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What Men Are Really Looking At Online

It's not porn or cars.

24/01/2017 2:33 PM AEDT | Updated 24/01/2017 2:44 PM AEDT
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"Instead of boobs, men are now gravitating towards spaces where they can share photos of their newborn babies."

For many men, their time online is not (only) spent looking at boobs. Or, for that matter, porn, cars or gambling. In fact -- if what my husband tells me is correct -- we're entering a new era of online engagement which is challenging the perception of what we think we know about men's behaviour on social media.

Instead of boobs, men are now gravitating towards spaces where they can share photos of their newborn babies. Spaces where they can talk openly about issues in their relationship, or seek advice on how to tell their wife they have been laid off work.

Recently, my husband told me a story about a young guy who had posted in a popular 'Man Cave' group on Facebook after his father passed away, seeking a male mentor. He received hundreds of messages offering a physical and emotional presence in his life. When I heard this, my heart felt warm. I was also taken aback.

What about the rough, gruff men I'd heard dominate the online environment? Do men really talk to one another with compassion and comfort? Do they reach out and share when they are struggling?

Well, it seems they do... provided there are no women around.

The phenomenon of the online 'mothers' group' has taken the social media scene by storm. Initially established to provide mums with support and connection, these groups offer space in which their members can seek advice, share experiences and feel less isolated. They are targeted specifically to women and are generally non-inclusive of male participants.

Now though, the boys have decided they need a space of their own.

Without the pressure of being the mighty, infallible man in front of the lady-folk, online forums are allowing men to escape the often crushing sense of responsibility they feel to provide, to be strong, to not display any weakness; all of which frequently deter them from speaking up when they need it most.

Apart from being decidedly non-female, these spaces are also designed to be approachable, relatable and easy to access. They're not exclusively designed for the purpose of engaging mental health support, but rather draw a predominately male audience because of the topics -- cars and bars, for example. Then, by providing this non-confrontational platform from which to springboard into deeper discussions, they create the perfect balance of the comfortable meeting the uncomfortable, consequently changing the landscape of the way men connect.

As my husband explained proudly: "This is just normal blokes, like me, being able to talk without fear of being seen as weak or weird."

They celebrate each other's successes and rally around anyone who is doing it tough.

With male suicide rates continuing to increase -- and consistently outnumbering females (2015 showed 2,292 male suicides compared to 735 female) -- this new support platform is tackling men's mental health and challenging the perceptions of men's online behaviours.

Through the relative anonymity of the groups, men are supporting and encouraging one another. Comfort is provided to those who seek support. Shared anecdotes of personal experience help those who are looking to feel less alone. They celebrate each other's successes and rally around anyone who is doing it tough.

As well as larger, popular pages which do not focus exclusively on the subject of wellbeing, mental-health-specific groups are now popping up, and being incredibly well received.

A quick Facebook search of keywords such as 'blokes', 'the black dog' and 'mental health' will provide a number of smaller, issue-specific groups which discuss the reality of living life with anxiety and depression.

Here, potential members are often screened before being given access to the page. Group Administrators respond to requests to join via private message, inviting potential members to outline their interest in the page, share what it is they are looking for by joining and what they themselves may be able to contribute. These groups adhere to strict 'no women' policies, which members agree to prior to being permitted to access to the group.

These groups are accessing real people, in real ways and providing real support.

When my husband started sharing stories with me about the connections he was making online through these pages, and the benefit he was seeing so many others taking from it, it challenged everything I thought I knew about how men talk to each other.

Through these channels, he's found a space in which he can share. Where he can be heard. Where he can be there for the other guys. And I've learnt just how important that is.

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