Masculinity and Misogyny in the Digital Age – Ditch the Label

Always one to look out for reasons to demonstrate why men need feminism too (because apparently gender equality is only worth men’s time 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).

Click here for a real-life example of why you should Never Read The Comments

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:

Masculinity  and Misogyny  in the Digital Age – What social data can tell us about the climate surrounding  masculinity constructs and use of misogynistic language.

Aside from the intro, executive summary, and conclusions, the paper is broken down into the following sections:

  1. What is masculinity?
  2. How do people feel about masculinity?
  3. Key issues surrounding masculinity constructs
  4. Forming the future of masculinity
  5. Misogyny

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.


I’d hoped to get writing my “What about the men?” series a lot sooner than this, but I figured that International Men’s Day would be a suitable place to start.  Or as I like to call it, “International where-are-all-the-dudes-who-were-asking-about-international-men’s-day-on-international-women’s-day Day”.

It’s the same every International Women’s Day (which is 8th March) – all the Neanderthals congregate on Twitter to lament the inherent sexism in having a day for a group that still faces oppression in 2016. The poor dears, something in the public realm that’s not all about them for a change. Clearly a feminist conspiracy to overthrow the patriarchy (which is, of course, totally amazeballs and not disadvantageous to humans of all genders At All). If only there was a special day just for them, where we could focus on men’s issues (which are real and sometimes distinct from women’s). Well, there is – and it’s today:
NOVEMBER 19THI imagine that every 8th March, Richard Herring sits, rocking, mumbling "November 19th" over and over.

The worst thing about the “but-when-is-international-mens’-day” debacle is that it trivialises actual problems specific to people of all genders. In the case of women, concerns that IWD is meant to address are dismissed and minimised; and the problems men face (that IMD is meant to highlight) are ignored because the overwhelming number of men talking about IMD are only doing so to troll feminists. There are some genuine problems affecting men that society needs to take responsibility for, including: the high rate of male suicide, autonomy issues related to circumcision, male rape, intimate partner violence, employment discrimination, conditions in prison, illnesses specific to male bodies, cultural expectations of masculinity, etc, etc.

These are all real concerns that IMD is designed to raise the profile of, and yet I have not seen a single IMD in which these issues were raised, discussed, and challenged. There are thousands of men who have been dealt a crappy hand in the game of life. They are let down by the privileged few refusing to accept anyone else’s struggle, and assuming that every criticism of sexist behaviour is an accusation levelled directly at them.

There is also the inevitable whataboutery that occurs when someone brings up an issue that disproportionately affects women.  The pattern goes like this:

Person 1: “Problem XX harms women and it’s predominantly perpetrated by crappy men.”

Person 2: “Well, I’m not sexist, so your concerns are invalid.”

Person 1: “I’m not saying that you are sexist, I’m saying that this is a problem perpetuated by men to the detriment of women.”

Person 3: “Yeah but #notallmen”

Person 1: “Yes, I agree.  Not all men are like that.  But the way the problem manifests itself is in a single direction, and it needs to be addressed, by all of us.”

Person 2: “Yeah, but why do I need to do anything about it? I’m not sexist!  You’re sexist by saying men are sexist!”

Person 1: “No, I explicitly said that –”

Person 4: “What about issue XY?  That affects men!”

Person 1: “Well, we’re talking about problem XX now.  It doesn’t mean that issue XY isn’t also a problem.”

Person 3: “No-one ever talks about men’s issues! It’s discrimination!”

Person 1: “No-one’s saying that men don’t have problems related to their gender.  But on the whole, women have been socially and historically oppressed by society.”

Person 4: “You’re calling me an oppressor!  I’m not the oppressor!  See, you can’t trust women; forever making shit up!”

Person 1: “Actually, I’m a bloke.  Men can be feminists, too.”

Person 2: “LOL what a pussy! You gay or something?”

