By Ginger Gorman
If you’re wondering where you might’ve heard the name Laura Bates before, she’s the internationally known English feminist writer who started the powerful Everyday Sexism website in April 2012. As the project suggests, Bates was attempting to document and draw attention to seemingly pedestrian examples of sexism. She was unprepared for the scale of participation. Within three years, the website had more than 100,000 entries. In 2014, Bates released a book by the same name.
Her latest book, Men Who Hate Women, takes a different tact and promises to delve into the so-called online ‘mansophere’ – a collection of online forums and websites promoting a masculinity that’s hostile to women – documenting the recruitment and radicalisation of misogynist men and how these ideologies seep into public discourse at every level.
She writes: ‘This is a radical, extremist movement, at least tens of thousands of members strong, that deliberately spreads a doctrine of hate fuelled misogyny and male supremacy, and actively advocates for the violent rape and murder of women.’
The book posits itself as a fascinating undercover investigation and has some strong points but also some weaknesses. The author interviews former members of these misogynist groups and lays bare how they operate. From personal experience, I can say it’s not so hard to get current members of these groups to talk. So, I wondered why she didn’t take this approach.
She notes men of disparate social and economic groups partaking in this extreme discourse but finds commonality in their desire to belong.
Bates further documents the history of men’s rights groups and shows how they, paradoxically, sprung up from the pro-feminist men’s liberation movement. The book introduces us into many vile corners of the anti-feminist universe, including Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and Pick-Up Artists (PUAs).
Although this book has many things to recommend it – it is brave and fierce – it’s built on the incorrect premise that this is a type of ‘extremism nobody talks about’ and that it is ‘invisible.’ The author’s presumption that we don’t understand or comprehend the scale of online misogyny or its impacts, and that this discussion is missing from public discourse, is a strike against this work.
For example, she starts the first chapter by stating: ‘Most people have never heard of incels’, (incel is a portmanteau of involuntarily celibate). Untrue.
If you’re a woman online – or indeed just someone who reads books or absorbs the news – these things are not new.
Since the misogynist Elliot Rodger killed six people in Toronto, Canada 2014, the media has forensically covered the notion of incels and pointed to this ideology and the violent actions that can accompany it as a type of radicalisation.
What is revealing within the pages of Men Who Hate Women are some of the grooming and recruitment methods used by these extreme misogynist groups. Likewise, I found it refreshing and important that Bates’ decided to avoid euphemisms and described the issue – with all its extreme language and violence – just as she found it.
For example, she explains in-depth how incels weave together a heady mix of racism and misogyny and sympathy with the alt-right. Rape is posited by these men as the solution to all sorts of things – their loneliness and powerlessness, the failing labour market and low birth rate.
One incel writes on a forum; ‘Rape is the answer… Females have become a threat to society and must be put back in their place.’
Bates carefully links these ideologies with acts of real-life violence to show how damaging the consequences can be offline. It’s commendable that the author also meets up with the people fighting against these ideologies and tries to map a way forward.
Despite some gaps, there are powerful insights to be had. Bates notes, ‘Those most powerfully reinforcing rigid and patriarchal gender stereotypes are suffocating those who most need to escape them.’
Ignoring these spreading ideologies doesn’t deprive them of oxygen. They have their own thriving ecosystem. In this case, sunlight is the best bleach.
Ginger Gorman is a social justice journalist, and author of the award-winning book, Troll Hunting.