Academics describe the manosphere as “a particularly toxic brand of anti-feminism”. It is a place where promoting rape is acceptable, but saying you hate women is not. This essay examines linguistic structures within the manosphere .
The manosphere, coffee houses for the anti-feminists
In Durkheim and the internet (2017: 6) Blommaert argues that “contemporary sociolinguistic work on internet phenomena raises several entirely new fundamental questions about the nature of social groups, social relations and social processes and permits new hypotheses in these domains”. One of the cases Blommaert writes about is the so called ‘manosphere’: a network of websites known for their misogynistic point of view.
A research paper that was published in 2017 attempts to identify key categories and features of the manosphere, describing the manosphere as “a particularly toxic brand of anti-feminism”, as a place where people are trying to “liberate men from a life of feminist delusion” and as “the dominant arena for the communication of men’s rights in Western culture” (Ging, 2017). Ging also states that new technologies, like social media, are especially well suited to amplify the anger of the men that feel attracted by the ideology of the manosphere.
Blommaert and Ging both argue that new online phenomena such as the manosphere might have strong effects on society, both in the online and in the offline world. How can we account for the formation of new online phenomena like the manosphere? According to Blommaert (2017) these phenomena can be linked to Durkheim’s concept of 'anomie', a state he describes as “a situation in which individuals reject available normative orders or cannot draw on them, either by absence of such orders, or because access to them is severely restricted” (ibid: 10). However, anomie can never be a situation in which normative orders don’t exist. Blommaert explains: “... as said before, anomie may be defined as a space without norms; at the same time, it is also a space where new norms are invited, demanded and manufactured” (ibid: 22).
Problems with trolling and truth
The manosphere is not an environment without norms, but rather a new territory where new sets of normative orders are being developed. These new normative orders can be observed when looking at the conversations members of the manosphere are having and the way they express themselves. However, there is one big problem when it comes to studying online phenomena: the identities of the members of the online group are usually masked. Hardly anybody uses their own name; a lot of people operate anonymously and some people never post, they just ‘lurk’. There are also reasons to believe that a profile on a website doesn't necessarily represent just one person in real life. Some profiles are used by multiple persons, some persons use multiple profiles. On top of these problems, it is unclear how truthful the members of the manosphere actually are. The act of ‘trolling’, which means that somebody is sowing discord on purpose, mostly by saying extreme things that do not necessarily represent their own views, is yet another problem when it comes to researching this topic.
“Western man has become a confessing animal” (Foucault, 1978: 59)
To successfully study new normative orders in the manosphere, we have to be able to point out certain expressions by members of the manosphere that might be considered closer to the truth or that might possess certain characteristics that could reveal parts of what they believe is the truth. In The Culture of Confession from Augustine to Foucault (2010), Taylor describes how the literary genre of confession is the genre that is used when the truth needs to be discovered. It is a genre used in christianity and by therapists: “Western man has become a confessing animal” (Foucault, 1978: 59).
Forgive me father, for I hate women
Confessions come in all sorts and shapes. 'Forgive me father, for I have sinned' might be the most illustrious confession, but in the manosphere, it is not the most popular one. On every manosphere website that was explored for the purpose of this paper (attachment 1) one type of confession keeps popping up. It usually starts with “I don’t hate women, but…” and is followed by one or multiple statements that are not necessarily positive about women. We will name this type of confession the “I do not hate women, but…”-statement. The first part of confessions that fit this format, shows what the authors perceive as normal and acceptable: the not-hating of women. In the second part, they seem to speak their ‘true’ mind. In the discussions that follow after these confessions, other users of the websites correct some of the statements of the authors. The confessions and the comments on the confessions therefore allow us to determine which new normative orders are formed in the manosphere and which ideas and opinions about women are acceptable and reasonable according to its members.
The “I don’t hate women, but”-statement is not only a confession; it is a manifestation of ludic behavior. Ludic behavior relates to actions for the purpose of play. In an article on Diggit Magazine, Blommaert describes ludic behavior, or ‘play’, using the following words:
In his classic Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga emphasized what he saw as an important counterpoint to Weber’s rationalization drive in Modernity: the playful character of many social, cultural and political practices. In our tendency to organize societies along rational management patterns, Huizinga insisted, we risked losing sight of the fact that much of what people do is governed by an irrational logic, a ludic pattern of action. Even more, much of what we see as the rational organization of societies is grounded, in fact, in play (Huizinga 2014: 5). (Blommaert, 2017)
In the same article, he uses online gaming forums as an example, calling them “a ludic learning environment”. If we link the concept of ludic behavior to the manosphere, we might conclude that the manosphere is an online learning environment. Its members have a relatively large amount of freedom to 'play out' a less constrained version of the self. Yes, it is true that certain behavior might provoke criticism from the other members, but the rules and forms that are in place in these environments are often more flexible than the rules of the offline world. A member who does not behave in accordance with the rules and beliefs of the other members is likely to receive a number of downvotes, or to simply be ignored. These downvotes, which are one-click-expressions used to display disapproval, will teach the member concerned what the other members think of his or her views. Subsequently, they will also learn what type of behavior needs to be displayed in order to fit in.
