A Response to the Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper

The “The Modern [Aussie] Man White Paper”, released in Canberra today to honour International Men’s Day claims to start a conversation that steps “around the feminist minefield that stops academics, politicians and everyday men from saying what they really think.”

The paper claims to explore key traits and concerns of the Modern Australian man, “…a positive celebration of true masculinity” according to the Australian International Men’s Day Coordinator. It also comments on a perceived silencing of men’s voices in the modern gender debate.

As a young feminist, I find two elements of this paper particularly problematic. First, and most obviously is the portrayal of feminism, the gender debate and women. Secondly, and less visible, is the homogenous portrayal of men’s identities, visions and masculinities.

Foremost, the article blames the modern feminist movement for stopping “men from saying what they really think”. It argues that men “have developed gender issue laryngitis that stops them sharing thoughts, concerns and issues (around either gender) for fear of being labeled sexist”. Ironically, at the same time, it engages in offensive and unsubstantiated profiling of women, stating “men are disappointed that women lose their sense of humour as they get older”.

While women may dominate discourses on gender issues, it can be said that this is the only space wherein women’s voices and ideas are prioritised. It takes only a brief online search to highlight the vast areas of public life and discussion in which men are overrepresented. The article also fails to account for the fact that significant academic progress around ideas of masculinities were borne out of the feminist movement and continue to be supported by it. The feminist movement has always encouraged discussion around gender relations and identities, but has not shied away from shaming voices that perpetuate homogenous and unsubstantiated visions of gender identity.

There appears also to be a willful ignorance in the paper to the way in which modern gender relations overwhelmingly harm women. It states that “men break into a metaphorical sweat at the thought of buying women presents; always concerned about ‘getting it wrong’ and the subsequent consequences”. And while this is a significant issue, it makes no mention of men’s complicity in the alarming rate of women who have experienced sexual violence (1 in 5) and domestic violence (35% of women).

What is most problematic about the paper, however, is the presentation of masculinities. Instead of exploring the plethora of issues facing men and the many and varied masculinities that exist within our society, it presents men as a homogenous, ‘strong’ characters. When it could start discussions about issues relating to men’s health, sexuality and communication, it instead presents a narrow image of masculinity as “strong” and overwhelmingly homogenous and heterosexual. The paper claims to use a “significant sample” in the research, but only surveyed 140 participants, which is a small sample to make claims that it represents the views of “every man”.

There is an obvious need to start discussions about masculinity and the modern Australian man. These discussions do not need to be at the expense of the feminist movement – a consistent advocate for fairer and more nuanced understanding of masculinities for decades. The “Modern [Aussie] Man White Paper” is one that has much potential to start real discussion around masculinity and the place of gender discussion in men’s lives, but disappointingly falls short.

About Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is the Women's Officer on the University of Sydney's Student Representative Council.

    CONTRIBUTOR click to Donate

    The Chifley Research Centre relies on contributions from individuals and organisations to fund our operations, events and research. Without your donations, nothing we do would be possible.

  • Cameron Clyne

    Cameron Clyne is the former CEO of National Australia Bank and now chairman of advisory firm Camel Partners and a

    Catherine King

    Catherine King is the Shadow Minister for Health and Member for Ballarat.

    Cilla DeLacy

    Cilla has 20 years’ experience in public policy and corporate strategy across the water, land use planning and environmental management

    David Coats

    David Coats is in Australia as a Visitor at the Chifley Research Centre. He is a research fellow at the

    Gabrielle Kuiper

    Dr Gabrielle Kuiper has a background in science, sustainability and urban planning. She was previously Senior Adviser, Climate Change, Energy

    Erinn Swan

    As Deputy Digital Director I look for new and better ways to tell stories online. When I'm not doing that

    Jim Chalmers

    Jim Chalmers MP is Shadow Minister for Finance, and the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Prior to his election

    Linda Tirado

    Linda Tirado is a completely average American. She also has good rants about how much it sucks to be poor

    Michael Cooney

    Michael is a former Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre. He was previously Speechwriter to Prime Minister the Hon

    Paula Matthewson

    Paula Matthewson is a freelance communications adviser and writer on politics. She was media advisor to John Howard in the

    Terri Butler

    Terri Butler is the federal Labor Member for Griffith, Queensland.

    Tim Kennedy

    Tim Kennedy is national secretary of the National Union of Workers, organising for secure jobs and a fair Australia.

    Website design and development by