Understanding the factors that influence men’s support and resistance to the movement for gender equality

Author: Anna Barron

Barron, Anna, 2022 Understanding the factors that influence men’s support and resistance to the movement for gender equality, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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In recent years, movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have brought global attention to longstanding issues of inequality between groups. Notably, these movements have called on members of the advantaged group to acknowledge their group’s power, privilege, and history of perpetrating harm against members of the disadvantaged group. While some advantaged group members have joined the fight to address inequality, others have responded with backlash and resistance (e.g., men who claim that the #MeToo movement discriminates against their group).

The current thesis is guided by two key questions: (1) What underlies advantaged group members’ support for (versus their opposition to) movements advocating for progressive social change? and (2) How can we reduce backlash and mobilise advantaged group members in efforts to challenge injustice and inequality? I examine these questions in the context of men’s reactions to the movement for gender equality. Specifically, I take a social identity approach to argue that the nature of men’s opposition to the movement for gender equality may be shaped by their unique identity-based needs as members of a structurally advantaged group that has been accused of wrongdoing. I further argue that opinion-based identities grounded in support for addressing gender inequality may be particularly well placed to overcome men’s resistance to feminist efforts and, in turn, foster their commitment to act for gender equality.

Across eight studies using a combination of experimental paradigms, big data analytics (topic modelling Twitter data), and natural language processing, I explore how men encounter, support, or resist the movement to address gender inequality. Firstly, I provide an analysis of the nature of online support and resistance to the movement for gender equality in the context of the #MeToo movement within Australia (Chapter 2). Secondly, I examine the influence of men’s social identification and women’s accusations of victimisation on men’s need for morality, defensiveness, and collective action intentions (for both women and men’s rights; Chapter 3). Lastly, I explore a method designed to mitigate defensiveness and engage men in efforts to act for gender equality (Chapter 4).

Overall, the findings suggest that men’s defensiveness regarding the issue of gender-based violence may not only undermine their intentions to act for women’s rights, but that it may also facilitate their intentions to advocate for the rights of their own (privileged) group. However, engaging men in group discussion regarding strategies to address gender inequality may provide a means of overcoming defensive reactions and boosting their commitment to act to address violence against women. This thesis provides important implications for both theory and practice regarding the factors that may promote (or hinder) advantaged group members’ commitment to act for equality. Namely, it emphasises the importance of examining the nature of both intra- and intergroup discussion (that is, discussions both within and between groups) to understand how advantaged group members’ reactions to social change are shaped.

Keywords: collective action, social change, gender equality, intergroup relations

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Lydia Woodyatt