The Global Grievance Network: How Viral Masculinity Endangers Everyone
“Cyber misogyny” is sort of what it sounds like, a catch-all term for various forms of woman-hate spewing over the internet. Dig deeper, however, and you discover something unexpected. Women and girls may be its main targets, but they are not alone. Men and boys are harmed by it too. It can devastate entire communities, even jeopardize the environment. Believe it or not, everyone is at risk when misogyny runs rampant online.
Internet misogyny may seem like a concern specific to women and contained to virtual worlds. You might roll your eyes at these mad men and bad boys but think they pale in comparison to burning problems in the real world. Truth be told, the escalation of cyber misogyny is behind the pressing global challenges of our time.
Preview: Today’s cyber misogyny necessitates a paradigm shift
Over the past decade, cyber misogyny has utterly exploded, escaping the web’s dim alleys to spread its seething far and wide. In the early 2010s, it grew forceful enough to earn the nickname manosphere. A boom that big would have been hailed a digital revolution were it not so wincingly hateful. By 2015, the “manosphere” jumped all semblance of virtual borders and marched onto the main stage of global politics. Today, it moves comfortably among us, on and offline, saturating mainstream discourse in countless locations and languages.
This omnipresence is neither widely recognized nor readily apparent. Most people have never heard of the manosphere and know nothing of its antics. This is partly due to its endless variations. Some versions lead with bluster and bravado; others favor intellect and insinuation. Some present as pro-men, not anti-women. It can be hard to discern their connection. What binds them, coalescing the manosphere into a perceptible network, is one passionate conviction: that ‘real’ men (especially the straight, white Western kind) are under siege and must be restored to set society right. This feeling is the manosphere’s signature.
So that we can recognize this feeling in all its forms, I propose to call it by a more precise name, aggrieved manhood (aka “manly grievance”). Manly grievance is the primary emotional fuel source behind the rise of the far right, though it is seldom acknowledged as such. Stoking this gnawing feeling across the manosphere, the far right took on a populist face and found attention, amplification, and traction around the world.
Put simply, cyber misogyny is the global engine of the far right and should be treated as such. I make that case, first, by introducing aggrieved manhood—the versatile feeling-in-common that powers the surge of rightwing populism around the world. Second, I explain how internet misogyny (aka the “manosphere”) serves as a transnational ‘superspreader’ of aggrieved manhood, such that the feeling has truly gone viral. Finally, I show that viral manly grievance puts us all in harm’s way. In this light, cyber misogyny becomes a pressing human concern that transcends politics.
Ultimately, I argue that viral, rather than “toxic,” masculinity is an urgent challenge of our time from which no one is immune. I offer a paradigm shift for addressing this situation. What if we respond to aggrieved manhood at the level of movement instead of content? The adage might go: Never mind what manly grievance says, zero in on how it spreads.
I come to these claims as both a feminist communication scholar and a populist daughter of the US religious right. Due in part to this oddly fruitful mix, my approach is rigorously pro-men. Uninterested in any ‘battle of the sexes’, I believe in our interdependence and seek human thriving in all gendered forms. For this reason, I call foul on the manosphere’s disingenuous claim to be pro-men: It neither has their backs nor serves their interests. Aggrieved manhood threatens the health and safety of men and boys as much as anyone else.
I. A biography of feeling: Aggrieved manhood and the populist sleight of hand
Aggrieved manhood is the feeling that virility has been victimized. It’s a simmering sense of rightful potency, wrongly denied. It is not synonymous with “toxic masculinity” and should not be reduced to it. Toxic masculinity refers to rigid norms of manhood (like “boys don’t cry” or “men hold their liquor”) that bring harm both to those who live by them and to people nearby. To be clear, this pro-feminist concept was never intended to rail against men; it seeks healthier masculinities for men’s sake, after all. Nonetheless, the term has become intensely polarizing.
Aggrieved manhood spits on the very concept of toxic masculinity, reframing it as evidence of discrimination against men. Basically, manly grievance is a backlash that doubles down on any masculine norm dubbed “toxic.” It asserts a natural gender binary (male or female) and division of roles (masculinity versus femininity), then turns the tables on feminism, casting men and masculinity as the truly oppressed. Branded poisonous by the feminized cultural establishment, ‘real’ men have no choice but to revolt against the assault on masculinity. This they must do not just for themselves—to reclaim their rights—but also for the good of “the people,” to save civilization from the softening of men. Aggrieved manhood thus offers toxic masculinity subscribers a sympathetic identity politics, that of heroic victim.
