Infiltrating the Manosphere: An exploration of male-oriented virtual communities from the inside
A small participant observation experiment in the Manosphere teaches us about the nature and rules of communities such as these, visible only in the fringes of the online world and entirely absent from the offline one.
We all want to belong. Humans have always gathered in communities and groups. These groups provide us with validation, reassurance, and a sense that we are not alone in this world. The internet has expanded the possibility of group formation like never before; hundreds of people with the same hobbies, interests, and feelings as ourselves are just one click away. Although that might seem amazing, it has also opened up the possibility to unite people through hate. It provides a safe space to anonymously profess your hatred and have others validate and share those feelings.
To those of you, like ourselves, who have never heard of the Manosphere, we might be inclined to look at it in a very simplistic way. It is a collection of websites and forums filled with men who, feeling betrayed by the females in their lives, got together with one objective: hating on women. But is that really all it is? The truth of the matter is it is impossible to know what their objective is or why they are there. The only thing one can do is analyze how they interact, what brings them together, the feelings they share, what their rules are and what they want. In an attempt to answer those questions, there is but one solution: become a part of one of these communities, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).
Men Going Their Own Way
People have never been able to escape the call of social interaction, despite the rise of a strong sense of their individual personality. Humanity, therefore, has always, in one sense or the other, been divided into groups or communities to facilitate the practical and social aspect of our day-to-day lives. The internet, in this regard, has revolutionized the possibilities for communal interaction and with it, has also seen the rise of “virtual” communities.
Virtual communities consist of individuals finding each other on blogs, websites, and forums, often discussing the same topic. In a similar way that music and movies bring teenagers together, we see the virtual inhabitant forming a ‘clique’ or ‘tribe’ based on a specific subject or, as is the case with MGTOW, a shared feeling. The MGTOW is a community with a very peculiar central idea: male independence. These men decided to abstain from women in their lives and dedicate their time to sharing ideas and information on how to achieve their ideals of gender-independence. They have been through similar experiences with women and have a strong belief in how men should live their lives and this is what unites them.
MGTOW’s website is well structured, with forums, links to videos, pictures, memes, quotes and all sorts of material to reinforce their ideas. The topics of the forum are varied, ranging from member-introductions and male ‘emancipation’ discussions to music, movies, and even hobbies; all from the perspective of the “liberated” man. They may disagree amongst themselves about small things, but one thing they always have in common is the feeling that women are not to be trusted and that men should strive to live their lives away from them.
There is no real way of knowing how many members MGTOW has, although the website states it has about thirty thousand. Besides, there is no guarantee of accuracy, since the members on MGTOW shroud their identity by employing a username requiring no further verification other than a working email address. Even though anonymity makes it problematic to establish the magnitude of these message boards, it also enables the members to speak in honesty without fear or repercussion. A user would not know if he is talking to his neighbor, his cousin or even his best friend, but the same is also true vice versa.
To understand the community better, we need to look at their forms of interaction and what unites them. Every single form of interaction within a community is governed by implicit and extrinsic rules, which shape specific relationships. It would, for example, be generally frowned upon if you started shouting during a public conversation with an older woman (implicitly). If next the next thing you did would be - in your frustration - demolishing public property, you are clearly breaking the law (extrinsic). These communal rules are learned through interaction with other members of one’s environment, be it in real life or online. Every community has its own set of specific rules to which members must abide in order to be accepted, and these differ from one community to the other. The same is true for a virtual community: MGTOW has specific rules of conduct, its own lexicon and even tools to banish members who show unaccepted behavior. In short: it functions exactly like any other community.
MGTOW has specific rules of conduct, its own lexicon and even tools to banish members who show unaccepted behavior. In short: it functions exactly like any other community.
One could argue that these groups, fuelled by a shared ideology, would enact these same rules within their daily lives. If anything, this website should promote their members to act upon their ideology toward a real change in their lives. Yet, they do not. They gather on this website as a way of venting and discussing their experiences, having no interest whatsoever in a real 'offline' meeting. The community is, in that sense, only real online.
Chest Hair and Youngladiator17
In our quest for answers, we made two fictional characters on MGTOW with two different sets of conditions: one that would follow most of the rules and share the same feelings as other members, and one that would challenge them. We created a unique background-story for each character, which we will describe shortly:
ChestHair is a 57-year-old divorced man, who just started to enjoy being independent of women. His character was developed to represent a good example of the MGTOW member. His first interaction on the MGTOW forum followed some aspects of masculine-centered ideology, such as the superior role of men and the negative influence of women on men's lives. His discourse was infused with jargon from the website - for instance: referring to MGTOW-members as brothers, fellow travelers - and also insisting on the importance of being part of the same community.
