Australian men are 'conditioned to being told they’re wrong'

Richard Wilkins believes men miss being treated like men.

Richard Wilkins believes men miss being treated like men.

If you’ve spent much time online or in the public sphere - or, for that matter, simply existing in the world in general - you might have been under the impression that men don’t feel particularly hobbled when it comes to speaking their minds.

Not so, if the release of The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper is any indication. It has been prepared by advertising/marketing behemoth M&C Saatchi Australia’s senior strategist Carolyn Managh, who apparently lives in an alternate universe, if her quotes in the press release are to be believed: “The White Paper steps around the female minefield that stops academics, politicians and everyday men from saying what they really think, this research says what every man is thinking.”

(At the risk of sounding like a Carry On film, I don’t think my female minefield has ever stopped everyday men from saying what they really think, at least if you take the comments section on any Daily Life piece as evidence.)

A sample page from the MC & Satchi White paper.

A sample page from the MC & Satchi White paper.

The paper - written after eight months of interviews with 140 Australian men aged 27 to 55, which is, despite the paper’s “unprecedented” and “landmark” claims, not really an immense sample group - trumpets that Australian men are “so conditioned to being told they’re wrong, they’ve developed gender issue laryngitis”.


The irony of the phrase “gender issue laryngitis” being raised at the 10th annual Men’s & Father’s Roundtable, on International Men’s Day (funny, I thought that was the other 364 days of the year aside from March 8th, a ho ho ho), is not lost on me. Nonetheless, I persevered and read The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper.

By the time I reached the page - and all of them are impeccably designed - featuring a pull-quote from Richard Wilkins that bellows, in huge type, “Women fall in love with the way you are, then try to change you”, followed on the next page by an inexplicable photo of G.I. Joe dolls, I had a pretty good idea of what I was dealing with. To wit: absolute twaddle.

The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper comes off like an effort from The Gruen Transfer’s ‘The Pitch’ segment, however unlike ads convincing Australians to invade New Zealand, it does not appear to be a joke.

I was not alone in this reaction. “I initially thought it might have been written by the Chaser team. Or Alan Jones,” Men’s Referral Service and No To Violence CEO Danny Blay told me. “It attempts to describe all men as a singular type, [but] ignores the impact of traditional masculinity on violence against women, violent crime, criminal activity, sexual harassment, sexual assault, porn, child protection notifications, the prison population, road trauma…”

Indeed, the terrible irony of tone-deaf stunts like The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper - announced as it was with an email blast bearing the subject header “Not All Men Are Bastards” - is that they cloak what is essentially market research in a flimsy patina of social science, attempting to fool the reader into thinking they are dealing with a serious research paper and/or genuine concern about the emotional status of Australian men.

That seems to be what has happened to Julia Keady, who writes, inspired by the white paper, “What I won't stand for is the advancement of one gender at the sacrifice of another”, and it’s that misguided stance (to say nothing of “gender issue laryngitis”, a phrase that made me hoot with laughter) that has, presumably, fuelled the paper’s creation, or at least its cod-scientific tone.

Keady also reckons “men's wellbeing and safety is not part of this nation's gender conversation” (I guess the roaring success of Movember is just a blip on the gender conversation radar), a claim that might hold some weight in the context of the white paper were it not for the fact that the study’s “key findings” include pressing issues like “[Australian men are] traumatised about buying women presents”.

Makes you think of the old Margaret Atwood line about men being “afraid women will laugh at them [...] We're afraid of being killed”, doesn’t it? But, you know, NOT ALL MEN ARE BASTARDS!

“Complaining that not all men are bastards is a blatant attempt to tell women to shut up; ‘it’s not all bad, deal with it’,” Blay says. “The white paper makes no mention of the physical, historical or social context of men’s power over women (and children – see recent investigations of institutional sexual abuse of children – not a lot of women implicated there) and negates the reality of the inherent unequal power imbalance based solely on gender.”

The paper’s conclusion bleats (in a font size that Superman would struggle to leap in a single bound), “The results of The Modern (Aussie) Man study were ASTOUNDING [...] Men miss being treated like men. Real manly men.” Really? “Astounding”? You interviewed 140 men and collated their responses in a “paper” that is essentially a 61-page version of such storied bits of wisdom as “you have to eat meat to feed meat” and “I’m not a poof or nothing”?

When the presser includes gems like “The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper goes where few have dared to go; opening the gender conversation from men’s perspective, at a deeply personal level”, I can only think about how great a slice of the last, say, two thousand years worth of conversation has been from men’s perspective.

Nobody is here to deny the very real trauma of male suicide rates, depression, rape within the prison system (not to mention the prison industrial complex), workplace safety, alcohol-fuelled violence or war - issues that all but the most radical throwback feminists would agree are pressing.

Suggesting that there’s a “female minefield” that prevents men from speaking their minds, on the other hand, makes me wonder if whoever prints the calendars accidentally switched International Men’s Day with April 1st for 2013.

The Modern (Aussie) Man crew have really saved the best ‘til last, however. Despite great fanfare accompanying the release of the white paper, there’s nothing remotely scientific about it. And that’s because (if the presence of M&C Saatchi didn’t clue you in from the very beginning) you have to read all 61 pages to get to the truth: the final line, “M&C Saatchi hopes this study is the first step to bringing brands and men closer together.”

Who knew? “Opening the gender conversation from men’s perspective, at a deeply personal level” was just another way to say “Buy more Lynx and sick V8s.”