Explor­ing the tox­ic world of female privilege”

“In this heartland of incel rage and misogynist vitriol, ‘female privilege’ becomes the justification for declaring war on women.”

It was ear­ly on Sat­ur­day morn­ing when I crossed the thresh­old into a quar­an­tined com­mu­ni­ty. I was enter­ing r/​TheRedPill, a sub­red­dit ded­i­cat­ed to rad­i­cal misog­y­ny. This breed­ing ground of anti-women invec­tive and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries is so brazen­ly hos­tile, it’s lit­er­al­ly cor­doned off like a health haz­ard. It was here that I hoped to trace the source of a term that is cur­rent­ly flood­ing the online forums devot­ed to male sep­a­ratism and men’s rights activism.

That term is female priv­i­lege”, and though it’s not one you’d like­ly hear in every­day con­ver­sa­tion, it’s one that’s rever­ber­at­ing loud­ly through the cor­ri­dors of the Manos­phere — a con­stel­la­tion of anti-women, anti-fem­i­nist subcultures.

Since the 1990s, aca­d­e­mics have iden­ti­fied female priv­i­lege” as a cen­tral tenet of the men’s rights move­ment. In 1996, the term was used by philoso­pher Ken­neth Clat­ter­baugh to describe the two schools of thought with­in the men’s rights move­ment: those who believe that men and women are equal­ly harmed by sex­ism and those who believe that soci­ety has become a bas­tion of female priv­i­lege and male degra­da­tion.” Two decades lat­er and the lat­ter school of thought has found its cam­pus on Red­dit, home to around 21,000 posts on the topic. 

A quick Red­dit search pulls up scores of col­lo­qui­al def­i­n­i­tions, the­o­ries, and lists to explain the con­cept in much more, erm, force­ful lan­guage than Clatterbaugh’s. Check your priv­i­lege, fem­i­nist shit­lords!” reads a ral­ly­ing cry of one Red­diter who’d penned an exhaus­tive, 97-point explain­er of the many priv­i­leges women enjoy over men. If I’m not smart, but pret­ty, I can mar­ry and achieve the social and finan­cial lev­el of my hus­band with­out ever work­ing,” they explain. I not only have the more valu­able and sought after sex­u­al iden­ti­ty, but I also have com­plete con­trol over my repro­duc­tive choice and in many ways over the repro­duc­tive choice of the oppo­site sex,” they add. 

The means to pro­duce off­spring” is cit­ed as anoth­er advan­tage women have, which men do not. Accord­ing to the post this grants females an “‘essen­tial’ sta­tus in our species that men can nev­er have and which can nev­er be tak­en away from…even in old age.” As this ridicu­lous point might imply, the list cites very few attri­bu­tion links to items stat­ed as facts. 

Anoth­er lengthy post – authored by a bio­log­i­cal female” who says she speaks against fem­i­nism” – declares that women have no fear of get­ting rape accu­sa­tions after a one-night-stand regrets her deci­sion.” (Exten­sive fact-check­ing of this false rape accu­sa­tion’ nar­ra­tive has found that men are actu­al­ly more like­ly to be raped than be false­ly accused of rape.)

There’s a pat­tern among Red­diters post­ing about female priv­i­lege. Some will cher­ryp­ick an indi­vid­ual head­line or news sto­ry to sub­mit proof” that, soci­etal­ly, the odds are stacked in favour of women. The dis­tri­b­u­tion of free men­stru­al prod­ucts – the point of which is to mit­i­gate wide­spread peri­od pover­ty – appears to also be a hot but­ton top­ic, espe­cial­ly when local gov­ern­ment is fund­ing it.

r/​TheRedPill is one of the biggest pro­po­nents of female priv­i­lege, describ­ing itself as a space for dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al strat­e­gy in a cul­ture increas­ing­ly lack­ing a pos­i­tive iden­ti­ty for men.” Its premise is direct­ly derived from the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which pro­tag­o­nist Neo is pre­sent­ed with a choice between two pills: one red, one blue. If he takes the blue pill, he con­tin­ues to live in an illu­so­ry world in a state of bliss­ful igno­rance. If he takes the red pill, how­ev­er, he will shed this man­tle of igno­rance and the truth will be revealed to him.

In the Red Pill world, that truth” is that the world in which we cur­rent­ly live now favours women over men. Our cul­ture has become a fem­i­nist cul­ture,” reads the subreddit’s intro­duc­tion page. I am here to say, for bet­ter or for worse, the frame around pub­lic dis­course is a fem­i­nist frame, and we’ve lost our iden­ti­ty because of it.”

