Men going their own way: the rise of a toxic male separatist movement

‘There has been an awakening … changing the world … one man at a time.” These are the dramatic words that appear when you visit mgtow.com. In a video that looks a lot like an action-movie trailer, the words are soon followed by five more that appear to smash through the screen, smouldering fiery red: “Men … going … their … own way.”

If you stumbled across this website and had never heard of “men going their own way” (MGTOW) before, you would probably assume this was a tiny, extreme movement. But you would be only half right.

The views of MGTOW are indeed unorthodox, even within the sprawling web of groups, lifestyles and cults known as the “manosphere”, where women-haters mobilise against a supposed gynocratic conspiracy. While incels plot violent revenge on women, and pickup artists (PUAs) deploy predatory tactics to “game” women into having sex with them, the men of the MGTOW attempt to eschew relationships with women altogether. They are, literally, going their own way. Far, far away from any women. At all.

Although some MGTOW maintain platonic relationships with women and others have one-night stands or visit sex workers, many prefer to abstain from sex, a process referred to as “going monk”. This is too much for some members of the wider manosphere. The blogger Matt Forney, notorious for posts such as “Why fat girls don’t deserve to be loved” and “The necessity of domestic violence”, wrote that “men going their own way is no way for men to go” and mocked MGTOW as “a cult for lonely virgins”.

But this isn’t an obscure internet cul-de-sac; mgtow.com alone has almost 33,000 members. Its forums (“for men only”) contain conversations on more than 50,000 topics, with more than 790,000 replies, which range from advice on divorcing as cheaply as possible to lurid stories about women who have found particularly inventive ways to murder their husbands. The site also lists 25 video channels; between them, these have more than 730,000 followers, and their videos have been viewed a total of 130m times.

Over on YouTube, one of the best-known MGTOW vloggers, who goes by the name of Sandman, has racked up more 90m views for videos with titles ranging from “Smart men don’t get married” to “Criticise her and she will destroy your career”.

The MGTOW philosophy is elaborately laid out on the mgtow.com website, which summarises it as “a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else”. Drawing on snippets of quotes and newspaper clippings, the site claims that MGTOW dates back to great men, including Schopenhauer, Beethoven, Galileo and “even Jesus Christ”.

Women are essentially portrayed as parasites riding on the coattails of men, who have, throughout history, been responsible for “far greater miracles of science, discovery and human endeavour”. By shaking women off, it is explained, men will be free to pursue ever higher achievements.

“I love this! I feel like I found the secret to the universe,” a user comments in mgtow.com’s testimonials section. Another writes that his city has become so “ultra-feminised” that things are “mind-blowingly bad for men here, especially straight white men”.

Elsewhere, philosophy and opinion are mixed with a heavy dose of often deeply misogynistic advice, such as this from the FAQs section of a different MGTOW website: “My girlfriend is pregnant. What do I do?” “Whatever you do, do NOT invite her into the hot tub with champagne to ‘celebrate’. This can cause a miscarriage and she could lose the baby! Repeat: You should not under any circumstances do that … as quickly as possible.”

It is impossible to know how seriously a comment like this is meant. But whether the original writer intended simply to shock or entertain, it is also impossible to know how it might be interpreted.

MGTOW (pronounced “mig-tau” by adherents) are unlikely to meet in person, instead sharing their techniques, successes and failures online. Throughout the manosphere, it is common to see members expressing paranoia about “normies” who could be out to expose them, often leading to forum users accusing each other of being moles or spies. Nowhere is this fear more prevalent than among MGTOW, with any suggestion of meeting in real life usually receiving a swift and scornful rebuttal.

Once you have “taken the red pill” (ie, opened your eyes to the “reality” that, as a man, the whole world is stacked against you) there are four main levels of MGTOW, according to many websites. Level one involves rejecting long-term relationships, while level two extends this to short-term relationships. Level three requires economic disengagement (reducing taxation as far as possible, in order to avoid paying towards the support of other groups, from “elite alphas” to “single mothers”). As one MGTOW manifesto puts it, as well as fighting to “instil masculinity in men”, MGTOW must “work toward limited government”.

Level four is described as “social rejection”. “The MGTOW drops out of society altogether,” says the MGTOW blogger the Observer Watches. “For all intents and purposes, he does not exist. A urbanite might keep to his own apartment, while someone further out may simply head into the wilderness and go off-grid.”

Those who achieve this ultimate isolation are known as “ghosts” and treated as legends within the community. But most MGTOW seem happy hovering somewhere around level two. Discussions tend to centre on classic manosphere complaints such as the evils of women and misandry (hatred of men). Most of all, they focus on the dangers of interacting with women.

“There is a lot of risk,” David Sherratt, an 18-year-old Cardiff University student and then dedicated member of the MGTOW community, noted in 2015. “We do not know how many false accusations there are. They could be the majority or they could be the minority.” The implication was that there are so many women ready to lie about rape that any contact with them is simply too dangerous to risk. In reality, a man in the UK is 230 times more likely to be raped himself than falsely accused of rape.

In this, MGTOW resemble men’s rights activists (MRAs) more than incels or PUAs. Both groups believe that women pose an immediate threat to all men. MRAs believe that women are so unfaithful and untruthful that they often force men to raise other men’s children, thus financially “cuckolding” them. MGTOW believe that women are extremely likely to make false accusations of sexual or domestic violence, in order to damage men socially, steal their money or even have them jailed.

