The manosphere is a contradictory and unofficial coalition of communities, philosophies and movements interested in masculinity. It has spread over the last years especially in the USA.
The manosphere functions primarily in the Internet. It consists of coalitions with miscellaneous agendas. Various sites offer men’s support groups and give information on men’s and fathers’ rights. The self-help and bodybuilding sites concentrate on men’s wellbeing, and the seducing community shares and sells dating and seducing tips. However, the most famous and the community defining manosphere is the antifeministic section. Its prominent thinking patterns are misogyny, extreme conservatism and white supremacy.
The most famous and the community defining manosphere is the antifeministic section. Its prominent thinking patterns are misogyny, extreme conservatism and white supremacy.
The communities being more or less aggressive to women include, for example, the Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) movement. It advises men to concentrate on developing themselves and abandon marriage and even all women. Neomasculinity seeks modern masculinity in the open aggressiveness to women, non-heterosexuals and immigrants. This antifeministic section is brought together by a surprisingly multifaceted attitude to narratives: the communities develop and recycle narratives that construct a desired figure of masculinity, lure in new members and create dichotomies. The core of the manosphere is, in fact, the story of the Red Pill.
The philosophy of the Red Pill reflects a kind of secret truth for many communities of the manosphere. It claims that there is a pro-women, feministic conspiracy in western society. The Red Pill is a reference to the science fiction film The Matrix (1999). The film is about a computer programmer and hacker Thomas Anderson, aka Neo. He discovers that world is not real but a simulation created by intelligent machines – The Matrix. The objective of The Matrix is to keep humans satisfied in a false illusion simulating life. Meanwhile, in the real world, machines farm humans in cultivation tanks to be used as a source of energy. Neo allies with a rebellious movement opposing machines. Soon it is found out that he is the Chosen One destined to save the humanity.
The Red Pill refers to the scene in which Neo must choose between a Red and a Blue Pill: The Red Pill represents the abandonment of The Matrix and selecting the horrendous truth, while the Blue Pill represents staying in a comforting lie and waking up the following morning in a simulation and having forgotten everything. In the manosphere, the Red Pill means entrance to the elite group that will detect the feministic conspiracy.
In the discussions of radical manosphere movements, the Red Pill is an ideological explanation model helping to recruit new members and a narrative of a personal conversion.
In the discussions of radical manosphere movements, the Red Pill is an ideological explanation model helping to recruit new members and a narrative of a personal conversion, as the following examples show. In the discussion on the MGTOW site, a writer explains his views of the Red Pill to a young man, while a neomasculinistic writer tells about his conversion:
First I explain that the Red Pill comes from the Matrix movie. He got that. (thank god) I explained that the lie or dream you are unaware of was men’s role in a relationship with a woman and men’s rights within society in regards to your woman and offspring. [ …] “So whats the lie?” The lie is that there is or potentially ever was a “Patriarchy”. Western society is gynocentric (structured for women) and you have no societal rights in a relationship with a woman.
I also began to realize that everything I had been taught by my parents, religion, and society was wrong when it came to women. This caused me to start searching for better answers, which ultimately red-pilled me.
Seen from the viewpoint of narrative research, the Red Pill is an intertextual allusion. According to Ziva Ben-Porat and Carmela Perri, for example, an allusion referring to another text is the most concrete and the most examinable link between different texts and thus a means to activate two texts simultaneously. The token – here a Red Pill – alludes to the referent by somehow echoing from it. It refers to some pre-text or a part of it. (Ben-Porat 1976; Perri 1978.) In practice, the reference activates the elements of another text in order to enrich and fortify the text with the allusion (Ben-Porat 1976; Hebel 1991; cf. Tammi 1999).
In other words, The Matrix is activated particularly in texts and ideology of the radical section of the manosphere. Allusions to the film equate the manosphere to the battle for the truth and strengthen the feeling of a conspiracy and a faceless enemy. The Matrix becomes a justification of the aggressive discourse in the manosphere and a sort of precedent. In the Red Pill philosophy, the machine army is paralleled with the society oppressing men because of women. The common enemy consists of feminists, church, sexual minorities, immigrants, men embracing feminism and all women.
The supporters of men’s movements who select the Red Pill can equate themselves to a messianic hero. The Matrix makes active members of radical Internet communities compare themselves to Neo who lives on the borderlines of society and whose supposedly needless principal work only delays his computer-mediated existence defining his life. Neo finds a conspiracy beyond the screen. The actual adventure begins when he is made a hero although he is sitting in front of the computer. The allusion to The Matrix is thus a tempting figure, even an empowering subtext for the supporters of the men’s movement. The Matrix changes to a subtext that assists in reading the manosphere (cf. Tammi 1999).
When we delve deeper into this intertextual relationship, the second interesting, repetitive allusion is the word “unplugged”. In The Matrix, unplugging means selecting the Red Pill and going through a concrete transition from the control of machines to a dystopic world. This transition can even drive humans crazy. The word unplugging is used in the manifesto of the manosphere on the MGTOW site as follows:
Slowly but surely, the Manosphere is gaining steam and extending its reach. Men in their late 30s and beyond who had the luxury of semi-rejecting the red pill while still finding moderate success are being outnumbered by a younger generation who realize they really don’t have a choice in the matter. Unlike the older men, these men didn’t choose to unplug; they were unplugged. Yet they thrive.
