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Posted on 18 May 2021 in Non-Fiction |

LAURA BATES Men Who Hate Women. Reviewed by Justine Ettler

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Laura Bates has produced a confronting examination of extreme misogyny in Men Who Hate Women.

Best known for creating the Everyday Sexism Project, in Men Who Hate Women Laura Bates has produced a book that is more polemic than a considered work of traditional non-fiction. Bates’s pithy mixture of thoroughly researched facts, opinion and personal experience updates Susan Faludi’s Backlash for the digital age by exploring the horrifying ways men are organising online to oppose, belittle and arrest fourth-generation MeToo feminism.

Men Who Hate Women provides a confronting, deeply shocking insight into this ugly and frightening world of misogyny – ‘the manosphere’ – and its perfect fit with social media platforms that support extremist politics with such ease. The manosphere flourishes thanks to a combination of a lack of digital regulation, social media’s ability to spread disinformation, and the way freedom of speech is abused in public spaces, employed as a defence for the indefensible.

The manosphere began with early Usenet groups in the 1990s, which were predominantly comprised of white, educated, tech-savvy men who came to think of cyberspace as their space. But in the intervening decades these groups have evolved into enormous interconnected online communities that wield real-world political power and are enmeshed with the alt-right.

Men Who Hate Women begins with a discussion of the webchat community known as incels (‘involuntary celibates’), groups whose surface aim is to support vulnerable men, which sounds alright in principle until Bates reveals what is being supported is the desire to rape women. For example, one incel member writes, ‘I have decided to become a rapecel.’ His incel peer responds, ‘Go nuts … you’ll find it impossible to get caught if you do it properly … you have a 98.9 per cent chance of getting away with it if you rape.’

New recruits undergo a gradual induction process that begins with a ‘red pill’ moment when a hurt, insecure man finally realises that women are the cause of all the world’s problems. A man who has had a red pill has realised that feminism has ruined the world. The strength of Bates’s position lies in the way she is able to understand how easy it can be for lonely, vulnerable, uninformed men to get sucked into one of the rabbit holes that lead to the manosphere. And for those eager to dismiss incels as harmless fringe extremists, Bates counters that the average incel group has 3 million posts and membership is on the rise.

In subsequent chapters, Bates explores the world of online pick-up artists (PUAs), men going their own way (MGTOW), men’s rights groups (MRAs) and trolling, gradually working her way through some of the lesser known branches of the manopshere up to domestic violence.

PUAs are another huge online community of men who believe that sex is their right and that women today are too choosy, so men need to do what they must to exercise that right, including harassing and lying to women to get sex.

MGTOW are men who refuse to have anything to do with women, whether it’s a coffee or a phone call, because they believe women constantly make false rape and sexual harassment charges against innocent men, thereby destroying their reputations and careers. At the extreme, these men embrace celibacy. This may seem less harmful than the incels, but MGTOW also damage women in that many of them are extremely rich and powerful, which means women are missing out on work-related mentoring and networking opportunities across many industries.

MRAs also sound benign, beginning as groups of men who sought the same sort of freedom from oppressive definitions of masculinity and heteronormativity as feminists did from outdated notions of the feminine, but in their contemporary guise MRAs are online communities devoted to attacking feminists, destroying feminist networks and communities and fighting against their demands, arguing that women are too powerful and have taken all of men’s rights. These groups disseminate outright lies, such as that one in three cases of domestic violence is perpetrated by a woman, and that women abuse their children. What’s most worrying about MRAs is the veneer of respectability they lend to the manosphere due to their mainstream media exposure, where they are often cited to create an illusion of ‘balanced’ reporting.

Trolling, bundled in with stalking and threatening women in the public sphere with rape and murder, is perpetrated by online communities devoted to destroying feminist politicians and public figures. The trolls’ behaviour is so extreme and the policing so non-existent that women are often harassed into silence. In many circumstances they have to move house – Bates is one among a long list.

