Anyone familiar with the Internet’s “Manosphere” will be unsurprised to learn that “Red Pillers” and Men’s Rights Activists are fed up with the #MeToo movement.
What is, perhaps, more surprising is the number of New Atheist figureheads in which Men’s Rights Activists are finding unlikely allies.
Openly misogynistic online communities—collectively called the “Manosphere”—are bound together by one foundational belief: that feminism is a society-wide delusion that oppresses men at every opportunity. So-called “Red Pill” culture draws its name from the blue pill/red pill concept in The Matrix. The blue pill is the “myth of female oppression”; the only recourse disenfranchised men have in the face of this widespread “delusion” is to recognize and fight back against women’s curtailment of men’s rights—in other words, to take the red pill.
For this group of men, the #MeToo movement is just another power grab on the part of feminists, who claim victimhood to distract from the ways in which women victimize men.
“I try to give a shit about women’s problems… But I just can’t,” posted one Red Pill Redditer on a thread about #MeToo. “I cannot feel sorry for someone who is part of a protected/privileged class that gets everything handed to them. That society bends over backwards for.”
Others responded in kind, using a popular Red Pill acronym—AWALT, or “all women are like that”—to decry the irrationality and emotionalism of womankind. In a thread praising an article about the “moral panic” of the #MeToo movement, others suggested that it’s simply “dangerous to society when too many woman [sic?] are given power like this, turning societies into emotionally driven chaos.”
“Sorry girls,” one poster wrote, noting how tired he was of women’s claims to victimhood. “This was the last straw for me and a lot of us. More are joining our ranks every day. Backlash is coming.”
This poster might not be wrong.
Sam Harris, one of the infamous “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheist movement, posted the same article on Twitter, echoing its title: “The Warlock Hunt.” Weeks prior, he tweeted that he feared the movement was feeding “moral panic.” In an interview, Harris once said that, given a magic wand, he would sooner get rid of religion than rape.
Richard Dawkins, another charismatic leader of the New Atheist movement, has also come under fire for his response to cultural conversations about sexual assault. In the past few years, Dawkins has argued that “mild date rape” is not as bad as “violent date rape,” compared drunk women being raped to drunk drivers, and sarcastically noted that “amazingly, males have rights too.”
While these men do not represent the views of all atheists—who, after all, identify with a variety of labels, political ideologies, and social movements—they are lauded figures of a particular brand of atheism that has increasingly aligned itself with groups claiming to be victimized by the political Left.
So, what does this “New Atheism” have in common with the Manosphere? Surveys within the Men’s Rights community have found that a stunning 70 percent of active participants identify as atheist, agnostic, or religiously indifferent. My work in rhetorical analysis of these communities has sought to determine what qualities lead men to identify with both groups. What I’ve found is that the communities share a key core value: a brand of “rationality” that defines itself in opposition to broad swaths of the population.
Rationality itself is not inherently gendered—it’s a quality over which there’s often a great deal of disagreement, in fact—but both the New Atheists and the Manosphere operate on the assumption that men tend to embody it more often than women do. In an interview with Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, Sam Harris said that the “critical posture” of atheism is “to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys.” In an infamous Vanity Fair article, Christopher Hitchens took this essentialism a step further writing that men are funnier than women because they use humor—a “sign of intelligence”—to impress women, while women use their looks to impress men.
In the Manosphere, claims of men’s superior intellect are more thinly veiled.
“I have discovered women’s sole biological reason for existing is to reproduce and nurture the young, whilst man’s is to reproduce, protect his mate…and contributing to the grand project known as civilization,” one Red Pill blogger declared. “The claim that woman’s capacity for reason matches man’s is humorous.”
The affinity between New Atheist and Manosphere values is clearest in the popularity of the phrase “The Church of Feminism.” Women are coming forward about the prevalence of sexual assault? The Manosphere replies that the “Church of Feminism” is whipping up moral panic to “feel superior to others, while remaining a persecuted victim despite being an overwhelming majority.” Feminists decry the prevalence of patriarchy? Richard Dawkins retweets a video comparing feminists to Islamists.
The flipside of New Atheism and the Manosphere’s valorization of rationality is that they necessarily identify their detractors as “irrational.” For the Manosphere, the enemy is the hopelessly irrational woman. For New Atheism, the enemy is irrationality itself. But as the two groups’ memberships and rhetoric coalesce, New Atheism increasingly ends up firing at the same targets as blatant misogynists. As #MeToo continues to promote conversations about gender dynamics and rights, New Atheists might find that it’s time to be clear about their ideological commitments—or else have those commitments decided for them by their base.