Authors: Clara Broekaert, Leela McClintock
The current online misogynist landscape is a patchwork of various communities with distinct discursive, social, and cultural practices. Popular communities include Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), a movement combating against what they consider a ‘gynocentric’ society by withdrawing from women completely, and incels (involuntary celibates), a community of mostly young men unable to have sexual and/or romantic relationships with women, which is expressed in hostility and animosity towards them in their forums. In recent years, with the rise of the manosphere, you may have encountered some content from this part of the internet unexpectedly. The algorithm-curated recommendation discovery feeds of any social media app, may have served you up a Tweet from the notorious manosphere influencer Andrew Tate lamenting the purported abominable state of masculinity in the West or a video from the Whatever Podcast mocking the “body count” - that is, the number of sexual partners someone has had - of the unforgivably emancipated “modern woman.” Female supported misogyny on mainstream platforms has largely been contained to anti-feminist content by far-right and tradwife subcommunities online, often mixing the aesthetics of traditional gender roles with captions condemning the idea of gender equality. A specific characteristic of this content online is the veneration of the traditional female gender roles. However, a new niche of female supported misogyny online seems to have emerged. Rather than romanticizing and promoting a patriarchal society, these women condemn any female dissidents. This niche of female influencers and content creators, primarily followed and supported by men, use the same humiliating and denigrating language to talk about women as is typical in much of the manosphere.
Female, extreme misogynist content creators like Pearl Davis have amassed a following across social media platforms for denigrating women for not meeting her prescribed behavioral standards. In addition to criticizing progressive societies and making the case for more conservative gender norms, their primary gimmick is the production of content that humiliates a specific type of woman - optimized to garner engagement online and foster international cognizance. These content creators capitalize on and reinforce extreme misogyny while simultaneously excluding themselves from its limitations: they benefit from the liberties afforded by a democratic, often feminist society that allows women to work and partake in public discourse.
Scoping the Phenomenon
The trend of conservative female content creators sermonizing on topics such as having families younger or submitting to the men in the family is not a new one. Different variations of these tradwife influencers exist and their content - often aestheticizing domestic existence - have steadily entered the mainstream. However, the recent rise in female supported extreme misogyny counts only a handful of content creators with substantial following. Ideologically, they promote the red pill, a term from The Matrix (1999) co-opted by the manosphere to refer to having ‘woken up’ to the reality of feminist society and its damaging treatment of men. While data shows a very real set of issues and challenges facing young men, the red pill traces all of these issues back to modern women.
An Overview of Female-Supported Misogyny
Conservative Anti-Feminists (1)
Reject feminist theory;
Believe biological differences should lead to traditional gender roles;
Women belong to the private sphere
Far-right women (2)
“Idealized” gender norms;
White supremacist thought;
Interlacement of anti-feminism and national purity
Occupation of traditional gender roles;
Prioritizing family values;
Commitment to Christianity
Sarcastic, self-deprecating online content;
Extreme messaging to elicit shock and/or public outrage
Targeted by manosphere for not being real “incels” (5)
Pearl Davis, the 26 year old content creator leading this form of female-promoted extreme misogyny, saw her following significantly increase after having Andrew Tate on her show in December 2022. At the time of writing, she has 1.74 million subscribers on YouTube and 307k followers on X (formerly, Twitter). Although Davis’ account was banned on TikTok, the hashtag #justpearlythings collecting different snippets of her videos has amassed over 603.7 million views on TikTok. Banning her account has done little to decrease her popularity - although it has removed a direct connection between her content and personal following on the platform. Meanwhile, her anti-women claims have steadily intensified over the years. While her first YouTube videos in 2020 and 2021 include a house tour and a moderate-toned dating panel where she describes herself as someone who creates relationship quizzes, one of her most recent YouTube shorts makes the case against a woman’s right to vote. In her sit-down shows, she invites mostly women that disagree with her viewpoints - a seemingly productive, interesting forum of public debate. However, she typically ends up using her status as host and moderator of the conversation to humiliate or outright insult women; She typically lambastes their perceptions of their own attractiveness or dating ambitions. Unlike tradwives, Pearl Davis not only encourages women to subjugate themselves to their male counterparts, but utilizes hostility to advocate for traditional gender roles. Any woman that fails to meet her supposed beauty and purity-centric standards is deemed a “whore” or “fake.” Her language, while not necessarily violent, is intentionally mainstream to reach a vast audience; however, her content’s misogynistic underpinnings has the propensity to appeal to communities purporting more aggressive anti-female narratives. Analysis of the demographics of Davis’ YouTube channel indicate that her audience skews heavily male. Through social listening tool Netbase, we found that roughly 85% of her audience is male, while only 15% is female.
