An Australian first study by Jesuit Social Services’ The Men’s Project involving 1,000 men aged 18 to 30 has shown that young men who comply with society’s pressures to be a ‘real man’ report poorer mental health, are twice as likely to consider suicide, more likely to commit acts of sexual harassment and experience and perform acts of violence and bullying.
In response to this, The Men’s Project is calling for action to raise awareness of these issues and to promote positive attitudes and behaviours among young men. Supporting this call is Josh Kennedy, captain of AFL team Sydney Swans and Men’s Project Ambassador.
The Man Box: A study on being a young man in Australia was undertaken with the support of Associate Professor Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology. It involved an online survey of a representative sample of 1,000 young men from across all demographics, as well as focus group discussions. It is modelled on research from the United States, United Kingdom and Mexico that was released by Promundo in 2017.
The central analytical tool used for the study is called the Man Box, defined as the set of beliefs within and across society that place pressure on men to act in a certain way.
In order to understand how young men encounter the Man Box rules in society, The Men’s Project asked them their views on different topics about how a man should behave. These were categorised under the seven Man Box pillars: self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression and control.
The study looked at the influence of agreement with the Man Box rules on different areas of young men’s lives, including health and wellbeing, physical appearance, relationships, risk taking, violence and bystander behaviour.
It found that social pressures around what it means to be ‘a real man’ are still very real in Australia. Two thirds of young men said that since they were a boy they had been told a ‘real man’ behaves in a certain way.
Young men inside The Man Box were those who more strongly believe in the Man Box rules, and reported poorer mental health and a variety of behavioural issues that impact on others.
The findings correspond with those from the US, UK and Mexico. The pressures relating to being a man are everywhere in society and are reinforced and influenced by young men’s closest relationships – families, partners and friends.
The Men’s Project is calling for a new focus on building awareness of the Man Box norms and their harmful impacts. This will include new programs across Australia to support young men to understand, critique and negotiate the Man Box.
These programs should be reinforced through a focus on transforming the social pressures around being a man – this needs to happen in a wide range of settings across our society from the schoolyard to sporting clubs and even in the media.
The Man Box report and video is available at: www.themanbox.org.au