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Winners of the Collaborative Writing Competition, Ed Goodman and Alex Malouf interrogate toxic masculinity and the structures that underpin it.
On my 18th birthday, my dad took me out to the pub for a beer. Like most guys do. A cold schooner of VB to celebrate that I was officially a man. As we walked up to the bar, I nervously clutched my freshly printed ID. Expectantly, my dad turned to me, waiting to hear which poison I would pick.
Waiting to hear the phrase, “just a schooner of… please mate”.
I piped up… “A vodka raspberry please… double shot”.
A cold glass of raspberry cordial and Smirnoff vodka. He was taken aback by my enthusiasm. It was a decision met with a few uneasy comments and peculiar questions from the other men in my life.
“Oh… You better get comfortable sculling a beer, it’s a rite of passage as a bloke.”
Or “Don’t you think your mates would care?”
And “you know you can’t drink a vodka raspberry on your wedding day, right?”
My simple response is why not?
Australia is obsessed with constructing and directing a societal ‘play’ where men are forced to perform a narrow and hypermasculine role. A role that is so fragile, its very existence is threatened by a simple vodka raspberry. Perhaps, it is a major concern that Australian men are far too comfortable drinking beer, and not comfortable enough drinking a vodka raspberry. But this is not exclusive to vodka raspberries.
As Australian men, we’re extremely comfortable sharing the weekend’s footy highlights on our Instagram stories, but can’t be arsed when it comes to much needed social activism.
We banter for hours about god-knows-what, but we become uncomfortable when the topic becomes serious or emotionally sensitive.
And most of us men will claim to be feminists, but refuse to hold our mates, our brothers, and our fathers accountable for their misogyny.
It’s an issue that rests at the core of toxic masculinity. Men are immersed in the performance of a hypermasculine and harmful characterisation. Chained to a disguise they are unable to escape from. Constrained by a vow of silence that mitigates any avenues for authentic conversation and, shackled by a society that offers no avenue for recourse.
It begins at a young age with gendered propaganda in the form of Disney movies and barbie dolls. Slowly but gradually society builds, instils, and entrenches a simple yet misogynistic narrative. One that claims, the feminine is weak and men are strong, and that as a man you ought not to be weak, and hence, the feminine man is no longer a man.
He has been metaphorically castrated.
It is a narrative where men must simultaneously sexually lust for women and attain their affection, yet also present disgust, disdain, and reject the feminine qualities of their own character. A toxic contradiction that has toxic implications.
It leaves men with two choices: to reject feminine characteristics in themselves and perform with a mask of masculinity, or to embrace the qualities that society arbitrarily deems to be feminine. Both can be equally damaging and degrading.
Men become robotic when they reject the feminine characteristics within themselves.
The stereotypical masculine hate towards the feminine demonises men who are in touch with their emotions. It forces men into a vow of silence and creates an inability to speak out or openly against personal issues in the fear of being perceived as weak.
As a result, men must suffer in silence. It is the reason 7 out of 9 suicides committed are committed by men. The reason why 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some point in their lives, and it is the reason why 1 in 8 men will suffer with depression, in silence. The fundamental cause for this is that men are forced to perform a role within society that dictates before they are human, they must first be men.
These are the robotic men. Australia’s male mental health crisis begins when men are denied the emotional capacity required to function and engage in substantial and adequate discussions about mental wellbeing.
But whilst these men are the victim, they are also the perpetrator. Men do not just keep silent about their own issues. Unfortunately, they adopt a vow of silence that encourages and upholds the endemic sexism and misogyny of our context. A vow of silence that stops men speaking up against their mates, against their brothers, and against their fathers, whether it be against a small misogynistic comment at the pub on the weekend, or an assault.
It is a silence that is only broken to defend the sexism of other men. So much so, that when women have the courage to speak out against the torrents of abuse that are endemic to this country, we so too often only hear the broken record proclaim that: boys will be boys, it’s just banter, and that if he’s mean to you it’s probably because he likes you. It allows and perpetuates the culture of violence, the culture of rape, and the culture of domestic abuse, that is prevalent in this country.
And these men are far too comfortable with it.
We constantly hear the facts. That 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16. That 1 woman will die at the hands of her partner every week this year, and yet these men are far too comfortable doing nothing about it. A pattern of abuse emerges where these men understand the fact but doing nothing about them. Do nothing about it when their mates, and when their brothers, and when their fathers, objectify, demean, and assault the women in their lives.
Instead, we are left with fragile egos inside the bodies of fragile men. Fragile men who wear a mask of masculinity that not only harms themselves, but the women in their lives too.
So, what is the solution? This cannot be solved by any one organisation or institution or day. This is on our shoulders. On the shoulders of men who must understand that these are not abstract or intellectual ideas from a faraway land. These are real men, your fathers, your brothers, your mates, who suffer in silence.
And these are the real men who hurt real women. Who hurt your sisters, your mothers, your friends, your partners. Women, who before anything else, are people. People who deserve the ability to walk down the street. Or into their workplace. Or into Parliament without the fear of becoming the next target, the next headline, or the next victim of sexual assault.
The man who is too scared of what his mates will think to order a vodka raspberry at the pub on a night out, isn’t brave enough to engage in meaningful and authentic conversations about mental health, he’s not confident enough to adequately support the women in his life, and he’s not strong enough to call out his mates on their misogyny.
So next time you’re in the line at the pub, order yourself a vodka raspberry and listen to the conversations around you, and when you hear the objectification, when you hear the demeaning words, when you hear the sexist remarks and when you hear the misogyny, that is all too common. Say something. Hold your mates accountable.
Don’t let the women in your life suffer because of your silence.
This piece won the St Andrew’s College Collaborative Writing Competition 2021.