Are outdated ideals of masculinity holding men back?

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Michael Flood, Queensland University of Technology

Most Australians recognise that traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for boys and men, a new national survey has found. And perhaps contrary to popular belief, many Australians are receptive to messages about alternative, healthy versions of masculinity.

The survey of 1619 respondents, commissioned by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, sought to gauge people’s attitudes towards men and masculinity. The sample was representative of the Australian population by age, state and gender.

Most people agreed on a few basic principles:

  • traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for boys and men

  • there is pressure on men to live up to traditional masculine stereotypes

  • masculine expectations or outdated ideas of masculinity prevent men from living full lives

  • boys need both women and men as role models, rather than only men.

Masculinity is enforced more by men than women

The survey revealed a consistent gender gap in attitudes toward men’s roles in society and perceptions of masculinity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey showed that compared to women, men are less supportive of gender equality, less likely to see sexism as extensive and systematic, and more likely to endorse men’s dominance in relationships and families.

Ironically, the male respondents in the survey were also less aware than the female respondents of the pressure society places on men to conform to a certain ideal of masculinity.

One of the most interesting findings was the attitudes of younger men. Young men (aged 16-17) generally had more progressive attitudes than older men on traditional gender roles and how they are limiting, outdated and contribute to poor health. Yet, they also had the highest levels of endorsement of men’s use of violence, homophobia, breadwinner roles and men’s patriarchal power and control in relationships.

Such regressive attitudes may reflect the intensified pressure they feel among male peers to prove themselves as men, sexist online culture or other factors.

Conversely, young women’s attitudes were the most progressive of all respondents, creating a large gap between them and their male peers.

Teenage boys may feel peer pressure to adhere to some traditional views of manhood.
Shutterstock

Who is a real man?

There was little support overall in the survey for traditional definitions of masculinity based on homophobia. About one-quarter of young men and one-fifth of adult men agreed with the statement, ‘a gay guy isn’t a real man’. (Even fewer women agreed with this statement.)

There was also little support for the idea men should dominate and control women in relationships, although large minorities of men and particularly young men do support this.

Asked whether “a man should always have the final say about decisions in his relationship or marriage”, 30 per cent of young men and 19 per cent of adult men agreed, compared to just 13 per cent of young women and 9 per cent of adult women.

Among our respondents, there was broad recognition that gender is socially constructed – in other words, that boys’ and men’s lives and relations are shaped by social forces as much as they are by biology.

At the same time, many respondents also believed there were ‘natural’ differences between men and women, especially when phrased in these terms.

We also saw widespread recognition of the need to open up gender roles for men, especially because they constrain men’s own health and wellbeing.

There was strong agreement, for instance, that men and boys should be free to explore who they are without the pressures of gender stereotypes. Most people also agreed progress towards gender equality and breaking free of gender stereotypes would be good for men.

And though domestic and sexual violence continues to be a major concern, especially during the pandemic, it was encouraging to see almost universal agreement among people in Australia that men can play a role in preventing violence against women.

Gender norms are improving

The VicHealth survey complements a growing body of Australian research on people’s attitudes toward men, masculinity and gender.

This includes a national survey of young Australian men’s conformity to the ‘Man Box’
(stereotypical masculine attitudes), a national survey of Australians’ attitudes to gender equality issues and a rolling national survey of awareness and attitudes regarding violence against women.

Other data tell us gender norms in Australia are changing, largely for the better.

Attitudes improved in the 1980s and 1990s and, although progress stalled after this, there have been steady improvements in the past decade.

There is a growing awareness in Australia that traditional gender stereotypes are limiting and harmful for men.
Shutterstock

Messages for healthier views on masculinity

One of the key findings of our survey is that framing matters. How messages about gender are phrased affects whether people agree with them – that is, what messages they will support.

For example, when people are presented with messages that men are currently ‘under attack’, substantial proportions of the population will endorse them – particularly those with pre-existing conservative views.

On the other hand, when statements on gender are framed in progressive or feminist terms – for example, men and boys are restricted by masculine stereotypes and should be freed from them – those with conservative views have similar levels of agreement to middle-of-the-road people.

VicHealth’s research also tested various messages for promoting healthy masculinity to identify those most likely to inspire positive change.

Among the key recommendations for community and health providers to better engage with men:

  • focus on progressive ideas that will appeal to the vast majority of people, rather than pandering to men with traditionally masculine language or focusing on myth-busting

  • emphasise the need to free men from outdated masculine stereotypes

  • focus less on the problem, and more on the solution.

There is a wealth of evidence that conformity to traditional masculine stereotypes is limiting for men and boys and harmful to those around them.

Most Australians agree. It is time to foster positive alternatives, to improve health and wellbeing for everyone.The Conversation

Michael Flood, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Do you think there is too much pressure on men to live up to traditional masculine stereotypes?

