When Men Are Harassed Online

I did two things that garnered a torrent of harassment this week from angry men on the internet.

First I launched a new critical video series focusing on harmful ways masculinity is often portrayed in media. My first episode highlights the importance of open emotional vulnerability as seen on Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe.

Second, in keeping with the theme of open vulnerability, I tweeted about how I found the fighting aspects of the augmented reality game Pokemon Go a little “unsettling.” Specifically the game mechanic where users pit their cute monster friends against each other in battles. Of course, this kind of “pet/monster” fighting is essentially the core of the franchise and has been for 20 years. I knew that expressing mild discomfort (or even just asking questions) about the messages these kind of combat mechanics sends would be an unpopular thing for a guy to say out loud. I expected disagreement and some amount of pushback from fans of the game. What I got was an absolute avalanche of hate, harassment and abuse.

Before I post examples, I think it’s important to point out how this online harassment differs from the harassment faced by women. The abuse directed at women is often of a decidedly sexual nature and is characterized by sexual objectification, sexual harassment, obsessive stalking and specific threats of intimate violence. As such the threats can be terrifying in a very personal, invasive and sustain way. I saw this first hand while monitoring harassment of the Tropes vs Women in Video Games project, where I worked as producer and co-writer on the first season.

When straight men are harassed the tone and tactics tend to be different. The harassment of men primarily focuses on emasculation. This is done by trying to associate the men being targeted with “women” or “femininity.” Accusations of weakness, of being too sensitive, and/or of being controlled by women are common, as are homophobic taunts. The not so subtle accusation is that targets are “not real men.”

In short, men insult other men by calling them women. This behavior can be merciless, vicious and harmful. It very directly contributes to a culture of hostility towards women and femininity more generally. It also works to police masculinity by shaming or threatening any man who deviates from the status quo and dares to be openly vulnerable, empathetic or sensitive.

One thing remains consistent though, men are the vast majority of the ones doing the harassing of both women and other men. I should also note that as soon as I mentioned the harassment on Twitter, it quickly increased. This is because men are supposed to “toughen up” and “take it like a man.” When we refuse to bury our feelings, we are then attacked so as to bring us “back in line.” These cultural ideas about macho manhood also mean that men often don’t receive enough emotional support (especially from other men) when they become targets.

I need to give a content warning here because what follows under the fold is particularly vile.

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These Tweets make it perfectly clear that our culture has a very serious toxic masculinity problem. My hope is that my new video project, focusing on how manhood is reflected in entertainment, can be part of changing these regressive ideas about what it means to be a man.

PS: If you made it through all that horribleness, here’s a collection of Every Hug on Steven Universe to make you feel a little better!

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