In this episode we've gathered all the very best practical tips and ideas from our experts about what individuals can do to help tackle this challenging and important issue. We discuss the best way to support men and boys to cultivate positive masculinity, find out what works and why, and talk about the resources available.
Susan Carland: Welcome back to What Happens Next. So what can we as individuals do? In this episode, we'll hear from our experts about the best way to support men and boys to cultivate positive masculinity. We'll find out what works and why, and talk about the resources available.
Rebecca Stewart: I am Rebecca Stewart and I am doing my PhD as part of the behavior change Graduate Research Industry Partnership, which is a collaboration between Behaviour Works Australia as part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute in partnership with Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, and I am looking at what the key ingredients are to engaging men and boys in sustainable shifts in attitudes and behaviors around healthier versions of masculinity.
Brittany Ralph: I'm Brittany and I’m a doctoral researcher at Monash University and my research looks at masculinity and positive change, particularly with regards to men's friendships.
Steve Roberts: I'm Steve Roberts, Associate Professor of Sociology at Monash University and my research area is masculinity and social change.
Susan Carland: Steve Roberts, Brittany Ralph, Rebecca Stewart - welcome to the podcast.
I was having a chat with a really good family friend, he is a little boy who’s 12 and I was just, you know, I’ve known him his whole life, lovely kid, very gentle, grown up in a feminist household. And I said, ‘How’s school going?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it was International Women's Day The other day we had an assembly’ and I said, ‘Oh, cool, how was that?’. He goes, ‘Actually, me and my best friend really hated it because it wasn't about anything great that women are doing or what they've achieved. It just made me and my friend feel bad for being boys’.
How do we deal with this with young kids in particular? I think with men they have the capacity to understand this idea of structure. So you might be able to sort of say, to an adult man ‘I know you are against sexism. Personally, you're probably horrified by it, but you can understand how, even though you might be against that, you can benefit from a system that reinforces it’. But little kids can't understand that, and all he knows is ‘But I don't hate women, and I would never think that. And now I just feel bad for being a boy’. How do we, what do we do with that?
SR: One of the things that it makes me think about is the need to amplify the voices of boys and men who are practicing good behaviour, right? I can understand the perspective of that little kid because he's hearing all this negativity and like, ‘Ah, that must be what men out there, endorse and value somehow’. And that's what's also happening. It's not because they're being told you're a bad person, it is probably also thinking that's what men do, and they endorse that whatever, and that's actually quite problematic. So I think we need more work - and again, this is something that filters through all of our work in some ways - to try and say there's some examples of how to be a good person slash good man, good boy, and I think we need more of that for boys, so we need more role modeling, I suppose, with the caveat that we know that lots of role models are also terrible.
So, we need to be promoting better forms of masculinity. And in those discussions with young boys and men like, yeah, it's difficult. We don't want to be saying ‘it's not all men, we know it's not you’ but to point us towards the problem, so we are together working against the problem, not pointing at you and saying you're the problem. That's kind of a way through it, I think. It's not easy, but there's nothing definite about being a boy. Right now we teach kids that there is something definite about being a boy, and it's not being a girl.
So the building blocks of much earlier like, around boys and girls toys and this kind of stuff, that kind of binary is not helpful because then when they grow up they’re like ‘boys behave in that way’.
BR: And I think, too, if it's explained at their level, if we give them a bit of credit that they are, you know, they are living this already. They've been living it since they were quite young. They would understand that when you go on the playground, there are certain rules for what boys and girls shouldn't do in this. There's consequences in how kids engage with each other and putting it on their level and saying ‘you know, when such and such gets teased because he has long hair, for example, Why do you think that it is? Because he's a boy? Is that fair? Should he have to …’ just trying to put it into language they can relate to and understand because they are living it. They've been living it for a long time.
RS: And I think it's an important part of the conversation that, I guess, has been missing up until this point, which is we talk a lot about little girls, in particular, can be anything and do anything but we failed to for - and the narrative is often, but boys can't be this or can't do that.
And so a lot of young men that I've spoken to, and people that are working in the space, are looking for ‘so what can I be? What can I do?’. Everything is quite fraught for a number of reasons in the world at this point in time and a lot of us are just searching for connection and will continue to do so.
SR: That’s a really good point Bec. I like that I like the idea of like, boys need empowering as well, because the whole idea of empowerment in the feminist movement is to let people make the choices they want to make, and the same should be translated to boys as well and I think that’s really helpful.
RS: Absolutely and we've done so much. You know, there's no problems with a little girl showing up to Book Week dressed as a male character. But I have a friend's nephew who got sent home because he was in a dress, dressed up as his favourite female character out of a book. The fact that some of the most powerful people in our country still feel the need to shame around those things. I think we have a lot of work to do, and that's what the organisations that I'm working with are ... that's kind of their key aim. I avoid the word empower, because it's, I mean, this is a fraught area where you run the risk of all facets jumping up and screaming. But that's what it is. It's about helping, particularly our young, but also any age man, understand that those rules and those mental shortcuts that you've just thought are always the way you have to act, aren’t.
BR: And I think power, sorry to cut you off, I think power is like, really central to the issue if we connect it to these broader issues. For men, power comes from dominance for a long time, or it has, for a long time, come from dominance but reshaping our idea of power as empowerment and what you were saying earlier - as in, you can do whatever you want, you can be whatever you want to be, regardless of your gender. That would help to address some of the knock on effects later in life, when men feel disempowered in a society where there is hierarchy among men and and and there's class issues and there's, you know, all these different hierarchies that they face, and they feel disempowered by it. So, they go home and they find other ways to feel empowered. And often that's through violent means, whether that's their family, whether that's other men on a night out. And I think if we're gonna change the way that society is going, we need to really look at that issue with power. And where we get that from in our lives
SC: All right, guys, give us take home tips. What can the average person at home do to improve things in this realm?