The offer stands for almost anyone willing to take up the mantle of manly grievance. People you might not expect—including plenty of women—will do so. There is no short supply of Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Giorgia Melonis in the world, but this should come as no surprise. As Isabel Wilkerson says in her best-seller Caste, “One does not have to be in the dominant caste to do its bidding. In fact, the most potent instrument of the caste system is a sentinel at every rung, whose identity forswears any accusation of discrimination and helps keep the caste system humming” (2020: 244). These ‘unlikely’ suspects are actually probable, and their presence sheds light on the kind of manhood besieged. In the West, for example, women who take up manly grievance tend to do so expressly as wives, mothers, and daughters. This is a clue that the masculinity in question is heterosexual. You may also notice that white women are more prone to participate—aha, an index of the racial profile of aggrieved manhood.
The point is that the mere presence of women does not negate—on the contrary, it helps specify—the masculinity of a thing. How can you know that aggrieved manhood favors straight white masculinity? By the uneven involvement of white women invested through heterosexual partnership, be it economic, romantic, parental, familial, faith-based, and so on.
Aggrieved manhood is therefore not an equal opportunity feeling, even as it can appear open to everyone. This is a crucial point because, increasingly, manly grievance all over the world takes shelter under the guise of populism, which lends it a legitimate cover. Today, aggrieved manhood is pitched as the protest of decent ordinary people, an honorable uprising of the oppressed underclass.
Too many analysts take the bait, accepting the populist claim that “the people’s” socioeconomic resentment is the main motivation. In doing so, they let aggrieved manhood get away with hijacking real class pain for its own selfish interest. Fooled by the populist costume, we fail to see that gender, racial, and sexual entitlement are really in the driver’s seat. Certainly, class inequities are dire and demand attention. But manly grievance grabs that attention for itself, even as it leaks disregard for the poor and working classes.
For all its populist swagger, aggrieved manhood’s underclass bona fides are an ill-fitting suit worn for sympathy. If a posterchild would help, think of J.D. Vance, the Yale Law graduate and venture capitalist who published Hillbilly Elegy in 2016 and, by 2023, became a rightwing populist US Senator spouting manly grievance talking points. Or how about Senator Josh Hawley, another Yale Law grad turned populist who recently published Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs. You might remember him as the preppy-looking guy who fist-pumped the January 6 crowd and, later, ran from them.
We might be cautious about the label rightwing populism, then. I do not say this in an anti-populist spirit. Quite the reverse, calling these movements populist is unfair to populism; it tarnishes “the people’s” good name. The populist form is operating here like a gender-laundering service that cleanses manly grievance, buffing it with an everyman front. “He the people,” masquerading as “We the people.”
Instead of falling for this ruse, we can challenge the populist frame and name the partialities at hand. Aggrieved manhood is an alternative label that achieves this. Let’s face it: Contemporary rightwing populisms appeal most to certain kinds of manhood, and that is because these movements work to restore their ‘rightful’ stature. In many locations, the men and masculinities who stand to benefit most are straight, white, able-bodied, and cis-gendered, possibly Christian too. Often, they are comparatively comfortable—some downright elite—in terms of class. Suffice it to say that populism is a stretch, at best.
It is vital to understand that aggrieved manhood is a bodily feeling more than a particular viewpoint. This feeling can hitch a ride on, and get attached to, all kinds of content, but it leads with sensation. Manly grievance is most combustible as a felt sense of things, an impression or perception that cannot easily be put into words and grows all the stronger for it. Aggrieved manhood bundles several blurry emotions into one heady package. Uneasy, silenced, entitled, misjudged, defensive, beleaguered, betrayed, lonely, lost, nostalgic, in a word, wronged… and outraged to the boiling point. The package arrives most powerfully as physical (not only ideological) agitation—a spiked pulse, set jaw, clenched fist, puffed chest.
In short, bodies with aggrieved manhood on board are primed to lash out. They are prone to what political scientists call “fast anger,” volatile cycles of swelling and contraction that flare in detonations big and small (Davies 2020). Like shouting matches and fist fights at school board meetings, over “critical race theory” or Pride month. Like election insurrections in the US and Brazil. Like the fuel emissions flex of “rolling coal,” or mass shootings and gun suicide. Yes, I mean to imply that these very different incidents have manly grievance as their common denominator; more on that to come.
A feeling like aggrieved manhood is made for the contemporary media landscape. As we will see, it passes smoothly through social networks, easily adjusting to different situations. One reason for this is that it operates first by bodily arousal and so, is content-flexible. Onboarded physically before thinking sets in, manly grievance can latch on to most any idea.
