Addressing masculinities should be central to future policy debate on alcohol-related violence

June 2016
In recent years, the relationship between alcohol and violence has generated intense policy debate in Australia. While this debate is certainly warranted, policy has relied on a narrow range of research resources to justify specific responses. In particular, the contribution of masculinities to violence involving alcohol has not received sufficient attention but should be central to future policy debate.

Australian sociological and criminological research has repeatedly highlighted the central role of masculinities in alcohol-related violence. For example, Lindsay [1] has argued, on the basis of qualitative sociological research in Victoria, that ‘minority performances of masculinity are the primary problem of alcohol related violence’. She criticises gender-neutral terms such as ‘young binge drinkers’ and ‘intimate partner violence’ because they deflect attention away from problematic performances of masculinity, and argues that ‘[i]nterventions aimed at performances of masculinity which take social inequalities into account are potential preventative solutions to alcohol related violence in both public and domestic settings’. Lindsay is also careful to note that both men and women are potential victims of male violence, that not all men are involved in such violence and that ‘most mainstream young men … actively avoid and desist from engaging in violence’. Lindsay’s caveat highlights an important point that first emerged in feminist research on gender and which is reinforced in the sociological literature on violence: that masculinity is multiple (hence masculinities) and socially produced, and that violent masculinities are not the inevitable result of biology [2].

Criminologists have also addressed the issue of alcohol-related violence and masculinities. For example, Tomsen [3] reports on ethnographic research in public drinking venues in Sydney. He concludes that the relationship between alcohol and violence is ‘built around cultural understandings of the connections between rowdy and violent group drinking, the construction and projection of an empowered masculine identity, and the symbolic rejection of respectable social values’. In more recent work, Tomsen [4] traces the emerging ‘masculinities’ paradigm in criminology that explores different masculinities (e.g. ‘hegemonic’, ‘protest’) and their relationship to violence and other forms of crime. He conceptualises masculinity as plural, socially constructed, enacted in different occupational and institutional settings, inextricably linked to struggles for social power between men and between men and women, and intersecting with other dimensions of inequality (e.g. class, ethnicity, sexuality).

Australian sociological and criminological research on the ways in which masculinities shape drinking practices and outcomes [see also 5,6] closely mirrors the findings of international research [e.g. 7,8]. It is not clear why such research has been largely peripheral to Australian policy debate, as has public health research on the role of masculinities in barroom aggression [9]. Future policy development should resist simplistic responses to the complex nature of alcohol-related violence, and identify and incorporate Australian and international sociological and criminological research on the role of masculinities in the relationship between alcohol and violence.

Several Australian epidemiological studies have also highlighted the disproportionate involvement of men, and particularly young men, in acute forms of alcohol-related harm (including violence but also sexual assault, traffic accidents, drink driving and public disorder). For example, the National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2011 [10] cites a study by Chikritzhs et al [11], which analysed 1990-2001 data. The authors concluded that deaths from acute forms of alcohol-related harm due to risky and high risk drinking were almost three times more likely to be experienced by males (12,463 deaths) than females (4,293 deaths). The most recent study of alcohol’s ‘burden of disease’ also suggested that males, across all age groups, were over-represented in all categories of alcohol-attributable deaths (1,239 males versus 256 females or approximately 5:1) and hospitalisations (47,189 males versus 17,779 females or approximately 2.7:1) [12]. The most recent Australian burden of disease study to consider age is Begg et al [13], who analysed data from 2003. Unfortunately, because the two age groups used in this study were 15-24 years and 25-64 years, and therefore included population groups of different sizes, direct comparison is not possible. However, the data suggest that disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and deaths from ‘road traffic accidents’ and ‘homicide and violence’ are higher for males than females.[1] Allowing for the difference in the overall population across the two age brackets, they also appear to be proportionately higher for males in the 15-24 age group compared to males in the 25-64 age group. However, this research, some of which is cited in national and state alcohol policy documents, has rarely informed national priorities [14]. Instead, the ‘problem’ addressed by alcohol policy (echoing Lindsay’s comments regarding the political effects of gender-neutral terminology) has been located within de-gendered ‘individuals’, ‘people’, ‘families’, and ‘communities’ or in population subgroups: the Aboriginal community, the culturally and linguistically diverse community, ‘young people’, ‘hospital admissions’, ‘pregnant women’ and ‘women and children’. These subgroups have been allocated responsibility and encouraged to moderate their drinking when the available research, including some of that cited in alcohol policies, points strongly to another group requiring concerted policy attention: young men.

Although crime statistics are inevitably shaped by many factors (e.g. political priorities and policing strategies), they also point to the disproportionate involvement of adult and young men in offences relating to violence. Consider, for example, the following Victoria Police crime statistics for 2013/2014:

  • Eighty-three percent of assault offenders are males under 60 years of age [15];
  • Males comprise 81.5% of offenders in the 18-24 years age group [16]; and
  • Males aged 18-59 years comprise 85.6% of offenders processed for two categories of offence likely to be highly relevant to violent incidents: ‘Behave in a riotous indecent offensive or insulting manner’ and ‘Uses profane indecent or obscene language or insulting words’ [16].

