
So when we think we’re doing a good job teaching our young men — a task with which I admit I am wholly un-involved — it’s clear that in some areas we have more to do.
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