Back in May, while addressing a crowd of supporters in Spokane, Washington, Donald Trump took time to lament the current state of gender relations. “All of the men, we’re petrified to speak to women anymore,” he said. “We may raise our voice — you know what, the women get it better than we do, folks, they get it better than we do.”
Add it to the growing pile of Trump’s many rants against the “political correctness” of the left. But that specific part of his speech — along with his insistence weeks earlier that Hillary Clinton “would not even be a viable person to run for City Council positions” if she weren’t a woman — eerily echoed some of the dangerous beliefs of the men’s-rights movement.
The movement reached its peak around 2014, when it began to receive mainstream-press attention. Its leaders, who were mostly bloggers and YouTubers who’d gained followings on Reddit and in other corners of the so-called manosphere, believe the world has been overrun by feminism and that the only way to fight back is to embrace a super-dominant, traditionally masculine gender role. They also believe men face routine, sex-based discrimination — an MRA group called the National Coalition for Men successfully sued nightclubs for hosting “ladies’ nights,” a theater for selling half-price tickets to women, and a women’s business venture for hosting a women-only networking event, for example. MRA differs subtly from other movements with similar principles, such as the “pickup artist” (or PUA) movement, which instructs men in the art of what is essentially date rape. But in the misogynistic corners of the internet, the two are often conflated.
Altogether, the men’s-rights movement represents a streak of misogyny that Trump’s candidacy helped bring to the forefront. But instead of falling in line behind Trump, men’s-rights activists have largely steered clear of the election. Indeed, their movement seems to be losing momentum, says David Futrelle, a writer who’s painstakingly tracked the movement and its key players for almost a decade. Instead, MRA ideology is leaking into the teachings of the group whose figurehead is one of the president-elect’s closest advisers: the alt-right.
The primary difference between the men’s-rights movement and the alt-right is that the former is largely anti-political. “They tend to dismiss Republicans and Democrats alike as ‘gynocentric’ parties, or parties that are at their root dominated by women’s needs,” Futrelle said. If, like me, you had to force down laughter at the idea of Republicans being dominated by women’s needs, Futrelle explains: “Their argument is that because women are the majority of the electorate, all politicians — male and female — have to pander to them in order to win.” No MRA would vote for Hillary Clinton, he said, and although some consider themselves Libertarians, there was little talk on online forums of Gary Johnson. If they voted, they voted for Trump.
But this same aversion to politics is why the men’s-rights movement is losing momentum while its racist cousin — the alt-right — gains it. Many of the movement’s actors largely sidelined themselves during Gamergate because Gamergate’s leaders didn’t align with their idea of what “men” should be — “They looked at guys playing video games as a bunch of pussies, so they didn’t really get pulled into that,” Futrelle said. Then, when Trump began to gain steam, most were slow to jump on the bandwagon.
The exception, it seems, is the PUA community. Long before the alt-right went mainstream, RooshV and another PUA who goes by “Heartiste”* were touting its ideologies. “At some point they started talking about actual pickup-artist stuff a lot less and started throwing in right-wing, racist politics,” Futrelle said. At this point, Futrelle said he would describe them as “alt-right fellow travelers.”
RooshV’s first foray into the alt-right appears to have been his review of Kevin MacDonald’s The Culture of Critiques titled, “The Damaging Effects Of Jewish Intellectualism And Activism On Western Culture.” Thanks to the review, he was invited to attend a conference hosted by the National Policy Institute (a white-nationalist think tank whose president recently gave a speech at Texas A&M University). Certain extremely racist factions of the alt-right were displeased by his presence because, well, he’s not white. So RooshV concluded that the alt-right is “worse than feminism in attempting to control male sexual behavior” and “formally split” with the movement, despite the fact that he continued to espouse its ideologies.
When Trump won, RooshV saw it as a victory for the PUA movement. “I’m in a state of exuberance that we now have a President who rates women on a 1-10 scale in the same way that we do and evaluates women by their appearance and feminine attitude,” he wrote. “We may have to institute a new feature called ‘Would Trump bang?’ to signify the importance of feminine beauty ideals that cultivate effort and class above sloth and vulgarity.”
In the same way that RooshV began to adopt alt-right ideology, the alt-right began to publish stories grounded in the principles of pickup artists and the men’s-rights movement. Futrelle said he’s noticed sites like the Daily Stormer publishing explicitly anti-feminist articles — something they hadn’t explicitly focused on in the past. For example, a recent post defends Trump’s comments on Access Hollywood in 2005 using MRA logic to reposition him (and all wealthy men) as the victim: “Why do they keep leaving out the first part of his ‘grab em by the pussy’ quote? He clearly said: ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it.’ He is talking in the context of women throwing themselves at rich men.”
Futrelle rattles off other like-minded men who’ve risen to the surface in Trump’s wake: Mike Cernovich, who got his start during Gamergate; Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist; Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s written countless anti-feminist articles for Breitbart; Stefan Molyneux, a YouTube “philosopher.” Some have their roots in the men’s-rights movement, and others are hangers-on in their own right. “A lot of people who are anti-feminist saw the alt-right as being the thing that was growing and getting attention,” Futrelle said. “So they joined in.”
In the weird mishmash world of online misogyny, Futrelle said one thing is clear: Trump’s election has served as a galvanizing force. “Since I started [writing about MRA], I’ve always wondered to what degree these kinds of attitudes are out there in the culture in a big way,” he said. “I knew it was more than a small group of weirdos on the internet, but I thought it was relatively contained. And then, Trump comes along.”
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to “Heartiste” as “Artiste.”