One woman is killed every week in Australia by her current or former partner.
Every day in Australia six men are killed, by themselves. The number of men who die by suicide each year is double the national road toll.
I say this not to try to convince you that male suicide is a more important issue than domestic violence.
But they do both stem from the same place – male violence. And they can both be traced back to a similar root cause – the failure of the traditional concept of masculinity to equip boys and men for life in the 21st century.
Phil Barker’s new book, The Revolution of Man: Rethinking what it means to be a man addresses exactly this issue. It’s a fascinating, funny and frightening look at what life is like for our sons growing up in Australia today.
As a mother of two sons, I found it both horrifying and hopeful. I encourage every parent of boys to add it to your reading list, alongside Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys.
As a woman, I’ve been frustrated and dismayed by the lack of recent progress – and in some cases regression – towards gender equality in Australia and internationally. I’ve had a growing feeling that the next step has to be taken by men.
Women have campaigned to make it clear that our society has a problem. In recent years, especially post-#MeToo, it feels like the message is finally sinking in.
In some areas we’re seeing a nasty backlash against feminism. But we’re also hearing something much more hopeful – more male voices taking up the chorus against toxic masculinity and male violence.
In simple language that draws on both research and his own experience, Barker traces the history of masculinity in The Revolution of Man – how we’ve ended up where we are today and why it is damaging our boys and men.
Even better than that, he offers solutions and a positive view of the future if we accept the challenge of redefining what it means to be a man.
Renovating the ‘Man Box’
Ever felt boxed in by other people’s expectations? There’s the Good Mum Box, the Corporate Career Box, the Good Girl Box… I could go on.
The all-encompassing Man Box has been identified as a huge barrier to achieving a new definition of masculinity.
To explain the Man Box, Barker tells the story of Edwin Hodge, the reformed ‘incel’ (someone who believes he is involuntarily celibate as it his right, as a man, to have sex with women) and MRA (men’s rights ‘activist’ – MRAs are those internet darlings who choose to spend their days hurling rape threats at outspoken women on Twitter rather than actually do anything to help men).
During his studies, Edwin Hodge fell upon gender theory. Upon further reading, he realised his views ‘didn’t stand up to all the empirical evidence I was finally reading, research that was informed by feminist theory and offered actual solutions.’
As Phil Barker explains: ‘Hodge realised he wasn’t being oppressed by women, but by men.’
It is men who don’t allow other men to show emotions other than anger and joy, it is men who police masculinity by calling each other ‘pussies’ and ‘faggots’ when they like ‘girly’ things such as sewing and cooking and caring for their children.
Hodge used the concept of the Man Box to describe this phenomenon. Inside the Man Box are handsome, sexually virile men who get all the money and the girls. If you step outside the Man Box you will be pounded on immediately.
It’s now up to men to expand the Man Box to include other qualities such as creativity, empathy and caring.
Women’s lives depend on it; men’s lives depend on it.
I don’t believe there’ll be a whole lot of progress in achieving true gender equality until the Man Box has been well and truly renovated.
Every good man’s job: ending toxic masculinity
Barker quotes Steve Biddulph, Australian psychologist most famous for his book, Raising Boys, on the important point that toxic masculinity is not all masculinity:
Toxic masculinity is neither the norm nor the default for Australian males. It’s a perversion of what manhood is supposed to be, a contagion that occurs in the absence of proper transmission of healthy manhood.
If you read the media every day, or spend enough time on Twitter, you could be forgiven for thinking the entire world has been taken over by toxic MRA rants. However, Barker offers an optimistic view of where we’re headed if we continue to tackle toxic masculinity and encourage the expansion of the Man Box:
The more men who reject the constraints of the Man Box and see it for what it is, the more room there’ll be for everyone. The easier the application criteria, the more people get in. If everyone gets in, it’s no longer a Man Box, it’s just the world.
The more the rules change, the better the place will be for everyone.
Eventually, fewer and fewer men will end up getting angry, and looking for someone to blame – and hate. And harass. And stalk. And rape. And kill.
It’s every good man’s job to help young men grow up better than this.
Good men – over to you.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.