‘Why do men keep their cars spotless but live like pigs at home?’, ‘Why do men cheat?’ and ‘Why do men ghost women?’ are a few of the many Google searches you’ll be recommended when pondering over the things men do and the reasons behind those actions. Worry no more though, because I—a man—am here to explore and answer some of those million dollar questions as best as I can, smashing stereotypes along the way. Welcome to the first edition of the Why do men column.
In a lockdown-riddled era that’s forced us to engage digitally, it feels only fitting to start this column with a deep dive into the way men communicate differently online. Now, despite having an excessive internet addiction, my knowledge of differences in online communication between genders is somewhat limited. However, from what little experience I do have, I can tell you men tend to talk “like this…” (straight to the point, fewer emojis and abstaining from emotive language). But why? To answer these questions, I’ve called upon Sian Brooke, a Gender and Data scientist at the University of Oxford. So grab a snack, sit back and let us both unpack why men communicate the way they do.
Let’s start with exclamation marks—I have a bad habit of using them excessively in every circumstance! Yet Brooke notes that research has shown they are more associated with feminine emotional expression. Women are more likely to use them to seem relatable and personal, whereas when used by men, they can seem unprofessional (akin to shouting at your computer screen). Ah, maybe it’s time to reevaluate my email etiquette.
When focusing on the use of emojis between genders instead of punctuation, the data becomes more multifaceted and complex. There’s a wealth of emoji research from pioneers in the field, so if you’re interested in brushing up your emoticon knowledge, feel free to dive down that rabbit hole. For the purpose of this article, however, Brooke summarised the key findings from a project that focused on Android keyboards rather than any social networking platform in particular.
It’s not surprising that women use more emojis than men, given that women, stereotypically, tend to use digital communication for emotional expression while men use it for more practical purposes. Research shows that 29.9 per cent of male users sent emojis in more than 5 per cent of their messages, whereas for women, this figure jumped up to 43.9 per cent. However, surprisingly, when assessing the frequency of emojis used, there was an overlap of 8 emojis out of the top 10 used in both genders—with the classic 😂 topping the list for both genders.
Interestingly, women used more face-related emojis in their communication, which is not that surprising if you know that research also suggests women express emotion at higher rates in verbal communication. That being said, and to my surprise, men showed to use the ❤️ emoji even more than women. Brooke notes, “this implies that although men reserve to express their love in real life, they’re more willing to express love through emoji in textual communication. This also shows that gender differences in communication are not simple and that textual communication could provide an outlet for men to express themselves outside of the typical non-emotional masculine ideal.”
If emoji communication can serve as a powerful tool for us men to express ourselves outside of the confines of typical non-emotional and toxic masculine pressure—what does this mean for how men communicate with each other online?
In her own research at the University of Oxford, Brooke investigated how gender differences influence how people interact and how they speak to each other. “I looked at anonymous internet forums, where users profiles consisted of just a username, without any gender identity.” Her research found that “men were more likely to respond to other men, and women were more likely to respond to other women.” This is a phenomenon known as ‘homophily’, or to put it in more poetic terms, ‘birds of a feather flock together’.
So, to answer the question—men are influenced by each other online, in fact, they’re more likely to influence each other than other genders. The same goes for women. “People tend to group together with people with the same gender identification. In my research, this was the same for non-binary profiles, masculine profiles, feminine profiles and even among anonymous users. People like to surround themselves with people like them, which is quite a common finding online and offline.”
It’s human nature to do so, embedded in our social psychology. Despite our best efforts to change gender norms and stereotypes—a space where there has been rapid and much needed advancements in the past generation—there is still a part of us that is tied to our societal pressures of gender, both offline and online. Brooke goes on to note, “it’s interesting to see that this pattern continues online, even when you remove a lot of gender identity markers.”
I’m inclined to believe this phenomenon also contributes to an echo chamber which can be counterproductive, especially in terms of the image of how men interact online. We men have a lot of problems to deal with among ourselves, not to mention the male mental health crisis, so you’d assume that in our socially predetermined echo chambers, we’d all be nice to each other, right?
Unfortunately not. Another one of Brooke’s research highlighted how male-dominated social media websites are seen to be more hostile. “I looked at three sites (Twitter, Reddit and 4chan) and found that the more dominated by men a social media website is seen to be, the more hostile it is seen to be too—even for men.” She notes.
According to her data, if you thought Twitter’s user base was 60 per cent male, you would presume it was less welcoming than if you thought it was 40 per cent instead. Brooke notes this discovery “was interesting because it shows that men see other men as hostile in online communication, regardless of the platform.” I tend to agree with her, especially when countless of my political tweets are bombarded with hostile opposition from @BrexitBarry22919 and all of his 10 followers. These are usually the same people known for being ‘reply guys’, an instance where men are overly familiar to strangers, often women, on Twitter—but we’ll save that topic for another time.
