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Macho, macho man… who wants to be a macho man?

The attempt to rein in offensive “shock jock” style radio commentary received mixed reaction in the media, but the notion of banning words that might demean a particular group opens up an enticing possibility…

Citing machismo as an all-around barrier to men being healthy doesn’t help address the problem. Ingrid Lemaire

The attempt to rein in offensive “shock jock” style radio commentary received mixed reaction in the media, but the notion of banning words that might demean a particular group opens up an enticing possibility.

Many of us can imagine the satisfaction of being the media regulator for a day, cutting out the terms for putting down groups that include ourselves and our loved ones. In my case, negative terms for academics and column writers come to mind.

But for my money, if I were the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) czar for a day, I’d ban the use of the word “macho” – although, maybe not every use of the term needs to be banned. After all, I bop along to the Village People’s hit “Macho Macho Man” at the time.

And there are products now that may come in handy, such as Machismo Pills – the all-natural erection enhancers that last for five days and guarantee multiple orgasms. Or the distinctive Macho underwear – “designed in Spain and manufactured in Columbia”.

More borderline cases come from the quirky names that astronomers give to their projects, such as one searching for the dark matter in the universe. The Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects (MACHO) project followed the Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS) theory of dark matter. And let’s not forget the Robust Associations of Massive Baryonic Objects, or RAMBO project.

Too macho to care

It’s when macho or machismo are used to explain men’s approach to looking after themselves that offence occurs. Macho perceptions of booze are blamed for the higher rates of men’s drinking in regional Australia and machismo is cited as an all-around barrier to men being healthy.

This puts the blame for men’s ill health onto men’s attitudes and the way that men want to appear “manly”. If we took the same tack with smokers we would blame them for wanting to look like the people in tobacco advertisements rather than hassling tobacco companies about their advertising.

Blaming bad health on machismo doesn’t help anyone. Robert Fornal

It’s not as if defining the problems in men’s health as being due to machismo helps to connect men with the support they need. The new app “myHealthMate released by Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital last year is a good example. It features a symptom checker allowing men to match 20 areas of their body to over 50 common symptoms. This is a pain-free low-cost way to check up on your health that doesn’t require fronting up to a doctor.

Although the publicity around the app’s launch cited “The Australian male’s machismo” as the problem, the app doesn’t try to change men’s attitudes. What it seems to do very well is to provide user-friendly, practical information tailored to men’s health issues.

The positive side of macho?

Author Steve Biddulph is fond of saying, if you are trapped in a car crash, a bloke who will ignore the cuts or burns to get to pull you out is exactly what you need. So there are positive sides of men’s idea of “being a man” that most of us value but rarely talk about.

Men in Australia have high rates of preventable injury and disease. In my ACMA dream world, we would dispense with offensive language and get on with designing effective health promotion for men so we can change that.

Join the conversation

5 Comments sorted by

  1. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    There are certainly some other words that should be banned as being putdowns. Bank manager and used car salesman would be obviously debatable. Real estate salesman would probably be OK.
    However politician is an obvious candidate that would meet with universal approval. Canberra also. Canberra politician - how low can you go?

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  2. Roz Nisbet

    Teacher

    I think Fletcher has hit the nail on the head with taking the emotion out of the language and getting on with the job of moving society forward. I work in the area of disabilites (not that I'm suggesting men are a disability!!) and there is enough timely legislation to help us understand equality and the true value of all "people". Yet we continue to label, misconstrue and over-react rather than understand, plan and then implement? Roll on apps!!

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    1. Mark Carter

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Roz Nisbet

      I think if you want to start the giving the State a role in policing the use of everyday language perhaps you should consider a move to North Korea.

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  3. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    To understand manliness, work with men on something worthwhile.

    The obsessional view of manliness or machismo - the image that sells product - comes from sitting around doing too much talking, playing games/sport or drinking.

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  4. Lorna Jarrett

    PhD, science educator and science advocate

    Thanks for the pointer to Adele's article, that was worth the read. Plenty of time on my hands for reading right at the moment so much appreciated.

    I'm not sure what the following has to do with machismo tho:

    "if you are trapped in a car crash, a bloke who will ignore the cuts or burns to get to pull you out is exactly what you need"

    That doesn't seem like a macho trait to me, or even a particularly male one. Hospital A&E units and ambulances (and hospitals in general) are full of female medics who do a pretty good job of the above. A similar thing happened to me at work years ago, when a diabetic had a hypoglycemic crisis and no-one else (out of a big room overwhelmingly full of blokes) seemed willing or able to help.

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