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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Every Hug On Steven Universe Supercut

This is a supercut of every hug on Steven Universe. A total of 95 hugs from episodes 1 to 83. You can see my full video essay about emotional expression on Steven Universe here.

The Pop Culture Detective Agency is a brand new video series that looks at media through a critical lens with an emphasis on depictions of men and masculinity in movies, television, comic books and video games. Support this video series on Patreon!

All multimedia clips included in this video constitute a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright law, which allows for criticism, comment and scholarship. Learn more about fair use with this awesome app by New Media Rights!

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Emotional Expression on Steven Universe

This is the first in a series of videos exploring what Steven Universe has to say about men, boys and masculinity. This episode covers representations of emotional expression, and highlights the ways in which crying, affection and fear are framed on the show.

The Pop Culture Detective Agency is a brand new video series that looks at media through a critical lens with an emphasis on depictions of men and masculinity in movies, television, comic books and video games.

Check out our Patreon page to help support this new video series!

Below is a full transcript of the embedded video.

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Announcing The Pop Culture Detective Agency!

I’m excited to announce The Pop Culture Detective Agency! This project a brand new video series that looks at media through a critical lens with an emphasis on depictions of men and masculinity in popular culture.

This new video series focuses on deconstructing the representations of masculinity we see embedded in movies, television, comic books and video games. The messages pop culture sends to men and boys about our own manhood are consistently both limiting and harmful. The critical analysis I’ll be using is very much inspired by and rooted in feminist theory. It’s through that lens that I’ll be highlighting the ways boys and men can be harmed as a byproduct of hypermasculinity. But this project won’t only focus on the negative. I’ll also be highlighting more positive examples of manhood in media.

You can watch the first positive episode, which highlights emotional expression and masculinity on Steven Universe right now!

Episodes will primarily be long-form video essays (between 10 and 30 minutes). This longer format allows me the opportunity to really delve into how our culture is impacted by media and, conversely, how our media is impacted by culture. I’ll also be producing a series of shorter supplementary videos defining commonly misunderstood terms, as well as some fun supercuts highlighting some of the media patterns I discuss in the longer video essays. There will never be ads on anything I produce. Plus all my videos will be made available for free to everyone (including educators).

This series is being crowdfunded on Patreon. By supporting the project you’ll be helping me keep the project going, upgrade my equipment and eventually make this project sustainable! It takes a tremendous amount of time to produce each of these video essays. At the moment I’m just one person doing all the research, writing, filming, editing, images and after effects. So every pledge of support helps me get closer to the goal of sustainability!

My videos will be made for everyone, but they are very much geared towards speaking to men. I really believe there is a need for media criticism that speaks directly to young men about masculinity in pop culture. With all the conflicting media messages out there, it’s not surprising that a lot of young men are confused about what it means to be a “real man.” So my hope is that this video series can open up conversations about how we, as men, can work to achieve more constructive, cooperative and empathetic forms of masculinity.

I will be producing 2 to 3 videos per month. At least 1 of those will always be a long-form video essay delving into media representations. The others will likely be shorter supplementary episodes focusing on definitions or debunking myths, or they may be critical supercuts!

Hi, I’m Jonathan McIntosh. I’m a video producer and pop culture critic. I’ve been creating online videos about social and political issues for a over a decade. Over the past three years I had the honor of working as producer and co-writer on the first season of Feminist Frequency’s influential web series Tropes vs Women in Video Games. You may have also seen some of my other work, a while back I made a remix called Buffy vs Edward and then another one called Donald Duck meets Glenn Beck.

Head over to Patreon to help support this new series and to see a list of upcoming episodes.

Below is a full transcript of the embedded video.
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5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism – Full Text Version

I recently worked with Imran Siddiquee to create a video for Feminist Frequency highlighting 5 simple ways men can help end sexism. Because some things are inevitably cut or changed during the video production process I’ve posted our full text version of the script below. Click here to see the final video.

