The project – ARES
“ARES: Analysing Anti-Feminist Resistances” is a three-year research programme dedicated to studying the antifeminist resistances to equality of women in digital content (e.g., news, comments, audiovisual content). The programme is supported by the State Research Agency of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The ARES team is made up of nine researchers and research associates from various universities and disciplines, including humanities, communication, gender studies and engineering.
This project aims to analyse digital content to expose, understand, and mitigate the adverse reactions to feminist advances and equality progress. We call them antifeminist resistances.
There is substantial literature on antifeminism and discrimination against women (e.g., Clatterbaugh 2003; Hess 2013; Human Rights Council 2017; Reisigl and Wodak 2001; Wodak 2011a). However, little has been said about how the reaction to the advances of feminism appears in online content. Why is it essential to contest antifeminist resistances through online content? First, antifeminist resistances recurrently appear to respond to progress towards equality and hinder integrating gender perspectives into policy and practice. Inequality is structural, pervasive, and harmful for women and girls. The UN acknowledges it as a leading cause of gender violence (Jahan 2018). In Spain, 57.3% of women over 16 of age have suffered some form of gender-based violence (Ministerio de Igualdad 2019). There is a connection between inequality and violence; we intend to examine resistances in online content when they emerge as a response to the advances of feminism. Second, identifying these resistances is vital because people who have equal opportunities can contribute socially, culturally, and economically to the community. It is not only a question of fairness; societies that do not offer equal access to health, cultural, educational, labour, and economic structures are wasting talent. And third, we focus on online content for its impact on girls’ and women’s lives, its capacity to channel, disseminate, magnify messages, and its potential for promoting equality. In the world of fake news and algorithmically designed information bubbles, citizens are bombarded with digital content and can no longer distinguish between facts and fiction. For example, individuals are more likely to believe that a statement is accurate if they have encountered it before, whether real or not; even a single prior encounter can increase perceived accuracy (Pennycook, Cannon, and Rand 2019). That is why examining digital media –conduits of online content— is essential to identify, understand, and mitigate antifeminist resistances.
Because of the massive influence of online content and the societal importance of equality, we believe that this project’s findings will illuminate broader aspects of our society, including how resistances to progress and hate speech are communicated online. Ultimately, its outputs will contribute to mitigating discrimination.
Recurrent antifeminist backlashes have hindered equality and the integration of women’s perspectives into policy and practice since the beginning of organized feminism in the 19th century (Faludi, 2006). Antifeminist resistances are embodied in the opposition to change towards equality and operate at all levels. Here, they are understood as phenomena that seek to preserve the prevailing order associated with hegemonic masculinity and masculine superiority instead of questioning it or seeking fairness and equality. Identifying these resistances is essential to reveal how it operates in social discourses, so a critical approach can be promoted to dismantle it.
Antifeminism resistances are not only relevant because of the objectification and sexualization of women and girls, but also because of the demonization of the feminist discourse, the victimization of a “male” collective, and the simplification of the feminist discourse reducing it to a formulaic speech (e.g., the resistance to inclusive language). Discursive and ambiguous resistances appear insistently in news and commentary, propagated by social media platforms, and this is the reason why the effects of mediated content are not only quick and apparent, but they can be complicated and indirect. The profusion of images and online material embedding stereotypes and misrepresentation is poured into the web, along with other content, so that platform algorithms process and use it to make decisions (Gutiérrez 2020). Inequality embedded in online content takes on a new life when the platforms make biased algorithmic decisions, potentially magnifying prejudice, establishing a vicious cycle that reinforces the backlash, and invisibilising women (Criado Pérez 2019). Prejudiced role models matter; not only do they influence both girls’ and boys’ perceptions of their capabilities (Prpic, Sabbati, & Shreeves, 2018), but they can also provide the foundation for bad algorithmic decision-making, harming girls’ and women’s rights in real life. And the antifeminist resistances wheel turns again. Here, the focus is not on antifeminism in general but the antifeminist reactions to equality advances.
THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF ANTIFEMINIST RESISTANCES
This project investigates the applied knowledge obtained from digital content channelled via media about the antifeminist backlash as a significant obstacle to equality. It is articulated around the three main dimensions of antifeminist resistances, from the most veiled manifestations to the most extreme: 1) the pseudo-feminist rhetoric; 2) the invisibilisation of women; and 3) new forms of aggressive neosexism and backlash on platforms and op-eds. Each of these dimensions is examined by looking into relevant cases in different but connected areas of study. For each area of study, the research team will determine the cases, the units of analysis, the coding systems and their variables, and their intersections to measure and analyse the cases. The findings of the analysis of these three dimensions will, in the end, be compared and associated (see method).
The antifeminist discourse as a reaction to feminism includes, on the one hand, low-intensity expressions such as the pseudo-feminist rhetoric of the so-called commodity feminism (Gill 2008; Goldman, Heath, and Smith 1991). On the other hand, it also includes strong upshots from masculinities that feel threatened by the progress of feminism. For example, the #Himtoo campaign on Twitter in 2018 –a manifestation of the struggle of hegemonic masculinity— ran parallel to the #MeToo campaign, justifying sexist behaviours and violence against women.
Because of their relevance to antifeminist resistances, we have identified three main study areas within the field of communication and media studies: publicity, news, and commentary. Figure 1 shows how we envision the analysis areas to observe the three dimensions of the antifeminist resistances. These areas of study are:
Publicity: Advertising –notorious for perpetuating stereotypes, one of the factors contributing to inequality (UNESCO 2019)– has experienced an exciting turn towards fairness in recent years with a phenomenon known as femvertising. However, femvertising –a strategy to empower women in ads— can be deployed as an empty label hiding prejudice and disguising reactionary messages (Rodríguez and Gutiérrez 2017; Rodríguez and Pérez Tirado 2020). Advertising is the space where we have identified pseudo-feminism as an expression of antifeminist resistances. Because of its impact, we will focus on publicity disseminated online, for example, YouTube ads in music videos addressed to young people. Pseudo-feminism refers here to the appropriation of feminist slogans and messages to support antifeminism.