In some instances, ‘play’ can be perceived as something people do ‘just for fun’. However, most of the time, people take ‘play’ very seriously. In these instances, ‘play’ is a lot less fun and a lot less free than the word might suggest. People live through the eyes of others. The members of the manosphere use the “I don’t hate women, but” -statement as a way to learn what is allowed to be said about women, and what is not. As stated before, people that make an “I don’t hate women, but”-statement are often corrected by other members of the manosphere. In other instances, people show their support for the statement by liking the post, or by responding in an agreeable manner. Through this way of ludic communication, the members of the manosphere establish what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.
HOW DARE FEEEEEMALES CREEP SHAME MEN. IF I WAS RYAN FUCKING GOSLING, THOSE HYPERGLAMOROUS SLOOTS WOULD WANT MEH!!!!
On a subreddit called ‘Men Going Their Own Way’ a user named 6086555 published a thread titled: I don't hate women but I certainly do hate [...] how they want to dictate how men should behave." A terper is pissed because of "stop raping". This is a nice example of the ludic function of the “I don’t hate women, but”-statement. The post received 101 points, 94 percent of these points were upvotes. This would suggest that a lot of members of this subreddit agree with the statement, or at least have positive feelings about it. The upvotes can be seen as an endorsement. The most upvoted response to the post states that: “I love the amount of gerbiling in that thread. Only TRP can turn "Don't rape women" into "HOW DARE FEEEEEMALES CREEP SHAME MEN. IF I WAS RYAN FUCKING GOSLING, THOSE HYPERGLAMOROUS SLOOTS WOULD WANT MEH!!!!"” This response received 66 points. Just like the upvotes, this response shows how the members of the manosphere feel about the statement made by 6086555. The upvoting system allows the members of the manosphere to form new normative orders. This form of ludic behavior helps them to establish what they will perceive as ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’.
Proposing to starve female babies
On every manosphere website that was examined, at least one member made an effort to explain that he does not hate women. This confession is almost in every instance followed by a summary of reasons why women should not be liked and should not be trusted. For example, a member named Hibryd said: “We don't hate women! It's just that boys are the only kids worth raising”. If we translate this into a more practical proposition, Hibryd might argue that we should all be indifferent when it comes to the lives of female babies. Is he really saying that female babies should be allowed to die from neglect? To ‘normal’ people this almost sounds too absurd to be true. But then again; what is normal?
Weird as it might sound, these types of statements might be more ‘normal’ than you think. Multiple studies have been conducted into the “I am not a racist, but…”-statement (Bonilla-Silva & Forman, 2000; Blum, 2002; Archakis, Lampropoulou, Tsakona, 2017; Sinram, 2017), a statement that follows the same linguistic structure as the “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement. The first researcher who wrote about this linguistic structure was Van Dijk (1993). He argues that: “... when politicians claim they are not racist, say they have nothing against minorities, or make positive remarks about minorities, we may well not take such expressions at face value, but might analyze them primarily as rhetorical strategies, such as disclaimers or positive self-presentation, and not as transparent expressions of true underlying attitudes.” (ibid: 64) Following the reasoning of this research, the statement “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement will most likely be followed by hateful and anti-women remarks. On the other hand, the confessional nature of the posts followed by the “I don’t hate women, but..,”-statement, might also suggest that the user who is posting the confession, actually believes he does not hate women. Therefore, there might be reasons to question the way members of the manosphere define the word ‘hate’.
How the old ‘outrageous’ becomes the new ‘normal’
Are there reasons to expect we will ever allow female babies to die in the way Hibryd suggests? In our world today, this might feel like an unimaginable future vision, a nightmare scenario that will never become reality. However, other things, with various levels of impact on our existence, that were first considered to be inconceivable eventually did become reality. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the deportation of millions of Jews all seemed impossible; yet they still happened. What if the current American President is leading by example in ‘talking down’ on women? Will this open the door for the ideologies present in the manosphere to enter the public sphere?
