“Something had happened in the last 20 years, where women are no longer trained to serve a man, to submit a man. The very idea of beauty and aesthetics is being demolished, to where, now, women are applauded and encouraged to look like fat outer-space cyborgs. Women and gays are seen as superior to straight men. Anything that a woman or a gay person wants is theirs. […] All of you here [speaking to his only male audience] are seen as rapists. You have to be thought how not to rape by a feminist who is really fat […]” (U.K. Men at war 2016).
This statement comes from the American Blogger and Pickup Artist (PUA) «Roosh V.» (Daryush Valizadeh) during his talk about «The State of Men» in the United Kingdom in 2015, as part of his world tour (“Roosh World Tour”). The talk was filmed for Reggie Yates Documentary called «U.K. Men at War». As we can see, Roosh V. believes that women today are seen as superior to men. As a result of feminism, every man is seen as a rapist in today’s world. Roosh V. writes about how men can sleep with women around the world («Bang Ukraine, bang Island, bang Poland, don’t bang Denmark» etc.) and believes that «no means no until it means yes» (U.K. Men at war 2016). His main interest is to expose how feminists nowadays oppress and accuse men of rape or domestic violence, as well as to show how today’s culture disfavours men (Mary 2016: 32). In 2017 he was banned from the U.K. by Theresa May. Women and activists in Canada protest outside his events against his misogynistic hate-speeches (2016: 1-2). Although his beliefs are very controversial, he claims to have one million monthly visitors on his websites («Return of the Kings» and his personal Blog, www.rooshv.com) (UK. Men at War 2016), which provides him with a huge audience to which he can spread his anti-feminist worldviews.
In the seminar «feminist theory» we talked a lot about different forms of discrimination and oppression of women, not only in the past, but also in the present. Among the participants of the seminar, the majority agreed that it is women who are disadvantaged and struggling in their everyday lives. But there are actually different-minded people out there who claim that women are now dominating men, that the latter are victims of abuse (Mary 2016: 90). They believe that men’s rights are being ignored and that feminism has constructed a “war on men” (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 10). This view is shared by Roosh V. and a lot of other men’s right activists (MRAs) around the world, who get together virtually in the «Manosphere», an anti-feminist online community and the online expression of the men’s rights movement (MRM), which emerged in the late 1980’s. As Lise Gotell and Emily Dutton state in their examination of the MRAs, the MRM, it can be regarded as backlash to feminism, which grew when feminists broke the silence around rape and sexual assault (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 66). In reality, every time they successfully challenge male dominance, anti-feminist movements grow stronger too (2016: 69).
It is important to explore and investigate the Manosphere, because through these social networks, users can spread their thoughts across the whole world (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 10). If their viewpoints on sexual violence, for example, grow in popularity, then the fight against gender specific violence will be slowed. Another reason why scholars started to study the Manosphere is because it spreads a negative picture of feminism. In a lot of political conservative contexts, feminists are depicted as persons who hate men, resulting the core goals of feminism – to reach equality between all humans – to be misunderstood (2016: 11). Lilly Mary shows in her thesis that the Manosphere has become “much more than just the website of online groups” (Mary 2016: 13), because words do have power and can define reality. In addition, we are all existing within discourses and not outside of them, so that’s why it is crucial to raise awareness about the Manosphere (2016: 16-17).
On these grounds this essay discusses the following two core questions: What is the Manosphere and how are feminism and feminists represented?
The four main texts I will refer to in the writing could be classified as “feminist studies of antifeminism” (Mary 2016: 13) meaning that subgroups of the Manosphere like the MRAs are being analyzed as embodying and reproducing a hegemonic form of masculinity and are read as a backlash against feminism (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 1).
To start, it is crucial to outline some main characteristics of the Manosphere as well as to show which players are present in the conversations. As already mentioned, the Manosphere is a cyber world in which people express their anti-feminist thoughts. But it’s not a closed community; sexist comments on online platforms can as well be seen as part of the Manosphere (Mary 2016: 1). The following definition from Mary’s thesis «’The World is Not a Safe Place for Men’. The Representational Politics of the Manosphere» helps to understand its main features: „The Manosphere is an informal cyberspace network of blogs, websites, and forums that concentrate on issues concerning men and masculinity — issues as diverse as men’s rights, the male sex role, sex and relationships with women, the economy and feminism. Commonly held amongst its frequenters is the feeling that the culture in the West is one of misandry — hatred of men and masculinity — that men are oppressed, and that women dominate and are more privileged than men“ (Mary 2016: 1). An important question besides the present topics and worldviews in the Manosphere is, why men (I focus on men here, but there are also women present sharing anti-feminist sentiments) use the websites of the Manosphere. Kazyak and Schmitz state that it serves to find like-minded men (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 2) and that men who feel powerless search support in MRAs websites to recapture their (lost) masculinity (2016: 12). Mary quotes Jeff Sharlet to show that there are a lot of different reasons why one would visit these websites. For example, to learn about ways to get women to sleep with them or to learn more about child custody etc. (Sharlet cited in Mary 2016: 43). Mary further states that the audience attracted to the ideas and worldviews in the Manosphere is very broad and varies by age and origin, but the biggest followers are found in North America (Mary 2016: 50). Two commonalities that almost all share are a financial, social or sexual frustration and a misogynous mindset (2016: 43).
