“This is your last chance. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Blissful ignorance or harsh truth: this is the choice that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) presents to Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the blockbuster sci-fi film The Matrix (1999).
Eventually, Neo chooses the red pill and becomes cognisant of the Matrix, the shared, simulated reality that the majority of humankind has been forced to inhabit.When writing the film screenplay, directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski could hardly have foreseen the infamous legacy the scene in question would leave in Western culture. Truly, we can only imagine the distaste that the Wachowskis (both transgender women) must have felt upon finding out that red and blue pill had become two key concepts of a misogynistic online community known as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW, to be pronounced “migtau”).
The members of the community, who go by the name of MGTOWers, divide men into two categories: “redpillers” and “bluepillers”. In their view, the former are those who have found their way out of the “simulation” and have opened their eyes to “society’s gynocentric evils”, whereas the latter are those who remain oblivious to their enslavement to the opposite sex.
As other groups within the “manosphere” (a loose network of online misogynistic groups), MGTOW believes that feminism has created a society which is designed to oppress men and trample their rights.
Seeing the balance of power irreparably tilted in womens’ favour, the community refuses to engage in any type of pro-male activism and rather advocates for men to distance themselves from women, with its most devout disciples going as far as abstaining from sexual intercourse altogether. As writer Mack Lamoreux once put it, MGTOWers “are grabbing their balls and going home”.
The history of the online community is murky and strewn with a profusion of quasi-mythical tales that make it hard to record the development of MGTOW over time.
MGTOW believes that feminism has created a society which is designed to oppress men and trample their rights
What is certain is that the community’s birth dates back to October 2004, when three Internet users going by the aliases of Ragnar Jensen, Zed the Zenpriest and Meikyo met in Hickory, North Carolina and laid out the bases for the creation of MGTOW.
In the years immediately following its establishment, MGTOW lived on as a relatively small community, counting no more than a few thousand acolytes. It was only in 2011, when MGTOWers “colonised” Reddit, that the movement started gaining momentum. Since then, the number of followers has been steadily growing to the point that the r/MGTOW subreddit currently boasts 135,000 members.
Most MGTOWers live in North America (US or Canada), although, in recent years, the UK has witnessed the growth of a sizeable MGTOW community. Who are the people joining MGTOW though? Usually, middle-aged men who have gone through acrimonious divorces and have had issues related with child custody or child maintenance.
In the case of Ben*, a MGTOWer since 2014, a particularly bitter divorce was the reason for joining the community: “I was the perfect husband, the perfect father, the ideal breadwinner, but that still wasn’t enough for my wife. MGTOW provided all the answers. It was a revelation.”
Despite claiming to be a decentralised, non-hierarchical group, MGTOW is in effect coordinated by a small circle of users (Sandman, Howard Dare, MGTOW is Freedom, TFM) who regularly publish content across a variety of online platforms and channels. According to Ben, reading or watching that content was “a billion times more effective than going to a psychologist or a marriage counsellor.”
Over time, the “teachings” of the MGTOW community have apparently given him an imperturbable peace of mind: “I now watch [other men] haplessly flounder about, wondering what the causes of their confusion and suffering in the world of women, dating and sex are.”
Ben’s words, like those of thousands of other MGTOWers, seem to come from a place of spiritual enlightenment. After all, the MGTOW community does not fit the criteria of a traditional online community as much as it does those of an online cult.
One need only think that there are five different levels of “devotion” to the cause. These range from “situational awareness”, whereby members simply reject marriage and any form of cohabitation, to “social exile”, wherein adherents drop out of society (“going ghost”) and avoid any contact with both women and so-called ‘bluepillers’.
Despite currently hovering over the first two levels, which still include relationships with women, Ben did not exclude “going monk”, or forgoing sex with anyone other than oneself: “The more you learn about female nature and behaviour, the more difficult it becomes to be in a relationship with one. It’s a double-edged sword type of situation. You almost sabotage your own relationships due to your in-depth knowledge.”
For any respectable MGTOWer, the knowledge Ben speaks of also includes flawless proficiency in the MGTOW jargon. Unlike deep-web cults, over time the community has developed its own lingo, which new proselytes can quickly get familiar with by accessing the glossary section of the official MGTOW website.
On the same website, the group’s dogmas are laid out with unerring solemnity. Men Going Their Own Way is described as a “statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else”.
Similarly, those who join the group are praised as men who “refuse to bow, serve and kneel for the opportunity to be treated like a disposable utility.”
At the heart of these statements lies the conviction that today’s society is largely biased against men. From double standards in family courts to unjust paternity obligations, MGTOWers claim that the current societal mode is designed to subjugate the male gender and that patriarchy is a lie perpetuated by the feminist movement in order to keep the “misandrist system” in place.
Based on these views, the MGTOW community shudders at the thought of having any legal entanglement with women, starting from marriage. In the MGTOW foundational document, an “essay” by Zed the Zenpriest titled Ignoring Women, marriage is described as “too corrupt and too foul to be fixed” and likened to a “derelict building that MUST (sic) be torn down”.