Brooke makes an important point not to generalise by painting all men with the same brush but “how men communicate online is seen as stereotypically, and generally, hostile.” And it’s true, not all men are hostile online but there are enough instances of masculine hostility to definitely make a fair assumption. As for me, I’ll continue to try and buck this trend by actually being nice to strangers online (maybe with fewer exclamation marks next time).
To say that the last week has been difficult and triggering for women in the UK, and across the world, would be an understatement. What started off with International Women’s Day, a day supposed to celebrate progress and the strive towards gender equality, quickly turned into tragedy. And men, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.
The devastating disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, in which a serving Met Police officer has been charged, has sparked global outrage, and understandably so. Last week was also the first time many of us heard about Blessing Olusegon—a black woman whose body was discovered on a beach last year. The case, which still hasn’t been resolved, received a noticeably smaller amount of coverage than Everard’s, interest in it only resurfacing after her death.
In a response to Sarah Everard’s case, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that what happened “is thankfully incredibly rare.” Yet, Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, reportedly told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “since when Sarah first went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men.” This comes at the same week as the World Health Organization revealed that one in three women globally have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. One in three—making it around 736 million women globally. Let that sink in.
Thousands of women have shared their own experiences of assault, harassment, being followed home, or abused. And on Saturday 13 March, images of police officers pinning women down to the ground resurfaced all over social media, following a vigil that was held in London’s Clapham Common to honour Sarah Everard and all other victims of gender-based violence. If we learned anything from the past week, it’s that in 2021, women are still not being taken seriously. Our concerns, our safety, and our wellbeing are not seen as a priority.
These events have sparked a huge discourse online around the safety of women worldwide, and the role that men play in it. As women started sharing their concerns, fears, and personal experiences, my social media was flooded with an array of responses from men. Some were reposting infographics about how they can be ‘better’, while others, who are normally very vocal about social issues online, stayed silent. Ironically enough, to my knowledge, some of the men in both categories mentioned had previously displayed questionable behaviour towards women. Either they are completely unaware of this fact, or chose to blissfully ignore it.
Outside of my own echo chambers, #NotAllMen started trending on Twitter as men quickly jumped to defend themselves (and so did some women too). Many who used the hashtag accused those speaking up of misandry, and trying to spread a politicised ‘agenda’.
Here is the thing though—you don’t need to go to the extremes of abducting someone or murdering them to be complicit in the violence towards women. I can sit here and list countless stories about me or my female friends being followed home, grabbed by strangers, tackled to the ground, harassed or assaulted. So many women can. But I can also share experiences I know many will not take seriously, or consider to be a ‘big deal’, that contribute to this culture of violence and abuse. Like being coerced by men I’ve previously dated, whom I’ve trusted. I did it, so you would count it as consent, right? Or how many times have you heard other men say that speaking about consent ‘mid-action’ ruins the mood? Because I have lost count, and I am tired of it.
Just last week, my best friend was on a work Zoom call with a male client who thought it was appropriate to compliment her smile in a follow-up email. This may seem like a harmless comment, but it’s not—predatory behaviour begins somewhere. She ignored the comment and responded saying that if he has any more concerns or questions over the work matter, they can discuss via call. “Don’t tempt me with your number,” he answered back.
In this case, this man knew exactly what he was doing—he is double her age, has a more senior position, and he is her client on top of that. But he made the decision not to back down after his initial comment was ignored. Every single time that a person gets away from something without any accountability, it snowballs. Locker room talk, objectifying women as a ‘joke’, your friend mistreating his girlfriend, or speaking about women with a general lack of respect. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, these are minor—but it always starts small, and then it escalates, until it’s too late.
There have been alleged reports that prior to Sarah Everard’s disappearance, the officer charged with her murder had already been accused of indecent exposure. Of course, that does not even begin to compare to the horrific experience Everard had to go through, but this person allegedly previously displayed predatory behaviour, and got away with it. Whether it was not acted upon fast enough, or completely overlooked, it led to a catastrophic, irreversible consequence.
Everyone knows someone who has been harassed, assaulted, or raped. Yet it seems that nobody knows an assaulter. But these people are around you; they are in your circles, at your workplace, they might even be your friend or family member. And until you start having these conversations, you won’t know. If you don’t believe me, just look at the recent statistics published by The Guardian last week: 97 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Yes, men suffer from sexual assault, harassment, and violence too—no one is denying this. While the numbers of women reporting their sexual assault experiences are significantly higher, it is crucial to mention that many men do not report theirs, due to factors like people not taking their experiences seriously, downplaying the severity, or simply telling them to ‘man up’. It is truly a huge issue, and as a society, we all need to do better.
But what you seem to forget is that all of these factors that are in place are only there because of the patriarchal system we live in—the one that men created in the first place. And it’s up to you to dismantle it. Until you do, none of us are truly safe. Not men, not women, not transgender, queer, or non-binary people.
When women call out these negative experiences, the goal is not to create some kind of ‘man-hating’ agenda—we are not your enemy here. We ask that you truly listen and take all of our concerns, allegations, and reports seriously. Because until you do, we are not safe from abuse.