Can you deprogram someone from misogyny/MRA talking points? How?
June 10, 2017 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Someone important to me has, over the last year, gone from agreeing these talking points are deluded to internalizing them and using them in arguments about how life should work. It is really scary and I don't know what to do. Is there any way to come back from something like that? Have you ever seen it work? Looking for advice and/or anecdata/hope.

The person in question doesn't think that he's being sexist or negative about women, but has started often talking about stuff like "women have to produce market value", "men are better off when they're single and don't have relationships weighing them down", "focus on emotions makes women weak", "women who think well of themselves are narcissists", and many other things.

He originally identified as an anti-sexist and leftist, but over the last two years many of his other friends have been kind of slowly sliding into this misogyny - like, it started off posting memes against Clinton and now they are straight up posting anti-woman things on their Facebooks, talking about how women are useless to them and men just need them for sex, etc.

I am really freaked out and would like to get the person this person used to be back. It is unbelievably scary to see people basically coming out with this stuff - like I don't know how deep it will go and what is going to come out next. Is this fixable, or once it's gone is it gone?
posted by corb to Human Relations (30 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Are you close enough (emotionally, I mean) to him to find out what's going on with him personally that he's feeling so worthless? In my (limited) experience, a lot of the initial motivation with this for men is they feel like they're being judged solely for their external accomplishments/money (or lack thereof) and have no real inner sense of self-worth. If it were me, I'd focus on helping him (re)find that sense that he's valuable and worthwhile just as he is, regardless of money or looks or job title or anything else that he does. He's worthy simply because he is.
posted by lazuli at 9:09 AM on June 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

Jeez, this sucks. Maybe something along the lines of "dear friend, are you ok? Because the things you're writing and saying are really worrying me."
posted by zippy at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Something similar has been happening with my brother, who just started reading and commenting on Reddit actively about a year or two ago. He's someone who was never a raging lefty/social justice type but he I also never got the sense that he cared either way. But now, he makes all of these comments about pronouns and safe spaces and SJWs and trigger warnings and things that I'm sure he only has contact with through online communities (he hasn't been in college for a decade and does not work in a very liberal field and is involved with no political activism).

For me, when he makes comments that make me uncomfortable or unhappy, I focus on the immediate emotional impact on me and try to bring home to him that connecting with and maintaining a good relationship with and not causing unneeded hurt to an actual person he knows and cares about in real life is more important than some half-baked political ideas he picked up on a website.

As for actually trying to change his mind, I sometimes argue back very gently but it is an extremely sensitive process, as I know that a lot of support for MRA-type stuff comes from a sense of being culturally marginalized, whether that's valid or not. A sense that you are losing your place in society to people who, due to cultural conditioning, you may implicitly view as inferior. It's very emotional. So challenging him on this stuff, as a woman, is very tricky. I always try to grant some of his premises, even if I don't agree with them, make sure it never feels like I'm challenging his own personality or experiences or whatever and try to reach out to him as an intelligent person I respect. I've only been half-successful, honestly, and it is exhausting, so if it's not someone you truly care about, I don't know if it's worth the effort.
posted by armadillo1224 at 10:37 AM on June 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

In my experience, it is a waste of time to try to convince someone that a group of people is not worthless or inferior -- no matter how that person's beliefs originated or developed -- when you are a member of that group yourself (and even sometimes when you're not.) Mourn the kind and reasonable person you knew them as, privately, and move on.
posted by sevenofspades at 10:56 AM on June 10, 2017 [31 favorites]

"You've become a lot different from who I used to know. Would it even be worth my time to talk to you about it, or should I mourn who I used to know and move on with my life?"

Something similar worked on me (although i wasn't nearly so far gone), many years ago. The request for a self-diagnosis can short-circuit the defense mechanisms.

