A few weeks ago, I reached out to the moderator of the primary site devoted to Men Going Their Own Way — a man known as the "Keymaster" — for comment on a recent story about man caves. I assumed a community within the online manosphere dedicated to "preserving a man's sovereignty at all cost" would be fond of any kind of masculine refuge.
I was wrong.
"Bullshit," the Keymaster told me by phone. "The whole man-cave concept is shunned by MGTOW because the idea is that your wife gives you permission to make one room in the house — the basement — your own. It's condescending. The man cave makes a mockery out of itself. Like Al Bundy, or one of those unfortunate television-dad morons who apologize to their wives for everything. Those guys need a man cave."
MGTOW (pronounced "MIG-tau," at least per everyone I spoke with) is a worldwide social phenomenon and online community of heterosexual men who have chosen a lifestyle that avoids legal and romantic entanglements with women at all costs. A Man Going His Own Way values self-ownership above all else, believing that he — and only he — has the right to decide what his goals in life should be. He refuses to surrender his will to the social expectations of women and society since he believes both have become hostile toward him.
Some MGTOW make a pledge of celibacy. ("Cut off the dick supply and raise awareness against the millions of chicks that use men and disrespect our natural role.") Some engage in sex with prostitutes exclusively. ("The only honest women.") Others sleep with tons of women; they'll just never marry them. ("Even if a man has only three lovers in his entire life, he is getting more than his own grandfather — who had to marry her first.")
The media has tended to cover MGTOW by mocking them. For example,VICE's profile last year, entitled "This Group of Straight Men Is Swearing Off Women," featured a photo of a fat guy in a homemade MGTOW superhero costume, protesting outside a feminist conference, carrying a placard reading "FEMINISM IS A REFUGE FOR WOMAN'S SEXUAL FAILURE."
An article on Return of the Kings, a site owned by Roosh Varek, an American blogger known for his controversial writings and advice on the pickup community, deemed MGTOW the "creeping cult of male loserdom": "Men Going Their Own Way will never appeal to anything more than the rejects of American society because it's a philosophy that denies the fundamental nature of human beings." Others simply dismiss it as a cult. Whatever it is, a Google trends search reveals an expanding movement that can't simply be cast aside as a handful of angry misogynists watching porn and playing video games in their parent's basement.
Most MGTOW will tell you it's more of a philosophy than a movement, punctuated with a serious helping of ZFG ("zero fucks given"). MGTOW are unapologetically selfish and, unlike men's rights activists, aren't looking to change the status quo, but instead trying to opt out of marriage, fatherhood, cohabitation and/or whatever else society expects of them — like a flock of indifferent ostriches.
Smitty the Great One, another MGHOW, employed a slightly more combative analogy in his description to me: "MGTOW are the Viet Cong of the gender war. The men's rights activists don't like us because, while we agree with them on some things, we won't be their cannon fodder in a war we know they can't win. Pickup artists hate us because they can't make money off us. Feminists hate us because we won't fight them. And women hate us because we won't give them what they want."
Motivations for men who decide to go their own way vary, and the discourse is at times unevolved. I found the last three weeks I spent in the MGTOW Manosphere to be, for better or worse, reminiscent of 6th-grade recess — playful, petty and short-tempered. Make no mistake: These guys are bullies.Or as they put it, "Turning betas into men is a group effort, no one is in charge … and a good amount of time is spent shooting flaming arrows at each other for no apparent reason." Immature? You bet. Or as RASman put it:
Them — "You live in a basement, play video games and watch porn all day!"
MGTOW — "I need a battery for my remote."
Them — "You need to man up!"
MGTOW — "Nope."
Them — "You're selfish!"
MGTOW — "Yep."
It's not hard to draw parallels between MGTOW and the Trump phenomenon: In both cases, men are yearning for a time (in the past or in the future) when they come first, and they blame other groups for their perceived loss of status. Both types are highly suspicious of the media and take pleasure in assailing it. The response to my request for interviews ranged from skeptical disdain to "go fuck yourself."
"When you come to this site, the first thing you see is a man walking away. Does he look like he wants to do an interview?" Old Sage asked me. "By going our 'own way' we're saying we don't subscribe to any single set of beliefs or behaviors," said RASman. "So to get an accurate interview, you'd have to interview 16,000 of us."
The Keymaster agreed, explaining that one MGHOW may want to build a cabin in the woods and live off the grid while another may want to move to Thailand with nine girlfriends and twenty kids — but no wife. "Still another may opt for surrogacy and be a dad but not a husband," he says. "Another may blend with urban life like anyone else and simply refuse a marriage contract or cohabitation."
One of the things that makes MGTOW uniquely positioned for massive growth is their policy of "Disorganized Resistance," a phenomenon where independent groups or people come to the same conclusions and/or actions against others based on shared philosophies. For instance: The Keymaster may lord over the MGTOW.com forums, but he has nothing to do with the wildly popular MGTOW subreddit; Spanish-language sites; independent blogs; and a seemingly infinite number of YouTube channels, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.
This isn't the only way MGTOW are tough to pin down, according to Sarah Diefendorf, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and instructor at the University of Washington. She believes MGTOW are actually rebelling against two different things: 1) A society they think privileges women more than men in virtually all institutions; and 2) bad guys like pickup artists and ladies' men who portray excess, toxic masculinity. "They somewhat brilliantly frame themselves as the overlooked good guys," she explains. "Women, feminism and pickup artists are all the problems." This way, Diefendorf says, they're able to punt on having to unpack the many privileges that come with being a man in the U.S. today. Instead, they can say, "This isn't me. I'm bowing out."
