How the ‘Manosphere’ Misuses Science to Brainwash Men Into Hating Women
‘Scientifically justified’ sexism and misogyny are worryingly common today
Science been used and misused throughout history to justify prejudice, social inequality and some of the worst things human beings have done to each other.
From phrenology, the 19th-century study of skull shapes and sizes as an indicator of mental abilities, the misinterpretation of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ idea and the eugenics movements of the 20th century, there’s plenty of proof for that even in our not-so-distant past.
But today, it might be tempting to dismiss this phenomenon of ‘scientifically justified’ hatred as the product of a bygone era. Surely, we know better than that now, don’t we?
Well, no — not really.
In recent years, evolutionary approaches to human behaviour have been, once again, appropriated for a variety of ideological purposes.
And they seem to have garnered particularly substantial attention from the ‘manosphere’, a network of misogynistic men’s communities composed of incels — short for ‘involuntary celibates’ — Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and Pickup-Artists (PUAs) among a couple of others.
There’s always been a lot of crude pseudoscience floating around in those spaces, things that you won’t find mentioned anywhere else other than on anonymous YouTube channels or fundamentalist Christian blogs. But more worryingly, the manosphere’s misogynistic discourse often also relies on the misuse of evolutionary science, especially evolutionary psychology, coming from peer-reviewed sources.
And their interpretation of it is… frightening, to say the least.
‘Nature is cruel, and all women are brainless primates’
Evolutionary science got quite a few things backwards at first — female behaviour, in particular sexuality, unsurprisingly being one of them.
But by the 1970s, evidence from the field of primatology challenged Darwin’s famous description of female animals as ‘coy’ and ‘less eager to mate than the male’ as observations of primate species, such as macaques and bonobos, showed them to be neither coy, passive nor selective. This, coupled with studies among other female mammals, was perceived as a massive achievement for the feminist movement. And it helped propel the sexual revolution.
Paradoxically, the manosphere community also happens to be fond of the latest evolutionary theories about that very topic: female sexuality.
However, according to a recently published study, their interpretation not only doesn’t see female sexual freedom as desirable — surprise, surprise — but it’s done through a judgmental and misogynistic lens.
After an extensive qualitative analysis of online discussions in those spaces, which included over 9,000 pieces of content found across diverse manosphere communities — including incel forums, Reddit ‘Red Pill’ forums, as well as MRAs, PUAs and MGTOW blogs and websites — the researchers found that although its members often draw on reputable studies from mainstream journals, they do so in a highly misleading way.
To the point that it’s not exactly evolutionary psychology anymore. (That should already be taken with more than the usual grain of salt, but that’s another discussion.)
It’s the manosphere’s version of evolution psychology, riddled with personal narratives, sexual double standards, extreme misogyny and a whole lot of anger, bitterness and pain.
One prominent example is the dual-mating strategy hypothesis that suggests ancestral women might have evolved to prefer men who possess ‘good genes’ in the short term — especially during their ovulatory cycle — but in the long term, those who are more likely to invest in potential offspring. Only in the world of manosphere, words like ‘hypothesis’, ‘suggests,’ and ‘might have’ when talking about science don’t exist, and neither does the fact those theories dwell on the aggregate behaviour of our ancestors over millennia.
Like other research on female sexuality, the dual-mating strategy hypothesis is treated as ‘undeniable proof’ that all women are self-centred bitches and ‘brainless primates’ who cheat, lie and chase after ‘alphas’ when ovulating in order to obtain ‘superior genes’ while leading on ‘betas’— unattractive but stable and caring men.
As one post from the MGTOW forum included in the study sums it up:
We all know the secret females have been hiding for over a million years now. DUAL MATING STRATEGY. Fuck the alphas, suck resources and attention from all others.
Here’s another one from an MRA blog, in a typical manosphere fashion infused with both misogyny and highly biased interpretations of evolutionary explanations:
A woman’s drive for sex and economic support, which is the modern-day form of protection, made infidelity a way of life for her. Females spread their bets, so if one man bites the dust, either physically or economically, she still had other beaus to depend on. To keep her beaus tied to her, she needed to cheat on all of them but still convince each one with her tears, entreaties and sex that he was the only one. Over millions of years, natural selection eliminated the faithful females, since they tended to die out with only one male protecting and supporting them. That left a modern-day man with only a huge pool of hos — billions of them.
Even users who directly provide ‘evidence’ to support their claims do so without as much as getting through the abstract of the studies they quote, like the below one posted in a Reddit ‘Red Pill’ forum:
Women do have a dual mating strategy, as evidenced by https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1474704919852918
And yet, the study cited had mixed results and did not mention the dual-mating strategy hypothesis.
