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If all men are monsters, how should we raise our boys?

By Peter West - posted Monday, 9 July 2012

Men are used to living with criticism, often from other men who are sometimes hard on each other. Sometimes from women. Or from well-meaning people in the media. We have been analysed, scrutinized, puzzled over, labeled, you name it. We are too much this and not enough that. We fail in Kindergarten for not being quiet enough and we fail later on because we're afraid of commitment.

The world of book-learning is especially critical of us. When I asked about books on men in one Sydney bookshop the reply was "Oh God, I don't know. Try under mental illness or self-help". Men will always be criticized for not being feminist enough. But as Garrison Keillor said, men can never be feminists. Millions have tried and nobody did better than C-plus.

Men are urged to take more care of themselves. But why do we expect men to look after their health if they are always told that society doesn't value them?


Here are four movie summaries. I took them word for word from the Herald's TV Guide in June:

"Knocked Up". An up and coming entertainment journalist's career is threatened after falling pregnant following a one-night stand with an unemployed, immature slacker. [USA] 2007

"Trivial Matters". A collection of seven vignettes revolving around hapless men and their failure to understand the women in their lives . (Hong Kong) 2007

"Angel and the Bad Man". After being nursed back to life by a Quaker girl, a man is forced to choose between his newfound love and his old life of crime . [USA] 2009

"Proof". The daughter of a mathematician tries to come to grips with the possibility that she may be as unstable as her father. [USA] 2005.

The theme is clear: men are monsters. Women are heroes, or victims of men's stupidity, laziness, mental illness or criminality.


Take another example. It's a regular column in the Sun-Herald entitled "All Men Are Liars". And we had on Sunday 10 June an extended moan from Sam de Brito suggesting men are stupid because they go for a woman's beauty regardless of the consequences, especially when they have been drinking. This was titled "Shallow Waters of a Man's Brain".

Or try another article in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which a feminist tells men repeatedly they should thank feminism for helping them be better fathers. It's a piece of propaganda based on no perceptible research or body of evidence. Feminist writers (male and female) are held up for admiration, while good fatherhood is put down to the work of feminism.

All of this is consistent with Jim Macnamara's PhD thesis, published as Media and Male Identity (Palgrave, 2006). It was based on thousands of examples across all types of media in Australia, USA and the UK. It says that media stereotypes help shape men's ideas about how they should act. And that men in western societies are faced with a misandric world that devalues, marginalizes and objectifies men and constantly tries to change them.

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This is a shortened version of a paper given at a symposium on men's issues at the University of Western Sydney on 5 July, 2012.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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