Putting the brakes on toxic masculinity

Research shows stereotypes of masculinity contribute to the Queensland road toll.

Between 2007-2017 more than 2250 men died on Queensland’s roads, making up 73% of the state road toll.

A study from The Men’s Project and the Queensland University of Technology has revealed 38% of young men who conform to traditional definitions of manhood, known as being in the ‘man box’, have been involved in a road crash in the past 12 months.

Comparatively, just 11% of men who were not in the ‘man box’ were involved in a road crash during the same period.

Stereotypes of masculinity include self-reliance, stoicism, aggression and emotional repression.

The study’s co-author, Associate Professor Michael Flood, said the results confirm the well-established link between conformity to masculinity and risky driving.

“Despite the stereotype of women as bad drivers, men tend to be worse drivers in the sense that they are involved in more accidents than women, receive more traffic fines than women and break road rules more often than women,” Professor Flood said.

“Men in the ‘man box’ are more likely than other men to agree that being a real man is about being dominant and tough, taking risks and showing off to your mates.”

Professor Flood said it’s not just young men who are influenced by the ‘man box’.

“The research shows that norms of masculinity are influential not only among young men but among older men as well,” he said.

“It’s also something we’re seeing in other countries such as France and Turkey because they have similar gender norms.

It’s not just road safety that’s impacted by toxic masculinity.

“Other road-based problems including car thefts, which are mostly performed by men, are shaped by a male peer culture of risk-taking, power and competing with police,” Professor Flood said. 

Professor Flood said addressing the ‘man box’ is essential to reducing the road toll.

“If we’re serious about tackling road deaths, road injuries and dangerous driving we need to tackle masculinity,” he said.

“Road safety organisations and the government need to address masculinity in their road safety efforts because it’s very clear that we won’t shift risky driving without tackling some of the powerful norms about being a man that shape men’s driving behaviour.

“There’s a lot of things we need to change to prevent road deaths, from road design to alcohol use, but masculinity is part of what’s shaping the risky-taking behaviour.”
Parents can also help to change young men’s behaviour and attitudes.

“A talk with your sons about what it means to be a driver and what safe responsible driving looks like should address some of the stupid messages about being a man that your son might hear from his mates or the media,” Professor Flood said.

“Parents and mates can play a role in challenging the norms that you prove yourself as a man by driving fast, driving dangerously and showing off.” 

Despite masculinity being engrained for generations, Professor Flood is confident that change is coming.

“Public health efforts tell us that it’s possible to change behaviour,” he said.

“We’ve done it in relation to tobacco use, drink driving, seat belt use and I hope we can do it in relation to risky driving.”