“Most women nowadays are not taught the consequences of having a high body count.” This sentence, which might seem laughable to the average person, recently circulated on TikTok via a “Men’s mental health coach”. The now-deleted video espouses the archaic idea that a woman’s worth is affected by how many people she’s slept with. In another of his videos, which have been liked by millions, he lists “Dating lies they told you.” Apparently, “women don’t like violence” is a myth – in fact, “it turns them on.”
Harmful ideologies like this continue to spread on forums like 4Chan and Reddit, but if you’ve been on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook lately, you might have noticed some of these, let’s say, offkey attitudes land on your feed. Alpha male influencers such as Andrew Tate (who has now been banned from most platforms), the Fresh&Fit podcast, dating coach Russell Hartley and Jay the King are just a few of the users appealing to young men’s self-esteem by objectifying, belittling – and sometimes completely denouncing – women.
From harmful “virginity testing” videos to men wondering what women get up to in their spare time, it seems like sexist attitudes aren’t in any danger of going away, even in a post-#MeToo climate. And it appears these ideas are filtering out from iPhone screens and into the real world: growing numbers of schools are reporting pupils to the government’s counter-terrorism scheme Prevent as suspected “incels”.
So, why is this happening? A recent US study found that boys and men experience more social isolation than girls and women. One in five men report having no close male friendships, another report discovered. And this situation could be exacerbated by the economic climate and cost-of-living crisis. A study from 2011 found that male self-esteem was often bound up in traditional structures such as employment and financial success. “Men’s failure to fulfil the role of breadwinner is associated with greater depression and marital conflict,” the British Journal of Psychology article states. And, right now, the economic outlook for the UK isn’t good. The Bank of England just increased UK base rates by 0.5 per cent points to 2.25 per cent – the highest since the financial crisis in 2008. The economy is officially in recession.
“Men can experience pressure that’s internalised from beliefs about self-worth, whether that’s from parents’ expectations, culture, peers, spouses,” psychotherapist and author of What We Want Charlotte Fox Weber tells THE FACE. “Status anxiety can be deeply destabilising when the economic chips are down, and income disparity can become more problematic at vulnerable times. Financial dependence and responsibilities can feel unfair, and emotional debt and resentment tax can creep in and grow over time.” The police even released a warning about a post-Covid recession sparking an increase in domestic violence cases, stating: “We know that financial pressure creates stress within families and it’s a concern.”
Many of the aforementioned influencers promote a “grindset” mentality that focuses on amassing wealth and get-rich-quick schemes for disenfranchised, isolated men. Often these schemes are too good to be true, and leave participants less well-off than they were in the first place, increasing feelings of hopelessness. Many of these influencers also offer relationship coaching, painting women as status symbols to be won, rather than offering sincere dating advice. Speaking to THE FACE for a piece on these influencers, psychotherapist Davies told us: “Most of these videos are about winning and displaying wealth, and sometimes the women are treated as that wealth acquired.”
With a revamped Conservative government at the helm, the UK’s new economic policy seems to be favouring the rich and powerful, rather than providing support to minorities or deprived people. In a mini-budget announcement that’s been labelled an “unashamed budget for the rich”, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng scrapped the higher-rate band of income tax as well as caps on bankers’ bonuses. Kwarteng is also shrinking part-time work benefits in an attempt to grow the country’s labour supply – a move which will overwhelmingly impact women, who often have to take on temporary work while looking after children.
It’s already more expensive to be a woman, as extensive studies tell us: the Pink Tax, unpaid domestic labour, an ever-demanding beauty industry and the gender pay gap (which is even worse for women of colour), are all examples of how women tend to absorb more costs than men. At a time of spiralling costs, these issues will only deepen. “Financial desperation costs us more than money,” Weber says. “When people can’t afford to keep up with the cost-of-living, pleasure tends to drop, anxiety increases, and the pressure to survive can be existentially menacing.”
Many of these issues point to a worsening status for women in the world, as people find themselves lumbered with food costs, spiralling energy bills and job losses. “Not having enough money makes people feel out of control,” Weber continues. “Attacking and blaming others can come from a desire for security – not that it works, but putting people down is often a defence from a sense of inadequacy. One-upping and devaluing others can be a way of trying to mark superiority – clamouring to regain a sense of power by lowering others.”
In her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, author Kate Manne defines misogyny as not a hatred that’s harboured individually by people, but as a product of societal structures – “social systems or environments where women face hostility and hatred because they’re women in a man’s world – a historical patriarchy,” she told Vox. As the pressure to survive in an increasingly expensive world gets stronger, we can expect to see women disproportionately affected.