Our thanks to Elizabeth for this piece in today’s Sunday Times, by Julia Ebner. It’s so full of feminist narratives, it wouldn’t be out of place in The Guardian.
“Trad Wives”: meet the women radicalised into complete subservience to men.
A growing online community of women are rejecting feminism in favour of submission to men. The techniques used to radicalise them are similar to those used to groom Isis brides, reports Julia Ebner.
When I was seven years old, I wanted to study tornadoes. I had seen the movie Twister and was fascinated by the speed, force and unpredictability of storms. To understand tornadoes fully, and create warning systems, you needed to get to the centre of a storm. Instead of chasing storms I have ended up chasing extremists for a living. In many ways these aren’t too dissimilar. Like storms, extremist movements are fast, have strong destructive potential and can change direction at any time. In my day job at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), I monitor extremist movements across the UK, Europe and America. My team works with cutting-edge technology partners and universities such as MIT to track and analyse harmful online content — from extremist propaganda to disinformation. Based on this research, I advise governments, security forces, tech firms and activists on how to respond to extremist activities.
To comprehend what is causing the havoc around us, however, one needs to be inside, to observe and study the engines of the movements. How do the extreme fringes mobilise supporters and lure vulnerable individuals into their networks? What are the social dynamics that keep members inside a group, and how are they evolving? To find answers I have spent two years undercover, adopting different identities and joining tech-savvy extremist groups across the ideological spectrum, including radical misogynists, both male and female.
“Where do you think you fall on the SMV scale?” Kim asks me.
“Um.” I google SMV. Sexual market value is “a measure of desirability for sex in the eyes of a person of the opposite sex”, according to the online male supremacist community Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).
“Don’t know,” I confess. “How would I?”
“Well, it’s hard to judge yourself, and often we don’t know exactly how we are perceived. But as a woman it is often said our SMV goes up if we control our weight.”
Kim tells me that she went from size 20 to size 14 in one year after joining Red Pill Women, a female anti-feminist community on the discussion platform Reddit. “I am sure it helped, since I am treated differently. But I am not stopping traffic or anything. My face is average or even below average, which probably keeps my SMV low even though I’m skinny now.”
I stare at her brutal self-evaluation. This is a typical discussion in the forum. Kim is one of roughly 30,000 self-described Red Pill Women or Trad Wives (short for Traditional Wives). These women perceive gender roles as the result of “sexual economics”. The heterosexual community, they believe, should be seen as a market place, where women are sellers and men buyers of sex. A woman’s single most important resource is therefore, according to them, her SMV. This is now my third week talking to the Trad Wives and I have started to get used to their endorsement of openly misogynist statements. “Women’s highest value to men is her sexual value, and she’s most valuable when she’s in her sexually pristine state,” I am repeatedly told. To see where you stand in terms of sexual value, Kim recommends trying apps that allow you to get rated anonymously: from the old-school Hot or Not to a more sophisticated attractiveness rating service on Photofeeler.
“OK, but what about other factors such as being funny, educated or having exotic passions?” I ask, half knowing the answer.
“Oh, come on. Health, age and femininity are the single most important qualities that appeal to men,” Kim says. “Education, career or workplace don’t influence a woman’s SMV. Think about it, they don’t enhance the sexual satisfaction of her male partner.”
“Oh, and your SMV also goes down if your N-count goes up,” a woman named Marie adds.
“The what count?” I ask her, starting to feel a little stupid.
“The N-count. You know, her cock count,” Marie explains. “While being sexually experienced may increase the physical pleasure of her male partner, being sexually inexperienced actually increases satisfaction.” Marie is in her early thirties and married. Apart from being a “good wife”, she sees her mission as giving tips on dating, relationships and marriage to fellow Red Pill Women. She appears to be one of the most frequently consulted coaches in the community. She is convinced that feminism has brainwashed men and women into believing that the N-count doesn’t matter. “But,” she says, “human male nature is to have less and less desire for a woman as her N-count rises. Eventually, this lack of desire will turn to outright disgust.”
She gives the example of “a smoking hot, 10/10 bombshell beauty” who has had sex with 1,000 men. “How many men will want to marry her? Very few. Why?” Before anyone can respond, she continues: “Because women are the gatekeepers of sex. Sex is the main thing that men need from women. Therefore it’s the prime value that a woman has. Each time she gives this value to a man, her value is diminished.”
