Mobilizing MisogynyMALE SUPREMACIST HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE
Paul Elam has made attempts at a respectable mainstream image, organizing the movement’s first in-person conference. But he also has a history of advocating violence, writing that women who go clubbing are “begging” to be raped, and that “there are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk [through] life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH—PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.”27
Another site Elam launched, Register-her.com, allowed men to post personal information for women they claim made false accusations (or otherwise outraged the movement) in order to target them for harassment. In 2011, feminist writer Jessica Valenti fled her house under a barrage of threats after her information appeared on this site.Jack Donovan
Other strains of online male supremacism include pick-up artists (PUAs), who advocate male sexual entitlement and give sexist advice on seducing women; the Red Pill, a community named for a Matrix reference that seeks to awaken men to the “reality” of dominant “feminist culture”;28 Men Going Their Own Way, which advocates cutting ties with women; and Jack Donovan’s “gang masculinity,” which calls on men to form warrior gangs to escape domestication by women.29 Deviating from the online movement’s predominantly secular nature are Christian masculinists, who, as Dianna Anderson writes at Rewire, “have fused manosphere rhetoric with what they see as ‘biblical’ gender roles to envision a hierarchical, patriarchal ideal world.”30 These varied communities share adherents, though there is also conflict among their competing perspectives.
The virulent misogyny promoted by male supremacists, often couched as anti-feminism and accompanied by racism and nativism, has serious repercussions that play out on a global stage. In 1989, Marc Lépine killed 14 women at an engineering school in Montreal under the guise of “fighting feminism.”31 In 2009, George Sodini killed three women and then himself at a fitness class in Pennsylvania, leaving behind a website that complained about being rejected by women (and leading PUAs to coin the term “going Sodini”).32 Anders Breivik murdered 77 adults and children in Norway in 2011, leaving behind a manifesto attacking “the radical feminist agenda,” Islam, political correctness, and “Cultural Marxism” (see David Neiwart’s article in this issue).33 And in May 2014, Elliot Rodger set out to “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut” at the “hottest” sorority at the University of California, Santa Barbara, writing, “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you for it.”34 He ultimately killed six people and himself, though he failed to make it inside the sorority.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report editor-in-chief, Mark Potok, wrote, “Men’s rights activists did not tell Rodger to kill—but in their writings, it seems like many of them wouldn’t mind doing some killing of their own. Rodger said as much in his manifesto, writing that PUAHate ‘confirmed many of the theories I had about how wicked and degenerate women really are’ and showed him ‘how bleak and cruel the world is due to the evilness of women.’”35
Elliot Rodger’s story has parallels with that of White supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof, convicted in 2016 of murdering nine Black congregants at a Charleston church.36 Though the media typically portrays such acts of right-wing violence as perpetrated by mentally disturbed individuals37—so-called “Lone Wolves”—as PRA contributor Naomi Braine writes, “a decision to act alone does not mean acting outside of social movement frameworks, philosophies, and networks.”38 Both young men encountered inaccurate and hateful rhetoric online that inflamed existing dissatisfactions by depicting them as victims.39 Thus, Lone Wolf violence emerges from a right-wing context “systematically erased” by media misrepresentation of these as isolated and irrational actors.
Some members of the male supremacist online movement hailed Rodger as a hero on PUAHate.com messaging boards or Facebook fan pages.40 Others distanced themselves while defending their own misogynist content, much as the Council of Conservative Citizens, the White nationalist group Roof cited in his manifesto, claimed to condemn Roof’s violence while blaming society for ignoring White people’s “legitimate grievances.”41 Daryush Valizadeh (“Roosh V”), a professional PUA and founder of the site Return of Kings, argued, “Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging them to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution…it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur.”42
Meanwhile, equity feminists stepped up to whitewash a clearly misogynist attack. IWF senior editor Charlotte Hays wrote that calling Rodger’s violence a “product of sexism” was a “bizarre response” by feminists.43VIDEO GAMES, MISOGYNY, AND THE ALT RIGHT
Video games might not seem like a vital social justice battleground. However, as sociologist and gaming critic Katherine Cross has pointed out, the virulence of online White male reactions to increasing gender and racial diversity in game players and creators, and to critiques of the industry’s sexism, indicates a problem with dismissing this as a trivial issue.44 Only a few months after Rodger’s fatal 2014 attack, an incident dubbed “Gamergate,” ostensibly about gaming industry ethics and media corruption, resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) looking into the barrage of violent rape and death threats against women who criticized video games’ sexist portrayals of women and lack of diversity.45 Anita Sarkeesian, one of the primary targets, canceled a talk at Utah State University after the school received a threat to repeat Marc Lépine’s massacre and demonstrate “what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.”46 While circles of progressive female journalists took the movement behind Gamergate seriously, their voices were largely ignored by the mainstream media.47Milo Yiannopoulos
Through Gamergate, vocal misogynist personalities such as Mike Cernovich, associated with the pick-up artist community, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a Brietbart writer, expanded their online following, to be leveraged in future attacks on feminism and women. Yiannopoulos had over 300,000 Twitter followers at the time the social media platform finally banned him for offensive content in 2016; at the time of this writing he has more than 1.9 million Facebook likes and 568,000 subscribers on YouTube, in addition to his platform at Brietbart, where he has bragged about writing headlines such as “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”48 In “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” Yiannopoulos and co-author Allum Bokhari write, “The so-called online ‘manosphere,’ the nemeses of left-wing feminism, quickly became one of the alt-right’s most distinctive constituencies.”
