Male Supremacy Groups Are Hate Groups, And They’re Changing American Politics
Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center for the first time added two male supremacy groups to its hate group watch list, noting in their announcement that “the vilification of women by these groups makes them no different than other groups that demean entire populations, such as the LGBT community, Muslims or Jews, based on their inherent characteristics.”
The decision to officially track the actions of two groups espousing male supremacy ideology comes at a time in which fringe and extremist groups have become increasingly emboldened through many factors, such astheir unprecedented access to key political leaders. And it also comes at a time when these groups are affecting tangible, real-world damage—to women, to marginalized people, to media, and to the overarching landscape of American politics.
The rise and embrace of male supremacy groups has yielded violence and provably damaging anti-woman White House policies. But perhaps most terrifying of all, groups that operate on the premise of white male victimhood, of the equation of female empowerment and diversity to anti-male persecution, are spreading the message that marginalized voices are a threat to free speech that must be expunged. This ideology of invalidating modern feminist speech is most recognizable in that innocuous term, “political correctness” — the idea that basic demands for respect and recognition are somehow far from basic, and rather, an oppressive overreach; that speech in opposition to misogynistic, hateful speech is somehow not free speech, but rather, the hate speech that it responds to is.
The very concept of political correctness, espoused by the same thinkers who founded male supremacy activism, is meant to trivialize oppression, and through that trivialization, silence, rewrite history, and make marginalized groups vulnerable to political attacks.
Male supremacy groups are hate groups that brazenly attack and misrepresent women, often advocate for the removal of their rights and encourage or make light of violence and abuse toward them. And more than that, they operate on an agenda of gaslighting. Free speech, due process, and other fundamental democratic practices and institutions have always been structured to allow the people — women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people and all groups who have historically had to fight and struggle for basic rights — to strive for equality. It’s only fairly recently that they’ve been reclaimed and spun by fringe male and white supremacy groups. Now, free speech purportedly means entitled, misogynistic and generally ignorant and intolerant men can say whatever they want without consequence; now, due process means that accusations of sexual assault mean nothing.
It’s a shift in our cultural dialogue that’s been years in the making, growing ever more prevalent in response to each feminist victory big or small. But now, with the ear of the White House and confirmation that misogyny is not only acceptable but also rewardable through the 2016 presidential election, the male supremacy agenda might just be nearing its peak.
What, Exactly, Are Male Supremacy Groups?
In 2014, 22-year-old Eliot Rodger led a violent shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stating in a Youtube video and manifesto shared prior to the attack that he sought to punish women for sexually rejecting him. Of course, most who knew and had interacted with Rodger claimed he had never even put in an effort to know or make relationships with women; his feelings of rejection stemmed from an overarching sense of entitlement to women and their bodies without requiring anything from him.
Rodger had had previous run-ins before the incident: spilling drinks on women who didn’t smile back at him, trying to shove girls off a 10-foot ledge at a party, stalking and harassing a couple at a coffee shop. In his manifesto and other writings, in addition to shockingly racist commentary about black and Asian men, he wrote about storing all women in concentration camps and described starving most to death. In essence, if not to be used for sex, he saw women as objects, animals to be locked up and killed. Rodger’s was an ideology of entitlement to women; and while his situation was a complex one of diagnosed mental disorders and violent extremism that can’t be used to produce generalizations, that overarching entitlement and sense of women’s sole purpose as pleasing and submitting to men underlie male supremacy activism on internet forums, and in general.
The vast majority of gun violence is linked with domestic abuse; domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abusers have access to a gun. From a shooting motivated by anti-choice ideology at a Colorado-based Planned Parenthood in 2015 to the domestic abuse records of many mass shooters such as the gunman in the 2015 shooting in a Lafayette theater, there’s clear evidence hypermasculinity and misogyny influence gun violence.
