How women’s right to vote returns as a controversial topic in the 21st century
In recent times, we find ourselves amidst a concerning resurgence of anti-feminist rhetoric and the mainstreaming of incel culture, both things which I will detail in depth later. These developments include the regressive problematization of women's suffrage, with some figures outrightly calling for an end to women’s suffrage. The rise of such rhetoric, especially in lieu of its political influence, has the potential to erode the progress made toward gender equality in an evolving social and digital landscape. It is imperative that we understand evolving narratives and their implications to prevent further regression in the fight for gender equality.
Brief history of women’s vote
Women’s suffrage is a quintessential example of the fact that women have fought for their rights to be recognized as legal equals. This movement, like any of the like, was an uphill battle. The movement began in the 19th century, yet was only achieved in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment wherein white women were granted the right to vote. This was pivotal as now, at least white women, were recognized as fiscally equal to men. This achievement went beyond the mere act of voting; it symbolized women's inclusion in the civic sphere, from where they had long been marginalized. Women’s suffrage led to our recognition as participatory members of the civic sphere.
Context: rise of incel culture and anti-feminism rhetoric
It's quite clear that the problematization of women’s right to vote is regressive. The question therefore remains; why problematize a right that is now guaranteed to all citizens of the United States? We may begin by contextualizing this issue.
There has been an uptick of anti-feminist rhetoric in online circles that has followed an inclusion of incel discourse into the mainstream. Incel’s or “Involuntarily Celibate” people are members of an online community that consider themselves unable to attract women sexually. Their behaviors are typically hostile towards women, whom they blame for their situation. Though I would certainly encourage further reading on the subject, and claim myself to be no expert on the analysis of changes in culture, it does seem that there is a positive correlation between uncertainty and conservatism. This and the normalisation of hateful speech brought on by political iconoclasts, like former president Donald Trump seem to have facilitated this type of rhetoric into the mainstream. It is possible as well that the COVID-19 pandemic increased time spent online to replace time spent interacting in person. Ideas and participation in communities are now tailored to individual interests and accessible on demand.
In this context, the rise of incelism and its subsequent solidification as a community online otherwise referred to as the manosphere, is unsurprising yet all the while concerning.
To those unfamiliar, the incel, community, and broader manosphere are connected through their misogyny, marketed to young men through self-help rhetoric. Nowik Sylwia, author of “The Incel Rebellion'' explains further that the ideology within these online communities follows an aspirational mentality for boys and men who feel that society has, in some way, left them behind. Under the guise of self-help and self-optimization, boys and men who feel rejected by society find their place in the peripheries amongst other men who may offer advice and guidance. These men who may feel misguided or misunderstood find community in identifying with a ‘subculture,’ which arguably satiates the psychological need for fitting in. Their subculture is imbued with a victim mentality, and the subjects of their anger are women. Rhetoric in the manosphere about self-help capitalizes on Western ideals of power. Sylwia uses the infamous Andrew Tate as an example to explain; “Tate is capitalizing on the deeply narrow idea, celebrated in the wider, dominant western culture, of male success as defined by physical prowess, sports cars, and money combined with controlling women.”
A notable characteristic that makes these communities more nefarious is their adept use of legitimate sources of knowledge that seem to prove their arguments against women are rooted in fact. These groups ascertain that their ‘knowledge’ or insights are novel, previously unbeknownst to the public which allows them to position themselves as a vanguard. Nonetheless, their provision of ‘alternative’ discourse on gender and power is irremediably tied to the misogynistic structures of patriarchal society. Without doing anything revolutionary, they assert and reinforce patriarchal rhetoric using “evidence-based misogyny.” The usage of this so-called evidence is skewed in relation to popular tropes and used to justify illogical arguments that at once fail to acknowledge how gender dynamics may impact other groups of people and center men at the forefront of victimhood.
As the manosphere ideology grows more popular online, their discourse appeals to mainstream spheres in society, especially within the far-right. The fact that this rhetoric is being unabashedly shared online creates a space in which this type of hateful discourse may be legitimized, and more, defended.
Naturally, the rhetoric that seeps into mainstream far-right discourse is not the one that is outspokenly violent, or as the Secret Service has labeled it ‘extremist.’ The rise of popularity of internet ‘influencers’ like Andrew Tate, members of the Fresh and Fit podcast, Adin Ross, Sneako, and H.Pearl Davis, serves as an example of the bigotry some find either tolerable or even worse, agreeable. The Fresh and Fit podcast, for example, advertises itself as the men’s podcast, already creating a sort of group thinking, dichotomizing men and women in opposition. Alas, what keeps groups together better than a common enemy? All of the aforementioned influencers (whom I would much rather call offenders) market themselves as beholders of unearthed truth while hiding a much larger profit motive. Their content is appealing to the masses, perhaps beyond a misguided and misunderstood youth, for its shock factor. Much like what made former president Donald Trump appealing, in the eyes of their supporters these characters all “say what everyone else is too scared to say:'' a terrifying admission.
The rise of online communities and the piercing veil of the manosphere subculture provide an ideological framework beyond misogyny or patriarchy that incites collective attitudes and actions. This has larger implications, which include acts of violence. The Secret Service, for example, has identified instances of incel-related violence. In a report, published in 2022, part of the National Threat Assessment, the Secret Service established a correlation between incel ideology and the events in a women’s Hot Yoga studio in Tallahassee wherein a 40-year-old man opened fire, killing two and injuring four. This is one unfortunate ‘case study’ of a slew of misogynist extremism.
