Every day for the last ten years Laura Bates has received at least one message from a man threatening to kill her. Some days she will receive over a hundred of them. Messages with diagrams of men lying in wait outside her home, detailed descriptions of weaponry; even the serial killer the writer plans to emulate. She has moved house several times.
This is the price 34-year-old Bates pays for being a frontwoman of feminism’s fourth wave. In 2012 she founded The Everyday Sexism Project, an online movement inviting women to share daily incidents of discrimination. She has published four books on women’s rights, but for her fifth – Men Who Hate Women – she plunges into the worlds of her message-writing nemeses.
The cult of male supremacy is not only a many-headed beast, she argues, but bigger and more organised than we might presume; dismissing these men as random weirdos plotting in “dark corners of the internet” minimizes their scope and influence.
Feminists are often shouted down for drawing links between misogyny and terrorism, but Bates’ chapter on incels (involuntary celibates), draws strong links between the internet forums she infiltrates as ‘Alex’ – where men swap tips on getting away with rape and plot total female subjugation – and deadly real-life incidents. George Sodini, Elliot Rodger and Chris Harper-Mercer carried out mass shootings “explicitly in the name of male supremacy and incel ideology” and are hailed as “martyrs” by their online peers. So why, Bates argues, are their actions labelled as the work of random madmen rather than radicalised extremists?
In Men Who Prey On Women she explores the world of pick-up artists, where tips on how to ‘game’ women are described in the same terms as “training techniques for a particularly stubborn Labrador” and the advice on wearing down a ‘target’ overlaps uncomfortably with rape culture. Some prominent pick-up artists, such as Roosh Valizadeh – who wrote a blog in 2015 arguing that rape on private property should be legalized – now claim to operate under a ‘reformed’ set of values, a move dismissed by Bates as brazenly “capitaliz[ing] on the era of #MeToo without actually changing the misogyny [they are] profiting from.”
Perhaps most chilling is her chapter on teenage boys (Men Who Don’t Know They Hate Women) who consume most of their news through YouTube, where algorithms designed to keep them watching push them into more-and-more extreme viewpoints – internet ‘commentators’ who spout pseudoscience and false statistics. Speaking at a prominent public school, a boy sitting on the front row in a MAGA hat calmly puts up his hand to tell her men are more likely to be victims of rape than women. Another 14-year-old boy tells her blankly that it’s “normal” for women to cry during sex. And while a British Attitudes survey reveals a quarter of the general public believe women are fully or partially to blame for rape if they are drunk, among 16 – 19-year-olds this figure rises to over a third.
“Some of what follows in this book will be very hard to read” Bates warns at the outset of the book. She’s not wrong, but if you can stomach its darker moments the book is also compellingly argued and meticulously researched – anecdotal evidence backed up with interviews and statistics. Like the revolting Guinea worm, which embeds itself deep into the body, Bates says the cult of male supremacy will only be defeated if it is pulled up from the root. “We all have a responsibility to answer a simple question,” she writes, “what are we going to do about it?”
Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates (Simon & Schuster, £16.99), buy it here.