(It's almost Gödelian in its ability to disrupt.)
posted by notsnot at 11:09 AM on June 10, 2017 [111 favorites]

I had a really good friend who started making a lot of racist comments and jokes, casually using the n-word, and throwing around the word faggot. I talked to him and straight up told him if he kept talking like that then I couldn't be his friend any longer. He never said any of that kind of stuff again. It's been years and what I said may have struck a chord with him, or he may have just matured, because he's very much anti racism, homophobia and Islamophobia these days. I think people can absolutely change and a good role model can help guide them or inspire them to, but it's ultimately up to them to make that decision.
posted by blackzinfandel at 11:14 AM on June 10, 2017 [16 favorites]

I told a friend "please stop calling women sluts"...and made it clear to him that it was Not Cool even if they were referring to themselves that way.
posted by brujita at 11:20 AM on June 10, 2017

If this person is truly a friend, or someone you have some sort of relationship with that is based on trust, tell them "I don't like the way you talk about women. It makes me feel degraded. I'm not sure if that was your intention, but I do not feel comfortable around you right now."

Then, break off contact. Maybe he'll become more emotionally mature at some point and will apologize.

If this is not a friend, break off contact.
posted by My Dad at 11:40 AM on June 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just so you're aware of it:
posted by WCityMike at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Since it looks like you're a woman, I'm not sure if this is a battle even worth fighting. RedPill dudes treat women like we're not even human and anyone who argues against them as a "feminazi". Don't feel like you're obligated to turn this dude around, especially if you don't have a thick enough skin to wade through his undoubtedly awful arguments.
posted by noxperpetua at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's worth it to try, at least, especially if this is a new phenomenon and not... hardened off, I guess you could say. When I was a freshman I was at my work study job when somebody came on the radio with a heavy southern accent, and I said some bigoted thing like "what an ignorant hayseed." Luckily, a couple-of-years-older coworker who was my absolute idol happened to be there, and she said, "No, that's just someone with a regional accent. What's ignorant is slurring somebody because of the way they speak." I'm glad she nipped that shit in the bud because it easily could've metastasized.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

Just to "warn" that if anyone thinks that exredpill reddit would be kinda uplifting or nice to read, omfg don't. This is not warm-fuzzy-manfriends.
posted by Iteki at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2017 [27 favorites]

I'm really sorry to hear you're going through this. You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason his way into. All you can do is show him that his actions have consequences to real, breathing people, including him, and if he doesn't care about those, he's lost.

We don't have a lot of the context that would tell us how you have to go on relating to this person, or if you have to go on relating to him at all. Your brother-in-law, your brother, or God forbid your husband -- that makes a lot of difference in how I'd recommend you handle this. But without any other clues, I'll tell you what I'd do if this was a friend of mine, someone I had liked but was also free to drop without disrupting lifelong bonds.

Dudes who don't respect women are often the same ones who pride themselves on being members of the bluff upfront gender who say exactly what they mean. So I'd say to him -- preferably in person so that he can't be a keyboard warrior about it -- "I am a woman. When you are talking about women, you are talking about me. What I am hearing from you is that you do not respect women. I cannot be friends with someone who does not respect me. Do you understand?"

How he responds will be instructive, and probably a huge wad of defensive bullshit. I wouldn't get into any argument he raises, just stick to one clear point: cut the crap or I am through with you unless and until you get your act together, now which is it going to be?

To be clear, this is definitely not the advice I would give if you are concerned about his possible reaction (going nuclear in your friends group, throwing things), or if you have a family relationship that needs to be negotiated some other way. I take you at your word that this dude is possibly salvageable. Whatever you do, be careful and look out for yourself and the women you know.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2017 [25 favorites]

It's a dangerous path to walk. If he truly believes what he says, no matter how gently you lay down your boundaries, you will inevitably be labelled a b*tch or feminazi.

I've seen many of my old uni friends go down the road of gamergate/redpill culture and only one has come back, and it was not because of anything his female friends said to him, it was that he just got fatigued with all the anger and hatred. He's still quite backwards about women but at least not outright hateful. All of these men however have had one or more women who tried to kindly steer them away or engage their views critically, but they all had to give up at a certain point. All of us have played psychologist to one of more of these kinds of guys and all it does is perpetuate the women as servants stereotype(if you're their shoulder to cry on) or the women as evil stereotype(if you stand your ground and fight back). It's a lose-lose more often than not.

