What does it mean to be a man in Australia? Research shows that the pressure on men to follow outdated stereotypes of masculinity is contributing to their anxiety, depression, risky drinking and violence against women. Encouragingly, most people support the idea that everyone will benefit if men can break free from harmful gender stereotypes.
A survey of 1000 young Australian men showed that most men disagree with outdated stereotypes of masculinity but feel pressure to conform in public.
Men who are most constrained by harmful stereotypes of what it means to be a man report mental health issues and risky behaviour. They are also more likely to perpetrate online bullying, sexual harassment and violence. This includes domestic violence, sexual violence and violence against other men.
VicHealth commissioned research into effective health promotion messaging on masculinities among 1600 Australians.
Most people agreed that breaking free from outdated gender stereotypes will improve gender equality and improve health and wellbeing for everyone.
The characteristics that most people value in men is what they value in all people: respect, non-violence, emotional expression and vulnerability.
A masculinities scoping review prepared for VicHealth concluded: health promotion programs tackling harmful social norms that engage men and boys as agents of change are the most successful.
Masculinities health promotion resources
Download: Masculinity and health: a framework for challenging masculine gender stereotypes in health promotion (PDF , 188 KB)
Watch: Unpacking the Man Box webinar recording
Masculinities communication resources
Download: Framing masculinity: Message guide (PDF, 267 KB)
Download: Masculinities and health: Attitudes towards men and masculinities in Australia (PDF, 668 KB)
Watch: Framing masculinity webinar recording
Masculinities scoping review
Download: Masculinity and health scoping review: A report prepared for VicHealth (PDF, 668 KB)
Who are the resources for?
We have a collective responsibility to challenge cultures that perpetuate harmful gender norms and stereotypes in the places where we live, learn, work and play. These resources are for:
anyone seeking to improve gender equality in universities, workplaces and sports clubs
anyone leading respectful relationships initiatives in schools
researchers, policymakers and health promotion practitioners working with men and boys.
Why focus on outdated stereotypes of masculinity?
It’s becoming clear that changing attitudes to masculinity so that men can break free of outdated stereotypes is the key to gender equality and improved health for men and everyone around them.
“Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of pressure on men to live up to traditional masculine stereotypes and to supress parts of themselves that don’t fit the cliché. It’s unhealthy for anyone to live a lesser life because they have to hide their true selves. Not only do these outdated ideas of manhood lead to high rates of depression and suicide in men, they also contribute to violence against women.”
We believe that all health and wellbeing initiatives can be strengthened by considering the influence of masculinities. From mental wellbeing or healthy eating initiatives to preventing violence against women or preventing harm from alcohol.
Alongside a focus on building the evidence base in this emerging field, VicHealth is investing in health promotion programs and initiatives through its Partnership Grants. This includes projects with Mornington Shire Council ‘Morn Pen and Boys Making it Happen’ and Macedon Shire Council, ‘Macedon Men Matter.’
How is masculinity defined?
Masculinity refers to a set of practices, attitudes and behaviours that dictate what men and boys should be and how they should act. It also includes social norms, the unwritten rules about how to behave in society.
Masculinity is learnt and expressed through observation and interaction between people in schools, universities, workplaces and sporting clubs. Social expectations of men and boys are also embedded in institutions, policies and laws.
While masculine traits are typically expected of men and boys, they are not unique to them. Many traits commonly associated with people who identify as a man or boy are also exhibited by others, including those who identify as a woman, a girl, trans, intersex, queer or gender non-binary.
What’s in the research and health promotion resources?
A health promotion tool designed to build understanding, support good practice and facilitate project design, this framework:
- describes the current evidence on harmful and healthy masculinities
- lists good practice principles and design for programs and projects
- lays out the frames for health promotion action.
We would like to thank all the organisations and researchers who contributed to this work. Download the full list here.
2. Framing masculinity: Message guide (PDF, 267 KB)
This message guide contains recommendations, developed by Common Cause Australia that will help you have more productive conversations about masculine stereotypes in Australia. The key recommendations are:
don’t pander to the vocal minority
don’t box men in
be solutions focused
use the power of social norming.
The message guide is accompanied by a full report, written by Professor Michael Flood from Queensland University of Technology. The report provides a deeper exploration of attitudes to masculinity based on the research used to develop the message guide.
3. Masculinity and health scoping review: A report prepared for VicHealth (PDF, 668 KB)
This scoping review authored by researchers from the Monash School of Social Sciences discusses current literature, including 81 publications and 16 program evaluations. It provides recommendations for a better understanding of the role of masculinities in gender equality through:
action to establish priorities for intervention programs and communities of practice
advocacy for programs, training and education
influence through education, advertising and social media.
Jesuit Social Services: The Men’s Project
The Men’s Project has explored the behaviours and attitudes to masculinity among Australian men aged 18-30 in two research reports. The reports focus on the ‘Man Box’, a set of beliefs that pressure men to behave and act in a certain way, despite the harm it causes to them and others.
Read more about The Man Box: A study on being a young man in Australia.
Read more about Unpacking the Man Box
Monash University podcast series
Monash University’s three-part podcast series featuring the Masculinities scoping review authors exploring what modern masculinity looks like.
Listen to the podcast It’s a man’s world - What happens next?
The recent study Men in focus, is an extensive review of Australian and international research on the topic of the ‘tough man’ stereotype. It aims to build a deeper understanding of masculinity, as well as providing guidance for those working with men and boys to prevent violence against women.
VicHealth Mental Wellbeing Strategy
Find out more about the scope of VicHealth’s work on masculinities and gender equality, see our Mental Wellbeing Strategy 2019-2023
Certified male: promoting healthier masculinities
Read the thought-provoking article in VicHealth’s Letter Issue 49 on healthier masculinities.