Exploring the online experiences of young men and boys
The current moment of gender politics in Australia is both rich with possibilities and beset with new challenges for gender relations and gender equality. Global movements such as #MeToo have led to an unprecedented public desire to address the many forms of economic, cultural and political inequality that prevail for women and girls. Coinciding with this public desire, however, has been an increase in antiwomen or anti-feminist movements. Virulent forms of reactionary politics that cast men and boys as the real victims of the current focus on gender equality have surfaced. These politics have been strengthened through new online environments where harmful manifestations of masculinity that are abusive, violent and disrespectful (especially to women and girls) have flourished. Coined, the ‘manosphere’, online collectives such as the INCELs (Involuntary Celibates) and ‘mega-influencers’ such as Andrew Tate are radicalising young men into misogyny.
A Plan International survey in mid-2020 describes social media as ‘the new frontier for gendered violence’ and found that 65 per cent of 1000 Australian teenagers and young women had been exposed to a spectrum of online violence compared to 58 per cent globally, with half reporting emotional and mental distress. This violence included abusive and insulting language (59%), deliberate embarrassment (41%), body shaming (39%) and threats of sexual violence (39%). Importantly, 22 per cent of those surveyed feared for their physical safety as a result of online interactions (Plan International 2020).
The Australian eSafety Commissioner has stated that ‘women are abused online at an unacceptably high rate’ with over one-third (37%) of respondents to a survey by Amnesty International stating that they felt their physical safety was threatened.
These issues have led to renewed scrutiny on boys, men and constructions of masculinity. Currently, there is unprecedented policy, research and community attention on engaging boys and men in healthy, respectful and equitable masculinities. The new national action plan in Australia that seeks to address gender inequality and gender-based violence includes a focus on men and boys; in Australian schools, there have been renewed attempts to teach for gender justice and respect with some of this attention focused on boys and masculinities; in communities, there has been a proliferation of programs to educate boys and men in developing healthy and inclusive masculinities; and there has been a surge in public and media campaigning aimed at raising awareness about boys’ and men’s role in supporting gender respect.
At present policy and practice-based initiatives in this area are not informed by targeted research about how online environments contribute to young men’s and boys’ understanding of their identity, sense of purpose, and feeling of belonging and acceptance online.
Funded by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, this project will shed light on how boys and young men experience their online worlds.
The research will take a youth-centred and creative qualitative approach that utilises focus group and individual interviews with 100 boys and young men aged between 16 and 21 years from diverse backgrounds. The aim is to understand what motivates and influences their online lives including what influences their sense of identity, behaviours and beliefs, and feelings of belonging and acceptance. The presentation of findings and approach to raising community awareness will be relevant and meaningful.
The research seeks to build an evidence base that articulates the factors that influence, motivate, shape and inform the online experiences of young men and boys.
The findings will guide eSafety’s foundational work on men and boys, while also serving as a basis for further work in this area, supporting existing national educational and campaigning efforts about boys’ and men’s role in supporting gender respect.
Professor Amanda Keddie (Deakin University)
Associate Professor Josh Roose (Deakin University)
Professor Michael Flood (Queensland University of Technology)
5 May 2023 – 31 December 2023