MEN HAVE ALWAYS relied on external sources as the genesis points of their masculinity. After all, masculinity is a social construct based on hegemonic gender norms, not an inherent internal aspect of the human condition. Typically, they found it in positive male role models like a family member, community leader or a well-regarded public figure. But with the advent of social media, young men are increasingly turning in problematic directions to find masculinity.
Interest in wildly controversial social commentators and self-professed misogynists like Andrew Tate—who perpetuate violence against women and constantly spout harmful stereotypes—no longer rests strictly in the domain of incels. Influencers like Tate have gained enough recognition to be regarded as genuine authorities on what it means to be a man, and what your duties as a man entail. It is in this space where masculinity turns toxic, and that’s what the Australian government is attempting to crack down on with a recently announced program promoting positive masculinity.
Unsurprisingly, a quick scan of comment sections under social media posts announcing the program does not reveal a vast trove of nuanced opinions and well-reasoned assertions, but rather a slew of—primarily sexist—emotional reactions. This is where the problem lies. You see, many people don’t seem to even recognise that toxic masculinity is a problem. The immediate assumption is that an attack on toxic masculinity is an attack on masculinity, and by extension, an attack on men.
Read on for everything you need to know about the new government program, and why it’s needed in the first place.
Is toxic masculinity on the rise?
‘Toxic masculinity’ is a relatively new term, so it’s difficult to pinpoint its ebbs and flows. The term was conceived in order to differentiate problematic masculine practices from regular masculinity, which has far fewer intrinsic problems. Every system of beliefs has extremists however, and more men are now trending towards hyper-masculinity.
There are few metrics to measure an increase in toxic masculinity, but a recent government commissioned survey of high school students in Victoria and NSW shows that around 25 per cent of teenage boys look up to Andrew Tate—we’ll allow a few seconds for you to gasp here… alright we’re back. In case you needed a reminder on why Tate isn’t an ideal role model, remember that even beyond his relentless bigoted statements on social media—which resulted in his Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts being shut down in August of 2022—he’s also currently being investigated for alleged rape and human trafficking and cannot leave Romania.
Tate has mostly been cast aside by the general public as a social pariah since the human trafficking investigation began, but the government survey shows that his preachings and gospel still have a foothold in the minds of young men.
Why is toxic masculinity a problem?
Toxic masculinity is really more of an intangible concept with several identifiable hallmarks, it doesn’t have an actual physical form. But it does have real-world manifestations, notably violence against women. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, who helped create the positive masculinity program, said research shows “strong links between harmful forms of masculinity and the perpetration of violence against women”.
“Educating boys about healthy masculinity and providing them with positive role models are important steps to ending cycles of violence,” Rishworth said.
Last year, the government introduced a ten-year national plan to end violence against women and children. About one third of Australian women aged over 15 have experienced violence, and young women aged between 18-34 are more likely to experience violence from a partner than any other demographic. The positive masculinity program being rolled out in schools forms part of the larger ten-year plan, aiming to end violence against women in a single generation.
Toxic masculinity isn’t only harmful to women though. The 21st century has seen men become more in touch with their emotions, and more open to sharing them. Standing in the way of this emotional revolution is that same old villain: toxic masculinity. Men often lament on social media that they can’t be open with their feelings or appear vulnerable with their issues. When they do share their emotions, they’re met with ridicule and vitriol, making them wish they stayed silent in the first place. This is toxic masculinity at work.
What will the positive masculinity program look like?
The positive masculinity program will be rolled out in primary and secondary schools next year and will run for three years. It aims to educate school-aged boys about healthy masculinity, debunking harmful ideas spread on social media like male gender superiority.
The program will involve boys as young as five, with the goal of educating them on building “healthy, respectful relationships” and establishing positive male role models. In a practical format, this will include in-person discussions and workshops in places like sports clubs and community centres, as well as positive messaging on social media.