Monday, July 1, 2013

Man This, Man That

A video came out online a couple months ago that I found enjoyable to watch. It was poignant, relevant, and an enjoyable way to spend 40 seconds of my time. Take a moment to watch it now, without knowing any context behind it.

If you're well-versed in the goings-on of the Internet, then you probably understood a fair amount - if not all - of the things going on in the video. If not, this whole piece might be very hard to comprehend. So let's dive in and discuss the source material for this video.

Today, we'll talk about online men's movements, and their many many problems.

The first nine seconds of the video set up the context - feminism. Efforts to level the playing field between men and women have seen loads of progress in the past 100 years. Even though there is still loads more to do on that front, things have certainly gotten better over the course of the 20th century.

The Internet has had no small role in giving a voice to modern day feminists. As we've seen, online social justice movements have begun playing an increasingly significant role in our society's dialogue. There are loads and loads of feminist blogs out there, run by women as well as by men. With so much information just a few clicks away, it has never been easier to be informed about women's issues. This is, undeniably, a positive and wonderful thing.

In the above video, women are finally getting a little bit of ice cream for themselves, after a history of going without. You can find plenty of male supporters for the feminist movement. But this video is not about those male supporters.

The boy in the video looks at the girl taking some ice cream for herself (after he's indulged himself plenty already) and concludes that he is being oppressed. He cries misandry.

Pictured: What the boy probably sees. Likely on account of un-diagnosed schizophrenia.

The boy in the video proceeds to go online claiming that something was stolen from him. He is not alone. This is, in fact, an emergent online phenomenon - men going online and complaining that women have wrongfully taken away things from them. Whether those things are money, opportunity, or a vague sense of security in getting something they want in the future, they blame their woes on feminism.

It's an ill-founded blame to have. Men are still the more powerful gender in our society's structure, and the whole point of feminism is to make gender a non-factor in finding opportunities for success. But for whatever reason, these particular men don't know any better. It doesn't help that the most popular depictions of feminists are often caricatures of fringe radical individuals within the movement.

It also doesn't help that there are many male-centric corners of the Internet. If a man hangs around enough websites whose demographics greatly under-represent the female population, then they aren't likely to encounter too many female perspectives, and don't hear much beyond the opinions of other men. On top of this, remember that there will be a selection bias on the type of men that spend lots of time on these corners of the Internet; it's possible that a decent portion of these men might not have much interaction with women in general.

What's that? I'm making fun of people who spend too much time online?

In any case, if they're not careful, it is very easy for men to trap themselves into echo chambers online. Get enough of these one-sided perspectives together, and make sure nobody in the bunch is particularly self-aware, and you've suddenly got men who honestly think that they are oppressed and "laid low by the matriarchy".

Some of these men are genuinely baffled at this "oppression", and don't understand why it is happening to them. After all, they are "a nice guy". There is some unspoken belief that bad things should not happen to nice guys. When "nice guys finish last", it's spoken as some great and tragic injustice. Of course, we have a whole history of nice women having bad things happen to them just on account of their gender, but those narratives don't get told.

We're assuming that these guys aren't being given a wide range of viewpoints, but you can probably begin to see the sense of entitlement emerge among these men. To some of these guys, being "nice" is all the criteria they need to get whatever accolade that they'd like. When they find out that being nice is just the bare minimum requirement to being a passable human being, they go complain to each other about it on the Internet.

But, of course, it isn't enough to simply complain. There are men who feel the need to associate themselves with communities that rally around the idea that men are marginalized and oppressed.

And, oh goodness, what a rabbit hole it is.

That reference to the red pill in the video is not actually a simple callback to the Matrix. It refers to a very specific online community, where men discuss "sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men". At first, this might seem like a misguided way for some men to feel more secure about themselves. But then you see their highlighted resources - including articles that are actually named "Women, the most responsible teenager in the house" - and the group's true colors begin to show. This is a community of men who cling to old-world misogyny to justify their feelings of entitlement.

This isn't even the tip of the iceberg. Pick-up artists - and you might have heard of them at one point, since one of them got a TV show once - hone "techniques" that are meant to help men bed women that they desire. The wording of that sentence is important, of course - it's not an issue of developing legitimate relationships, or even treating women with greater respect than you would a video game. It is men thinking on ways to get sex whenever they want with whoever they want, on their own terms.

