I’m not sure why I subject myself to certain sections of the Internet. I pretend that outrage is not what I’m looking for when I type incendiary phrases into Google, but it really is. Perhaps it’s like watching those pimple-popping videos, but without the satisfaction. Or why you can’t look away from a trainwreck. Or why I read about President Trump until my eyes and heart bleed. But somehow, when I want to feel that ever-burning flame of indignation flare up, I go to r/RedPill.
The Red Pill subreddit is a community populated by so-called “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs)—a community defined, first and foremost, for the notion that women hold more social power than men because they have the agency to deny sex. Users in the subreddit commonly post degrading and dehumanizing ideas about women and instruct one another on how to sleep with “9’s and 10’s.” (You become a part of the MRA community when you “swallow” the red pill. Those who have yet to do so have swallowed the blue, in an homage to The Matrix, which was ironically written by two trans women. The alt-right has also been known to call indoctrination “red pilling.”)
Overall, it’s not the sort of material I usually read. I’ve long regarded it with contempt. I ultimately dismissed them. But I don’t have that luxury anymore. Instead, I’m stuck trying to decipher a way to get through to them, to snap them out of it—because the Red Pill community is not just an isolated community anymore. It’s a vital part of Trump’s support base—and it’s a community that is quickly merging and has long overlapped with the so-called “alt-right.”
The modern-day men’s movement as a whole started in the 60’s and 70’s, centering issues like suicide, the draft and social biases against involved fathers. That movement began to split in the 1970’s, separating the more moderate men’s liberation movement from the community that we know now as MRAs.
To be clear, not all who advocate for men’s issues have swallowed the red pill. Many people who voted for Hillary Clinton, protested the election of Donald Trump or majored in Women’s Studies also discuss the issues facing men in contemporary society—including how sexism hurts men, too. MRAs take a different approach: They reject feminism and seek to become “alpha males,” perpetuating regressive notions of gender and masculinity. They see women as oppressors and believe that the world has become too “feminized.”
This sentiment has carried all the way over to the Internet age—and in 2016, men frustrated by the ways in which their male privilege has been interrupted by feminist progress finally found a candidate that espoused the same beliefs they hold. Donald Trump stood on the national stage and proudly declared that alpha males can “grab women” whenever—and wherever—they want to, and affirmed that white men have been denied their shot at the American dream thanks to growing gender and racial diversity. To be clear, MRAs did not unite behind Trump in the election, but they have been seduced by the alt-right. They were not the primary force behind his rise to power, but they are joining with his core supporters—pushing his already radical base to further extremes.
MRAs and the alt-right are meshing together, and the President himself is pulling from both of their handbooks. Hillary Clinton herself examined the connections between the rampant sexism and racism in MRA and alt-right spaces, and even attempted to warn voters of the dangers of electing a president so closely tied to these extremist communities, during the campaign. Trump’s speech in Poland was called an “alt-right manifesto.” His statements on Charlottesville, which attempt to create a false equivalency between white supremacists and counter-protestors, has earned him praise from Breitbart, an alt-right hub, and the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site.
Let’s be clear: Trump is not a president for women. Despite what he might have touted during the election, he does not consider the interests of women in a professional or a personal capacity. And as more and more MRAs join the alt-right, Trump’s base will become more and more radicalized against women. That poses a great danger, both because Trump’s position of power gives credibility to his supporters on the alt-right, while robbing feminists of their own, but also because Trump is incredibly influenced by and beholden to the alt-right. His administration is stacked with alt-right powerhouses, and in his defense of Charlottesville he defended the likes of Richard Spencer and David Duke.
If you do meet someone who is in danger of swallowing the red pill, resist the urge to compare the situations of men and women. They will likely do exactly that. You will never convince an MRA in one go that women “have it worse.” That isn’t how change happens. The best you can hope for is to plant a seed. You can help illustrate that women do have their own set of obstacles to face, and that their struggles are even often intertwined with those MRAs think they are faring alone. Listen to their problems. Shift their focus to systemic issues.
They’ll argue that women overload the police with false rape accusations and domestic abuse complaints. Going through our legal process is a grueling experience that most women do not choose to participate in for petty revenge. And just because investigators do not find any definitive evidence does not mean that the accuser is lying. Explain that crimes are not as easy to solve as they are on TV, nor are police often as engaged in feminism or well-versed in issues of consent and sexual agency as the officers on Law & Order: SVU.
They’ll argue that women get preferential treatment in custody battles. The actual numbers on this are divisive, but even if it’s true, this is not the fault of women. It’s the fault of a system that still acts on presumed gender roles, where women are the primary caretakers and men are providers. It is a system that often leaves women at a disadvantage financially.
They’ll argue that women only make up seven percent of fatal work injuries. But women are not mandating that men work in these dangerous jobs; furthermore, men’s decision to work in these fields is often a result of societal pressure to provide, as well as the idea that men are more disposable than women are. These are the same pressures that hold women back in their careers, especially in fields where they remain underrepresented and bare a brunt of harassment just for taking up space.
Changing the current political climate is a Herculean task, but there are many ways to resist Trump as a whole. We don’t have to accept these circumstances and sit quietly. We can pull people away from Red Pill. We can discourage MRAs and encourage men’s liberation. We can talk about issues like the male suicide rate, the lack of support for homeless men and the underreported rates of male sexual assault without scapegoating, shaming and blaming women or erasing the myriad challenges they face in modern society because of their gender.
Recognizing and spotlighting how patriarchy impacts men and helping them heal from toxic masculinity does not take away from our own feminist agenda. We can still fight against the oppression of women while realizing that men face their own struggles. Yes, we aren’t represented well in film, sports or journalism. But the same system that under-represents women holds men to impossible standards. They suppress men’s expression of emotion, shame men if they’re not able to “provide,” and enforce the masculine ideal at all costs.
The biggest thing we can do to change the minds of MRAs is to show them that the fight against gender roles and patriarchy is their fight, too. That the unnamed source of their strife isn’t women, it’s sexism, and that further upholding it won’t bring them resolve—or liberate anyone else.