I was shocked and moved when I first watched the Man Up TV Series. I initially watched the series because I am really interested in what makes men and boys tick (my work in achieving gender equality depends on engaging men in the conversation and actions.)
I was also curious how larger than life, humorous and likeable bloke Gus Worland was going to tackle the issues of emotions in men and boys. For those who don’t know Gus, he is the archetypal Aussie bloke, into sports, beers and mates. He’s also encountered one of the toughest things anyone has to deal with. The suicide of a close mate.
I watched the three-part series, back to back, through laughter and tears. It was a fascinating and horrifying insight into the world of what it means to be a man in Australia. Horrifying, because I learned that the biggest killer of men under 45 in Australia is suicide. Six men a day take their own lives. Three times more than women.
Being a Man
My most recent research paper has highlighted the need to get men involved in the conversation and importantly, the action to achieve gender equality. We know too well that men currently benefit from the gender hierarchy, mostly in material rewards and interpersonal power. However we also know that many men pay the price of poor emotional and physical wellbeing. Men globally have a shorter life expectancy than women and as we now know, men in Australia three times more likely than women to die due to suicide.
“The stereotypical Aussie man is strong, stoic and tough as nails. He laughs in the face of fear; and if life ever gets him down he drinks a cup of concrete and hardens the fuck up. But with male suicide rates three times that of women, it appears the pressure to harden up may be making some men crack.” – Man Up TV Series
Society holds idealistic views of masculinity, and while these views are generally positively perceived, they place immense pressure on men to live up to strict standards of masculine character. Falling outside those strict standards of masculinity is quite simply contributing to six men a day killing themselves. It’s rightly called toxic masculinity, and in the words of Tim Winton, it’s when our boys and men feel the unrelenting pressure to join “The Shithead Army”.
Let’s call the elephant in the room. When it comes to levelling the playing field for women, there has to be a shift in power. There are those that contend that men have to relinquish all power. This is rubbish. Let’s instead talk about equally distributing power, responsibility and work.
Achieving gender equality means we are enabling women and men to share the load (and the benefits thanks very much) and it also serves to bust open the constricting and narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity we hold in this country.
Busting open those narrow definitions and the roles that go wtih those definitions will assist to take what is in some cases, significant and dangerous pressure off men. Of course it will also, at the same time, empower women to share control and decision rights over how society, politics and the economy is organised. Sounds like a win/win to me!
Winning at Life
When I hear the term work/life balance, I cringe and/or roll my eyes. We have life. Life is made up of many facets and as healthy, functioning adults, it is our responsibility to organise ourselves to make the most of each facet and to organise them dependent on the highest priority need.
Sharing responsibility for facets of life amongst men and women will no doubt enhance the quality of life for all of us, but in particular, for men. This is why I advocate so strongly for wage equality, parental leave equality and flexible working cultures:
- Wage Equality will encourage men and women to share work, in and out of the home, enabling men in dual earning families to spend less time at work and more time with family;
- Parental Leave Equality will assist breaking the gendered stereotypes that discourage men from sharing the caring, reduce prejudice and discrimination; and promote inclusiveness of those with caring commitments.
- Flexible work isn’t the domain of women with caring responsibilities. Men working flexibly are shown to be happier, healthier and are more likely to be engaged and productive at work and at home!
Put simply, dismantling rigid gender stereotypes and the narrow view of masculinity will encourage men and women to share work, enabling men in dual earning families to spend less time at work and more time with family, volunteering, at sport and at life!
What This Woman Wants for Men
I want men to understand the very narrow paradigm of masculinity that society has trapped them in. I want men to realise that gender equality is good for all of us. I want men to tap into and reap the benefits of shorter, more realistic and healthy working weeks. I want men to build on their relationships with their families, participate more actively in sport and the community. I want men to prioritise their own wellbeing and health. I want men to stop killing themselves at a rate of six per day.
Above all, I want men and women to work together to achieve gender equality. Because our lives, quite literally, depend on it.
Images courtesy of The Man Up TV Series Press Kit.
Michelle Redfern is a workplace gender equality expert, speaker and consultant who advises leaders in sport and in business how to move gender diversity from conversation to action.