To us not heavily involved in the manosphere circle, it seems outlandish to support or even make the claim against women’s right to vote. Still, we can cite a variety of instances in which this claim was not only made earnestly but also garnered support online. These claims are done in a way consistent with the information distortion tactics I’ve detailed above.
Members of the “Fresh and Fit” ‘mens’ podcast and ‘Pearl’ have well-documented staunch opinions against women’s suffrage. Although not recommendable, a quick Google will lead you to these explanations. After listening to excerpts from a podcast episode and a glance at their Twitter, the ideology of the manosphere is clear in the “Fresh and Fit” podcast. On their Twitter for example they claim:
“A woman's vote should be 50% of a man's vote. Women aren't in selective service and don't work in infrastructure BY CHOICE so they're [they] shouldn't have as much of a say in the elective process.”
They then elaborate on this thought in conversation during a podcast episode. This claim is heavily based on a belief in meritocracy, which would first necessitate us to agree we all are granted the same opportunities in society. In this episode, they briefly describe women’s biological predisposition to vote “wrong,” or be swayed by emotions rather than by facts.
Their claim is based on civic duty, specifically correlating it to armed service. In these claims, we see the distortion of legitimate sources of knowledge (civic duty as a responsibility of citizens) in order to promote good-old misogyny as an incendiary ‘new’ claim. Women are seen as unequal contributors, which relegates us to second-class citizens (at best).
Pearl Davis shares these opinions. The center of her claims is based on the fear that the nuclear family is ‘falling apart’ and should be protected. Her solutions to this ‘problem’ include banning divorces and abolishing family court, which in her opinion should be replaced only by criminal court. Once again, we see anecdotal evidence used to ‘prove’ societal institutions favor women.
Pearl points to women’s social attitudes to make the claim that women’s decisions, such as engaging in sex work or choosing a career over family life, undervalue our right to vote. Here Pearl claims women are and should be treated as second-class citizens because of our own decisions. I wonder then if the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ever included women.
Manosphere discourse will have us do convoluted, and frankly quite illogical mind exercises to convince us that, somehow, feminism has ‘gone too far.’ It is antithetical to say a movement that promotes equity and/or equality has ever ‘gone too far;’ is too much equality something that should concern us? If so, it seems we have come full circle: the goal is to conserve and uphold patriarchy and other oppressive systems.
The magnitude and scheme of the claims are grave, especially as they seep into mainstream narratives, however, the prospect of rolling back women’s right to vote has not yet become popularly supported. Even still, it seems to me that these claims are not unmarried from a wider belief that women should behave according to conservative social values. The manosphere ideology is based on a very basic victimhood narrative that evades looking at material realities, and systems of power, at all costs.
The advantages they claim women have as a fact are all seen in a vacuum.
Members of the manosphere claim women have it easier because they don't have to pay for anything on dates because they have all the ‘power’ in who they date or who they reject because they have more options because it's always ‘girls get in free’ at the club. When these ‘facts’ are seen outside of the larger system, it gives the impression that women may in fact have it “easier.” Far from the truth, the same system that promotes these social attitudes is the system that oppresses women.
These claims are often backed up with some iteration of the myth of meritocracy. Pardon my rashness in calling it that, but there is a clear cognitive dissonance in affirming that both men and women, of all races, sexual orientations, and economic positions (as well as gender identities-but of course these people do not consider this a valid form of identity) begin in the same plane of opportunity. Still, under this assumption, they justify their claims. In short, they believe that because women are a ‘protected’ class in society, given their ‘advantages’ afforded by their gender- which primarily includes not being automatically enlisted for war, they shouldn’t vote, or, less radically, their vote should count less. In using ‘the draft’ as basis for their argument they fail to reach the base of the issue, which is more along the lines of: perhaps the government shouldn't get to decide who goes to war and who doesn't.
It seems that they are ignoring the fact that gender is a social construct that is continuously constructed through actions, behaviors, and interactions and is not biologically ordained or inherited.
These viewpoints are chronically online, analyzed in a vacuum, and incendiary with the sole purpose of attracting engagement. For profit only perhaps. Some call these individuals grifters; those who make incendiary, outlandish comments that lead to engagement. They are indicative of a culture that is swayed by a shock factor, and engaged with quick sound bites that are alarming and framed with urgency. Not to say that these comments are also worrying for all women, especially when we consider the material consequences. But women continue to be martyrs and victims of for-profit schemes.
When engaging with this type of content, responses online become a whirlpool of bigotry - some attack those in the Fresh & Fit podcast with an onslaught of racism. Pearl is subjected to objectification and, unsurprisingly, more misogyny. Feminism is repackaged as an insult and used to berate those who perhaps aren’t oppressive enough? It's a downward spiral which I do not recommend embarking on.
We see this typified in a Twitter dialogue between two political commentators, whose conservatism, perhaps in a perversion, has centered a narrative that harms women to promote their version of moral and social utopia. This is why it is imperative to critically engage with this type of content. To, instead of simply writing these commentators off as extreme (although they are limited in thinking) notice their opinions as part of a larger, growing social sentiment that should be granted the appropriate severity.
There is no critiquing a social problem only by its specificities; without seeing it as part of a larger system, the facts are muddied by anecdotal experiences. The debate format of this “community” sees the issue personified: like action figures, you decide who you support and thus, whose answer you will unconsciously agree with. There is no nuance, no accountability. and most of all, no critical thinking. I'm almost sure that if you are reading this, you don't need to be told these comments are void of truth and aren’t more than bigotry, repackaged. What I call for instead is for these claims to be studied as a phenomenon that should legitimately concern us, more than just reaction videos and more political debates on tiktok. Oppression is a material struggle. We must look at systems of power and domination to effectively heal the relationship between genders.