Today, on International Men’s Day, I will be sitting in a room at Parliament House Canberra with 36 other men and women talking about how we can improve the lives of Australian men and boys. It’s the first time that I’ve been invited to join this group but they have met like this for 10 years and achieved remarkable things.
This is the group that ended the era in which 97.5% of family court decisions gave sole custody to the mother, putting fathers back into the lives of their children. This is the group that finally delivered a national male health policy, to begin to address the inequity in health funding between men and women. There is much work to be done.
Today we will be discussing a staggering range of issues including how to reduce male suicide (currently 80% of all suicides), how to restore educational equity to our boys (who now achieve 20% below their female peers), how to respond to the crisis in men’s unemployment, the gap between men and women in life expectancy (around 5 years), the indigenous life expectancy gap, men’s over representation in addiction and mental health, the enormous cost of fatherlessness to children and society, the almost total lack of services for male victims of violence and many other issues in which men experience significant disadvantage and suffering in our society.
All of these problems are solvable, but all of them currently face the same barrier to change – the persistent idea that men don’t need, or deserve, any help. Partly this is men’s fault, a consequence of our tendency to suffer in silence, to remain stoic in the face of hardship, and our reluctance to endorse the victim role. Partly this is a result of a culture in which men are still raised to ignore their own needs and feelings, where their value as human beings is measured in economic terms, and their roles are determined by societies need for workers and warriors.
However the largest impediment to change is the conversation we are having about men in this society. It is a conversation that marginalises, demonises and ridicules them. It has rendered men invisible in many respects and made them the silent sex. It is a conversation centred on the idea that ‘a man’s place is in the wrong’.
In Australia, by virtue of their gender men are typically regarded and represented as violent, heartless, dangerous, oppressive, egotistical, irrational, incompetent and ridiculous – all stereotypes that were once used in the oppression of women.
The ‘evil male’ stereotype exaggerates the negative and renders the positive invisible. It targets unchangeable characteristics rather than character, in this case the characteristics of being male and heterosexual. The negative impact on men’s wellbeing and self-concept as a result of this stereotype is staggering to behold.
This is why new research by M&C Saatchi (officially being launched at Parliament House today) is such an important development in the conversation we are having about men. A qualitative study that asks Australian men about their experience of themselves and their lives, its findings reveals what some people will find surprising – that men are predominantly good-hearted creatures who believe in gender equality, put their families first, cherish strong relationships, and strive to be the best human being they can be.
Among its many interesting findings is a growing dissatisfaction among men with the way they are seen and treated, and an emerging refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic narrative about them. They’ve had enough of being made the scapegoats for all the evils of the world. Men are increasingly speaking up, becoming organised, becoming educated in matters of gender and slowly gaining ground in rebalancing both the narrative and the reality of men’s disadvantage in so many areas of modern life. Change is coming.
The question that remains to be answered is this: will women join us in creating a future for gender that is positive and constructive, and recognises the gender based issues that confront both sexes? We have a choice to make as a society – another decade of ideological gender warfare, or a new gender conversation in which men and women collaborate, converse and create a better future for our children and each other.
What choice will you make?