The Trad Wives movement is a small but growing internet phenomenon that developed as the female equivalent of The Red Pill (TRP), a Reddit community that Robert Fisher, then a Republican state house member, founded anonymously in 2012. TRP promised “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men” and counted roughly 300,000 subscribers before being banned by Reddit in 2017 for its toxic, dehumanising and threatening content.
However, TRP is only one part of a much bigger misogynist online community, the so-called “Manosphere”, which played a key role in the creation of the alt-right and is made up of a range of subcultures: from the secret seduction community of the pick-up artists (PUAs), who seek to learn how to manipulate women’s minds to get them into bed, to the vengeful involuntary celibacy (incel) movement of men whose main goal is to punish the women they hold responsible for their sexual frustration. While these groups pursue different strategies to “reconquer” male power, pride and privilege, they all share an outright hostility towards feminism, liberalism and modern gender roles. They ridicule movements like #MeToo and denounce women’s rights activists as “feminazis”. I was convinced this was an almost exclusively male phenomenon, but the more time I spend with Red Pill Women, the more I understand that anti-feminist movements aren’t just made up of men. Female men’s rights activists who want a return to traditional power roles and exaggerated notions of masculinity and femininity have adopted the rhetoric of the Manosphere.
The Red Pill Women community is “open to all women wanting to improve themselves and their relationships”, but it does have a few official rules, most notably: Rule Five: No feminism. This is an anti-feminist community, and as such, we are not interested in being “saved” by feminism … Instead, conversations should be based on traditional evolutionary psychology or an anti-feminist premise.
“I’ve been learning to follow my husband and submit instead of making demands and arguing … The biggest thing I’ve done is to just say ‘yes’. Yes to what he asks for or wants …” one woman writes after having been indoctrinated by the Trad Wives for several weeks. I start to understand that this is a forum of unconditional self-deprivation. The single most important goal is to learn how to please men. “If you want to keep a man, you have to put femininity over feminism,” our coaches keep telling us. Books such as The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle or The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Laura Schlessinger feature at the top of the reading list.
“Sexual market value” is one of the core concepts underlying the Red Pill Women ideology. Another is the “STFU” (shut the f*** up) method. “Men prefer women who don’t talk too much,” is how Marie summarises the not-so-hard-to-guess concept. As the Trad Wives start sharing stories of how they have successfully applied the STFU method in daily life, I can feel my stomach turn. It feels almost surreal to be watching women get excited about the idea of being literally silenced. “Last night, girls, he gave me the cold shoulder all night and I was getting more and more frustrated,” one of them tells us. “But then I realised that I did it to myself. In fact, if I had STFU we would have had a lovely night like we always do … I’ll make sure to watch my mouth a lot more often from now on.”
STFU is part of a bigger idea about “domestic discipline”. Marie says it applies to wives and girlfriends as much as to children — all of whom are in a man’s power and are supposed to obey him. Her recommendation to men is: “Sit them down, explain what rule they broke, explain why it’s a rule, calmly apply the prescribed punishment, then hug them because it’s over.” Although Trad Wives wouldn’t encourage the use of fists, many believe “men who spank their women are doing it right”.
To my surprise there is no typical profile for Red Pill Women. The majority I’ve come across appear to be between 17 and 30. Some are married, others aren’t even dating. Their financial background varies just as much: while some ask how to save money on kitchenware, others want to know where to get the most glamorous dress to meet Donald and Melania in the White House. Even their educational background is diverse. “I just finished my PhD and figured that it gets you nowhere with men,” one woman confesses.
Whatever their life journey so far, most women arrive here in shock or fear of losing the person they love. A few join because they haven’t found anyone yet and blame themselves. Similar to the men joining the Manosphere, the search for love is what radicalises most Trad Wives.
I want to see the other side, so I create a male avatar account. I dig into the archives of the banned incels and Red Pill forums. In the 1990s, a Canadian statistics student called Alana created a website to connect anybody — man or woman — who was still a virgin, felt lonely or was unable to find a sexual or romantic partner. She called the platform Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, which was soon abbreviated to incel. It was a well-meaning initiative: the idea was to give individuals suffering from low self-esteem and loneliness the confidence and consolation they needed. But in less than two decades the incel movement evolved into something quite different: a predominantly male community started classifying women into attractive “Stacys” and less attractive “Beckys”, and men into hyper-masculine “alpha males” versus undersexed “zeta males” or “soy boys”.
