Apr 20, 2019 10:13 AM EDT
In a new study published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Pierce Alexander Dignam and Deana A. Rohlinger investigated the transformation of online alt-right forums from bordering space of misogynistic collective identity to sites of political mobilization. The focus of Diagnam and Rohlinger was on how the sudden political pivot of one of this semi-anonymous forum, the Red Pill, garnered support for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. In so doing, they shed light on both the increasing salience of online discourse in contemporary politics and on the central roles that misogyny and antifeminism played in the 2016 campaign and election results.
Alt-right members view recent cultural and institutional changes as an attack on what they perceive to be the natural order, that is, a society dominated by white males. As social and political gains favor women, online men's rights activists exhibit a backlash that is indeed a misplaced response to neoliberalism.
The authors contend that anonymous virtual forums, such as Reddit and Stormfront have amplified existing misogynistic discourse and enabled men's rights activists to foster a sense of community and oppositional consciousness. The rise of misogynistic online forum and their increasing politicization is indicative of a broader shift in the way the men's rights activists act on their ideology.
The authors of this study utilized social movement theory to analyze identity talk to demonstrate how Red Pill moderators were able to control discourse and successfully spur political action among users. The initial conception of the space is to complain about the perceived demasculization and oppression of men; the Red Pill functioned as a forum for personal improvement that advocated using "a sexual strategy" to challenge feminism and elevate one's "alpha status."
The authors conducted an inductive content analysis of 1,762 forum posts. Dignam and Rohlinger discovered that Red Pill users were primarily opposed to political action until 2016, believing that political initiatives were ineffective at changing legislation and were too similar to "mainstream" tactics. The author said that their quantitative analysis showed a distinct shift in discourse. Between 2013 and 2015, users simultaneously cultivated an oppositional consciousness toward feminism while explicitly distancing themselves from political engagement.
However, the collective identity of Red Pill users became politicized in the months before the 2016 election. The event of politicization happens when a viable chance to enact change arises, and the authors assert that men's rights activists viewed Trump's candidacy as "an opportunity to reinforce systemic gendered arrangements and more specifically while making power and privilege."
While reacting to this opportunity, Red Pill leaders strove to shift the user's perception of men's rights from an individualized philosophy to a political cause. The portrayal of Hillary Clinton by moderators was as a political threat and emphasized how Trump's masculine persona aligned with the Red Pill's ideals of financial prosperity, individual success, aggression, and sexual prowess.
The authors propose that it is in feminist's best interest to become more active in studying these virtual forums to understand better how digital technologies are driving political discourse and action.
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