Online abuse, is it a man thing or woman thing?

imagesThere’s been a lot of talk about online misogyny in the past week after Twitter made a public apology to women who have been subjected to rape threats. So is online abuse a gender problem? Is this another area of life where “women have problems and men are problems”? And if misogyny is a problem, what about online misandry?

We don’t pretend to have all the answers but you can rely on the National Conference for Men and Boys to always try and offer a broad range of perspectives—which is another good reason to buy your conference tickets online today.

In the meantime, here are some of the most interesting voices talking about online abuse from a gender perspective relevant to men and boys in the UK that we’ve heard so far:

It’s not misogyny it’s just plain bad manners

“What is problematic is that the organisers of Trolliday do not see this as a question of manners, but of misogyny – hate crime, in other words. The women-hating trolls do not show that society has a problem with misogyny……the most pleasant places to live are those where… in particular have an incentive to be viewed as gentlemen – a word sadly missing from this debate about the treatment of women.”

Ed West, The Spectator, Why do people write abuse on the internet?

This is a man-made problem and women are the victims

“This is a men-on-women issue. Guys are pretty much doing it to the girls. Which, thankfully, is where our good friend socialism steps forward. Because this will not stand for those of us who are socialists. We are all equal.”

John Niven, Daily Record, Trolls who abuse

It’s not a gender issue 

“I don’t think it’s a gender thing at all….I couldn’t say whether it happens more to women or to men but it’s quite clear that men and women will both abuse people online and be the recipients of that abuse.”

Professor Mark Griffiths, BBC, Why cyberbullies are targetting women

Women don’t troll

“There are very few female trolls because women are more virtuous than men….. women of any age will never hate men as much as teenage boys hate women.”

Jennifer Wright, The Gloss, Where are all the female internet trolls?

Women do abuse men online

“A female tweeter I didn’t follow…tweeted that I was a **** – an interesting word for a self-confessed feminist to use. I replied to the profanity….My words were immediately re-tweeted. For the next 24 hours I was subjected to abuse and threats of violence from many of this writer’s 70,000-odd followers….Despite a reporter’s thick skin, I’ll confess to a sleepless few nights. I’d never received such constant abuse and it certainly affected me emotionally.”

Niall Paterson, Sky News, What About Male Victims?

Women abuse other women

“Abuse also happens online by women against women. This includes  harassment, cyber-bullying, Gaslighting, mobbing, verbal abuse. It also happens within feminism. And yet…..feminism is deathly quiet on the issue. The anger & volume that we collectively use to denounce male violence is noticeably absent when it comes to women that abuse.”

Portia Smart, Feminist Blogger, We need to talk about women

People who live in glass houses….

“Caitlin Moran might well fall foul of a new, improved “report abuse” button. She’s been quite vociferous in her condemnation of the attacks on Caroline Criado-Perez, even proposing a 24-hour boycott of Twitter to protest about the site’s failure to deal with the abuse problem. She appears to have forgotten that, three years ago, she was pretty abusive towards me. Here are a couple of things she tweeted while I was debating Germaine Greer on BBC2’s Late Review:

“God, the reliability of Toby Young to be a total C*** could be used to power the atomic clock.”

“Oh, Germaine Greer. You’re still F***ING MAGNIFICENT. Please end this brilliant monologue by running a sword through Toby Young’s face.”

Toby Young, Daily Telegraph, Most twitter trolls are harmless attention seekers

Most trolls are boys (and so are most victims)

“I was really surprised to find the level of boys admitting that they got involved in cyber bullying and the number of boys who have been victim of cyber bullying. Sixteen percent of males said someone had sent them a threatening message online, compared with 7 percent of females. And 11 percent of males said that they had sent threatening messages online.”

Sarah Pedersen, Huffington Post, Cyber-bullying, are boys worse than girls

I’m a man and I love to troll 

“I come from a cohort and culture of males in which a cheap jibe or insulting comment is part of everyday interaction, held under the banner of ‘crack’ and ‘banter’. I am not condoning abuse of any sort, I realise that it occurs amongst peers causing a great degree of harm. In combating fascism we tread the fine lines of freedom of expression, but we must be sure in distinguishing the difference between what is actually offensive and what is an impulsive comment towards people enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.”

Daniel Swanson, TEDx Salford, What to do about trolling

Kill All Men? Ignore it, it’ll go away

“It can be very tempting, when one’s human sub-group is challenged, to respond in kind…..we tend to react strongly when our “team” is called out. That’s why the recent Twitter trend of appending the #killallmen hashtag to various female grievance-oriented posts is such a frustrating phenomenon: It’s a direct provocation, and something of a mass movement, but it’s also too crazy to pay much attention to.”

Michael McKenna, Ask Men. Why #KillAllMen is a thing that exists

Autistic men need better protection from online bullies

“Because of my autism I can’t do social things like go to the pub or go to nightclubs. Ninety per cent of my life is spent online. The entire social aspect of my life is online. But every time I go online I get abuse. Current laws against cyberbullying just don’t work at all. They haven’t worked for me.”