Mary traces four main subgroups in the Manosphere: The first one is the men’s right activists (MRAs), which is the largest group and fights for men’s legal rights (2016: 44). Their conversations are extremely misogynistic, and they blame feminists for the decline of society (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 2). The second subgroup is the group called «Men Going Their Own Way» (MGTOW), which concerns itself with giving each other lifestyle advices. Some of the participants try not to get in contact with any women, because they are said not to be trustworthy (Lamoureux cited in Mary 2016: 46). The third subgroup consists of the PUA (“comedians” and men like Roosh V.), who give advice on how to get women to sleep with them (Mary 2016: 48). The fourth subgroup is called the «Involuntary Celibates» (Incels), which is a term for a community of men who think that mostly young and beautiful women owe them sexual pleasure and if they are denied it, it’s an oppression of men (2016: 49-50).
The topics discussed in the Manosphere are very diverse, but strikingly the word «feminism» is omnipresent, more on that later. The majority of users are of the mindset that women nowadays dominate men and some of them see themselves even as slaves of women (2016: 43). Therefore, they try to restore a particular version of traditional masculinity which is conflicting with the existing feminist claims (2016: 1). Faludi also theorizes that anti-feminist movements intensify as a response to a “crisis in masculinity” and therefore fight to bring women to the position they previously held (Faludi cited in Mary 2016: 13-14). Blais and Depuis-Déri remark that “masculinists not only scapegoat women and feminists for the problems men face […]. They also mobilize to defend male privileges (such as those related to the gender-based division of labour) and to oppose the real advances achieved by women“ (Blais and Depuis-Déri cited in Mary 2016: 15).
The assumptions of men in crisis, men at war or feminists fighting a war against men bases upon a specific notion of masculinity and manhood which can be found in the Manosphere as well. Theorists conceptualize this special form of masculinity as the so-called “hegemonic masculinity” (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 11). The concept was formulated in the 1990’s, when scholars started to think deeper about men, gender and social hierarchies. According to Connell and Messerschmidt the concept received a lot of criticism and is highly controversial, however it is still very useful to demonstrate power-relations when thinking about gender relations (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 829-831). Interestingly, the idea to fight the dominance of a special form of masculinity – the hegemonic masculinity – came from homosexual men: Because they experienced a lot of discrimination by heterosexual men, they started talking about and fighting this oppression (2005: 831). Actually, the authors explain that the concept is more like a model and expresses fantasies and desires. It does not correspond to the lives of a lot of men; it’s more of a normative societal picture of how men should be and behave (2005: 832; 838). In reality there are a lot of complex and diverse masculinities, but the hegemonic one is still the most honoured and requires men to position themselves in relation to it (2005: 835). Connell and Messerschmidt reformulate the concept in their work and summarize it as a concept that subordinates nonhegemonic masculinities, while the hegemony works through the production of masculine ideals, as sport stars for example (2005: 846).
So, how does a man have to be according to this hegemonic view? The typical hegemonic masculine subject is mostly white, heterosexual, physically strong and economically successful (Mary 2016: 24; Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 4). Kimmel further explains what hegemonic manhood means: “The hegemonic definition of manhood is a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power. We equate manhood with being strong, successful, capable, reliable, and in control. The very definitions of manhood we have developed in our culture maintain the power that some men have over other men and that men have over women” (Kimmel cited in Mary 2016: 26). In addition, men are represented as able-bodied, autonomous, independent, rational and invulnerable (2016: 26). In the quote above we can see that hegemonic masculinity does not only mean for men to be superior than women, but also than homosexual men or men who do not embody the prototypical man. Concrete examples for masculinity of the hegemonic form are specific sports like rugby, where domination, aggression, ruthlessness and competitiveness are fundamental (Light and Kirk cited in Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 850). Another important feature is the embodiment of masculinity like eating meat or taking risks (2005: 851).