(Author’s note: The manifesto has been altered since writing the article and this particular segment has been removed. This is, however, interesting, as the biggest manosphere community in the Reddit.com discussion site has at the same time gained a large following. MGTOW movement might have altered the text not to promote another group in the radical manosphere.)
The text uses the Red Pill and the unplugging to describe the allegedly inevitable passage of young men toward the Red Pill. I think that this allusion will open a concrete view to the aggressive world of the manosphere when it is compared to a scene in which the unplugging is discussed. In this scene Neo’s mentor Morpheus guides him to see the truth of the surrounding world – to advice followers. The radical movements of the manosphere try to repeat this with their subjective truth:
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
[ … ]
Morpheus: No. It is another training program designed to teach you one thing: if you are not one of us, you are one of them.
(The Matrix, 56:36–57:36.)
In the world of The Matrix, each not unplugged person is potentially dangerous – belongs to “them” and “enemies”. The manosphere utilizes these views and uses allusion to create a juxtaposition. The juxtaposition is strengthened by the disposition of The Matrix. MGTOW site lists the movement’s enemies that are regarded with animosity:
[ … ]ennemies, betrayers, simps, white knights, feminists can all share a seat on the bus to hell, I already paid the fare. Have a nice trip.
Radical men’s movements build their identity by comparing themselves in the spirit of The Matrix to the deliverance narrative in which all others are enemies. Believing in the truth defined by the antifeminist section of the manosphere makes communities’ members special. On the home page of the neomasculinity movement, the rhetoric even calls the Red Pill a “gospel” or “good tidings”:
In order to evangelize and spread the red pill gospel, we will need to start appealing to the left’s emotions.
In recent years, the growth of the men’s movement activity is considered solely hostile to women, which is problematic. The extent of the manosphere and the internal differences in ideologies are ignored when the radical section takes all attention. The entire manosphere is not antifeministic, and all its members are not misogynists. Among the various movements and sites, there is a true discussion on men’s and women’s roles in society and men’s wellbeing. Interpreting the entire manosphere as antifeministic will advantage radical groups which try to prove that all others are uncomprehending and hostile to the men’s movement.
The entire manosphere is not antifeministic, and all its members are not misogynists.
The Red Pill is not the only narrative utilized by the manosphere. It is not a coincidence that the antifeministic neomasculinity has selected ReturnOfKings.com as the address of its home page. The name refers to the third part of The Lord of The Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. This “return of the kings” is an alternative narrative the makes it possible to identify with the righteous and inevitable triumph against evil forces. The return of the king refers to Aragorn who is wandering with the Rangers of the North at the outskirts of society and is a descendant of ancient kings. Aragorn leads the Fellowship of the Ring against the mighty Sauron. After the faceless enemy has been defeated, Aragorn is crowned as the king. Tolkien’s manly world and the character of Aragorn offer a more traditional view of maleness and masculinity compared to Neo in The Matrix.
The MGTOW movement equates its supporters with the life stories of famous men by appealing to the common denominator, being unmarried. The lives and successes of productive great men, like Leonardo da Vinci, René Descartes and Nikola Tesla, show how futile marriage is. The supporters of the MGTOW movement are allowed to identify with them. Resisting marriage and staying unmarried in a way helps make them successful.
These narratives of the antifeministic section of the manosphere show how capable they are of telling stories and applying them to their agendas. There might not be a situation that these movements cannot use to their advantage: conspiracies do not require evidence and a group of people needing deliverance, enemies and heroes suffice in a deliverance narrative. Dead artists, inventors and statesmen do not return to explain why they never married.
Narratives offer the manosphere both a recruiting strategy and useful empowering narrative models. They nourish people’s imaginations and function as ideological explanations. The story of the Red Pill and the manosphere’s preference for utilizing narratives have extended to the repertoire of the Alt-right and the groups advocating white supremacy. The deliverance narrative is used by the right-wing populists, too.
It is remarkable how aware the radical leaders of the manosphere are of the power of narratives and how they instruct their members to a “narrative warfare”. It is not about truth but about the most powerful – or, using the metaphors of war and arms, the heaviest – narratives for fighting for people’s minds.
Translation by Veli-Pekka Ketola. The translator is a Master’s-level student of Multilingual Communication and Translation Studies at Tampere University. The translation was produced as part of a project course in English Translation. The article was originally published in Finnish in 2017.
Ben-Porat, Ziva 1976: The Poetics of Literary Allusion. PLT. Journal of Descriptive Poetics 1:1, 105–128.
Hebel, Udo J. 1991: Towards a Descriptive Poetics of Allusion. In: Intertextuality. Ed. Heinrich F. Plett. Berliini & New York: de Gruyter, 135–164.
Machacek, Gregory 2007: Allusion. PMLA 122:2, 522–536.
Perri, Carmela 1978: On Alluding. Poetics 7:3, 289–307.
Tammi, Pekka 1999: Russian Subtexts in Nabokov’s Fiction. Four Essays. Tampere: Tampere UP.