Most MGTOWers also openly reject procreation except by means of child surrogacy, an option that seems to be becoming increasingly popular within the group.
According to MGTOW members, these attitudes towards marriage, cohabitation and procreation are nothing new; on the contrary, in their opinion, MGTOW ideals have been around for centuries and they might actually be “as old as man’s discovery of fire”.
Nikola Tesla, Arthur Schopenhauer, Niccolò Machiavelli, Galileo, Jesus (yes, you read that right): these are just some of the historical figures that the community identifies as precursors of the MGTOW movement.
Although history is indeed replete with examples of men who embraced celibacy, MGTOWers’ pretence to be somehow associated with prominent individuals from the past seems like a preposterous attempt at lending themselves credibility.
It is upon these far-fetched claims of authority that MGTOW builds its most outrageous theories, including its views on female nature. In particular, according to the community, all women are inherently promiscuous and manipulative.
Ben was particularly outspoken on the subject: “Women wilfully whore around and waste their youth and fertility on the Chad/Tyrone bad-boy types. They then pass their 20s, have no loyalty whatsoever to any man and only profess their love fleetingly when they are desperate to marry. What good, decent, upstanding man with any shred of dignity wants to pay an arm and a leg for something 30 other men got for free?”
Men Going Their Own Way is described as a “statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else.”
In the community’s views, the promiscuity of today’s women (something that the most “enlightened” members of the group refer to as “cock carousel”) is once again to be chalked up to society’s super-villain: feminism.
Notably, MGTOWers believe that the “sexual liberation” accomplished by the feminist movement turned women into “sexual objects with less value than a handful of sand”.
If you’re thinking it can’t possibly get worse than this, well, it does. In fact, the community’s ideology reaches its apex when it comes to discussing rape allegations and the gender pay gap.
Michael Jones, an English MGTOWer who joined the community after he alleged he was falsely accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, brushed off the #MeToo movement as a “load of shit”: “How can that only relate to females? If a woman was to spike a guy’s drink and then go to have non-consensual sex, then that should be classed as rape, but, as it stands, a woman cannot be charged with rape in the UK.”
Equally controversial statements are usually made with regard to the wage gap between male and female professionals. “If you count up all wages and differentiate only by gender, of course there is a wage gap. So what? Men work more and harder, do scalable and dangerous jobs, negotiate salaries more aggressively and do not take years off work to have babies. Someone has to pay for the welfare state and for consumerism,” Ben said.
Now, if the members of the MGTOW community really went their own way, views like the ones above would have little or no effect on the rest of the world. Sadly though, rather than embracing the “female-free” life they evangelise, most MGTOWers seem to be actually spending the majority of their time ruminating about women and uploading overtly misogynistic comments online. Every hour, hundreds of spiteful remarks find their way onto the Internet, feeding a relentless cycle of anti-female online bigotry.
The toxicity of the content regularly uploaded by MGTOWers is, if possible, exacerbated by the fact that this content rarely remains confined within private forums and platforms; it is very common for the members of the community to carry out online attacks against other web users, whether those are prominent feminists or other women that they perceive as a threat.
According to Debbie Ging, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Dublin City University and leading expert in online misogyny, these attacks are in all respects “current-day witch hunts” whose aim is to “punish women for transgressing patriarchal boundaries”. The tactics used in the online assaults can go from hacking and cyberstalking to rape and death threats.
Although online hatred is often dismissed as “just words”, the psychological and emotional impact it has on its victims is dire. As an example, in 2017, an Ipsos-MORI poll conducted across eight different Western countries found that 55% of women who experienced online abuse or harassment suffered from anxiety or panic attacks as a result of it, whereas 66% had trouble sleeping after the event.
Unfortunately, the harm caused by MGTOW does not end with the severe effects its online abuse has on female users. Back in May 2017, Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, expressed his concerns about the “pernicious influence” MGTOW has on “relatively bitter and resentful young men who haven’t had great success in the dating market and are looking for a rationale to write off all women.”
Dr Peterson’s statement indirectly referred to the events occurred in Isla Vista, California on 23rd May 2014, when 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers killed six people and injured 14 others before taking his own life.
Prior to carrying out the massacre, the perpetrator, an active member of a number of misogynistic online forums and subreddits, had recorded a YouTube video where he had explained his planned actions as a way to punish girls for not being attracted to him.
The Isla Vista killings are just the most notorious case in a string of misogyny-fuelled mass murders constituting irrefutable proof that online anti-female hatred kills.
Alas, so far, most Western countries, including the UK, have failed to acknowledge the danger posed by online misogyny and to address the issue accordingly. As a result, the current legislation on the subject is deficient and web policing is in most cases negligible.
Given the seriousness of the matter, legal interventions and changes to Internet policies and protocols are of the essence. Perhaps, a good way to catalyse that shift would be to finally outlaw online misogyny as a hate crime, something that several grassroots organisations have long been calling for in the UK.
* The interviewee’s name has been changed at their request.
Featured image courtesy of M-SUR via Adobe Stock.
Edited by Kesia Evans & Emil Brierley.