“Man’s timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
For the Woman that God gave him isn’t his to give away;
But when hunter meets with husbands, each confirms the other’s tale —
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
— Rudyard Kipling (1919), The Female of the Species
Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW, pronounced /mɪɡtaʊ/) is a web-originated social movement that has rediscovered a rather old stance towards the never-ending conflict between the sexes.
Before I go further, a few notes on what I understand the MGTOW movement to be.
I had never heard of the movement until a few months ago and believe it is only beginning to permeate into general awareness in the UK.
However, the movement’s ideas are not new and in fact go back as far as Ancient Rome and Greece — if not the dawn of time itself.
This means that every country will have a natural and historic link to MGTOW-like ideas.
As far as I can tell the MGTOW movement is nested mostly in YouTube, though doubtless it has bastions across the social media.
Those involved in the movement tend to prefer anonymity, perhaps because their views balk current social conventions.
To describe every variation in the movement is beyond my scope here.
As with socialism, conservatism, anarchism and feminism there are probably many crosscurrents and disputes within the movement — and endless arguments about who is a “true MGTOW” or a “sell out”.
That is the nature of human political and social movements, which often contain contradictory sub-currents — sometimes even currents that are contradictory to the movement’s apparent goals as a whole.
Nevertheless, such movements are still identifiable at their broadest points of agreement, otherwise we would be unable to talk with any sense about socialists, Christians, or Muslims in general.
That Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the son of God is probably the minimum criterion to be considered “a Christian”, even if the various denominations disagree on everything else — even the nature of being the son of God.
Nor can a movement be reduced to organisations that share the movement’s beliefs. For example, the National Organization for Women is a feminist organisation — but its views, policies and personnel do not (for an outside observer at least) constitute what feminism is as a movement or philosophy.
Furthermore, MGTOW — as far I can tell — has no formal political or social organisations that seek to advance a strand in the movement.
There are, for example, no political parties or politicians who identify as MGTOW — so far as I am aware.
This is to be expected with a young social movement that is at a stage where it is more or less a loose network of friends, acquaintances and sympathisers linked together online – perhaps gathering at occasional public meetings and discussion groups.
So here — given those caveats and constraints — are what I understand to be the constituent beliefs of the MGTOW movement:
- Woman’s intrinsic nature is hypergamous, which is to say women seek the most powerful partner they can acquire through wedlock. In contemporary Western societies, this usually means the wealthiest man possible — although in their younger years women may temporarily mate with the most physically powerful man available to them, with attractiveness here relating to power in the body alone.
- Further aspects to woman’s intrinsic nature include hedonism, incapability for long-term planning, materialism and sexual aggressiveness (though she is ashamed that she is so). In what order these traits fit together and which is causative (if any) is not set out in any schematised way. Nor would I expect it to be, after all the MGTOW movement does not yet have – and indeed may never have – a formal theory or ideology. The beliefs listed in this point, though MGTOWs have developed them from independent observation, resemble certain traditional and Christian depictions of female sexuality and long-stranding beliefs about the “childishness” of women.
- Changes in Western societies brought about by a combination of technological advance and political action have left men at a severe disadvantage. The contraceptive pill, “no fault” divorces, child custody arrangements that tend to favour women with custody, unjust alimony claims, curtailments and disparagement of traditional masculine activities, easier access to abortion, the welfare state and a perceived victory for feminists in the US culture wars have left men completely exposed to woman’s nature. As the MGTOW movement sees it, these changes have made it rational and relatively easy for a woman to trade up her partner. In doing so she allows her former husband and the state to support her. She also leaves her former partner bereft of children and home.
- Contrary to claims made by feminists and other social observers, it is not women who are severely disadvantaged in contemporary Western societies but men. The MGTOW movement points towards higher suicide rates for men and higher unemployment rates. It also notes male overrepresentation in dirty, difficult and often fatal work, such as the military or road repair. Women, the MGTOW movement suggests, live longer, healthier lives at the material and emotional expense of men.
- Women benefit from a double standard whereby men are simultaneously trying to accommodate demands for equality while conforming to a — possibly innate — desire or need to protect women. Women can have their cake and eat it in that they are not only treated as equals but also receive old-fashioned chivalric deference in certain respects. The phrase “Man up!” embodies this double standard for the MGTOW movement, for it at once demands men conform to their traditional role as a provider while enduring an unjust situation where they risk losing everything they work to provide.