In this fem­i­nist cul­ture,” women pos­sess the ulti­mate priv­i­lege – sex­u­al suprema­cy. Fem­i­nism is a sex­u­al strat­e­gy. It puts women into the best posi­tion they can find, to select mates, to deter­mine when they want to switch mates, to locate the best DNA pos­si­ble, and to gar­ner the most resources they can indi­vid­u­al­ly achieve,” the intro page continues.

In this heart­land of incel rage and misog­y­nist vit­ri­ol, female priv­i­lege is a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for declar­ing war on fem­i­nism. And in this war, women are both the ene­my and the most cov­et­ed objects of all.

We should not under­es­ti­mate the dis­as­trous con­se­quences that could befall women at the hands of online armies of rad­i­cal misogynists.”

It’s easy to dis­miss female priv­i­lege as a sil­ly idea dreamt up by crack­pot con­spir­acists; after all it’s an empir­i­cal fact that men have vast sys­temic pow­er over women and, because of that, female priv­i­lege” over men does not exist. But the Red Pill com­mu­ni­ty wields a huge amount of pow­er. A recent study by Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty found that the Red Pill forum rad­i­calised its sub­scribers dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, mobil­is­ing them to sup­port Don­ald Trump. Far from being arm­chair activists with lit­tle effect, Trump’s legion of sup­port­ers in alt-right dig­i­tal spaces” are direct­ly impact­ing today’s pol­i­tics. It’s no secret that women’s bod­i­ly auton­o­my and repro­duc­tive rights are under threat right now. Last week, Geor­gia, US, passed a new law ban­ning abor­tions as ear­ly as six weeks into preg­nan­cy. Yes­ter­day, Alaba­ma fol­lowed suit, restrict­ing abor­tions in almost all cases.

Under the new laws foe­tus­es are con­sid­ered per­sons with full rights, women found guilty of abort­ing or attempt­ing to abort preg­nan­cies could face prison sen­tences, and mis­car­riages could be inves­ti­gat­ed as pos­si­ble homi­cides. We should not under­es­ti­mate the dis­as­trous con­se­quences that could befall women at the hands of online armies of rad­i­cal misogynists. 

It’s hard to know how peo­ple became so invest­ed in the fal­la­cy that women have pow­er over men. In this age of evolv­ing gen­der roles, these men like­ly fear that the priv­i­leges that have come hand in hand with their gen­der are under threat. As the famous quote goes: When you’re accus­tomed to priv­i­lege, equal­i­ty feels like oppression.” 

Hav­ing looked through thou­sands of posts about female priv­i­lege, I can also see that some of these believ­ers occa­sion­al­ly iden­ti­fy instances where men face social inequal­i­ties – they’re just mis­la­belling them as female priv­i­lege, which doesn’t exist. What they’re actu­al­ly post­ing about is some­thing called male non-priv­i­lege” – like the fact that more men die by sui­cide than women and the fact that tra­di­tion­al mas­culin­i­ty teach­es men to sti­fle and sup­press their emo­tions, caus­ing psy­ch­log­i­cal harm. These instances of male non-priv­i­lege often stem from tox­ic mas­culin­i­ty, which is a by-prod­uct of liv­ing in a patriarchy. 

Experts who’ve stud­ied the caus­es of online rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion say there’s no sin­gle route to being rad­i­calised — there are a lot of con­tribut­ing fac­tors. J.M. Berg­er, an expert on ter­ror­ism and author of Jihad Joe: Amer­i­cans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, says that rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion can takes place when a per­son has issues in their per­son­al life – like los­ing a loved one, or expe­ri­enc­ing men­tal ill­ness, or being exposed to vio­lence. To vul­ner­a­ble men who feel for­got­ten in the world, com­mu­ni­ties that unite angry men and fuel their rage might pro­vide a false sense of belonging. 

It’s easy to laugh at the absur­di­ty of the views expressed by female priv­i­lege believ­ers, but we should be alarmed. We’re already see­ing the rights of women being erod­ed, but giv­en the Red Pill’s instru­men­tal role in get­ting Trump elect­ed, there’s no telling where rad­i­cal online misog­y­ny may lead us next. 

Meet a self-confessed female privilege believer...

I decid­ed I’d try and track down a self-con­fessed female priv­i­lege believ­er to find out more about the kinds of beliefs they hold. 

