Lewis Harvey recalls the moment the internet realised he was a male of a certain age: he started being bombarded with ads for stuff it thinks Australian men are supposed to like.
Harvey noticed how algorithms seeking to capture young men chased him with unsolicited content, including information about drinking, gambling ads on high rotation, and clips by misogynist influencer Andrew Tate.
Harvey, 23, a screen production graduate, has placed a bet only once in his life and feels fortunate to have positive role models of manhood, including his soccer coach, in his life.
But harmful messages about men needing to be dominant, aggressive, have as much sex as possible, be in control in relationships with women – and use violence to get respect – still hold power over many Australian men, research has found.
One-quarter of the representative sample of 3500 Australian men said they believe in these rules, which lead to a greater likelihood of them perpetrating violence and experiencing poorer mental health and wellbeing.
Harvey said he had noticed the internet trying to pigeonhole him, and how even when he actively dismissed clips popping up in his feed, the algorithm still “gives it a shot”.
“Every second advert I get on any social media platform is a gambling ad, to the point where I could recognise the guy from the Sportsbet ad sitting in a bar I was in. It was funny – like, ‘I can’t believe I can pick him out of the crowd’,” he said.
“I always noticed, and found it interesting, especially in about the last 10 years when the internet got big enough to kind of pigeonhole you; to see a lot of things that are being assumed – because I’m a bloke – I want to hear about.”
The Man Box 2024: Re-examining what it means to be a man in Australia report is the most recent such study by The Men’s Project. The data, collected by CloudResearch and analysed by Wallis Social Research, found Australian men who most strongly endorse rigid male norms are more likely to have sexually abused their partner, sexually harassed women, experienced poor mental health, and displayed problematic gambling behaviours.
Jesuit Social Services’ Matt Tyler said the research showed the negative impacts of believing in outdated ideas about masculinity: “[It] finds that when men believe these rules, the results can be devastating for people in their lives, particularly women, as well as for men themselves.”
Men who most strongly agreed with the rules were 31 times more likely to believe “domestic violence should be handled privately”, and 17 times more likely to have hit their partner. They were eight times more likely to have thoughts of suicide nearly every day, and six times more likely to have forced a partner to do something sexually degrading or humiliating.
Compared with the 2018 study, which looked at men aged 18-30, the data showed “some good news”, said Tyler, in that social pressure to conform to these standards had dropped by 12 percentage points – especially [regarding] thinking it was required of them to act tough. Traditional masculine norms also constrain young men’s own health and wellbeing.Professor Michael Flood
“Where we’ve seen less of a change, and it is reason for concern, is related to ideas around the use of violence, and the expectations related to relationships with women,” he said.“For example, regarding the Man Box rules that men should use violence to get respect if necessary, and in heterosexual relationships, a man should always have the final say.”
The report found 44 per cent of men aged 18 to 45 thought a guy who doesn’t fight back when pushed around is weak.
Long-time gender and violence researcher Professor Michael Flood, a member of the study’s advisory group, said it was encouraging that in the latest survey, fewer respondents agreed that men should know where their female partner is all the time than in 2018 (though in 2024, 35 per cent of 18-35 year-olds, and 33 per cent of 31 to 35 year-olds agreed that they should).
Flood said it was positive that traditional models of how to be a man – “in which men are expected always to be tough, aggressive, risk-taking, stoic, heterosexual, homophobic and transphobic, emotionally inexpressive, hostile to femininity, and dominant” – did not receive majority support among young men, and most did not think society was imposing this on them.
“The messages young men receive about manhood have improved in some ways,” he said. “There has been some decline in the past five years in unhealthy and gender-inequitable forms of manhood.”
But Flood noted it was concerning that one-quarter to one-third of young men still endorse “dangerous and sexist models of manhood”.
“This endorsement is not declining fast,” he said. “Men’s levels of endorsement of traditional masculine ideology generally are steady.”
There was little change in attitudes towards male aggression, or in men always having the final say in relationships or marriages, but a shift away from men always knowing their intimate partner’s whereabouts was encouraging.
Flood agreed with Matt Tyler that “traditional masculine norms also constrain young men’s own health and wellbeing”, and said work to promote healthy or positive masculinities needed to be scaled up in Australia, including at workplaces, sports clubs, and in online platforms and communities.
Amanda Alford, acting chief executive of violence prevention agency Our Watch, said it was extremely concerning that men who accepted outdated views about manhood were more likely to have hit their partner.
“This research provides clear direction on what needs to be done to prevent this violence,” she said.
“We need to support boys and young men through the process of learning about who they are, particularly given the pressures they face from many areas of their lives, including friends, family, social media and pornography.
More than five years Samantha Fraser was murdered at the hands of her ex-husband Adrian Basham, her friends and family have created a charity aimed at keeping victims of domestic violence safe.
“We need to be having open and honest conversations about porn, sex and relationships and work together to make sure young men have role models that help them understand the healthier and more positive ways of being a man.”
Director of Monash University’s gender and family violence prevention centre, Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, said understanding harmful forms of masculinity was essential to helping prevent violence against women.
“This research is critical to understanding how we prevent men’s violence, and how men can be supported to challenge dangerous ideas about what it means to be a man,” said Fitz-Gibbon, who is chair of Respect Victoria, which supported the research.
“A strong focus on primary prevention efforts will continue to shift the dial on men’s attitudes towards themselves and others.”
MensLine Australia offers free professional 24/7 telephone counselling support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence, addiction and wellbeing. Call 1300 78 99 78.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.