Isolation Read #63

I picked this book up after it was referenced in Helen Mort’s video about “deep fake” (the theft of private images and their subsequent use in producing pornographic and / or violent content).

It has served a similar purpose for me as a male, as reading Eddo-Lodge’s Why I am no Longer Talking to White People About Race, served me as a white person: to make you see what is around you, to which you may well have been blind previously, and which you will find many people ‘like you’ denying as a valid consideration / concern while being self-evident to those suffering at the hands of patriarchal or racist systems in every area of life and every endeavour.

On one level, it is hard to know where to start with this: Bates’ research is awesome in its detail and thoroughly disturbing in what it shows. She makes the case that the effects of this hatred is racing ahead both in the overt expressions that we see more commonly in everyday life (electing a misogynist as President and another as Prime Minister) but also in the insidious and therefore perhaps more worrying, ‘under the radar’ stuff that we don’t see, that the observant start to notice as symptoms, but run the risk of not being heard until it is far too late – part of Bates’ case is that if we haven’t already reached that point, then we are not far off.

The 10 chapters move us from the truly ‘out there’ groups on the internet – such as ‘incels’ – the self-description of ‘involuntarily celibate’ men, mainly young men, who speak of their right to have sex with women, who demonise the women (all women) who don’t allow them to have sex with them (apparently preferring sex with ‘more desirable’ men, coded as ‘Chads’ in their world and almost equally deserving of their hatred). From this a skewed world view of women ‘having all the power’ in society develops, and is fostered by peer-talk / the encouragement of experienced older men/mentors in this environment – and we are a few steps from rape blaming / rape fantasies and murder (wholesale slaughter) fantasies – through to how thoughts and hatred fostered in these and similar groups become the ‘normal baseline’ for conversations with men. There is a Matrix-based red pill / blue pill shorthand amongst these groups for those who ‘see the truth’ and those who do not. She describes how she has been doing talks in schools for several years, roughly twice a week, and reached a watershed moment a couple of years ago where she noticed that the questions coming from young men in the audience changed from the clumsy, sometimes deliberately challenging (being played for laughs by the class loudmouth) type of question to what appeared systematic, phrases learnt by rote and repeated up and down the land. And the way these questions were place in the conversation, the apparent confidence of the schoolboys asking them, really shocked her. They were coming from a source and were being assimilated.

Bates invents herself an avatar, Alex, an ‘insecure young man’ and goes wandering through chat rooms, interest pages, porn sites and gaming sites. Alex makes some pretty horrendous discoveries, a good number of them to do with the ‘acceptable’ veneer that much of the misogyny is hidden under, ‘the banter’, the ‘ironic chat’, the ‘inviting experts onto respectable shows (TV or radio) in the name of balance’. One of the most shocking, to me at least, was the Youtube algorithms that put up the suggested next video for the viewer. Alex, cleaned ‘his’ computer of any history, cookies etc until ‘he’ basically had a new computer, typed “what is feminism?” into the search box. The first return was actor Emma Watson discussing what feminism was to her and some of her experiences which led her to speak up. After that the next 10 were different ‘alt-right’ figures discussing ‘men-hating femi-nazis’, many of them on ‘respectable’ talk shows or current affairs outlets. Bates demonstrates how easily someone, making an innocent search can swiftly be led down a rabbit-hole of hate, so that these ideas become common parlance, accepted wisdom, as it were. She does this with countless examples. This sounds like a niche point to make until you read the figures about Youtube consumption among the under-25, which is several hours a day, multi-millions of views and pretty much the only source for ‘news content’.

She documents how this kind of conversation gets planted in places where it may not be expected: an example being a website offering advice on bodybuilding, thus tapping into one of the insecurities of many younger men – their body shape, the ‘ideal’ that they feel they must aspire to – especially to ‘have success with girls’. On of the biggest websites of its type has a membership heavily skewed towards teenage / early twenties males and how the various chat threads descend rapidly into vile misogyny often linked with white-supremacism and racism. Nothing to do with body building.

One of the veneers these groups hide behind is the idea that they are not anti-women but pro-men: even if you take this at face value, Bates digs up countless examples where, when offered the opportunity to act in support of campaigns that are decidedly pro-men (campaigns to tackle the high suicide rates among men, other mental health issues / counselling services for men, questions around sexuality or self-image, problems of males being on receiving end of abuse) these groups either do not engage or often, actively work against.

She also takes (white male) legislation to task, quite rightly. Getting into the argument about why misogyny is not a hate crime, why it is not on the statutes alongside other ‘recognised’ forms of terrorism – given that terrorism is defined as “the use or threat of action, both in and outside of the UK, designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public. It must also be for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.” and the manifestos of several self styled ‘warriors for the cause’ who have deliberately killed multiple women in public attacks, clearly meet this definition. Yet, when these killings are reported, they are in the main reported as “unexplained” “lone wolf” events.

She quotes from a book by Jordan Peterson, an academic with a track record in misogyny: “‘Healthy’ women, so Peterson’s book informs us, seek men who ‘outclass’ then in intelligence, income and status. ‘If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone for whom you have absolutely no respect.'”

It is not easy reading. Bates rightly makes no apology for reproducing the texts she finds, verbatim. People need to hear what is being said to understand what is simmering away under the surface: millions of young men and boys being exposed to comments like the one below – a mild example – going unchallenged:

Women should be terrorised by their men; it is the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps.

The answers she begins to explore are slow, they involve a lot of time-intensive work, conversations, education and better societal chances for all. It is she says a long haul, but we really don’t have any other choice.

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