It’s nothing new to report that domestic violence against women is at catastrophic levels and that the number of men who abuse, murder, rape and harass women – most frequently their own girlfriends, wives and family members – is a modern epidemic. While the manosphere plays a key role in preventing attempts to remedy this situation by spreading lies and misinformation, Bates argues there is a link between men who think domestic violence is an acceptable solution to women who refuse to follow traditional submissive stereotypes, and mass murderers of women and anti-feminist terrorism. Worst of all is the way the media often portrays the perpetrators of such terrorism sympathetically, finding explanations for their behaviour in childhood abuse or using a two-sides-to-every-story approach in instances where there is only one side.

So how have we let things get so bad? The manosphere has powerful allies and spokesmen in the Trumps of this world, the men who manage to straddle mainstream careers and exposure while espousing views that echo the extremes of the manosphere. They include politicians, media commentators, prime time TV personalities and hosts. While some secretly participate, most profit from the vulnerable, unhappy men who are drawn into the manosphere and who give them their clicks, thereby providing advertising revenue as well as an audience. While many publicly denounce the manosphere, they simultaneously profit from it. Whether their disavowals are credible or not is irrelevant as the clicks and the money roll in.

Clearly the manosphere is best understood as the latest backlash against fourth-wave feminism of the MeToo persuasion, but if you’re still tempted to think of it as an old problem in new guise, Bates asks you consider this: things are getting worse. Alarming numbers of boys from the age of ten are being indoctrinated into misogyny and anti-feminism without even knowing it through games, memes and the digital world, and parents have no idea what their boys are getting into. A growing number of educators are concerned about the way young boys are spouting bogus manosphere claims that feminism has ruined the world, that women are tyrants, that they’re coming for men’s jobs, that they have far more power now than men and need to be put in their place.

So how do we stop this virulent new strain of misogyny? Bates believes the manosphere needs to be recognised as hate crime and its violent manifestations as terrorism. While a first step means correctly identifying what is going on, Bates argues that in order to counter the manosphere we need to trace it right back to its origins and tackle misogyny from school to the workplace to the law and policing. We need to tackle the freedom of speech defence used by the manosphere head on: freedom of speech is vital but that does not mean it is infinite and unbounded. Social media platforms must be made responsible for hosting misogynistic hate speech. The mass media too needs to abandon the two-sides-to-every-story false equivalence when it comes to reporting misogynist violence, thereby preventing hate speech legitimising itself through the media.

While society has addressed the way radical Islamists use the internet to radicalise new members, we need to mobilise in the face of violent misogynist extremists who are doing the same things. One problem is our tendency to vastly underestimate the size and power of manosphere groups as well as their ability to translate from social media platforms into concrete actions, including rape, mass murder and other violent crimes, sexual harassment and the brainwashing and corruption of minors. While misogyny has reached previously unseen levels in today’s society, the same sort of denial that existed in old technologies (‘you shouldn’t take it seriously’, ’he’s a good bloke’, etc.) still exists today and prevents action being taken.

Men Who Hate Women reads more like an interconnected series of well-researched blog rants than a non-fiction book, and Bates’s argument is not without flaws – her failure to link the ballooning growth of extremism with the devastating effects of globalisation on lower-middle-class white men who lost jobs during the last two decades and have joined forces with the traditional right, is an oversight because it is important when considering the remedy.

But overall, Men Who Hate Women is a convincing read. The fact that Tasmania is the only state or territory to recognise intimate terrorism is evidence of just how far we need to go to ensure Australian society and our online communities are free of this, perhaps the oldest and most virulent form of hate crime.

Laura Bates Men Who Hate Women Simon and Schuster 2020 PB $29.99

Justine Ettler has a PhD in American fiction and is the author of three novels, including the controversial bestseller The River Ophelia (a new edition was released in 2017) and Bohemia Beach (published by Transit Lounge in 2018). She has worked as an academic and a freelance journalist, and her work is available in bookshops, online and from her website.

You can buy Men Who Hate Women from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.

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