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Men: MRA and the Manosphere -what's in the names?

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

‘Manosphere’. The word alone can act like a weird spell, casted out from a book of black magic and sending many (mostly women) into a mixed state of confusion, panic, prejudices, and hatred. ‘Manosphere’… Isn’t that the name of a lurky world? A dark, underground world? A world where rabid men, 'like witches at black masses' (yes, I stole that one from Black Sabbath), are gathering to indulge in ‘hatred-against-women-violent-sexism-misogynistic-abuse-scorn-loathing-anti-feminism-glorification-of-the-patriarchy'? BOO!!

If you were to listen to most neo-feminists, let alone most mass medias echoing their ideologies (sensationalist and scary headlines always sell sheets, after all...) you could be excused to believe such fearmongering nonsense. First thing first, then, as a man, I can tell you this for sure: the manosphere is whatever you want it to be, and whatever you’re looking for in it in the first place, depending on what you are thinking, first, of men.

Do you believe that men are a problem, the embodiment of sexism, misogyny, and a patriarchal mindset oppressive of women (#YesAllWomen!)? Then here goes: the manosphere is their realm. Do you believe, on the contrary, that blaming the patriarchy for every problem encountered by women (institutionally, politically, economically, and even, individually) is as disempowering and infantilising as it is populist, since the patriarchy always has been a co-created system with men too (yes, #MenToo!) having issues that women themselves have been contributing to exacerbate? Then here goes too: the manosphere is also their place, to challenge the status quo when it comes to stifling gender stereotypes and expectations.

Which trend has the upper hand, though?

I want here to write about two books, both by women, and dealing, somehow, albeit with different angles and priorities, with the (gasp!) ‘manosphere’. One is titled ‘Men who Hate Women -The Extremism Nobody is Talking About’, by Laura Bates, and the other ‘What Do Men Want? Masculinity and Its Discontents’, by Nina Power. Both books are relevant, insightful in their own way, and yet cannot be anymore opposite. How is that?

With ‘Men who Hate Women’, Laura Bates claims to have investigated the so-called ‘manosphere’. Well, bad luck: she, in fact, did nothing of the sort, and it shows right from the get-go, in the parti pris and method that she used to supposedly ‘investigate’.

Here is an author indeed who, because she was concerned *only* about extreme misogyny, had to therefore follow *only* these trails leading to… extreme misogynists (duh!). Put bluntly: she fell into the rabbit holes that she otherwise want to denounce. More, as all other trails were deliberately ignored, as they didn’t serve her original purpose (exposing the manosphere as a bunch of fanatic women-haters) all other perspectives have been, as a result, completely ignored, distorting thus the whole perspective.

Now, of course, such tunnel vision is not a bad thing per se. After all, the rabbit holes are there, and there are, indeed, extreme misogynists whose ideas are outdated at best, dangerous at worse, and certainly not serving men’s causes for sure. Men, in fact, would be foolish to ignore such circles, let alone dismiss their potential for toxicity, abuse, and even murderous violence. As such, hers remains a highly recommended read -if anything, to at least not have our heads buried in the sand.

The blatant fact that she fails to reckon with, though, is that the internet, as it is, is, anyway, a place where cranks, crackpots, looneys, weirdos, and fanatics of all sorts can find tiny corners to gather and cross-pollinate, away from the rest of us (not that they are hidden, but that the rest of us remains so unconcerned that we don’t pay them the attention they deserve). The question we ought to ask, then, is how truly representative such cranks, crackpots, looneys, weirdos, and fanatics of all sorts are of the movements they purport to embody? When it comes to the manosphere, Laura Bates doesn’t ask; she assumes. And that’s the problem.

After all, one could also write a whole book focusing only the misandrists, men-bashing jeremiads of a whole fringe of modern days female victimhood (first inherited from radical feminism, yet those tenets have become so mainstream that Christina Hoff Sommers had already re-labelled them ‘gender feminism’ more than three decades ago…) and conclude thereof that these men-bashing, misandrist populists are representative of what feminism as a whole has come to… Would it be fair?

If you are prejudiced against women and feminism, then, of course, such approach could be relevant. Similarly, if you are prejudiced against men, and, especially, men campaigning to better their lot, you will also find Laura Bates’ stance relevant. Her book is, actually, peppered with gratuitous statements, lampooning campaigning men as having been hijacked by misogynists, patriarchs, and, even, White supremacists! Here’s one:

‘At the root of manosphere communities and white supremacy is a shared belief that the core, sacred purpose of man is to have sex, to procreate and to dominate.’

