Men In Trouble


It isn’t just the Barry Spurrs of the world. The male of the species is in deep trouble and he doesn’t seem to have the foggiest notion why.

Yes, I grant you, that is one big overstatement. A few men do seem to have a clue; the thing is, though, they’ve had to work bloody hard to get it.

It goes without saying that Barry Spurr hasn’t got it. Either has Tony Abbott or Alan Jones. Stephen Smith, perhaps, has.

The fact that many men don’t get how or why they are in trouble, however, is the lesser problem; the greater one is that even if they did know, they might wish they didn’t. It’s one of those, you know, wicked problems for which the solution looks, to some men, worse than the problem.

What is not in doubt is that a minority of men perpetrate the vast majority of violence against others — both male and female. While the Barry Spurrs make light of such matters as the sexual assault of women and, indeed, blame the victims, the double tragedy is that the perpetrators of violence are highly likely to have been subjected to violence themselves (it goes without saying that this is not a causal relationship).

Studies in the US, for example, show that 80 per cent of boys reported having experienced sexual abuse (mostly out of the home). Fifty per cent reported having been violently victimised. One-third of boys said they had suffered aggravated or simple assault; an additional 15 per cent said the assailant had targeted their genitals.

The prevalence of male childhood sexual abuse varies considerably across cultures: for example, averaging one-third of men in Papua New Guinea and 10-15 per cent in Australia (compared to 25 per cent of women).

Boys are much more likely than girls are to be abused by clergy. In one Australian state, for example, 87 per cent of more than 500 victims of investigated offences by clergy and church workers were boys aged 10 to 11.

Literally hundreds of studies over the past few decades show that men have been and still are vastly over-represented among problem populations such as perpetrators of abuse and violence, victims of suicide and fatal automobile accidents, sex addicts and sex offenders, substance abusers, parents estranged from their children, and more.

In a recent study of 10,000 men across the Asia-Pacific region, nearly 90 per cent said that ‘to be a man you need to be tough.’ Fifty per cent said they had used violence against an intimate partner, 25 per cent admitted to having raped an intimate partner and one in every 25 said they had perpetrated gang rape.

Nearly 50 per cent of the perpetrators said they rape women ‘for entertainment,’ around one-third said they rape in order to punish, and almost three-quarters claimed rape as men’s prerogative. Raping women, they said, showed other men you are man enough to take what you are entitled to.

Men who have been enculturated into this ideology of male entitlement may experience an intimate partner’s desire to separate from them as a shameful feminisation and an assault on their entire self-worth. Some retaliate against their partners in attacks driven by humiliated fury.

Among the most chilling findings about intimate-partner violence is that, although leaving a violent relationship is the only way for women to stop the abuse, it is also the riskiest thing they can do.

For 80 per cent of the intimate partners of Canadian men who injure them, for example, the men inflicted the harm after their partner had left. And in some Australian jurisdictions, crime statistics for murder include only prosecuted cases, hence excluding murder-suicides, of which more than 90 per cent are committed by men.

In addition, 72 to 97 percent of rape perpetrators in the Asia-Pacific study reported experiencing no legal consequences, and marital rape is still not criminalised in many countries. Under the ideology of entitlement, men learn that to ‘fail’ one or other test of manhood is to feel feminized — in one’s own and other men’s eyes — and hence excruciatingly vulnerable to exclusion from the group with which they identify.

The fact is that traditional Western norms of masculinity both encourage and coerce boys and men into adopting tough, Father-Knows-Best attitudes, and that such attitudes are associated with restrictive sexual and emotional behaviour, obsession with dominating, competing and controlling, and health-care problems.

The last include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, shame, substance abuse, suicidality, dysfunctional relationship patterns (including notions of male entitlement) and femiphobia.

Femiphobia is the culturally constructed fear of being perceived as feminine, in other words, as ‘weak.’ The term ‘femiphobia’ was coined in the 1980s by psychologists studying men’s reluctance to admit illness and to seek medical advice (‘that’s what women do’) and consequently to die prematurely.

Understandably, then, most men are femiphobic insofar as they fear that other men will judge them as less than a ‘real man.’

Manliness, says sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, ‘is an eminently relational notion constructed in front of and for other men and constructed against femininity in a kind of fear of the female, firstly in oneself.’

According to the evidence, traditional notions of male entitlement and toughness are associated with broad-ranging harms to men themselves as well as with abusive and violent thoughts, attitudes and behaviours toward women.

The take-home message is that because this damage is overwhelmingly culturally constructed, it can be reconstructed.

But do our leaders have the will required to build safer communities? Do they have what it takes to break down community beliefs that male violence is ‘just human nature’?

A major obstacle to change is the widespread tacit assumption that every country needs its store of male cannon fodder in case of invasion.

The 19th century academy obsessed over the threat posed to the human species by the ‘increasing feminisation of men resulting from the absence of war’ (not to mention the ‘masculinisation of women through education’). In 1914, they got their wish.

Today, we are still as likely to be invited to fight in other people’s wars over access to other people’s resources. And how else are we to persuade vast numbers of young men to fight other people’s wars except by enculturating them from birth into being both shit-scared of the Other and bolshy with it?

The question is this: is our desire to retain the capacity to send hordes of gullible youth to fight other people’s wars worth putting up with the side effects, namely the deep well of male fear that finds its target in women, children, queers, and ethnic minorities and which, typically, eventually turns on itself?

What some men find hard to take is that women know the kind of trouble the male of the species is in.

The idea might be hard to take, but the bigoted behaviour of men such as Barry Spurr and their orchestrating the conditions of their own demise are two sides of the same antiquated coin.

* A.L. Jones is a writer, psychologist, and former academic whose published work includes four non-fiction books, one of which has been adapted for the stage, and numerous articles in scholarly, literary, and mainstream journals. Jones’s latest book is The Gender Vendors: Sex and Lies from Abraham to Freud published by Lexington Books.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.