America is a hostile environment for young men. Feminists have long denounced the “patriarchy” and erroneously cited disparate outcomes between men and women as proof that men enjoy vast social, legal, and institutional privileges that enable their success. The long women’s march through the institutions has sought to counterbalance disproportionate representation in various realms, whether on corporate boards or academic faculties. 

With the rise of second-wave feminism, scholarships, grants, mentorship programs, and strategic hiring practices have sought to elevate women and entailed denying opportunities to men—even those who were better qualified. The era of “girl boss” feminism convinced young women that they could dismantle the patriarchy by conquering it, and as men were subjugated, they became irrelevant. “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” feminists cheered, boasting that “the future is female.” 

But feminists have never been satisfied with merely reforming the statistics of professional success. From their perspective, the problem has never really been that men dominated in certain spheres. The problem was men themselves, so feminists have attempted to repair the broken system by breaking men. As women championed adopting stereotypically masculine roles, they simultaneously branded everything associated with males as “toxic.” A man was demonized for the slightest social errors: should he dare occupy more than one seat on a subway, he committed the grand moral crime of “manspreading” and deserved to be photographed, then publicly shamed. In all its excess, the “#MeToo” campaign endorsed believing—not merely listening to—any female with a grievance, eroding the social presumption of innocence and deeming men guilty in the court of public opinion. Accordingly, contemporary feminists have taken to unabashedly asserting the lazy generalization that “all men are trash.”

And many men––especially young men––were disillusioned upon realizing they confront a culture that effectively punishes their masculinity, ambitions, and achievements. They asked, why work hard when major institutions actively work against you? Accordingly, young men reasoned that the only way to win the game is not to play at all; then they submitted to unfulfilled lives and opted out of society, by preoccupying themselves with porn, drugs, and video games

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Unsurprisingly, this led to a loneliness epidemic. Recent data confirm that men are dejected, depressed, and desolate in comparison to women. National statistics show nearly 40,000 suicides among American men annually, roughly four times that of women. In 2021,15 percent of men said they have “no close friends,” compared with 10 percent of women. In 1990, only 3 percent of men said that. Roughly 63 percent of men under age 30 consider themselves single, nearly double that of their female counterparts. Men are outperforming women in the worst possible metrics.

So feminists concluded that they didn’t need men. But men have always needed men, so lost boys found an online refuge: the “manosphere,” a right-wing sliver of the internet where (mostly) nameless and faceless accounts defend masculinity—or, a specific brand of masculinity. It promotes what feminists seek to destroy, namely “alpha males.” Indeed, some accounts brand themselves as “pro-patriarchy.” Although they offer insightful cultural analysis accompanied by valid instructions for personal growth, the manosphere’s remedy is an over-correction. Ironically, it suffers from the same flaws as feminism by demonizing the opposite sex as categorically bad. More devastatingly, the alphas betray the struggling men they claim to help by prescribing rigid conduct that prevents genuine interpersonal bonding, thereby exacerbating loneliness.   

The self-described alphas accurately identified a nationwide problem: “Most of the anxiety and depression in men stems from a lack of purpose” that then leads them to “seek fulfillment by chasing pleasure.” According to the manosphere, the two available paths are to “sink into a swamp of wimpiness” or become a man through achievement. This oversimplifies the options available, but I applaud the commentators who, in a Jordan Petersonian fashion, act as shepherds guiding a flock of sheepish men toward self-improvement with unobjectionable directions. For example, the user “Manliness Norms” states that rules for men include “don’t throw your friend under the bus to impress someone,” “don’t take out your phone during a conversation,” and “never insult the cooking when you are the guest.” It isn’t obvious to me why this is branded as guidance for manliness as opposed to politeness, since these standards are equally applicable to women; regardless, I have no substantive complaints about promoting etiquette, and perhaps young men are most in need of hearing it. 

Parts of the online manosphere offer valuable constructive criticism and practical solutions. As the account “Modern Man” advises, “There will always be people who are objectively more attractive than you but that doesn’t mean you yourself cannot become more attractive over time. Better to put some effort in and look like a 6 than completely let yourself go and look like a 3.” Put crudely: stop bemoaning your loss in the genetic lottery and make yourself presentable. Some accounts prompt introspection and encourage personal development, questioning what obstacles are preventing a man from “hitting the gym.” There are threads telling guys how to gain confidence, particularly around “hot girls”; improve your mindset with a “positive attitude” and “learn from failures” that “provide valuable opportunities for learning and growth.”

