The Gateway Drug to Misogyny

Issue 8, Volume 113

By Tim Goretsky 

With the abundance of information and algorithmically procured content available on the internet, it should come as no surprise that echo chambers of content form to cater to certain people’s biases. If someone is unsatisfied with some aspect of their life, they might be more inclined to continue watching content that discusses or provides solutions to these problems. This is the case with self-help, a topic that has exploded on social media lately. With the recent social isolation and increased social media use due to the pandemic, more individuals—particularly teenage boys—are turning to the internet for advice on how to deal with their problems. While algorithmically curated content can suggest and promote positive things, such as an active lifestyle or (ironically) spending less time on devices, the content creators that discuss these topics can often also spread views under the pretense of “self-help” that can actually negatively impact their audiences.

For example, one of the most popular commentators online, Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, partly gained popularity and admiration for his advocation of living by core principles of self-improvement and reflection. However, he has also become one of the most vocal opponents of modern third-wave feminism, particularly its intersection with LGBTQ+ rights. For many, his self-help philosophy serves as an introduction to his more problematic viewpoints. During middle school, I respected his self-help ideas, including taking care of your body and surrounding yourself with positive friendships. They were genuinely beneficial to me, but this favorable opinion to some of his beliefs made me more susceptible to the other problematic opinions he espoused, such as “slut shaming” and anti-trans rhetoric. I found it difficult to break out of these troublesome beliefs as a consequence of my admiration for the other views that Jordan Peterson had expressed. My experience was comparable to that of realizing that your family, people whom you cherish, are more complicated and problematic than you previously thought. My story is quite similar to that of many teenage boys who sought a prophetic figure to solve all their problems. It’s difficult for all of us, especially at young ages, to compartmentalize the opinions of individuals, making many vulnerable to the exploits of ideological actors.

This effect can be further seen with the meteoric rise of figures like Andrew Tate. While he is more outspokenly misogynistic than others like him, he also sprinkles in self-help for young men within his rhetoric, interweaving anti-feminism with otherwise generally beneficial ideas. Figures like Tate characterize their entire philosophy as part of a suppressed counterculture, which can make them martyrs to their fans. For instance, when Tate claimed that his beneficial views of promoting exercise or working hard are being discouraged by society, people rallied behind him. This gives controversial figures more respect and thus makes their other less agreeable ideas more attractive to susceptible audiences, particularly the younger generation.

Counterculture appeal of the “red pill” (enlightenment from an oppressive reality) community carves out an easy-to-enter nook for misogynist personalists to shine in. There is something exciting about finding a community that goes against the trends of the day, and in general, a common entry point to this counterculture community is dangerously unassuming. While self-help is associated with alternative media, desperate men will subscribe to sexist commentators and in turn, increase the spread of these ideologies. Instead of addressing these problematic viewpoints with censorship, which only adds fuel to the fire of their cause, we should instead address the reasons why people fall into these echo chambers of sexism and shift the positive gateways of self-help into mainstream culture. The promotion of self-help should not be left to rogue figures with other ideologies to push, but instead should be normalized into common discussions to prevent others from taking advantage of the untapped potential. Without this, the rise of anti-feminism among youth becomes a symptom of general discontent, and that is far too dangerous to continue with.