- There is a type of behaviour observed in some men, known as a “white knighting”, that amounts to what a Marxist would call false consciousness. This is to say the “white knight” believes that his actions help himself when objectively he is helping his oppressor. The white knight, as the name suggests, is a man who conforms to what remains in Western societies of the chivalric tradition. He attempts to win women over with material bribes, shows public diffidence to their social views, allows himself to be nagged and so forth. MGTOWs view this behaviour as self-defeating and hold that in the long run the white knight will merely be financially and emotionally used up before being discarded for a more powerful man. A man who has developed his white knighting to such a degree as to debase himself completely is known by MGTOW’s as a “mangina”, a vulgar and disparaging term that denotes his complete self-surrender. Such a man is likely to identify as a feminist — a position that MGTOWs commonly believe is adopted in a futile strategy to beg for sex.
- In keeping with the false consciousness identified in the act of white knighting, some men who believe the MGTOW movement’s ideas to be true will refer to themselves as having taken “the red pill”. This is a reference to the film The Matrix (1999) where the lead character, Neo, is awakened to the world’s true nature – his imprisonment in an artificial reality – by swallowing the eponymous pill. Neo’s alternative was to swallow a blue pill, and so MGTOWs will refer to their former ‘”blue pill” life before they discovered the MGTOW movement.
- Given the above, men in contemporary Western societies cannot “win” in any relationships with women. Therefore, men must “go their own way” until such time as these societies collapse or reform. This is to protect men’s social, financial and emotional well-being — but the intent is not always simply self-preserving or selfish. MGTOW YouTubers devote considerable time to discussing how to use their lives free from relationships with women — whether that be leaving a financial legacy to their communities or some other valuable artefact for the world. For some this could amount to planning an ascetic, non-religious monastic life with a particular skill, craft or project at its centre. Further to these discussions and general propaganda for the movement, the movement provides encouragement for men tempted back to women by the desire for sex, love, or affection.
I hope to have characterised the movement fairly, though my understanding is far from a deep one. I should add that different MGTOWs have different perspectives on the fundamental nature of the sexes — for example, there does not seem to be agreement as to whether the differences in behaviour are biological, divinely inspired, or metaphysical.
There is only agreement that these natures are essential and as good as unchangeable through political or social interference.
I’m not sure how conscious the MGTOWs are that the ideas that animate their movement are not new, for some Socrates is an exemplary MGTOW — though Socrates was notoriously nagged by his wife Xanthippe. So unless one counts drinking hemlock as “going his own way”, the great Greek cannot be seen a paragon for the movement.
Of course, the historical context does not matter for the movement — people can have the same idea at the same time, as when Newton and Leibniz both hit on calculus, or even across vast stretches of history — but it is interesting to see a social movement on the web that appears to have developed ideas from first principles and observation has arrived back at ideas that are so old.
The MGTOW tone feels North American — and its contributors seem to be mainly drawn from that continent, though I have no figures to support this intuition. Its geographic origin might best be described as the English-speaking web.
All the same, let us take as an historical starting point an early red-blooded American MGTOW, the “Sage of Baltimore”, irascible newspaperman H. L. Mencken:
“A man’s women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. The mark of that so-called intuition is simply a sharp and accurate perception of reality, an habitual immunity to emotional enchantment, a relentless capacity for distinguishing clearly between the appearance and the substance. The appearance, in the normal family circle, is a hero, magnifico, a demigod. The substance is a poor mountebank.”
That’s the opening paragraph to the first chapter of Mencken’s ironically titled In Defense of Women (1918), a book that captures point-for-point every element in the modern MGTOW movement — albeit in a different social context. At the time IDW was written the women’s suffrage movement was near triumph, and the book is a playful intervention that mocks earnest suffragists and anti-suffragists alike.
“Bachelors know more about women than married men. If they didn’t, they’d be married, too.”
So Mencken wrote in A Little Book in “C” Major (1916). Mencken’s thesis is that most men are asses. A confirmed Nietzschean, he was very comfortable with the idea that he was surrounded by mediocrity, and mediocrities get what they deserve: a wife.
The average American ass is doomed to be forever ensnared and controlled by women. He is only good for what the Arabs call القفص الذهبي (al-qafaS ad-dahabi), the ‘golden cage’ — marriage!
Mencken’s own life provides an example for MGTOWs, for he refused marriage for years — although even he did eventually succumb, somewhat gracefully.