Reddit's r/seduction page is devoted to pick-up artistry (PUA) tactics. If you look at the column on the right in that page, you'll notice that there are many pages devoted to PUA material sorted by location and by personal experience. This network of pages is so large that reddit users give this corner of their favored website its own name: seddit. Seddit actually got some very public press recently, when one of its own members started a kickstarter in order to publish a book with his techniques on it. Quotes from the book include:
“Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.
Sex: Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.” 
Not only was this a book that actually recommends sexual assault, this was a book that actually managed to get fully funded. Kickstarter's executives issued a public apology afterward, removing the project's page, banning any further seduction guide projects on their website, and donating $25000 to RAINN. However, the apology came too late to stop funding for the project. By the time of the apology, the money - a total of over $16000 - had already been transferred to the author. The success of this project demonstrates the tragic numbers of people within this community.

And so we get to the peak of obnoxious male entitlement movements on the internet: The Men's Rights Movement.

Shamelessly stolen picture. But it's basically like this.

Men's Rights Activists (MRAs for short) feel that current legal and social infrastructure unfairly favors women over men due to the misguided and malicious campaigns of feminism. They campaign to raise awareness to the plights of men and boys everywhere. Issues that concern MRAs include false rape accusations, child custody rights, and negative male portrayals in media. These issues are legitimate, but the uniqueness of the movement falls flat when you realize that plenty of feminists also care about inequalities against men. As it turns out, these things really aren't independent of one another. But this statement hardly matters if our MRA in question has never actually engaged with a feminist that wasn't a mishandled caricature. It also hurts their cause if they're trying to justify backwards attitudes toward women while crying misandry.

A Voice for Men is a popular online hub for MRAs, existing as a complete counter to feminist voices online. Some of its articles are so toxic that the Southern Poverty Law Center actually classifies it as a hate site. If you follow that previous link to SPLC's website, you'll see some other misogyny-centric hate sites listed as well. You'll probably notice that Reddit makes another appearance, for example. Another site, Men Going their Own Way, pushes the same message of male oppression, with a different flavored coating of unwarranted outrage and regressive bile.

The face of the oppressed.

So, what is really going on here in these seduction communities and MRA outcries? Well, the video makes a pretty good inference: these men are afraid of women. And it's not the only media piece that comes to that conclusion about these communities, either (#3 in that particular link). It's a fear of what women will do to them, or take away from them, or keep from them.

Are these movements unique to the Internet generation? That's difficult to say, since there wasn't really a reason for such movements to exist until relatively recently. There have certainly been factions that have organized to resist feminist pushes, which we can see as far back as when women were fighting for the right to vote. The Men's Rights Movement has been around since the 1970s, and was just as laughable back then as it is today. I suppose it says something about the success of the contemporary feminist movement, if it's developed such a strong reaction from people. It goes well with the idea of fear as motivation, too.

It's worth noting that, like in any movement, there is a range of perspectives to consider. Not all people who call themselves MRAs are going to be as despicable as those found on A Voice for Men. Not every person who looks through PUA techniques is going to go on and objectify women. Technically, it isn't even limited to men: there are indeed some women who opt into some of these communities as well. And of course, there are factions of feminists that are not respectable: trans-exclusionary radical feminists, separatist feminists, and the other narrower variants of second-wave feminism constitute a fringe that do not deserve mainstream attention anymore.

Despite this, there is still a common trait of entitlement among the worst of these men, which is definitely not new to the Internet. We know that the Internet houses a lot of entitled gamers and entitled libertarians, so it is not surprising that there is yet another category of internet users that have a misplaced sense of entitlement. The Men Going their Own Way website talk about "gynocentrism" much like how libertarians talk about government. Is there a deeper correlation here?

There might also be a correlation with my particular generation of men - Reddit is popular among people of my generation, after all. We've already talked about how the 90s generation got left with the short end of the social stick. Perhaps some of these men don't really have a strong culture to support themselves with, are genuinely fearful for their socioeconomic future, and don't know what to do about it. Maybe they displace their frustrations on women, because women are still an easy target and men are held more accountable for blatant sexism than they were 50 years ago. These men are wrong to do this, but maybe among these misogynists are scared people who are being sold the wrong narrative about their problems.

In any case, the video sums things up very nicely. Nobody stole any ice cream. Things are just leveling out a little bit between the genders, and we're all going to benefit for it. And luckily, most men aren't like the one in the video, and are more than happy to share the ice cream around.

By the way, MRAs flooded the comments section of that video with some very vitriolic remarks. It got to the point where the creator had to disable comments and address the feedback in its own blog post here. It's a pretty good read.

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