But the feeling flows especially well for another reason: It runs on the binary code of gender. “Manly right, wronged” translates better and faster across cultural differences than other forms of entitled resentment. A simple binary code (man or woman) readily adapts to regional circumstances. The gender binary can easily map on to resident specifics—more complex codes like race, ethnicity, religion, and class—to make aggrieved manhood feel locally compelling.
It may seem strange to speak of feeling, rather than people, in biographical terms. Yet tracing the life of catchy feelings is a much-needed fluency for a “post-truth” age when persuasion by physical resonance (aka “truthiness”) rules. So far, we’ve considered the current character of aggrieved manhood—with whom it identifies, who it hides behind, how it acts and with what motivation, how mobile it is. But what of its trajectory in relation to time and place: Where does it come from, and where is it going? How should we understand its lifespan?
Aggrieved manhood has a colorful history. In the West, at least, claims that men are victimized go way back. For example, US history is speckled by periodic ‘crises’ of masculinity that served warrants to redress some social order (Ashcraft & Flores 2003). Aggrieved manhood appears to be more durable than earlier crises, however. It began as a reaction to the social movements of the 1960’s and 70’s—not only feminisms, but civil rights, gay liberation, and more. Together, these movements questioned the automatic entitlement of straight white men, unsettling—without fully unseating—taken-for-granted social and economic privileges. Several “men’s movements” began to grapple with shifting expectations around gender, race, and sexuality. Aggrieved manhood was born in the anti-feminist wing of these movements, which dug in on behalf of the good old days, when men were men and… you get the idea.
From the 1980s forward, the flames were fanned by conservative talk radio (hear Rush Limbaugh) and other “outrage media” (Sobieraj & Berry 2011). Straight white men’s festering resentments were channeled toward various outlets, from “men’s rights activists” and “fathers’ rights” groups to anti-government militias and the religious right. In 2009, aggrieved manhood found new life in the Tea Party. Diverse phenomena, to be sure. And the throughline of manly grievance is unmistakably present.
This makes aggrieved manhood over 50 years old. Yet some still hold hope that the feeling will pass with those who birthed it. In 2013, the leading US expert on “angry white men” predicted as much (Kimmel, 2017). Within three years, aggrieved manhood won the US White House and fast-tracked its blazing global ascent. Far from busting, manly grievance is positively booming around the world. How did this happen? That’s where internet misogyny comes in.
II. Feeling goes viral: Enter the manosphere
Where “cyber misogyny” encapsulates online activity hostile to women, “the manosphere” captures how all these acts are in masculinist community—networked in such a way that they operate like a unified force with a detectable signature. I begin with a brief introduction to this network and explain its cozy relation with the far right. Of the many gifts the manosphere has bestowed on global rightwing politics, two stand out: an aesthetic of countercultural cool and the physical radicalization of bodies primed to strike at culture war targets.
A global network, on and offline
Technically, the manosphere refers to the internet phase of anti-feminist men’s movements. It’s a symbiotic mesh of websites, blogs, memes, videos, books, seminars, talking points, and the like, which trade in manly entitlement and threats to it. The manosphere is not exactly an entity, however, more like “networked misogyny” (Banet-Weiser & Miltner 2016). Think of it as pods or clusters of activity that, on the surface, appear to be decoupled or loosely related, yet are wholly aligned in purpose. Their business? The constant sharing, and alleged salving, of aggrieved manhood.
In concrete terms, the manosphere is that web of relations binding disparate figures like Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, Ben Shapiro, and Tucker Carlson… with varied groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Front, so-called incels (“involuntary celibates”) and other men’s separatist communities… with vengeful trolls, cyberstalking, and hate campaigns (remember “Gamergate?”)… with an army of self-proclaimed experts peddling hacks for heterosexual conquest (“pick-up artists”) and retaliation (“revenge porn”), semen count enrichment (aka “men’s sexual wellness”), bodybuilding, and other surefire ways to ‘let the bitches know who’s boss’ and give your manhood a boost.
No, these are not all the same or equivalent. And no, not everyone involved adheres to misogyny, or means to. The point is not to oversimplify—to reduce or conflate very different people and efforts—but, rather, to behold their connective tissue. They may have dissimilar goals and interests; they may not communicate or coordinate directly. They may denounce one another or engage in conflict and rivalry. Such infighting heeds the moral of Fight Club, that the best way to ‘remasculate’ is to spar with other men.
Paradoxically, fragmentation is what integrates the manosphere (Strick 2020). Widely dispersed, apparently detached, and endlessly brawling—what better ‘proof’ that the threats are everywhere, and the stakes couldn’t be higher? Even when the manosphere’s diverse inhabitants are at cross-purposes, they are connected by a common goal, which is to draw attention and energy toward manhood wronged in a million ways. This is how the manosphere ‘acts’ or exerts influence as a whole, regardless of any participant’s personal intentions.