Where Mencken differs from the MGTOWs — apart from the social context — is that he takes Nietzsche’s view on the war between the sexes: “Two different things wanteth the true man: danger and diversion. Therefore wanteth he woman, as the most dangerous plaything,” as Nietzsche said in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–1891).
In short, the MGTOWs are right about women — but to be a man is to be burned up in contact with women, not withdraw like a monk. And men should accept their fate — amor fati — and enter the fray, even if they are doomed to lose. From a Nietzschean or Menckonian perspective the MGTOW movement smacks of ressentiment, the bileful envy that comes from those who are unwilling to put up the stake life demands.
Of course, not everyone has the stomach for a Nietzschean approach to dating.
Let’s leave that moustachioed German and his American acolyte by taking a big step back to Merry England and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1386), which relates stories told by pilgrims as they make their way to Canterbury Cathedral.
Here’s one ye olde MGTOW archetype, the Wife of Bath, named Alison and wed no less than five times. She concludes her tale as follows:
“And thus they live unto their lives’ end
In perfect joy; and Jesus Christ us send
Husbands meek, young, and vigorous in bed,
And grace to outlive them whom we wed;
And also I pray Jesus shorten their lives
That will not be governed by their wives;
And old and angry misers in spending,
God send them soon the very pestilence!”
As for her own final husband, well, he was turned into a 14th century “mangina”:
“But at the last, with much care and woe,
We made an agreement between our two selves.
He gave me all the control in my hand
To have the governance of house and land,
And of his tongue, and of his hand also;
And made him burn his book immediately right then.
And when I had gotten unto me,
By mastery, all the sovereignty,
And that he said, `My own true wife,
Do as you please the rest of all thy life;
Guard thy honor, and guard also my reputation’ —
After that day we never had an argument.
As God may help me, I was to him as kind
As any wife from Denmark unto India.”
Chaucer here, even in relatively parochial Middle Age England, being well aware that female nature runs true from Denmark to India.
The Wife of Bath is also on the lusty side — another MGTOW theme. The movement generally sees women as sexually insatiable (a corollary to their hedonistic nature, perhaps) – whereas men are much more balanced. And this view recapitulates the Medieval and Christian belief — still maintained to much greater extent today in Islam — that it is men who need to be protected from women’s sexuality.
And now for one final leap back into the depths to Ancient Rome with the poet Juvenal, whose Satire VI (115 AD) warns against marriage.
“If you are honestly uxorious, and devoted to one woman, then bow your head and submit your neck to the yoke. Never will you find a woman who spares the man who loves her; for though she be herself aflame, she delights to torment and plunder him. So the better the man, the more desirable he be as a husband, the less good will he get out of his wife.”
Juvenal goes on to say that a wife will also turn a man’s old friends and cronies from his home. Thus in Ancient Rome the cry, “Fidelis fratres! Non meretricibus!” [a very rough translation of “Bros before hoes!” into Latin] was heard as often as during any interrupted Xbox game today.
Juvenal is also firmly convinced that women simply cannot be just:
“Crucify that slave!” says the wife. “But what crime worthy of death has he committed?” asks the husband; “where are the witnesses? who informed against him? Give him a hearing at least; no delay can be too long when a man’s life is at stake!” “What, you numskull? You call a slave a man, do you? He has done no wrong, you say? Be it so; but this is my will and my command: let my will be the voucher for the deed.”
When reading Juvenal one begins to think that perhaps the MGTOW protest too much about contemporary women and feminism, whatever injustices are perpetrated by these groups today the unnecessary crucifixion of cleaners is not one.
Juvenal swipes at women who procure abortions, the superstitious nature of women (Jewish fortune tellers were all the rage at the time, as indeed the Kabbalah is today), their avarice and unfaithfulness. Indeed, the phrase “who watches the watchmen” comes from a passage in Satire VI where Juvenal mocks men who would hire guards to ensure their wives are faithful.
And who exactly, asks Juvenal, will watch that your wife isn’t getting it on with the watchmen? “Wives are crafty and will begin with them,” says the poet.
This is why I always laugh when po-faced commentators on television discuss the NSA’s web snooping programs and ask in such sombre, pious tones, “Ah, but who watches the watchmen?”
My mind is transported to a Roman orgy, which is quite a bit more interesting than thinking about civil liberties on the web, I must say.
Anyway, this concludes my shallow intellectual archaeology of MGTOW-like ideas in history. And I said little to nothing about the Bible, Gore Vidal, Nietzsche or The Bostonians.