In relation to women, boys and men who try to conquest women get prestige. The interaction with women, Connell and Messerschmidt argue, is central to the constitution of hegemonic masculinity because gender is always relational, and masculinity is mostly defined in differentiation to femininity (2005: 848). Above we could see that the characteristics with a high value in the Manosphere correspond to a hegemonic form of masculinity, what causes that femininity is seen as inferior and less valued than the requested masculinity. On MRA’s websites authors therefore are afraid of a “pussification of American men” (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 7) which will lead to weak, passive men on the bottom of society’s hierarchy (2016: 6-7).
With this background let’s now turn our attention to the representation of feminism and feminists in the Manosphere. Women, mostly presented as immoral, irresponsible, unintelligent and weak, feminists and feminism are these topics on the websites in the Manosphere which are most discussed (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 7; Mary 2016: 59). As already mentioned, authors blame feminism for giving women too much power and for hating men in general. For them, the goal of this “evil” feminism is to damage men and masculinity and to ignore men’s issues, interests and entitlement. Feminism combined with social liberalism is seen as the reason for men’s oppression. They say feminism is not about equality, it’s more something like Nazism: racist and anti-women (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 7-11; Mary 2016: 108). Feminism is further seen as unnecessary, because MRAs and other subgroups are convinced that women and men are already equal and therefore we don’t need feminism anymore. But not only do they think we are coequal, they now see themselves as the victims of sexism, and feminism is being responsible for the unhappiness of men and women (Mary 2016: 27; 90). This victim-narrative was also observed by Kazyak and Schmitz: The “Virtual Victims in Search of Equality” MRAs (a category of MRAs made by the authors) for example focus on the issues of men lacking rights (physically abused men) and on the institutional bias, through which men are falsely accused of rape (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 9). “This strategy of constructing men not only as being in crisis […] but also as being ignored by mainstream society lays the foundation for the additional tactics Virtual Victims implement in exposing what they view to be a societal-wide prejudice against men that resulted from feminism“ (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 9). At the same time a lot of PUAs describe women as invading while men are terrified, which is the result of a feminism said to aspire the decline of man. The same feminism is seen as female supremacism (Mary 2016: 91-92).
But that’s not all. Feminism for users in the Manosphere isn’t a concept or a way for critical thinking about power relations. It is an ideology: Mary comments on statements of a woman (!) called Janet Bloomfield (www.judgybitch.com, short JB) who speaks out extremely anti-feminist. She writes that feminists are “social terrorists” and in the future, millions of people could die because of feminism. JB further describes that feminists are unhygienic, using body fluids and do not care about their clothing (JB cited in Mary 2016: 90; 97). In MRAs discourses in the Manosphere, feminists are represented as incompetent, lazy and too stupid to achieve anything they want. Behind this lies the assumption that feminism “happens” because of an unconscious hatred of men or related to bad experiences with a male person in the past. Additionally, feminists who speak out publicly are often attacked because of their physical appearance (Mary 2016: 97) and called lynch-mobs (2016: 91). Finally, the most common representation of feminists in the Manosphere is that they are mean, bad and hate men (2016: 95-96).
One of the most disturbing images of feminism in the Manosphere is the argument, that feminism is anti-woman because, according to these arguments, the so-called “victim feminists” do not respect women but see them as children or victims (2016: 93). Victim feminism is criticized because in their opinion it stigmatizes all women as victims and all men as perpetrators (2016: 91; 95). They even go further and state that sexual violence (especially domestic violence) accusations and the “rape culture” are invented by feminism to harm and villainize men (2016 100).
In the Manosphere authors talk about two feminist “myths”: Firstly, in the online community it is accepted that the patriarchy is a feminist invention (2016: 101) and secondly, that statistics proving sexual abuses and violence are manipulated by feminists (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 69). MRAs in the Manosphere see the phenomenon of sexual violence as a “rape myth”. This is especially alarming because it trivializes the experiences of so many women in the world. Rebecca Solnit writes in one of the essays («The longest war», 2013) of her book «Men explain things to me» (2014) that in the U.S., every 6,2 minute a woman is raped (just the reported ones), that every fifth women was raped once in her lifetime (Solnit 2013: 33) and that every ninth second a woman is beaten (2013: 45). She ascertains that domestic violence is the biggest threat to women, and the main reason for the death of pregnant women are their husbands (2013: 46). This kind of crime is called “femicide” and describes the phenomenon of women getting murdered by their lovers, ex-partners or husbands (Solnit 2014: 103). Additionally, official statistics show that crimes of rape and sexual abuses are gendered and that men are guilty for the majority of sexual violence crimes (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 73).