News: There is a substantial body of literature on women’s invisibilisation in the news and as producers of news. For example, just 24 % of news sources (people seen, heard, or read about in the media) are women (Macharia and Burke 2015; Global Media Monitoring Project 2020). In newsrooms, there is a patriarchal mentality perpetuating the situation: male editors rely on male reporters for the most important news (i.e., the economy, sports, and politics), who depend on male sources and win awards as a result, and ultimately are promoted to editors (Djerf-Pierre 2007). We wish to expand the scope of this line of work by applying human and AI to identify antifeminist resistances in online news. The idea is to explore women’s representation in the news, instead of behind the news. We will focus on online news stories in Spain, referring to women’s achievements in the fields of sports, politics, economics, and culture.
Commentary: This study area includes opinions and messages posted by ordinary citizens on networking platforms and analyses circulated by public figures on newspapers and online websites, and blogs (e.g., Rodríguez and Pérez Tirado 2020). The dissemination of antifeminist messages as a reaction to advances in feminism on sharing platforms can illuminate who is behind the backlash and what discursive strategies are employed (Gutiérrez et al. 2020). Meanwhile, neosexism –or the direct attacks against feminism’s progress— can be explored in the commentary published by influential public figures in online op-eds. Here we analyse the messages sent to newspapers as a reaction to opinion articles on related issues to explore whether the opinions expressed on those messages can reveal resistance attitudes. The next Figure illustrates how the three dimensions of antifeminist resistances connect with the different areas of study tackled here:
We are aware that these dimensions are interconnected. Although each study in this project may be focused on just one dimension, the team will strive to tie up the dots and connect these areas to offer a consistent antifeminist backlash landscape.
In times of political transformations, it is imperative to ask the question: what new forms of antifeminist resistances are emerging in the face of a perceived feminist threat? It is necessary to identify the communication strategies employed by those who seek to preserve the status quo since this resistance to change contributes to the persistence of structural gender inequalities (Van den Brink and Benschop, 2014). To maximize social impact, we must develop models and paradigms that facilitate gender literacy for its inclusion in educational and political systems.
The project proposes to generate guidelines so that media organizations and institutions can dismantle discriminatory discourses and practices since existing guidelines do not explicitly tackle how antifeminist resistances work in times of digital platforms (e.g., Enred Consultores 2012; Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte 2020; Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad 2015; RTVE 2020). We also consider that the pandemic is a critical scenario that has brought about inequality (Schutzbach 2019a) and intensified antifeminist discourses, rendering feminist claims superfluous in the middle of a crisis.
The GENERAL OBJECTIVE: This project aims at analysing digital content –specifically, advertising, news, and commentaries— to expose and understand the adverse reactions to feminist advances in Spain. The main goal is to uncover and understand how antifeminist resistances are articulated and disseminated in digital content. For that purpose, some specific objectives have been set that define the study’s scope, and two instrumental objectives that provide the methodologies and the practical tools to identify and unveil resistances and fight against them.
The SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES are the following:
- To identify the strategies in online discourses, specifically in advertising, that use pseudo-feminist messages for the covert preservation of sexism.
- To analyse and understand antifeminist resistances in digital content –including advertising, online news, and commentary—, which supports the invisibilisation and silencing of women, the delegitimization of feminism, the denial of real-life inequalities and abuse, and inequality.
- To observe and trace antifeminist violence and neosexism in digital content.
The INSTRUMENTAL OBJECTIVES are:
- To test, develop, and promote hybrid and innovative methodologies that combine human and AI to maximize computer automatization and gender expertise in unearthing subtle forms of antifeminism.
- To develop communication guidelines for their application in media organizations, campaigns, politicians, and institutions to promote media gender literacy and mitigate inequality.
This topic is very relevant for our society and a significant challenge for the next years in Spain and Europe for several reasons.
The first reason for this project is that this topic transcends national borders, and it is located at the very heart of European priorities. Although the European Union (EU) has made significant progress towards it, gender equality is still a goal. The EU Gender Equality Strategy presents policy objectives and actions to advance towards a gender-equal Europe by 2025 (European Commission 2017). The European Commission is to launch a gender equality strategy in the audiovisual industry as part of its MEDIA sub-program (European Commission 2020). We aspire to inform this strategy by producing relevant findings and communicating them effectively in academic, policymaking, and media circles.
Second, this project adopts a gender perspective and is it transversal and disruptive nature. Our project seeks significant effects on media consumption models, behaviour, and socio-political relations.
Third, the Spanish Strategy for Science and Technology and Innovation includes essential facilitating technologies, in correspondence with those identified in Horizon 2020, including ICT. These enabling technologies can help solve social challenges. Accordingly, in our analysis of mediated audiovisual narratives, we incorporate ICT as both tools, together with quantitative instruments, and spaces of debate and inquiry, from a gender perspective.
And fourth, this project is aimed at generating solutions to one of the biggest challenges of society today: gender-based inequality. The idea is to propose guidelines to dismantle antifeminist discourses and practices so that media organizations and institutions can eradicate new and hidden forms of discrimination and opposition to equality. This proposal incorporates the importance of social behaviours and perceptions of technology, in the context of COVID-19, from a gender perspective and the associated advantages and risks, as these behaviours can promote or inhibit equality.