I remember watching my first online videos when I was about 12; I had unknowingly entered the manosphere. A male shone from my screen, preaching overly masculine “alpha” behaviour based on being attractive and dominant. He portrayed women as shallow, materialistic and in need of a strong man to offer them direction through generic, universal desires. Romantic pursuit was a game of checking the right boxes while avoiding specific types of clothing and phrases.
Success defined by the manosphere
The manosphere is a collection of websites, blogs and online forums promoting masculinity, misogyny and opposition to feminism. It refers to the part of the internet where male icons show how to win at life by striving for specific indicators of ‘success’ – women, wealth, luxury cars and an sculpted, strong body among others.
At first glance, the advice rarely seems problematic and calls for the improvement of an individual in the eyes of the conventional definition of success.
Cigars, luxury cars, booze and a sculpted body – this is what makes male icons, right? Personalities like Andrew Tate remain relevant in the masculinity race by portraying themselves as an unobtainable and overly exaggerated version of the manosphere’s ideals. No matter how much one works there is inevitably someone who is going to have larger muscles, a faster car and more success with females.
This is a key facet of the manosphere as it ensures that those who imitate their idols will never surpass them and therefore remain in need of their guidance in order to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling of a weak gender identity. Comparison against such standards can make a man feel depressed and lonely; a failure in all senses.
The manosphere gains popularity amongst young men by appealing to their dissatisfaction with their lives – an easy way to win trust. It offers a clear identity and definition of success to those who haven’t explored themselves yet. It promotes a life driven by 3 obsessions: work, girls and working out.
Those who obtain such things are de facto untouchable and therefore above all other men. This turns social interactions into a cutthroat competition to see who is the most dominant. Being alpha in itself is evidence of the competition, turning males who make others seem weak the desired outcome.
Inherent in the pursuit of becoming an alpha male is comparison with other men. While women are mostly emotionally supportive of each other, men often see each other as competition. Although facing many other issues, women typically enjoy a more emotionally supportive community than men. When women, who are depicted as prizes for the most dominant man, are uninterested, they become resented. This contributes to an anti-feminist sentiment within the manosphere.
Being a man is a competition
In the manosphere everything is justified from an evolutionary perspective. Men have always had a clear role while women have had an opposing yet complementary one. It is wrong in its shallow perspective on gender as modern masculinity is purely a social construct based on the overlapping similarities between men, leading to a very fragile sense of manhood if pursued.
In the eyes of those who preach alpha male models, a man can be anything that a woman is not (eg. emotional). The non-binary characteristic of gender becomes a threat to their ideas of masculinity which often deepens the stigma around non-conforming individuals, specifically LGBTQ+ communities.
The rigidness of the prescribed identity can even be quite funny – self-proclaimed “Top G” Andrew Tate claims “real” men only drink sparkling water and never eat sushi.
The incomplete guide
Although the manosphere can provide a sense of guidance it’s often incomplete. In its attempt to make men feel understood by giving them an impulse to get their life together, it further dehumanises them. It idealises quantity over quality; specifically quantity of romantic relationships. A hierarchy arises where the most quality men, those who check the most boxes and fulfill the pre-made definition of masculinity, have the most potential partners. This completely omits any guidance in improving connection and building relationships with partners.
As individuals hide under gender roles in order to navigate society, they try to explore themselves by adhering as much as possible to the expectations of what a man is. The search for masculinity starts when individuals try to become a better man, rather than a better person.
However, I don’t believe that the existence of the specification of gender in the journey of self-improvement is purely bad. Doing activities that are socially or culturally expected from being a man can be a deeply satisfactory experience, such as playing male-dominated sports.
It affirms one’s identity, generating a sense of euphoria, and is what drives men to further pursue their masculinity. Healthy masculinity is about accepting the non-masculine, about being strong without the oppression of others. It is adhering to masculine values, while keeping a distance that protects the individual from harmful overcommitment and self-destruction.
But is it fair that a 12-year-old be subjected to flawed ideologies, which promote a fake sense of confidence and a weak gender identity, with a shallow and materialistic view on women? Can we allow the internet to let the future of men have their opportunity to create their identity taken away?
What is the line between censorship and protecting society from harmful ideologies is? Is simply banning those who preach toxic masculinity the answer?