The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz writes that Cernovich “developed a theory of white-male identity politics: men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.”49 In 2016, in tweets that received more than 100 million views, Cernovich focused on supporting “unapologetically masculine” Trump and attacking Hillary Clinton with conspiracy theories regarding her failing health and emails.
Following Trump’s election, mainstream and progressive media outlets worried that using the movement’s chosen name, the Alt Right, helped euphemize and normalize old-fashioned bigotry. As Think Progress’ editors wrote, “[Alt Right Leader Richard] Spencer and his ilk are essentially standard-issue white supremacists who discovered a clever way to make themselves appear more innocuous—even a little hip”; their publication, they declared, wouldn’t do “racists’ public relations work for them.”50
But nowhere in this statement from a major progressive news outlet exists a single reference to sexism or misogyny—a glaring omission given its significance to the Alt Right’s mobilization to defeat the first woman to receive a major party nomination for president.51 Some respected outlets and organizations, including the Associated Press and SPLC, described the movement’s misogyny, but their recommended definitions referenced White nationalism, neglecting to acknowledge male supremacy as a core component.52,53 While some Alt Right leaders, such as former Breitbart executive (now Trump administration chief strategist) Stephen Bannon, hail from more racist corners of the umbrella movement, others, like Yiannopoulos and Cernovich, rose to prominence primarily on their misogynist rhetoric.
These omissions aren’t surprising. In a 2008 study, “The Absence of a Gender Justice Framework in Social Justice Organizing,” activist and consultant Linda Burnham wrote, “All too many organizers and activists affirm a commitment to women’s human rights or gender justice while having no clear idea of sexism as a systemic phenomenon with tangled historical, social, economic and cultural roots and multiple manifestations.” In her interviews of activists, Burnham found “the subordination of sexism as a legitimate concern among ‘competing isms’”; antipathy to the feminist movement (which is perceived as White); a feeling that “there’s already a level of equity and there’s no need to struggle over it anymore”; and a lack of tools for structural analysis.54 (Groups with a better intersectional approach, Burnham footnoted, included reproductive justice organizations like SisterSong.55)
Matthew N. Lyons, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America, further argues that this heightened misogyny distinguishes the Alt Right from other White supremacist and neonazi mobilizations, which have practiced a “quasi-feminism” that viewed women as holding distinct but complementary gender roles important to the movement. Especially since the 1980s, Lyons writes, neonazi groups have increasingly lauded White women as “race warriors.”56
Some early Alt Right writers did encourage their compatriots to do more to attract women and root out sexual harassment.57 Now even that has disappeared. Today the movement is better characterized by dismissive ideology like that of White male supremacist Matt Forney, who asserts in a 2012 “anti-feminist classic” post on Alternative Right that women are “herd creatures” who are “unimportant” to the men who will make history. “Attempting to convince such flighty creatures to join the alt-right with logical arguments is like begging escaped inmates to please pretty please come back to the insane asylum.”58 Forney also argues that, “Every feminist, deep down, wants nothing more than a rapist’s baby in her belly.”59 Lyons writes:
Alt-rightists tell us that it’s natural for men to rule over women and that women want and need this, that “giving women freedom [was] one of mankind’s greatest mistakes,” that women should “never be allowed to make foreign policy [because] their vindictiveness knows no bounds,” that feminism is defined by mental illness and has turned women into “caricatures of irrationality and hysteria.”60
Richard Spencer, the now-infamous White nationalist leader credited with coining the term “Alt Right,” promotes male supremacist rhetoric that includes yet goes beyond traditional arguments for women belonging in the home. Along with his position on women’s “vindictiveness” (quoted by Lyons above), Spencer defended Trump against sexual assault accusations with the argument, “At some part of every woman’s soul, they want to be taken by a strong man.”61
Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist who studies right-wing movements, describes the Alt Right’s assertion of women’s inferiority as “a sexist interpretation of xenophobia. It’s the same view they have of immigrants and minorities, that they’re threatening their way of life. A life where men are dominant. A life where they have privilege in virtually every domain.”62
Vox writer Aja Romano argues that misogyny is not only a significant part of the Alt Right, it’s the “gateway drug” for the recruitment of disaffected White men into racist communities. David Futrelle, a journalist who watches the men’s rights and other online misogynist movements, told Vox that it’s “close to impossible to overstate the role of Gamergate in the process of [alt-right] radicalization. … Gamergate was based on the same sense of aggrieved entitlement that drives the alt-right—and many Trump voters.” Within this narrative, Futrelle said, they saw their harassment of women as defending “an imperiled culture,” moving into other online enclaves populated by neonazis and White supremacists that recruited them for “fighting against ‘white genocide.’”63