19 Nov 2020

Laura Bates on toxic misogyny and men who hate women

From Nine To Noon, 10:06 am on 19 November 2020

Author Laura Bates investigates the corners of the internet where toxic masculinity and misogyny flourish.

Posing as a 24-year-old white man who'd never had a girlfriend, she researched online forums devoted to various men's groups: The Men's Rights Activists, Men Going Their Own Way and Incels - involuntary celibates.

She's just published a new book called Men Who Hate Women, which looks at how "trolling" is anything but benign, there are substantial numbers of men in these groups and the hate feeding them can have real world consequences.

Bates’ work on this subject began in 2012 when she founded the Everyday Sexism project, where women could detail their experiences.

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Photo: Supplied

It unleashed a torrent of abuse - rape and death threats - which redoubles every time she appears in the media or at speaking events.

“I naively thought this was such a simple thing to do that no one could have a major problem with it,” she told Kathryn Ryan.

“Perhaps within three weeks of starting the project, before it had garnered any kind of international attention or media coverage, really before we’d received very many entries at all I was suddenly receiving perhaps 200 rape and death threats in a single day from men graphically describing the 12 different weapons they would use to disembowel me with, what order they would use them in and it has continued to this day.”

It was, she says, her first experience of “drawing back the veil” on what she now understands to be very organised and extreme misogynistic communities.

She gives talks to boys in UK schools about sexism and misogyny and started to notice disturbing trends.

“I visit perhaps two schools a week, a very large number of young people, and I started to notice there was a very dramatic and concerning uptick in the last couple of years in the number of boys I was coming into contact with in schools who had been radicalised or groomed.

“If it was any other form of extremism or hatred of any other group, we would describe it that way, but because it’s just women, just misogyny, we don’t use those words to describe it.”

She encountered boys of 13 and 14 who believe that there is a feminist conspiracy at the heart of government, that white men are losing their jobs in their thousands to women and that 90 percent of rape allegations are false.

“This was something very different, this was the repetition of false statistics by boys utterly convinced that they were true.

“I started to see the same quotes and the same statistics being circulated by boys in completely different schools in different areas of the country.”

It became clear to her these boys were being groomed by a sprawling network of extreme misogynist online communities.

“We are actually talking about a vast network of inter-connected blogs, forums, membership websites and social media platforms.”

Some of these sites have members upwards of 100,000 members, she says.

Teenage boys are being cleverly influenced by reaching them where they interact online, Bates says.

“These groups are taking their material and smuggling it into everything from viral YouTube videos, to Instagram memes, they are deliberately seeking out teenage boys on body building forums.”

They are also joining live gaming groups.

“The leaders of these communities describe using things like viral YouTube videos and Instagram memes in order to convert and lure in young people as adding cherry flavour to children’s medicine.”

These groups are “extremely deft” at manipulating the YouTube algorithm, she says.

“There are repeated reports of investigations by data scientists who have suggested that there is an enormously influential influencer network on YouTube of far right and misogynistic extremists.”

YouTube has enormous power and reach for young people, Bates says.

Some 70 percent of videos watched on YouTube are those recommended by the algorithm and 37 percent of all mobile internet traffic is for YouTube.

“If you put those two statistics together, then you find a quarter of all the mobile internet traffic in the world is accounted for by YouTube telling people what to watch.”

This makes it a powerful tool for far right and misogynist radicalisation, she says.

The social media giants are so far paying only lip service to these activities, she says.

“The reality is there are still thousands of rape threats, death threats and other forms of abuse being made online everyday with virtual impunity.”

Women who complain receive standard automated messages, she says.

“Women have no recourse but to trawl through pages and pages of death threats in order to report them.

“And it remains the fact there are a huge number of loopholes that enable men to make new accounts, proxy accounts.”

The idea that women should accept this as an unpleasant fact of life is absurd, she says.

“I think it’s hard to imagine the impact of reading day to day the impact of 200 strangers’ graphic descriptions of how they would like to rape and disembowel you.

“If somebody expected you to walk past 200 people screaming about cutting you open on your way to work, you would say that was unacceptable.

“But if you are women whose work involves writing online that is essentially what you are going through every day.”

When she created the fake persona of Alex to infiltrate these groups, it took time for her to be trusted, she says.

“These are notoriously paranoid communities, they are constantly accusing each other of being undercover FBI agents. Which is ironic as they are so far from law enforcement agencies’ radars.”

Then there was the hurdle of language.

“The biggest part for me was learning the language, because when you first go on to some of these forums and websites you might spend some time trying to decipher the posts, so dense is their own lexicon that they’ve invented.”

Such words include ‘Foid’ for female humanoid, ‘chads’, for men who are sexually successful, ‘Staceys’ women perceived to be promiscuous and worthless and ‘roasties’, for women perceived to have slept with too many men.

“There is an entire kind of belief system you have to learn.

“You are initiated into a near daily barrage of rape fantasy why people should be rising up and killing and massacring women.”

There is also an “endless canonisation” of former killers of women, she says.

It is a mistake to think of these men as aberrations and monsters, Bates says.

“They are very much among us, men that we know and work with and are friends with.”

These groups also dovetail with white supremacist beliefs.

It’s about a perceived loss of power, she says, a sense of a loss of a natural right to be in control.

“Not only of their politics and their country, but their women and their families, and there is a perception that that is under threat, that is being eroded by modern feminism, by the Me Too movement, by multi-culturalism and also at its heart by the simple fact of women’s emancipation.”

Boys drawn into this dark world need non-judgemental support, Bates says.

“In the UK I don’t think it’s a surprise or a coincidence that these movements have become so powerful in their grip on young people at the same period we have seen 600 youth centres close and massive cuts to funding for youth mental health

“We have to give young people the opportunity to discuss these things offline otherwise we risk driving them into the arms of these online communities.

“Wherever shame flourishes, and silencing and a fear if talking about something, then these online communities are quick to pounce and turn it into something warped and ugly.

“And so, conversation and openness are the best disinfectants.”

Social media companies must also, she says, be held to account.

In her book she 100 cases of murder, violence and rape explicitly carried out in the names of these groups.

“When they suggest that this is impossible to police and it is just too difficult, that’s absolute nonsense.

“These companies are private companies that have the income of some small countries, of course they have the money to tackle this properly if they have the will to do it.”