Concisely, the manosphere is a global network—a highly distributed, rather than centralized or synchronized, form of agency—that lobbies on behalf of manly grievance the world over. No headquarters to be found, no wizard behind a curtain. Just track the effects of all that activity.
“The manosphere” marks the role of the internet in enabling the explosive growth of anti-feminist men’s movements. It is crucial to recognize, however, that the manosphere is not limited to online activity, even as aggrieved manhood whips into a frenzy and travels farthest and fastest there.
Today’s manosphere obliterates the distinction between on and offline. It moves freely among fiber and filament, pub and workplace, bedroom and voting booth. It gets preached from pulpits and passed through prayer chains; it rips across social media and pours from talking heads. People and groups of all kinds get caught up in the manosphere, often unknowingly. Networked misogyny is a useful descriptor because it honors exactly this: how the force of cyber misogyny has infiltrated networks far beyond the internet.
Synonymous with the far right and worth mention
By this point, you may wonder about the relationship between the manosphere and the far right. The short answer is, they overlap so much it makes little sense to speak of them separately. They are two sides of one coin. That we only see one side is a problem.
An example might help. Some readers may recall when former prime-time Fox News host Tucker Carlson began to forecast an imminent “great replacement” that would turn the majority of the US voting populace from white to brown. Rightly, he was called out for far-right racist rhetoric. So-called replacement theory certainly originates in white nationalist thinking. Though lesser known, it is also deeply rooted in anti-feminist heterosexism. Replacement theory is a staple of the manosphere because it holds that women contribute to society mainly through sex and reproduction. Whereas women of color hyper-excel in these roles, white women slack in a couple of ways, first by refusing their primary role as mothers in selfish pursuit of careers and, second, by breeding with men of color. Cutting to the chase, white women—double-duped by feminism and civil rights—are pretty much at fault for the impending replacement.
Like this, racism and misogyny are interwoven in the far right, essential to one another. They suckle like siblings at the dark web’s bosom, bonded by the blood of manly grievance. When we only call that web “far right,” then point out the racist parts but leave out the sexist bits—or save them for a separate conversation—we are missing something big.
Namely, gender is the linchpin that connects the far right around the world. Hear me carefully. I am not saying that sexism is more important to the far right than racism or other supremacies. Rather, I am saying that gender is the means of transport; it is how the far right moves and translates across cultural difference. Recall my earlier point about the relative simplicity of gender as a binary code. No wonder rightwing culture wars everywhere cling to the gender binary. What a convenient vehicle for cross-cultural travel.
Aggrieved manhood is how the far right finds global traction, and the manosphere disseminates and intensifies this feeling around the world. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to neo-Nazi website editor Andrew Anglin’s advice for spreading hard-right sentiments:
“What resonates the most, in my experience, is issues surrounding the displacement and disenfranchisement of the white male which has taken place as a result of feminism. That is a gateway to all of this… the preservation of male identity and the man’s role in society should always be a core focus of the brand.”
If gender is so important, why do we keep overlooking it? One reason is that the far right wants us to. Don’t underestimate their marketing skills; the distinction between internal and external branding is not lost on them. They know how to pivot from recruiting members to softening their public image. “Right” plays right into their hand.
By 2015, “alt right” became the common term for the (undeniably masculinist) movement that rejects mainstream media in favor of a parallel online mediaverse opposed to progressive identity politics. But get this: “Alt right” was the self-interested self-description of the very mediaverse it named. They chose this name strategically, as part of an image campaign to sanitize their anti-feminist, homophobic, transmisic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, white supremacist, Christian nationalist agenda.
Bear in mind that digital scholars had already branded this mediaverse “the manosphere.” Nevertheless, most media ran with the movement’s own rebranding instead. Many commentators marked the racist nationalism of the alt right, whereas few mentioned its heterosexist agenda. Turns out, women’s participation is key to preserving the white nation.
As this extreme universe went mainstream, the “alt” was eventually dropped in favor of “far.” Still, most coverage of the far right ignores gender. This is astonishing once you open your eyes to the evidence hidden in plain sight. With their very name, for instance, the Proud Boys say it outright. Yet they are routinely described as a “far right” group with no mention of gender.
For all the talk these days of “intersectionality” (a term for the ways that distinct vectors of oppression work in tandem), most analysts seem challenged to hold race, religion, gender, and sexuality together. Too bad, because the far right does not share this problem. “Straight white Western (some specify Christian) manhood is besieged,” they cry. There you have it, all in one.
