In light of International Men’s Day 2023, can you tell share with us your reflection on the State of Manhood from a Woman’s Perspective as CEO of The Fathering Project?
As a woman observing the evolving landscape of gender roles, I’m increasingly aware of the complex challenges faced by men in today’s society. There is no doubt that men hold a disproportionate representation in media, politics, leadership roles, and other influential positions within our society and we need more gender balance, however, they also account for a staggering 75% of all suicides in Australia, with the rate of male suicide rising by 13% over the past decade. This crisis is particularly acute among men under 55, who constitute the majority of these tragic losses.
What is your research telling you about the underlying Issues of Men’s Struggles in the gender story?
While we often focus on the triumphs and struggles of women – rightly so – it’s becoming clear through our work with schools, dads’ groups, and research from multiple organisations in this space, that men and boys are grappling with their own set of issues. Despite the advantages that the patriarchal system grants to men collectively, it can also significantly damage individual men and boys in many ways.
As a mother, and also working with families, mums and dads, what concerns do you share for the next generation of men and how can we address them?
As a mother, the plight of boys in this changing world is a concern. Boys are generally fed a continuous diet of expectations from the time they can walk and talk: be tough, be brave, don’t cry, conquer and win. These messages are not always from a single source; they ricochet through the media, movies, playgrounds, and, in some cases, even within our own homes.
I see and hear stories through our drop-in centres about boys who are pressured to fit into a mould of traditional masculinity that leaves little room for vulnerability or emotional expression. In schools, we see boys falling behind, not for lack of intelligence, but perhaps because the current educational systems are better geared towards girls’ learning styles. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, less likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to pursue higher education.
I think the issue starts with emotional literacy. We don’t teach emotional resilience to our boys the same way we do to our girls. The expression “boys will be boys” is used to downplay behaviour that, if addressed appropriately, could teach our young men empathy, nurture, consent, and communication.
Physical aggression in boys is frequently justified as a normal element of being masculine, but I question this; is it innate or acquired? And what are the consequences of this belief? We read headlines about men committing acts of violence at an alarming rate, and I can’t help but wonder how different things might be if we taught our boys to express their emotions in a healthy way.
The modern world poses a paradox for our boys: society still rewards the stoic, traditional male figure, yet we’re also beginning to understand the importance of emotional intelligence. As a mother, it’s a tightrope walk between encouraging resilience and fostering sensitivity.
So what can we do to support the journey from boys to men?
Firstly, we need to redefine strength. It’s not just about muscle and might; it’s about emotional courage. Let’s teach our boys that it’s okay to cry, to be afraid, to seek help. Strength is in the capacity to face one’s feelings, not flee from them.
We must revamp our educational system to support different learning styles and ensure that our boys don’t fall through the cracks. Encouraging reading, art, and emotional education as much as we do sports and competition can create a more well-rounded experience.
Fathers, male teachers, and mentors need to model this new form of healthy manhood—men who are not afraid to show love, to be nurturing, to communicate openly. Boys need to see that their heroes aren’t just fighters and sports stars, but also caregivers and peacemakers.
Finally, as a society, we must engage in open conversations about the pressures and expectations placed on boys. We need to listen to them, really listen, without judgment, and with the intent to understand their unique experiences and challenges. My hope for my son and all boys for International Men’s Day 2023 is that they grow up in a world that understands their struggles, sees their potential, and supports their journey to become men of character—men who can be as strong in their compassion and empathy as they are in their convictions. It is not an easy task, but for the sake of our boys, and the men they will become, it is a necessary one.