How to end toxic masculinity

David Nugent, founder of the Heavy METAL Group and a men's behavioural change specialist believes that addressing toxic masculinity and misogyny is key in tackling family violence. (Stewart Chambers: 294848_03)

By Ethan Benedicto

Strangulation and stalking are found to be the most significant drivers of risk of family violence, as well as aggressive pornography, but their causes are rooted in age-long toxic masculinity, says mens behavioural change leader David Nugent.

“The problem is that the family violence starts a lot earlier and escalates to a point of desperation from the abuser or the perpetrator that is losing power and control,” the founder of the South-East based group Heavy METAL said.

“It’s about misogynistic beliefs, about power and control; you know the woman needs to serve ‘me’, the woman needs to do what ‘I’ say, that’s what we’ve got to looking at shifting,” Mr Nugent said.

Specialising in men’s behavioural change and therapy, he says a common denominator of his clients’ struggles is accepting vulnerability and the diminishing of self-worth.

Then there’s the decline of prevalence around foundational acts of masculinity that revolve around provision, protection, dominance and control.

Mr Nugent said that men “initially think it’s an anger problem”.

“But as we delve deeper into changing behaviour, it’s about power and control, their insecurities and what they’re trying to achieve with [that] power and control.

“It ties way back to our self-worth and our low self-esteem that we need to have control over others,” he said.

An acronym for Men’s Education Towards Anger and Life, the Heavy METAL group encompasses Mr Nugent’s vision of men being self-aware, acknowledging weakness as a sign and pathway to growth and not as something that should be corralled and walled off.

Speaking on the importance of battling pornography’s unconscious implements, Mr Nugent said that young men and teenage boys are “discovering porn and starting to take that as what intimacy and sex is all about”.

“We’re having discussions with young boys about how wrong [porn] is and how it doesn’t teach young men about intimacy and understanding our partners’ perspective.

“It definitely becomes a form of addiction to the point where they don’t understand that the brain craves more,” he said.

Men who were and are unable to communicate their vulnerabilities have tendencies to instead disperse those feelings of anger and frustration – though not necessarily always – through acts of violence.

“Men are confused and lost and they’re not taught how to express themselves,” Mr Nugent said.

“That’s why in the Heavy METAL program, once we work through breaking the cycle of violence, is that when push comes to shove, these men aren’t in tune with their own emotions and their own feelings.

“[They’ve] been taught that they’re not allowed to express them because expressing them is a sign of weakness.”

Diving into effective communication is a key factor for Mr Nugent, providing men with the ability to respond, not just to their partners but as a general rule, in a way that is non-aggressive or overly passive.

The physical violence is the final point, according to Mr Nugent, but there is a broad spectrum of behaviours that occur beforehand from emotional abuse to coercive and controlling habits.

All of those behaviours are considered to be “a form of violence”, however, it’s not seen as so by men with those tendencies through the belief that “they understand violence is when [they] physically grab her or physically hurt her”.

“What I tell men is that we’ve been taught that to show vulnerability is a sign of weakness, but to be able to embrace vulnerability and sit with it is a sign of strength,” Mr Nugent said.

Toxic masculinity is a prevalent issue ingrained into many men, and a change in behaviour would benefit women, children and men themselves.

While also a boon towards mental health, it is a crucial step from officials serving intervention orders to families’ front doors.

“When someone’s been choked or strangled, that’s the far end of the point, [men aren’t] getting what they want,” Mr Nugent said.

Speaking from their point of view, Mr Nugent said it’s as if “’you’re not meeting my needs and I’m losing control, I want to gain control – I want to maintain control in this relationship’”.

While many factors play into family violence, addressing the roots of toxic masculinity and the need to always be in control is a major step that needs to be taken through behavioural change.

Ultimately, early intervention through education and proper assistance is key in tackling long-term problems since after all, “men cannot change in a short time”.

For Mr Nugent and Heavy METAL, it’s about nurturing that progress through years of connection and acceptance with vulnerability, expressing oneself and finding self-worth in traits that do not embed themselves in the toxic aspects of masculinity.

In an emergency, call triple-zero (000).

1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) is available for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to support people impacted by domestic, family or sexual violence.