Matt Forney
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The Manosphere: A New Hope for Masculinity by Ian Ironwood

the-manosphereYou know your movement has reached a critical mass of influence when people start writing self-congratulatory books about it.

Well, okay, that was kind of mean. Ian Ironwood’s paean to this nascent underground movement is surprisingly free of the navel-gazing that you would expect from literature of this kind. In fact, calling it a book about the manosphere is really selling it short. The Manosphere is an exhaustive tract on the state of men and women today, incorporating history, psychology, sociology and economics, and an explanation of how the manosphere fits into the whole thing. It’s researched, well thought out and as thorough as you can get without being boring.

And I can’t recommend it.

The Manosphere isn’t merely flawed, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous precisely because Ian’s research and reasoning are so thorough much of the time that the book’s gargantuan errors will slip by unnoticed to most readers, like rat turds in a box of chocolates. It’s not a huge problem for guys in the manosphere to tell fact from fiction in the book, but The Manosphere isn’t targeted at us, it’s targeted at outside observers who don’t know what we’re about.

In other words, the book’s prospective audience is comprised of those least capable of noticing its numerous falsehoods.

Much of the book’s content is old hat for me; as one of the notables quoted in the book (under my previous pen name), I get credit for helping create and shape the manosphere into the miasma of virility it is today. As Hunter S. Thompson’s attorney put it, “I know these people in my goddamn blood!” Ergo, I’m more qualified than most to explain what The Manosphere gets right and wrong.

And to Ian’s credit, he gets a lot right, and deserves credit for even attempting to take on a project like this. For starters, how does one even define the manosphere? Is it a political movement? Yes… and no. There are politically active sectors like the men’s rights movement, but the ‘sphere as a whole isn’t taking to the streets in protest. Is it a unified philosophy? Not really. There’s a baseline of agreement in the manosphere, but the place is home to all kinds of ideologies and beliefs. Is it an underground culture? Most definitely, but what binds it together?

Ian comes up with the most succinct explanation I’ve ever heard:

The Manosphere is like a comet.

I don’t mean that in the usual metaphorical sense, wherein it would be compared to a rarely seen, spectacular (and undeniably phallic) event portending great changes and the end of empires. No, I mean it in the literal sense, informed by science. The Manosphere is like a comet in that it is essentially a dirty snowball.

The memes and the ideas behind it have been there all along, in the silence of the cultural Oort Cloud. The invisible, indefinable gravitational center of the Manosphere is no less than Masculinity, itself. There has been an unease about masculinity – a recognition of crisis by the friends and foes of men, particularly in the face of a changing femininity – that has been around for decades, now. The signs and symptoms of this unease were as clear as portents and omens, murky and misunderstood. Only when that irregular mass got exposed to the strong energy of the internet did it start to show itself… and now the tail of that metaphorical comet is starting to be seen in the sky by those who know to look.

Ian’s actual explanation is a lot longer than that, but I cut it down so this review wouldn’t stretch on. If you’ve read his blog, you know that he is remarkably wordy; even the comments he leaves on peoples’ blogs are mini-essays. While Ian’s verbosity can be something of a pain on the Internet, it’s a great asset in this book, because he attacks his subject from every angle, explaining just about everything you’d want to know about the topic at hand.

The Manosphere is divided into several chapters, beginning with an explanation of the social and cultural changes that led to men and boys being beaten down and turned into second-class citizens in the past half-century. Like most of the book’s content, it’s nothing new, but it’s nice and concise and does a great job of explaining why the manosphere exists. From there, each section of the manosphere gets its own chapter explaining it in thorough detail: the Christians/traditionalists, the MRAs, the PUAs, the MGTOW movement and so on.

Unfortunately, this is where the problems begin.

Referring to the game-oriented bloggers as “PUAs” is the first major misstep; only a handful of writers at most in the manosphere use that stupid, atavistic label to describe themselves. While Ian doesn’t do anything dumb like call Roosh or Roissy a PUA, he uses the phrase in a general enough sense to be annoying.

