Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Obama and the new manhood

By Don Edgar - posted Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Two photographs that went viral in recent weeks are symbolic of our changing masculinity.

One showed an Aussie male screaming abuse at a female French bus traveler because she wasn't speaking English. The other showed President Barack Obama and his wife hugging one another.

The first was a reminder that angry macho thuggery is still endemic in our society despite years of feminism and rising gender equality. The second struck a chord with thousands of men and women who know that an equal partnership is more fulfilling than one based on power and control.


In the context of Obama's election victory, it acts as a symbol of change in modern relationships, where the conservative old guard has been exposed for what it is - a pathetic cabal of outmoded white males scrabbling to retain power.

It resonates in the Australian context because we have just witnessed the clearest challenge to male chauvinism in decades in our Prime Minister's 'mysogyny' speech against Tony Abbott, the exposure of Alan Jones as an Emperor with no clothes, and a laying down of the gauntlet to established male power structures in her announcement of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. The three are linked because media bias, sexist taunts and child abuse are based on unequal power and institutionalized inequality. We are at a pivotal point in our social history.

Obama epitomizes a new model of manhood, masculinity forged not as an assertion of power but as an acknowledgement of mutual support and cooperation. He is a man formed not by his own efforts to succeed but from his ability to relate to other people (including his own wife) as equals, a President calling for justice within American society, for the validity of caring for those not as fortunate as ourselves and for true cooperation between political opponents where the social good of all people and the future of the planet are concerned.

It is perhaps drawing too long a bow to suggest this is a tipping point for patriarchy, but it is certainly a tipping point for men confused about their own masculinity and their place in the world.

In most Western countries, male dominance is under retreat and many men are struggling to understand what has happened. In countries such as Russia that process is chaotic; men have been sidelined from family life and retreated into rampant alcoholism, their children 'captured' by grandmothers because they can no longer assert their male authority over wives.

Muslim communities vary widely, some observing Mahommed's injunction to treat wives as equals and care for their children, others still killing women if they dare to seek an education and challenge male authority. In China, over 100 million 'floating men' are either single because there are not enough women to marry or because they've had to move away from their family to find work in the rising urban complexes.


In Brazil, religious tradition still supports male authority over wives and children but economic change leads them towards closer involvement with their children. And in Scandinavia, years of policies which encourage female workforce participation, quality public provision of child care and greater male-female equality have cut swathes through a traditionally patriarchal culture.

Ironically Australia, with its more secular culture, anti-authoritarian traditions and government policies supporting shared parenting is probably closer to a new form of masculinity than others where more rigid roles hold sway. We're not all footy thugs after all.

The emergence of a new masculinity has come slowly, has many causes and is still incomplete, but we seem to be reaching a stage where men themselves are demanding liberation from the old macho mode.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

13 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Don Edgar was founding Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies and is a member of the Victorian Children’s Council. His latest book, co-authored with Dr Patricia Edgar, is The New Child: in search of smarter grown-ups. See

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Don Edgar

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 13 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy