He’ll ask to play devil’s advocate before spouting anti-abortion rhetoric. He’ll shame sex work without acknowledging that capitalism is a leading cause of it. And he’ll definitely talk over every woman in the room.
He is the leftist man. A misogynist disguised as a progressive, ready to patronize women at any given opportunity.
Only 18% of young men claim to be feminists. Yet 56% of 18-24-year-olds voted Labour in the last UK general election.
This inconsistency is concerning. Aligning yourself with the left means your respect for women should be innate. After all, feminism is in the fabric of leftist history. In 1908, female socialists organized a mass demonstration for equal suffrage in New York; the anniversary continues to be recognized as International Women’s Day. Similarly, when the American Communist party was founded in 1919 women were amongst its early leaders.
Even beyond history, the left and women’s rights consistently overlap. Author Mikki Kendall has pointed out that issues such as affordable housing, food deserts, and police brutality all affect women in a unique way. These battles aren’t framed as gendered in broader leftist politics, but women need to be at the forefront of their advocacy.
For some leftist men, respecting women still seems to be an impossible task. These men are far from the cartoonishly regressive chauvinists which feminism rejects. They perform a self-awareness toward misogyny while simultaneously referring to their ex-girlfriends as “crazy,” failing to hold their friends accountable for sexual assault, and getting defensive when they’re asked to stop making rape jokes.
The reality that leftist men can also be misogynists is well-established. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to explain.
At the root of the problem is social media. It’s groundless to talk about young people without addressing their reliance on virtual spaces. Up to 49% of young people have received their news from Instagram alone since March.
Amidst the genuinely useful information online is a host of backward ideology. On YouTube, you simply have to search “feminist” to be bombarded with dozens of “feminists being owned” compilations. In these compilations, you’ll find that women are represented in a very specific way: they’re unintelligent, their ideas are illogical, and most importantly, they’re uptight. By patriarchal standards, these women aren’t likable.
What’s alarming is that this type of content appears far more consistently than any genuinely helpful videos in YouTube’s search results. Even if you do click on feminist creators, the website’s algorithm still displays Ben Shapiro’s take on women’s rights in the suggested videos bar. Those who depend on YouTube to educate themselves on feminism counterproductively leave the platform hating women instead.
Other platforms aren’t immune to this trend. In fact, Reddit is the epicenter of misogyny. Most feminists associate the discussion site with incels and men’s rights activists, as writer Laura Bates has recently vetted the platform for its link to mass shootings orchestrated by white men.
Reddit’s misogyny problem isn’t isolated to the far-right. r/LeftWingMaleAdvocates, a forum with 5,000 members, openly champions sexist ideas from the “left-wing perspective.” One post entitled “How the hell do men find any will to live?” shows how the forum wields common rebuttals against feminism to excuse its misogyny.
The writer claims that not all men (sigh) are like Jeff Bezos, and that women criticizing men has made him “miserable.” Obviously, very few men are like multibillionaire Jeff Bezos. But not being responsible for severe workers’ rights breaches doesn’t mean you can’t uphold oppression on a smaller scale.
The post also blames women for deteriorating male mental health. While male mental health is an undeniably serious issue, and one which must be tackled, weaponizing it so you can be openly sexist isn’t productive. Although the writer may disagree, feminism is a more valuable approach as it fights to dismantle toxic masculinity.
On Reddit specifically, leftist men still hate women because they overlook how misogyny and capitalism interact. Sexism isn’t considered to be a leftist problem, though issues like the gender wage gap prove it very much is.
Twitter tells a similar story. Analytics show that all genders engage with leftist tweets equally. But this pattern is M.I.A in tweets about sex work.
This is distressing, as the sex industry is an inherently left-wing issue. Sex-workers-turned-authors Molly Smith and Juno Mac say capitalism is its key driver and that harsh border controls have boosted sex-trafficking figures. But this message is ignored by men of the left, who still treat OnlyFans (a content subscription service popular amongst adult industries) like an object of ridicule on Twitter rather than a way for sex workers to—aptly—determine their own working conditions.
In a recent tweet, one OnlyFans model said, “If leftist men are sooo against sex work because it wouldn’t exist under socialism why do they keep subscribing to my OnlyFans answer me that.”
Disguising their hatred for sex workers as socialism is just another example of how the male left gets away with its rampant sexism.
The problem goes far beyond social media, though. In any context, the idea that by not saying something offensive, a man has a free pass to demean women is routine. Take Russell Brand’s opinions on “WAP.” He slated the Tories, yet later hounded Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B for reclaiming their sexuality. Somehow, Brand believed that by having left-led morals in one respect, his misogynoir was lessened in another.
Yet this facet of leftist misogyny isn’t unique to celebrities. One woman I spoke to for this piece recalled living with her ex-flatmate, noting, “He claimed to be liberal but made countless sexist jokes with the caveat of ‘I respect women, so it’s okay for me to say these things.’”
Many leftist men tell tired “women in the kitchen” jokes with the excuse of irony. No matter how ironic this kind of humor may be, though, misogyny is still insidious. If you’re on the more privileged side of the joke you’re making, it’s not your joke to make. Irony only allows men to avoid accountability.
This same irony also characterizes the “dirtbag left,” which has been thrusted into the mainstream by podcasts Chapo Trap House and Cum Town.
CTH, hosted by four men (Will Menaker, Felix Biderman, Virgil Texas, and Matt Christman) and one woman (Amber A’Lee Frost), was a point of controversy in 2017 when Menaker and Christman posed beside serial sex offender Bill Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The pair emphasized that the photo was a joke, but it’s debatable how a joke made at the expense of female sexual assault victims is funny.
In an eerily similar chain of events, episode 73 of Cum Town saw co-host Nick Mullen say, “If you’re listening, Scarlett Johansson, go fuck yourself—we’re going to comment on your body Weinstein style, baby.”
The dirtbag left is unfazed by women’s issues because they’re not considered a leftist fight. There’s a very real separation between feminism and most other progressive factions, despite how often they overlap.
In general, leftist politics has become more popular in the past year. People across the world have demanded healthcare workers be paid more, and the UK’s Tory government has been at the heart of public spite. But as politics moves further along the spectrum, women are being left behind. The framing of what counts as a feminist issue needs to be changed for leftist men to truly value women.
By Sarah Bennett
Illustration by Yoo Young Chun
Incredible! I’ve noticed the very same sentiment in the LGBTQ community, among gay men. Just because you are progressive does not mean you cannot be misogynistic.