Posted on: March 16, 2021
Exploring the contradictory resistance to and adoration of ideals of masculinity
White Masculinity in Contemporary Australia spans the disciplines of sociology, history, media and cultural studies, and popular culture to offer a historical exploration of Australian masculine tropes and an examination of contemporary representations of masculinity in the media.
This book was published in 2019, and has only recently been released in Paperback format. The author of this book, Andrea Waling, was kind enough to spend some time answering some of the most pressing questions about the current state of masculinity in Australia and how it has developed within modern society.
1. Your book’s title specifically mentions ‘white’ masculinity in contemporary Australia – what was the driving force behind this additional classification of masculinity?
Andrea Waling: The reason behind this was because I was focusing specifically on a white, colonial ideal of masculinity in Australia, and tracing its emergence up until contemporary culture. I wanted to be clear that this book is not a representative take on the different ways’ masculinity may be enacted and engaged across the diversity of people in Australia, since this is so varied and vast. This particular book is focused on a particular local context, exploring the ‘myth’ of the Aussie Bloke and how it’s been taken up across time, and in contemporary culture.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the emerging debates and discussions within your field that you think this book might help shed light on?
A: One of the emerging debates within the field is how we are approach the study of masculinity. At the moment we have competing theories such as hegemonic masculinity, inclusive masculinity, hybrid masculinities, sticky masculinity, and so forth. One of my own frustrations which I talk about in my book and in other works is our tendency to just categorise and name new ‘types’ of masculinity which I find unhelpful. In doing this, I’ve argued that we create these circular patterns of just creating and naming categories, and that we often position men as solely victims of masculinity, rather than having any kind of agentic capacity. In my book I question these ways of theorising masculinity, and note that men are very aware of what masculinity is and how it’s being discussed in both academic and public circles. Because of this we need to potentially rethink how we approach the study of masculinity.
3. Do you think that white masculinity manifests itself differently in Australia than the rest of the world?
A: I think Australia is unique in how white masculinity is taken up and enacted. It certainly carries many parallels to whiteness and masculinity in other Anglo-speaking cultures such as Britain, Canada, and the US among others, particularly those that have been subject to violent colonialism. However, I think Australia’s history, specifically it’s celebration of larrikins and outlaws like Ned Kelly and its emphasis on keeping everyone ‘on the same level’ (Tall Poppy Syndrome) is quite different. There is also a real emphasis on mastering bush and beach environments, and a real focus on anti-authoritarianism, mateship, and egalitarianism. At the same time, one could argue that all of those elements may manifest in other spaces, for example, ‘mateship’ can be likened to notions of ‘brotherhoods’ such as those found in US Greek fraternities. So I suppose it carries similarities and differences depending on how you look at it.
4. Do you think that a societal shift towards ‘de-colonising’ spaces and content will have a positive impact on white masculinity, or potentially force regression by the individuals who cling to it?
A: I think decolonising spaces are absolutely essential and will have a positive impact. While it may force some regression in men who cling strongly to these old ideals of Australian identity, whiteness and masculinity, I only see recognizing, supporting, honouring and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as vital and positive step in the right direction. By decolonising these spaces, we open up new possibilities in how we engage, collaborate and interact with each other. We have so much to learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In terms of masculinity, decolonising spaces I hope will enable individuals to engage in their practices of gender that do not promote harm towards others, and to learn respect, compassion, and empathy for others.
5. White masculinity seems ever-present in Australian politics – can we as a society do to ensure that our political spaces are not burdened with this ideal?
A: We need to encourage much more diversity in spaces that hold power. That includes not only political spaces, but also business spaces, medical spaces, and so forth. In many of these spaces it is white, older, middle or upper-class heterosexual men that make important decisions, often at the detriment of marginalised and stigmatised population groups. What we need is to support and centre women, trans and gender diverse people, Indigenous, and culturally and linguistically diverse people. These are the perspectives that we need to hear and value. The more we fill these spaces with varying perspectives and experiences, the less of the white masculinity ideal will be present.
Praise for the book:
"In this engaging and timely book Waling draws on a range of rich data to examine historical shifts and continuities in representations of Australian masculinity, and to investigate how masculinity is currently lived and understood. Through a nuanced analysis she gives us unique insight into the contradictions and tensions of contemporary manhood."
— Barbara Pini,
Professor of Sociology,
Griffith University, Australia
"Waling breathes new life into the critical study of men and masculinities with a lucid style, and, dare I say, some much needed optimism. Empirically ambitious and theoretically rich and diverse, White Masculinity in Contemporary Australia is an account that stands out in an increasingly crowded arena."
— Steve Roberts,
Associate Professor of Sociology,
Monash University, Australia
"White Masculinity in Contemporary Australia is a most welcome contribution to a growing field of critical scholarship on men and masculinities. Waling’s argument for post-structural theory in the study of men and masculinities is important and will help to shape future arguments and debates."
— Jonathan A. Allan,
Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory & Professor of English & Creative Writing,
Brandon University, Canada
"White Masculinity in Contemporary Australia is a wonderfully lyrical exploration of ideas about masculinity in Australia. Blending historical, cultural and sociological approaches, it shows that while traditional ideas about 'real Aussie blokes' might linger in the public mind, contemporary men's perceptions of their own masculinity are much more clear-eyed and progressive. This book is an exemplary model of how to study men, masculinities and social change."
— Andrew Singleton, Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Head of School (Research),
Deakin University, Australia
White Masculinity in Contemporary Australia is available now from routledge.com.