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15 June 2020

Don’t be trapped in ‘The Man Box’: learn about healthy masculinity this Men’s Health Week

Happy Men’s Health Week! Running from 15 to 21 June, this global event highlights what it means to be a healthy male – for everyone who identifies as a man.

Last week, we highlighted why it’s so important to focus on men’s health, with some sobering statistics about the state of health of men and boys in Australia. Did you learn some new ‘man facts’?

While these statistics show it’s vital for males to focus on their physical and mental wellbeing, there’s so much more to consider when it comes to men’s health. How men understand and express their masculinity is a crucial element of being male, and it has implications for both individuals and society as a whole.

The Man Box is alive and well in Australia

A 2018 study focused on the attitudes to manhood and the behaviours of young Australian men aged 18 to 30. It found that men feel pressure to behave in certain gendered and socially driven ways.

This was called ‘The Man Box’ – ‘the set of beliefs within and across society that place pressure on men to be a certain way – to be tough; not to show any emotions; to be the breadwinner, to always be in control, use violence to solve problems; and to have many sexual partners’.

While most of the young men surveyed disagreed with the Man Box beliefs, a large number did agree with some of these attitudes, including being strong, not showing vulnerability, always being in control and men being the primary providers at home.

Read a summary of The Man Box findings and see how your beliefs compare to those of wider society. 

The health effects of The Man Box are real

These traditional traits of masculinity – strength, suppressing emotions and self-reliance – have actually been shown to have a negative effect on how some men manage their health. According to The Man Box, young men who most strongly agree with these rules:

So if you subscribe to some or all of The Man Box beliefs, it’s likely that your health will be adversely affected in some way. 

There are many ways to be a man in Australia. Research from VicHealth, the state’s health promotion foundation, shows that healthier expressions of masculinity, in all their diversity, are a key way to promote gender equality and improved wellbeing for everyone. 

So stop and think about your attitudes towards things like aggression and control, rigid gender roles, self-sufficiency, and heterosexuality and homophobia. How do you react in tense situations, how in touch are you with your emotions, what are your expectations of relationships and what do you think defines a ‘real man’?

Chat to your friends and family about how you interact and influence each other. Is there an opportunity to be a role model for your mates? Are you susceptible to peer pressure and following the crowd when it comes to unhealthy attitudes to relationships, sex and women?  

Then consider how these beliefs change your behaviour and how well you look after your own health.

Hasan’s story

Hasan Muttakin is a third-year Civil Engineering Student and Deakin Wellbeing Ambassador. He chatted to us about his evolving experiences of masculinity and why it’s so important to focus on men’s heath:

‘Growing up in a South Asian country and a society where someone going through mental health issues is generally considered as weak and often ignored by the community, I never knew something like Men’s Health Week existed.

Probably because of having diverse perspectives and recovering from depression myself, I was able to be a part of the Wellbeing Ambassador team at Deakin, where part of our job is to spread the word that you are not alone.

Having read last week’s blog post about Men’s Health Week, I was surprised to see the stats on men’s health. Our health is something that should not be ignored and the earlier you seek help the better.

At Deakin, we have a wide range of services to support students. To all my peers and everyone reading this, I highly recommend you make use of the available supports as they exist for your purpose. Take a step forward and look after yourself. Like in aircrafts, put the life-jacket and breathing mask on yourself first before helping others.’

Celebrate Men’s Health Week with us – and remember that support is available

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