It has long been the case that far-right movements have 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).
One influence on the contemporary far right’s understanding of gender politics 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. The prevailing interpretation within the manosphere is that feminism is about promoting misandry (contempt or prejudice of men) rather than gender equality. This perception is central to understanding the manosphere, for whilst 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 these. 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.
The often deeply conspiratorial worldview of the manosphere is crystallised by the manosphere’s use
of the ‘red pill’ term: a metaphor for the process of awakening to the truth of some aspect of reality that has supposedly been hidden by progressives and elites. The term had already existed online since at least 2004, but manifested itself most explicitly in the creation of the ‘r/TheRedPill’ subforum of the popular forum site, Reddit.com, in 2012. The subforum, revealed by The Daily Beast in 2017 to have been founded by then-Republican congressman for the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Robert Fisher, would go on to become a central online space within the manosphere and the term is now widely used by the far right online.
Disagreements abound between the manosphere’s factions, nonetheless these came together online throughout the late 2000s and by the mid-2010s shared an increasingly politicised and conspiratorial rejection of feminism and progressive politics more widely.
The UK Manosphere
Electorally, the sole group in the UK primarily concerned with anti-feminism is the ‘Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them)’ Party (J4MB), founded in 2013 by Mike Buchanan. Buchanan was a consultant to the Conservative party from 2006-2008, who cancelled his Conservative party membership after David Cameron’s announcement that he would introduce all-women shortlists for prospective party candidates.
J4MB are electorally as marginal as they come, receiving just 0.3% and 0.1% of the vote share in the two constituencies they stood candidates in during the 2015 General Election (they stood none in 2017).
In practice, the party functions as a pressure group carrying out small demonstrations to little attention, and only occasionally are engaged with by the media. More effective has been the party’s ability to act as the central organisers of UK anti-feminist activity,and as a liaison to anti-feminists abroad. J4MB co-organised the 2018 (London), 2017 (Gold Coast, Australia) and 2016 (London) International Conferences on Men’s Issues (ICMI), the key international meetup for anti-feminist activists, alongside anti-feminist groups in the US, India and Australia (the first was organised by the main US anti-feminist organisation, A Voice For Men, and held in Detroit in 2014).
This year’s ICMI was held in London’s ExCel Centre from 20-22 July and saw roughly 150 attendees from Britain, Sweden, Germany, America, India, Norway, France, Austria and Australia over the weekend. The other main UK event of 2018 was the second annual ‘Messages for Men’ conference, held above an O’Neills pub on London’s Wardour Street on 18 November. This saw roughly 75 mainly British attendees, and though it featured many members and staff of J4MB, was organised by London’s small, active anti-feminist community (though one co-organiser was J4MB’s Director of Communications, Elisabeth Hobson).
Outside of J4MB, offline UK anti-feminist groups are few and marginal, such as the Oxford Men’s Rights Action group (who have engaged in very few actions) and the Norfolk Men’s Equality Network, a Norfolk meetup group established in early 2017 who appear to remain inactive. Also of note is the disparate ‘Network4Men’ (N4M) community who believe “Feminism is now the ruling ideology in Western society. Culture and law is being melded to conform with this anti-men and anti-family agenda”. In response, they help people to “form local groups of men who meet for friendship, shared learning and activism” (N4M groups appear to have engaged in no actions).
Prospects for 2019
The subcultures of the manosphere by and large undermine their own political growth, be it because they are focused primarily on individual lifestyles (PUAs), actively reject collective action (MGTOW), or discourage – as noted, other than violence – most political action and instead promote a nihilistic worldview (incels).
The exception to this are ‘Men’s Right’s Activists’ (MRA) (see sidebar), in part because they employ a framework (however misguidedly) of human rights activism. As the Non-Feminist Declaration suggests,
a litmus test for the UK MRA movement will be their efforts to mobilise the supposed ‘non-feminist’ segment of the population 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, while they are in reality aiming to propagandise. Such an approach to feminism is clear in the Non-Feminist Declaration when it states:
Recognizing the growth of feminist aggression, we assert our right to exist and thrive without paying any respect to feminists or their ideology. We shall not permit feminists to dictate what we say, how we say it or how we interact with the world.
By promoting the idea that feminism is an authoritative, controlling ideology MRAs create room for sexism and misogyny to be legitimised through the undermining of feminist reform. That the UK MRA movement will adopt this strategy in 2019 is evident from the recent establishment of a London- based ‘Women’s Liberation Network’ by some of the organisers of the Messages for Men conference. Their first intended action is a demonstration on International Women’s Day on 8 March. Beyond this, J4MB are in the process of co-organising the 2019 ICMI in Chicago.
Not only is it essential that we fight for the feminist cause for its own end, but as we are increasingly seeing, sexism, anti-feminism and misogyny are 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.Download a PDF of the report here