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13 Comments

Total Comments: 13
  1. 5
    0

    The thing that holds men back the most is the constant criticism from groups with an axe to grind, men have to be on their guard constantly to make sure they don’t do or say anything that the constantly outraged will find offence with, I still open doors and let my wife go through before me, in today’s modern world men are afraid to show any gallantry towards women in case some one finds fault and accuse them of treating women as being something less than men.

  2. 2
    0

    “Young men (aged 16-17) generally had more progressive attitudes than older men on traditional gender roles and how they are limiting, outdated and contribute to poor health. Yet, they also had the highest levels of endorsement of men’s use of violence, homophobia, breadwinner roles and men’s patriarchal power and control in relationships.”

    “Among our respondents, there was broad recognition that gender is socially constructed – in other words, that boys’ and men’s lives and relations are shaped by social forces as much as they are by biology.”

    I could of course pull out more quotes from this highly biased, man-bashing ‘survey’. What do you expect when you consider what is being taught in schools? The total annihilation of boys and men which begins in the classroom is bound to throw up such warped views as those here. And then just for good measure, having already stripped these boys of any sense of acceptance and belonging, we then allow them to be exposed to the very adult world of porn. A world that is based on the male as the aggressor and the women as the submissive little girls ‘begging for it’ and ‘getting it’ in less than optimal circumstances.

    Is it really any wonder that boys and men are confused about themselves and their place in society?

    • 2
      0

      The first paragraph you quote, KSS, is followed by “Such regressive attitudes may reflect the intensified pressure they feel among male peers to prove themselves as men, sexist online culture or other factors.”

      This is referring to adolescents at an age where they are forming their identity when the world is presenting them with conflicting messages. Please! Give them a chance. At this age (16-17) some might not fully understand the survey questions.

    • 3
      0

      Jimy, you need to re-read my post. I am wholeheartedly supporting men and boys. It really sux to identify as male these days. A look at the latest HSC results also shows just how far schools have sunk in their push to elevate girls. This is not bad of course in its first aim but NOT when it comes at the expense of boys. There can be no equality when one side is constantly being denegrated.
      The schools have a great deal to answer for in the demise of boys and men in society with their ‘woke’ agenda. It is absolutely not true that ‘all men are rapists’ despite the rise and rise of the female hierarchy wanting you to believe otherwise.

  3. 3
    0

    This is a very woke, life-inexperienced article. Man-bashing via media stories that talk about “progressives” (imo progressive is a regressive, virtue-signalling word that tries to pretend those who attach themself to it are smarter, more modern, more knowledgeable, more superior than all the rest) is detrimental to the development of young boys. Men are a down-trodden, un-appreciated, lost and oftentimes lonely, gender. What highlights how men are treated is the fact that any woman can make a serious accusation about any man, and her identity is permanently protected, whilst the man, once proven innocent, has had his life totally destroyed, often never to recover. There is nothing equal in being a man. Being a woman I’ve worked with enough to know what utter trouble-making, money-grabbing, home-wrecking, man-destroying evil types they can be. In my lifetime I’d say 3 out of 10 women are “real women” and the rest I wouldn’t even bother talking to.

  4. 2
    0

    Sexual roles – mother and father, husband and wife – are not just arbitrary categories into which people are squeezed; they are broad patterns and principles of behaviour which define the optimum ways in which men and women can relate together, enjoy intimacy, and provide a context in which children can grow up healthy and strong. The father’s role is more than just one component in the pattern of complementary roles. It is the crucial pivot – the foundation – upon which both family and society revolve. How men fill that role determines the potential happiness and fulfilment of all of us

  5. 2
    0

    But please don’t get it wrong. Gender is NOT fluid.
    Gender is determined at conception, when the XX and XY chromosomes in the sperm cell fuse with the chromosomes in then egg to determine, for life, whether the baby and subsequent adult will be male or female. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. You can change your body by surgery, but you cant change your sex, It is fixed for life in every cell of your body.
    Oh yes, there are “aberrations”, trans sexuals, where the the chromosomes are mixed. These accidents of nature happen in every mammalian species, in a TINY minority. There were 1,260 in Australia, in the total population in 2016 Census. That’s right, in 25 million we have this tiny minority, but gender hysteria makes it seem much more common. Google “gender hysteria” for the facts.
    And for God’s sake encourage men to be men and women to be women! We need you to be real.

  6. 0
    0

    Asked whether “a man should always have the final say about decisions in his relationship or marriage”, 30 per cent of young men and 19 per cent of adult men agreed, compared to just 13 per cent of young women and 9 per cent of adult women.
    When I read this can it be that 87% of young women and 91% of older women say they should have the final say?

  7. 2
    0

    I say good on you gentlemen if you hold the door open –and other such things — and THANK YOU! –a real man does what he knows is right and is not put off by those rude and questionable females that abuse because you opened a door for them — ignore them — you are right they are wrong — I being a female — have no bother in also opening a door for a bloke — or helping him if he needed it it is respect and it should be shown to all

    Should a man have the final say —or a woman? no of course not, no one is above the other and it is –IMO — fine to agree to disagree and things have to be talked over in a sensible way


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