Analysis Religion

MRAs for Jesus: A Look Inside the Christian ‘Manosphere’

Dianna Anderson

Christian masculinists spend much of their time online brutally lambasting modern men and women for not adhering to biblically based gender roles. But their arguments aren't all that different from conservative evangelicals'.

When I wrote an article for The Frisky about my journey into sexual experience and losing my virginity, I knew that it would garner some criticism. But I don’t think any amount of research could have prepared me for the level of vitriol I provoked from one group in particular: Christian masculinists, who apparently spend much of their time online lambasting modern men and women for not adhering to biblically based gender roles. As blatantly sexist as their views are, though, their arguments are often eerily similar to those espoused by mainstream conservative evangelicals.

“Slutting Made Her a Better Christian,” read the title of one post on a popular personal blog linking to my piece. Another site declared me a “false prophet” and warned that I was a “wolf in the pen.” Still more commenters showed up in my Twitter mentions, informing me that because I’d broken a “blood covenant,” another blood sacrifice—presumably my own—would be necessary to atone for my deeds. In their eyes, I was a “slut,” a “whore,” and a “temple prostitute,” as well as a “liar,” and a “deceived, wicked jezebel,” all for having the gall to fool around with someone on a loveseat before I was married to them.

These were just a few of the responses I received from Christian masculinists, part of the loosely amalgamated corner of the Internet known by its own denizens as the “manosphere.” The manosphere consists of several groups, the most visible of which are “men’s rights activists,” or MRAs. Though they overlap in complicated and variegated fashions, they have one thing in common: a disillusionment with women in general, and by extension, feminism.

In this regard, Christian masculinists are no exception. Members of their community, which seems to have formed in the comments sections of several popular blogs, believe that feminism has destroyed the church and that modern Christian men too willingly submit to female leadership. Many of these users post as anonymously as they can manage in this day and age, but references made to various preferences and ideologues indicate that there is a strong probability that most of them are white, straight, and cisgender. Several prominent masculinist bloggers are single men in their late 20s, angry with the fact that they have not yet found a partner; still more, however, are fathers who are either divorced or struggling with existing marriages.

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Evidently in response to these personal woes, masculinists have fused manosphere rhetoric with what they see as “biblical” gender roles to envision a hierarchical, patriarchal ideal world. As far as many are concerned, society’s problems—which include war, famine, pestilence, high divorce rates, and anything else they find objectionable—are the result of people walking away from God’s plan for their lives, in which men are leaders and women are followers.

Therefore, much like the rest of the manosphere, they believe the “feminization” of men is largely to blame for what they regard as civilization’s collapse. In a 42-page blog post called “The Misandry Bubble,” published on the Futurist blog and regarded as a manifesto by many in the movement, a user who goes by “The Fifth Horseman” writes:

[The devaluing of men leads to] the normalization of single motherhood (obviously with taxpayer subsidies), despite the reality that most single mothers are not victims, but merely women who rode a carousel of men with reckless abandon. This, in turn, leads to fatherless young men growing up being told that natural male behavior is wrong, and feminization is normal. It also leads to women being deceived outright about the realities of the sexual market, where media attempts to normalize single motherhood … rather than portrayed as the undesirable conditions they are [sic].

While the majority of the manosphere relies on evolutionary psychology to justify humans’ allegedly “natural” gender roles, Christian masculinists believe that women are obligated by the Bible to fulfill these responsibilities.

So in order to prevent certain doom, humans must adhere to a few specific theological tenets. Christians, women in particular, should remain virgins until marriage. Women have a duty to follow their husband’s direction and to defer to him in all decisions. A woman’s main priority is to be the caretaker of the home. Gender is immutable and deterministic: If you are assigned female at birth, you must live with this burden of motherhood and servanthood. These decrees, though especially important for Christians, are not restricted to churchgoers alone.

When women do not conform to such expectations, masculinists claim, they’re defying God’s will and prompting societal downfall. Therefore, women who take charge of their own bodies and fight for the independence to be seen as fully functioning human beings must have been taken in by “politically correct” feminist culture.

As one commenter on my post on The Frisky put it [emphasis original]:

The problem is the fact that we have a feminist culture and a feminist legal system that encourages that particular bad trait among women, and then rewards women when they succumb to it. Sadly, the churches, which ought to stand firm against this nonsense in the culture, is failing at the task of even policing it in their own pews.

Essentially, because modern feminism discourages automatic submission to men, women have begun to expect to be treated with respect and authority. Using this logic, Christian masculinists largely interpret sex-positivity—including having sex before marriage—as symbolic of female agency as a whole. And in turn, they see this as a path to sin. For example, another commenter wrote in response to my article:

Women’s entitlement mentality [toward sex] is insatiable, and no doubt related to their rejection of all authority in their lives, including God’s authority. Women want it all, they want it now; amoral, with no conception of consequences of actions, cause and effect. This is why I still find it difficult to believe that women love to submit to the ‘Alpha’ man; if they do, it has nothing to do with their respect for, and need of authority. Women do not even realize they need authority/discipline in their lives.

“Alpha,” which refers to a ranking system of men by Greek letters, is a term common to the manosphere. Like in mythologized wolf packs, alphas are the top dogs: the most desirable of all men. Betas, meanwhile, have to fight for scraps of female attention. Most masculinists don’t consider themselves alphas; they think of themselves as betas. But if society were in its right positioning, they suggest, women wouldn’t go after the physically attractive, sexually appealing alphas, because they would see the value of beta men. These beta men would then become “alphas” based on their desirability.