The opinion about rape and sexual violence in the Manosphere is very different to what we learned above. Authors write about “domestic violence hysteria/industry” (Mary 2016: 101; 106) and talk mostly about false rape accusations which are used to demonize men. It’s even argued that women publicly accuse men of rape or sexual abuse to get money from them (2016: 103) and that’s why one commentator in the Manosphere wrote that “the world is not a safe place for men” (AVFM cited in Mary 2016: 106). Gotell and Dutton also found out that MRAs see the rape culture as no more than a “moral panic” (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 72). In the opinion of the Manosphere’s authors, sexual violence is a gender-neutral problem (2016: 96) and women are overrepresented as victims of rape (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 10). Women, in the theory of the domestic violence industry, are said to invent sexual abuses to gain the right of custody over children (Mary 2016: 106). MRAs even state that men are victims of sexual violence because they don’t have the same institutional support as women do. According to Roosh V. women also invent rape subsequently to sexual intercourse with a man to not be viewed by society as a “slut” (2016: 103). Roosh. V.’s solution against sexual violence is to make it legal when done on private property (2016: 105).
Gotell and Dutton oppose that in reality, false accusations are very rare and that female victims of sexual violence are still not believed in, do often not report the incident and are blamed to be guilty for the violence done to them (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 76).
Another argumentation the scholars found in the Manosphere mostly coming from PUAs is that if a sexual abuse has happened, it was the women’s fault. In this discourse they are differentiating and deciding about what a “real” rape and what a “false” rape are: The former happens in a public space through strange men where women aren’t seen as the guilty ones, while the latter occurs in privacy, at home, by someone the women know, and the fault is seen of the women herself (Mary 2016: 104-105). That’s why authors in the Manosphere believe women should take responsibility to prevent sexual violence and the best solution for them to not experience sexual abuse is to avoid getting drunk (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 69; 76).
Conclusion and Critique
To answer to the first question of the essay, we can conclude that the Manosphere, an online community fighting for men’s issues, is composed of four different subgroups (MRAs, PUAs, MGTOW and Incels), which all concentrate on issues concerning men and masculinities. The Manosphere helps men (and women) to connect with other anti-feminist thinkers to interchange opinions; it also serves men to recapture masculinity or to find advices concerning women. What almost all authors of the Manosphere share is a misogynous, anti-feminist worldview and a frustration in their lives. In the Manosphere, the underlying ideal of how a man has to be is theoretically conceptualized as hegemonic masculinity: A man has only a high value if he has power (social, sexual, physical and financial) over nonhegemonic masculinities (homosexuals, non-white humans and women for example). We further saw that the hegemony works through the production of the ideal man playing rugby, being rude, taking risks and eating meat. The studies I referred to confirmed that the predominant manhood found in the Manosphere reproduces the hegemonic form of masculinity.
A further conclusion can be made concerning the second question of the essay, on how feminism and feminists are represented in the Manosphere. Both are presented in a deeply negative way: Feminists are seen as aggressive, dumb, ugly, unintelligent and full of hatred of men while feminism is blamed to be guilty for the decline of all men.
As we saw in the last part of the discussion, members of the Manosphere see issues, about which feminism was successful in raising awareness, like sexual violence, as a non-gendered problem and think that we live in a world full of false rape accusations in order to villainize all men.
What can be said against this view, is that feminist empirical studies in the 1980s and 1990s already showed (by Nicola Gavey for example) that rape was a crime committed widespread, but not only rape through “strangers” (in the Manosphere viewed as ‘real’ rape) but mostly through men known to their victims (Gavey cited in Gotell and Dutton 2016: 72). The construction of a discourse about “real” and “false” rape is disastrous, because is constitutes a somehow legitimate (“real”) rape and converts the “false” rape into a private issue (remember Roosh V. saying that rape should be legalized on private property). If women are held accountable for the experienced violence, it obscures that sexual violence is gendered and that men perpetrate the majority of sexual violence (Johnson and Dawson cited in Gotell and Dutton 2016: 73). In the Manosphere, violence against women is not only played down, it is also normalized – which is something we can see in our society in general. The ex-husband of Tina Turner, for example, said once in an interview, that he did beat Tina, but not more often than every husband beats his wife (Solnit 2013: 45).
