Interview with Alice Apostoly: Online masculinist movements: understanding and fighting back

5 December 2023

Alice Apostoly is co-founder and co-director of the Institut du Genre en Géopolitique. She specializes in feminist diplomacy and international gender issues.


  • Can you define what masculinism is?

Masculinism is a group of movements that sprang up in the West in the 80s to defend the rights of men in a society they felt was now dominated by women. It encompasses many different movements, groups and formations. The idea is to turn feminist rhetoric on its head and apply theories of the crisis of masculinity.

This involves lobbying the media and political figures.
The masculinity crisis theory aims to consolidate the certainty of men’s victim status. This is what has been at work since #metoo, where masculinists are trying to establish the idea that men no longer have the right to engage in flirting at the risk of being denounced as aggressors. It’s also the idea that women are favored in marriage, divorce and child custody. It’s a discourse of victimhood to justify misogynist rhetoric and discourse.
It’s difficult to give a single definition, because these masculinist movements can be found in different spatio-temporal settings. They can be found in West Africa and Asia, and the targets can be different, as can the rhetoric, sometimes religious, sometimes cultural.


  • What are the main issues and concerns addressed by masculinists?

The main ideas echoed by these movements are the defense of the heterosexual nuclear family, which is supposed to be a model of society that must be defended. It’s also a stance against the free choice of individuals to dispose of their bodies as they see fit, and well-defined, exclusive gender roles. Women have to do this, men that. It’s a binary, sexist discourse of division of labor and gendered roles. It then moves on to contempt for homosexuality, even hatred of LGBTI people, and then to anti-immigrant patriotism. Finally, it can lead to climate skepticism.

When we talk about masculinist discourse, we initially mean hatred of women, hatred of the LGBTI community and anything to do with liberalization.

Among our conclusions, we studied the ideological porosity between these masculinist movements and ultra-conservative political parties with racist, climate-skeptic, militarist and extremely liberal positions.


  • What role do online forums, blogs, social networks and other digital platforms play in the spread of masculinist ideas?

What we have shown with our report Countering masculinist discourse online is the responsibility of the Big tech companies that provide these online forum platforms, blogs and social networks where masculinist discourse thrives. Responsibility lies at several levels. Firstly, we’re going to talk about technological discrimination, i.e. the idea of a social “entre soi” in the creation and production of tools for these platforms. It is estimated that 80% of programmers in Europe are men. In Big tech companies, only 24% of employees are women. This “entre-soi” creates sexist, racist and LGBTIphobic biases in company management and operations. This technological discrimination creates biases in the tools created by companies. For example, Chatbot has had misogynistic speeches filled with clichés, and there are stereotypes when it comes to advertising targeting for Facebook. Another point we highlighted was the need for moderation on social networks. On the one hand, it’s carried out by computer algorithms, screwed and imprecise because of technological discrimination. On the other, the resources allocated are cruelly lacking. There’s a responsibility that companies don’t take seriously.

The third thing we’re highlighting is the way our algorithms work by reproduction and suggestion. In other words, for a typically male area of interest, we’ll suggest content that statistically should appeal to him. This is generally content from very virile influencers, either through video games or sports. In the end, it’s a closed system, ending up with overtly misogynistic and discriminatory content. That’s how some communities are very openly gangrenous. So the problem isn’t video games, for example, but the communities around them that are gangrened by this kind of discourse.

Finally, we’d like to point out that the commodification of content and data hinders the regulation of hate content produced by masculinists and guarantees its development. Hate speech thus becomes viral, then federates and generates revenue for the platforms.


  • Are there any concrete initiatives or actions undertaken by masculinists?

Since masculinism is a collection of movements, it’s hard to say whether there are any concrete actions or initiatives. Nevertheless, they regularly carry out cyber-violence actions.

The idea is to discredit, humiliate and even destroy the victims, who are mainly women and the elderly.

These attacks have serious consequences for the victims’ mental health and their personal, professional and family lives. The perpetrators may also publish data such as address and telephone number online. This can lead to physical intimidation, home visits…

There have also been masculinist violence movements, claimed by a masculinist community: the incels. I’m thinking in particular of the killings in Montreal in 1989, in California in 2014, in Toronto in 2018, in the UK in 2021. Not only are these movements fomenting hatred with concrete consequences for the safety of their targets, they are also a threat to national security.


  • What do you think are the best solutions for countering masculinist rhetoric?

So in our report, we have 5 thematic areas of recommendations, with around forty ready-to-use recommendations.

1 – First of all, we need to strengthen the political legal arsenal and provide strong financial support in the fight against gender-based and sexual violence. Online violence is part of a continuum of violence. This continuum begins in real life and continues in the digital space. We need to integrate the fight against gender-based and sexual violence into our digital public policies. This means monitoring, regulating and holding tech companies accountable for their moderation.

2 – It also means supporting European regulatory bodies, and imposing sanctions on member states that fail to comply with certain laws, notably the Digital Service Act.

3 – It also means regulating multinationals and demanding real transparency and collaboration with public authorities.

4 – Support and protection for feminist and LGBTI associations and activists. They are the ones who do the work of alert, prevention, advocacy and support for victims. For the moment, it’s thanks to these associations that this fight exists.

5 – Finally, we need to make people aware not only of these masculinist discourses, but also give them the means to defend themselves, and in particular to defend themselves against cyberstalking and cyberviolence.

Stay tuned

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