“Feminists attack liberty, justice, equality and meritocracy. They attack men, women, and children, and relations between the sexes,” so declared British anti-feminist activists in a 2018 online statement.
Its signatories included key UK far-right vlogger Paul Joseph Watson, Breitbart London writer James Delingpole and Valerie Price, National Director of ACT! For Canada (which is tied to the major US anti-Muslim organisation, ACT! For America). The statement’s impact was nonetheless negligible; exemplifying the marginal nature of organised anti-feminist politics in the UK.
But the operative word there, however, is ‘organised’. Recent events and a glance across the contemporary far-right landscape will find many voices who share this conspiratorial and hostile view of feminism. Whilst this is not new, HOPE not hate’s newly-released State of Hate report explores how the UK anti-feminist movement is trying to mobilise this support and the role of a particular online community in this.
Far-right movements have long held sexist, misogynist and anti-feminist views. Yet, in a pronounced way, for elements of the contemporary far right these ideas are not merely a result of their wider political outlook but rather a central pillar of their ideology (in some cases alongside disavowals of other bigotries).
A key influence here is the ‘manosphere’: a loose collection of websites, forums, blogs and vlogs concerned with men’s issues and masculinity, oriented around an opposition to feminism and, within parts, embrace of extreme misogyny and wider hatred.
The manosphere interprets feminism as an effort to promote misandry (contempt or prejudice of men), rather than gender equality. This perception is central to understanding this online world. While many of its interests and ideas are inherently sexist, anti-feminist and misogynistic, others – such as concerns about male suicide – are not themselves expressions of such. Rather, they are viewed in the manosphere through a lens which places the blame for such issues at the feet of women, feminism and progressive politics.
Manosphere ideas have snowballed into an ideology that has taken on a life of its own, and for some it has served as a route into wider far-right politics. For others who have kept their focus on gender, particularly for a subculture known as ‘incels’ (involuntary celibates), it has led to misogynistic violence in some cases.
Whilst sexism, misogyny and anti-feminism remain endemic issues in the UK, organised political movements that are primarily focused on these ideas remain small and at the fringes.
Electorally, the sole group in the UK solely concerned with anti-feminism is the ‘Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them)’ Party (J4MB), founded in 2013.
J4MB is electorally marginal and in practice the party functions as a pressure group carrying out small demonstrations (to little attention). More effective has been the party’s ability to act as the central organiser of UK anti-feminist activity, and as a liaison to anti-feminists abroad.
In 2018, J4MB co-organised the annual International Conference on Men’s Issues (ICMI), the key international meetup for anti-feminist activists, which in this case saw roughly 150 attendees from Europe, America, India and Australia meeting in London.
Beyond J4MB, offline UK anti-feminist groups are few and similarly marginal, such as the disparate ‘Network4Men’ community which believes “Feminism is now the ruling ideology in Western society” and “Culture and law is being melded to conform with this anti-men and anti-family agenda”.
The manosphere community in the UK (and abroad) is found predominantly online. As our new report details, evidence suggests that after the US, the UK is one of the major sources of manosphere traffic.
Yet, despite this activity, the various subcultures of the manosphere tend to undermine their own political growth, often because they are focused on individual lifestyles or because they largely reject collective action.
Incels can pose a violent threat, though this is undermined at times by a deeply pessimistic outlook and lack of traditional organisation. At the same time, as sociologist Ross Haenfler has highlighted, this does not mean incel communities can’t play a role in catalysing seemingly lone actor attacks.
In contrast, anti-feminist ‘Men’s Right’s Activists’ (MRA) like J4MB have the clearest path to growth. This is because they employ a framework (however misguidedly) of human rights activism. MRA’s efforts aim at mobilising those who not only do not see themselves as feminists but who believe feminism to be inherently harmful.
To this end, MRAs follow the current far-right trend of presenting themselves as martyrs for free speech; censored for merely trying to speak the ‘truth’ about ‘dangerous’ progressive ideas.
By promoting the idea that feminism is an authoritarian, dangerous ideology, MRAs create room for sexism and misogyny to be legitimised through the undermining of feminist reform, and perpetuate ideas about gender that – contrary to MRA beliefs – harm men too.
Many feminist activists are doing brilliant, vital work countering the manosphere and HOPE not hate is determined to give greater attention to counteracting it too. Not only is it essential that we fight for the feminist cause for its own end, but as we are increasingly seeing, anti-feminism is acting as a prominent route into the wider far right for many, making it core to the mission of fighting hate and restoring hope in society more widely.