Reading through the luridly threatening email that forced Anita Sarkeesian to cancel her talk at Utah State University, originally scheduled for today, I found myself wondering, a bit dumbfounded: just where does this kind of hate come from?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself again and again in recent days as I contemplate the ongoing fiasco that is GamerGate. How on earth have all these people gotten so angry, so worked up, so willing to dox and harass and threaten women (and some of their male allies) over video games?
How exactly does someone reach a point where it makes sense to them to threaten – and perhaps even to seriously plan – a “Montreal-style Massacre” because they don’t like a few videos pointing out sexism in video games?
Even after years spent tracking and trying to understand the misogynistic online culture that’s given birth to GamerGate, I don’t have an answer. And I’m not sure where to get one.
And so, as a kind of preliminary step towards finding an answer to this question, I thought I would ask a simpler and more empirical question: where does the language of hatred found in the threatening email sent to Utah State officials come from?
It’s easy enough to see where it comes from in a general sense: the author of the email repeats a lot of the standard language of the new misogynists online, castigating “misandrist harpies” and railing against the alleged evils of feminism. But it’s only when you begin looking at the specific and sometimes peculiar phrasings in the email that you really begin to see just how familiar the author is with the misogynist tropes of the manosphere, broadly defined.
I went through the email – the full text of which I found in this Pastebin – cutting and pasting some of its more memorable phrases into Google to see just where – if anywhere – these phrases showed up online. And I found that quite a few of them are phrases that are used almost nowhere else but in the misogynistic subcultures I write about on this blog – specifically, in the Men’s Rights and “Game” subcultures. This is someone, like Elliot Rodger before him, who has been reading if not actively participating in these subcultures.
My first discovery was that the author doesn’t only see Marc Lepine, the antifeminist mass murderer responsible for the Montreal Massacre in 1989, as a “a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism.”
No, the author actually seems to think of himself — and I can only assume the author is male, given his obsessions and the gender breakdown of mass killers –as a latter-day Lepine. When he writes that “[f]eminists have ruined my life,” this is in fact a direct quote from Lepine himself: it’s what he reportedly said before opening fire and gunning down his victims, and a phrase he also included in his own manifesto/suicide note.
Some of the specific phrasings he uses seem to be almost exclusively used by MRAs . He writes, for example, of the “toxic influence of feminism,” a phrase that only turns up 47 results on Google.
If you set aside links to news articles about the threats directed at Sarkeesian, two of the top results are links to the artwork used in a promo video for A Voice for Men’s Honey Badger Brigade. The headline? “The toxic influence of feminism in comic.” The topic of the Honey Badger Radio Show being promoted? The “invasion” of geek culture by “social justice warriors” and feminists. The show is a recent one, from this past August.
Other uses of the phrase “toxic influence of feminism” can be found in two separate posts on an Irish MRA blog called “Not A Feminist,” which links to A Voice for Men, Angry Harry, Shrink4Men and other familiar MRA sites. The phrase also shows up in an essay by Henry Makow, an early MRA-turned-conspiracy theorist; his quote shows up on numerous sites online and accounts for a sizeable number of the results. The phrase appears as well in a debate over Men’s Rights on a site called TheDiscussionist and on several other MRA sites.
It also pops up in a couple of discussions of video games — once on a Grand Theft Auto V forum, and once, chillingly, in a post about Anita Sarkeesian on the Tumblr blog of an 18-year-old German right-winger, attacking her as an “attention whore who does no research, knows jack shit about the subject and [whose work leads] to even more of a toxic influence of feminism on gaming.”
In other words, virtually the only time this phrase seems to have been used in the history of humankind – or at least that portion of history accessible to Google – it’s been used by MRAs and video gamers. Mostly MRAs. This isn’t proof of anything, but I do find myself wondering if the writer of the threat letter might be a fan of the Honey Badgers.
