“If you like ones like that, there’s more over there.” Whilst the two guys discussing posters in the union may have been referring solely to posters, I had my suspicions. Watching them appraise the page three model on the door-size poster, I uncomfortably turned another page of ‘Paradise Lost’ and reflected that Eve’s nudity suddenly seemed much less problematic. “Aye, let’s see if the other ones have got better tits.” The news of recent weeks in relation to misogyny on the internet definitely had me questioning the true nature of human beings, and little incidents like that seemed to be niggling at me more than never. Whilst it’s no news that there are some awful human beings in the world, Julien Blanc has been hitting the news hard this week for some exceptional nasties towards women.
A self-styled ‘pick-up artist’, his program of online videos and in-person classes, mostly through the company Real Social Dynamics, aims to instruct men on how to “Make Girls BEG to Sleep with You After SHORT-CIRCUITING their Emotional and Logical Mind into a Million Reasons why They Should…”. His twitter hashtag ‘#ChokingGirlsAroundTheWorld’ and the accompanying video around Tokyo of him forcing young girls’ heads down to his crotch-level, saying: “At least in Tokyo, if you’re a white male, you can do what you want. I’m just romping through the streets, just grabbing girls’ heads, just like, head, pfft on the dick. Head, on the dick, yelling, ‘pikachu’, with a pikachu shirt.” managed to grab the attention firstly, of the goodly people of the internet, before internet activists and finally national and international media got hold of it.
If his rampant racism and sexism hasn’t shocked you yet, hold on, worse is coming. If it has, I apologise. Worse is coming.
Julien Blanc is not the worst phenomenon on the internet. While his top tips to ‘make her stay’ in a recent twitter post include using intimidation, economic abuse, coercion and threats, emotional abuse, isolation and male privilege, but this isn’t the worst instance of objectification of women being touted as gospel around the depths of the internet. I know this because I recently fell headfirst into the online rabbit-hole that is the “Manosphere”.
Don’t ask me how it happened. You start off reading the Guardian, very respectably. Then the comments section. Then a blog. The another blog, deeper and deeper into the wordpress lairs of some of the least pleasant people on the planet.
The Manosphere is an over-arching term that basically refers to any pick-up tips/ men’s rights/ self-improvement blogs, referred to commonly as “Red Pill” blogs or writers, in reference to Neo’s choice in the Matrix between the red pill and the blue pill, symbolic of the choice between choosing knowledge and freedom from the matrix, or the choice to remain ignorant of the truth. The men writing for or interacting with the Manosphere and talk about having “swallowed” the red pill are generally those who believe that their masculinity is under attack by society at large, and how society has gradually been emasculating men by allowing women out of their “natural” submissive positions.
Matt Forney, a blogger whose articles such as ‘Why Fat Girls Don’t Deserve to be Loved’ and ‘How to Beat Your Girlfriend or Wife and Get Away with It’, is a key part of the Manosphere community. His articles all address ‘manly’ issues such as picking up women, particularly foreign women, which women to avoid, working out, how to prevent women from gaining power, and how to make more money - all things essential to the modern man, apparently. The overwhelming majority of these articles, however, are not just about self-improvement, but about dominating women in every perceived ‘masculine’ aspect of life, and feeding a culture of degradation and objectification, by referring to them frequently in terms such as ‘sluts’, speaking in depth about their bodies above anything else, as if they are a lower species of human.
So that’s the horrific dark side of the internet, but I swear there is a positive end to this. Last week, D.C.-based activist Jenn Li launched the hashtag #TakeDownJulienBlanc across social media sites and a change.org petition under the same name, in an attempt to keep Blanc’s dangerous ideas out of the hands of vulnerable and impressionable men around the world, and she has made vast gains against him. What started off as an online movement against internet wrongs translated successfully into the real world. Two hotels in Australia announced they would no longer host his events, his Twitter and Instagram have gone dead, and his #ChokingGirlsAroundtheWorld hashtag has mysteriously disappeared.
Even better than this, the Australian government revoked his visa, forcing him to end his Australian leg of the tour over a month early. There have been calls for him to be refused entry to both Canada and Britain, with one change.org petition for Theresa May, the Home Secretary of the UK to deny Julien Blanc a visa having attained over 131,000 signatures, and the hash-tag “#KeepJulienBlancOutOfCanada” circulating widely on Twitter after it was revealed Blanc planned to visit with his ‘pick up’ workshops next year. The campaign received support from Canada’s Citizen and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, on Tuesday, tweeting that he would consider following in the footsteps of Australia and deny him a visa. This is immense progress against hatred, and towards protecting women.
I guess the upshot of this piece is that, yes, the internet can be an awful hellhole full of bad ideas and worse people. But it can also, cliched as it sounds, be a force for good. A movement that began as one twitter hashtag and an online petition has expanded to stop the spread of dangerous ideas and hateful behaviour in real life, with multiple protests having been staged, petitions being signed by hundreds of thousands of people, and best of all, the majority speaking out against Julien Blanc and others like him. Whilst browsing blogs and comments can often be disheartening, disgusting and even frightening, there is that little ray of hope, one person who’ll risk the Twitter backlash to stand up and say something is wrong, and then another person who’ll support them, and then maybe a group, and then a page, and then a movement.. The power of the internet to regulate itself is vast, and the power to affect real life is becoming more so. Whether or not you believe internet activism is lazy or not becomes irrelevant when you see the real difference it has made to this campaign. So be that person. Stand up for what’s right online, join a campaign, put yourself behind something. Help the internet #TakeDownJulienBlanc.