Also, since this person is advertising their bigotry over social media, there's an extra layer of danger in your case. I would personally just disengage from his social circle entirely because of the risk of doxxing/etc. You have no clue what other forums or communities he's tied to. Potentially getting tangled up in redpiller's conflicts is literally one of the worst things you can experience on the internet.

If you believe you can do something, then go ahead and give it a try. But please be aware that you're likely dealing with a person who will not view you as worthy or important even if you do everything right and your arguments are perfect. Be very careful.
posted by InkDrinker at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

If this IS your husband or someone who is close enough to you to reasonably be read as having a certain amount of power over you, then please look after your safety as a top priority. Women all over the US are hurt by men with these attitudes every single day. Getting him back and getting through to him are important goals but they MUST be secondary to keeping yourself physically safe.
posted by DSime at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

Depends on your relationship to the person and what they are up to in general. Deprogramming people from shithead is a long game. I am working on some folks in my hobby sphere and I myself used to be an internet shithead so there is hope, but it depends on a lot of factors.

Things that seem to help:

- The person's social group not 100% reinforcing these behaviors/views
- The person being overtly open to changing their behaviors/views

Without these two you're pretty boned.

Individual tactics that have worked for me:

- People the person respects being expressing displeasure with the person's behavior
- Being willing to talk through why this behavior is displeasing, even and especially if you feel like it should be self-evident.
- If the person is curious, being willing to talk endlessly about the context in which various things are deployed... A lot of otherwise together dudes seem to not get why, for example, people get frustrated at technically correct intellectual arguments that are deployed to nefarious purposes because they are focusing on the technical correctness of the argument.

More depends on the context, u kno where to find me
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 4:12 PM on June 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For clarity, it is a family member who I cannot easily unilaterally drop.
posted by corb at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2017

Do you have a male ally you could enlist?

I have close group of friends (two women and two men) and one of the men was going down a misogynistic/homophobic path. The two women would basically say "hey you can't say that stuff" but it was the assertions of the other man and their private conversations that really worked.

Just the other day he was saying to us, "I could have been one of those gamer gate guys & I'm not really sure how I avoided it." :)
posted by CMcG at 5:38 PM on June 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Mod note: If you just want to follow a thread, you can use "add to activity" up under the original post.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:43 PM on June 10, 2017

A lot of these people seem to buy in because they are disenfranchised in some way. They are feeling powerless, hopeless, fearful, stressed, anxious, depressed; things like that. There's a lot of anger out there over the idea that others have it better than they do, and this is (1) not fair, (2) someone else's fault. Honestly, I believe that the core of MRA/Red Pill/etc nonsense is a boatload of fear and insecurity (and of course garden-variety stupidity and cruelty, too).

(On re-reading the thread: what lazuli said!)

How stable has his life been? Is it possible that he's at risk of being laid off, dumped, etc? How's his overall mental health?

If I wanted to be kind and helpful to one of those sorts (and I don't, but I might feel differently if it was a sudden change in a person I knew and had previously liked), I think I might start by asking them how things were going for them. "You've been posting some really angry things, and I'm concerned that maybe things have been difficult for you. How are things going?" Steer the conversation back to them if they start spouting MRA lines. And: "Let's pretend for a moment that this is something I and most others would agree with you on. Why are you personally bothered by it? Why would you be concerned about how women might feel about themselves?" I'd want to make them pause for thought -- and actually think. Not likely to bring around rapid results, but possibly a good starting point.

A while ago I got together with an old friend from uni, one I hadn't seen since then. It took a while to come out but I eventually discovered he was completely bugfuck. Stuffed to the brim with Red Pill crap and conspiracy theories.

He had a "white knight" problem and dated the worst sort of women, and I think he got a lot of his frustration from not being able to magically polish turds. Surely these women would want to change, surely he could help them? And he was a pothead to the point where I think it was scrambling his brains; getting really stoned and going to the crappy parts of the internet is a bad mix.

He was in his late 30s, making a good salary -- and living with his father, and his sole asset was a beat-up sports car. He was effectively friendless, and I don't think the isolation helps.