The responses to men’s grievances within this niche internet community can be summarized neatly: you’re a man, so toughen up and do something. At a time when young men are noticeably unambitious, the motivational tweets are particularly healthy. 

But the manosphere has noticeable faults: the support for men is premised on degrading women, the self-improvement (like “get some exercise”) is wrongly directed toward securing women in the sheets, and rigid instruction manuals suppress the personal expression that cultivates relationships. By some evaluations, a man who adopts the alpha mindset might no longer be considered “wimpy.” But there’s no reason to believe he isn’t still lonely

At a time when young people have fewer sexual partners and less casual sex, managing to “score” is a mini countercultural rebellion that represents a man’s enviable “game.” The alphas are correct that the HR-ification of society sterilized romance, insofar as the over-regularization of mixed-sex spaces (such as the workplace) entailed the decline of risk-taking due to possible consequences for a misinterpreted gesture. For many men, especially those outside of blue-collar jobs, initiating one unwanted romantic advance in the office can have devastating effects. Accordingly, they largely stopped pursuing innocent crushes, and they pretended their skimpily dressed female coworkers were unnoticeable while entertaining devilish fantasies. The sad attempts to build a workplace community, like decorating Easter eggs, are severely limited in their ability to cultivate interpersonal connections because romantic interest is effectively prohibited. The standard is untenable: you should like your co-worker, but don’t you dare experience attraction.

The alphas rebel against the social castration in corporate culture by insisting that a real man does not cater to women’s hypersensitivities. To compensate for the widespread feeling of subordination in a society committed to accommodating women, the manosphere persuades powerless men to obtain dominance through seduction and subjugation. 

The same account that provided a strategy for developing confidence around women has also written a book titled The Art of Fishing, with instructions that will allow men to effortlessly sleep with beautiful women. Stirling Cooper, a self-described “award-winning professional pornstar,” advertises that “my goal is to help men everywhere embrace unapologetic masculinity and achieve mastery in the bedroom.” He doesn’t offer many suggestions for embracing masculinity, but he claims sexual prowess can be accomplished with his $97 e-book on “porn industry secrets” and his $399 “Dirty Talk 101” course, even the descriptions of which are too vulgar to repeat. 

The manosphere’s philosophy—if it even deserves to be called that—is contradictory. The alphas claim in the same breath that “there is no good or evil,” but “men are drawn to goodness and repulsed by evil,” whereas “women are amoral.” Supposedly, men should “stop expecting loyalty & honesty from women” because “women don’t care about your struggles, they hang out at the finish line and **** the winner.” But these men want to be the winners; they author manuals on “winning with women,” and a gold medal is awarded to the “top 20% of men that women swipe right for on online dating.” The alphas want to spotlight a woman and proclaim “She chose me over men,” but they denounce the framework through which she made that choice. 

The manosphere’s philosophy—if it even deserves to be called that—is contradictory.


There is another disastrous error. By insisting that detailed manuals be followed for casual erotic encounters, the alphas exacerbate male loneliness by suppressing individual expression and discouraging investment in relationships. Loneliness cannot be corrected by following a particular conversational script because the lack of genuineness precludes interpersonal connections, both platonic and romantic. Will a man feel confident or nervous as he anxiously flips through a mental Rolodex of “sexy” pick-up lines? Can an erotic encounter be fun if the man is preoccupied trying to remember the “tricks” he learned from an online course? The absence of authenticity aggravates the passionless culture among young people by doing precisely what feminized corporate culture has done: prescribing rules to obey.

Ultimately, the alphas are responding to a pressing need: young men crave self-worth in a culture that condemns their mere presence. We can appropriately attribute some blame to feminists for relentlessly bashing men, as well as the policies that unfairly rewarded women, prioritized their emotions, and censored attraction in mixed-sex spaces.

Still, the manosphere’s decent guidance about personal development is defeated by ordering precise conduct for the sake of casual sex because the crisis of male loneliness is a crisis of intimacy. Both the speech codes and the aim of one-night stands obscure emotional, intellectual, and romantic compatibility. At best, brief erotic pleasure can be achieved, but nothing more. In the end, this will only facilitate men’s withdrawal from society, for they will feel unsatisfied in other respects. 

I won’t resort to the “be yourself!” platitude or argue that anyone should unleash the waterworks on a first date. However, I will suggest that the relationships (particularly romantic ones) that alleviate despondency cannot be cultivated while adhering to manifestos and maintaining derogatory views of the opposite sex. And that applies to both women and men. 

Image by Jacob Lund and licensed via Adobe Stock.