The use of dehumanising and misogynist language became more common over time. Women were referred to as “femoids” — “female” and “humanoid”. Alana’s positively framed self-help community had effectively turned into a dangerous echo chamber of women-hating, self-loathing loners. When Reddit finally banned incels from its platform in November 2017, the community had attracted 40,000 members. Most incels migrated to other corners of the internet such as Voat, where men continue discussing the injustice of being denied what they see as a basic right — to have sex with attractive women. To escape “inceldom” some would impose strict diets and workout programmes on themselves or undergo plastic surgery, something they call “looksmaxing”. Others reach more radical conclusions: for example, that the only solution is to kill themselves, other people or both. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” Alek Minassian, 25, posted on Facebook before driving a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10, in April 2018.
It’s true that the average man has a harder time getting laid than the average woman. Research shows it is more difficult for men to achieve matches on Tinder than for women: while male users matched with only about 0.6% of the profiles they liked, their female counterparts had a matching rate of about 10.5%. Another study revealed that women have a response rate of more than 50% on their first messages, while the average man received replies on only 17% of their messages. Over the past few years, anti-feminist thinking has penetrated large proportions of the millennial generation. Mainstream figures such as the psychologist and author Jordan Peterson and the British YouTuber and Ukip member Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) have been fuelling a sense of male victimhood. They often cite the high suicide rates among men, but fail to mention that although more than three-quarters of suicides in the US and the UK are male, women are more likely than men to attempt to take their own lives — a phenomenon known as the “suicide gender paradox”.
The Manosphere has a love-hate relationship with women. Even men’s rights advocates acknowledge that movements that lack female support don’t last very long. “It’s time to get women on our side, and in my opinion one of the best ways to do this is by slowly exposing them to Red Pill women YouTubers,” wrote Jon Anthony, the dating coach and founder of the men’s advice forum Masculine Development.
The Swedish alt-right influencer Marcus Follin, a muscular man with long blond hair and a tanned skin, better known as the Golden One, has argued that white nationalist movements need to get more women involved. He cited statistics from the 2016 Austrian presidential election in which the Green Party candidate won by an extremely narrow margin over the far-right Freedom Party candidate thanks in part to his support from female voters. “You might not like that women have the right to vote … but it’s about winning a long-term political victory,” he concluded.
Female men’s rights activists tend to attract a large male following on Twitter and YouTube. Their vintage swing dresses, matching lipsticks and heels reflect a nostalgia for the hyper-feminine images of the 1950s. DeAnna Lorraine, an attractive brunette with full lips and carefully applied make-up, sits at her desk; in the background you can see a copy of her book Making Love Great Again. Lorraine is currently running as a congressional candidate to unseat Nancy Pelosi. She is also a “redpilled relationship coach” and I am about to join her live-streamed YouTube coaching session for men. Today’s topic: how to redpill your girlfriend. “Remember: she is brainwashed … It is not entirely her fault if she doesn’t ‘get it’ right away.”
Lorraine’s male viewers send her hearts and kisses via the live chat as she starts to encourage them to deal with their girlfriends as they would with someone who has a mental disorder. “Thank you for the hearts, guys,” she responds, beaming at the camera with a seductive smile.
Having seen how Red Pill men are encouraged to manipulate women, I decide to go back on Red Pill Women and type in “abuse” in the search function. Taking the blame for verbal abuse is commonplace among the Trad Wives, but even physical violence is frequently relativised or justified: “There are some bad qualities because of me, such as when I cry, he would slap me,” one woman confesses. Another one offers advice based on Jolynn Raymond’s book Taken in Hand: A Guide to Domestic Discipline, Power Exchange Relationships and Related BDSM Topics. Taken in hand (TiH) is the preferred relationship model of Trad Wives. An anonymous female TiH supporter advocates violent discipline for women who make a “sarcastic remark” and provides the following tips for men: “Learn how to use your authority in public … A raised eyebrow, a gentle squeeze, a pointed finger, even a code word can send the message that although she might feel safe at the moment, she is still under your jurisdiction.”