Person 1: *headdesk*

All this leads to is the notion that women’s problems don’t matter, and men’s problems don’t exist – a view promoted by men and women (it’s not just the extremes of the gender politics spectrum – like MRAs and Radical Feminists – that are doing this, it’s ordinary men and women too).  And it leads to IWD becoming a circus, and IMD becoming a joke.

This is bad enough in itself, but I’ve been carrying out a little experiment – unconsciously at first, but when I noticed a pattern, I couldn’t resist seeing what would happen if I pushed some more of the Male Identity Buttons. It’s nowhere near as dastardly as it sounds (no men were harmed in the making of this blog post); all I did was to post and retweet articles that talk about gender inequality to the detriment of men, as well as those I post on inequalities that particularly affect women (and other oppressed groups or minorities – but there is nowhere near the volume of pushback received if I were to post about racism, say. Unless it’s about #BlackLivesMatter; white people are losing their shit over that).

Predictably, there were the same old voices commenting on articles with a feminist perspective, diverting the conversation towards men.  And something else happened too.  I’d been running my “experiment” for over a year, and so was able to gather data on the type of comments made on articles from a men’s equality angle.  Let’s take a look at how many times people leapt into the comments thread to say that “women have problems too / not all women / what about men being sexist towards men / what about the struggles of disadvantaged male minorities / well, I don’t think men’s problems are real / men are forever making false accusations against women / what about, what about, what about…”


There is a problem.

You see, the comments on articles about men’s issues didn’t follow the same pattern as those on the women’s issues posts. This is because there were no comments at all. A big, fat zero. Some people did “like/react” to these posts, but not any of the usual detractors. Additionally no-one commented with anything positive to say, but it’s difficult to say anything about the nature of comments that didn’t happen.

Which leads me to conclude that the “what about the men”-ers, and the “not all men”-ers, don’t actually care about gender equality for anyone. They just want an excuse to put women in their place and retain their position at the top of the social hierarchy. But you know what? International Men’s Day isn’t about women (that’s 8th March – yet no-one asks Richard Herring about that), although it is about how men can benefit both from feminism and from society recognising that there are some gender inequalities skewed in the other direction – and just like female oppression, male oppression harms us all.

Here is a selection of some of the male-issue-oriented articles and other findings that I posted and tweeted about:


“Son, men don’t get raped” | GQ

8 things men never talk about, but should | Joe.co.uk

A bit of #everydaysexism I encountered in Manchester Piccadilly railway station

How Sad Young Douchebags Took Over Modern Britain | VICE UK

A Stiff Upper Lip Is Killing British Men | VICE UK

Suicide Statistics Report 2016 | Samaritans


They’re all valid and troubling problems that society needs to overcome.  And yet we never see “Men’s Rights” types campaigning on these issues.  Remember that when you mock the idea of gender inequality, or stay quiet on men’s issues.

Who will speak up for the men?


I grew up in a coastal area, which used to be prone to flooding until robust sea defences were built in the 70s and 80s.  My parents had many stories of homes being evacuated and the army being brought in to place sandbags, and so I grew up considering flooding to be a risk only from the sea.

But of course, it’s not that simple.  Humans have changed their environment in a number of ways for short-term gains, with long-term consequences.  Many cities were built on the banks of rivers, for military and trading purposes.  At the time, no-one would have considered how these cities would have grown and developed several hundred years into the future.  The building materials available back then, and the density of development, did not cause issues with drainage. While sophisticated irrigation systems can be dated back to the ancient Egyptians, human manipulation of watercourses was only recognised as problematic in the last century.

The industrial revolution brought with it expansion of urban areas, and engineering of the natural environment, in the form of canals and railway embankments.  Watercourses were altered to provide drainage ditches, forge canal routes, and to culvert rivers and streams in built-up areas.  The Victorians also created an extensive and robust sewer network, to serve the sanitary needs of large numbers of people in a small space.  Flood plains were drained for farmland, and streams, ditches, and rivers were dredged to ensure the swift transportation of water from the fields to the estuaries.

