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Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought worth discussing.


Social media abuse is a sign that the feminist project still far from finished

Eva Cox’s article explored the abuse directed at women on social media and its origins:

As a sociologist, I think the flow of nastiness is not from mainly uninformed individuals, or fringe groups with outdated viewpoints. The general macho, aggressive tone and content of the abuse are so similar and widespread that they are likely evidence of a serious backlash and rising hostility to any meaningful sharing of gender power.

Janet Grevillea posted this comment discussing masculinity and its role in abuse:

Thank you Eva Cox for this article. It took a man to help me understand where men are coming from, and why they find it difficult to change. John Stoltenberg began writing about all this some years ago, and in the USA conducted groups and education programmes to encourage young men to consider their relationships anew. Stoltenberg explained what it was like growing up male, and the many subtle and not so subtle lessons male people had to learn from early childhood in order to achieve masculinity. He saw masculinity as a burden from which men could free themselves.

The problem as he saw it was in the way we define manhood and womanhood. Boys are taught to build their masculinity on a sense of dominance and to clarify it by dissociating themselves from females. This dissocation begins early and is maintained in a variety of ways, including humour. Only recently I heard a man in a group for seniors joke when a woman sat near him, “Ooooh, girl germs!”

Some in this thread have commented on a sense of insecurity that men experience and perhaps a quote from Refusing to be a Man (p 80) might shed light on this:

“Men’s individual feelings are diverse and complex, but they can be understood as having in common the fear that women will cease to sustain the sexual identities of men, and the fear that therefore masculinity will cease to exist. ”

John Stoltenberg’s answer to all of this is to value justice above all. He invites men to value justice more than manhood:

“To feel like a real man is often what one longs for when what one really needs is to feel safe, to feel sustained, to feel seen… When verification of manhood feels urgent, one’s resulting behavior may prevent those basic emotional needs from being met. Learning to recognize one’s longing for manhood as an ineffective means of meeting one’s basic and human emotional needs is a crucial stage in the lifelong process of loving justice instead.” (The End of Manhood p 100)

Two books by John Stoltenberg, both revised:

“Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice” (2000)

“The End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience” (2000)

Ben Marshall replied with the following:

Hi Janet,

I think you’re looking in the same direction as me by going back to first principles - nurture and nature.

Eva Cox says:

“Essentially, we need to focus on making men focus on their masculine excesses, not to help us, but because such changes are necessary to improve their lives. Rather than assuming the problem is ours because we fail to conform to their assumptions, we need more men to recognise the seriously inbuilt macho bias in almost every field of endeavour.”

I think this is a sensible reflective process to initiate.

I also argue the importance of the biological influences on this ‘wicked’ problem. When, in general, women across nations and cultures are treated in similar ways by men - and vice versa - then I think it’s useful to be reminded of our biological differences. That’s not me defining things into any kind of binary, or slamming ‘masculinity’, which is a spectrum so broad it even crosses gender divides, but, as Eva suggests, reminding men to understand the benefits and deficits of masculinity, and adjust our thinking and behaviour accordingly.

Masculinity isn’t a burden - it’s a very good set of traits useful to all of us. Imbalanced within the individual or the culture however, it becomes a set of problems.

Reflection on masculinity is a win-win for men and women alike.


I’m right, you’re wrong, and here’s a link to prove it: how social media shapes public debate

Collette Snowden’s article discussed the ways in which social media shapes debate and the myriad forces behind that:

The ability for people to engage in arguments at a distance on social media has revealed an appalling lack of civility in many deep pockets of misogyny, ethnic antipathy, and general intolerance for difference.

These are attributes of users, not the technology, but social media gives them a volume that they otherwise would not have. But these loud, often angry, voices also prevent many more people from taking advantage of its participatory potential.

Glenda Galvin discussed her experiences on social media and the difficulty in finding worthwhile arguments:

Thanks Collette for an article about the impact of social media that seems to be lost on so many. I am finding increased difficulty in working out the wheat from the chaff.

