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Bravo: For 6 weeks this year we finally saw real men on Australian TV.

Authentic male role models are hard to find on Aussie TV.

Well, that was until Channel 10 put six of them in the South African jungle.

When I sat down six weeks ago to watch I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here it never occurred to me that I’d end up wishing every Australian teenage boy was watching it along with me five nights a week.

But I did.

I did because for six weeks our TV screens have been filled with real men. And by ‘real men’ I mean, men who are authentic, vulnerable, complex, and sure, at times bloody irritating. Men who were prepared to be seen crying on national television. Men who were prepared to be vulnerable: to look stupid or scared or out-of-their-depth as they spent six weeks away from their loved ones and in an isolated environment that pushed them to their physical and emotional limits.

And that – all of that – is rare. On telly, we like our men to be one dimensional. ‘Vulnerable’ never enters the equation. We find ‘vulnerable men’ well, a bit awkward to watch.

“When I sat down six weeks ago to watch I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here it never occurred to me that I’d end up wishing every Australian teenage boy was watching it along with me five nights a week.” Image via Facebook.

I’m grateful to the wonderful Andrew Daddo, the meditating, craft club captain of the camp who took on the stereotypically female role of being the calming Zen force at that South African campsite. How wonderful it was to see such an authentic man on TV who was calm and gentle and friendly and clucked around the group to ensure everyone was happy. Was there anyone he didn’t hug? I think not.

And the camp loved him for stepping up into that role of unofficial camp leader. He set a tone in the camp of fairness, of togetherness, of no judgement. It was Andrew who warmly welcomed each set of intruders – leading the way for the others to follow.

Related: Intruder couple on ‘ I’m a Celebrity get me out of here’, have seen this reality business before.

I never thought I’d say this but I’m thankful to Barry Hall, the notorious AFL hard man who openly cried several times during the show and referred to himself as a big softie who wells up at the drop of a hat. When do we ever get to see our major sporting stars cry unless it’s related to an ‘emotional’ sporting event or, er, drugs charges? NEVER.

I’m not for a moment saying Barry Hall is the new poster boy for sensitivity but it was fascinating to watch him open himself up to an unexpected and genuine friendship with comedian Joel Creasy (who happens to be gay).

“For six weeks our screens have been filled with men who are authentic, vulnerable, complex, and sure, at times bloody irritating.”

I’ve sat back and marvelled at Freddie Flintoff, the English cricketing legend who has been as mesmerising as he’s been hilarious. The larrikin and father of three ended up speaking candidly on camera about his battle with depression and his decision to stop drinking because of it.

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And it’s Freddie’s acts of integrity and great tenderness towards his fellow campmates that I will long remember. Watching Chrissie struggle with the final stage of a team challenge (a tightrope walk over a water fall) he called out to her that the challenge didn’t matter and just to focus on getting back safely to the cliff.

You know what I liked about that big-hearted buffoon Merv Hughes? That when he realised his old-school sexist jokes were not acceptable, he reflected on it and accepted he was out of touch and  in the wrong. Of all the people to have come away changed from the jungle experience – I suspect it’s him.

Then there was Tyson who rejected the idea of ‘hanging out with the boys’ and instead actively chose to spend his time in the jungle with Anna and Maureen doing nature walks.

Related: Kids need more diverse role models on TV. This is why.

And hilarious Joel who shrugged off the ‘bitchy young gay comic’ persona and showed us the warm, empathetic, courageous and vulnerable young man he really is.

But that’s it, I guess. We’re all vulnerable. And while we’re completely comfortable with women expressing their concerns and fears and worries on TV, we expect the blokes to suck it up.

“I’m not saying Barry Hall is the new poster boy for sensitivity but it was fascinating to watch him open himself up to an unexpected and genuine friendship with Joel Creasy.” Image via Facebook.

So much of today’s commentary is on the need for men to change. We want them to be more empathetic. More socially aware. More open. More flexible. More sensitive. More in tune with their feelings. More generous. More willing to share the reigns.

And so we should.

But in return we need to allow them to be vulnerable on our TV screens. We need to encourage them – make it safe for them – to step out of the box that labels them as the ‘sporting hero’ or the ‘larrikin’, ‘the intellect’ or the ‘beefcake’. Because those labels are as limiting and unhelpful as the ones we place on women.

Related: Kate Middleton IS a role model for my daughter.

As the mother of two sons and a daughter – I want my kids to see real men, good men, layered men on TV. Men who aren’t afraid to show their emotions. Men who knit and cry and hug and admit to being scared.

Celebrity male role models can be hard to find. Who knew we’d find so many in the jungles of South Africa? Because we did.

Who was your favourite on I’m A Celebrity? 

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