Several Trad Wives complain that the feminist anger-management industry has defined anything a man does to get or maintain authority in a relationship as abuse. “Raising his voice, refusing to give her money, hitting a wall … using logic in an argument … calling her names even if they are true … ” Marie writes. “It is now illegal abuse for men to exhibit dominance outside of hilariously phony BDSM games.”
Confusion about changing notions of masculinity and femininity has pushed men and women into fundamental identity crises. Millennials are increasingly fed up with the high-speed dating culture of the techno-sexual age, where apps such as Tinder and Bumble mess with users’ brains. Research suggests that Tinder users are less satisfied with their bodies and faces, and male users suffer from lower levels of self-esteem than non-users.
“We are in the middle of a romance apocalypse,” some Trad Wives would say, citing declining marriage and fertility rates in America and Europe. It is true that only one in six Brits in their twenties is married or in a civil partnership, and the average relationship duration for twentysomething British couples is 4.2 years. No wonder the idea of going back to old-fashioned gender roles can be appealing to men as well as to women. Women who are trying to find out why their relationship isn’t working out the way they’d imagined it, the way Hollywood made them imagine it, flock to the Trad Wives community. The Red Pill offers an easy explanation and a way out of an increasingly complex socio-psychological labyrinth. In the Trad Wives community, confusion meets insecurity before turning into guilt and self-doubt. The redpilled start to believe that relationships break down not as a result of mutual failures and mistakes, but when the woman isn’t woman enough. Unlike other online advice and counselling forums, most users who enter the platform to seek help with a specific problem end up sticking around — and are gradually indoctrinated by their coaches and peers.
The Trad Wives are just one example of a recurring group dynamic in extremist gateway communities. Socialisation into jihadist subcultures isn’t dissimilar. Despite its religiously inspired ideology and greater willingness to commit acts of violence, the social dynamics within Isis-bride chat groups resemble those under way in female-only alt-right spaces.
© Julia Ebner 2020. Extracted from Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists, to be published on February 20 (Bloomsbury £17)
Meet the UK Trad Wives
In the UK, a less extreme version of “Trad Wives” are gaining popularity on social media
“My dream is to have a husband to look after. I would love to wake up early in the morning, get his clothes ironed and ready, make him lunch to take to work and then look after our kids all day, ready for when he comes home.” Jade, 33, right, has dreamt of being a Traditional Wife since her early twenties. She has a degree in international relations and is currently working full time in London for an energy company. She’s single, but can’t wait to get married and have a brood of children — “five or more would be ideal”.
By her own admission, Jade’s take on gender roles is pretty conservative. “I truly believe that a man is the head of the household, and the woman should stay at home,” she says. But she’s insistent that different set-ups work for different people, and stresses: “You can’t tell people how to live their life.”
Jade’s dream is Alena’s reality. She is a full-time housewife and a mentor in the UK Trad Wife community. “I do the housework because I enjoy it, and it’s where I flourish,” she says. Yet she doesn’t believe homemaking is “specifically a woman’s role”. “It would also work for marriages where the woman is the breadwinner. I just want the role of someone staying at home to be celebrated,” she explains.
Alena takes inspiration from the 1950s, as “that was the last time housewives were treated with respect”, but Jade’s influences go back further. “I take inspiration from the Tudors and the Victorians. I admire Anne Boleyn — I know she got beheaded, but she was powerful.”
Jade’s friends are “modern”, and Alena doesn’t know anyone in real life who lives as she does. “That’s why we go to social media. The only way we can connect with one another is by using the hashtag.”
Though you can find British Trad Wives on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, neither Alena nor Jade had heard of the Red Pill forum. Terms such as “SMV” (sexual market value) and TiH (“taken in hand”) seem alien to UK Trad Wives, though Jade has seen their influence on the men she has dated after meeting them online.
“One guy treated me very well, but told me he’d used a tracking device to monitor an ex-girlfriend. Another expected to be able to discipline me with spanking. I stopped speaking to them. I would never put myself in that situation.”
By Amelia Gabaldoni
You can subscribe to The Times here.
Our last general election manifesto is here.
If everyone who read this gave us £5.00 – or even better, £5.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. £5.00 monthly would entitle you to Bronze party membership, details here. Benefits include a dedicated and signed book by Mike Buchanan. Click below to make a difference. Thanks.