What conclusions to draw from this?
My view is that those men who follow the MGTOW movement would benefit from understanding that their ideas are not entirely new — possibly there are those who do so, and are well aware of the antecedents I have sketched out but for whatever reason don’t talk about them.
I find it interesting that people have reached similar conclusions to these thinkers from across different times and societies though, and it’s somewhat suggestive that there may be fundamental differences between the sexes that cannot be influence by senators — be they in Washington D.C. or Ancient Rome.
Then again, perhaps misogyny has been a constant in history.
So far I have been trying to explain what I see the MGTOW movement in its own terms and in an historical context. What follows are a few reasons I believe the movement to be incorrect.
The MGTOW movement understands a few female vices correctly, but what it does not admit is the symmetry between the sexes. For every female vice there is a virtue, and for every male virtue there is a vice.
This the appreciation is missing because in contemporary world, for contemporary societies are dominated by sentimentality and utility — not virtue.
It is true that differing political and social arrangements can cultivate different vices and virtues. It is important whether or not there is a welfare state and whether or not there is an active feminist movement.
But it is also up to us as individuals to seek virtue and spurn vice, whether those are male or female vices and virtues — or those common to humans.
And there is little understanding in the MGTOW movement that the contradictory male and female virtues and vices may work to make life possible, a sentiment well expressed by the late Leonard Cohen in the song Nevermind from his album Popular Problems (2014):
“The games of luck
Our soldiers played
The stones we cut
The songs we made
Our law of peace
A husband leads
A wife commands””
Furthermore, the MGTOW movement has a spoilt child attitude to life — and I write as someone who was spoiled considerably as a child. The MGTOW finds women wanting in certain respect and rather than appreciate that perhaps this reflects a general human frailty, part of the imperfect nature of life, the MGTOW throws his toys and becomes hors de combat.
I would characterise the attitude thus:
“If I cannot live without pain; if I cannot have a defanged woman I can control and who is predictable; if I can have no guarantee all will be fine — well, I shall have nothing to do with women at all!”
Where is the Nietzschean élan? Where is the willingness the risk all on a venture that may come to nothing? Where is a sense of the tragic?
The MGTOW movement is thoroughly modern because it wants nothing to do with tragedy.
Life must be made thoroughly safe and thoroughly numb. In this respect, it is a twin to those who call for safe spaces during difficult talks on university campus, though MGTOW is, I suspect, more affiliated to what is generally perceived to be the political right while safe spaces are believed to be on the left.
The result is a movement that, while solely concerned with men, is strangely unmasculine.
I have also wondered why those tempted to return to the blue pill life due to sexual desire do not simply slake their desire with other men.
This would seem very rational from the MGTOW movement’s standpoint, especially for those among the movement who express admiration for Socrates – a man who would have at least contemplated a homosexual solution to the problem.
From a more psychological standpoint, the MGTOW movement is reaction formation in action.
Here are men who claim that women are a source of many evils in the world and further claim that the solution to this problem is to refrain from relationships with women. Yet they spend considerable time making videos about and discussing women.
Surely, if a man is truly “going his own way”, he wouldn’t waste another second’s breath on talking about women? It’s almost as if the hostile veneer conceals ardent desire…
This is unfair, for those involved in making videos about MGTOW seem to sincerely believe they are helping other men and are also realistic about accepting that there will always be a temptation to “go blue pill” — whether due to sexual desire, family pressure, or religious obligation.
An online community is a good way to combat that tendency. But still, I have a slight suspicion as to the reasons for their obsession with the “sex enemy”.
Finally, the MGTOW movement is coy when it talking about love — a sensible precaution in a sentimental age, and I will not debase the term here by over using word.
But, nevertheless, the MGTOW movement generally thinks about the world only in terms of power and only in terms who is doing what to whom and who has what advantage over another. It is an instrumental world — an apparently rational, logic world – that escapes logic and reason because it renounces the idea that the sexes are interdependent.
Love is a terrible unveiling and an absence of power. This means it is inaccessible to those who can only think in instrumental terms, though it is not an answer for male and female vice.
Where the MGTOW movement will go I cannot say. One possibility is that it will rise as a counterpoint to the feminist movement and seek to remake politics and society. This may be no bad development. In politics a counterbalance is always essential if we are to have the right measurement for our laws.
But MGTOW could also become an underground movement, a new monastic brotherhood.
If this is so, we can look forward to the fruits of the monasteries: beer and honey.