As you say, the nuance of direct physical communication is so important in assisting with an informed opinion. I also find that with instant communication comes instant grammatical stripping and sometimes I have to read a sentence a couple of times before I can work out what the context of the sentence is meant to be. This may be generational and I know language has changed over centuries but my reading time seems to have doubled lately!

I used to keep up with what family and friends are up to via Facebook but alas, someone began saying things about family members that were inappropriate so I just reverted to the odd e-mail, text and good old telephone call.

Do you know if education at primary school level is keeping up with how to communicate in this world of social media?

To which Collette replied:

Hi Glenda

I think your response to social media might actually represent a trend - that is social media ‘drop outs’ - people who have found that as the network gets bigger its value to them is reduced. The problems of language use that you refer to also become even greater and more pronounced because local and personal idiosyncrasies in language can’t be properly captured. I have to agree with you about the telephone, even a two-minute phone call can contain rich information and allow for instant clarification, whereas email and social media would take much longer to achieve the same communication. Your question about education is very important, but I’m afraid I’m not able to answer it authoritatively. There is a great deal of work in the field of education on the danger of social media, but I’m not sure if adapting language for social media platforms is addressed before specialist university courses. It probably should be - just as letter writing was once taught formally.


Sad music and depression: does it help?

Sandra Garrido explained the research looking at the ways music affects people who are feeling sad and people with clinical depression differently:

Some seem to just really get into the music and enjoy the emotional journey. Others can use the music for catharsis, to feel emotional connection with others, to help them work through feelings of sadness or think about how to overcome difficulties. Sadness is, after all, a healthy emotion to experience in response to sad events in our lives. It motivates us to think carefully about our situations and to make changes to improve our lives.

Depression is different, however. Instead of feeling motivated to make changes, depression tends to cause people to lose motivation. Rather than making them think more clearly, people with depression show diminished cognitive functioning on several domains.

The evidence suggests that people with tendencies to clinical depression also respond to music differently. We conducted experiments in which we asked people to listen to a self-selected piece of music that made them sad and another that made them happy. We then measured their response to the music.

Thomas Standfield took a different perspective on the psychology discussed in the article:

Some truth to all of this. But unfortunately there is no connecting thread, nothing which ties it all together. It is just this study found this, this study found that. It is just the blind leading the blind. That’s because psychology has returned to pure behaviorism. It is based on the idea that thoughts create feelings. Quite the opposite of the truth.

Physiological states are the real unassailable reality. thoughts are not. This is provable with science. A hypnotised person may be unaware of feeling a painful stimulus but the body will register pain all the same. Heart beat, blood pressure, stress hormones will all rise. You can’t trick the body. But it can trick you.

Behaviorism is not science. It is a disguised philosophy. And a dangerous one. It is based on power and control. It always blames the victim. It says you are always wrong, your are the author of your own misery. It says relief comes from fitting in, from conformity, and obedience to authority. It tells you your feelings are incorrect and they have no meaning. All completely wrong.

Music is a way into your feelings. So it is no surprise behaviorists see it as a danger. People with proper access to their feelings can’t be manipulated.


Kintsugi and the art of ceramic maintenance

Guy Keulemans explained the Japanese art of kintsugi:

Kintsugi is the traditional Japanese craft of repairing broken ceramics with “urushi” glue and gold or silver dust. It expresses the Japanese principle of “mottainai”, a concept for the regret experienced from waste. It’s significant for being a rare traditional form of “transformative” repair, or repair that intentionally changes the appearance of an object.

Michael Leonard Furtado added a Western religious element to the artform:

As with our broken materiality, so also perchance with our shattered interiority? I know a Jesuit priest in Japan who regards kintsugi as something sacramental in the sense that putting things together after a breakdown or collapse of the established moral order can strengthen and enhance its spiritual appeal, prowess and beauty.

‘The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief corner-stone.’ (Psalm 118:22)

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