Men are hurting, but feminism isn't to blame

in Commentary , Tagged Toxic masculinity, Masculinity, The Australian, gender equality, Patriarchal masculinity, military, Feminism.
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    David Duriesmith

    David Duriesmith is a Development Fellow in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. David researches masculinity, armed conflict and violence prevention. His book 'Masculinities and New Wars: The Gendered Dynamics of New War' was published by Routledge in 2017. David’s current research focuses on the construction of non-violent masculinities and peace.


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Have men been psychologically castrated by the gender equality movement? Are they punished for their masculinity? A provocative piece titled 'They're out to shear away masculinity' in The Australian suggested as much recently.

Lamenting the loss of rigid gender categories, the article argued that in order to achieve a "bizarre societal equilibrium", the [gender equality] movement is "intent on resetting the natural laws/odds in the name of a utopian level playing field, where the unfair advantages of testosterone are eliminated". Men, it continued, are "expected to reject their masculinity to avoid offending those who are always offended". 

Naturally, we here at BroadAgenda wanted to know what the actual research says about the issue, so we asked Dr David Duriesmith, an expert in masculinities at the University of Queensland, for his take on the topic. Read his response below. 

Men in our society seem to be struggling. We have higher suicide rates, are more likely to be victims of interpersonal violence, worse health outcomes, suffer from loneliness, die earlier and are more likely to rely on drugs and alcohol to cope.

When combined, these factors have led some to conclude that men are under attack and our increasingly ‘feminised’ society is to blame. This is not a new argument to those who work on masculinity, but recently Dimitri Gonis expressed it again in The Australian, suggesting that men’s falling testosterone levels were indicative of a society that ‘castrated’ men and punished them for their innate masculinity.

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Is the feminised society to blame for the fact that men increasingly seem to be struggling? 

While Gonis is right to suggest that Australian men are suffering, he fails to appreciate that it is the strength of stereotypical masculinity and not its loss that causes so much suffering among men and boys in our society.

Put simply, dominant models of masculinity make us sick, sad and unwilling to seek health

There now exists a robust body of research on the kinds of harms which affect men more than women or non-binary people. Research suggests that in most instances it is precisely those ‘traditional’ notions of masculinity that Gonis lauds which harm men. 

In their 2006 review of men’s access to health care, Smith et al. found that dominant notions of masculinity such as stoicism, independence and valuing of strength meant that men felt seeking care was feminine or failure, particularly when it concerns mental health. This is compounded by men’s tendency to view risky or destructive behaviour as manly, resulting in men’s higher consumption of drugs, alcohol, meat and unhealthy food. Put simply, dominant models of masculinity make us sick, sad and unwilling to seek health.

Masculinity also operates on a structural level; it shapes the institutions and regulates collective practices in ways that harm men. Masculine norms which prioritise violent resolution of conflict and military service make states more likely to go to war. While Gonis laments that the degradation of masculinity has resulted in a situation where the “warrior has lost his battleground” this should be seen as a success for men.

War makes men expendable by appealing to their masculinity; it also leaves them scarred with traumas that cannot be processed due to the association with masculine strength

War makes men expendable by appealing to their masculinity; it also leaves them scarred with traumas that cannot be processed due to the association with masculine strength. These links mean that masculinity demands that men suffer and be laid low to prove their manhood then leaves them unable to deal with the reality of those experiences.

There is one point that I will concede to Gonis, which is that the changing gender norms have been traumatic for many men and resulted in a profound sense of loss among many. The structural conditions around work, marriage and politics are all shifting in ways that weaken men’s dominance.

Work in the United States has suggested that these shifts have left many young men feeling like they exist in a state of limbo. Due to increased casualisation and a breakdown of manufacturing in the Global North, young men often feel that they cannot transition into a stereotypical form of adult manhood.

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Young men often feel like they can't transition into a stereotypical form of adult manhood.

In addition to this, changing norms around dating and sexuality have resulted in a violent backlash from men who are convinced that feminism has ‘gone too far’ and demonised heterosexual men.  So, while the small incremental challenges to dominance are no doubt being strongly felt by some men, this is less reflective of real oppression than a result of the truism that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

If we are to end the many harms which particularly affect men, we need to break free of patriarchal masculinity, not retreat into defensive myth-making about the past ‘glory days’ when the men were men and the women were women

Gonis’ argument about the emasculation of men, while not new, is unsupported by the rich body of evidence on men and masculinity which has been collated over the past thirty years. If we are to end the many harms which particularly affect men, we need to break free of patriarchal masculinity, not retreat into defensive myth-making about the past ‘glory days’ when the men were men and the women were women. This requires that we create new ways to find meaning, satisfaction and intimacy without trotting out the same old tired tropes of heterosexual manhood that got us into this mess. 

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  • Jone 26/01/2020 11:29pm (2 months ago)

    You do not understand anything as you never been in there shoes, so what makes you think you know better when you never asked men that have these problems. As feminists are the problem because men have been trying to speak out about there issues, but feminists silence them because they don’t want to talk about men’s issues some are for example is child custody, child support, suicide, workplace injury and death, paternity fraud, United States elective service in case of a draft, war deaths, sentencing disparity, life expectancy, false rape allegations, criminal court biased, misandrist, boy’s falling behind in education, homelessness, veterans issues, infant male genital mutilation, lack of parental choice once a child is conceived, lack of resources for male victims of domestic violence and domestic violence that men don’t talk about because some are fathers that are afraid that if they leave or lose custody of his kids because the courts have favoured the mother which the child can be abused by the abusive mother or when men do speak out about being abused by there wife or girlfriend society doesn’t take it seriously and they mock them for it, they don’t get any care or compassion they have no support or protection from society like woman have and when men are falsely accused of rape and the justice system will believe the woman and charge a innocent man of rape with no evidence and even if he is proven innocent he can still lose his job, his career, his family and life and feminists will never acknowledge his innocence as there belief is that all men that are accused of rape even if it’s false are guilty with no question or evidence. Also your logic on what masculinity is and saying it’s toxic is wrong which further prove that you don’t know anything. As masculinity is courage, resilience, honesty and shivery. It’s protecting those that are less powerful than them, providing for your family and the ones you love and being a rock in time of need for others.

  • Mary Hancock 30/11/2018 3:00pm (16 months ago)

    Best article I’ve ever read on the subject of modern masculinity.

  • Christine Harris 30/11/2018 7:16am (16 months ago)

    I am a retired family law mediator and worked with many men who were the victims of domestic violence, largely emotional and verbal rather than physical. So often they were too ashamed and fearful of ridicule to speak out, and so suffered in silence. It is my hope that society will, without delay, recognize and support these men, as it is now fiercely supporting female victims of DV, so they may speak of their vulnerability and trauma without feeling lesser men for doing so.

  • Mary Goring 29/11/2018 11:47am (16 months ago)

    Having studied post-grad Community & Health Development, it's easy to see the learnings in this article could help a raft of men out there.
    I raised a son sandwiched between two daughters and ensured he did not view aggression as an acceptable form of management. He also learned to speak to females with respect.
    He's had no problems communicating with females and didn't ever require medical or otherwise attention from being involved in a fight.
    He's well able to reach his life potential.

    If we had all children taught philosophy from Kindy, there's the opportunity for all children to grow respect for everyone, regardless of background.
    Some schools teach this and their discipline problems vanished.
    Why is this not curriculum????
    We need to start the change at Kindy.

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