From #MenAreTrash to #MensConference: Networked masculinities in South African Twitter

Master Thesis


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Despite the extensive literature on men and masculinities in South Africa, researchers have largely overlooked the role of digitally mediated networked publics in the coproduction and negotiation of contemporary masculinities. This dissertation attempts to fill the gap by engaging in an exploration of networked masculinities in South African Black Twitter through the analysis of two recent case studies. The first case study looks at the hashtag #MensConference, a fictional conference organised by men in opposition to Valentine's Day. The second focuses on the #MenAreTrash movement, a digital feminist campaign against gender-based violence, and men's response through the hashtag #WomenAreTrash. Employing a small data approach, this dissertation engages in a critical thematic analysis of a selection of tweets for each of the hashtags through the theoretical lens of critical masculinity studies. The dissertation takes a decolonial approach to African digital media research by examining the digital experiences of African men as sites for knowledge creation in their own right. In accordance with the notion of masculinity as multiple, fluid and discursive, the analysis uncovered a wide range of masculinity discourses on South African Twitter across a traditional-liberal spectrum. While expressions of sexism and misogyny were common throughout the sample, men also upheld alternative and progressive models of manhood. The affordances of social media provided men with a space to express themselves, but also to police and contest each other's masculinities through in-group dynamics that worked to reinforce patriarchal hegemony. The dissertation also provides insights into the role of women in shaping online discourses of masculinity by both challenging and reinforcing vii gender power structures. The findings present similarities with previous studies on networked masculinities from the Global North, for instance, in the anti-feminist resistance strategies deployed against #MenAreTrash. However, the interactions between black South African men on Twitter were defined by their specific social, economic and cultural context, with local media and consumerist culture playing a substantial role in influencing networked masculinities. Ultimately, this research demonstrates the critical role of social media, and Black Twitter in particular, as a prominent space for both the reproduction and contestation of hegemonic masculinities in South Africa. The dissertation concludes by highlighting the value of social media for researching the relational processes of co-construction and performance of contemporary South African masculinities, as well as its potential for gender justice efforts working to promote progressive masculinities in the country.