Many male supremacist Redditors believe in the binary of men who are enlightened of their “oppression” and those who aren’t—those who have swallowed the red pill and those who haven’t. Because women have the power to reject sex—in other words, because of that burdensome little thing called “consent”—these Reddit users perceive women as the ones with the social capital, privilege and power, with men at their mercy and subjected to their purported cruelty.
Other examples of the ideologies of male supremacy activism yielding depravity include the 2014 “Gamergate” incident, which involved an avalanche of death and rape threats and other sexual harassment targeted at women in the male-dominated video game industry, from game developers to media critics. What truly fueled Gamergate was outrage at women in a sphere men viewed as theirs, outrage at women as more than sex objects at male disposal, and more than anything, the overarching insecurity of hypermasculinty: A 2015 study revealed men who harass and attack women on the internet are, objectively speaking, losers.
But rather than cases like this—violence, threats of violence, harassment—the greater societal dialogue has been largely controlled by male supremacy groups, and a culture of male entitlement to not only women, but also an assured platform accorded to male supremacists to harass women and give voice to misogyny. Think of how much more often we hear about outrage regarding yet another hateful troll being banned from Twitter, or the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos decrying purported attacks on free speech when protesters exercising their free speech shut down or attempt to shut down his events. Yiannopoulos, though best known for defending pedophilia at this point, has gone on the record equating feminism to cancer, calling for a “cap” on women in STEM, and espousing many other male supremacy ideologies.
As an ideology, male supremacy often demands that men be given free reign to make misogynistic, hateful speech without consequence, that their ideas should not only be free from censorship but also be given platforms to which no one unilaterally has a right. They claim their words are nonviolent, ignoring the violence that would inherently be required to systemically strip women and other groups they target of their rights, and ignoring the violence their words commodify by presenting women as oppressive figures deserving of death or rape threats.
This is the truth of their ideology, and its violent oppression that they attempt to masquerade as an expanded, modern “free speech” debate. Their closeness to the White House—taking meetings with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over campus sexual assault policy, and formerly through then-White House chief adviser Steve Bannon, an arm of the male supremacy outlet Breitbart—marks a dangerous regression, and an attack on women’s rights and decency in politics.
How They Hurt Women
In September, after taking multiple meetings with self-identified men’s rights groups throughout the summer, DeVos rang in the beginning of a new school year by announcing her department would no longer enforce Obama-era Title IX guidelines. These guidelines lowered the standard of evidence for people reporting sexual assault, and required universities to handle sexual assault reports in a timely manner.
While raising the standard of evidence for those reporting assault was what many men’s rights and conservative groups called a fair reflection of “due process,” doing so cruelly ignores the reality that individual testimony is often all survivors can offer as evidence. The Education Department’s new policy will likely deny many survivors justice or at the very least delay it, and at its core is a striking, sweeping attack on women’s credibility. The reality is that an estimated 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, that one in five women on college campuses, specifically, are victims of rape or attempted rape: False reporting isn’t even close to the problem of a society that actively discourages women from reporting, by telling women that all they can offer to seek justice simply isn’t enough.
While obviously devastating and by no means condoned by any feminist, false reporting should be far from the focus of our discussion. Just in terms of sheer numbers and prevalence, it is far from the greater national issue at hand. A sharp plurality of survivors don’t feel safe coming forward to law enforcement; far too often, judges in courts across the country allow misogynistic, victim-blaming lines of questioning directed at survivors. The process of coming forward too often requires victims to relive their trauma, often with only slight chances at justice: Rape and crimes of sexual violence lead to fewer arrests and convictions than any other crime.
Portraying false reporting as the existential, tremendous issue that men’s rights activists market it as not only distracts from the very real epidemic of sexual violence against women on campuses, but also serves to mislead and gaslight us into believing that this epidemic doesn’t exist. And as a result, sexual violence is commodified, associated with doubt and dishonest women rather than trauma, suffering, and tragedy experienced by human beings. As a result, critical discussions of the slut-shaming and victim-blaming inherent in our treatment of survivors are sidelined.
