- Traditional masculinity is not always “toxic” and is far from the only cause of increased misogyny. Tweet This
- The vast, expanding universe of largely anonymous online misogyny bespeaks seemingly widespread antipathy, if not hatred, toward women. Tweet This
- Technology, if not a cause, is certainly an enabler of men spewing vitriol about women. Tweet This
When Kate, a lead character in the Broadway musical Avenue Q, sings, “The Internet is for porn,” she’s only telling—albeit lightheartedly—part of the story of how the Internet is widely used to degrade and attack women.
Cyber-misogyny comes in many forms: Sexting, revenge porn, gaming, men raging at specific women or women in general, “incels” and others in the darker corners of the “manosphere” describing grisly fantasies of rape, murder, and other violence against women. It can be found in posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit, on countless websites, in emails, and in online games.
Although some women attack men, and men “cyber-bully” other men, the vast, expanding universe of largely anonymous online misogyny bespeaks seemingly widespread antipathy—if not hatred—toward women. It also undermines male-female relations, marriage, gender equality, and politics. And it hurts young, unmarried men, who are less likely to work, more likely to engage in risky behavior, be in poorer health, and be drawn to alt-right politics.
One Internet warrior attacking “man-hating” women posted: "They all should be jailed for a minimum of two years in re-education camps, with special favors..." Quoting Schopenhauer, manosphere guru Roosh V posted a long essay, “Women Must Have Their Behavior and Decisions Controlled by Men.” The website, A Voice for Men, describes its mission as opposing misandry and “gynocentrism.” Others talk of “hate f**s.” Female journalists, like former CNN correspondent Maria Reesa, are especially vulnerable to what she called “orchestrated trolling and instigated mob misogyny.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, a YouTube video, “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica,” was posted to sell a line of T-shirts that are still available on Amazon.
Even more extreme are “incels” (involuntary celibates) like this year’s Toronto mass murderer. They are angry and feel victimized because women won’t have sex with them. Four years earlier, mass murderer Elliott Rodger had published a 137-page online manifesto in which he told of his “struggle . . . against the female gender for denying me sex and love,” before his “Day of Retribution” when he shot 20 people in Santa Barbara. Sickeningly, he has become a hero to many incels and in his pre-rampage YouTube video, he declared that he wanted to “slaughter every single, spoiled stuck-up blond slut I see.”
Is abhorrent online behavior, like in these examples, the ugly tip of the iceberg of “toxic masculinity”? Men who embrace more traditional attitudes about masculinity—believing that men are superior to women, should control women, and have as many sexual partners as possible—were found to be six times more likely to harass women online or in person, according to a study by Promundo, a gender-equity organization. However, many men complain, with much justification, that they are whipsawed between conflicting ideas about what it means to be a man. Others say that feminism has done a lot for women but little for most men.
The relationship between traditional masculinity and misogyny is complicated. Although many such men may resort to putting down and harassing women online, many others see traditional ideas as reasons to be gallant, support and defend women, and be responsible to their wives and families. Traditional masculinity is not always “toxic” and is far from the only cause of increased misogyny. Technology, if not a cause, is certainly an enabler of men spewing vitriol about women.
Beyond the generic attacks on women or the trash talk about well-known women is a burgeoning world of what might be called personalized misogyny. There are no numbers of how many guys engage in “sexting,” but one survey found that at least one-fourth of teenagers and young adults say they have posted or received nude pictures of women they know, although some of the posts are done by women and teen-age girls.
All too often, sexting veers into “revenge porn”—ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands uploading photos and often addresses of their exes on Snapchat, 4chan, and other sites. A Minnesota man created a Facebook page with nude photos of his ex and sent them to her family and friends. Facebook received 54,000 complaints from women about revenge porn in just one month, and one anti-porn site makes the astonishing claim that 2.5 billion pornographic emails are sent every day.
Online dating sites have become scarier places for women, who report that men email them unsolicited photos of their genitals. Many say that Tinder is a hotbed of vulgarity and misogyny. As one woman recounted, “He only waited 22 words to mention his erection.”
Pornography has always existed, but the Internet has made it possible for men (and women) to find every imaginable and many unimaginable types of sexual images and videos with a few clicks, rather than having to drive to skanky sex shops.
Excessive and extreme online porn debases women, harms male-female relationships, and can be bad for men. “You don’t know what normal sex is,” Kimberly Young, a psychologist who founded the Center for Internet Addiction, said. “You just see graphic, lewd sex. Looking at porn makes people have problems with sexual involvement, and it’s a big factor in breaking up relationships.” According to many women I interviewed for my new book, Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life, the death knell for their marriages was when they discovered their often not-working husbands trolling porn sites late at night. In addition, many young men develop an unreal view of sex that makes them unable to perform, and several studies have found a statistically significant relationship between heavy porn use and erectile dysfunction.
The late former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who famously said he could not define porn but “I know it when I see it,” would undoubtedly recognize it in the massive, largely male world of gaming, where gamers see hyper-sexualized images of women. As one young man said: “All the girls have giant boobs.” For example, in Grand Theft Auto V, which has sold 90 million copies, gamers can have cyber-sex with prostitutes. In 2014, an online male mob threatened to rape or kill several female game developers in a months-long campaign known as Gamergate.
In short, the Internet—once seen as the best thing since sliced bread—has become a major platform for misogyny. The hatred and degradation have rightfully led the Southern Poverty Law Center to target misogynists as hate groups. But most are individuals. Whether perpetrated by young men who try to turn hating women into a muddled ideology, or by angry exes, porn addicts, or compulsive gamers, online misogyny corrodes efforts to achieve gender equity, healthy sexuality, and good male-female relationships and marriages.
Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter, an American historian, and a policy analyst, is the author of the new book, Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life.