The difference between the manosphere and the far right is mainly a matter of emphasis, which foot they wish to put forward. If far right is their preferred public face, I think we should pause to ask why—and not let them choose. Since manly grievance is the “core” brand, I say rebrand the external face accordingly. Not “rightwing populism,” but “aggrieved manhood.” Not only the “far right,” but also the “manosphere.”
Learning to recognize the manosphere and call it by name is an important first step to grasping cyber misogyny as the far right’s global engine. With “the manosphere” on our tongue, we are ready to process how it became so.
Manufacturing and distributing countercultural cool
The name manosphere came about in the early 2010s to mark a tipping point in cyber misogyny (Jane 2017). By this time, online cultural warfare was increasingly vitriolic. The battleground was identity politics, the battlelines drawn between a purifying left and a violent right. As the furious combat evolved on Web 2.0, researchers observed that online misogyny was escalating sharply and strangely coalescing. It mushroomed into ‘an organization’ of sorts, the distributed but nonetheless decipherable agency of networked misogyny.
“Manosphere” became shorthand for this budding phenomenon. Basically, masculinist web subcultures that were previously insular and elitist began to converge around a shared feeling signature: aggrieved manhood, the sense that ‘real’ men are under attack, especially the straight white ones we ought to be thanking for Western civilization.
In the coalescing process, this well-worn feeling—by now in its fifth decade—was undergoing a dramatic transformation. Manly grievance was getting a makeover, refashioned in an ironic, countercultural aesthetic that stopped resisting a leftist syntax of power and instead leaned into it (Nagle 2017). This fresh face appealed to younger generations reared on both feminist teachings and tales of awakening like Fight Club and The Matrix. No longer the bile of old mad men, aggrieved manhood was becoming a badge of cool.
The public first met the manosphere in 2014, when the press briefly covered “Gamergate,” a vicious online harassment campaign targeting women and LGBTQ+ people in the gaming industry. If you remember Gamergate at all, you might recall it as the lark of far-out pranksters fed up with outspoken feminists. That is how it was portrayed: a head-shaking incident with violence from one side and stridency on both. In truth, it was no side show to shrug off. Underestimated to this day, Gamergate was a game-changer.
Gamergate gave a preview of the manosphere’s methods and gathering momentum. It was a capacity-building event, though few paid attention. In this campaign, the manosphere found a new level of force, honing two of its greatest contributions to the far right: (1) mobilizing an aesthetic of countercultural cool and (2) perfecting the art of physical radicalization.
Gamergate refined the makeover of misogyny, from ‘crusty old guy’ to ‘edgy anarchist’. This new face magnetized young men disinterested in politics but gripped by gaming, metalcore, and similar pastimes. Gamergate effectively tapped into their appetite for riot and mayhem and channeled it toward fighting the left’s culture war victories. Like a video game come to life, “politically correct” identity politics became the tyrannical order to overthrow.
The ironic, countercultural aesthetic remains the primary hook for young men today. With the promise of non-conformity, boys are enticed to take the “red pill,” a pervasive manosphere reference to a scene from The Matrix (1999) where a character must choose between taking a blue pill that affirms his current reality or a red pill that reveals his docile condition. In manosphere lingo, the blue pill is feminist brainwashing, and the red pill bares the oppression it hides: Men are victims of “gynocracy,” and straight white guys suffer the most.
The manosphere teems with guidance for reaching the young and innocent through countercultural cred. Soft-sell strategies like “the slow red pill” and “The Red Pill Primer for Boys” remind content producers to lead with sarcastic humor and relatable memes. Keep it light and playful; soothe them with a sense of superiority to all the “normies” out there.
The worth of the manosphere’s countercultural style cannot be overrated. Beyond its value for recruiting young blood, it activates a populist pardon of self-defense, which the far right continues to deploy. Gamergate billed itself as a resistance movement, defending the integrity of gaming from invasion by a feminized elite. This turn toward a common tyrant, not just enemy—”save endangered men from the feminist establishment”—energized the manosphere. It electrified a motley crew into a globally oppressed class of ordinary men.
Polishing the countercultural aesthetic, the manosphere began to consolidate a populist sensibility and harvest its potential for rightwing politics. Fascist aggressors, you say? Try hippie, better yet hipster, underdogs.
Essentially, Gamergate was proof of concept for a posture that now defines rightwing populisms around the world. Envision COVID lockdown protests, for instance, and their sardonic appropriation of leftist social movement mottos. Like the old feminist slogan, “My body, my choice.” The irony abounds—and that is the point.