I mention this sad sack just because: there was nothing I could say to disabuse him of these beliefs. When I first found out, he was over at my house, waiting for a cab to the airport, in midwinter, late at night in a small town with nowhere open. I came very close to throwing him out of my house on the spot. He was quite surprised that I felt so strongly, which I found bizarre. One thing that really makes deprogrammimg hard is that they tend to herd and travel in packs, and avoid reading mainstream news, so they're often not told to piss off as they don't leave the safety of their circlejerks.

Which brings me back to the start: they are scared. It is an ideology with a lot of appeal for guys who feel powerless. Perhaps try to set him to thinking about good parts of his life?
posted by kmennie at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've never been able to do this. What I said didn't matter because I was a woman. And the fact that I existed in reality as an actual person who challenged him didn't help either. His internet friends didn't make actual human demands of him or challenge his beliefs, and he went for the short term dopamine reward of Reddit validation every time.

The analogy I'm going to use is weird, and maybe it won't translate, but...this is like when a lesbian falls in love with a straight woman, kind of. Yeah, you hear stories about the times the straight woman falls in love back and discovers she's not entirely straight; it does technically happen. But not often enough to bet on it.

I am so sorry, corb. Please, even if it doesn't seem like something you need to worry about, keep yourself safe. The thing abusive men have in common is the shared belief that they have a right to abuse women. Even if this guy has never been violent, that could change. Stay safe.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:32 PM on June 10, 2017 [20 favorites]

The only men I've ever heard of coming out of this back into basic human decency are young men who inherited the beliefs from their families/developed them as part of dysfunctional adolescent social circles, then hit the real world, did some critical thinking, and realized how harmful and delusional the belief system is. If a grown man moves into these beliefs, especially at this historical moment, there are maggots eating at his soul and there's nothing much that can be done. He doesn't think you're human anymore, so how can you hope to persuade him?

Echoing what others have said about staying safe. He doesn't think you're human anymore. That can be really hard to wrap your head around, but that is what he is telling you. Listen. And, consequently, be very careful.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 PM on June 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

Of course people can change. He's already done it once. Can you make him? I don't think so. But your only helpful course of action and the way to take care of yourself are the same; Tell him he can't talk that way around you, you don't want to hear it, end of story.

Not arguing political points to try and change their minds, attempts at persuading, or debating. They want to argue. Don't be understanding or accommodating. In a way it's like dealing with an addict. "I don't really care, get that shit out of here." Don't be an enabler and let them explain their position. Don't try and help.

As a White guy there will occasionally be the person who thinks we're all being White together and lets loose some racists statement. Everyone I know deals with that by simply saying "I don't want to hear that shit" backed with a cold stare. I'm not going to tell them they're racist, or argue with them, I'm not their daddy. Just shut that shit down, no discussion.

Whether they come back or not is out of your control. Take care of yourself and don't let an abusive attitude get a toehold.
posted by bongo_x at 9:33 PM on June 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

I do want to clarify: When I suggest helping him find his sense of inner worth, I don't mean doing so by debating his misogyny. It's fine to set a boundary about what he says to you, and it's also fine to just let that slide off your back (I find it's much easier for me to do that when I'm in a paid-helper position, and would totally understand anyone who's not in such a position to need to set boundaries about it). My strategy would be refusing to engage with the MRA shit and instead inquiring non-judgmentally about whatever inner turmoil is making him susceptible to this virus. Again, this has been easier for me when I've been in a paid-helper (therapist) position rather than feeling stuck in a "I'm a girl, so I need to be sympathetic" role.
posted by lazuli at 9:43 PM on June 10, 2017

If this is a younger brother sort of dynamic, you and whoever else he might look up to could help plant the seed that the men on these sites are DEEPLY uncool and online too much and nobody likes them except each other.
posted by kapers at 5:57 AM on June 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you for asking this question. I lost one of my best high school friends to MRA stuff last year. This had been a guy who openly supported me in the face of popular crowd bullies. Starting quarterback on the varsity football team so when he stood up for me, they shut up. There are things he said to me privately that, to this day, remain as beacons of hope that there are neat men out there.