Things are going pretty well up until this point.  Britain is a superpower, and has invested wisely and intensively in its infrastructure.  The transport and water networks are more than adequate to serve the needs of 19th Century Britain, and are the envy of the world.

But some time between then and now, things have changed.  It could have been around the time of Ian Nairn’s OUTRAGE, with the ever-creeping sprawl into Subtopia, when our love for concrete surpassed our respect for nature.  Let’s not be wishy-washy tree-huggers about it; we can do whatever we like to circumvent Nature, but when we’re not quite smart or diligent enough to do it properly, Nature defeats us with a vengeance.  The climate, land, seas, rivers and skies have no emotion or compassion.  When the rain comes down, we get wet.  And there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Which is pertinent nowadays because there is mounting evidence that the recent extreme weather in the UK, and other parts of Europe, is part of a trend driven by anthropogenic climate change.  See?  Mess with Nature, it messes with you.

Manchester is a great example of this.  We even got our own Facebook campaign during the last flood, which seems a bit OTT, but it’s nice that they thought of us.  My road has been flooded three times in the last year.  I live in the city centre.  While no (human) lives have been lost so far, the scale of damage and inconvenience caused is astonishing.  It’s incredible to see a month’s worth of rain fall out of the sky in the space of ten minutes, but it’s even more incredible to see roads become rivers, and buildings that we considered city-proof be ankle deep in flood water.  And I do feel for the numerous businesses that have cellars.  That is one clean-up job I would not want to be around for.

Manchester is an average city, and you’d think a relatively uneventful one.  But we’re realising that floods like these are not just possible, but likely.  And the areas closest to watercourses are where most of the development is.  The Mark Addy was a marvellous riverside pub on the banks of the Irwell (Mark Addy was a local resident who saved many people from drowning in the Irwell), but in the second-to-last flood, it was damaged so badly by rising water, that the business cannot afford the repairs.  Residents living along the banks of the rivers and canals have been evacuated from their homes in some cases, and The Lowry Centre (which has bizarrely been renamed as some nondescript corporate throwaway) had the river lapping at its doors.  Manchester was not built for this, but ironically, it actually was.

I don’t think there is the political will to do anything about it.  Construction on flood plains will still get approved, and people will still choose to buy homes in totally inappropriate locations.  Decentralisation of the economy could go some way towards reducing the risks cities face (I’m looking at you, London), but this is a process that takes time, something that we do not have the luxury of.  We can now see the effects of climate change happening right now, in our lifetime.  It’s no longer a problem that we can put off until tomorrow, but we will.  As often seems the case in the UK, Something Will Be Done once services are stretched well beyond breaking point, and something catastrophic has happened.  There will be much surprise in parliament and in the media, as no-one will have expected this thing that scientists had told them, repeatedly, over the last 30 years, would happen.

I had an interesting chat with my dad about flooding and land management (I grew up in a farming community), and his views on how to solve flooding are similar to those of others in rural, UKIP-loving little Britain.  When he worked on farms, the marshes were drained to make way for pasture, and ditches and streams were regularly dredged to keep the water flowing away from the reclaimed land.  My dad is a huge fan of dredging, and doesn’t understand why some of the fields are left to flood, when we could be driving a whacking great ditch through there to sort it out.  Well, this approach works for those living upstream.  But drain the flood plains and deepen the rivers, and you turn a trickle into a torrent.  When that torrent reaches the concrete jungle just before the coast, the city can’t cope.  Rivers in pipes, collapsed and blocked drains, very little bare earth – the water has nowhere to go.

My dad isn’t a full-blown climate change denier, but he seems unconvinced of the seriousness of the situation.  This annoys me no end, because not only does he pooh-pooh my area of work and study, but he buys into two ideas that contribute to me getting wet feet!  Not cool, dad, not cool.

I made a video of the second flood (below).  I’m a bit apprehensive about how my amateur commentary will be received, but YouTube stars don’t all go into it prepared, right?  I was probably more embarrassed wandering around talking to myself and videoing puddles, TBH.