Recently over lunch, I discussed with a woman named Sally, her critique of Rotary's patriarchal 'boys club' culture. While some of her points were valid, it was disheartening to see many men within Rotary unfairly targeted.
Often, discussions on 'toxic masculinity' reflect the behaviour of an elite male minority, not everyday men. Many men in service organisations like Rotary find much of their worth tied to their Rotary roles.
By contrast, modern talented women like Sally seem to have many other avenues to find usefulness and worth in society.
More than a decade ago, I founded Everyman, a monthly men’s group at Broken Head. Back then, self-worth issues were recurring. Over five years, hundreds of men came along. Many were burdened by depression and addiction, and some with suicidal thoughts. Indeed, analysis of suicide notes reveals words like 'useless' and ‘worthless’ being used most often.
In the safe environment of the men’s group, dozens of men reframed setbacks and rebuilt purposeful lives. Out of the blue, Hugh, one of those men sent me a sweet message of thanks earlier today: "I just wanted to thank you for being one of the great catalysts in my life, helping me to love myself more. I hope you’re having an awesome day John, you are a wonderful man. I love you 🌞 oxo"
Today, support for men is still needed.
Many boys and men face challenges in education, work and family life.
We should keep redesigning jobs for fairness to women, but also reform schools to be a level playing field for boys, who overall do not do as well academically at the same age as girls.
The academic capabilities of young women mean the gender gap in university degrees awarded has tilted significantly in their favour.
In the US, around 45% of families have wives earning more than husbands. In Australia, this trend extends to 47% of couples with children and 57% of those without children.
This phenomenon is not so much a male problem, but more of a structural and motivational issue. Boys are struggling more than girls to learn at school. There are far too few male teachers as role models and more and more traditionally male jobs are being automated.
More fathers feel disconnected as family provider roles diminish. In Australia, approximately 46% of boys primarily live with their mothers, and 27% never live with their fathers at all. Only 5% of separated fathers have school-aged sons living with them most or all of the time. Too many young men go on to repeat this pattern of absent fathering with their children.
Men's overdose and suicide rates are alarming. Last year, 3,249 Australians died by suicide, with men three times more likely than women. Indigenous males face even higher rates.
Many men have lost meaningful public roles, avenues for stable income, respect from their family and fair treatment in society. Ironically, one hundred years ago, this was the plight of many women in society.
We must help men adapt to recent changes without feeling forced to alter their identities.
Do we really want a world with confused ‘ball breaking’ women and ‘wimpy’ men?
More men and women need to know they have intrinsic and essential value beyond their learned roles.
We need strategies that promote a more inclusive social order in this post-feminist world.