It’s always satisfying when someone you disagree with gets a taste of their own medicine. This week, Canadian psychologist, provocateur and “patriarchy custodian” Jordan Peterson became the latest to take a dose after a tweet that prompted widespread accusations of misogyny led him to quit Twitter altogether.
Peterson, like so many other actors in his field, is an influencer of sorts in the ever-expanding “manosphere” – an umbrella term for online networks typically concerned with men’s rights, anti-feminism, pick-up artistry, and other worrying and sexist preoccupations, some of which overlap with incel (involuntary celibate) culture.
He appeals to the sort of people who like their traditions fiercely protected and their leaders mildly – or overtly – condescending; those who reject the “status quo”, and very often, despise women.
So when Peterson tweeted “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that”, in reaction to plus-size model Yumi Nu’s Sports Illustrated cover, he most likely thought he’d be in good company. Apparently not.
Within hours, ridicule and criticism ranging from the witty to the downright silly flooded Peterson’s mentions and he wasn’t impressed.
Peterson complained about “the endless flood of vicious insult(s)” he received, saying they were proof that “the incentive structure of the platform makes it intrinsically and dangerously insane”. But this only opened himself up to further criticism. He couldn’t take the heat.
The oft-dubbed “anti-snowflake crusader” had turned into a delicate ice crystal himself, and oh, was it glorious. Especially for those of us who have long been concerned about this man’s brand and others like his.
Still, while I may have laughed along with the jokes at Peterson’s expense, it didn’t take long for a sinking feeling to set in. Because, as is so often the case with contrarians of his ilk, these small wins can be short-lived. Regardless of his absence on Twitter, his army of followers and the ideas they subscribe to are still spreading like wildfire – and not enough is being done to stop it.
The first time I heard of Peterson, it was via a man I was dating. Eager to convince me of the merits of the argument that equality between men and women is actually impossible (reader, I too, was incensed), he wielded a YouTube clip featuring the man in question as if it were a trump card (thankfully, we’re no longer dating).
In the clip, the fast-talking psychologist laid out his claim with authority, spraying so-called facts and data like a machine gun and appearing to distance himself from political biases entirely – emphasis on appearing. His argument was, in a nutshell, about the “gender-equality paradox”, an issue that he claimed arose when largely contested research found that countries with less gender inequality have more women in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields than countries with more gender equality. According to the research, and Peterson, those findings were evidence of innate differences in men and women rather than discrimination.
Arguments like these are generally Peterson’s MO. According to him, the concept of white privilege is a “Marxist lie”, while “social justice” is based on feeling, rather than truth and science.
I can see why some are convinced. Here is a bonafide psychologist – a thinker, an intellectual, no less – who appears to have no interest in any particular political or social camp (despite relying on conservative dog whistles), and just states the facts that everyone else is “too afraid” to accept.
I’ve had friends of friends, potential love interests and others send me his material, as if sharing some revolutionary theory rather than the hateful, regurgitated tripe we’ve seen since the 20th century.
It’s not just Peterson, of course. The reach of these communities knows few bounds.
You may have even come across some manosphere buzzwords without realising. Recently, a friend revealed that her ex-boyfriend had referred to her as being a “blue pill” person (a Matrix reference adopted by manosphere communities to describe someone who hasn’t woken up to the “truth” about women, as “red pill” takers – i.e. manosphere subscribers – have) while they were dating. Not knowing what it meant, she brushed it aside, while her now ex descended further down the rabbit hole.
It doesn’t take long to wind up in the dark corners of these subgroups, some of which are responsible for indoctrinating those who have gone on to attack and kill people. And it seems more men from all communities are being lured in with either intentionally belittling or extreme advice designed to guilt them into living up to an imagined ideal that promises to make them whole, freeing them of the pressures they incorrectly believe arose from social justice activism.
Whether it’s telling these men they’re of less value for respecting women, encouraging them to reject proven facts for extreme, discredited views rebranded as “inconvenient truths”, or telling women they shouldn’t believe their child if they say they’re being molested, the spectrum of this hellish movement is as far-reaching as it is damaging.
If we’re to rid ourselves of this escalating problem, solely ridiculing it and its biggest promoters is not the way to go. That doesn’t mean we should stop. But if something’s going to change, if we have any hope of preventing people from being indoctrinated, we need to intervene in more meaningful ways.
In an ideal world where members of the UK Government haven’t already courted many of the ideas that mirror some popular views across the manosphere, from denouncing “wokeness” and “political correctness”, to spouting Islamophobic rhetoric, I’d suggest starting with educational initiatives and anti-radicalisation campaigns.
Failing that, if there’s anyone you care about who you’re worried may be taken in by this movement, I implore you, talk to them. Listen to them. Then talk some more. Try to figure out what’s truly at the root of their concerns. Give them facts and alternative viewpoints in the form of easily consumable and shareable media. You may get nowhere. But if it means discouraging just one person from buying into dangerous and sometimes deadly ideas, it could make a huge difference for many.