CHALLENGING the social norms associated with masculinity, while addressing the socially acceptable definition of what it means to be a ‘man’, has been identified as key contributors to men’s violence against women.

The findings come following a study that investigates how to better engage men in the prevention of violence against women.

The ‘Men in Focus’ study, commissioned by Our Watch in partnership with the Victorian Government, analysed existing research on masculinities and violence against women to develop a better understanding of the links between dominant forms and patterns.

It also looked at how primary prevention efforts can best address and challenge these patterns, and effectively engage men in the prevention of violence against women.

The report found that while there are many masculinities (or ways to be a ‘man’), there tended to be particular social norms, attitudes and practices that men felt pressure to conform to.

This includes autonomy, dominance and control, aggression and toughness, risk-taking, suppression of emotion, hyper-sexuality and heterosexuality.

The study found that it is these dominant forms of masculinity that help maintain gender inequality – which research has found has a clear link to violence against women.

“They can create and give legitimacy to the privilege and power that men, as a group, hold over women… and that men hold in their personal relationships with women,” the study’s findings read.

“At their most harmful, these dominant forms of masculinity also help drive men’s violence against women.”

The study also found that men who form a rigid attachment to these dominant ideas, or ‘norms of masculinity’ are more likely to demonstrate sexist attitudes and behaviours.

They are also more likely to use violence against women – especially when their masculinity is challenged or when they find it difficult to live up to these norms.

“This suggests that the problem lies not necessarily in the norms themselves but in some men’s rigid attachment to them,” the study found. “The social expectation is that men conform to these norms only, and avoid other behaviours considered feminine or ‘unmanly.”

The study found that masculinity was a social construction rather than something that men and boys are born with, and therefore, could be changed over time.

It also found that while steps have been taken to address disrespect towards women in a range of settings, some settings, like sports and male-dominated workplaces, can often promote harmful versions of masculinity that include sexist and violent attitudes and behaviours.

Violence and aggression, essentially, is strongly associated with masculinity.

On the flip side, the study found that men also experience negative impacts on their own health and well-being due to dominate forms of masculinity and the pressure to conform.

This can lead to men not only harming women, but also other men and themselves.

The study also sets out a number of guiding principles for prevention, including challenging ideas of men and masculinity, encouraging an understanding of sex and gender that does not limit people to ‘boxes’, and looking for solutions across all levels of society.

A long-term approach to change, while engaging the whole of population, is also promoted in the study.

To download the full review and study, visit http://www.outwatch.org.au.