Along with sociological and criminological research, the analysis of crime statistics should inform the development of policy designed to address alcohol-related violence.

The material presented here highlights the need for future policy addressing alcohol and violence to recognise that violence is gendered and most often perpetrated by men, especially young men. Although these are not new insights, they are strikingly absent from contemporary policy discourse on alcohol and violence (such as the effectiveness of lockout laws). Informal discussions conducted in policy development meetings suggest that policy stakeholders see changes to masculine practices as unachievable or assume that masculinity is singular, fixed and inevitable. However, unless such issues are addressed, little lasting progress will be made in reducing alcohol-related violence.


This article draws on research funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP110101720 and on a submission to The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the ‘Need for a Nationally-Consistent Approach to Alcohol-Fuelled Violence’.


  1. Lindsay, J. (2012). The gendered trouble with alcohol: Young people managing alcohol related violence. International Journal of Drug Policy, 23(3), 236-241.
  2. Hatty, S.E. (2000). Masculinities, violence, and culture. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  3. Tomsen, S. (1997). A top night: Social protest, masculinity and the culture of drinking violence. British Journal of Criminology, 37(1), 90-102.
  4. Tomsen, S. (2008). Masculinities, crime and criminalisation. In T. Anthony and C. Cunneen, (Eds). The critical criminology companion (pp. 94-104). Sydney: Federation Press.
  5. Carrington, K., McIntosh, A., & Scott, J. (2010). Globalization, frontier masculinities and violence: Booze, blokes and brawls. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 393-413.
  6. Flynn, A., Halsey, M., & Lee, M. (2016). Emblematic violence and aetiological cul-de-sacs: On the discourse of ‘one-punch’ (non)fatalities. British Journal of Criminology, 56, 179-195.
  7. de Visser, R. & Smith, J. (2007a). Alcohol consumption and masculine identity among young men. Psychology & Health, 22(5), 595-614.
  8. de Visser, R. & Smith, J. (2007b). Young men’s ambivalence toward alcohol. Social Science & Medicine, 64(2), 350-362.
  9. Miller, P., Wells, S., Hobbs, R., Zinkiewicz, L., Curtis, A., & Graham, K. (2014). Alcohol, masculinity, honour and male barroom aggression in an Australian sample. Drug and Alcohol Review, 33(2), 136-143.
  10. Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy. (2006). National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2011. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  11. Chikritzhs, T., Catalano, P., Stockwell, T., Donath, S., Ngo, H., Young, D., & Matthews, S. (2003). Australian alcohol indicators, 1990-2001: Patterns of alcohol use and related harms for Australian states and territories. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre.
  12. Gao, C., Ogeil, R., & Lloyd, B. (2014). Alcohol’s burden of disease. Canberra: FARE and VicHealth in collaboration with Turning Point.
  13. Begg, S., Vos, T., Barker, B., Stevenson, C., Stanley, L., & Lopez, A. (2007). The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 (AIHW cat. no. PHE 82). Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  14. Manton, E. & Moore, D. (2016). Gender, intoxication and the developing brain: Problematisations of drinking among young adults in Australian alcohol policy. International Journal of Drug Policy. Published online, DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2015.10.009.
  15. Victoria Police. (2014a). Crime Statistics 2013/14. (accessed 23/3/16).
  16. Victoria Police. (2014b). Crime Statistics Official Release 2013/2014. (accessed 23/3/16).

[1] DALYs from ‘road traffic accidents’: 31,028 male versus 11,397 female; DALYs from ‘homicide and violence’: 6,535 male versus 2,686 female; deaths from ‘road traffic accidents’: 1,193 male versus 469 female; deaths from ‘homicide and violence’: 196 male versus 82 female.

NDRI Melbourne

As a national centre, NDRI aims to maintain a strong presence outside Western Australia. In this context, and to facilitate some of the key research being undertaken by the Institute, in 2007 NDRI’s Melbourne office was established. Located with Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, the Melbourne office initially housed Ethnographic Research Program leader Professor David Moore and four PhD scholars. Over time the Melbourne team has expanded, and in 2013 Professor Suzanne Fraser established the Melbourne-based Social Studies of Addiction Concepts Research Program funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. The current NDRI Melbourne staff are Professor David Moore, Professor Suzanne Fraser, Dr Robyn Dwyer, Dr Anne-Marie Laslett, Dr Kiran Pienaar and NDRI Adjuncts Dr Kate Seear, Dr Cameron Duff and Dr Peter Higgs. The current PhD scholars are Adrian Farrugia, Renae Fomiatti, Aaron Hart, Elizabeth Normand, Eliana Sarmiento Guerra, Shelley Walker and James Wilson.