So when he started posting about how horrible SJWs and feminists were mounting an attack on masculinity via false rape charges, well. I did what others here have recommended: I addressed our friendship. I talked to the guy I'd known since age 14. The kindhearted nature lover. He spewed bile. Insulted me. I reminded him that we're friends and that his insults were hurtful; asked him what was going on that he thought this was a way to treat friends. He replied something sadly interesting (paraphrased): "I have new friends now who are showing me how women like you brainwash and manipulate us with emotions." I reminded him that friendship is emotional; that's the whole point. It did not go well. It went so badly, in fact, that when I told him "I no longer recognize you as the supportive, compassionate friend I knew for decades" I genuinely meant it; he was like a doppelganger of the young man I'd known. I ended the friendship.

The really tricky part is not giving in to the barrage of verbal violence. Coming from them it's partly insecurity, yes, but it's also coming from coaching on the part of a few other men who are doing it on purpose. They see it as a zero sum game. Getting women to submit may not be a conscious goal on the part of one guy in particular, but it sure as hell is for some of the dudes behind it. In order to avoid this zero-sum trap, it's important to know yourself and your own value. That way you're able to address it in the spirit of "I am me, I exist and have intrinsic value" as opposed to "you're mistaken". Seeing things in zero-sum terms is indeed a sad, warped, and unhealthy way to see the world, but it's hard to call it a mistake when so many men have been getting what they want from it for millennia: a guaranteed feeling of superiority. They want superiority? Okay, they can have it, but I won't be there. You can do that by ignoring as possible, seeing the dude as little as possible, so forth. (Obviously this is a lot more complex on a societal level, I'm trying to address a mindset that can help on a personal one.)

Listen to your gut and stay safe. These dudes can get nasty.
posted by fraula at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2017 [13 favorites]

So, I did go read that ExTRP subreddit and it was actually kind of instructive. I mean, awful and weird, but I got some interesting take aways. The main one being that there are common stages to de-radicalization. Almost no-one over there is actually, like, woke or anything. But there seem to be gradations of rejection of misogyny. I identified a few:

1. Redpillism is right about most things, but the community is toxic.

2. Redpillism is right about all the stuff except about how women aren't people. But all the gender essentialism is correct and the self-help message is helpful.

3. Redpillism is wrong about how women and men are, but the self help message is still good.

4. Redpillism is pretty much entirely bogus but feminists still are terrible and are the equivalent of MRAs.

5. Redpillism is entirely bogus, and some forms of feminism are fine, but Jezebel is the actual worst. (Seriously what's with the fixation on that one website?)

So, if I were going to try and exfiltrate someone, I'd read over there and try to identify the people just exiting and see what it was that made them reject it. Then I'd start using those points on this person, and those points only and not go any further towards "women are human" until the person is ready to move on to the next stage. I think there's likely no way to go from TRP to being okay with women without hitting several stops along the way.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:35 AM on June 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

I wish you luck. And face to face contact, in just abbreviated comments and frowns, seems likely to be more effective than public discussion on social media. Social media (present company excepted) seems to make everyone dumber and meaner.)
posted by puddledork at 5:30 PM on June 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

soren: I think the fixation on Jezebel is because they’re under the same roof as Kotaku. Gamergaters and red-pillers go hand-in-hand together.

The problem with the red-pill mindset is that it’s a closed world. It’s very much like a cult in that sense: the group has an explanation for everything & that explanation gives the member a feeling of self-worth which makes it very difficult to turn away from once the member is committed. It’s much harder to turn away from an explanations of how the world works when that also means turning away from the emotional security that comes with the feeling of having a place in the world that makes sense & the support of those around you within that structure. Redpillism is like a piece of well put together clockwork that “explains everything” but only if you believe every part - they all reinforce each other.

So if I was going to start anywhere, I’d look at successful cult-deprogramming tactics, which the proviso that the odds of success are probably quite low for someone that has gone deep :(
posted by pharm at 1:37 AM on June 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would say something like " actually has a couple of really thoughtful articles about MRAs/Redpillers and other relevant articles about misogyny" but, like Buzzfeed, they've been producing enough high quality content lately that the "actually" modifier is no longer necessary because that's not a surprise. Cracked is killing it these days.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:47 AM on June 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

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