Representative examples of content from some ‘red-pilled’ female content creators:
Davis is not the only female influencer creating misogynist content - though she remains the most popular one. Twitter personality Top Girl Keiko (her now-deleted account is still available to view on the internet archive) was often reshared by Andrew Tate and she is suspected to have had a personal relationship with him. Sameera Khan, a former reporter at RT, equally has garnered traction for defending extreme ideas from the manosphere, often linking it to her Muslim upbringing. Layah Heilpern has raked up 622.6k followers on X and 435k subscribers on YouTube, defending manosphere concepts, conversing with Pick-Up Artists (PUAs) such as Myron Gaines on her YouTube channel, and ridiculing women she speaks to in street interviews.
The form of this misogynist content has transformed and evolved; professional audio studios for podcasts are set up by these influencers, high-quality videos are shot and edited, and behind seemingly natural street activism hides careful planning and manipulation of footage to align with ideological intent. It is this increasing sophistication of seemingly simple content that may prove especially effective in swaying people in favor of misogynist content.
Speculating on the Why
Now, undoubtedly, as you have been reading this piece, your mind wandered to the question that prompted us to write this piece in the first place: Why do women decide to build an entire online persona on their dislike of women that do not fit into the prescribed standards of misogynists? The following scenarios outline potential motivations for the aforementioned.
Scenario 1: Anti-women female influencers are merely opportunistic
Patriarchal bargains and competition
In Deniz Kandiyoti’s Bargaining with Patriarchy (1988), she lays out the different, culturally-differentiated ways women strategize to gain security, safety, and authority within patriarchal society. In a quid pro quo that leaves sex-based oppression intact, the woman receives a desired position in exchange for any type of submission to men. Having bargained with the patriarchy, the woman has carved out an optimized, favorable place in the hierarchy for herself while leaving the system intact. Within the context of a reappreciation of traditional gender roles, a growing contempt for women's sexual liberation, and an increased exposure to misogynist content from the manosphere, some of these female influencers may be engaging in patriarchal bargaining. Whilst humiliating ‘modern women’ and arguing for a rollback of civil liberties for women, they are carving out a privileged role in the patriarchal hierarchy and hope to be respected and desired by men - entirely defining themselves in opposition to ‘other, modern girls’. In a contemporary context, these influencers have found a commercial gap in a space traditionally occupied by men – they provide the feminine counterpart to toxic masculinity. That is, instead of turning away from anti-feminist, often virulently patriarchal narratives, these women double down on them to attain digital relevance. The rise of platforms like TikTok enable these women to serve as unique additions to an online ecosystem that amplifies extreme content. For the frequent internet user reading this, female content creators espousing extreme misogynist ideas may be simply ‘pick-me girls.’
In this capacity, we must likewise consider whether these misogynistic influencers are suppressed by the likes of Andrew Tate while contemporaneously espousing his rhetoric. Cultivating expectations for ‘high-value’ women, criticizing female sexuality, and emphasizing female submission to hyper-masculinity, are prominent themes among male and female misogynist-influencers alike.
Pearl Davis describes a high-value woman
Can these female influencers be certain that male misogynists deem them to be so-called ‘high value’ women? Which women are truly exempt from patriarchal criticism? This does not discount the severity with which individuals like Davis and Khan weaponize narratives to harm other women – rather, it calls us to consider whether they could be considered victims amid a broader system replete with pressure to subscribe to misogynistic ideals.
Self-justification and self-validation
Some have suggested that the extreme misogynist tenets held and promoted by Pearl Davis is her attempt at justifying and giving perspective to her own life experiences. This could very well be the experience of others like Sameera Khan who uses her upbringing by her own conservative Muslim father to defend Andrew Tate on her X platform. However, as this is deeply personal and cannot be corroborated, we can neither confirm nor reject this as part of the reason why some female influencers decide to build a brand around extreme misogyny.
Scenario 2: Anti-women female influencers are committed to gaining political power — and often practice feminism in the process
Cultivating a Counter-Culture: The Attention Economy
It pays to be a successful content creator online. Even with the frequent crackdowns by social media and video sharing platforms on content that violates terms of service, misogynist influencers have cashed in on these platforms with their outrageous, clickbait-y content. Take a look, for example, at these YouTube video thumbnails and titles.
