The MANTRaP research project at Lancaster University explores the misogynist and anti-feminist language found in male-dominated communities on various social media platforms. PhD candidate Jessica Aiston describes the impact of these communities on young people.
The manosphere is a network of online men’s communities who promote anti-feminist and sexist beliefs blaming women and feminists for all sorts of problems in society. Many of these communities encourage resentment, or even hatred, towards women and girls. There are four main groups:
A 2020 HOPE not hate report demonstrated how the manosphere influences young people’s beliefs about feminism; boys are repeating manosphere talking points in school and even harassing female teachers. The report found that 50% of young men aged 16-24 believe feminism makes it more difficult for men to succeed. Owen Jones, head of education and training at HOPE not hate, says that gender equality is the most difficult subject to teach. Many students don’t believe sexism is a problem and, when teaching the subject, there “is an aggressive backlash from male students, who not only deny the issues, but try to silence any notion of female empowerment or critique of male culture.” This can make it difficult to have productive conversations about important issues like sexism or gender stereotypes in the classroom.
Many manosphere groups host their own websites and have seen increasing traffic with some seeing growth from thousands to millions of users. However, these groups can also be found on popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Reddit in particular is home to many manosphere communities, although the most popular MGTOW and incel subreddits have recently been banned. Young people may also find the manosphere via YouTube, as the ‘watch next’ algorithm has been known to recommend increasingly sexist and anti-feminist content in order to keep users engaged. TikTok may be another avenue, as the MGTOW and pick-up artist communities in particular are becoming more prevalent there.
There are several words and phrases which suggest that someone is familiar with the manosphere, such as:
However, not everyone uses this sort of language. It is also important to look out for generalising statements made about women and men, such as making claims about how all women act or talking about men and women as if they are two different species.
A lot of manosphere beliefs follow mainstream thoughts about gender and sexuality. Many teenage boys feel ashamed about not having a girlfriend but this does not necessarily mean they will identify as an incel. Therefore, it is important to have early conversations about healthy relationships and gender relations so that young people do not get sucked into the black-and-white and often defeatist thinking of the manosphere. Tools like The Online Together Project are designed to help start these conversations. Constructive support with difficult feelings around girls, sexuality and masculinity is also essential.
See advice and resources to help children stay safe online.