The Science Behind A Modern Masculinity Movement Is Fake — And Dangerous
Lonely men are being led astray by misrepresented science that justifies a misogynistic worldview.
The rise of the “manosphere” has gone from slow burn to wildfire status over the past decade. The manosphere is a collection of online communities that support men’s rights, and it features prominent anti-feminist and men’s rights activists like Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson, Reddit groups like Men Going Their Own Way, and more. At its core, the “manosphere” suggests that women and minorities are to blame for the struggles men face in the modern world — and has become home to millions of lonely, disaffected men who are dissatisfied with the state of the world.
Manosphere groups are echo chambers for misogynistic ideology, rife with beliefs ranging from traditional gender roles to the more outrageous platitude that women should belong to men, to the outright disgusting notion that “enforced monogamy” will prevent men from committing violence against women — violence that they later blame on women.
One of the most troubling parts of the manosphere is that, in many instances, proponents seem to have scientific evidence to back up their absurd and dangerous claims. Defenders of the manosphere, like influencer Andrew Tate, often use research into female mating habits and evolutionary psychology to support their claims. As such, many anti-women groups believe they’ve found “science” that legitimizes their scorn and devaluation of women, and that any attempt to fight against that “research” is delusional.
Not so, says one new study into the phenomenon. According to research from the University of Kent in the UK, members of the manosphere are picking apart legitimate scientific research and only referencing parts of research that support their ideology.
“The hypothetical nature of evolutionary behavioural science is always obscured. The ‘manosphere’ is taking hypotheses out of context and embedding them in their broader grievances, personal experiences, and sexist tropes,” explained study co-author Louis Bachaud, a Ph.D. student at the University of Kent. “There is a bias towards presenting women as more determined by biology than men, and mostly applying the evolutionary lens towards women, but more rarely towards men and their behaviour.”
In essence, many participants in these groups take hypotheses from the evolutionary psychology of primates that have not been shown to apply to human women. For example, incel groups might use the unproven hypothesis of dual mating — the idea that “extra-pair mating could have been adaptive for ancestral women if they managed to secure investment from a regular partner while mating with affair partners [who] would provide ‘fitter’ genes for their offspring.” They argue that ancestral female primates instinctively seek out different mates during ovulation, when pregnancy is likely to occur, and that women today do the same thing.
They take this unproven hypothesis as cold, hard truth and use it to denigrate women as promiscuous and driven by a desire for status and wealth. Essentially, they’ll say women will have sex with “alpha males” for sexual gratification and having more fit offspring while maintaining a relationship with a different male partner for financial security and stability — and sex with other men will almost always occur during ovulation.
The researchers also found posts positing that feminism is actually a sexual strategy that allows women to choose mates, “determine when they want to switch mates, to locate the best dna possible, and to garner the most resources they can individually achieve” — instead of wanting to be treated equally at work, at home, and in public life.
The ability for women to choose sexual partners when and how they like is decried in many manosphere groups. “[A recent] study proves why the sexual revolution was by far one the biggest mistakes the [W]est could've made. Paired with biological drives to cheat, and because you cannot run away from your genetically hard-wired desires, giving women complete sexual freedom was opening Pandora's box,” read one Reddit post that the study cited.
The research team from Kent found that this “science” floating through the manosphere is being taken out of context and warped in such a way that it becomes dangerous and even life-threatening for women. They found many comments condoning violence and murder to prevent women from seeking other sexual partners. “The punishment for adultery in Islam is death. […] I realize now that this is a good and necessary thing to prevent degeneracy [sic] and cuckolding [,] which is in the genetic code of femoids.”
It’s also harmful for men who fall down an isolating rabbit hole of misinformation — which could drive the people they love away from them, for understandable reasons.
The research team, while admitting that there is likely no way to prevent misogynist groups from using legitimate science out of context to further their agendas, recommends that moving forward, scientists be more careful about the language they use in their published papers and research, citing the words “cuckold” and “infidelity” specifically.
They also point out that although scientific papers are generally written for an audience of scientists, many non-scientists are reading them. Thus, they recommend that paper authors take a more active role in debunking harmful and untruthful claims made by using their legitimate findings out of context.
The study follows research published earlier this year that found that a majority of men in all age groups feel lonely and isolated, and that 40% of the participants, who were all men, said they trusted “one or more men’s rights,’ anti-feminist, or pro-violence voices from the manosphere.”
Although the ideas of the manosphere largely hurt women and minorities, men who have been sucked into its dangerous ideology are thrust into a world where masculinity is rigid and limited. Rather than promoting healthy masculinity — where men talk about their feelings, are engaged fathers, and refuse to be put in a box of stereotypical beliefs about what men should and should not be — the manosphere sucks men into an aggrieved culture that isolates them, cutting off the chance of healthy connection.