Ian’s classifications of various manosphere blogs only makes sense about half the time. For example, he classifies The Spearhead as an MRA site, even though the site’s owner, Bill Price, has repeatedly rejected the “MRA” label. He inexplicably slots my old blog In Mala Fide into the “Christian and Traditional Conservatives” section, though I’m willing to let this slide as I’d have a difficult time classifying the site myself:

The defunct but highly celebrated site In Mala Fide, run by Ferdinand Bardimu, was an irreverent, entertaining and oftentimes-scathing running review of the frailties of liberalism. It was a favorite(until its voluntary demise in 2012) of a wide-array of Conservative Christian men who were seeking answers about how to be a man in the 21st century and still be able to keep your faith, your wife, and your self-respect intact.

And yeah, he did spell “Bardamu” wrong. He also repeatedly refers to Jack Donovan as “Donovon,” calls Wikileaks founder Julian Assange “Victor Assange,” and claims the Stonewall riots happened in 1964 when they actually occurred in 1969. Whoever your editor is man, you need to fire him.

It may seem like I’m nitpicking, but these little errors and half-truths pile up, hacking away at the credibility that Ian so painstakingly tries to establish. The Manosphere‘s biggest problem is that a number of its more fantastical claims aren’t sourced. Ian cites and quotes articles and books much of the time to make his points, which makes these oversights all the more boggling. Here’s probably the biggest example, from the chapter on MRAs:

It’s not that the site and its authors lack intellectual rigor, as there are some pretty intriguing (if sometimes obscure) points being made at The Spearhead. It’s more that every other part of the Manosphere either wants to co-opt The Spearhead and the nascent MRM to front for their issues, and the MRAs want to focus on some very practical things. There was even an attempted ideological coup d’etat in 2011 when an organized group of highly patriarchal right-wing white supremacists tried to win control of the site. The Spearhead’s editorial staff threw them out, but not before they’d stirred up plenty of trouble.

What the hell is Ian talking about? As one of The Spearhead’s founding contributors, I’ve followed the site since its beginnings and no one has ever tried to take control of the site, much less a group of white supremacists. I’m friends in real life with Bill Price and he has always had a low opinion of white nationalists/supremacists, referring to them as a “goddess cult.” Just to double-check my memory, I Googled around to find evidence of this supposed coup, and all I could turn up was an article from 2010 bashing white nationalists as “white-knight nationalists,” as well as a bunch of responses to it.

A quote, a link, or something would have been really nice here.

This is the pattern for much of the book; Ian will explain some aspect of feminism or the manosphere in loving detail, then he’ll hit you with something so stupid and self-evidently wrong that it’s like watching a guitarist’s strings snap mid-solo. He claims that “there are plenty of Progressive bloggers in the manosphere,” which is somewhat true but glosses over the fact that taking the Red Pill inexorably puts men on a reactionary tilt. Roosh is the most notable example: when he began blogging, he was a vocal liberal, but a decade of picking up women, traveling the world and being persecuted by leftists and feminists has made him into a man of the right. The more snide in the audience could claim that the MRAs comprise the manosphere’s left-wing contingent (which they technically do), but I don’t think that’s what Ian was aiming for.

Ian also claims that “there are plenty of gay men lurking in the Manosphere,” which will come as news to most of us. Maybe they’re hiding in the closet.

But even with these little mistakes, I was still prepared to give The Manosphere my stamp of approval. Then I got to the chapter on Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and nearly hurled my Kindle out the window in anger. Given Ian’s careful research in the preceding chapters, I was expecting long quotations from zed, Ragnar, Rob Fedders and the other men who created MGTOW, discussing its principles and values, along with their motivations for doing so; their frustrations with living through the worst of feminism and the men’s rights’ movement’s perpetual uselessness. I also expected a mention of how MGTOW has been co-opted by twentysomething permavirgins trying to justify their lack of drive in life.

What did I get? Jack shit.

The Manosphere not only doesn’t cite any genuine MGTOW literature, it doesn’t even mention the names of its creators. Ian doesn’t even mention the three core principles of MGTOW: instill masculinity in men, instill femininity in women, and work towards limited government. His primary example of an MGTOW blog? Freedom Twenty-Five. I shit you not:

The first great MGTOW blog has to be Freedom Twenty-Five, which tells the story of Jonathan Frost, an earnest young man of 25 who, after a moment of epiphany, decided that pursuing a successful corporate career, wife and children in this climate just wasn’t a good idea for him – or many men. So he ditched his well-paying corporate job and moved to the other side of the planet, to the Third World where he spent his time surfing and enjoying himself. And NOT paying alimony, child-support, divorce lawyers, or taxes.