Last September, just weeks after a male Google employee released a disturbing manifesto lambasting diversity programs and describing women as inherently inferior and less competent than male engineers, President Trump announced the end of an Obama-era rule requiring employers to report salary data in an effort to fight the gender wage gap.
While men’s rights forum users criticized Google’s decision to terminate the employee—or, in other words, hold an adult responsible for his words and creation of a hostile, discriminatory work environment—the White House took a tangible step to limit women’s workplace mobility; the policy decision placed imagined slights against men in sharp contrast with real attacks on women’s rights enabled by policymaking.
Today, there are many factors in why women continue to earn less than men, from the devaluation of feminized fields and implicit steering of women away from STEM, to discrimination directed at mothers and gendered perceptions of who is more senior or experienced. But a lack of monitoring employers and their behaviors and treatment of women certainly contributes to this landscape of inequality that is the male-dominated, discriminatory fantasy of the Google employee’s manifesto.
A month after the Trump administration’s reversal on wage gap policy, the White House announced the repeal of the contraceptive mandate, which gave cost-free birth control access to 55 million American women, and saved women an estimated $1.4 billion annually. In the absence of the mandate, millions of women could lose or have already lost a key resource that grants them the control over their bodies they need in order to participate equally in education and the workforce.
More recently, Trump’s HHS department also revealed that it would be prioritizing pro-abstinence groups as recipients of its Title X family planning grant. In conjunction with taking away women’s right to birth control, the message this administration is sending—that women are undeserving of the equality that affordable reproductive health care provides them with—couldn’t be clearer.
I’ve previously written about the trivialization of women’s experiences and ongoing oppression, from politicized attacks on crucial, sometimes life-or-death reproductive health care, to societal misogyny barring fair representation, to inaction and even encouragement of sexual assault and violence. This takes me to my next point: Beyond the staggering policy influences of male supremacy, their ideology also has alarming cultural implications, as it attempts to shift the dialogue to one of imagined male victimhood, rather than productive, much-needed discussion of the myriad unresolved women’s rights issues.
How They Hurt Us All
The dialogue around social and political oppression in this country is constantly shifting: Progress is always balanced with pushback; there’s always a “silent majority” that claims that when women and minority groups are empowered or paid any attention, this “silent majority,” in turn, is oppressed. This ideology has always existed in some form or another—in Southerners feeling oppressed by attacks on their “property rights” before and after the Civil War; by business owners feeling oppressed by being unable to discriminate and segregate. Just one example of this, today, is the rage of male supremacy activists about gender empowerment diversity initiatives and sexual assault awareness.
Today, their voices are amplified by the internet, by social media—even by the White House in some ways. And that amplification comes at the cost of others’ voices being heard. The misogynistic, intolerant Twitter trolls harping on about censorship and “First Amendment” violations may be deterring unsaid numbers of women from speaking out of fear of sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.
Seventy-six percent of responders who were women under 30 received abuse or harassment online, according to a 2016 British survey. One in four of them had received threats of sexual violence. It’s impossible to know how many young women censor themselves or decide not to share their voices and opinions on the internet out of fear of gendered, threatening retaliation.
When we talk about free speech, we should be talking about how to bring more young women, more LGBTQ people, more people of color and more diverse, too often censored voices into the fold, and the implicit censorship they experience in the modern, social media-driven landscape.
We need to come to terms with the reality that white men spewing hate on the internet are not oppressed. Society has a collective, finite amount of time and energy to allocate to discussing speech and oppression. Amid all the crucial dialogues around ongoing oppression that we should be having, why are we instead wasting that time and energy discussing why white people can’t say the N-word? Or how #MeToo and feminist discussion of sexual assault have sparked an anti-man “witch-hunt?”
As a society, we move forward through our conversations, through recognition that our institutions must today be used to protect the marginalized. When male supremacy groups limit and invalidate the speech of others and spread their ideology that decries diverse people, there’s only one group that benefits from this, at the expense of everyone else: straight white men.