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Tough man stereotype can hurt women and men: report

November 7, 2019

Men who conform only to rigid stereotypes of how to be a man are more likely to have sexist attitudes and behaviours, which in turns makes them more likely to perpetuate violence against women, according to a report by Our Watch and the Victorian Office for Women, released today.

Illustrated image of three men standing together on a beige background - an older man, a young man in a suit, a boy with a football.

The landmark study, Men in focus, is an extensive review of Australian and international research evidence on the topic, which aims to build a deeper understanding of masculinity, as well as providing guidance for those working with men and boys to prevent violence against women.

Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said the traditional male stereotype called for men to be dominant, in control, tough, aggressive and stoic, to suppress their emotions and be hypersexual and heterosexual.

She said whilst there was nothing inherently wrong with these stereotypes, the problem came when men felt pressure to conform only to these ideas of how to be a man, or believed that no-one else could display these traits.

“Evidence clearly shows that men who rigidly attach to this stereotype, avoiding behaviours considered ‘unmanly’, are more likely to exhibit sexism and disrespect towards women – to feel that women should be under their control,” Ms Kinnersly said. “Ultimately, they’re more likely to be violent towards them.

“Many men say they feel pressure to live up to this ideal – which is also incredibly harmful to them.”

Men in focus found men who subscribed to dominant norms and practices of masculinity experienced greater health risks, including higher rates of depression and suicide. They were also more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours such as dangerous driving and substance abuse and were less likely to seek help.

Ms Kinnersly said male violence was a significant problem in Australia, with 95 per cent of violence against women and men being perpetrated by men.

“This report is an attempt to better understand how particular ideas about masculinity are driving this,” Ms Kinnersly said. “We need society-wide solutions alongside programs that engage individuals, because these ideas are deeply ingrained in our society.”

Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said: “We know that the traditional views of masculinity pushed in popular culture can make gender inequality worse – they can be harmful for women, and also for the men who take on these stereotypes.”

Report author Dr Shane Tas, Our Watch senior policy advisor, said all men could play a part in ending violence against women.

“It’s easy for men to think… ‘that’s not me, I’m a good man, I’m not violent’… but the reality is that although perpetrators are the minority, everyone in our society, including men, has a critical role – to call out sexism and disrespect towards women, to notice and to act when women are sidelined in the media, in the workplace, in social spaces,” Dr Tas said.

“The perception that women aren’t equal, that men should be in control and be in positions of power; all of that adds up to create the kind of social conditions and attitudes that lead to violence against women.”

The report is in response to calls for research evidence on the link between dominant forms of masculinity and violence against women, and for tools and resources to engage men and boys in the work of violence prevention.

Key findings of the report

  • Masculinity is a social construction; it is a set of social expectations or standards regarding how men should think and act; it is learned
  • The dominant stereotypes about men underpin an unhealthy ideal of masculinity, and help drive gender inequality and violence
  • Attachment to a rigid set of ideals about masculinity – dominance, control, risk-taking, hypersexuality, heterosexuality, stoicism, aggression – is associated with a range of harmful behaviours, including violence against women. This is well acknowledged by a large range of peer-reviewed literature in the fields of social sciences, public health and psychology
  • There are many ways to be a man, and men should not feel the need to conform to one fixed way of ‘being a man’
  • Men who subscribe to dominant norms and practices of masculinity experience greater health risks, including higher rates of depression and suicide
  • Men who are impacted by other systems and structures of discrimination and disadvantage, such as racism, homophobia, classism and ableism, experience even greater impacts to their health and wellbeing
  • The individualistic good men/bad men narrative is unhelpful because unpacking masculinity is a social challenge. Many powerful social norms and structures perpetuate harmful ideas about masculinity, maintain and reinforce gender inequality and uphold male power and privilege. This is not just an individual issue of a few ‘bad’ men
  • Men can feel particular pressure to conform to masculine norms, attitudes and practices, in certain settings or when they are interacting and socialising with other men
  • Our social structures, systems and institutions often help promote dominant ideas of masculinity and they often privilege men as a group over women as a group. Importantly, some men experience greater power and privilege than other men
  • Harmful ideas and stereotypes about men should be rejected in favour of promoting and encouraging other ways of being a man that are more positive and respectful
  • The voices of women must be heard, including in conversations about men and masculinity, because these issues directly affect them. Addressing gender inequality means improving the status of women and girls and ensuring they have a strong voice in discussions that affect them

Media contact

Clare Kermond, Senior Media Advisor, Our Watch: 0448 844 930 or clare.kermond@ourwatch.org.au or media@ourwatch.org.au.

If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit Media Making Change.

About Our Watch

Our Watch leads Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women and children.