The reactions to his message were mostly positive and supportive. His confession made him appreciated by other members of the MGTOW community – or at least ‘ideologically similar’.
To test the boundaries of the normative world of MGTOW, another character was created: YoungGladiator17 is a young British student. He is an involuntary celibate (INCEL), not very popular in the 'offline' world, and with a rich history of being rejected by girls. However, he still lives with the hope of finding love. He does not yet believe that he should ‘go his own way’.
Would speaking about this be a problem on MGTOW? As soon as he disclosed his ideas, other members felt something fishy was going on and critical responses appeared in the thread.
Comparing these two examples of newcomers in the MGTOW community, it becomes clear that sharing similar feelings make ChestHair a welcomed member. However, as soon as YoungGladiator17 confronts the present members of this community with arguments that contrast the MGTOW ideology, somehow flouting the implicit rules, he is quickly confronted by self-regulating community ‘gates’.
To test their limits even further, YoungGladiator17 posted again: He finally found a girlfriend and lost his virginity. He is incredibly happy and, although most of us would see nothing wrong about that, the MGTOW community warned against that. They did not, however, expel him or even threaten to do anything like that. As it turns out, his feelings were shared by many other members, until they “found out the truth about women”. That made them understanding and sympathetic to YoungGladiator17’s situation.
Various responders took great care in wishing our fictitious account ‘good luck’, while warning him that the so-called ‘honeymoon’ period might soon end. Many of the users who answered related to YoungGladiator17’s story, opening up about their own experiences. Advice ranged from ‘don’t get her pregnant’ to ‘don’t get emotionally invested’.
The responses we were receiving were the forum-equivalent of an echo-chamber, repeating and reinforcing each other’s view.
It was obvious the responses we were receiving were the forum-equivalent of an echo-chamber, repeating and reinforcing each other’s view and it would be necessary to push beyond the point of no return. Our fictitious YoungGladiator17-account was to commit what we believed was the website’s cardinal sin: showing a female, his girlfriend, to the community. The responses were somewhat more diverse in this instance: ranging from the typical jokes and sarcastic ‘goodbyes’ to a deconstruction of our post. Moreover, many respondents expressed their belief that YoungGladiator17 would soon return to the community, by way of a ‘you’ll be back’-statement. Despite having rejected seemingly every implicit moral parameter, this community deems a return inevitable.
In 2015, the MGTOW community organized an offline meeting in London. During the event, they listened to guest speaker Mike Buchanan, author of men’s rights books. All twenty-three attendees remained anonymous - no filming or recording was allowed. Since then, offline meetups have not occurred anymore.
In order to see if a real-life meeting could happen again, ChestHair asked if there were any northern-European members interested in meeting up:
The responses shown above were the only two responses he got. When ChestHair asked about the requirements, there was no answer whatsoever. Only one person contacted ChestHair privately to say he was interested in a get-together.
MGTOW is not a community of action but a community of emotional and moral support.
How about a meeting of an activist nature? Something that would fall in line with the community's ideals and their fight for independence. ChestHair politely asked how they felt about a men’s rights march, since this is something they talk about regularly. Immediately MGTOW members started to answer. The suggestion of a march was refuted by most of the participants. Many of them did not appear enthusiastic about being involved in a march and being visible to the public. Browsing through the post thread, the main reaction visible is men distancing themselves from any form of activism outside the online space. Marching for their rights is seen by some members also as a symbol of weakness and as a way to be categorized as victims.
“Being like the wind” is a perfect metaphor for this community, whose online rules and shared feelings are very tangible, but at the same time stay invisible offline. Being recognizable as physical individuals is not their aim. Real life absence is the chosen weapon, showing their independence from women in this way and the freedom to pursue their identity, going their own way:
MGTOW (just one of the many platforms in the Manosphere), is not a community of action, but a community of emotional and moral support. It is, contrary to our expectations, not a uniform community fixated on internal agreement or disapproval but a melange of individuals, ranging from very radical to moderate, sharing the same or similar ideas, venting and discussing their experiences. This begs for the question: what do these men want to take from the MGTOW experience? In a sense, it is a therapeutic experience; one that gives direction and meaning to the bitterness and solitude felt by these men. A place where men can share their grief and frustration, which, at the same time, is also governed by the intrinsic limitations that define the specificity of this community.