Male stereotypes & the ‘Man Box’

Whether we like it or not, we are all constantly bombarded with gender stereotypes. From the day we are born, we all receive subtle (and not so subtle) cues on how to be a man. From ‘baby boys wear blue’ to ‘real men don’t back down from a fight’, gender stereotypes are embedded into our culture and reinforced by role models and media.

These ideas are not new – discussion around gender stereotypes has been around for a long time, but a recent series of studies sheds new light on the practical impact of these norms.

The Australian study involved men aged 18-30 and was conducted by the The Jesuit Social Service Men’s Project. It discussed the concept of a ‘Man Box’ and identified seven key concepts that represent some unhealthy and damaging social pressures that young men are subjected to. Men that conform to these stereotypes and agree with these statements were identified as being “In the Man Box”.

The unhealthy stereotypes of the ‘Man Box’

  • Self-sufficiency: Talking with others about your issues and concerns is weak; Men should figure out their personal problems without asking for help.
  • Acting tough: A guy who doesn’t fight back is weak; Guys should always act strong even if they feel scared and nervous.
  • Physical attractiveness: Successful men look good; But spending too much time on your looks is not manly.
  • Rigid gender roles: Men don’t do household chores; Men should be the financial providers for their family.
  • Heterosexuality and homophobia: A gay guy is not a real man; Straight guys should not have gay friends.
  • Hypersexuality: A real man has as many sexual partners as possible; A real man never says no to sex.
  • Aggression and control: Men should use violence when necessary; A man always has the final say in a relationship.

Study results – good and bad

It seems that despite some good progress in recent years, there is still plenty of work to do to combat messages that uphold the old stereotypes. Approximately half (49%) of respondents indicated that the messages they receive about ‘how to be a man’ supported the above negative stereotypes.

But the good news is that despite the prevalence of these messages, approximately 70% of respondents did not agree with these sentiments. This is a heartening indicator of shifting attitudes amongst young men, that for reasons listed below are good for both themselves personally and wider society.

What are the consequences of being in the ‘Man Box’?

The respondents who supported and agreed with the ‘Man Box’ stereotypes experienced a host of negative physical, mental and social health outcomes in their lives, including:

  • 64% had suicidal thoughts in the last two weeks.
  • 55% had been involved in a road traffic accident in the last year.
  • 71% had physically bullied someone else in the last month.

Creating new norms

Study recommendations emphasise the huge body of work associated with shifting these stereotypes by redefining and role modelling the new norms for an Aussie male:

  • Asking for help is a sign of strength.
  • Tough men show their vulnerabilities.
  • Authentic men are attractive.
  • Domestic roles and chores are not defined by gender.
  • Gender identity is independent of biological sex.
  • Lasting relationships are the most fulfilling.
  • Benevolence and collaboration trump aggression and control.

The results of this study are both challenging and comforting. It is challenging to acknowledge that many Australian men are still exposed to negative stereotypes. It is also challenging to note that nearly a third still identify with the ‘Man Box’ concepts, but it is comforting to realise that more young men are rejecting these old and outdated ideals in their own lives.

By continuing to shift these unhealthy norms, we may also be able to make an impact on major issues in our society such as suicide, violence and even the road toll!

If you need someone to talk to, you can call our MensLine Australia counsellors on 1300 78 99 78, or register for online chat.

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