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

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.

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