Australia’s cramped sense of masculinity

By Grant Hall, Cultural Diplomacy consultant and facilitator

The author picking fights in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
The author contemplating alcohol and masculinity. Nha Trang, Vietnam.

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain”.

– John Adams

Today I read a newspaper article about anthropologist Dr Anne Fox’s research that suggests Australia’s ‘alcohol-fuelled’ violence is not caused by alcohol but by our ‘macho’ culture.

I’m a drinker and a traveller, and from my humble observations of various boozers in Australia and around the globe, as well as the hundred or so bar fights I’ve witnessed, I’d agree with her.

But I’d also go a step further. Australia’s cramped sense of masculinity, the chief driver of our ‘macho culture’, is the root of nearly all of our problems.

In Australia, men often think that ‘showing who’s boss’ will win them some sort of social credos or, subconsciously, that it will improve their sense of self-worth.  Our macho politicians, women-beaters and perpetrators of racist violence all want to show ‘the other’ who’s boss.Take for example our current political malaise.  Our leaders are so focused on out-machoing each other that they are failing to communicate and govern the country properly.  Tony Abbott is a prime example, perhaps most famously threatening to shirt-front Vladimir Putin.  Our Federal Cabinet is the most chest thumping group of bully boys assembled in our political history – Abbott, Hocking, Morrison and co are all masters in the art of macho posturing.  Their approach might play out well to a narrow milieu of Australian society, but they make the rest of us look like morons on the international stage where chest puffing is less appreciated.  This is costing our reputation dearly, as the #CoinForAustralia Twitter campaign has shown.

Take for example the endemic levels of male violence against women in Australia.

Take for example the violence inflicted upon people from overseas in Australia.

Take for example the bureaucratic violence that the Australian Government inflicts upon Indigenous communities and other minority groups and the physical and mental violence that it inflicts upon asylum seekers – including children.

I have a friend who is a well-known feminist and I get to see her hate mail, now those guys have a seriously cramped sense of masculinity.

This narrow idea of what it means to be an Australian man comes from our history.  We bow down to the bushman, the digger (soldiers) and the rugged footballer, but the bushmen had to conquer an unforgiving land, the digger a hostile enemy and the footballer formidable opponents.  Unfairly ignoring their intellectual capacities, our national heroes are admired for their physical toughness.  It’s not unsurprising that young men, seeking some form of identity or notoriety, insecurely adopt the macho pose that their culture has handed down to them.

The good thing though is that as Australia becomes a more multicultural country, this boxed-in thinking is becoming rarer.  It’s old fashioned and is essentially being bred out.  Our next crop of political leaders will be nothing like this macho mob, almost all of whom are middle-aged, male, white and ‘mentally equipped like school bullies’, to quote another journo.  The next crop of leaders will be more representative of the population, more diverse, with a broader range of knowledge, viewpoints and communication styles. People who have arrived in Australia with no family connection to the bushman or the digger will still respect the nation building work that they did, but not feel the need to idolise or compare themselves with them.  As Australia diversifies as a nation it also diversifies who it reveres, and when Aussies emulate the people who have built society by the power of their intellects as opposed to their physicality, our men will develop a broader sense of their own masculinity.  This will surely make Australia a better place.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Farley Fiona says:

    Loved this piece Grant- so true. Just watching the appalling treatment of Gillian Triggs in the Senate estimates Hearing left me speechless . Thank God for Penny Wong – who really won’t take any crap from anyone including the Liberal Bully Boys.  Am so glad right now not to be in Australia. Fiona

    From: where words fail. corporate cultural diplomacy + related To: Sent: Saturday, 28 February 2015, 20:03 Subject: [New post] Australia’s cramped sense of masculinity #yiv3516663091 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3516663091 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3516663091 a.yiv3516663091primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3516663091 a.yiv3516663091primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3516663091 a.yiv3516663091primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3516663091 a.yiv3516663091primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3516663091 | Grant Hall posted: “By Grant Hall, Cultural Diplomacy consultant and facilitatorToday I read a newspaper article about anthropologist Dr Anne Fox’s research that suggests Australia’s ‘alcohol-fuelled’ violence is not caused by alcohol but by our ‘macho’ culture.I” | |

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hmunro says:

    The overinflated posturing of the Australian male has always struck me not as a sign of virility or strength, but as a symptom of profound insecurity. It takes great courage to step back from one’s culture and critique it as you have; thank you for giving me hope that Australia is not a lost cause, culturally speaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Grant Hall says:

    Hi Heather and Fiona,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes the treatment of Gillian Triggs was particularly appalling. Checks and balances are an important part of what has kept Australian democracy strong over the years and I fear these are being eroded in place of a “trust us” approach from government.

    I’ve had quite a bit of feedback from other Australian expats about this post. For others and myself, it wasn’t necessarily a choice to step back and critique our culture, but more something that naturally happens when you spend a few years living abroad amongst different cultures. I really feel many Aussie blokes need to get out a bit more!

    – Grant


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