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Break the man box to halt gendered violence

  • 02 December 2019


You'd hear him before you saw him — the early 30s, big money-spinning alpha male of the office. Full of confidence, he'd always have the final say. It was my first year of university and my first experience in an office. He'd show us young fellas pictures of swimsuit calendars on his computer and make suggestive jokes about the female receptionist.

Even other women in the office would laugh along — on reflection, nervously. I felt uncomfortable but didn't speak up. I should have been better. As a young man back then, I struggled to find the words or the way to call him out.

These behaviours — aggressive, hyper-sexualised and controlling — are the bedrock of violence against women. They occur in myriad ways in our communities every day. Over the last few months alone we've seen many instances of hostility directed at women — misogynistic chants from schoolboys, Pauline Hanson being named chair of a family law inquiry after accusing mothers of making up domestic violence claims, high-profile leaders playing down violence against women.

This is not, however, an issue of a few incidents or individuals alone. It's a deeply engrained societal issue and some concerning attitudes are widespread. A research report by Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, for instance, found that 43 per cent of young Australians aged 16-24 think it's natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends.

These findings were mirrored by the 2019 Man Box study* which found that a majority of young Australian men feel significant pressure to conform with what we define as rigid masculinities — such as using violence to get respect and acting strong at all times. Men who personally endorsed these views, those 'inside the Man Box', were more likely to perpetrate physical violence and sexually harass women.

These views are not good for men themselves either. Men 'inside the Man Box' were more likely to be victims of violence, to report poorer mental health, to experience thoughts of suicide, and to be involved in road accidents.

All of this lines up with what frontline workers tell us about working with boys and men who engage in risky and violent behaviours — young men are often reluctant to seek help when they are struggling, and many take the shame and self-loathing about their behaviour out on others.


"Addressing these broader issues without focusing on