To be clear, it was cyber misogyny that prototyped and disseminated this clever reversal, refashioning the far right as victimized heroes, not belligerent attackers. Defense, not offense. We are the guys who bravely combat the invisible regimes most “passives” accept… is now the pose of the mainstream right. Make no mistake, this flip was made in the manosphere.
Gamergate 2014 was a wildly successful practice round for assembling an eclectic online army and harnessing its vigor toward rightwing populist politics. It was also the first time that anti-feminist men’s movements, simmering since the 1970s, had lashed out so publicly. The manosphere has been emboldened ever since, skipping all barriers thought to contain it. It is no exaggeration to say that the manosphere won the US presidency in 2016; marched into the public square at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, SC; stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the Brazilian Congress on 8 January two years later. Fast work, and the accelerator remains floored. We have a second major contribution to thank for that.
Priming bodies, or physical radicalization
Gamergate was also a window into another gift the manosphere gave the far right: agitated bodies, all over the world, primed to lash out on cue. Physical (more than ideological) radicalization is the manosphere’s most formidable method of spreading far-right sentiments.
Notice how the new countercultural cool is about aesthetic, attitude, and atmosphere. It succeeds not by leading with ideology, or a platform of extreme ideas, but with a potent gateway vibe that beguiles the body first. The idea is to warm bodies up to radical content by inducing and quenching their thirst for radical play—again, like a video game come to life.
This is how the manosphere works, by turning politics into gaming, with all the attendant pleasures: mutual goading, one-upmanship, striking at targets, racking up points, gaining skill and notoriety, winning. Sure, the evil regime that players fight so excitedly is the feminist left. But it’s more about the physical thrill of playing—how it makes you feel manly—than it is about belief in the game. The ecstasy of play becomes intrinsic motivation. Who needs centralized coordination when the players are habituated? Just keep fresh targets coming.
I do not deny the importance of ideology and disinformation; nor do I mean to sever content from feeling. Quite the opposite, my point is that ideological fidelity and fondness for misinformation come from the physical rush of the game. Dedication to creed is not what drives passionate play, more like the reverse. Feeling is in charge here, and content serves it—with pretexts and targets, swappable and stackable, rinse and repeat. Manly grievance in search of an outlet and chomping at the bit.
Research clearly demonstrates that this is how Gamergate worked, through “affective intensification” (Just 2019). Meaning, amplify the feeling of aggrieved manhood through continuous replay. Repetition and riffing, in point-to-point encounters, keeps manly grievance moving in every sense: drawing clicks, extending view time, animating bodies, traveling from place to place, mutating to new circumstances, building up and brimming over, claiming new space.
The manosphere keeps growing its share of the attention economy by replicating and fine-tuning manly grievance, such that it occupies ever more physical territory (Strick 2020). As more bodies get stirred and smitten, the feeling escalates. Agitating one another, they salivate for more. Diverse and competing pockets of activity appear ‘organically’ around the globe. Now that’s a next-level men’s movement = the transnational movement of ‘fellow’ feeling.
Picture that moment in a pinball game when the ball goes beyond player control and starts flipping around the flashing, chiming field, accumulating value all on its own. Just like that, through kinetic motion, the manosphere produces huge energetic momentum for the far right. By relentlessly bouncing the ball of manly grievance around a global circuit.
You may have noticed that this is how the right fights cultural warfare these days, identity politics 2.0. The goal is to get more bodies—women too—hooked on the high of aggrieved manhood, er, “the people’s” entitled rage. To achieve this, supply endless opportunity to play politics. “Sour the brand” of one target after another to keep the threats scrolling by: mysterious child sex-trafficking rings (“pizzagate”), “critical race theory,” trans women athletes, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives, drag queen story hour, and counting. Players are primed to strike for the thrill of it and activate one another in the process, creating a sustainable emotional fuel source. Just keep that ball bouncing.
Physical radicalization is the currency of a “post-truth” communication economy. The manosphere perfected this method of cultural warfare. By persuading the rest of the body before the mind—developing physical reflexes that get ahead of reflection—it delivers renewable energy to be harnessed for rightwing political battle.
Countercultural cool and physical radicalization are by no means cyber misogyny’s only contributions to the far right. The manosphere market-tests all kinds of content too. In style, method, and substance, it is the playbook for rightwing populism. I highlight these two contributions because they make for one priceless present to the far right: The manosphere acts as an incubator or supercharger—or how about, furnace and blower—for the feeling of aggrieved manhood.
