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Exploring the toxic world of ‘female privilege’

By Rachel Thompson for The Face from Mashable


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” aredirectly 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 take place when a person has issues in their personal life – like losing a loved one, 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/mensrightsr/mensrantsr/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 BloodborneLeague 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 TheLord 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 inr/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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