The bastions of masculinity are not yet crumbling, but the sight of numerous well-known Aussie men sporting colourful nail polish could shake the foundations.
That’s what Elliot Costello is hoping for when the high-profile ambassadors of his fledgling Polished Man program each proudly maintain a brightly painted fingernail for the first two weeks of September.
Their task is to parlay the interest in the gender-bending fashion statement into conversations that will raise awareness about the prevalence of physical and sexual violence that men inflict upon children.
Mr Costello, chief executive and founder of social change advocacy group YGAP, said he was heartened by recent increased awareness of family violence issues, but that abuse of children remained underreported.
Globally, one in five children under 18 are believed to have been victims of physical or sexual violence, with 90 per cent of sexual abuse cases perpetrated by men.
In Australia the figure is one child in every 28 – or, as Mr Costello put it, ''almost one child per school classroom''.
Actor Gyton Grantley, comedian and TV host Anthony ‘'Lehmo'’ Lehmann and Essendon footballer Jobe Watson will be painting a fingernail for the program, which runs from September 1 to 15.
Other high-profile men to support the cause include chef Shannon Bennett, Carlton footballer Chris Judd, rugby player Stirling Mortlock, musician Dan Sultan and the Reverend. Tim Costello (Elliot’s father). A number of prominent businessmen have also pledged their involvement.
Watson hopes his Bombers will still be in action in September, when he can reap the interest that live AFL coverage should bring. ''It’s a pretty simple way for the awareness to be raised. I’m sure it’ll be highlighted, and from there people can start to ask questions and talk about it,'' he said.
Lehmann quipped that the game’s broadcaster would probably do a puzzled close-up on the coloured nail. ''They’ll put it on Twitter: ‘Is he really wearing nail polish?’ It’ll be a hashtag: #JobeNailPolish,'' he said.
The co-host of The Project and prominent Hawks fan said he had not yet picked a colour to make his September statement. ''It’ll be something bright, a pink or a purple, something that will stand out,'' he said. ''People have suggested brown and gold, which I like in a guernsey, but not so much in a nail polish.''
Grantley chose bright blue with silver sparkles and hinted he enjoyed the attention. ''It’s not really that emasculating these days, maybe it’s more the idea of redefining what we think is masculine,'' he said.
''The point is to encourage conversation and awareness amongst people. Maybe if you do notice that something’s a bit off, you might be more encouraged to speak up.''
The concept had its genesis when Mr Costello travelled to Phnom Penh last year and met 10-year-old Thea, a Cambodian girl whose father had died two years previously. She had been moved to a so-called safe house ''that was anything but'', where she was physically and sexually abused daily for two years by a foreign benefactor. She was repatriated by care agency Hagar International, an affiliate of Mr Costello’s YGAP program.
Mr Costello sat next to the girl at a dinner. In spite of neither knowing the other’s language, they played drawing games. At the end of the meal she picked up his hand and drew a heart on the palm, before turning it over and colouring his fingernails blue.
In the 11 months since, Mr Costello has retained one painted fingernail, both to remember Thea and to strengthen his resolve to help children like her. The unusual adornment prompted many raised eyebrows and curious questions that inspired the Polished Man concept.
The aim of the exercise is to empower men with knowledge, not blame them. ''It’s about finger-painting, not finger-pointing,'' he said.
''It’s about how do men be role models, how do men be leaders, how do men be change-makers. It’s about saying ‘this is an issue, you may not be aware of it, but let’s have a conversation about it.' ''