Other phrases the email author uses aren’t quite as unique, but they too seem to be used almost exclusively by Men’s Rightsers – and in some cases their critics as well. “Misandrist harpies” is a surprisingly common phrase amongst angry MRAs and other manospherians; you can find it (naturally) on the openly misogynistic Antimisandrist.com, in the comments on A Voice for Men and Captain Capitalism and on the old school MGTOW site Mirror of the Soul. You can also find feminists ironically appropriating the insult as a label for themselves – including a commenter on the AgainstMensRights subreddit and a few of the regulars on this very blog.
It also makes an appearance in a long tirade about, yes, Anita Sarkeesian in a comment on the site Topless Robot.
The author of the threatening email also refers at one point to feminist “poison.” He may well have picked up this formulation from MRA-adjacent atheist videoblogger Thunderf00t, whose video Why ‘feminism’ poisons EVERYTHING has racked up more than half a million views on YouTube; Thunderf00t, who used to direct most of his ire towards creationists, now devotes most of his videos to attacks on feminist women, with Anita Sarkeesian being a central obsession.
MRAs and PUAs are similarly obsessed with the notion of feminism as a cultural poison. You can find dire warnings about “feminist poison” on in the posts and comments on sites ranging from A Voice for Men to Exposing Feminism to Antimisandry.com. The self-proclaimed “counter-feminist” Fidelbogen is especially fond of the formulation, making it the central theme in a long and turgid manifesto with the title “Feminism Poisons Women.” The tedious MRA troll known, a little misleadingly, as genderneutrallanguage manages to work “poison” into both the title and the subtitle of his blog The Poisoned Well: The Poisonous Language of Feminism.
PUAs, especially those who fetishize the alleged cultural innocence of Asian and Eastern European women, also pontificate regularly about the dangers of the “feminist poison.” I could multiply examples almost endlessly.
In one of the more lurid and disturbing passages in his threat-cum-manifesto, the email author declares that Sarkeesian “is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU.” Something about the phrasing seemed familiar to me, so I tried searching for “craven little whore.” It appeared only in a tiny handful of discussions, none of which seemed to have anything to do with feminism or Men’s Rights.
But the phrase “whore that she is” is everywhere, it seems. If you eliminate the porn links from the results and narrow things down a little more, you find that the phrase is quite popular amongst PUAs and Red Pillers, who are forever recommending that their compatriots treat whatever woman they’re with “like the whore that she is.” It shows up repeatedly in the comments at Chateau Heartiste and in this post on Captain No-Marriage.
Now, as I said before, none of this is proof of anything, but it is highly suggestive. The email author not only seems to share the general beliefs of Men’s Rightsers and misogynist Manospherians; he also, even in the course of his short email, falls back repeatedly on some very specific phrasings that seem to be native to the misogynistic subcultures of Men’s Rightsers and pickup artists.
I think it’s safe to say that this is a person deeply steeped in this subculture – and frankly, more interested in the antifeminist crusade of the Men’s Rightsers than in video gaming as such.
Indeed, the email author says virtually nothing about video games as such in his little manifesto; he seems to have picked Sarkeesian as his target because, to him, she represents all the evils of feminism in one convenient package. He more or less says this outright, declaring that “I’ve chosen to target … Anita Sarkeesian [because she] is everything wrong with the feminist woman.”
In this, he is following again in the footsteps of Marc Lepine, who targeted female students at the École Polytechnique, killing 14 of them, because they to him seemed to symbolize the feminists who , he wrote in his suicide note “have always ruined my life.”
In its original article reporting on the threats, the Standard Examiner quoted a school official as saying that the authorities had “determined the threat seems to be consistent with ones (Sarkeesian) has received at other places around the nation,” which, as depressing as that statement is, does at least seem to suggest or at least hold out the hope that this threat may have come from a serial threatener, not an actual Utah State student who was, as he threatened, armed and ready to go.
Whether he is a sadistic fantasist or another Lepine in the making, it seems clear that whoever wrote the note is steeped in the Men’s Rights world online. He may or may not identify as an MRA, but he seems to have absorbed much of the ideology, and the hatred, preached and practiced by MRAs on the internet every day.