The use of the “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement could indicate that it is currently not socially acceptable for members of the manosphere to openly hate women. Antonio Gramsci's term 'hegemony' comes to mind. Rosamond (n.d.) summarizes the concept of hegemony using the following words: “Hegemony, the dominance of one group over another, often supported by legitimating norms and ideas. The term hegemony is today often used as shorthand to describe the relatively dominant position of a particular set of ideas and their associated tendency to become commonsensical and intuitive, thereby inhibiting the dissemination or even the articulation of alternative ideas.” (ibid)
The first part of the “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement demonstrates an idea that is part of our hegemony. It is currently not acceptable to hate women. The second part includes ideas and ideologies about women worth spreading according to the sender. These ideas and ideologies might provide a striking contrast with the first part, since the first part denies the existence of hate, while the second part might be perceived as hateful in most cases. The second part will not be viewed as acceptable in the existing hegemony. However, this part might be seen as acceptable in the micro-hegemony we call ‘the manosphere’. Here, as we have mentioned before, other normative codes and orders are in place.
The contrast between the first and the second part of the “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement, leads us to the following observation: We can argue that the members of the manosphere are experiencing a ‘squeeze’ between the ideas they want to express in the safe environment of the manosphere, but feel they have to include the ideologies dominant in the offline world in their statement. This observation can be linked to the way Gramsci describes 'counter hegemony' as social movements that can be seen as gradually, but actively challenging the ideas present in the hegemony. We could argue that the manosphere is an online, somewhat secluded ‘micro hegemonic space’, used for counter-hegemonic movements in reaction to the hegemony of the offline world (Gramsci, 1999).
Hegemony often occurs in the shape of hegemonic practices rather than hegemonic beliefs (Blommaert, 2003: 177-178).
Blommaert considers the members of the manosphere to be ‘a group in the shadows’. They might be everywhere around us, but we can never know for sure, because they pose below the radar, trying to act as if they agree with the way society exists at this point in time. This is where the phenomenon of ‘orthopraxy’ comes in. The term ‘orthopraxy’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “correct practice” or “rightness of action”. Another important link between orthopraxy, hegemony and the manosphere can be found in Re/reading the Past: Critical and Functional Perspectives on Time and Value (2003):
In his brilliant discussion of hegemony and resistance, James C. Scott (1990:117) opposes orthopraxy to orthodoxy, saying that hegemony often occurs in the shape of hegemonic practices rather than hegemonic beliefs. People’s behavior can emanate received normative rules and models, while their worldview remains untouched and can be a tool of resistance against the deeper meaning tained in that behavior (ibid: 177-178).
Orthopraxy, in this case the first part of the “I don’t hate women, but…”- statement, is thus not necessarily an expression of resistance, but a way to let this statement and the ideas following this statement seem reasonable.
We will use the development of slave culture as an example to explain this idea a bit further. In Becoming African: Identity formation among liberated slaves in nineteenth-century Sierra Leone (2006), Northrup states that group identity formation involves changes and complexity. As the slaves had their own community with social interaction, they constructed a collective identity in which on the one hand, they acted to meet the expectations of the white oppressor, as they agreed with the way they were treated. On the other hand, they created their own hidden ideology in the shadows, below the radar. They do not express reluctance to their owners, but within their communities, they interactionally establish identities which pose resistance to the white oppressor. One such belief was that what the masters called ‘theft’ was something else; thus stealing from the master was not theft at all, but merely a process of channeling his property from one use to another, as in taking his corn and feeding it to his pigs.
When we apply this example to the members of the manosphere, we must consider that most of them will act according to the existing hegemonic beliefs in the offline world. Here we can observe orthopraxy, ‘doing what is right’. They will not speak about women in a hateful manner. This is how they adjust their behaviors to meet the expectations of the majority surrounding them, a majority that accepts the hegemonic ideas and ideology as their own.
From hegemony to either election or revolution
Sometimes, we can see new ideas about what should be normal or acceptable ooze into reality, taking the killing spree in Isla Vista by Elliot Rodger as an example. 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others near the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), before killing himself in his vehicle. Rodger was considered a ‘lone wolf’, who struck alone and was not affiliated with any larger group. However, as it turns out, he was very much connected to the manosphere. According to an article that was published by the Washington Post, Rodger was an adherent of the manosphere:
Rodger has personally been linked to an account on the pick-up site PUAhate.com, where he advocated an overthrow of “this oppressive feminist system” and envisioned “a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.” On YouTube, he followed a number of accounts that claimed to teach pick-up artistry — a skill that’s equal parts pseudoscience, manipulation and objectification. In his last YouTube video, in which he chillingly announces the start of his killing spree, Rodger even cops some classic pick-up lingo: “You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male.” (Dewey, 2014).
“You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male.” (Dewey, 2014).
In a video titled Elliot Rodger's Retribution, Rodger also expressed his hatred for women: “For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. I am 22 years old and I am still a virgin. It is not fair. I will punish all of you for it.” (Rodger, 2014).
