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.


A skeptics group that I’m a member of has recently been the victim of a sneaky digital coup, and a summary of the events can be found in the link below at Violetta Crisis:

Violetta Crisis: They didn’t build this – The “new” Manchester Skeptics group

I have some thoughts on the motivations of the wrong-doers (and there is absolutely no doubt that claiming another group’s identity and hard work as your own, and then changing the ethos of that group to fit your own aims, is wrong), and on the reactions of those affected, but that is definitely something that I won’t be blogging about until long after all this has blown over.

And it will, because:

1. Meetup.com is only one of the tools used by the group to engage with members. This individual hasn’t destroyed the group, just gained access to some of the group’s contacts, and is (rather annoyingly) passing off past successful events as their own.

2. Since we started talking about what had happened (privately, publicly and online), interest in our group picked up and the “other” group started haemorrhaging members, who flowed straight back to our new and improved Meetup group. Mwahahahahahahaaaaaa.

3. This is a tech issue. It’s highlighted a flaw in the way Meetup.com manages the ownership of groups, and it should also serve as a warning to group organisers that if you don’t keep an eye on your subscription status, you could face a similar problem.


I recently did some work for the University, for which it was taking a very long time for my pay to arrive (apparently this isn’t unusual). I contacted the department responsible and they insisted that they had paid me over three weeks ago, and that I should check my records. Well, obviously I had checked my records or I wouldn’t have contacted them about the absence of pay. In response, I sent them my two latest bank statements to prove that the money hadn’t arrived in my account, and I realised just how much you can tell about me from that documentation. The recipient now knows some pretty innocuous stuff about my shopping habits (I hadn’t shopped anywhere particularly “interesting” in the last month, but, um, I do occasionally).But they also know a ton of other stuff about me, too:
  • My full name, address and bank details, duh
  • Who my landlord is, and by extension a rough idea of what sort of accommodation I live in
  • Where I go to eat and drink
  • The location of many of the places I frequent – shops, post offices, transport locations
  • That I use the post office frequently
  • Where I work
  • People I know – due to them sending me money
  • That I’m a member of certain clubs and societies, including a political party
  • Who provides my utilities
  • That I order taxis fairly often
  • Details of loan repayments and who/what they are for
  • Information on a couple of significant purchases
  • How well I manage my finances generally

Well, all of that stuff is pretty personal, and it feels weird giving out something so risky in order to access what I’m owed.  I have no reason to believe the information won’t be used responsibly, but it’s really important to remember the amount of data that we leave behind.  It can be misused or used for good.  And while we often think of slip-ups on social media as being the biggie for embarrassment by exposure, there’s so much more that people could uncover if they know where to start digging.  You say that you may have nothing to hide, but it really depends on the intention of the discoverer.  I’m sure you could see that the above 28-day snapshot is a stalker’s paradise (yes, I have had problems with this before).  One of my next posts will explore the issues surrounding public profiles, social media, and generally being visible.

(Oh, the University had made a clerical error and I wasn’t just being impatient.  Makes me feel a bit better for having divulged my inner financial secrets)