When evaluating the statement that “Australia is a Sexist Society”, initial images are of placard waving women marching on Parliament House, Germaine Greer espousing her views in The Female Eunuch, and business women bemoaning the existence of the glass ceiling. These images are real, and absolutely justifiable, however after 40 years of the feminist movement being active in Australia, a new wave of gender inequality seems to be upon us. For the men in society aged 40 years and younger, who have lived their entire lives in a post feminist Australia, what affect does the concentration on women’s issues have on them? This essay will analyse whether in raising awareness of women’s rights, a world neglectful of the changing needs of men has evolved.
Steve Biddulph, in his book ‘Manhood‘, discusses the rise of the men’s movement. He says that while “women had to overcome oppression, men’s difficulties are with isolation” (1994: 4), stemming from men’s tendency to internalise problems. Biddulph goes further to state that the three most instrumental factors in men’s problems are: “1/ Loneliness; 2/ Compulsive Competition and 3/ Lifelong Emotional Timidity” (1994: 4). These can all be attributed in some degree to the environment in which a child was raised, and te quality of the male influence a man received as a young boy. A concern raised in recent political debate has been the significant lack of strong male role models in many children’s lives. This is particularly important for boys learning to become men in households where the father figure is absent or unreliable. Girls are not similarly affected, in that they are able to connect with women on which to mould themselves in virtually every facet of life. Commonly, children start life with their mother as primary care giver, or at day care where the vast majority of kindergarten teachers are female. As they reach school age, they enter a world where male teaching levels are on the decline, or in some cases, simply non existent. Biddulph approximates that one in three boys have “no male figures at home, and no men active in their lives” (1994: 118). School becomes the last resort for male interaction and influence. It is not surprising therefore that boys account for over 80 percent of children with learning difficulties (1994: 119), which when ignored can lead to increases in crimes and violent acts committed by men. When a child is ignorant to alternative displays of masculinity, violent behaviour remains the only way to be noticed (French 1999: 139). Consider these figures taken from the Wesley Mission’s website:
- Our prisons are full of men (90%), they are not full of women (10%)
- Our juvenile detention centres are full of boys, not girls
- Approximately 90% of our school suspensions and expulsions are boys, not girls
- Our remedial reading classes are full of boys, not girls
- Well over 80% of our drug and alcohol abusers are boys and young men, not girls and young women
- The rate of suicide in the 15-24 year age group for males is nearly seven times the rate for females in the same age group
- Injury rates for males are three times the rate for women
- There perpetration of violence and abuse is approximately 95% male
Due to the expectations placed on men to never appear the victim, men as they develop become and increasing liability to themselves. The feelings of loneliness and isolaation discussed by Biddulph put men at much greater risk of suicide, substance abuse, ill health and accidental death. The Wesley Mission’s research for “Suicide In Australia, A Dying Shame” evidenced that men are as susceptible to depression and mental illness as women, possibly even more so. Medicare statistics show that women use medical services more regularly than men, and are more willing to try alternatives such as counselling and therapy sessions. In addition, a joint study between the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University, found that of 2151 participants, “4.7% had been assaulted in some way during the last 12 months; 5.7% of men and 3.7% of women” (Heady, Scott, de Vaus: 1999). They were able to see that rates of domestic violence against men by female perpetrators were at least equal to that of male abuse against women; yet male victims remain the missing link in demographics, as due to the stigma attached, many assaults go unreported. Most telling however, is data relating to current suicide rates in Australia. The Wesley Mission found that out of 2683 suicides in 1998, 2150 of these were men. For every suicide, there are five attempts by males to take their own life, and male suicides outnumber female suicides by four to one.
A relatively new and seemingly benign development has been the emergence of male bashing as a form of humour in the media. While sitcoms have long had an unspoken rule regarding the portrayal of mothers as strong figures above foolish thought (Hayward in Biddulph 1994: 28), husbands are seen as the ‘loveable dope’. Sitcoms, such as Home Improvement, are hugely successful and work on a concept of an inept husband with a wife who treats him as one of the children. Similarly, advertising techniques are becoming increasingly blatant in their use of gender stereotypes as an advertising ploy. The Advertising Standards Commission dismissed complaints made against a Voodoo Hoisery ad featuring a woman walking three naked men on dog leashes, ruling that the advertisement was a “satirical comment on a patriarchal society” (Wilson: 2002). Meanwhile, an advertisement for Chivas Regal, of a good looking woman in a miniskirt getting out of a car, with the line “Yes, God is a Man”, was pulled from circulation and amended, due to its apparent offensiveness to women (Ligerakis: 2000). The furore that would ensue if a television show based around imbecilic women, or a billboard showing three naked women being led doglike through the streets by a man, can not be overestimated. Images such as these are detrimental to teh way men are viewed by others, and the way they view themselves.
Perhaps the best argument for the men’s movement’s existence can be found in a quote from the On Line Opinion website:
“Anyone who would deny there is a bias against men’s rights needs only to look at the agendas of government-sponsored conferences on this subject, examine the list of guest speakers, or for that matter consider that the ‘Male Helpline’ in Queensland has closed because the Queensland Premier refused to provide the paltry amount needed to keep it open. What price the outcry if it was a women’s or children’s help line?”
Until such time as governments, communities and individuals give equal credence to the pains of both men AND women, Australians will always live in a society that is sexist, unbalanced and unjust. When men can cry freely in public without ridicule, obtain counselling without awareness of the stigma, and receive equal recognition in such things as custody battles; only then can Australia truly claim to be free of gender equality.