Men-Sexism-subtitle-15 WAYS MEN CAN HELP END SEXISM

Everyday more and more men are starting to realize that there is something very wrong with the status quo. This has been tremendously encouraging to see. Still, for many men, it can be hard to know exactly what role we can or should play in working towards an end to sexism. How can men help; and how much or how little should we be helping? In this video we will explore answers to those questions and share a few suggestions for how men can respectfully approach feminism and – critically – explain why it’s beneficial for men to be involved.

First things first, because there’s so much misinformation about feminism floating around out there in the cultural aether, it’s useful to quickly define what that term actually means. Feminism is a sociopolitical movement with the central goal of ending sexism and dismantling gender-based oppression. So contrary to common misconceptions, feminism is not about “man hating” or “female supremacy.” It’s important to note that the feminist endeavor, as it has been defined by women like bell hooks, does not simply seek equal access for women within current systems of power, instead it seeks to transform these systems of power and the values associated with them.

So where do men fit into all this? Well, women have long been pointing out the ways in which men can benefit from feminism and actively calling for men’s participation in working towards ending sexism.

As hooks writes in her landmark book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, “Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. While they need not blame themselves for accepting sexism, they must assume responsibility for eliminating it. [. . .] Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it. This suffering should not be ignored. While it in no way diminishes the seriousness of male abuse and oppression of women, or negates male responsibility for exploitative actions, the pain men experience can serve as a catalyst calling attention to the need for change.”

That bears repeating: Men are NOT exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which WE suffer as a result of it. This is an especially important point, because it succinctly addresses an apparent contradiction. It’s true that the cultural constraints placed on women are much more restrictive than those placed on men, but there are still a myriad of ways in which living in a sexist society does indeed limit and harm men. There is a term within feminism for this social system that perpetuates damaging gender norms for all people – and that word is patriarchy.


It is our patriarchal culture that sets up a hierarchy of competing masculinities that not only subordinates women but also works to demean men who dare to present themselves in ways stereotypically associated with femininity. We are taught early on that “boys don’t cry,” that to show sensitivity or emotional vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Men are discouraged from practicing nurturing, caregiving, compassion and compromise for the same reason. So there is an enormous amount of pressure placed on men to “prove our manhood” by acting tough, projecting strength and repressing our emotions so as to appear in control at all times. We are pushed to go-it-alone and to refuse to ask for or accept help, even when it’s badly needed. Which leads many men to “play through the pain” and take unnecessary risks that can put ourselves and others in harm’s way. This is compounded by the fact that men are often more admired for being aggressive, dominant and violent than for being cooperative, vulnerable or empathetic. Not only is all of this damaging behavior encouraged in individual men, but those same values are also reflected in our larger political and military institutions, often to disastrous effect.

So while men, as a group, are afforded gender-based privileges at the expense of women, a byproduct of patriarchy is that it also causes real harm to men’s well being. Everything I’ve just described may seem so entrenched as to be insurmountable, but it’s important to remember that these conceptions about how to “be a real man” are socially constructed – meaning they are not predetermined by nature or biology – and that’s good news because it means they can be changed, in fact the whole system of sexism cannot continue without our participation.


Oaky, so if we’re on board with ending sexism: what specifically can we do as men to be helpful? Here’s our quick list of 5 tips for respectfully engaging with feminism as a man.

1. Listen to women

It might seem obvious, but too often men have a hard time just listening to what women have to say – and respecting women’s knowledge and experiences. Because of the way we’re socialized to think our voices are most important, men have a tendency to interrupt and interject ourselves into conversations and then dominate those interactions. This behavior is so ingrained that men often don’t even realize we are doing it. Which is why it’s critical to consciously learn to take a step back – to try not to interrupt and instead actively listen and absorb what is being said before responding. Now, of course, this does not then mean that you have to agree with everything every individual woman says – no one person’s perspective can ever represent all of feminism or the experiences of all women – it simply means that, as men, we’re not in a position to define feminism for women, and so, we should actively pay attention to women’s voices. Because for so long women’s experiences, perspectives and ideas – have been dismissed, ignored and silenced it’s especially vital to listen to women of color, particularly black and indigenous women. As feminist scholars have long pointed out, sexism is compounded when it’s combined with racism and/or other forms of oppression – back in 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as part of her theory to describe these layered experiences that leave some women more disenfranchised than others.

