Yes, the title of this post is almost certainly controversial! It should be.
I will explain the reason I chose the title towards the end of the post – and respect to you if you can guess it earlier. First, however, let me introduce the actual topic:
It is called meninism, neo-masculinism, anti-feminism, MRA (Men’s Rights Advocacy) and a lot more. To be clear, all these titles carry different implications for those involved, which means the movement is by no means unified, but all actors share a certain belief in the wrongs of feminism.
This week, out of a sudden, my social media was trashed with antifeminism, a topic which I had banned from my mind for the last few months, after I handed in my Masters dissertation in September. One of the leading activists in the US, and founder of one of the websites I analysed for my dissertation, made it into all kinds of different newspapers: Roosh V. Given the recent rumble around one of the websites I analysed in my dissertation, in this post I want to share a glimpse of my analysis with anyone interested in a discussion of the topic that goes beyond: “these people suck” (be it directed at MRAs, men, women or any other kind of social or not so social group).
The most recent events – background
As announced on the online ‘manosphere’ (online sphere of exchange for anti-feminists), Saturday February 6 should have been a great day for men (and also women) who have taken the ‘red pill’ (the red pill is a common term, especially for certain subgroups of the manosphere. Those who have taken the red pill reject the so-called ‘propaganda of gender equality’). One of the leading antifeminist websites in the US, announced international “tribal events, for February 6, which should have been hosted in different countries. They were regulated through “guidelines” published on Roosh’s website Return of Kings (I’m not sharing the link, because I believe they get too much traffic anyways. I found a pretty informative article by the Washington Post instead). Due to various protests, planned by feminist and other social groups and a wave of online and offline media attention, the events were canceled last minute (possibly as a publicity stunt) for “safety issues” Men’s Rights Advocates face:
“The world is moving against us. I’ve gotten reports of over a dozen organized protests at our meeting points. Dozens more are being organized privately. [T]his meetup was never intended as a confrontation with unattractive women and their enablers[…]”. (see here)
Unsurprisingly the media reacted with cynicism as Roosh (who belongs to the antifeminist subgroup of ‘pick-up-artists’) and most of his supporters belong to the most privileged and least threatened ethnicity and gender (white male) possible. The organized protests against the “tribal” events were mostly due to a comment of Roosh saying: “if we legalize rape, women will be more careful with their bodies”. Roosh has since repeatedly stated that the comment was meant as satire. The whole controversy and different incentives of all the stakeholders are summarized pretty neatly by the Guardian.
The issue is: I don’t believe that it was satire. Satire is typically voicing subjects outside of your own narrative to make the exaggerations that it utilizes for subtle critique even more striking. In my Masters thesis, I analysed the narratives of different antifeminist websites, among them RoK. The idea that women should protect themselves by not attracting male lust is by no means outside of the narrative or even an exaggeration. Of course it stands in striking opposition to the idea that women are defined only by beauty and young age as well as their ability to withdraw sex from men (which are the strongest assets), but it is an internal contradiction. To make this a bit more clear I’ll go into what I found during my research. To be clear: I analysed different websites from three different countries that have a particularly active online antifeminist presence (Russia, USA and India) – that means I did not only focus on RoK, which however had to be in the sample due to its sheer size and prominence (no praise intended!). I also, of course, had different hypotheses and my main research interest was not in uncovering the full narrative and the sexist structures and contradictions (you just can’t help but noticing) but to understand the narratives in a global-local nexus to uncover global linkages and contradictions and define the scope of the movement.
The white male’s burden – narrative in a nutshell
RoK and basically all the antifeminist websites I analysed do not only hold sexist/antifeminist content. Instead they try to align a broad base of supporters around their main focus, using relatable content for a certain type of ideology. RoK, alongside the more expected content about the difference of the genders and hatred against any but binary gender ideologies as well as slutshaming and tips for “the game” of picking up and taking home girls encompasses articles such as “5 Reasons you shouldn’t feel guilty about European colonialism” (because it would have happened anyways), “How the Christmas Truce of 1914 shows the world has become less civil” (because there is more diversity – and I guess no war in Europe at the moment), “Will the Germans resort to merciless violence to safe their country?” (they better, for the German electoral system is too far on the left and disregards popular will), to “Christians in Europe need safe spaces from Muslims” (no comment…). Please note, that while the content in brackets sounds like irony/satire (at least to me) it is actually a very simplified summary of the content of the various articles (!!!).
What all these things have in common, apart from being discriminatory against almost every imaginable social group (the rich, the poor, any kind of non-binary gender, women, any kind of non-hetero-sexuality, any kind of non-white ethnicities, any religion, … you get the gist), is a profound feeling of deprivation, mirrored in a myriad of articles about the decline of Western culture. According to many antifeminists in diverse foras over the internet, this decline is underway and is already established in many countries. The imagined beginning of this decline (which originates in – of course – the spread of feminism) as well as the degree to which it has grapped different countries varies from author to author and website to website – for example a Russian website clearly put the beginning in 1917 with the introduction of feminism by the Soviets, which has since become “opium for the people”, whereas others locate the beginning of the end much earlier as late result of the Enlightenment or in the rise of industrial capitalism. On every single website I found multiple articles which extensively describe this decline, with a broad stroke through all different social institutions that have been infected.
