In every culture and every group, you can find them: outsiders. Some people just struggle to make friends or even establish contact with others. Somehow, they cannot manage to become part of a (social) group. Outsiders are seen as 'abnormal', they deviate from the norm, often in an unusual, unwelcome or problematic way. While they are more likely to be noticed in the offline world, the Web 2.0 offers an enormous range of opportunities for such outsiders. For researchers interested in Foucault's ideas of 'normal' versus 'abnormal', it provides fertile terrain.
The integration of online infrastructures in our everyday lives, allowing us to establish, with great speed and intensity, information networks and global flows (Blommaert, 2010), raises questions about the nature of social relations, groups and social processes (Blommaert, 2017). A case in point is that of the ‘Manosphere’, which is an online network of communities established through the Internet, consisting of websites, blogs, and forums where people discuss issues regarding men and masculinity, self-improvement, tips for a successful life, relationships and sex (The Economist, 2016). The norms in the Manosphere deviate from the norms that prevail in mainstream society: there is rampant misogyny, overt sexism often combined with racism, and verbal extremism and violence are widespread. It is not a place where most of us would feel at ease.
However, while exploring this online community, we discovered that, even in this strange abnormal environment, there are outsiders - 'outsiders among outsiders', one could say. One would expect that everyone in the Manosphere shares the same level of ‘weirdness’ or ‘outsideness’. Yet, even here, in a place where you might think that everyone feels welcome to be their true selves, there are lonely outsiders. What do we know about these ‘abnormals’ within the abnormal? In this part of the paper, we will zoom in on them by means of examples from the Manosphere.
Sluthate as a shared feeling
One example of an online community within the Manosphere spectrum is the website 'Sluthate', on which people can create forums and react on them. First, it seems that the people in these groups emerge on the basis of what E.P. Thompson (1966) called a shared experience. They are on sluthate.com due to presumed shared experiences with women. Additionally, these groups are based upon structures of feeling (Williams, 1977), which refers to a shared feeling, a set of social reactions, which is one of the first stages of a new separate group culture. In this case, the sharedness of feeling is the ‘disappointment in women’. The men gathering on Sluthate all had experiences with women that gave them some kind of negative feeling. That the website exists is a ludic display, one can argue, of structures of feeling.
"I work with women everyday, trust me, they are all she-devils"
However, the way in which these men speak about women is mostly tolerated only on this website. Multiple sites exist in which similar topics are discussed, but all have their own sets of norms. They are 'chronotopic', a notion coined by Bakhtin (1981) to point out that social life develops in a range of timespace set-ups characterized by specific norms and identities. Chronotopes are characterized by unique sets of resources and normative modes of behavior, consisting of values, perceptions and so on - basically small and specific sets of rules that should be learned, and are called micro-hegemonies. These micro hegemonies are templated in chronotopes and these need to be deployed in specific timespace arrangements.
Who is ‘About2goER’?
On Sluthate, we came across a very active account named ‘About2GoER’. Before reading the analysis below, ask yourself, what does the name ‘About2GoER’ suggest to you, in your own set of (linguistic) norms? Did you think about it? Well, our first understanding was that the author with this name wanted to announce that he was going to leave the website Sluthate.
At first sight, our understanding appeared to be confirmed by the comments that ‘About2GoER’ posted on different forums on this website. One of the comments was for example: "This website is horrible, and if you spend time on it you should seriously consider suicide" (see Figure 1). On the basis of such comments, he seemed to be too soft for this community, as he does not like the way the community is. So at first sight, you expect that this man is (in our eyes) ‘normal’ in the way he sees women. But contrary to that, in one of the last sentences of his posts, he states that he rather wants to be with ‘slayers that are funny’ than ‘faggots that want the world to feel sorry for him’, which even by the standards of the Manosphere, and thus of Sluthate, is an extreme thing to say. On the basis of these comments, it is not yet possible to say whether About2GoER is abnormal or normal within the manosphere.
However, there is a twist, which only becomes visible when you have knowledge of the history and norms of the website Sluthate. Firstly, the website was originally called ‘PUA-hate’. This site, PUA-hate, was closed down and renamed Sluthate shortly after the so-called Isla Vista killings of 2014, in which a young man called Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others near a campus of the University of California. Rodger had mentioned the website in the manifesto he wrote and posted online prior to the killings (Sluthate.com, 2017). The tragedy at Isla Vista drew a lot of media attention to the site, turning it from a shadowy group into one very much in the spotlight. But the attention received was not wanted, so they changed the name of the website, which enabled them to be in the shadow again.