Women who do not “save” themselves for betas and who do not readily concede to men, then, must be disparaged as liars and harpies before being cast aside as devilish temptresses. As such, even their supposed repentance and redemption is nearly always viewed with suspicion.

To understand the range of issues masculinists crusade against as evident departures from God, it is useful to examine one of the most popular personal blogs in the ‘sphere. The writer of the blog in question, who goes by the pseudonym “Dalrock,” claims in his bio that he is a “happily married father in a post-feminist world.” Numerous other blogs continuously cite his work, indicating that he is as close as this loose collective gets to having a leader. In addition to using his platform to rail against marriage counseling, divorce rates, and the feminist influence in “choice addiction” (his term), Dalrock discusses how “understanding women better has only increased my empathy for them.” He supports such a statement by arguing that his wife feels “more loved” since he began his journey into the Christian masculinism.

And yet, his empathy and love for women takes the form of regularly calling them “sluts” and “whores” and talking about all the ways in which they, as a gender, are built to be deceptive and must thus be ruled by men. He advises his audience, too, to act in what he deems to be a correct fashion, and to avoid behavior that might be construed as “weak”:

Also keep in mind that if you truly love your wife you will want to understand how to make her feel loved. If you are selfishly hung up on retaining a childish fantasy about women, you can’t understand her well enough to understand what she craves from you. That she is much more likely to be craving decisive leadership from you than fawning footrubs shouldn’t be a problem unless you are in a very unhealthy mental place as a man.

These kinds of assertions often prompt praise among Dalrock’s readers: Numerous commenters chime in with their own stories (if married) and fantasies (if unmarried) of how women supposedly react to strength and shows of power.

One would think that such a view of women would be checked simply by the idea that identifying as Christian means that we are part of a Body, with one God. Moreover, the Bible explicitly calls Christian brothers to respect their sisters. That seems to be hugely overruled, however, by masculinists’ so-called distress that sisters aren’t doing the same for their brothers.

As extreme as Christian masculinists’ views may seem in terms of bald-faced misogyny, though, the things they write could probably be found on most theologically conservative bookshelves. Indeed, after months of reading their work as part of my ongoing research into Christian visions of femininity and masculinity, I’ve found that the masculinists’ ideas about men and women line up quite neatly with ongoing discussions of purity, virginity, and womanhood within the evangelical church.

Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, for example—currently disgraced by financial scandal—built his once-thriving empire on the message that men today are being feminized and that they have forgotten what it means to be masculine. Evangelical conservative thought leaders Denny Burk, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Douglas Wilson, and Owen Strachan have all, at one time or another, lamented the failure of modern men and women to fulfill their respective biblical roles as dominant providers and submissive nurturers. The increase in marrying ages, the falling procreation rates for young couples, and the higher rates of cohabitation and divorce are all causes for concern among theologically conservative evangelicals, just as they are cause for concern amongst Christian masculinists.

Even the justifications for many of these stances are oddly alike in nature. For instance, Christian masculinists frequently refer to the “alpha widow.” The term refers to slutty (read: any woman who has sex outside of marriage) women who do get married to the aforementioned “beta males.” If they are an “alpha widow,” they will forever be haunted by the alphas they’d bedded in the past. They are “widowed” by their previous sexual experiences, thus making it impossible for the average beta male to satisfy her as a lover. Since most of these men consider themselves beta males, they take a woman enjoying herself with an alpha as a personal affront. Masculinists point to this sort of phenomenon as the reason for many divorces and marital dissatisfaction—women are sluts who are left forever unable to be satisfied when they do marry.

This argument, naturally, comes coupled with arguments about how women are liars, failures, and forever duped by the promises of feminism. Again, though, its foundation is consistent with popular conservative narratives. One of the many reasons to save yourself for marriage, given in Christian relationship books like And the Bride Wore White or Captivating, is that past loves will be a point of juxtaposition for future relationships. Purity culture warns people off of premarital sex for fear of comparisons down the line; the manosphere takes it just one step further, using those hypothetical comparisons as a reason to condemn women.

In the same vein, many of the societal “solutions” floated by masculinists are also popular within mainstream conservative circles. One Christian masculinist from Canada, who calls himself “The Free Northerner,” explains that prioritizing purity at all costs is to the detriment of marriage—so men and women should just head to the altar already. “People should not be waiting until their late 20s or 30s to get married and suffer under some perverse form of purity. They should be getting married young and having good, natural, enjoyable sex with their spouses while young,” he writes on his blog.

Similarly, in 2009, one of the top Christian-focused magazines in the business, Christianity Today, had a cover story by (discredited) researcher Mark Regnerus called “The Case for Early Marriage.” Regnerus makes many of the same arguments we find Christian masculinists making—early marriage preserves purity, creates ample opportunities for children, and allows man and woman to grow together rather than coming together as established independent adults. In reality, this advice is sociologically a bad idea, as early age of marriage is a major factor in higher divorce rates.

Indeed, it seems the Christian masculinist movement of 2014 is covering many of the same topics as conservative Christians. The only real difference is that you won’t catch evangelical leaders calling a woman a slut in public, although some express deep vitriol in private, as testimonies from former church members explain.

Conservative Christians need to confront the extremes to which their movement has been taken and the things that are being said in the name of their God. Conservative Christianity and the Christian manosphere have different intentions—supporters of the former ostensibly just want to put the world back on track, while those of the latter are using their theology to fuel explicit hate for women. But their conclusions are all too often identical: the condemnation of women who make their own choices, who own themselves, and who refuse to be taken as merely a body fulfilling a role. Both result in the treatment of women as objects, as interchangeable cogs in the machinery of a social and religious narrative. One is just more honest about it.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.