Succinctly, cyber misogyny is a superspreader of aggrieved manhood, which has truly gone viral around the world. I do not say this flippantly, in the waning fad of pandemic metaphor. What I mean is that the manosphere has exerted significant influence on the amount, quality, momentum, and trajectory of feeling in a world where feeling increasingly rules the day. As a global circuit of sensation, the manosphere has vastly accelerated the physical (not only social) transmission of manly grievance to the point of wide communal spread.
In this way above all, internet misogyny is the far right’s engine: The manosphere expedites a pandemic of feeling that powers rightwing ‘populisms’ around the world. The next question is, where is viral manly grievance headed? Sadly, the answer is nowhere good.
III. A pandemic of feeling: Aggrieved manhood as a global public health challenge
Most critics stress how the far right threatens democracy. The same could be said of cyber misogyny, the far right’s superspreading machine. The manosphere may well be a menace to democratic institutions, even national security (the Jack Teixeira leaks come to mind). But you don’t have to agree for us to share concern about it. Who or what democracy needs is not the nub of this essay. I prefer to bypass a political frame altogether.
Why risk validating the populist charge of elitism by judging “the people” who feel manly grievance unfit for democracy? Especially when that risk is unnecessary. There is a greater cause for concern, an existential threat that transcends politics with a clear human interest in common. Thanks to the manosphere, aggrieved manhood is surging to an extent that endangers global public health.
This is a strong and unusual claim, I know, so “terms and conditions” first:
- This is not a slier way to excise some of “the people,” now dismissed as bad for health instead of democracy. Rather, a public health frame directs care to people who serve as vessels of manly grievance without making them either vile or victims.
- Nor is this a technocratic call for rescue by “the experts,” as if “the people” can’t be trusted to think—or feel—for themselves. Instead, I call attention to something we rarely consider, which is the physical transmission of social feeling and its public health consequences.
- By health, I mean physical (which includes mental) safety and well-being.
- By public health, I signal that viral manly grievance elevates risk for the population as a whole.
- By global public health, I mean that the world shares this risk. Though aggrieved manhood affects certain bodies and places more than others, the entire planet bears the brunt of its intensification, as I will explain. But let’s begin slowly.
It is well-documented that aggrieved manhood regularly leads to harmful, even deadly violence. You may know, for instance, that manly grievance is a leading motive for common offenses like domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as all manner of atrocities based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and/or sexuality. Rarely do we hold these together, preferring to divide “violence against women” from other “hate crimes.” Only when we consider them as variations on one theme—a category called “supremacy crimes” (Steinem 1999)—does the long and lethal arm of manly grievance begin to appear.
You might respond that these threats, however endemic, are targeted at certain groups and, therefore, not exactly a public health problem. Well, groups in the crosshairs of supremacy crimes make up the majority of the population in most places, if you take them together (women alone are close to half). We needn’t quibble over numbers, though, because the risk has become generalized, and ‘collateral damage’ is common.
Consider US mass shootings, which have spiked along with the manosphere. This is no coincidence. Bogged down in the murkiness of personal motives, we miss the connective tissue. Undeniably, aggrieved manhood animates the overwhelming share of mass and school shootings. “Lone gunmen” are anything but. On closer inspection, most are in evident community with the manosphere. Manly grievance is often present even when the shooter does not fit the customary demographic of straight, white, non-poor cis males. From Aurora to Charleston to Orlando to Las Vegas to El Paso to Atlanta to Buffalo—from Columbine High to Sandy Hook Elementary to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High to Robb Elementary—aggrieved manhood destroys lives and shatters entire communities. By now, events like these are habitual, a chronic threat in the fabric of public life. No one is safe from supremacy crimes when loathing for certain groups is sprayed indiscriminately.
Mass shootings are a stark example of how aggrieved manhood threatens public health, particularly in (but not limited to) the US. More subtle examples abound, like environmental health. The link between traditional masculinity and “anti-green” behavior has been established for some time. Going further, recent research specifically connects aggrieved manhood to the transnational rise of anti-green movements and so-called climate-damaging lifestyles (e.g., Pulé & Hultman 2019; Meyer 2021). The latter is epitomized by “rolling coal,” where a driver (usually of a truck) purposefully puffs a black cloud of diesel smoke (preferably at electric cars). Or recall Andrew Tate, a British darling of the manosphere, taunting Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg with his extensive “car collection and their respective enormous emissions.”
The climate illustration shows how the health threats posed by aggrieved manhood can swiftly scale up, from individual perpetrators to backlash movements to government policy. When manly grievance is elected to national office, for example, countries rescind climate accords, and ravaged forests burn. These too are supremacy crimes of a sort, and the whole world ends up suffering the risk. The effects of aggrieved manhood can already be felt where the feeling may not (yet) flow.