The Isla Vista Killings, performed by Elliot Rodger, are an example of something that first happened ‘online’ and ‘under the radar’, but eventually became part of offline society. With his killings, he crossed the ‘ideologic border’ from the online manosphere into the physical world. As long as something takes place in a micro-hegemonic space, offline society will not be able to observe its existence. Therefore, women, policy makers and other members of offline society will not be able to respond to it. Rodger’s killing spree moved his ideas from the micro-hegemonic space called ‘the manosphere’ to offline society, allowing people who are not part of the manosphere to learn about Rodger’s version of the ideas and ideologies of the manosphere.
Thanks to Rodger’s killing spree, we now know that his ideas, ideologies and behavior are not perceived as normal. The public and the media were horrified; the article published by the Washington Post is just one of many examples. Interestingly, a lot of members of the manosphere also responded negatively to the killings. On rooshvforum.com a post was published entitled Elliot Rodger shoots up California campus because he can't get laid (Moreless, 2012). As a response to this title, a user called Heartiste says: “Rodger pings some operational gaydars”. Another member who calls himself Roosh states that: “A lot of lonely beta males will identify with him”. The fact that their responses are negative, might be considered ‘normal’. However, most members agree that Rodger would not have killed all these people if he would have been able to get a girlfriend. Roosh describes this idea in another response he posts: “I'm trying to think of ways our enemies will come after us because of this, but if anything, we're the solution to this sort of murder rampage. This is the society that progressives wanted, where women are fully able to choose the top 10% of alpha males while shaming masculinity, leaving beta males with modest resources in the dust.”
Summarizing all of this, most of the people responding to this post seem to agree with the following line of thinking: ‘It is not acceptable to shoot women. However, if women don’t want to date us, this causes a lot of frustration. When people get frustrated, mass shootings become inevitable.’ This line of thinking, blames the victims for making themselves the victims. If one of the girls that was killed during the Isla Vista Killings would have been willing to date Rodger, none of this would have happened. This idea does not seem to fit our current hegemonic beliefs. So, even though the negative responses from members of the manosphere might be perceived as ‘normal’, their argumentation behind these responses is not.
The academic micro-hegemony
The main goal of this essay was to explore what the use of certain linguistic structures can teach us about the formation of new micro-hegemonies. The "I don't hate women, but..."-statement was central in this exploration. We found that this statement is used on every examined website that was considered part of the manosphere. However, the use of this linguistic structure is not new. It has been observed on many other occasions. Van Dijk (1993) first wrote about this linguistic structure in relation to racism, arguing that this statement is almost always followed by racist remarks. We believe his research findings apply to the manosphere as well, as the "I don't hate women, but..."-statement is on almost every occasion followed by hateful comments about women.
The first part of this statements seems to be in sharp contrast with the second part. Where the first part speaks about the non-existence of hate, the second part is extremely hateful. This contradiction might point in the direction of Antonio Gramsci's 'hegemony'. The members of the manosphere seem to experience a contradiction between the dominant beliefs in society, namely that ‘it is not okay to hate women’, and their own beliefs, for example the belief that women are becoming too powerful. Therefore, we would like to argue that the manosphere is actually an online micro-hegemonic space, where new normative orders are being formed.
The formation of these new normative orders can be linked to the notion of ludic behavior. Whenever a member of the manosphere makes an “I don’t hate women, but…”-statement, other members of the manosphere respond. They give the user that is making the statement either upvotes or downvotes. They also respond to the statement, telling the user they agree or disagree, correcting the user and sometimes amplifying the statement. Here, we see some clear game-elements, where users can become respected by the community through the number of upvotes they receive or the amount of contributions they make. Moreover, the responses on the statements teach the maker of the statement and the other members of the community what is perceived as ‘right’ and what is perceived as ‘wrong’. Therefore, statements that fit the linguistic structure that was described by Van Dijk (1993), might be able to alert us about the formation of new micro-hegemonies that are opposing dominant ideologies.
We would like to end this essay with some points that we believe have to be taken into consideration. This essay examined one micro-hegemonic space: the manosphere. However, the manosphere is not the only micro-hegemonic space on the internet. Online, people with overlapping ideas are linked to each other every day, allowing their ideas to become more concentrated, more fine-tuned, and in some cases, more extreme. When conducting academic research into phenomena like the manosphere, academics need to keep one thing in mind: there is a real chance that academic scholars are also packed together in one micro-hegemonic space, just like the members of the manosphere are. We might think the dominant ideology is identical to our own beliefs, because our own beliefs are the only beliefs we are constantly confronted with. Academics might be, outside of their own knowledge, also developing a new micro-hegemonic space where new normative orders are formed.
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