Fragile Masculinity: Masculinity and Misogyny In the Digital Age

DD went to the reception for Ditch The Label and Brandwatch's report on "Masculinity and Misogyny In the Digital Age", and found out about the tensions of gender and sexuality online

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On a rainy Monday evening, we found ourselves in a Parliamentary building, facing Dr Christian Jessen.

Luckily, this wasn’t for a very intense episode of Embarrassing Bodies. Instead, Team DD, along with Body Confidence Ambassador, model and  friend of the website, Kitty Underhill, was invited to the launch of ‘Masculinity and Misogyny in the Digital Age’, a major report four  years in the making that has been backed by Ditch The Label, Brandwatch and sponsored by Caroline Lucas MP.

Ditch The Label are an international anti-bullying charity who partnered with Brandwatch to investigate the climate of misogyny and masculinity online, as well as to reveal details on the discussions that take place on social media platforms. It took four years and the analysis of 19 million tweets from the US and the UK to produce a report that is definitely one of a kind.

Launching this report, obviously, started a lot of debate. Ditch The Label were prepared for this, and hosted a panel discussing some of the key findings of the report, chaired by Dr Christian, and including fantastic speakers including Liam Hackett, Siana Bangura and Jonny Benjamin. It was an open, honest and thoughtful panel that left us talking long after we left.

The toxic tensions surrounding gender and sexuality are ones that are all too prominent online – something that the report openly addresses. 1 in 3 discussions about masculinity on Twitter reference violence. Crying was the second most mentioned subject associated with masculinity. Nearly 3 million misogynistic insults were sent on Twitter over the four year period. And females were found to be the largest perpetrators of misogyny on Twitter, with women authoring 52% of all misogynic language used on the platform.

This last point surprised us slightly, but Siana Bangura made some excellent points on misogyny and being a female on the internet: ‘When you’re a woman online, there’s a visceral dislike – being vocal bothers’, she explained, adding that her personal experience of online abuse was misogynoir abuse – always gendered, and always racial.

Another point she made was that the female use of misogynistic language is a reflection of our internalised misogyny. We are taught to view our own femininity as weak and insecure, and it dictates our language – particularly because our own womanhood is seen as a direct opposition to masculinity. Of course, this needs to change, and is changing, as we diversify our discussions and platforms, and continue to have conversations about the fluid nature of masculinity and femininity.

Conversation was a big topic, and something also covered by Jonny Benjamin. Jonny’s struggles with mental health were made known in The Stranger on the Bridge, his Channel 4 documentary. Since then, he has been campaigning for mental health education, and spoke about how masculinity is tied up in not expressing how you feel.’You don’t really hear about men supporting men.’ Jonny believed that it was conversation between men that would help tackle the stigma around male emotion, and spoke about important initiatives that we were reminded are too far and few between at the moment.

So conversation, discussion and different perspectives are all needed to tackle the culture that this report uncovered. And the panelists were hopeful. Caroline Lucas opened the event with a speech that talked about the democratic potential of Twitter – and other speakers agreed with her, celebrating the platform that it creates, on how it gives a voice to those who may not have had one without the internet.

The report has helped us to understand the landscape. So now let’s try and change it.

You can read the report on Ditch The Label’s website.