Young boys, es­pe­cially dur­ing ado­les­cence, are of­ten told to ‘man up’ or to ‘be a man’. They’re told to be tough and not to cry; but the ‘ad­vice’ is usu­ally vague. Typ­i­cally, if these rec­om­men­da­tions are ex­plored a bit fur­ther, the idea of be­ing a man is syn­ony­mous with ag­gres­sive­ness, com­pet­i­tive­ness, phys­i­cal and sex­ual (and par­tic­u­larly het­ero­sex­ual) strength, along with a dis­re­gard for – or ab­sence of – emo­tional ex­pres­sion. It should be noted that not all of these at­tributes are en­tirely bad. In con­text and in mod­er­a­tion, a few may have a place in the life of an adult male. But it’s also im­por­tant to note that re­search has found these char­ac­ter­is­tics tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with man­hood and mas­culin­ity are also more likely to be as­so­ci­ated with drug and al­co­hol prob­lems, vi­o­lence and men­tal ill-health. Ac­cord­ingly, boys are turn­ing in to ‘real men’, and our ‘real men’ are dy­ing. That’s right, they’re lit­er­ally dy­ing. Men die sig­nif­i­cantly younger than women (on av­er­age); and three times more men take their life each and ev­ery day com­pared to women. Sui­cide is the lead­ing cause of death for men aged be­tween 18 and 45 in Aus­tralia and al­though the afore­men­tioned traits can’t be blamed en­tirely for this out­come, there’s no doubt they play a sig­nif­i­cant role. The sit­u­a­tion is made worse by the fact that our role mod­els, if we have any at all, are usu­ally lim­ited to one per­son, our bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, or at most a few peo­ple, usu­ally those in our im­me­di­ate fam­ily. There’s noth­ing wrong at all with hav­ing fa­ther fig­ures – lit­er­ally or metaphor­i­cally. But we of­ten for­get that these peo­ple are far from per­fect, and they learned from those who were far from per­fect. Even if they did get it right for them, that doesn’t mean it’s right for those who fol­low – time and so­cial norms change and so too should per­cep­tions of mas­culin­ity. The good news, how­ever, is that there are al­ter­na­tives to these sce­nar­ios and to the vi­cious cy­cle that seems to have been on re­peat for far too long now. In fact, I be­lieve a ma­jor part of the an­swer to the com­plex ques­tion of mas­culin­ity is to be­gin by com­ing to an un­der­stand­ing that there’s not just one an­swer; rather, we need to ac­cept that there are ‘mas­culin­i­ties’ – plu­ral. That is, mul­ti­ple types of man­hood that varies from per­son to per­son and even within one per­son, from sit­u­a­tion to sit­u­a­tion, and even over time as we age and ma­ture. We each need to find our own ver­sion; which may well be dif­fer­ent to that cho­sen by our fa­thers and at some stage by our sons, and dif­fer­ent again to our friends and col­leagues. We need to ac­cept, ide­ally with­out judge­ment, other peo­ple’s def­i­ni­tions of man­hood; just be­cause two men are dif­fer­ent doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. This might not seem like such a rad­i­cal idea but if you’ve only ever ob­served one style of man­hood, it can prove dif­fi­cult to even com­pre­hend al­ter­na­tive ver­sions. From where, then, can we learn about these dif­fer­ent op­tions and be­gin to con­tem­plate whether or not they might be suit­able or ap­pro­pri­ate for us? Start by look­ing around you. I’m not sug­gest­ing any new type of man needs to be cre­ated. Oth­ers have sug­gested we need a ‘new man­hood’ for the 21st cen­tury, but I dis­agree. I think we al­ready have it. In fact, I think we al­ready have sev­eral ver­sions of 21st cen­tury men that serve as fan­tas­ti­cally pos­i­tive mod­els for us, our broth­ers and our sons. If you’re ob­ser­vant, you’ll see them at work, at the foot­ball, sit­ting in your cafe, pub or gym. An­other way you can ex­pe­ri­ence the range of mas­culin­i­ties is to read and/or lis­ten more broadly. In the Be a Man pod­cast series, for ex­am­ple, Gus Wor­land and I in­ter­view a broad range of peo­ple, each of whom de­scribe dif­fer­ent lives and dif­fer­ent ways they’ve learned to be­come men. From pro­fes­sional sports­men, foot­ball play­ers and box­ers, to suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men, writ­ers and so­cial ad­vo­cates, a sex­ol­o­gist and the jour­nal­ist who drove the #Metoo move­ment in Aus­tralia, Tracey Spicer. All man­ner of va­ri­eties of men are dis­cussed and con­sid­ered. Also, look among your fam­ily, friends, col­leagues and oth­ers. Who do you ad­mire? Why do you ad­mire them? What, ex­actly do they do and how can you do more of it? Look into your­self and ask what qual­i­ties and at­tributes you’re most happy with; but con­sider too, whether you’re just do­ing or think­ing some­thing be­cause “that’s what dad did”. I’m sure your dad, like mine and many oth­ers out there, was try­ing his best. But that doesn’t mean he was 100 per cent right all of the time or that what worked for him is nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to work for you. Don’t just be a man; be your man.



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