Of course, most men, here, will find it amusing to have a woman telling them that their ‘core’ belief about being a man is ‘to have sex, procreate and dominate’! I didn’t know that this was what manhood was all about to us (nor did the men I know of) but, eh! Thanks for the information. It’s always a pleasure to have feminists lecturing men about what men think… Her sexism and prejudice, though, would be amusing only it were to apply solely to the remote male online communities that she ‘investigated’. Sadly, it doesn’t: it also applies to most men, as a demographic.

And so here we go again! Despite every official statistic showing than women are safer among men than men themselves, and despite piling research having proven time and again, ever since Erin Pizzey opened her first women shelter back in the 1970s, that women are as likely to engage in domestic violence as men, facts get tossed asides to, instead, vilify men as being endemically violent towards women, a violence which is supposedly ‘normalised’:

‘Men hurt women. It is a fact. It is an epidemic. It is a public health catastrophe. It is normal.’

‘Epidemic’? ‘Public health catastrophe’? 'Normal'? Such gender stereotyping and populist scaremongering, of course, is hardly surprising, given that it has become the drumbeat of gender feminists, fully echoed in the mass medias (again, never shy of indulging in sensationalist and scary headlines to sell their sheets). Fear of men as being all 'potential danger' has become the new zeitgeist. But what of women who don’t share such misandrist views, let alone give in to such irrational panic?

Nina Power is, first and foremost, a philosopher. As such, she therefore values Reason over rampant sensationalism, which gives her little patience for the gender feminists running around, terrified, and fearfully gesticulating that they are raped, murdered, abused, and harassed at ‘stratospheric level’ (a hyperbolic expression for sure, yet carelessly used by Bates...). She, then, doesn’t fall down a rabbit hole, and it reflects in her goal writing ‘What Do Men Want?’:

‘We have lost sight today of the possibility of linking masculinity to goodness -and this, above all, is what I want to defend… it is unfair and untrue (...) to damn men and masculinity as such.’

And indeed, while others indulge in hyperboles and sexist stereotypes (portraying men as domineering brutes obsessed with sex) Nina Power, on the contrary, relies on cultural history and etymology to remind us of what ‘the core, sacred purpose of man’ is really about:

‘…we get the word ‘virtue’ from vir, an ancient term across several languages that means, above all, ‘man’… For the Ancient Greeks, to be a man was not to display one’s sexual prowess, nor was it to enact brute force or to be aggressive in any way. It was instead a question of behaviour of the noblest and highest kinds… to be virile was to be self-possessed and to take care of oneself, the better to support others.’

Ancient ethos inherited from the Classical era are far from being irrelevant. The gender feminist might be busy mis-portraying the manosphere as being a bunch of violent misogynists (who exists, let’s not kid ourselves), yet it’s in fact peopled with men, so fed up with the narrowing stereotypes offered by the popular culture, that they are, indeed, looking towards ancient ideal of manhood -from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome up to the Renaissance era and beyond- for sources of inspiration.

Far from being concerned with warring against feminism, most of such men are, also, mostly preoccupied about becoming better individuals, in every aspect of their life: from being fit to being cultured, and from being good husbands to being good fathers. The Art of Manliness, probably one of the most popular blogs tackling all sorts of men’s interests and issues (e.g. grooming, fathering, dating, relationships, character building etc.), created and run by Brett McKay and his wife (so much for misogyny!) counts, alone, several millions of followers, scattered across the Western world. You bet, here’s not one of these bubbles, struggling to number even a few hundred of thousand of individuals only, yet presented by Bates as being representative of what’s going on with men these days!

Far from seeing such communities as the enemy, Nina Power, also, perfectly acknowledges that their goals are in fact benefiting women too. What's wrong indeed with men extricating themselves from traditional gender roles, taking care of themselves, and aspiring to be better than their forefathers? 'Mens sana in corpore sano'.

Are such men 'activists'? I believe that every man striving to reject the sexism incarcerating us all into suffocating gender boxes are so. Yet, to be fair, I am not sure whether most men evolving in the manosphere would call themselves such. This is quite sad. If the gender feminist has succeeded in doing something, it’s indeed to have the term so negatively loaded that even most men whose mindset, attitude, and purpose fit with what the men’s right movement always purported to be (going back to the 1960s and 1970s) are now rather uncomfortable labelling themselves as such. Theirs, in fact -and interestingly enough- is not unlike that of most women, firmly rejecting the label ‘feminist’ simply because they associate it solely with misandry, victimhood, and male bashing jeremiads (another sad achievement of the gender ones, and her hijacking of gender debates and issues...).

