Always one to look out for reasons to demonstrate why men need feminism too (because apparently gender equality is only worthwhile if you can link it to direct personal benefits ::eye roll:: ), I found an interesting paper on attitudes towards masculinity online. I wanted to read it because I’d seen some criticism of it on Twitter (although it appears that those making the comments hadn’t actually read the paper, because it addresses all of their questions).
Their complaint seems to be that the report discusses sexist stereotypes affecting men – but that’s the whole point! The enormous sample of data, collected over a very long study period, demonstrated that sexist attitudes towards men are all over the place. The authors aren’t saying that they agree with the data! And it’s an element of our patriarchal society that isn’t talked about nearly enough.
|The paper is written from a feminist perspective, but concentrates on the experiences and perceptions of men. The researchers looked solely at Twitter correspondence generated between August 2012 and July 2016, in only the UK and the US. It is useful to see how sexist stereotypes affect all genders, and could help men to challenge their own behaviour – as perpetuating myths about masculinity is harming those who do it as well! [an aside: the paper notes that the majority of the perpetrators of misogynistic abuse were female – looks like we’re all responsible for the proliferation or reduction of toxic attitudes about gender]
I’m impressed at the volume of data that was amassed and analysed in this work, and that any biases are those inherent in the study cohort – the researchers did not rely on a self-reporting survey, but actual retrospective Tweets over a long time period. I did have concerns about the research being conducted by a marketing company – but given that the work is about determining attitudes of potential consumers, they could well be the right people for the job. Their clients include Unilever, Cisco, Whirlpool, British Airways, Heineken, Walmart and Dell – and they’re not the sort of companies to tolerate duff sales advice.
The concepts of masculinity defined in the study came from the data gathered from the 19 million Tweets that were scanned over a period of four years – so it’s not finding facts to fit the theory; the work was done by the data. The researchers looked at Tweets that were positive, negative, or neutral contributions to the discussion, and broke them down into categories such as profession, activity, and preferences. So the tweets aren’t being looked at in isolation: context is everything, and some tweets were studied in terms of the responses and conversation threads in which they occurred, and whether the Tweet was intended as an insult, or discussion of the issues.
I’ll not give too much away, as the paper is concise and easy to follow. But one thing that I will add: the research was commissioned by an anti-bullying charity to see how we can improve things for boys and young men, and support those who are often dismissed or forgotten. And that’s something we should all strive for.
You can download the paper here:
Aside from the intro, executive summary, and conclusions, the paper is broken down into the following sections:
- What is masculinity?
- How do people feel about masculinity?
- Key issues surrounding masculinity constructs
- Forming the future of masculinity
It’s an enlightening read. While it does challenge some perceptions, it depressingly reveals some less upstanding attitudes; including homophobia, intolerance of non-conformity, misogyny, violence, toxic and fragile masculinity, and more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at (how many exactly is that? Is there a limited amount of possible stick-waving? Maybe your arms get tired or something).
Of course there is hope – the authors recognise that general discussions about masculinity and misogyny increased in number during the final 6 months of the study. And I’m having more conversations of this nature with my peer group. It’s an interesting and relevant part of human interaction that deserves some of our time. And once we’ve identified a problem, we can make a start on putting it right. And we all must: it’s not masculinity that’s broken, it’s society.