As social media platforms are crowded, content creators need to optimize their content to be picked up by the algorithm and then be engaged with by an audience to gain revenue. The steady escalation in extremity and explicitness of misogynist content by some of these content creators point towards the reality of these attention economics: attention is a scarce resource to compete for and it is the resource that eventually translates to money for content creators.
Moreover, these creators’ affiliation with prominent far-right personalities imply their efforts to garner some sort of political recognition. Despite algorithmic competition, the sheer speed at which content travels across social media platforms carves a feasible entry-way for influencers to receive mainstream attention, even if their content resonates strongly among a minute subset of users. This shifting of ‘alternative’ ideas into the ‘conventional’ follows a greater trend of subverting methodologies typically utilized by progressive influencers to push conservative ideals forward. In other words, influencers like Pearl Davis seek to cultivate a counter-culture of sorts, serving as a foil to more classically liberal, feminist activists, much like popular male members of the conservative right-wing digital ecosystem (ex. Ben Shapiro).
By collaborating with and sharing information from well-known right-wing, androcentric influencers, these female misogynistic influencers seek to advance their political presence on a global scale; they are opportunistic amid patriarchal structures, yet calculated in their intent to accumulate control. What ensues on social media platforms is a cacophony of misogynistic messaging in which not only the most ‘viewable’ influencers rise to the top financially, but similarly gain media acknowledgment amid a highly volatile political climate.
What constitutes a feminist practice?
Through condemnations of the ‘woke feminist’ these influencers ultimately capitalize on the feminist practices they seemingly abhor. The opportunity to speak freely on platforms of their choice highlights the ways in which feminism benefits the very individuals praying for its downfall. In this sense, a strange dichotomy develops in which misogyny is king, yet feminism, (or rather, its practices) is the enabler. One could argue that in their own way, Pearl Davis, Sameera Khan, and Layah Helipern exemplify and practice a subverted version of feminism by declaring themselves anti-feminist. Feminism allows women to select what they want to do and how they wish to present themselves – including occupying more supposed traditional gender roles. Conversely however, it should be noted that their judgment and violent critique of other womens’ choices is inherently anti-feminist in thought and practice; that is, misogynistic female influencers choose to enact feminist principles when convenient for their platforms. Whether these influencers are aware of their subscription to feminist ideals in spite of their vitriol against it, is uncertain. Nonetheless, this contradiction challenges assumptions of that which we regard as female liberation and the freedom to exist fully under a patriarchal society.
Can we truly assume that women are destined to support other women within patriarchal normativity? If all women are subject to sexism, how can they not uplift one another? Female misogyny flips this concept on its head and is indicative of the challenges that confront women across all levels of society. In an environment with so few seats at the table for women, to emerge at the top of the figurative social food-chain requires separation from the pack; in other words, if you can’t beat the misogynists, join them. While the influencers analyzed throughout this piece ostensibly fall into this category, a variety of anti-feminist, yet not necessarily women-hating influencers may not. Some may purport conservative ideology but do so through a supportive lens rather than a discriminatory one. Regardless, both versions occupy similar standpoints by perpetuating sexism and enforcing acquiescence to masculinity. While some may not explicitly disparage women, they fail to adequately advocate for and support those victimized by the manosphere and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.
To combat misogynistic messaging, media sites must contend not only with violent misogynistic narratives, but should also consider its vast audience and capacity for real-world resonance. Finding algorithmic success on social media is further simplified due to the emergence of platforms deploying short-form content, including, but not limited to TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels. The accessibility and simplicity of content appeals not only to the user, but allows for creators to diversify the demographics they reach. These factors will continue to bolster the impact female misogynistic influencers have within the manosphere and likely pave the way for future creators to amass quick online success. While #justpearlythings, for example, might resemble ‘fringe’ content for some, its ever-expanding presence and infiltration into classically conservative content poses a concerning cocktail brimming with hatred, political motivation, and viewer engagement. Feminist practices notwithstanding, this form of extreme, highly misogynistic content perpetuated by women is not going anywhere – in fact, its efforts to sow social discord have only just begun.
This piece is a featured in our Diverting Hate September Bi-Annual Report - read the full report here.
Perliger, A., Stevens, C., and Leidig, E. (2023, January 26) Mapping the Ideological Landscape of Extreme Misogyny. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT).
Do Couto, S. (2023, February 2) Femcels: Inside the enigmatic subculture of involuntary celibate women. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/9449316/femcel-definition-social-media-sex-gender-incels/
Account: Involuntary Celibate (Incels.is) (2023) Femcels don't exist, bro.