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Traditional masculinity is killing young men

A new study has revealed that men who subscribe to "traditional" masculinity traits are more likely to physically bully, sexually harass women and consider suicide. 

The Man Box study, a Jesuit Social Services initiative, found that social pressures about what it means to be a "real man" is still prevalent among young men in Australia. 

The study focuses on 1,000 young men between 18 and 30 and explored a set of beliefs within society that placed pressure on men to act in a certain way. 

The set of beliefs formed seven pillars that make up The Man Box, which are: self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid gender roles, heterosexuality and homophobia, hypersexuality and aggression control. 

The study found that whilst many men did not personally agree with The Man Box pressure, over a third of young men endorsed most of The Man Box rules. 

Those men in The Man Box were 22 per cent likely to have had thoughts of suicide, 6 per cent more likely to find little pleasure in life and were 40 per cent more likely to have perpetuated physical bullying and 69 per cent more likely to make sexual comments to women in public. 

One of the study's authors, Dr Michael Flood, said the study found that holding on to the traditional definition of masculinity was having a devastating effect on Aussies' mental health. 

"The Man Box is bad for young men's health. Young men who endorse the traditional ideals of masculinity represented by The Man Box are more likely than other men to have poor mental health (including feeling depressed, hopeless or suicidal), seek help from a narrow range of sources, and take part in risky behaviours," he said. 

Young men in Australia see the rules of The Man Box being communicated and reinforced throughout society, with 67 per cent of respondents saying since they were young, they were told a "real man" behaves in a certain way. 

Each of the seven Man Box pillar had certain statements where the respondents were asked what society told them a man was versus their own personal belief. 

There is little reason to doubt why males have mental health issues when 49 per cent of young males said society told them that men who talk about their worries and fears were less of a man, and 25 per cent agreed with that statement. 

It also found that 38 per cent of respondents thought a real man, according to society, did not cook, sew, clean the house or take care of younger children, and 23 per cent of respondents agreed with that. 

Similarly, 44 per cent said that society told them that if a guy has a girlfriend or wife, he deserves to know where she is at all time, and a shocking 37 per cent agreed with that statement.

Despite Marriage Equality passing last year, 47 per cent believed that society told them that a gay male was not a real man, and 28 per cent personally held that view.

A lot of these results showed how being in The Man Box not only had an effect on the indivdual's mental health but also society at large, said Dr Flood.

"One of the starkest findings in The Man Box study is that men with higher levels of conformity to traditional masculinity are far more likely to perpetrate violence, both against women and against other men. Those 'further in' The Man Box are much more likely to perpetrate violence, and much less likely to intervene in others' violence," he said. 

However, there were positives in the future for men of Australia and Dr Flood said young men needed to know that The Man Box had far less personal support among men. 

"Young men in Australia do largely agree that The Man Box is an accurate representation of societal expectations for men, with close to half or more than half agreeing that this is the case for 11 of the 17 statements defining traditional masculinity. At the same time, young men's own endorsement of these statements is considerably lower. None of the 17 statements received majority support, and only two received support above 40 per cent," he said. 

The study had some recommendations on how to fix The Man Box problem, including greater initiatives to help mental health, build awareness of the Man Box and to challenge social norms.

"At the individual level, everyone (both men and women) 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," he said. 

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