When Mario Mohorko posted a Facebook video of himself wearing a pair of boxing gloves and staring down the camera to address men directly about violence against women he was doing so with the best of intentions.
The ‘don’t hit women’ message in his forty-four second video (view here) was accessible to anyone with an anti-violence sentiment and a commitment to gender equality, and was engaging enough to be shared thousands of times and to receive over two million views, but it was the way the message was delivered that made me think we might be missing the mark in how we engage men, and talk to men about violence and gender inequality.
Mario’s approach is common and may be a necessary short-term measure to protect people who are under threat of violence right now, but we’ll need to start digging deeper and provide alternatives to the traditional male role model if we’re to change underlying culture and affect long-term change.
In March, Dame Quentin Bryce said that breaking down male stereotypes was crucial in addressing domestic violence. I agree and I’m surprised not to have heard of any follow up articles or further discussion on what may be one of the main underlying contributors to many current social ills that affect both men and women.
Like Mario, men need to be proactive in addressing issues of inequality at the same time they have to be able to turn inward and really reflect on the impact that patriarchy and male stereotypes have had on them personally, or they may find themselves reinforcing the very limitations that lead to such inequalities in the first place.
Mario made his video to deliver an important message but he also gave the male stereotype a free ride into the minds of over two million people.
It was there in the angry expression, the tank top, the boxing gloves, the way he glared into the camera and commandeered the space, the way he effectively stood over and barked orders like a drill sergeant at his target audience – men. It was even more obvious in the use of the phrase ‘man up’ which sits right alongside other traditional blokey refrains such as ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘don’t be a girl’.
Male stereotypes are so pervasive that they’re even hitching a ride into newspapers and schools and living rooms through the work of pioneering organisations like White Ribbon with their male ‘Champions’ and ‘We’ve got your back’ slogans.
It’s present in the very physical stature of AFL footballers who talk to boys in high schools about violence against women.
It’s in Kate Jenkins’ “male champions of change” team which consists of some of the most prominent male leaders in the corporate world, all suited up, who she has gathered to advance more women into leadership positions.
It’s in Dove’s recent ‘Real Strength’ campaign which is using Wallaby rugby players and ‘Australia’s most high profile, influential men’ to talk about masculinity.
The problem is not the there’s something wrong with strength or muscles or big suits but that it’s so commonly presented, for so long, in the absence of the whole range of qualities and attributes available to men ,as the ideal model of manhood. This is happening again and again where men, who have their traditional display of masculinity acting as a safety net, talk down to men who – for many valid reasons – don’t meet those few socially applauded characteristics.
This is how it reaches the point of mass influence and has the potential to get dangerous because no one is above socialisation.
Even if the old world representation of masculinity is at odds with a boy or man’s unique personality, temperament, family goals, general strengths and capabilities he will still measure himself against it, and most often without full awareness. There is the potential to affect disaster on himself and others if he fails to live up to its narrow standards and measures of self-worth.
This is something to consider seriously in the light of current rates of domestic violence, male against male violence, depression, and high rates of male suicide.
If we really want to affect long-term change we need to see a greater variety of men – in physical stature, vocation and temperament – given opportunities to talk about gender equality before the usual football player and financially successful businessman. And we need to adopt more than just the traditional male, authoritarian approach.
We need to show, as well as tell, that there is more than one way to live in the world as a male.