An Australian first study by Jesuit Social Services’ The Men’s Project involving 1,000 men aged 18 to 30 has shown that young men who comply with society’s pressures to be a ‘real man’ report poorer mental health, are twice as likely to consider suicide, more likely to commit acts of sexual harassment and experience and perform acts of violence and bullying.
The Man Box: A study on being a young man in Australia was undertaken with the support of Associate Professor Michael Flood from the Queensland University of Technology. It involved an online survey of a representative sample of 1,000 young men from across all demographics, as well as focus group discussions. It is modelled on research from the United States, United Kingdom and Mexico that was released by Promundo in 2017.
The central analytical tool used for the study is called the Man Box, defined as the set of beliefs within and across society that place pressure on men to act in a certain way.
In order to understand how young men encounter the Man Box rules in society, The Men’s Project asked them their views on different topics about how a man should behave. These were categorised under the seven Man Box pillars: self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression and control.
What is the Man Box?
- The Man Box is a set of beliefs within and across society that place pressure on men to be a certain way – to be tough; not to show any emotions; to be the breadwinner, to always be in control, use violence to solve problems; and to have many sexual partners.
- Some of these beliefs, such as condoning the use of violence, are always wrong; others, such as acting strong, can sometimes be useful but at other times lead to problems (for instance when bottling up negative emotions).
- The Man Box is alive and well in Australia today. The majority of young men agree there are social pressures on them to behave or act a certain way because of their gender.
- The majority of young men surveyed disagreed with the Man Box beliefs. But there is still a large number who agree with some of the beliefs that make up the Man Box, including being strong, not showing vulnerability, always being in control and men being the primary providers at home.
- Living up to the pressures of being a ‘real man’ causes harm to young men and those around them, particularly women.
- Young men who most strongly agree with these rules report poorer levels of mental health, engage in risky drinking, are more likely to be in car accidents and to report committing acts of violence, online bullying and sexual harassment.
- We need action across the community and in the form of new programs which will deliver benefits to society, as well as to the young men themselves in terms of health, wellbeing and safety.
The pressures relating to being a man are everywhere in society and are reinforced and influenced by young men’s closest relationships – families, partners and friends.
Across all levels of society there must be a focus on building awareness of the Man Box norms and their harmful impacts. Positive alternatives should be promoted.
Everyone can take action by talking about the pressures of the Man Box with the boys and men in their lives, and by modelling positive alternatives to the Man Box norms in front of boys and young men.
We recommend action across a range of levels, from government to business, to community and academia to develop and test new approaches to these issues with young men. We also recommend further research to understand these issues in more detail.