RS: Well, my bugbear is sharing of domestic chores and childcare, and that's not just the physical enactment of those things, it’s the mental load as well. So a lot of women in my life carry that load. I live alone, so I carry the whole load, and that’s fine. I have a rabbit. He does not contribute.
RS: Typical man [Laughter]. But yeah, I think it's around modeling in the private sphere as much as the public sphere.
SR: I endorse that. I'm a man that tries to live his politics, and I can confirm that my wife and I share the domestic labour and we're both exhausted rather than just one of us being exhausted. So that's good.
SC: Equality in exhaustion.
SR: That's what it leads to! You don't actually have spreading of the load, you’re just both completely wiped out the whole time, especially with a little baby in tow as well. Practical changes, you know, I think about this a lot. In terms of ‘how do I best bring up my son?’ So he's nearly two, and I'm terrified already. Like, I have these thoughts about ‘what if he becomes a rapist? What if he does these terrible things that culture teaches boys is okay?’ So I don't know, practically, I think, the points that Bec’s already raised about being a good bystander, but again, as a man, and as formerly a boy, I've had a hard time calling out my mates. I try, you know, and I'm an academic who's enmeshed in this stuff all the time. But I would hope that people can call people out for sexist behaviour and sharing of images of women, non consensually and that kind of stuff.
BR: I feel like I’ve got a really hard line that I'm telling here. I think, just talk to people. I If you're a woman, talk to the men in your life. If you're a man and you need something, or you know something's up with someone just reach out because you never know when, if, that's gonna change someone's life, if reaching out is gonna change someone's life and it will change your relationships and it'll make you feel more connected. And, yeah I think just reach out, essentially,
SC: That's a nice one. Thank you so much to all of you for joining us today.
George Varyian: My name is George Varyian and I lecture in educational leadership at Monash University and I do research on elite private boy schools, but I’m also interested in issues of gender and educational equality.
SC: Dr. George Varyian. Welcome to the show.
GV: Thank you for having me.
SC: For the average person who is sitting at home and wants to do something to improve the way we think and talk about masculinity, in Australia and around the world maybe, either just in their everyday lives or even the way it operates in the late private schools. What would be one thing? A practical thing that a person at home could do, not thinking so much about policy or anything a government or business neesa to do, but the average person - is there anything they can do to try to improve things?
GV: I spend a lot of my time as a lecturer trying to get people that think critically about the world they live in. And so I guess it's to question your taken-for-granted assumptions around gender and keep asking questions. I’ll give you an example. I would not consider myself a feminist because I think I have so many blind spots around the issue of gender equality that all I can do is ask questions and try to pursue understanding of something that is so difficult to understand when you don't live it. So if you want to understand this idea, and what you can do, I would encourage people to try to understand it better by asking questions, trying to find, to have those conversations.
We have to have these difficult conversations and I think that's probably the starting point.
SC: Dr George Varyian. Thank you so much for your time.
GV: You're very welcome.
Sandro Demaio: Hi, My name is Dr Sandra Demaio. I'm a medical doctor and a public health
expert and advocate. I’m the CEO of VicHealth or the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, and I'm currently learning how to make sourdough.
SC: Sandro Demaio, thank you so much for joining us.
SD: Thank you.
SC: The average person at home, who isn't the CEO of VicHealth, what is the most immediate practical thing that any of us average schmoes can do to improve the way we think and talk about and live masculinity in society?
SD: Well, look, it's It's hard to ignore what's going on in the world around us. And, of course, Covid19, the pandemic is causing enormous disruption and loss and pain in the lives of many. And this we know from previous studies on major disruptions in society, will likely lead to an increase in family stress, probably an aggravation of existing practices around how we respond as individuals, the kind of fight and flight type responses. And we are very concerned that this would lead to an increase in family violence, that it could become more frequent and more severe in the current emergency. So I think now is a really important time for all men, but not just men and boys, for everyone in society to realise it’s ok during Covid19 for anyone to feel scared or uncertain, you don't have to feel strong or stoic. You don't have to handle this on your own, you don't have to be the breadwinner and the tough one and that by not doing this, it's definitely not a sign of weakness.
I think making sure that men and boys, but everyone in society, that we feel confident and comfortable to share the concerns we have, to reach out to friends if we're feeling overwhelmed, stressed, worried, to make sure we maintain communication with our mates. We can't have a beer with them at the moment, we can't catch up with the pub, but we can jump on Skype, we can stay connected. And, I think, most importantly, to know where to reach out to if they, particularly men, if they need some help during this time, particularly around the risks we know of increased rates of family violence. And that's, of course, reaching out to 1800RESPECT and knowing that there is a service there available to talk to. I think that the takeaway is just to remember that this is a tough time for everyone and feeling scared, feeling worried, feeling uncertain, it doesn't make you any less manly. Everyone will be feeling that way at the moment. Talk to your mates, stay connected and take care of yourself so that you can take care of with others.
SC: That is some excellent advice to end on. Thank you so much for your time today, Sandro.
SD: You’re so welcome
SC: Some great ideas there. And that was our final episode in our series on masculinity. Thanks to all our guests today, that's it for this episode. More information on what we discussed today can be found in the show notes and up next week, our new series. I'm Dr Susan Carlan, thanks for listening to What Happens Next.
- Traditional masculinity is evolving – and young working-class men are leading the charge
- Risky drinking among men: alcohol's role in social interaction
- Putting good health on the table
- The crisis confronting modern elite private boys' schools
To receive a fortnightly email wrap up of stories from Lens.