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Unpacking the Man Box

Unpacking the Man Box is based on a survey of 1,000 young Australian men aged 18 to 30. The report builds on the findings of The Men’s Project’s 2018 reportThe Man Box.

The initial Man Box report found that young Australian men who believe in outdated masculine stereotypes were themselves at higher risk of using violence, online bullying and sexual harassment, engaging in risky drinking and reporting poorer levels of mental health.

The new study finds young Australian men’s belief in rigid masculine stereotypes has a stronger impact on whether they will use violence, sexually harass women, or experience mental ill-health themselves, than other factors including their education levels, where they live or their cultural heritage.

Unpacking the Man Box finds men’s adherence to outdated attitudes to gender is over:

  • 25 times more accurate than a range of demographic variables in predicting the use of physical violence, sexual harassment, verbal bullying and cyber bullying
  • 22 times more accurate in predicting the experience of physical violence, verbal bullying and cyber bullying
  • 11 times more accurate than demographics at predicting very risky drinking; and
  • 10 times more accurate than demographics at predicting negative feelings and emotions

The report includes a range of recommendations to support young men to break free of the man box, live healthy lives and be their best selves.

Unpacking the Man Box is produced by Jesuit Social Services’ The Men’s Project and Dr Michael Flood, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, with funding from VicHealth.

Download the full report

The Man Box

Led by The Men’s Project at Jesuit Social Services, The Man Box is the first comprehensive study that focuses on the attitudes to manhood and the behaviours of young Australian men aged 18 to 30.

Our objectives were:

  1. To understand the pressures young men experience around being a ‘real man’ by asking them whether they felt pressure to comply with 17 rules of the Man Box– for example, to be strong, stoic, in control, to not back down from threats, to use violence to get respect, to be the breadwinner and to have many sexual partners.
  2. To understand whether young men personally agree with these Man Box social messages, and finally
  3. To understand the influence, if any, that agreeing with these rules has on the lives of young men and those around them including impacts on mental health, use and experience of violence, sexual harassment, binge drinking and traffic accidents.

Our project involved gathering data through an online survey of 1000 young men aged 18-30 across Australia, followed by two focus group interviews. Dr Flood provided expert analysis for the report. When the final report was completed, The Men’s Project shared and publicised the findings, undertook advocacy, and drew on the findings to develop recommendations. The report had 25 significant media appearances in publications like The Age, various ABC news outlets, Buzzfeed, and TV/radio interviews.

Key findings
  • The Man Box is alive and well in Australia today. The majority of young men agree there are social pressures on them to behave or act a certain way because of their gender.
  • The majority of young men surveyed disagreed with the Man Box beliefs. But there is still a large number who agree with some of the beliefs that make up the Man Box, including being strong, not showing vulnerability, always being in control and men being the primary providers at home.
  • Living up to the pressures of being a ‘real man’ causes harm to young men and those around them, particularly women.
  • Young men who most strongly agree with these rules report poorer levels of mental health, engage in risky drinking, are more likely to be in car accidents and to report committing acts of violence, online bullying and sexual harassment.
  • We need action across the community and in the form of new programs which will deliver benefits to society, as well as to the young men themselves in terms of health, wellbeing and safety.

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.

Across all levels of society there must be a focus on building awareness of the Man Box norms and their harmful impacts. Positive alternatives should be promoted.

Everyone can take action by talking about the pressures of the Man Box with the boys and men in their lives, and by modelling positive alternatives to the Man Box norms in front of boys and young men.

We recommend action across a range of levels, from government to business, to community and academia to develop and test new approaches to these issues with young men. We also recommend further research to understand these issues in more detail.

The Men’s Project is using the findings to inform design of innovative services across family and adolescent violence programs as well as to engage at-risk boys between the ages of 8 – 12 in schools. Free From Violence Funding from the Office for Women has also supported piloting of Modelling Respect and Equality – a program that recruits, trains and supports male and female role models including teachers, social workers and sports coaches. These role models are supported to promote positive expressions of masculinity and promote respect and equality among boys and men.

Our Man Box research continues to positively influence approaches to engaging men and boys. Groups across Victoria, such as the following, are also using the research in health promotion activities:

  • community organisations such as Women’s Health organisations
  • Government, including VicHealth’s Healthier Masculinities Framework and the Department of Education as part of curriculum delivery in schools
  • Our Watch – in the Men in Focus Report
  • the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in gender equality training workshops
  • and organisational settings, such as Yarra Ranges Council and Hobsons Bay Council.

The Man Box in Schools

In late 2018, The Men’s Project partnered with Edmund Rice Education Australia to develop and deliver the Adolescent Man Box study. This involved the completion of a survey and undertaking focus groups with adolescent boys boys at a Victorian Secondary School.

Ethics approval for the study was obtained through Jesuit Social Services’ Ethics Committee and a governance structure was established. This included an Advisory Group to provide expert advice and oversight to the project.

The Adolescent Man Box is the first study that focuses on the attitudes to manhood and the association between these attitudes and the mental health, wellbeing, risk behaviours and sexist attitudes and behaviours of Australian adolescent boys aged 11 to 18. The study involved a sample of 1,170 adolescent boys (451 boys in year 7-8; 719 boys in year 9-12) from a Victorian secondary school who completed a survey that asked questions about the above attitudes and behaviours. The analysis of the responses of the adolescent boys was completed separately for boys in year 7-8 and year 9-12. Boys in year 7-8 are at a different stage in their physical, emotional and cognitive development compared to the older boys and are likely to respond differently to the questions in the survey. This study extends the research previously conducted by Jesuit Social Services with young adult men in Australia (The Men’s Project, 2018), as well as existing research with young adult men in the United States, United Kingdom and Mexico that was released by Promundo in 2017 (Heilman, Barker, & Harrison, 2017).

One of the key questions for this study was the level of societal messages regarding the Adolescent Man Box rules as well as the extent to which adolescent boys accept or endorse the rules of the Adolescent Man Box. The four pillars of masculinity (the Adolescent Man Box rules) reflect the following values:

Constant Efforts to be Manly

Constant Efforts to be Manly reflects the norm that boys must maintain a strong and confident persona in order to appear manly. i.e., masculinity involving not backing down in challenges.

Emotional Restriction

Emotional Restriction reflects assumptions about masculinity involving the hiding of emotions and remaining emotionally invulnerable. i.e., ‘real guys’ do not and should not talk about their own emotions, problems, fears, or worries; they should ‘hold it in’ or keep it to themselves.


Heterosexism represents traditions ideas around masculinity as being in opposition to behaviours traditionally considered feminine or “gay”. i.e., to be considered manly it is important to avoid behaviours and attitudes that are traditionally thought of as being gay or feminine by others.

Social Teasing

Social Teasing represents attitudes around the proposal that to be masculine boys must be able to tease their friends and stand up to such teasing when it is directed at them. Social teasing has an important role in helping guys to be able to fit in.

The Man Box in Schools Report is due to be released in early 2020.