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Event Report: Men in Focus Webinar

Updated: May 26, 2022

Date: 17 November 2021 Time: 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM AEDT Venue: YouTube Live via ZOOM Speaker: Shane Tas


About the Presenter:

Shane Tas is Senior Policy Advisor, Masculinities at Our Watch, an independent, national organisation working to prevent violence against women. In this role he has been project lead and author of the Men in Focus report, launched in 2019 by the Victorian government. Men in Focus develops a deeper understanding of masculinities and the links to violence against women and examines what is needed to engage men in prevention efforts. Shane also advises on, and helps develop policy responses, campaigns and practice resources relating to masculinities and engaging men and boys in primary prevention. Prior to his role at Our Watch Shane completed a PhD in masculinities studies and worked as a researcher and educator at the University of Melbourne.


Shane commenced his presentation by acknowledging that the majority of Australians recognize violence against women as a problem and want something done to address it. A Primary prevention response, the key area of focus of this presentation and Shane’s work, looks more broadly at society and the kinds of things to change to stop the violence from happening in the first place.

When attempting to understand violence against women in its social context, Our Watch’s approach to prevention is driven by clear links between individual attitudes and behaviours and broader social norms and structures. Shane explains that violence against women is understood to be a social problem and not an individual one. He highlights the need to take a gendered approach, which means identifying and shifting the underlying drivers of violence – social and cultural norms, behaviours and attitudes, social structures and gendered power relations.

The second edition of Change the Story, a research project developed by Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth as part of the Second (national) Action Plan, has a greater focus on perpetration and men’s lives. The key question it asks is – what is driving perpetration? The framework identifies the following factors in response to this question:

1. Condoning of violence against women

2. Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life

3. Rigid gender roles and stereotypes constructions of masculinity and femininity

4. Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

Men in Focus is an evidence review of international and national literature of links between masculinity and violence against women, and crucially, how to engage men in this work. Key findings reveal that there are particular social norms, attitudes and practices that men feel pressure to conform to and support. Shane observes that men are very aware of what is expected of them as men, including – dominance, aggression, being in control, autonomy, stoicism, toughness, risk-taking, hypersexuality and compulsory heterosexuality. These dominant forms or ideas of masculinity help to maintain gender inequality as social norms, structures and practices reinforce each other.

The crux of the correlation between these dominant norms and stereotypes of masculinity and violence against women, is that men who form a rigid attachment to these norms and stereotypes are more likely to display sexist attitudes and behaviours and are therefore more likely to perpetrate violence against women.

Research shows that the message and ideas about masculinity are promoted and maintained in a range of sites and settings, and through male peer relationships. Male

bonding and masculinity can involve proving and asserting manhood and masculinity, creating clear distinctions between men and women, and has linked to increase sexism and gender-based violence. Consequently, men experience negative impacts to their own health and wellbeing due to dominant forms of masculinity and pressures to conform to them. Shane notes that historically, studies on men’s mental health did not a have a lens of masculinity on them, however it is now recognised that the masculine expectation of stoicism means that men may not seek help and develop poor coping mechanisms.

Employing an intersectional approach into all prevention work means that when doing work with men, remembering that whilst it is not a particular group of men perpetrating violence, it is important to recognize the unique position of ATSI men and migrant and refugee men encounter. An intersectional approach also involves challenging essentialist ideas of men and masculinity, which is the idea that men are born with these dominant ideas of masculinity. Encouraging understandings of sex and gender that are non binary-driven is also part of an intersectional approach. Questions:

1. Are there any thoughts on how to engage with the 'male dominated' settings or cultures, in changing ideas around masculinity?

Particularly in ATSI communities, it is seen that it is crucial that prevention is community based and led and that women are involved. Also dealing with racism or other intersecting forms – such as classism and poverty. Shane believes it is important that communities, that know the issues best, are involved in developing initiatives, which is also the reason why women need to be involved, that is, to not lose the gender focus.

2. What is happening in the education sector to address these issues?

In Victoria, the Respectful Relationships initiative is being introduced, but there are differing levels of implementation depending on the schools. Our Watch sees it as crucial – and all the work addressing prevention has to happen across the lifespan and it is about constantly building work and capacity. However, just going to children and educating about consent does not necessarily mean adults and principals and teachers have done the work. Shane acknowledges that there is a big burden on young people and a whole community approach is important.

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