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Masculinity In The Digital Age

09/11/2016 17:06 | Updated 10 November 2016

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In conjunction with leading social intelligence company Brandwatch, anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label analysed current constructs of masculinity as expressed across social media.

In 2016, we published our fourth Annual Bullying Survey; this report in particular was notable because it was the first piece of mainstream research to uncover the reasons why people bully others. The survey enabled us to build complex profiles of those who perpetrate bullying, which in turn has allowed us to increase the amount of support we provide to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.

Interestingly, in this research we found that those who identify as being male or who have grown up in a male-dominated household were more likely to bully than those who identify as female or have greater female influences at home. We also discovered that males are less likely to tell somebody or seek support if they are experiencing bullying themselves. Societal constructs of masculinity have long denied many boys and men around the world freedom of visceral expression; taught from a young age to suppress their emotions, to 'man up', to 'stop being a girl'- and many young men conform, for fear of being labelled 'gay' or 'feminine' - adjectives that have come to be synonymous with weakness.

With this kind of suppression, stoicism and denial firmly rooted in our culture, is it any surprise that suicide is the biggest killer of young men? Or that many males resort to aggressive behaviours as an outlet for their pent-up frustration and emotion?

A redefinition is in order. It is time we finally addressed these issues, looked after the mental health of future generations of young men and ditched these limiting, archaic stereotypes. Only then can we implement positive societal change and proactively reduce rates of bullying and crime, as we now know these to be interlinked.

Here at Ditch the Label we are making it our mission to encourage more young males to reach out for help when they need it. For us to better understand the current climate and how we can apply our resources effectively, we worked in conjunction with social intelligence company Brandwatch, to gain further insight into how constructs of masculinity are being expressed and perceived across social media, looking specifically at dialogue on Twitter.

The best way to measure something like this is often to observe behaviours, and so we analysed almost 19 million public Tweets from both the UK and US over a four year period to get a broad understanding of the landscape.

Observing discussions on masculinity in four key areas, (how an individual behaves, how they look, their personality and lifestyle preferences) we found that 1 in 3 of all discussions associated with masculine behaviour on Twitter referenced violence; ranging from physical aggression, gun violence, domestic violence and war.

Sports fans were found to be most likely to comply with the masculinity construct, whereas students were the most likely to deviate. Further research in this area could explore the integration between both groups as a tool to promote diversity within sporting contexts.

There were also indications that exhibiting certain behaviours or possessing certain physical attributes, such as stoicism and 'toughness', facial hair and a muscular physique, a preference to eat meat and drink beer, are seen as masculine ideals, whereas drinking cocktails or listening to pop music are examples of activities that aren't sheltered underneath the umbrella of masculinity. The act of crying was repeatedly cited as a feminine behaviour.

The research also brought to light the fact that masculinity continues to be heteronormative; actively discriminating against young men who do not identify as being straight. Homophobia was mentioned in 9% of conversations revolving around fragile masculinity and homosexuality was often used in a negative, non-literal sense to criticise behaviour seen as non-conformist.

Positively, what it means to be a man is a growing talking point and includes transgender voices using Twitter to generate discussion and offer a fresh perspective on the subject. We found that many authors are utilising the network to question and challenge existing prototypical constructs of masculinity, as are brands and media sources - which is promising news, as advertising plays a major role in reinforcing notions of gender.

The research revealed that generally, reactions to those who do not conform to the macho stereotype are often supportive; people on Twitter were six times as likely to respond positively than negatively to their connections when they posted content that didn't subscribe to traditional gender stereotypes. This suggests that generally, Twitter could be considered a safer place for expression of diversity.

Although it is apparent that perceptions are slowly shifting and stereotypes of masculinity are being challenged, masculinity-related insults unfortunately remain prevalent. This is especially the case among authors associated with family or parenting, which suggests that these terms and attitudes may be passed down to future generations.

You can read the full report here.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.

To blog for Building Modern Men, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here

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