Kevin Healy, Autism Campaign speaking to BBC,  Why cyberbullies are targetting women

Men get bullied by girls

“There’s something about a bully that really annoys me. They’ll say something online that they’d never dare to say to your face.”

Comedian and self-professed “troll slayer” Dom Joly who discovered that one of those who’d threatened him was a 14-year-old girl with nine different online identities. BBC: Trolling who does it and why?

There’s more misandry  than misogyny 

“There is ten times more misandry expessed in the west than there is misogyny, but people have been trained not to notice this…..Blocking men’s voices on the grounds of ‘misogyny’ is common on internet forums, websites and social media such as Facebook – even when these voices are clearly not misogynistic at all. The upshot is that misogyny is going to continue to increase until men get a fairer deal and until they can express their views without being continually blocked by the overly politically-corrected and feminist-dominated. Of course, those rape threats were, in my view, completely unacceptable. But I can assure you that men have been on the receiving end of similar threats ever since the internet became a place where men and women have been in verbal conflict.”

Angry Harry, Blogger, commenting on Why do people write abuse on the internet?

When it’s a male victim we ignore the gender

“Women’s groups have been very adept at ‘genderising’ any and all problems that affect females, and are able to exploit the media’s obsession with women-specific issues. As the current Twitter abuse issue shows, they have asserted that it is almost always women that receive these kinds of comments. On the other hand, abuse aimed at men is assumed to be non-gendered, receives no attention, and is usually considered fair game. Complain, and you’ll never be far from a ‘man up’ style dismissal. As is so often the case, there are double standards in play here.”

Tim Reed, commenting on Why do people write abuse on the internet?

Online abuse is not limited by gender

“If you cast a wide enough net you soon discover that online abuse is not limited by gender. If we want to live in a less sexist society it does mean finding ways to tackle misogyny. It also means taking time to understand and address the experience of male victims of violence and abuse too.”

Glen Poole, National Conference for Men and Boys, writing in The Guardian Comment Is Free section

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Is this a new movement to end sexism against dads?

father-s-day-426875363-1355733Is there a movement to end sexism against dads bubbling up in the UK?

There seems to be a growing willingness to challenge sexist assumption about men’s ability to parent and it’s coming from lots of different angles, some of which we highlight below.

Does all this dad-friendly discourse constitute a movement or are the people speaking out too disparate and disconnected to have a shared voice?

The Third National Conference for Men and Boys is a unique opportunity for people who think differently about dads to get together and find out what they have in common and how they can push together in the same direction in future.

If you care about fatherhood, or any other issues facing men and boys, then why not join us at the National Conference for Men and Boys—you can buy your ticket online today.

And to whet your appetite, here we present some of the key themes that the nation’s “Dadvocates” are talking about.

1.     Challenging sexist assumptions that “mum knows best”

The Fatherhood Institute recently sparked a social media debate about casual sexism towards dads after one father said he was referred to as “Mr Mummy” when he dropped his children off at school.

In his blog post about the debate —“He needs mummy: keeping dads in their place” —Jeremy Davies of the Fatherhood Institute said:

“Within families, men and women are finding new ways to share the breadwinning and caring – throwing away decades of social expectation in the process….but no matter how much more involved fathers become, the world around them seems insistent on keeping them in their place: playing a supporting role to a more present, more competent, more loving mother.”

His sentiments echo Gideon Burrows, father and author of “Men Can Do It”  who wrote a comment piece in the Huffington Post on why he thinks “Both parents are to blame for unequal parenting”.

According to Burrows: “All around us, we are fed the idea that parenting is a woman’s job. Mums alone have a special bond with their babies and children that fathers just seem to lack. It’s no wonder we’ve all convinced ourselves that women make naturally better parents. This drip-drip-drip of the special mother-baby relationship allows us all to assume childcare is none of men’s business.”

2.     Challenging sexist media portrayals of dads

There is a growing willingness to challenge sexist portrayal of dads in the media. Last Christmas the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received more than 600 complaints about Asda’s “behind every great Christmas there’s a mum” campaign—helped in part by Fathers 4 Justice mobilising supporters. On this occasion, the campaign was unsuccessful with ASA ruling in January that the advert was within its guidelines.

In June, netmums added its voice to the “stop sexism against dads” movement with a survey revealing that nine out of ten parents claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads and three out of ten say the way dads are portrayed in the media is a “subtle form of discrimination” according . “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups” says Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard.

Over in the States, Daddy Blogger Chris Routly has demonstrated the power of the effective lone crusader causing two leading brands to pull ads that were sexist against dads. Chris led a successful campaign against a sexist Huggies nappy ad last year.

