Man to Man: Men, Violence, Change [Guest Blog by Ben Wadham]

Over the last several years particularly there has been a renewed focus on the prevention of violence toward women.  With the news that women are consistently being killed by their male partners women’s safety remains the paramount concern for violence prevention.

Alongside these reported tragedies sit stories of young men dying at the hands of other (usually) young men: in pubs, on the street, after parties. Reckless punches are thrown and young lives are taken.

Australian researchers Flynn, Halsey and Lee argue that: ‘With well over 90 ‘one-punch’ fatalities in the past decade, Australia likely holds the dubious honour of being at the epicentre of such incidents’. This dubious honour, they argue, is “emblematic of deeper undercurrents of antisocial conduct and dispositions in late modern Australian life’ (2016: 179).

We are left with a few questions: Why is it that when violence is used in Australian community life it is men who are the principle protagonists? Can men’s use of violence be changed? What is it about late modern Australian cultural life and this expression of violence? Have the cultural relations of public violence changed?

Men’s violence toward other men: what do we know?

Male-male public violence undermines community safety, health and wellbeing. It costs billions of dollars in health, policing, judicial and correctional responses every year. This violence undermines public safety and confidence, stretches policing resources and creates a public health concern around young men, alcohol and drug use and the expression of significant violence.

Male-male violence is most prevalent in public areas outside of, or in transition from, licensed premises. The violence occurs predominantly on Friday and Saturday nights and is significantly drug-and/or alcohol-related. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) crime victim survey indicates about six in every 100 Australian males aged between 15 and 24 years were physically assaulted in the preceding 12 months (ABS, 2013).

Despite this there has been significantly little research on men’s violence toward other men relative to the question of men’s violence toward women. However, it is argued that by understanding men’s violence toward other men our understanding of men’s violence toward women and children can be enhanced. Taft et al explain that:

While male victims of partner abuse certainly exist, male victims of other forms of male violence are more prevalent. A focus on gendered risk of violence in public health policy should target male-to-male public violence and male-to-female intimate partner abuse’ (Taft et al. 2001: 498 emphasis added).

The state of the research tells us a few things.

  • masculinity, alcohol consumption and violence are a wicked trio.
  • there is a relationship between conceptions of masculinity and male-male violence, and
  • the relationship between men in groups and men’s violence (for example, sporting clubs, the military or fraternities in the USA) is strong, and prevalent in men’s violence toward other men.

Violence and manhood are entangled. Violence is an expression of an ideal of manhood. Violence prevention research and education must have clear ideas about gender, and must focus in some way on understanding how men’s sense of what it means to be a man, and to do masculinity, in contemporary Australia.

Masculinities: Men, Violence, Change

A young man’s relationship with violence is bigger than him alone. Poverty, housing, education, and opportunity are part of the young man’s life. Men’s identities intersect across class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Young men are raised in a culture bristling with expressions of violence and glory across computer games, in sport, music, internet porn and on the television or in film.

The work of Raewyn Connell (1995) is of course seminal in this regard showing us that men exercise masculinity within cultural constructions of masculinities that are collective, actively constructed and multiple. There are dominant and dominating forms of masculinity, just as there are marginal and alternative ways of being a man. Masculinities are contested and violence is generative of these relations. Gender hierarchies are heavily stratified.

Tomsen (1997) and Polk (1999) both emphasise the role of unhealthy masculinities in public, male-male violence.  Kenway and Fitzclarence argue that ‘It is now fairly well understood that the social, cultural and psychic construction of masculinity is related to violence and that some kinds of masculinity are more directly associated with violent behaviour than others’ (1997: 119).

Education for Violence Prevention: Ways of Reducing Men’s Violence?

A popular approach to reducing alcohol related public violence has been to close venues earlier or to legislate violence hot spots out of action.

You can displace violence but you can’t displace masculinity – young men take their rituals of manhood when they are displaced from the city streets to the suburban party. So, how do we change cultures of toxic or violent masculinities?

Across Australia numerous one-hit fatalities have resulted in families establishing education for violence prevention programs. There is significant community interest in ending male-to-male violence.

Education for violence prevention has a long history, growing in momentum in the early to mid 1980s, and changing their focus across the last few decades. Educational approaches to violence prevention tend to cover cultural, cognitive, affective, and behavioural domains.

There has until recently been an equally limited response to researching the efficacy of program-based interventionist strategies to reduce male-male violence.

Given the profoundly gendered character of violence we adopt Flood’s (2010) three key points on the related subject of the prevention of men’s violence toward women:

  1. while most men do not use violence, violence is largely perpetrated by men;
  2. ideas and behaviours linked to masculinity are highly influential in men’s use of violence; and
  • men have a vital role in ending men’s violence.

Primary responses to violence prevention work with young men before they have been embroiled in, or labelled by, violence. These often take place in schools, sporting clubs or community centres. They run for several hours and cover single, multiple sessions and courses. They aren’t well evaluated and their impact is always partial. But they offer exposure to key issues in gender and violence through varying curricula.

Community Challenge: Ending the Celebration and Proliferation of Male Violence

When men’s violence is celebrated to the extent it is across film and television, sport, computer gaming and other kinds of leisure, violence in the community is normalised.

Any response must consider the cultures of gender and violence within which the perpetrator lives and acts. Violence is a collective practice, one that is fuelled and modelled within the larger world, structured through privilege and disadvantage and ultimately an expression of deemed possible.

Dominating forms of masculinity make violence possible. Violence prevention of any form must consider men’s violence towards women, and towards other men. There is much to learn from researching, planning and educating across both scenarios.


Reference List

ABS (2013) Australian Crime: Facts and Figures 2013, ABS, ACT.

Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.

Flynn, A., et al. (2016). “Emblematic Violence and Aetiological Cul-De-Sacs: On the Discourse of ‘One-punch’ (Non) Fatalities.” The British Journal of Criminology 56(1): 179-195.

Flood, M. (2010) Where Men Stand: Men’s roles in ending violence against women. Sydney: White Ribbon Prevention Research Series, No. 2.

Kenway, J. and L. Fitzclarence (1997). “Masculinity, Violence and Schooling: Challenging ‘poisonous pedagogies’.” Gender and Education 9(1): 117-134.

Polk, K. (1999). “Males and honor contest violence.” Homicide Studies 3(1): 6-29.

Taft, A., et al. (2001). “Are men and women equally violent to intimate partners? (Measuring Risk).” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 25: 498

Tomsen, S. (1997). “A top night: social protest, masculinity and the culture of drinking violence.” British Journal of Criminology 37(1): 90-102.

About the author

Ben Wadham is Head of Social Inquiry at Flinders University. Ben’s main research interest is militarism and militarisation in Australia – critical civil/military relations. Of particular interest is crime and the military. His research has assessed the reform of the military justice system and the place of ‘military misconduct’ in ADF organizational culture. Ben is particularly interested in the cultural relations of civil military relations, and those that shape the military such as race, gender, sexuality, nation and empire. Ben’s background in governance and public policy locates these activities in the changing character of key social institutions. He also has written about cultural camouflage. He is interested in how the strategies of physical camouflage can inform social theoretical concerns with discourse and subjectivity.

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