This is the very foundation of the narrative: the idea that (1) victimization of men that goes together with (2) the decline of society. At the same time, it is a certain form that unifies antifeminist websites (which is not to say, that it might not be a general online style). In my dissertation I have termed this form of argumentation which is inherent to most articles “victimization” and “evidence-based mysoginy”. The writers of these articles don’t care much about any kind of sources, bibliography or accuracy. The mysoginist/antifeminist and generally discriminatory narrative is a construct, that is held up solely by the strength of the will to believe in it. There is no proven causality in the leaps that are made between feminism and e.g. alcoholism; unemployment of blue-collar workers; etc. However, to make these pseudo-causalities stronger in the eyes of the audience, the idea is fed with actually tangible developments such as numbers on increased unemployment, news about migration and day-to-day politics (American primaries, Cologne New Year assaults etc.). The writers thereby appeal to the experiences of their audience. This evidence-based mysoginy is tightly bound to victimization, both in the narrative and in the style – and it gains weight through the repeated mantra that the readers of the blog are the only ones who understand because everyone else is blinded by the mainstream (media, politics, common sense). This style – and the idea of being the only reasonable agent gives the antifeminist the right to correction – is responsible for the self-righteousness and violence the narrative can take in certain posts. One example:
Brave new World
On the other side of this dark picture of decline, there is a very undefined idea of the better world, sometimes defined simply as ‘patriarchy’ or in the case of RoK as ‘neomasculinity’ which has to be achieved and spread. In most websites it is an abstract sense of prehistoric, or undefined ‘natural’ state, in which the power balance between men and women is equal instead of on the female (!) side. Some websites are more concrete, painting a picture of antifeminism as liberating global ideology, similar to the “black civil rights movement”(1). Overall, the American websites’ style, communicative strategies and narratives build on the idea of antifeminism as an emerging global movement, in which the US takes the role of both the first society to experience the “toxic obsession with the problems of women”and as role-model for global antifeminism, which they see as novel global movement instead of return to abstract traditionalist ideas.
What the narrative achieves is thus not only the mobilization of deprived people looking for a scapegoat (or many) for their anger/marginalization but also a very incoherent construct in which these people not only save themselves from a perceived loss of power vis-a-vis (their) women (the possessive use is of course not sexist and rather rightfully so – and just to be sure: this WAS sarcasm!), but by defying feminism they also save the world from all kinds of local problems they encounter in daily life. Doesn’t it seem familiar? It is the most basic way to create an ideology – and I wonder if not every discriminatory (fascist) ideology depends on these ingredients. The question I asked in the end of my dissertation is, how powerful you can let these people become. We shake our heads at the utterless nonsense they produce, but they have people following them. To be honest, it scares me! I have always been fascinated with the justification of obviously oppressive ideas and ideologies, which manages to implant in people following the idea a righteousness that is not easy to destroy or even to argue with.
In 1899, an ideology was so strong, that it achieved common sense. The idea was, that there was a burden attached to the only ones who could reason and see. The burden to correct the others and thereby help create a better world. It is captured in “The White Man’s Burden” , a poem by Rudyard Kipling from 1899 (read out here) about the ‘burden’ of the white man (from America) to civilize and colonize the Philippines and their inhabitants, who are described in very demeaning ways. It mirrors the antifeminist ideology in the idea of victimization – that the white man will not be rewarded for his efforts but has to carry on despite “the blame of those ye better, the hate of those ye guard”.
I have always been fascinated by the force of such an ideology and the effects it can have on societies, diversity, peace. And I have always been fascinated that there is no arguing with people once they adhere to such ideologies – they won’t even listen. This is why I chose to write my dissertation, which received the joint award for the best dissertation of the year – to listen to them in the hope that they will listen to me. I couldn’t help myself but become frustrated, angry, amused, scared and desperate during the research process – and some of it is definitely mirrored in this less academic post here. This is why I didn’t want to hear, read or think about it anymore once I had handed it in last year. This is also however, why I feel like it is necessary to talk about it instead of just disregarding it as an insignificant minority movement or as ‘unreasonable’ but inavoidable darker part of the internet. The narrative these movements share is embedded in a global framework. While the incertainties of globalization fuel the insecurities of its members looking for a scapegoat, our still existing societal patriarchy presents the ‘relatable basis’ that people understand and where people can be picked up. Disregarding the broader picture of such a movement, makes their victimization narrative which is the basis of all discrimination stronger. Instead it is vital to understand the basis of their beliefs, to be able to present a counter-narrative, to solve the problems they define in a more civil way (more civil than: kill all men and more civil than rape all feminists), not least, to help these marginalized and obviously frustrated people to find a sense in life that does not involve demeaning and violating the rights of others.
(1) these quotes are not from RoK but from another prominent website in the socalled ‘manosphere’. If you need the source for academic reasons, let me know. Like explained above, I would rather not increase traffic in the websites.