Language, the Manosphere, and Networked Harassment

“The manosphere is an aggregate of diverse communities brought together by a common language that orients them in opposition to the discourse and rhetoric of feminism. Vocabulary contributes to a sense of common identity. Men’s rights communities use the term [misandry] to signify a form of undesirable feminism that they argue privileges women’s rights over men’s. People used misandry to denigrate those seeking to overcome structural sexism by denying its existence. By saying “You’re not the victim, I’m the victim!” the MRA [men’s rights activist] is able to adopt a defensible position as the suffering victim, turning feminist (or queer, or anti-racist) activism on its head and re-framing it as oppressive. This then justifies harassment as a defense mechanism to protect men against loathsome feminists out to oppress them.”

Alice E. Marwick & Robyn Caplan

“The manosphere is an aggregate of diverse communities brought together by a common language that orients them in opposition to the discourse and rhetoric of feminism. While the concerns of, say, young men interested in seducing women, libertarian Bitcoin farmers, and fathers caught up in contentious custody hearings are quite different, vocabulary contributes to a sense of common identityMisandry, which until recently was used almost exclusively within the manosphere, functions as part of a common linguistic practice. This creates a sense of community across divergent subgroups, builds ties between individuals, and helps to solidify the ideological commitment of MRAs to oppose feminism. It also exists as a tool to counter feminist language and ideas.

Our research also shows that misandry serves as a boundary object, serving to coordinate and convey meaning amongst ingroup and outgroup participants, depending on the source of its use. Men’s rights communities use the term to signify a form of undesirable feminism that they argue privileges women’s rights over men’s, while feminist communities use it as a symbol of the false equivalence they believe the MRM employs in their rhetoric. While misandry has a shared meaning, it is leveraged toward very different ends. Thus, the use of the term misandry is action- or -practice-oriented, serving to orient one community toward another: MRAs against feminists, or feminists against MRAs.

However, as misandry spreads and is covered by mainstream journalists, it brings with it intrinsically misogynistic frames. From its inception, people used misandry not just to establish equivalency between discrimination against men and discrimination against women, but to denigrate those seeking to overcome structural sexism by denying its existence. MRAs do not simply dislike feminist tactics or beliefs. They believe that the very premise of feminism—that women and girls face structural inequality, expressed through patriarchy and sexism—is not only incorrect, but a bald-faced lie spread by feminists. Feminists are not so much dupes as they are malevolent man-haters, attempting to denigrate and oppress men and then deny that they are doing it.

Such denial and conspiratorial thinking is common throughout the manosphere. By saying “You’re not the victim, I’m the victim!” the MRA, whether he be Sargon of Akkad or a poster on soc.men, is able to adopt a defensible position as the suffering victim, turning feminist (or queer, or anti-racist) activism on its head and re-framing it as oppressive. This then justifies harassment as a defense mechanism to protect men against loathsome feminists out to oppress them. It is unsurprising that the MRM pioneered and engages in weaponized harassment, given the centrality of the victim narrative to their ideology. Misandry encapsulates the perceived persecution of men by feminists, which is used throughout the manosphere to justify networked harassment.

Since the November 2016 US Presidential election, the United States has witnessed the rise of an activist movement called “the alt-right” which espouses white nationalism and anti-Semitism in addition to explicit patriarchy.[1] There are clear linkages between the alt-right and the manosphere. Alt-right figureheads like Milo Yiannopolous and Mike Cernovich gained prominence during Gamergate and continue to target feminists and social justice warriors in their online activities.[2] Portions of the manosphere, such as the popular pickup artist blog Return of Kings, began to espouse anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic ideas during Gamergate.[3] Moreover, for young men immersed in internet culture, the Men’s Rights Movement is often a stepping stone to white supremacist beliefs.[4],[5] Notably, both movements rely on a white male identity seen as under attack by feminists, SJWs, and people of color. The links between the MRM and the resurgence of white nationalism online are worth investigating in more detail. Words like “cuck”—a male figure drawn from pornography who allows his wife to have sex with other men, usually Black men—function similarly to misandry, spreading white nationalist ideology (and patriarchal subjectivity) while justifying attacks on divergent points of view. Likewise, terms like “alt-right” or “alt-left” function primarily to link different social and political ideologies together, or locate non-equivalent positionalities in opposition, more than they convey any sort of stable meaning. Attending to the way that community-specific terms move across and between ideological spaces can help to illuminate how virulent belief systems fester and spread on the internet.”

Excerpt from Alice E. Marwick & Robyn Caplan (2018) Drinking male tears: language, the manosphere, and networked harassment, Feminist Media Studies, 18:4, 543-559, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2018.1450568 [Emphasis and picture added. Italics in original. References reproduced below.]


[1] Lyons, Matthew N. 2017. Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The Origins and Ideology of the Alternative Right. Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/01/20/ctrl-alt-delete-report-on-the-alternative-right/ [Google Scholar]

[2] Mortensen, Torill Elvira . 2016. “Anger, Fear, and Games: The Long Event of #GamerGate.” Games and Culture. Published online before print (April). doi:10.1177/1555412016640408. [Crossref] , [Google Scholar]

[3] Wilson, Jason . 2015. “‘Cultural Marxism’: A Uniting Theory for Rightwingers Who Love to Play the Victim.” The Guardian. Accessed January 19, 2015, sec. Opinion. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/19/cultural-marxism-a-uniting-theory-for-rightwingers-who-love-to-play-the-victim [Google Scholar]

[4] Futrelle, David . 2017. “Men’s-Rights Activism is the Gateway Drug for the Alt-Right.” The Cut. Accessed August 17, 2017.https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/mens-rights-activism-is-the-gateway-drug-for-the-alt-right.html [Google Scholar]

[5] Michael, George . 2017. “The Rise of the Alt-Right and the Politics of Polarization in America.” Skeptic 22 (2): 9–18. [Google Scholar]

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