"This website is horrible, and if you spend time on it you should seriously consider suicide"
Secondly, the website Sluthate contains a glossary that explains the meaning of all kinds of abbreviations that can be used on the forums (Sluthate.com, 2017). In a search for unraveling the meaning of the username, we see that the user is indeed an extreme thinker even within the Manosphere. The ‘ER’ at the end of his username seemed to be, according to this glossary, an abbreviation for Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter. The username should be interpreted as ‘about to go Elliot Rodger’. This, in combination with his utterance about that he prefers ‘slayers’ above people who only talk online and do not take action, shows that he is on the extreme end of the scale.
How to be a 'sluthater'
With this new insight, every comment that he wrote gets a completely different meaning than it seemed to have before. In other words, before understanding conversations on this website, we had to learn the norms and patterns of the ‘discourse universe’ of the site. Now, how does one learn such norms and why? Considering that everything in social life is socially co-constructed in processes of interaction with each other, specific patterns of interaction shape specific forms of groups. In line with this, we create meaning which is always subjected to ratification by others; meaning is therefore not fixed but subject to change (Blommaert, 2017). If for example, About2GoER would say the same things in another forum, he would be judged totally differently.
On the basis of these data, we can conclude that Manosphere-related forums are governed by certain (explicit and implicit) rules. One should, for instance, talk and behave in a specific way. After learning these norms, one can use these norms to show whether one wants to be associated with this group or not, and how. Therefore, in order to show others that you deviate from the group, you need to make yourself understandable to others, which is only possible by using the norms (e.g. using the ‘same’ discourse). In other words – using a notion already designed by Michel Foucault during his lectures for Collège de France in 1975-1976 – your truth is only ‘truth’, when it is "verified" (i.e. "made into truth") by others.
He states that he rather wants to be with ‘slayers that are funny’ than ‘faggots that want the world to feel sorry for him’
In this case, AboutToGoER does not adopt the genre of the website, but he does adopt the practice of the genre. His interventions becomes 'orthopractic': the performance of a particular ritual, articulating structures of feeling, which contains moments of shared authenticity and recognizable play. But the orthopraxy, we can see here is not based on an absolute sharedness: AboutToGoER does share some aspects, but in an extreme form. When discovering the true meaning of his name, a 'hidden transcript' emerged, which resulted in another uptake of his messages. In conclusion, this example shows that in order to show your rebellion, you have to do this in ways that are understandable.
Get the f*ck out my house
Members learn these explicit rules for behavior in a ludic way: by following others, through informal rules and taking examples. Sluthate is a ludic community that is chronotopic, based on micro-hegemonies. For readers interested in ludic communities, have a look at Online-offline modes of identity and community: Elliot Rodger’s twisted world of masculine victimhood (Jan Blommaert, 2017). One informal rule concerns the way people communicate on this website. Their communication has a formatting character, formats can be confessions ("Today I fell in love with a woman and I hate myself for it"), testimonials ("I work with women everyday, trust me, they are all she-devils") or instructions ("you should kill yourself", see figure 2). These formats are important genres in the Manosphere. They are a production of discourse in which the person is both the speaker and the subject of the statement.
The following example (Figure 3) displays an example of someone from inside the group (named SuperIncel93) judging About2GoER on the basis of his confession by saying ‘GTFO MY HOUSE,..’ In doing so, he verifies that About2GoER does not belong in this group and gets the instruction to leave the house – the user perceives this (online) community as his house, emphasizing the importance the online community has for him. Although he is told how to behave and improve himself, the interaction shows us he did not fit in.
What we see here is how the collective norms can be invoked to take action when norm transgression has been spotted. Collective norms were positioned by Durkheim as ''the social fact''. These are exterior to the individual and often experienced as coercive and constraining; usually they remain tacit and implicit in social action, but transgression can provoke explicit formulation of such collective norms (Blommaert, 2017). The members of Sluthate clearly share a tacit understanding of certain rules new users need to adhere to to be included: follow the same way of thinking, follow the norms that we use, or otherwise you are out! In the case of About2GoER, these unspoken rules were obviously broken, and he became an 'outsider among outsiders'.
Looking back at the examples of Sluthate, we learned that manosphere forums are governed by explicit and implicit rules, which are made up by the users of the online community. The rules are learned in a ludic way (e.g. by following the behavior of other users), through micro-hegemonies. If new users do not use the same formats of communication and do not show the same behavior, they will be excluded from the forum by other users. One would expect that in such abnormal forums, everyone would be welcome to be their “weird” selves. But even in this abnormal atmosphere, believe it or not, it is possible to not fit in and be an outsider: to be the extreme one within a community characterized as abnormal.
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