Proving he isn’t a one hit wonder, Chris scored a second success last month and persuade the Clorox bleach brand to pull a sexist ad that said:

“Saying ‘No-no’ is not just for baby. Like dogs or other house pets, new Dads are filled with good intentions but lacking the judgment and fine motor skills to execute well. Here are a few dangerous no-nos new Dads might make, and some training tips…..”

3. Challenging sexism against separated fathers

Fathers 4 Justice has been making national headlines again recently with high profile stunts targetting national works of art like the Haywain, but is sexism against separated fathers being acknowledged elsewhere?

When the best-selling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernier—patron of the charity Families Need Fathers—spoke out on Fathers’ Day. He highlighted the “general mythologising of fathers as irrelevant and feckless abusers” and slammed the family courts for treating “fathers heartlessly as mere sperm donors and bankers”.

Ally Fogg in The Guardian made a similar point, saying “sweeping generalisations are made about “deadbeat dads”; separated fathers are portrayed as probable abusers”. And Karen Woodall at the Centre for Separated Families says in her blog post on dignity, equality and respecting the difference between us that “Dads are discriminated against in family separation policy, that is why they are disaffected, disappearing and desperate.  There is nothing more, nothing less to say about it.”

4. Challenging sexist laws and policies

Continuing the theme of sexist laws and policies, the way separated fathers are treated isn’t the only area of law and social policy where dads are discriminated against.

The laws of parental responsibility—which give automatic parental rights to all mothers but place conditions on which fathers can be given automatic rights —have been indirectly flagged up by David Lammy MP on the left and the Centre for Social Justice on the right, who both propose ensuring all dads’ have their names are put on the birth certificates (an act which grants all dads automatic parental rights).

As the former Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) commissioner Duncan Fisher said, when a Welsh dad whose partner died in childbirth was legally prevented from leaving hospital with his new born child:

“In UK law, a father can only be a father if the mother approves him. She can do this in two ways – marry him or invite him to sign the birth certificate. If neither of these happens, he is not the father until the family court approves him. A man has to be vetted by the mother or the state before he is allowed to be a father.”

A similar principle applies in UK parental leave law introduced by New Labour in 2006 which Fisher described as “one of the most unequal parenting leave entitlement regimes in the world”.

In 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised to reform this system saying the laws on parental leave marginalise dads and deny them the chance to play a hands-on role.

Ultimately, while the Coalition reforms are more flexible than before, they still discriminate against fathers. According to Ben Moxham at the TUC “the incentives in place for fathers are so poor that even the government estimates that only 2 to 8 per cent of dads are likely to take this leave” adding that “unions will need to step up bargaining with employers to strengthen what will be fairly minimal shared parental leave entitlements”

Duncan Fisher’s analysis of this issue is that reform didn’t happen because:

“A business lobby, keen to ensure men do not bow to domestic responsibilities as women have to, and the maternal lobby, keen for mothers to remain in charge in the home, combined forces in an unholy alliance, and this Government, like its predecessors, was no match for the pincer movement from both sides.”

5. Challenging our sexist society

Many commentators are also pointing to sexism in our social and economic structures which conspire to discriminate against fathers.

Traditionalists like Peter Hitchens  in the Daily Mail talk of a “national experiment in fatherlessness” caused by what the Centre for Social Justice describes as a “tsunami” of family breakdown that creates “man deserts”. In a similar vein, the Education Minister, Michael Gove, spoke out about the impact of fatherlessness on children saying “more children are growing up in homes where the male authority figure will be fleeting or absent”.

Interestingly, Nelson Fraser, editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine is none too complimentary about some of the hands-on fathers in his neighbourhood, saying in his “work is becoming a woman’s world” comment piece:

“Where I live, in Twickenham, cafés are full of kept men buying breakfast because they could not be bothered to make it – sometimes pushing prams with one hand and holding toast in the other. Teenagers are not the only ones responsible for record pre-order sales of PlayStation.”

Meanwhile, Professor Lynda Gratton from the London Business School speaks more highly of  a new generation of men are leading the charge for a change on fatherhood and says that it is our attitudes to work and parenthood that need to change and “specifically the assumption that parenthood should be practised in a singular and specific way by women.”

Pointing the finger at the corporate world, Gratton says: “Organisations need to adapt out-of-touch policies, many of which are still shaped by social and working conditions that are no longer the norm. Organisations need to let go of outmoded thinking about gender roles and realise that fathers are increasingly as likely as mothers to be active in parenting.”


So who is to blame for sexism against dads? Is it men or women? Is it left-wingers or right-wingers? Is it capitalism? Is it the patriarchy? Is it feminism and the women’s movements? Is it different fathers’ groups going about tackling the problem in the wrong way?

Maybe there’s some truth in all the perspectives listed above—afterall, none of us is smart enough to be wrong all the time. And if you want to deepen your understanding of issues like these then the place to come is the Third National Conference for Men and Boys.