Needless to say, there are countless more examples just like these, often accompanied by gloomy warnings about ‘cruel nature’ that will weed your genes out of existence if you don’t learn how to ‘hack’ corrupted female nature. But in addition to blaming genetics and biology for their lack of dating and relationship success, manosphere members also often blame contemporary society and feminism.
You see, it unfortunately gave women… a choice.
This highly distorted worldview is now being pushed on social media platforms
Interestingly, and as the above study also found, hypotheses on the evolution of male behaviour and sexuality are conveniently omitted from discussions in the manosphere, creating an even more biased account of reality.
But the image of men through an evolutionary lens is as unflattering as it is in women’s case, if not more.
For instance, men’s propension towards short-term and extra-pair mating is well-established in the evolutionary literature, too. So why isn’t that mentioned alongside all the ‘undoubted truths’ about women cheating, lying and always being on the lookout for the ‘superior’ mate? Why does only female ‘biologically hardwired’ behaviour warrant moral condemnation?
Not to mention other evolutionary psychology theories, which suggest that all men are rapists unable to control their violent and aggressive behaviour.
If you assume evolutionary psychology to be the ultimate answer to questions on human behaviour, as the manosphere does — which even many evolutionary scholars disagree with — you can’t conclude all women are superficial cheaters without also implying that all men are cheaters. And uncontrollably violent rapists.
Here’s the biggest problem, though.
The manosphere communities, especially incel forums, aren’t only popular among adult men who want to voice their grievances about women and dating and Western society and whatnot. Overwhelmingly, they’re used by young men and even teenage boys. Now, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine what a person this young coming across seemingly scientific ‘evidence’ that urges them to hate and despise the other half of the population could lead to, is it?
However, according to another recent study, this conditioning is happening not only in the internet's darkest corners but also on social media platforms. The researchers focused specifically on incel subculture on Tik Tok, a platform that has shown a surge in misogynistic and anti-feminist content lately, and found that they indeed use it to spread their beliefs.
But to avoid detection on these mainstream platforms, incel ideology takes a much subtler form, often misusing evolutionary psychology theories and presenting taken out of context or even fake graphs, surveys and information to ‘expose the supposed true nature of women.’ This is often accompanied by repurposed viral internet media — including TV clips and memes — that portray unattractive men being humiliated and mocked by women.
And because of the seemingly scientific language being used, the content usually completely avoids moderation and is likely consumed by impressionable audiences that might not even be familiar with the intricacies of incel ideology.
‘Scientifically justified’ misogyny is an insidious thing
Progress isn’t always linear. But also, it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Some people were shocked to discover the results of a survey published earlier this month that shows most (57%) Gen Z men do not identify as feminists, despite the widespread belief that the younger generations hold, on average, more socially progressive attitudes than older ones.
In comparison, a nearly equal number of Millenial men and women — 52 and 54%, respectively — felt that the feminist label applied to them.
Is that really shocking, though?
Considering the amount of brainwashing plastered all over the internet that teaches young men to hate women, hate feminism and perceive equality as a zero-sum game, I think we should be glad that number isn’t higher because it very well could be.
But what makes this wave of misogyny particularly insidious and concerning is precisely the fact that it uses scientific concepts as tokens of authority, even though they are grossly misunderstood and misquoted, as this can lead to far more than just fewer and fewer men thinking of feminism as a force for good and driver for necessary change in the world.
So how do we go about trying to remedy that?
Well, the first study I quoted calls for evolutionary scholars to use more neutral terms in their writing — as some still use sexist and morally loaded terms like ‘cuckold,’ for instance— and engage with widespread misuses of their work through debunking and analysis to make such interpretations more difficult and hence less likely.
That won’t change the minds of those men most adamant about finding justifications for their hatred and prejudices against women, but it’s a start.
But we also desperately need more emphasis on teaching media and scientific literacy. Ideally, yesterday and not only when it comes to young people and kids.
It’s great that we now have almost instantaneous access to a wealth of knowledge and ideas, including freely accessible academic studies and resources, but, unfortunately, that’s also creating plenty of opportunities for those with a malicious agenda. And grifters who would say anything if it only means it will get them money and fame.
Evolutionary psychology merely offers one, purely theoretical perspective on human social behaviour.
But there’s a reason why it remains the most criticised and controversial field in social sciences. And why so many of those other fields increasingly suggest that human behaviour is far more complex and malleable and far less binary than we once thought.
We might not uniformly agree on that, but we should at least agree that speculations about our distant ancestors in the past are not undeniable facts about human behaviour in the present.
And that using science to justify your preconceived biases or, as is the case with the manosphere, blatant hatred and push the idea that part of our society should be regarded as inferior is one of the most dangerous paths to go down.
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