It’s no secret that for the past few years there has been a dramatic assault over women’s rights, re-opening questions that were thought to be settled for decades. From contraception to abortion to basic protection from rape, (seen in Congress’s failure to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act), it seems that centuries of struggle have been re-opened.
However beneath the public debates over contraception and abortion there has been a different kind of struggle over gender. In the underbelly of the internet, what can only be called a new misogyny has emerged but hasn’t received the kind of attention it needs.
The community that characterize this misogyny call themselves the Manosphere, an interlocking network of blogs for “men’s rights” activists (MRAs), pickup artists (PUA) and some online gamers. Unlike the mainstream conservative conceptions of women, the views espoused by the manosphere harkens back to what can only be described as a proto-fascist, and surprisingly, is becoming more popular on the internet.
The sites seek to empower men and fulfill their “proper roles” in society as "Alphas" to manage women who are supposedly evolutionarily pre-disposed to be dominated by men (most talk of "alpha" and “beta”-males originated from these sites). The ideas themselves are an odd blend of the pseudoscience Neuro-linguistic programming and evolutionary psychology but they have chilling implications for the practitioners.
MRAs often favor policies as regressive as re-legalizing martial rape, preventing women from going into higher education, and with some going so far as to want to abolish female suffrage entirely (yes really) lest it interfere with women’s societal priorities as baby makers.
What’s odd isn’t just the intensity of the regression but also the completely apolitical nature of it. Unlike conservatives who view women’s roles in a context of a broader political project, MRAs only interest is in women themselves, with little regard to politics insofar as it doesn’t affect men's power over men. Indeed some of the hot button issues regarding women in American politics, from abortion to birth control are generally superfluous if not outright ignored by the community.
Originally it started off as a small movement of “men’s rights” activists in the late 1970s. However it didn’t grow until the development of the pickup community in the 80s and 90s. Much like the MRAs, PUAs base their practice on many of the same views, often relying on the dubious work of evolutionary psychology (good critiques of which can be found here and here). After pickup was popularized in the 2000s with the VH1 show The Pick Up Artist and the New York Times bestseller The Game, the communities melded with the MRAs to create the manosphere.
Recently it seems that the recession has been a major boon to their ideology. Because times are tough on both sexes, but especially hard on positions of employment typically held by men, it has been fuel for gender resentment. As the New York Times points out in an article titled The Myth of Male Decline:
What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance. Between 2010 and 2011, men and women working full time year-round both experienced a 2.5 percent decline in income. Men suffered roughly 80 percent of the job losses at the beginning of the 2007 recession.
It also seems the other factor growing this community, especially the pickup community, has been a lack of sex. As Sandy Hingston points out
in an examination of twenty-something men, the situation is grim. The economy has made it so that “[y]oung men are now nearly twice as likely as young women to live with their parents; 59 percent of guys ages 18 to 24 and 19 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds live at home.” Indeed according to the Centers for Disease Control, even virginity has increased
In a way, the manosphere acts like a kind of self-help group for these kinds of problems with a clear sales pitch: “Can’t get a job? Can’t get laid? Still live with your mom? No fear, we’ll teach you how to pick up women and become a true Alpha Male. It’s those feminists trying to keep you down.”
It’s worth examining the pickup techniques themselves. On first examination, the techniques do seem to be effective. As one German study found, in a small group of 17 men and 23 women, men were able to pick up almost four times as many phone numbers after the training. However it came with a catch, in the same study, both men and women said they felt considerably guilt for using the techniques, a reportedly common problem for people in the PUA community.
A larger study by the University of Kansas came with even more worrying findings. Using 850 national volunteers it was found that pickup techniques have a selection bias: they work best with men and women who already have sexist attitudes. As it observed, hostilely sexist men (men who hate women) and benevolently sexist women (women who idolize men) were the most likely to benefit from pickup techniques. That is, the techniques create a self-fulfilling prophecy which confirms the sexist biases of the PUAs.
On the one hand we might ask why we should even care. While it might have grown, the new misogyny is still a marginal force.
To put it simply, it is successful because people don’t care; seeing it as an immature self-help tool and not as a full-blown ideology. Most other hateful ideologies operate semi-publicly: pointing to a scapegoat and then recruiting people to attack it. This does the opposite; it appears as neutral training and instills a scapegoat through its methods.
Imagine for instance if people gave supposedly non-ideological training to “Avoid Money Manipulation” (AMM). As part of AMM training it gives characteristics of people that will try to manipulate your money, and that these people just happened to be Jewish; you see it’s not anti-Semitic, it’s because of evolutionary-you get the idea.
Indeed we may be witnessing a shift for hateful ideologies; no longer able to function publicly, they now rely on supposedly neutral, private training to instill and spread their values.
This in a sense has always been the refuge of hate groups, to keep their mode of operation secret, even if this now means making their beliefs a semi-secret as well. Thus, the best we have to confront these kinds of attitudes is to make them known to the public.