Learning to be a Man in Australia


Men's Stories
Author Trevor Norton

Its funny how it was women who began to teach me what it is really like to be a man in Australia today. Sure, I learned a lot from my dad about what men are supposed to do, and I also learned how men and women are supposed to relate, from TV shows like Bewitched, MASH etc. I also practised how to be a man with the other boys at school. By the time I was 17 and entering Uni, I was a pretty typical young man. I knew so little about what was really inside me, that I was not even aware of myself being anything other than the wall of masculinity that I put up.

It was not until I began to talk to women on campus that I began to realise that I lived in a different world from them. I was a guy who had no fear walking through the various parts of campus. This included the residential colleges as well as the dark back alleyways and paths around the University of W.A. I was very surprised to hear some of my female friends talk about not walking on campus at night. When I began to scoff and ridicule their fear, they began to talk about how their lives were changed by the threat of rape.

According to these women, they had never been raped or abused, however they knew that as women, they had to be aware of the possibility of being attacked, and needed to take precautions. They would never walk through many parts of the campus at night, and even during the day would never walk in some sections near the science and engineering faculties.

It was not until then, that I realised that I did indeed live on a different planet than many other people in Perth - and I’m not talking about that Mars and Venus stuff. I began to notice the low proportion of Aboriginal and disabled students, and the larger percentage of white middle class men (and women) on campus, compared to the general population.

It made me realise the advantages I received through being a young white man in Australia. I would never been offered a place to study, if the percentages of different groups within the University population began to approach the same proportions as they were in the general population. If the lives of high school students who were aboriginal, female, or from NESB were able to be as comfortable as mine, the competition for places to our universities would be much stronger. If this were the case, the exam marks that I achieved to obtain entrance to UWA, would not have been high enough. This awareness of privilege started me on a long term journey of discovery looking at the way that women and others are disadvantaged in our society, and how as a man, my standard of life rests upon this disadvantage.

Like many men, over the last few years I have been watching the ‘Men’s Movement’ with some interest. Like most of us, I have read Steve Biddulph's book, and talked to my friends about the need for us to examine what it is like to be a man. Like some others, I have been disappointed to see sections of the Men’s movement portray men only as victims. For me, the Men's movement must be about men coming to terms with not only the things that make it hard to be a man, but also about the ways that being a man in Australia is affecting other men, women and children.

I see that the men’s movement will always have to balance the two different aspects of men’s role in our society - being a victim of our gender, whilst at the same time acknowledging the power and advantage that automatically comes from being a man. The first aspect can be found in the important, increasing awareness of men’s health, and the ways in which men’s health issues have not been brought out into the open. The other aspect is to acknowledge and redress the factors in which women and children are constantly beaten into submission by fathers and brothers in the family. The men’s movement needs to face up to both sides to remain credible. It is always easier to come to grips with men being victims of a society that works against us. The problem is that our society is established and controlled by men, for our benefit. We may not rape or bash our partners, but we all benefit when other men who do it.

      - Domestic Violence is predominantly carried out by males.

      - Sexual Assault and Abuse is also predominantly carried out by males.

Both are related to men adhering to strong and over-conforming male gender roles. It produces uncomfortable feelings such as shame and anger when we think about male violence and the other damage inflicted by men. Very few of us are strong enough to talk honestly of the times when we have either physically, sexually or emotionally abused those who trust us. We need to talk more about how gender roles make it easier to hurt others, as much as how rigid male roles hurt ourselves. Both of these aspects need to be a vital part of a successful and credible men’s movement.

I have been messing around on the internet over the past few years and have stopped looking in many of the men’s support news-groups. It seems to me that most of the conversations there are about how men get screwed by the family courts in child custody decisions, and how affirmative action programs are costing men their chances of promotion. While these issues might be of concern to some men, we must look at our society in a broader context before we can accurately suggest that men are hard done by.

The lesson that I learned from my female friends at University was that although I may never assault or abuse others, my life is made much more comfortable because of the abuse that other men have committed. I may not have been a part of the original white settlement of Australia, however my family's wealth and comfort is based on the fact that businesses were able to be started up on land that did not have to be paid for. I have been privileged to hear the stories of the women that I know, and will always be in their debt that they were able to overcome my cynicism to share their experiences with me.

Trevor Norton

PO Box 842,

Subiaco 6008

July 1, 1997

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