2. Educate yourself

It’s important for us, as men, to acknowledge that when we talk about feminism, we follow the lead of women. Yet while we should acknowledge that our ideas in this arena originate with women, this does not mean it is the responsibility of women to teach all men about sexism. So we shouldn’t go around interrogating or demanding answers from women. As men, we should instead be proactive in doing the work ourselves by committing to continuous, lifelong learning. Luckily for us, over the past century feminist scholars have written volumes on the topic. So with that in mind here are some suggested readings about understanding feminism, intersectionality and how patriarchy operates as a social system:

  • Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks
  • The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G Johnson
  • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
  • This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa
  • Masculinities by R.W. Connell
  • The Men and the Boys by R.W. Connell

3. Challenge other men on sexism

The place where men can be most helpful in regards to feminism is first within ourselves, and then amongst other men. Patriarchy encourages men to buy into sexist thinking and at the very least remain complacent in sexism through our silence. So instead dare to step off the path of least resistance – dare to make yourself and other men uncomfortable about sexism. When you see sexual harassment, speak up. When you see women being disrespected, speak up. Let other men around you know that their sexist behavior is not ok. When you stand up and say that a joke, for example, is not funny and that it perpetuates sexism, the men telling the sexist joke can no longer be assured that they will go unchallenged the next time they tell it. In other words, those men can no longer count on other men to accept or go along with their sexism. They have to think twice, look over their shoulder and consider how others might react to their words. Interrupting the sexist status quo is a simple yet powerful thing that all men can do to make a difference.

4. Don’t get defensive

If you make a comment and a woman dismisses or disagrees with you, don’t take it personally. She doesn’t owe you anything and her disagreement does not necessarily mean that she herself is “angry” or frustrated with you as an individual. That being said, it is completely understandable for women to express anger about sexism (sexism should make everyone angry). After all, most women have firsthand experience with violence, harassment or mistreatment at the hands of men. Sometimes even from men who claim to be allies. So don’t get defensive if individual women don’t want to engage with you, and remember that it’s definitely not our job to police the ways women may choose to speak up about sexism. Similarly, men’s support of feminism should not be seen as some kind of favor to women. As we have discussed, dismantling the system of sexism benefits people of all genders, and moreover, men shouldn’t expect a reward for deciding not to participate in a terrible system of oppression. Or as many feminist women have said before, “you don’t get a cookie for being a decent human being.”

5. Learn from your mistakes

It’s hard to break years of socialization overnight, so messing up is inevitable. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes. The key is what you do next, we always have a choice as to how we respond to our mistakes: be humble, examine your own actions at every turn, acknowledge failings and continue to learn how to be better and more supportive. Sexism is not necessarily something that’s done consciously and overtly, it’s something we are socialized to think is normal, and as such it is something we often perpetuate and participate in without meaning to. This is why challenging ourselves and reflecting on our own actions is a vital step in the process. Remember to be compassionate and patient with yourself and keep working at it!

Now, that was by no means an exhaustive list of advice, but it should give you a place to start.

If you’re feeling a little uneasy at this point that might actually be a good sign. As men, the process of honestly reexamining our own assumptions and questioning our participation in a system that maintains sexism, may often feel uncomfortable. No matter how committed we are to it, we will never fully understand what it’s like to exist in the world as a woman – just as white people (like myself) will never know what it’s like to exist in the world as a person of color.

We have inherited this oppressive system of patriarchy, and even though we, as individual men, didn’t create that system, it does manifest itself in almost every aspect of our lives. So as men, we have a responsibility to challenge sexism and keep working to transform ourselves. Remember bell hooks’ point that “All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another.” But that nevertheless, “men can lead life-affirming, meaningful lives without exploiting and oppressing women.”

We must always recall our own potential for positive impact in the world. And be involved in this work not out of personal guilt or shame, but because, as we have discussed in this video, the desired outcome is ending gender oppression and in so doing make the world better for people of all genders.

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