What is behind the current wave of online misogyny?
Illustration: Kelsey Borch
Disclaimer: In order not to foster hate speech or give these groups more publicity I will not name them in this article. However, that information is readily available and any internet search with the main themes in this article will lead you to their page or the main proponents of.
Some days it feels like the Internet is made of equal parts cat pictures and hate. Which is a shame, because I quite like cats. In many ways, technology has brought the wonderful gift of connection and support for people that needed a safe space. Groups like LGBTI teens that sometimes feel alone and isolated have found support and encouragement in stories of other teens that have gone through the same issues. Gender and sexual violence survivors have found solace and strength sharing their own stories without judgement or question of their loving peers. But, I’m not talking about those groups. Today, I’ve decided to write about the increase of communities of a different kind – hate groups.
For every wave of feminism and women’s rights achievement there is a very strong wave of backlash from those who feel threatened by change and wish to maintain the status quo. This is not necessary an intentional pattern for the individuals that engage in sexist or misogynistic groups, but they would generically identify their motive for engaging in such communities to feelings of disenfranchisement as if they were “losing their rightful place in the world”.
Usually, members of hate or neofascist groups have a hard time understanding how the promotion of equality and improvement of Human Rights for all does not necessarily mean the loss or removal of rights that they have. It’s about building a world where your gender; skin colour, sexual orientation and other innate characteristics would not be an obstacle for people achieving their highest potential. The caveat in our current online scenario is that we have young techy-savvy people who have embarked in this very reactionary journey without any self-awareness.
The majority of the members of these online groups are young white males, who mostly would also identify as libertarian and atheist and in general they seem comfortable with liberal terminology. They seem to think they are rational and evidence-oriented, when in fact, the sheer presence in those groups show that in many levels they operate solely under biases and bigotry.
There is plenty of evidence to such. In discussions, they would claim, “feminism is a sexual strategy”, which makes no sense and has no basis on gender literature. Or they would question, “what ever did feminists do to help men”, apart from the obvious answer that men already are privileged by the system and a more equitable society would benefit us all. Many feminists groups have worked to support LGBTI groups, support the construction of non-violent masculinities, as well as, the fight for men and women to perform the social roles that they are more inclined to play, not the roles they are pressured by society to perform (allowing men to be more nurturing, and women to take leadership roles, among others). But I digress – many followers of these doctrinarian groups would not think before repeating that women have only reached “success” through affirmative action or sexual favours, basically stating that only heterosexual white males are “worthy” of success, often subscribing to biological essentialism. Other examples of biological essentialism include saying that women reached their peak at 25 and there is no point dating any older, while men get increasingly better with age, which is often shown in graph format and it has no criteria or basis. So, nobody knows in what aspects men and women are being compared and where the source for comparison comes from. But then again, throughout history, hate groups have used pseudo-science* to justify completely bogus claims, so that does not come as a shock.
It is important to point out that, in practice, those groups have done little to nothing to advance human rights for men and their social protection. So far, all money they have raised in imitating and funnelling donations away from the White Ribbon anti-domestic-violence charity have not gone to male victims of violence. They have not started petitions and serious campaigns to increase paternity leave. They basically have spend their time and money criticizing feminism and trying to de-fund women’s rights charity appeals.
The way they operate is very effective in its format, much like cult groups, they prey on the vulnerable to inflate their self-worth and believe they are part of “something bigger”. Basically they target socially awkward and/or jilted boys and men and they peer pressure them in a routine of self-improvement and confidence, which tends to generate more success with the opposite sex (I say opposite sex, because even though the content of the discussions tend to be very homoerotic, the members of those groups identify almost exclusively as heterosexual). They teach them pick-up artistry tricks that borderline on abuse and coercion. Then, these communities – in an almost sociopath-like manner – teach these boys and men that women are worthless and disposable, thereby perpetuating hatred, legitimating violence, creating an entire generation of boys and men who would not be able to have any type of meaningful relationship with women.
In order to counteract those harmful influences and movement is part of the responsibility of feminist organisations and women’s rights movements that work specially with young girls to warn them to protect themselves from emotional abuse, empower them to feel worthy and to walk away at any sign of nagging (putting girls down, so they would want to show their worth). We have to strive to support women and girls to believe in themselves and what they are able to achieve regardless of all these movements determined to bring them down.
Even though my interest in studying those groups may have arisen from my concern about the well-being of girls and supporting feminist discourse online without being afraid of doxing or censorship, I can’t help but feel sorry for some of these boys. In many ways, they are told that what they are isn’t good enough. They have to change themselves, be aggressive and stop caring about other people’s feelings. They don’t realise that women are not so one-dimensional, that being caring and respectful is very valuable and loving relationships requite mutual respect and trust.
* Scientific racism is the use of scientific techniques and hypotheses to sanction the belief in racial superiority, inferiority or racism. This is not the same as using scientific findings and the scientific method to investigate differences among races. These pseudoscientific interpretations were at the core of Nazi and Fascist ideologies of racial superiority as well as the justification for colonisation. Examples of these “theories” can be better explained in: Racism in the Service of Fascism, Empire-Building and War; Scientific Racism: Persistence and Change; and The legacy of Malthus: the social costs of the new scientific racism.