How The 'Manosphere' Is Breeding Far Right Extremists

Photographed by Poppy Thorpe
What do the majority of mass shooters and terrorists have in common? They’re all men. Between 1982 and 2018, 97% of mass shooters in the US were men. Meanwhile, in the UK, between 2001/02 and 2016/17, men made up 91% of terrorism related arrests according to Home Office statistics. And, as a recent book Home Grown by Joan Smith, points out many of them have a history of violence against women.
This isn’t a coincidence. Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, wrote about violence, anger and anti-feminism back in 1991. Long before the turbulent times which have seen the rise to power of two male caricatures - Donald Trump to the office of President and the accession of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister - she pointed out:
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“When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distrusting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty in ‘fifth column’ feminists - in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female weakness - we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction.”
Rather than retrospectively reading Faludi’s words as prophetic, they serve as a reminder. A reminder that since 1991, for all the advancements that have been made in many areas of our lives, a fear of truly liberated women remains alongside a blind faith in what she called “cartoon masculinity".
According to a recent research report from campaign group Hope Not Hate, called The State of Hate, a hostility towards feminism is feeding directly into far right movements online. They found that a third of young British people today believe that feminism is marginalising or demonising men and warned that these beliefs were a “slip road” to other far-right ideas.

We need to be careful not to give too much air time to these dangerous rants but, equally, we ought to give them enough attention to understand the threat they pose.

We know that the number of far-right referrals to the British government’s deradicalisation scheme Prevent have dramatically increased recently. In the year from 2017/18 they jumped by 36% while referrals for Islamism actually decreased by 14%.
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However, the far-right itself can be difficult to pin down because it isn’t exactly a coherent global movement with a concrete set of ideas. It largely exists online, in Facebook groups, as Twitter accounts, on YouTube and anonymous message boards such as 8Chan.
Indeed, it was on 8chan that the manifestos of three mass shooters that have killed people since March this year were hosted. The El Paso shooter (who left 20 people dead and many more wounded only a couple of weeks ago), the Poway shooter (who opened fire at a synagogue in California in April) and the Christchurch shooter (who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in March).
We need to be careful not to give too much air time to these dangerous rants but, equally, we ought to give them enough attention to understand the threat they pose.
Brenton Tarrant, the 28 year old Christchurch shooter, is currently awaiting trial. In his manifesto, titled "The Great Replacement" he opened by saying: “It’s the birth rates. It’s the birth rates. It’s the birth rates.” This is a direct reference to a predominant right-wing conspiracy theory that non-white people are having more children than white people. And, hand in hand with this racist and xenophobic ideology, comes the notion that women’s freedom has threatened Western society because they are no longer sitting at home popping out babies. It was this - the belief that feminism directly threatens and oppresses men - that Faludi warned of a backlash against back in the '90s.
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Now, because the Internet connects us globally, because you can be anywhere in the world and post on a forum, because ideas originating in New Zealand and America can be shared in Europe, none of this is isolated to or located in a particular place. It is everywhere and nowhere at once because life online can afford people a degree of anonymity.
In their report, Hope Not Hate note the role that various anti-feminist websites known together as the “Manosphere” are playing in serving as a “breeding ground for the far-right”. The Manosphere comprises of several different subcultures: Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), Men Go Their Own Way (MGTOW), Pick-Up Artists and Involuntary Celibates (Incels).
Hope Not Hate researcher Simon Murdoch writes: “Improvements in gender equality in recent years, and the feminist campaigns propelling them forward, have been met by opposition and resistance in parts of society, especially online”. He adds that the “broader political climate has also boosted this.” Just look at Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro who opposes the country’s 2015 anti-femicide law and told a Congresswoman “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it.” Or Santiago Abascal, leader of Spain’s Vox party which opposes gender-based violence laws and is now in a coalition with the regional Andalucían government, and who has specifically railed against what he calls “supremacist feminism”.
You don’t have to do any particularly magical thinking to see how all of this is spilling over into public life in Britain. Since the EU referendum in 2016 there has been a narrative of ‘betrayal’ and ‘traitors’ peddled by the far-right, loosely disguised as Euroscepticism. Its targets are, for the most part, women MPs. Helen Goodman and Anna Soubry have been publicly confronted by angry male protestors. Cat Smith has received threats from far-right extremists and one of them - Jo Cox - was murdered by a far-right terrorist.
Tracy Babin, who took over the seat of Batley and Spen following Cox’s death, has also been abused by angry men and received “veiled death threats”.
Our world is changing all the time. A backlash against gender equality and the campaigns intended to advance it is nothing new but what’s clear from Hope Not Hate’s research is that this anti-feminism and anti-women movement is feeding into the far-right. The more we talk about this, the more we can figure out how to counteract it.
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