Experts declare manliness ‘harmful’

TRADITIONAL masculinity has been labelled "harmful" in a major move by a health body, linked with high rates of suicide and violence.

The American Psychological Association released a report last week, citing more than 40 years of research on the issue of "masculine ideology" - a step praised by Australian experts.

"Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health," it said.

Increasingly referred to as "toxic masculinity", traditional ideals surrounding manhood are usually toughness, aggression, a suppression of emotion, dominance and stoicism.

Queensland University of Technology sociologist Michael Flood said some of the ways boys are raised can have "significant costs" for the community.

 

Traditional masculinity has been labelled ‘harmful’ by a major US health body and Australian experts believe that’s a good thing.
Traditional masculinity has been labelled ‘harmful’ by a major US health body and Australian experts believe that’s a good thing.

Across the country today, an estimated six men will take their own lives - three times the number of women to die by suicide.

"There's growing recognition that norms of masculinity in many ways are limiting for men themselves," Dr Flood told news.com.au.

"Going along with traditional masculine beliefs increases the risk of suicide - there have been studies to indicate that. If you think being a man means not asking for help or not showing pain, being a John Wayne character and going it alone, you can't cope when things are hard."

Notions of traditional masculinity can increase the risk of suicide in men, who are three times more likely to take their own lives.
Notions of traditional masculinity can increase the risk of suicide in men, who are three times more likely to take their own lives.

Traditional masculinity has a place in a number of scenarios, Dr Flood said, where a number of those qualities can be very useful.

"Being tough and stoic are exactly the qualities you need if you're fighting a fire or something like that, but once it's over, you need other qualities," he said.

"Some of those men (without) are poorer at some of the qualities that many people recognise are important in contemporary relationships - communication, emotional expression."

There's growing recognition in the fields of men's mental health, education and the prevention of violence against women and children that "the norms of masculinity" can be harmful.

"Unless we tackle this, we'll continue to see large numbers of men turning up in hospitals, being assaulted, committing suicide, and suffering in silence and so on," Dr Flood said.

 

Unhealthy notions of traditional masculinity have also been linked to increased instances of violence. Picture: Bill Hearne
Unhealthy notions of traditional masculinity have also been linked to increased instances of violence. Picture: Bill Hearne

 

Criticisms from some segments of the community that the discussion about toxic masculinity is an attack on men are unfounded, he said.

"We need to distinguish between men and masculinity. The attack on the narrow messaging is not an attack on men. This is driven by a concern for men."

Dr Flood was involved in the groundbreaking Man Box study last year, which found that young Australian men who oversubscribe to traditional notion of masculinity had poorer health and wellbeing outcomes.

"We also found that many of them have poorer relationships with others and were more likely to be involved in violence," he said.

Of those surveyed - a cohort of 1000 men aged 18 to 30 - 69 per cent felt society expected them to act strong and 56 per cent felt being a man meant never saying no to sex.

Another 36 per cent agreed that society pressures them to shun friendships with gay men and 38 per cent thought boys shouldn't learn how to cook and clean.

The focus on preventing violence against women is also increasingly focusing on breaking down the notion of traditional masculinity.
The focus on preventing violence against women is also increasingly focusing on breaking down the notion of traditional masculinity.

Research from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, conducted in 2015, found men whose self-image feel short of traditional masculine gender norms were more prone to violence than men who felt comfortable in their own skins.

Lead author Dennis Reidy said "macho" and highly masculine men were more likely to engage in behaviours seen as "stereotypically male", such as risk-taking, substance misuse and acts of aggression.

In an Australian context, a high value is placed on expressions of manliness and masculinity, according to Southern Cross University researcher Paul Edwards.

Dr Edwards explored the history of larrikinism within Australian culture and discovered that aggression went hand-in-hand with being a larrikin.

"Aggression has been an endorsed expression of anger within Australian culture for young men," Dr Edwards said.

"A lot of young guys don't have the skills to deal with strong emotion when their anger cuts in. Boys can learn self-control and self-reflective skills that stop impulsivity.

"But when anger is reinforced culturally and by the metaphors used to talk about anger, these young guys have got no reason to think this will ever change."

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au