Supremacy crimes leave no victors. This is most visible when they imperil the planet, but Earth’s fate is not our only shared risk. Future generations are also endangered, for instance, when women’s reproductive health suffers from the laws of manly grievance.
It is at such scale, in governing, that aggrieved manhood most clearly harms the very men it claims to profit. For example, following gun legislation gutted in the name of manly grievance, simply being a white man is now a statistical risk for gun suicide in some US states (Metzl 2019). All over the world, men who face real challenges fall into the self-destructive ‘solutions’ of the manosphere. Cyber misogyny targets women as well as men it convinces to target women. Aggrieved manhood is a dead end for everyone, including its alleged beneficiaries.
The turn to public health is thoroughly pro-men, for it embraces the reality that viral manly grievance threatens the safety and well-being of men and boys, especially those who come to feel it acutely. To call aggrieved manhood a pandemic of feeling—to be alarmed by the manosphere hastening its spread—is not an indictment of men but a renewed commitment to them. It’s an appeal for mutual survival.
The culture wars of aggrieved manhood can and do kill. A public health frame allows us to recognize and defuse this fact. It marks this viral form of masculinity as an urgent global challenge and, at the same time, depoliticizes it. How? By engaging at the level of movement instead of content. By treating it as a real pandemic of feeling that puts the general population at unsustainable risk. By addressing how it spreads and ignoring what it says.
If feeling is in charge and surging, we need a line of response that meets it. Chasing and flogging the content or spokespeople through which it vents can be as futile as bewailing a virus each time it strikes. As COVID reminded us, sometimes the primary task is to slow transmission. Wouldn’t energy be better spent ‘flattening the curve’ of aggrieved manhood than arguing or empathizing with its symptoms?
What this looks like in detail is another conversation. The task for now is hard enough, though worthwhile. Try reorienting your focus, from whatever topic the feeling gets hot about (“CRT” in schools! Vax mandates!) and whomever its rep du jour may be (Ron DeSantis or RFK Jr.)—no matter how objectionable—to the empirical question of how the feeling moves.
This essay began to address that question. How is aggrieved manhood managing to claim ever more terrain around the world? The answer is networked misogyny. So let’s contend with the global circuit of transmission—the manosphere—instead of defaming its latest proxy. Never mind what manly grievance says, zero in on how it spreads. We all have a stake in that.
Karen Lee Ashcraft is a Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has studied organizational and cultural politics for thirty years; and her latest book, Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic (2022, Bristol University Press), details the arguments outlined here.
Ashcraft, K. L. 2022. Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic. Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press.
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Pulé, P. M., and Hultman, M. 2019. Industrial/breadwinner masculinities and climate change: Understanding the complexities of climate change denial. In Climate Hazards, Disasters, and Gender Ramifications: 86-97. Editors C. Kinnvall and H. Rydstrom. New York: Routledge.
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Kimmel, M. 2017. Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. New York: Bold Type Books.
Metzl, J.M. 2019. Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, New York: Basic Books.
Meyer, K. 29 June 2021. Threatened masculinity as an obstacle to sustainable change, Energy Transition, https://energytransition.org/2021/06/threatened-masculinity-as-an-obstacle-to-sustainable-change/
Nagle, A. 2017. Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the Alt-right and Trump.Winchester, UK: Zero Books.
Sobieraj, S., and Berry, K. 2011. From incivility to outrage: Political discourse in blogs, talk radio, and cable news, Political Communication, Vol. 28, No. 1, pages 19-41.
Steinem, G. (August/September 1999) Supremacy crimes, Ms.
Strick, S. 2020. The alternative right, masculinities, and ordinary affect. In Right-wing Populism and Gender: European Perspectives and Beyond: 207-230. Editors G. Dietze and J. Roth. Bielefeld, DE: Transcript Publishing.
Wilkerson, I. 2020. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. New York: Random House.
 An observation made by digital culture scholar Angela Nagle in her 2017 book Kill All Normies. Nagle’s politics have drawn controversy, but her early research on anti-feminist online organizing is highly instructive for the claims formulated here.
 Sociologist Michael Kimmel coined the term “aggrieved entitlement” in his 2013 book Angry White Men, which was reprinted in 2017 with a new preface addressing Trump. I use “aggrieved manhood” to specify this feeling and capture its contemporary evolution. Kimmel has since been accused of exploitation and sexual harassment. I cite his book because it provides essential context for my own research (Ashcraft 2022).
 For the full development of this larger argument, see my 2022 book Wronged and Dangerous.
 For an accessible introduction to the manosphere’s varied constituents, see Laura Bates’ 2021 book Men Who Hate Women.
 Quoted in Bates (2021: 280-281)