Is This Crazy Anti-Feminist Rumor the Platonic Ideal of the Men’s-Rights Internet?

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2014 Tribeca Film Festival - The Disruptive Innovation Awards
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There are many people on the internet who vocally oppose feminism, and it would be impossible — and, from a mental-health standpoint, unwise — to pay attention to them all. Since online anti-feminism is a big, roiling, loosely affiliated movement consisting of overlapping circles of Gamergaters, libertarian techbros, far-right men’s-right activists, and all sorts of other denizens who are really, really upset that women have so much power (insert air quotes) in today’s world, there’s a lot going on there, and it’s easiest to just tune out most of it.

But sometimes, a conspiracy theory bubbles forth from this ooze that’s too perfect to ignore — too wonderful an example of the flamboyant pathologies that undergird anti-feminism. One such conspiracy theory is racing across the internet right this moment, and it is the Platonic ideal of manospheric derangement.

Yesterday, Eric S. Raymond, a software developer and open-source software advocate, published an explosive allegation on his blog: a recently disbanded group called the Ada Initiative, which advertises itself as helping make tech more welcoming for women, had been attempting to entrap men by using “honey pots” to seduce them and then accuse them of rape. “The MO was to get alone with the target, and then immediately after cry ‘attempted sexual assault,” wrote Raymond’s source, an IRC correspondent he doesn’t name but who he says has been “both well-informed and completely trustworthy in the past.”

Worst of all, these evil feminists have been gunning for a high-profile target: Linus Torvalds, the tech-hero founder of Linux. “Linus hasn’t spoken out about this; I can think of several plausible and good reasons for that,” writes Raymond. “And the Ada Initiative shut down earlier this year. Nevertheless, this report is consistent with reports of SJW [social-justice-warrior, a derogatory term used frequently in anti-feminist writing] dezinformatsiya tactics from elsewhere and I think it would be safest to assume that they are being replicated by other women-in-tech groups.”

By most standards, this is a bit too explosive — or crazy, to be less diplomatic about it — a claim to make based on a brief IRC chat with an unnamed correspondent, but this didn’t stop Raymond from hitting publish. And once he did, his post wriggled its way through the anti-feminist web’s intestinal tract: First, Breitbart Tech’s Allum Bokhari — the site’s supposed token liberal — wrote it up. “If true,” he tutted, “these claims will rock the world of software development, not to mention the wider tech community, which is suffering under the yoke of diversity campaigners levelling bogus charges of sexism at companies and individuals and pestering companies to improve their diversity credentials.” If true, indeed!

The peristaltic movement of the misogynist web finally nudged the story to its inevitable destination: Someone posted Bokhari’s story to KotakuInAction, Gamergate’s subreddit, with the declarative headline: “SJWs attempting to frame Linus (of Linux Fame) for Sexual Assault.” Naturally, it climbed to near the top of the site.

Why, you might ask, has such a dumb, thinly sourced thing gone so viral? Because it’s basically the perfect rumor of this subgenre, in that it ticks off just about every wild-eyed belief endemic to online anti-feminism. To wit, this rumor has three delicious nuggets that the average anti-feminist would find hard to resist:

1. It provides support for the belief that women are constantly manufacturing rape allegations. This is a cornerstone of just about every online anti-feminist community: Women are constantly pretending they got raped — as revenge against lovers who jilted them, to enjoy the attention SJW “allies” will lavish on them, or for various other, equally nefarious reasons. This is a fundamental truth of the world, and the rest of us are suckers for having fallen for this whole “rape is a serious problem” nonsense. For the Gamergaters and Breitbart readers of the world, the idea of a group of feminists getting together to premeditate a fake-rape entrapment scheme is too sane not to believe.

2. It shows that, actually, it’s SJWs who are hurting women in male-dominated occupations. Another important belief of the tech-oriented subset of the anti-feminist crowd is that SJWs couldn’t care less about actual, real-life women in STEM fields. They’re really just in it for the attention, the sense of self-righteousness, and for the money that the most popular SJWs can get from speaking fees, Patreon support, or whatever else. And their greed is a shame — a damn shame! — because all their scare-mongering over sexual harassment and rape actually does is hurt the selfsame women SJWs are purporting to want to help. In reality, it’s the people who can see through feminism’s evil smoke and mirrors who really want to help women in STEM by simply letting them rise based on their own merits, rather than stymieing and confusing them with coddling, scare-mongering, or both. It’s basically “Democrats are the real racists for supporting affirmative action,” but for tech.

The second and third sentences of Raymond’s blog post, in which he immediately imparts to his readers the practical ramifications of the bombshell he’s about to drop, nails this idea in perfect-10 fashion: “The short version is: if you are any kind of open-source leader or senior figure who is male, do not be alone with any female, ever, at a technical conference. Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a ‘women in tech’ advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp.” A redditor takes things to their natural conclusion in one of the top-rated comments on KiA: “The outcome of this SJW campaign is that it’s actively hurting women in tech. If you can’t mentor them one-on-one without fearing false sexual harassment charges, then women are losing opportunities that male peers have.”

In other words: Thanks, SJWs — Eric Raymond and countless other generous men wanted to mentor women, and you made it impossible.

3. It provides yet further evidence that behind even anodyne-seeming feminist organizations lie shadowy conspiracies and evil intentions. Online anti-feminists, particularly Gamergaters, love conspiracy theories. They are the bread and butter of KiA and other like-minded communities. The standards for evidence in these communities are notoriously low, and the prevailing paranoia and resentment give rise to doozy after doozy — anyone with explicitly feminist views is likely part of something bigger and darker. This is a movement that took Anita Sarkeesian — someone whose crime was making videos expressing the opinion that video games don’t always depict women well — and turned her into a radical feminist kingpin of almost limitless power and malevolence.

In this case, the target of tin-foil-hattery is the Ada Initiative, an organization with pretty straightforward and, to most normal people, noncontroversial goals: be more sensitive to the ways tech can be unwelcoming for women. It is a giant leap from these goals to “They are probably trying to frame men for rape,” but if you’re an angry online anti-feminist — or someone who profits off their clicks — it’s a depressingly easy one to make.