The narratives about feminist myths (rape as a “moral panic”, the “domestic violence industry”, patriarchy as a “feminist invention”) reproduce violence towards women. Not only do they trivialize the traumas after sexual violence, they also blame the victims for being raped. According to this view, the biggest victim is not the raped women, but the “falsely” accused perpetrator. If this assumption of a world full of false accusations popularizes, it will get even harder for victims to report the incidents, which is really dramatic and has to be prevented.
Another conclusion which can be made after the discussion of the representations of feminism and feminists in the Manosphere is that there are obviously a lot of men fearing their own decline and their position in society, which has to be analysed and taken seriously. In my opinion, we should talk more about femininities and masculinities and not only about the former. A step towards this change was the Swiss campaign “16 days against violence towards women” organized by the cfd (a feminist peace organisation), where they talked mainly about notions of masculinities and violence. Still there is not enough being done to raise awareness in this area.
The Manosphere and its perceptions of women and violence has to be taken seriously because of various reasons: First of all, it can be dangerous for all of us, but especially for women: People already got murdered or injured through an Incel (Involuntary Celibates) who claimed a “War on Women” (Elliot Rodger, 2014) or through one who attacked people and wrote that the “Incel rebellion has already begun” (Alek Minassian, Toronto 2018). Additionally, Gotell and Dutton showed in their analysis of the MRAs that young men are more and more visiting misogynist websites (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 72) and attending on “Comedy Shows” from PUAs like Daniel Oreilly who makes jokes about rape: “Just show her your penis, if she cries, she’s playing hard to get” (U.K. Men at war 2016).
The next point of the conclusion contains the problematics of a constant dichotomization or opposition between men and women and a strong notion of “us versus them” (Gotell and Dutton 2016: 70) inherent to the representations of women of the Manosphere. The negative presentation of women and feminists is especially being used to legitimate the existing gender hierarchies and to privilege men (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 7). The running down of other people always serves to upgrade one’s own group value, which was already shown by Fredrik Barth (1969) in his theory of ethnic boundaries, which now seems a little far-fetched, but is still useful to understand dichotomizations and boundary maintaining processes (Barth 1969: 15-16). Barth explained that a group can only be constructed and maintained through differentiating itself from another, different group (1969: 10). As Connell and Messerschmidt explain citing Schwalbe: “[…] any strategy for the maintenance of power is likely to involve a dehumanizing of other groups and a corresponding withering of empathy and emotional relatedness within the self” (Schwalbe cited in Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 852).
This evidence is simply used to show how hard it is to overcome the binary assumptions between men and women, if the worldview of the Manosphere is growing or getting popular. Mary even explains that the strict maintenance of this boundary in the Manosphere helps to keep the masculine domination over women (Mary 2016: 23-24).
As a last conclusion it can be said that the representation of feminism in the Manosphere is very simplistic and does not capture the actual goals of it. Not only does it fail to capture the heterogeneity of feminist movements, its contradictions and ambiguities, it also supports the perception that feminism can only benefit either women or men (Kazyak and Schmitz 2016: 10). Personally, I think this is a widespread prejudice about feminism and that’s why I pledge for a broader discussion of feminist topics in society. For me, feminism means definitely not to hate men or to wish for women’s supremacy, it means to fight for equality of all genders.
Barth, Fredrik 1969: Introduction. In: Barth, Fredrik (Ed.): Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The Social Organisation of Culture Difference. Long Grove, Illinois, Waveland Press. 9-37.
Connell, Raewyn and Messerschmidt James W. 2005: Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept. GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 19 No. 6: 829-859.
Gotell, Lise and Dutton Emily 2016: Sexual Violence in the ‘Manosphere’: Antifeminist Men’s Rights Discourses on Rape. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. Canada, 5 (2): 65-80.
Kazyak, Emily and Schmitz Rachel M. 2016: Masculinity in Cyberspace: An Analysis of Portrayals of Manhood in Men’s Rights Activist Websites. In: Social Science. 5. Jg., Heft 2. S. 1-16.
Lilly, Mary 2016: ‚The World is Not a Safe Place for Men‘: The Representational Politics of the Manosphere. University of Ottawa, Canada.
Solnit, Rebecca 2013: Der längste Krieg. In: Solnit Rebecca 2017: Wenn Männer mir die Welt erklären. München: btb-Verlag. 33-60.
Solnit Rebecca 2014: Großmutter Spinne. In: Solnit Rebecca 2017: Wenn Männer mir die Welt erklären. München: btb-Verlag. 93-112.
«Extreme U.K.: Men at War» (Season 2, Episode 6) 2016. Netflix Series «Outside Man» from Reggie Yates, London, U.K.
This essay was written for the course "feminist theory", Department for Sociology, University of Bern.