And NOT getting married. At least not yet.

That sucking sound you hear is The Manosphere’s remaining credibility going straight down the toilet. This is not a casual oversight; this is a massive failure at every level. Writing about a movement without citing any of its creators? It would be like writing a book on rhetoric without mentioning Aristotle, or authoring a book on space exploration that doesn’t even pay lip service to Wernher von Braun. It’s not like this info is secret; it took me all of ten seconds to find this article from NO MA’AM that lays out the history of MGTOW.

To make matters worse, Ian inexplicably names 300, that factually laughable bit of neocon agitprop, as the movie “that best represents the MGTOWs,” further claiming that it was “like crack” to them. Again, what the hell is he talking about? Like with the supposed coup against The Spearhead, I couldn’t find a single source to verify this.

Then there are sections where Ian tries to graft people or entities onto the manosphere who have never been affiliated with it. For example, he cites Mystery in the “PUA” chapter as being part of the manosphere. While it’s true that his writings have been a big influence on Roissy and the like, the mainstream seduction community has never been formally affiliated with the manosphere. The Puerarchy chapter is probably the most egregious example: while most of it is well-written, he cites Maxim and Girls Gone Wild as “Puerarch sites”; again, neither of them have any affiliation with the manosphere.

Finally, there are entire swaths of information in The Manosphere that are simply out of date. In the Puerarchy chapter, Ian names Anonymous and Julian Assange as examples of modern males’ anti-feminist wrath. This would have been a great argument… in 2011. But in 2013, Assange is a non-entity living in a spare closet in Ecuador’s London embassy so he can avoid arrest, and Anonymous has devolved into a leftist white knight organization leading jeremiads against “rape jokes” and men like Hunter Moore, launching smear campaigns against anyone who criticizes them. You could even make an argument that the MRM doesn’t belong in the book at all, given that Paul Elam, who heads the most popular MRM site on the web, huffily turned his back on the manosphere last year as the closing act in a war he started the year before with his attention whoring “Chateau Bullshit” article.

Put simply, The Manosphere is a failure.

It’s a noble failure, a dignified failure, a worthy failure, but a failure all the same. I don’t feel good about panning it because Ian clearly put a lot of work into it, and when he’s at his best, the book absolutely shines. For example, his chapter on “Old Married Guys” (married game bloggers like Athol Kay) has a great discussion of “mommy porn” like Fifty Shades of Grey. I also got a laugh out of the mock angry feminist reviews that Ian included at the end of the book:

“Never has the loss of male privilege been celebrated with such petulant disregard for the truth. Never have angry white men sounded this childish as they whine and bitch from behind the protection of internet anonymity. And never has feminism and its precepts been so blatantly and cynically misinterpreted in order to promote a socio-political perspective, even one as foul as Ironwood’s. Clearly this kind of filth requires reconsideration of our dedication to free speech – freedom of expression might be sacred, but to allow this unrepentant misogyny and unbridled rage against all things female into the public venue strains the idea to its capacity.

But The Manosphere’s scholarship is shoddy enough that I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone, at least not unless Ian releases an updated, corrected edition. If you have a friend you want to introduce to the manosphere, send them to Viva La Manosphere and have them read the featured articles every day. I can guarantee you that they’ll get a far more accurate picture than the one that The Manosphere paints.

Click here to buy The Manosphere: A New Hope for Masculinity.

Read Next: A Metaphor on the Manosphere

  • CA

    “I also expected a mention of how MGTOW has been co-opted by twentysomething permavirgins trying to justify their lack of drive in life.”

    Given you know my former identity/ies, I can’t help but see this as a dig at me.

    Good review, though.

  • Judging from some comments he left on my blog it was clear he doesn’t know what he is talking about, and I told him that.

  • Glad to read this review. I was wondering if I was mentioned. Now I have to buy it and see how.

  • He spoke very well of me, so may his book be widely read.

    But, when was this?

    “There was even an attempted ideological coup d’etat in 2011 when an organized group of highly patriarchal right-wing white supremacists tried to win control of the site.   The Spearhead’s editorial staff threw them out, but not before they’d stirred up plenty of trouble.”

