For nearly 20 years the manosphere (a network of forums, sites and platforms centred on a particular brand of toxic masculinity and misogyny) has sucked in, chewed up, and spit out freshly-radicalised misogynistic white men. The manosphere originated in the late ‘90s, when a Google group called “alt.seduction.fast” quickly developed into an underground movement of pick-up artists (PUAs), which spawned a global industry. The group still exists to this day. As its popularity spread, the movement brought together swathes of men seeking to understand, compete and rank their manhood.
In the late ‘90s the phrase “alpha male” was first bandied around in popular culture; the textbook model of the dominant man. By 2005 Neil Strauss’ handbook for coercing and manipulating women – The Game – brought the term into common usage. The manosphere continued to develop its own language and culture deriving from bodybuilding forums, frat movies, dating sites, fathers’ rights group and so on. Although the movement spread offline, it preserved its most raw, uncensored emotions over the Internet. Amongst them Reddit emerged.
Reddit’s manosphere regulars were often gamers, the socially awkward, the burnt and bitter. They had received higher education, were more “intelligent” and with this came an expectation that love, sex, money and success should fall into place. Reddit’s core demographic is men aged 18-29 years old; a generation known as the “millennials”. Data collected about this generation has shown increased signs of narcissism and entitlement compared to preceding generations. In her book, Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Dr. Jean Twenge says, “If we look at college students…[millennials]…there was a steady increase in narcissistic personality traits.” This could have something to do with the digital revolution that occurred when most millennials came of age. Reddit became a volatile mix of arrogance and painfully low self-esteem; men who desired women but deeply resented them, men who believed they were owed the world. Soon wealth, mobility and other social issues joined the narrative.
“Men Going Their Own Way”(MGTOW) continue this momentum as an online community that resents an alleged bias against men in child custody cases, rape allegations and dating. Many consider MGTOW, as well as the wider “men’s rights” movement, to be a backlash against feminism which has apparently tipped the scales in favour of women. This analysis conveniently overlooks the fact that women earn up to £300,000 less than men in their working lives, and that sexual harassment and assault disproportionately impact women whilst remaining a matter of entitlement for its perpetrators.
Of course when entitlement fails to be realised whether through romantic rejection or chronic unemployment, there’s going to be bitterness and a desperate need for scapegoats. This often comes in the form of racism; “black men are taking our women, xenophobia; “immigrants are taking our jobs” and misogyny; “women are bitches/sluts/frigid”.
Over time these beliefs leaned increasingly to the right and the white. Why this racial bias? Because there is a correlation between privilege and entitlement. Traditionally the white male has been at the top of social hierarchy and as with any perceived threat, the status quo turns hatred towards the Other, and in this case scorn for the “lib-tards” who emasculated their generation. Thus came the birth of the alt-right.
The alt-right are ideologically fascist although veer away from religion as the traditional driving force. These men may not look like red-faced pastors from the Bible-belt but the worlds of the traditional right and alt-right are intrinsically linked. The alt-right embodies and unites many of the disparate strands of the manosphere, fetters them to conservatism, and essentially provides a solace for legions of disgruntled white men.
Catering for these very legions, in 2007 Andrew Breitbart founded Breitbart News with the intention to engage in political and cultural issues like “too much” immigration, political correctness “gone mad” and other populist views.
Breitbart’s executive chair Steve Bannon now sits as the White House’s chief strategist. In the UK, the same reactionary rumblings found voice after Brexit, as pro-Euro voters were branded “remoaners”, sore losers and elitist. Tragically, this volatile, fascist ideology manifested in the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by right-wing extremist Thomas Mair. Of course this act was never widely branded as terrorism despite Nigel Farage’s threat that violence would be “the next step” if immigration was not reduced.
The alt-right’s alarming “success” is directly linked to sites like Reddit providing an army of disgruntled white men ripe for recruitment, and game for perpetrating online abuse and offline attacks. Fortunately cyber media works both ways, so high-profile stories like the deaths of Sarah Reed in Holloway prison in the UK, and Philando Castile and Alton Stirling at the hands of police in the US don’t remain untold, or glossed over. Note that #BlackLivesMatter is the third most used social issue hashtag on Twitter.
As much as the alt-right has benefitted from technology, and as many times as Trump has sounded off on Twitter, people of colour and their supporters can and have been using these platforms for social activism. The internet brings the world to our fingertips, with the potential for radicalisation to spread like wildfire. In some cases popular media like– memes and hashtags fanning the flames – what are they but modern propaganda? We know that some parts of the internet enable white men to be radicalised via forums where tips on coercing women into sex are traded with impunity. But at the same time we can take solace in the fact that on other platforms, users are busy uniting and organising to push-back against the groundswell of alt-right bigotry.