Peo­ple who post about female priv­i­lege on Red­dit tend to hang out in sub­red­dits renowned for their extreme misog­y­nist and antifem­i­nist views. Among their favourites are r/​mensrights, r/​mensrants, r/​menkampf, and a sub­red­dit called r/​pussypass, which describes itself as [sic] a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non where by just own­ing a pussy gets you ben­e­fits.” Some appear to be abstain­ing from mas­tur­ba­tion and rela­tion­ships with women based on their posts in r/​MGTOW and r/​NoFap, a sub­red­dit for peo­ple who want to stop masturbating.

But, to give you an idea of who these peo­ple are out­side of post­ing misog­y­nist rants, their inter­ests and hob­bies include video games (many post in sub­red­dits ded­i­cat­ed to spe­cif­ic games like Blood­borne, League of Leg­ends as well as com­mu­ni­ties like r/​gaming and r/​gamingcirclejerk). Some of them are big sport fans, who post thou­sands of times about col­lege foot­ball. Oth­ers pre­fer Har­ry Pot­ter fan­fic­tion, Sponge­bob memes, and The Lord of The Rings.

It took four days of non-stop trawl­ing through threads to find one female priv­i­lege believ­er who was will­ing to talk to me. Two oth­er Red­diters had ini­tial­ly said sure!” when I con­tact­ed them via DM ask­ing if they’d be will­ing to answer some ques­tions. But after send­ing ques­tions ask­ing them whether they sup­port­ed gen­der equal­i­ty or if they’d come across any research that might point to the preva­lence of male priv­i­lege, I nev­er heard from them again.

One Red­diter and female priv­i­lege expo­nent — who reg­u­lar­ly posts in r/​MensRights and free speech sub­red­dit r/​Not1984 — explained his views to me via Red­dit DM. He tells me he’s 45 years old and he man­ages a small busi­ness, sourc­ing and sell­ing parts for the agri­cul­tur­al indus­try in Den­mark. His pro­file is marked as only suit­able for Red­diters over 18. He told me the con­cept is impor­tant to him because soci­ety is cre­at­ing a dis­tort­ed pic­ture” by always talk­ing about women, women’s issues, women as vic­tims” and not focus­ing on men’s issues. There are issues on both sides, but the media only ever real­ly talks about one side. And often false­ly so…” 

Below you’ll find a tran­script of our con­ver­sa­tion, with a note from me, for accuracy. 

Why is the con­cept of female priv­i­lege impor­tant to you?

Him: Well, because I think if soci­ety always talk about women, women’s issues, women as vic­tims etc, you don’t talk about men’s, you are cre­at­ing a dis­tort­ed pic­ture. There are issues on both sides, but the media only ever real­ly talks about one side. And often false­ly so (see: gen­der wage gap myth).

What kind of response has your post [on female priv­i­lege] had? 

Him: I’d say pret­ty neg­a­tive, mir­ror­ing soci­ety. We do not like to talk about it. You have one user say­ing well uhh bill cos­by”. [sic] As if ONE exam­ple some­how inval­i­dates my claim. I don’t care about indi­vid­ual exam­ples, I’m talk­ing about the broad­er picture. 

When you were research­ing your post, did you come across any evi­dence that might sug­gest the oppo­site — that men might have a lot of advan­tages that women do not have?

Him: Con­jec­ture and opin­ion? Yes. Actu­al evi­dence? No.

Note: Evi­dence shows that as a soci­ety, we have not been col­lect­ing sex-dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data (data spe­cif­ic to women) which means that every­thing from urban plan­ning, trans­porta­tion, pol­i­cy, design, med­i­cine, man­u­fac­tur­ing all ignore the needs of 50% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. Research by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Cen­tre for Applied Bio­me­chan­ics found that women are 47% more like­ly to be seri­ous­ly injured in a car crash than men because safe­ty fea­tures are designed for men. 

Why do you think peo­ple in wider soci­ety aren’t talk­ing about female privilege?

Him: Well, women don’t want to talk about it, for the most part. Eas­i­er to be the vic­tims, and claim pow­er through that. And unfor­tu­nate­ly many men are weak indi­vid­u­als, who have been led to believe that they can gain points by sup­port­ing what­ev­er women say. So you’re left with a small minor­i­ty of women, and a large minor­i­ty of men, which could poten­tial­ly be talk­ing about it, but this group has almost zero sway with the mass media and polit­i­cal elite, who over­whelm­ing­ly favour the oth­er side”.

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