What is sure, though, is that Laura Bates’ mis-portrayal is highly problematic.

I have no doubt that, as a person, she is everything but a misandrist. She makes the point over and over again: the toxic, sexist, misogynist cross-pollinating on and offline of parts of the trends she followed (incels, Men Going Their Own Way, pick-up artists, the MRA) are not only hurting women, but men also, and, especially, influenceable young men and boys. Every parent should indeed be concerned about the materials our kids can easily access online, and, to be fair, as a parent, I share some of her concerns too (for my sons, for my daughter). What is counter-productive, though, and lead her stance to misandrist attitudes as a collateral damage, are her misguided bias on most such trends.

The problem with her is that she subscribe to gender feminism, an ideological parti pris which shows in how misinformed she is on countless topics. Her tunnel vision, of course, doesn’t help. But what is the MRA?

The MRA are men concerned about men’s mental health, especially given that men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women are. Does she care? She claims so, but her attitude leads to the opposite: while organisations are struggling raising awareness about men taking their own lives, she, here, dedicates a few pages defending the #KillAllMen hashtag as being funny, and certainly not something that feeds a toxic culture when it comes to consider men’s lives as disposable. Well, no: joking about murdering men, when they’re already dying at the rate they do (suicide, but, also, for being more likely to be victim of crimes than women are, besides having a shorter life expectancy) is about as funny as joking about, say, rapes or wives being assaulted by their male partners.

The MRA are men concerned about domestic abuse affecting men, including post separation abuse; for example, when fathers are being cut off from the lives of their children, with family laws still being trapped in the 1950s and relegating dads to second class parents. Does she care? She claims so, but her attitude leads to the opposite: while official bodies and the independent research on the topic has been showing, time and again, that domestic violence is not gendered, she rubbishes the real prevalence of domestic and family violence perpetrated by women as being ‘misinformation’, relying, instead, on the pseudo-science peddled by women organisations who, themselves, have become a complete betrayal of what the women shelters movements purported to be in the first place.

The MRA is, again, men concerned about redefining manhood away from toxic masculinity, most by offering models ranging from the Classic era to the Renaissance and, against the stereotypes peddled by the sexists. Does she care? She claims so (she pays lips service to a few male organisations doing just that) but, here too, as her book is peppered with gratuitous statements implying that most of it are, on the contrary, misogynistic White Supremacists, she contributes nothing but to obscure their purpose to change the status quo.

There is an irony here: a growing number of women are demanding of men to be accountable for the toxic elements among their ranks (and rightly so, for they must), but are seeing absolutely nothing wrong in they, themselves, adhering to the tenets of the most toxic elements among theirs. But, these tenets are no less poisonous.

The portrayal of men as violent or subscribing to the normalisation of violence feeds nothing but misandrist clichés to fuel a gender war. The vilification of fathers’ right activists not as loving, caring, nurturing dads wanting to be involved in the life of their children, but as domestic abusers and child molesters (as we have seen during the recent debate on updating the Domestic Abuse Bill) feeds the rise of fatherlessness as much as the burdening of women with childcare (and its most negative feature for them: motherhood penalty). The ignoring of millions of men, currently engaged into redefining manhood away from toxicity, as being ‘misogynist and White supremacists’ contributes nothing in liberating such men from narrow, stifling gender stereotypes and expectations -despite it being a liberating that future generation of boys desperately need. And, last but not least, the shrugging off of mocking memes (the #KillAllMen hashtag; but I could also have mentioned the selling of mugs and T-shirts mocking ‘male tears’) as mere ‘banter’ is an insult to those battling for better awareness when it comes to male mental health, especially when here’s an issue which, indeed, does kill (and that’s not an hyperbole: men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women are, suicide remaining the first cause of death for men under 45). Don’t we all deserve better?

In the end, then, if you want to be aware and warned about what is going on in some lurky corners of the internet, and the toxic, murderous impact such individuals can have once in a blue moon, feel free to read Bates. Cranks and looneys are easy to mock, yet cranks and looneys is precisely what radical feminism was back in the 1970s, and yet look what happened to feminism since then... But, if you really want a dialogue, an understanding of where manhood stands as it is, and of what the overall majority of men truly want, then, quite frankly, you’ll be better off reading Nina Power. Scaremongering nonsense (women dying at ‘stratospheric level’ because men are supposedly obsessed with sex and dominating) is great to sell sheets, but there’s enough of it in the mass medias, and we desperately need to learn how to revalue Reason over such sensationalism. Next time you hear the word ‘manosphere’, then, just don’t panic. There’s no need to.

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