Despite their serious loathing of pickup artists, nearly all of MGTOW's grievances relate in one way or another to what they believe to be a systematic gynocentric bias against men. They specifically point to…
- Feminist double standards: "Female sexuality should be open and embraced while male sexuality is violent and should be contained."
- False rape accusations: "[Rape] ends in just a few minutes with little-to-no harm caused to the victim. Meanwhile, false accusations of rape have a long-term and much more devastating impact on the victim."
- A corrupt family court system: "Despite all the rhetoric about 'equal' rights between the sexes, the gynocentric, misandrous bias of the family court system is illustrated by the raw data."
- And finally, this old saw — women are dangerous drivers: "You wanna make women safer drivers? Take away the car! Or at least take away her cellphone and spray-paint all the mirrors flat black!"
The notion that men are getting a less-than-fair shake is one held by many, including women. Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, libertarian/conservative blogger and author of Men on Strike, Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream — and Why It Matters, writes in her book's introduction, "I used to consider myself a feminist but mistakenly thought feminism meant equality between the sexes. In today's culture, it means female privilege, and I believe discrimination against men is every bit as bad as discrimination against women. Now men are the ones in need of justice and focus."
One place Smith — and many, many, many others — points to as evidence is family court. A survey commissioned by the Minnesota Supreme Court found that a majority (56 percent) of the state's judges, both male and female, agreed with the statement, "I believe young children belong with their mother." Sixty-nine percent of male attorneys had come to the conclusion that judges always or often assume from the outset that children belong with their mothers — an assessment 40 percent of female attorneys agreed with. Nearly all the attorneys (94 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women) felt that all judges exhibited prejudice against fathers at least some of the time.
When concerns over unfair favoritism like this are perceived to be falling on deaf ears, according to Smith, "people tune out and start to do their own thing." Or worse. Many point to the gender bias in family court as a reason why men are eight times more likely to commit suicide than women after a divorce. Thomas Ball exemplifies this statistic. In June 2011, the 58-year-old New Hampshire man set himself on fire on the courthouse steps because he was "done being bullied for being a man" by the family court.
Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, suggests that this withdrawal can be framed within the context of "male flight" more generally. "When women successfully integrate into a masculine domain, their growing presence makes it unappealing to some men," she says. "In a way, we can look at relationships as something that women are feeling more and more empowered to shape. MGTOW could be an example of men deciding that this has become too feminized and they're going to abandon it."
Another, perhaps more surprising example of male flight? Cheerleading. During the latter half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, cheerleading was seen as a decidedly manly pursuit, "ranking hardly second to that of having been a quarterback." In fact, cheerleading helped launch the political careers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. The trend to include women in this traditionally masculine activity was largely precipitated by World War II. When men returned from the war, they sought to reclaim their rightful place on cheering squads, but the presence of women had changed how people thought about cheering. In response, male teens turned away from it.
"We've seen similar trends in the workplace: As women join a profession, men leave it," Wade adds. There was a time, for instance, when all flight attendants were men — until a registered nurse named Ellen Church was hired by United Airlines in 1930. Other airlines followed suit, and by 1936, women had all but taken over the role. Along the same lines, a study of veterinary school applications found that for every 1 percent increase in the proportion of women in the student body, 1.7 fewer men applied.
Some have noted a certain irony in the fact that MGTOW's methodology is similar to what feminists have been doing for 50 years. "The 'migtow' aversion to interacting with women has a less pleasant parallel to radical feminism," wrote Matt Forney on Return of Kings. "In the 1970s, extremist feminists such as Andrea Dworkin argued for 'political lesbianism,' where feminists only had relationships with other women, regardless of their sexual orientation. Dworkin's logic was that since men were oppressing women, feminists who dated men were literally fraternizing with the enemy. I wouldn't be surprised if some 'migtows' start advocating 'political homosexuality' in the future."
"Feminists have been doing what MGTOW is doing for a long time: saying that marriage is a bad deal and they're going to pass on it," Wade adds. "So what MGTOW is doing is very much in the hallowed feminist tradition of deciding that this deal isn't one they want to take."
The Keymaster, not surprisingly, disagrees.
"You need to study (or at least be aware of) the history of MGTOW before implying such a thing. What MGTOW is doing is what MGTOW have always done. Long before the first 'feminist' even existed."
Given that it seems likely we're about to have our first female president, I ask Keymaster about the upcoming election. I assume MGTOW's not endorsing Hillary? "There's just no way," he answers. "For so many reasons. She's not a person of integrity, for starters. MGTOW really holds integrity as a virtue. That's not to say MGTOW will endorse Trump, either. See, voting is just giving your consent to be governed. So, by casting your vote, you're saying I want you to rule me. Doesn't matter who you vote for. MGTOW is against the concept of voting for any government!"
His response surprised me: I wasn't anticipating an anarchic battle cry.
Wade, however, sees it as more of a departure from tradition. "It suggests that MGTOW is advocating for more than just a retreat from relationships with women; they're advocating for a particular kind of masculinity that's totally different from any other masculinities that have been influential in American history. The most obvious counterexample would be the caretaking masculinity: I'm going to be a breadwinner and take care of my family. Or: I'm going to be a patriotic leader for my country. They reject and withdraw from even the most familiar archetypes of American masculinity."