    Ironwood, Ian (2013-06-04). The Manosphere: A New Hope For Masculinity (Kindle Locations 2076-2079). Red Pill Press. Kindle Edition.

    I don’t think Bill ever had any intention of allowing anyone to “win control” of the site…it’s his site. He had a lot of WN commenters, some of whom became as boring and repetitive as the NWO conspiracy theorists and the shrill “can you believe what some woman said” MRAs, but I don’t think they ever tried to take over The Spearhead.

  • I had many of the same reactions to it, though I wasn’t as blunt in my review of the book.

    All of his inconsistencies and opinions make sense when you consider that his opinion of the manosphere is viewed through the lens of a progressive father who works in the porn industry. He loves all the ‘advances’ society has made, yet feels so very sorry that they came at the expense of men. He also is pretty blatant in his views that anyone that doesn’t pursue marriage is contributing to the problem.

    He has some good writing on his blog, but you constantly have to filter it through your own opinions and the facts because his world view is so drastically different than most of the manosphere’s.

  • Jack: I brought that supposed “coup” up in the review; I couldn’t find a source for it either. The most charitable explanation I can think of is that Ian confused the Spearhead for another site, but I can’t possibly imagine which one.

    Leap: Ian’s worldview doesn’t bother me so much as his fudging of the facts. And he completely dropped the ball on the MGTOW section.

  • Retrenched

    His descriptions of IMF and MGTOW are jaw-droppingly wrong.

  • WG

    Good review. I’m giving this book a miss.

    I remember some kind controversy in the comments sections of the Spearhead by “right-wing white supremacists” a couple of years ago. It was justified in my view by Bill’s muddled thinking on racial issues. I think these “right-wing white supremacists” are the same pirate gang who hang out at the Eradica website:

    http://eradica.wordpress.com/

  • Matt, thanks for the review. As I said, I’ll mention it on my blog, good or ill.

    In response to a few of the criticisms . . .

    First, I’ll take the heat on the MGTOW section, simply because that was among the first I wrote, it changed and transformed during the process of writing it, my first editor didn’t think it was as important as I did, and that’s where I got the most “help”. I’d also point out that the original idea of MGTOW has been co-opted by an awful lot of dudes to cover a lot of territory, and despite the concise and cogent beginnings Your suggestion of a review, rewrite and re-release is well-taken, and depending upon my schedule I’m hoping to have that done by the end of the year.

    Shit, I’ll take the heat on the “sloppy scholarship”, too. I say at the beginning of the book that it isn’t intended to be a scholarly piece, but an introduction and a survey of the subject. In truth I could have spent a year chasing down facts, and if my original publisher had had their way, that’s more-or-less what would have happened. And then the book wouldn’t have come out until 2014, and for other reasons it just couldn’t wait. I’ll be the first to admit that the book was more abandoned than completed.

    But I’ll also stand up and take the hit that trying to define and describe the Manosphere in general is a big task, considering its evolving nature and changing players. The book I wrote wasn’t to describe the Manosphere for folks in the Manosphere, but for folks who had heard the term and were looking for an introduction. I’ll write other books for the people already in the Manosphere, but by establishing and defining it in the way I have, I feel that I did the ‘sphere a service in keeping it on-point as the place concerning “masculine issues and male interests”, as opposed to the more-popular and less-accurate “place where bitter divorced guys go to bitch”.

    In any case, thanks for reading and reviewing it. And yeah, a better-edited version will be forthcoming . . . the moment I can catch up on some sleep.

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  • AAB

    >Bill Price and he has always had a low opinion of white nationalists/supremacists, referring to them as a “goddess cult.”<

    That's the predominant view at the popular Stormfront site, but to view all White Nationalists as gynophilliac is just plain wrong. Check out http://www.heretical.com for a White Nationalist who has honestly appraised women. Or indeed Bal Tannit over at wnthinktank.wordpress.com for another. To assume that all WNs are woman worshippers is like saying all manospherians are basement dwellers: it's disingenuous. Check around and you'll see that more and more WNs are seeing what women are really like. You'' be pleasantly surprised. In this respect it's little different to the general population: men recognising what women are like after being lied to for N+1 years.

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