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Raising boys amid Australia's 'masculinity of the frontier'

  • 19 October 2017


If we had had a daughter, we would have had to create conditions that would make her sense of self impervious to gendered mistreatment. But we have a son, and the question of how to raise a man is never far from our minds. What on earth do we do with him?

It seemed simpler before he started school, when being honest, respectful and responsible sufficed. He only had himself to become. But he is lately sensing that this involves resistance on his part against social expectations about how he is supposed to behave and what to enjoy.

At nine years old, he understands that people expect boys to suck it up, to be tough. He thinks twice about telling friends about things he likes, or has learned to rationalise them against exclamations that 'that's a girl thing!'

He is having to navigate these binaries, and it seems so unfair, so smothering. He knows there is nothing at all wrong with girls and things that are 'girlish', and that it doesn't make him any less of a boy to treat girls kindly.

We may not have a daughter, over whom we would have worried about the countless ways the world can hurt her. Yet the work does not seem to be any less difficult, raising sons, especially in Australian context.

I've wondered at the things we have come to associate with masculinity in this country. When the NSW government devised lockout laws in central Sydney in 2014, part of me wondered about other factors in late-night assaults.

I had to wonder because the men I saw get drunk, when I was a kid and later at university, never got violent. It can't be that Filipino men are more virtuous, but that alcohol had a different effect. It made my dad more likely to break into song or dance. My uncles got louder about politics. The college boys became increasingly sentimental and confessional (and always made sure the girls got back to the dorm intact).


"Those of us from other backgrounds recognise that other cultures of masculinity are possible and in fact exist. Ones in which men hug each other, women leaders are common, and clothes are just clothes."


It struck me as incomplete, this idea that inebriated Australian men have to take a swing. Last March, a report into the lockout laws found that assaults had been merely displaced to surrounding suburbs.

When we look at other forms of