Sherratt also went on to cite a list of concerns that would resonate particularly closely with MRAs, including: “Men are supposed to pay for dates and bow down to women … anything less than worship is hate” and: “When it comes to marriage, the system is so stacked against men, it does not make sense.” MGTOW and MRAs alike see divorce as deeply one-sided, allowing women to rob innocent men of money, property and, in some cases, children.

Unable to stop thinking about Sherratt, I tracked him down to ask about his experience of becoming involved in the community. Now 22, Sherratt is an engineering apprentice and says he has left MGTOW and other manosphere groups behind. At first, he says, they were “legitimately fun … I had lots of friends, which was new to me, lots of fans and positive reinforcement. As we started to grow and build, it honestly felt like we were eventually going to start making some positive change. It wasn’t just a community, but a new, growing movement that I got into ‘before it was cool’, so, in a way, I felt like I was part of something progressive.”

Sherratt could not, however, claim to be a pioneer. It is generally accepted within the MGTOW community that the movement was started in the mid-00s by two men going by the pseudonyms Solaris (an Australian) and Ragnar (a Scandinavian, who describes himself as “an old guy” and a former pilot), both of whom had been previously active in what they described as the “online men’s movement”. “A sense of alienation is where this whole thing starts,” Solaris claimed in a 2012 YouTube interview. “You realise, simply because you’re a man, that you are considered a legitimate target for being the butt of jokes or being considered a class enemy.”

As with many areas of the manosphere, it is difficult to know where most users of MGTOW forums and communities are based, though the majority communicate in English, and comments and user names suggest that the US, Canada and the UK are common locations. An mgtow.com post entitled Hello From the UK draws enthusiastic replies from “fellow Brits”, who claim to be writing from areas including the Midlands, Sussex and Salford. They revel in their shared ideology as much as their shared location, heartily agreeing with the participant’s opening salvo: “Fucking women, they are all snakes with tits.”

There is also a website called British MGTOW, which rails against what it describes as the “Nazi-like behaviour” of the British state in silencing and censoring non-PC views, claiming: “The UK is sick and it needs healing. The laws are in desperate need of a revamp but all I see around me are docile willing men led to the slaughter.”

It is, one imagines, very difficult for a man to release himself completely from the toxic impact of women while entangled within a community feverishly obsessed with, well, women. This was apparent even to the teenage Sherratt, who says: “I understood the scepticism of marriage and stuff, but, for men who were talking about trying to live lives that didn’t centre around women, they were talking about them an awful lot.” When he tried to voice his disagreements with various elements of MGTOW ideology, he was accused of being “mind-controlled by a girl”. Soon afterwards, he left the community, having met a girl who (rather unsurprisingly) shared his criticisms. “So I guess the joke’s on them,” he muses.

It is easy to write off MGTOW as a weird group of goofy celibates. Yet it has, in some ways, quietly penetrated mainstream culture more successfully than any other segment of the manosphere.

In the immediate wake of the #MeToo movement, which saw millions of women worldwide standing up to sexual harassment and assault by sharing their own stories, there was a swift and severe backlash. Critics claimed that the movement was a pitchfork mob: a “witch-hunt” designed to topple men from their jobs and lives, without so much as an attempt at due process. Some commentators settled for hounding women who had dared to share their stories, or denigrating the movement as a whole. But gradually another response emerged, borrowing its ideology directly from MGTOW: avoiding women at all costs.

It started with rumours: women reporting that men in their offices had suddenly started declining meetings with them or were insisting on leaving the door open. A human resources consultant reported executives telling her that they would no longer get into an elevator alone with a woman. Suddenly, it began to snowball – story after story of men abruptly cancelling business lunches or avoiding women they had previously mentored.

In the same way that the MGTOW movement turns the structural oppression of women on its head, claiming men are the true victims of gender bias, this spate of mainstream examples sought to cast men as the real victims of the #MeToo movement. Men, it argued, had little choice but to protect themselves from the all-powerful cabal of rampaging, vindictive women making false accusations. Even if the solution was as extreme as total isolation.

An orthopaedic surgeon in Chicago told the New York Times that he had ceased ever to be alone with female colleagues, saying: ‘I’m very cautious about it because my livelihood is on the line … If someone in your hospital says you had inappropriate contact with this woman, you get suspended for an investigation, and your life is over. Does that ever leave you?” His apparent implication that such accusations are simply random, based on no wrongdoing whatsoever, went unchallenged in the piece.

The woman-shunning has even penetrated as far as the White House, where the vice-president, Mike Pence, spawned what is now known as the Pence Rule after he remarked that he would never eat a meal alone with a woman who is not his wife.

Reporting on such an idea might have once been seen as inflammatory or biased, requiring careful and robust presentation of opposing arguments. But, as soon as it was attached to Pence, it became respectable fodder for widespread coverage. “THINK,” tweeted Sebastian Gorka, a former deputy assistant to Donald Trump. “If Weinstein had obeyed @VP Pence’s rules for meeting with the opposite sex, none of those poor women would ever have been abused.” Of course, if Weinstein hadn’t been an abusive predator, the same outcome could have been achieved, too. Just a thought.

Before long, a book had been published to spread the word. As the Amazon listing for The Pence Principle, by Randall Bentwick, puts it: “Every man in America could stand to learn a lesson or two from our vice-president. Be smart … Defend yourself, your career, your family and your life from the false accusations of women today and into the future.”

This did not go unnoticed by the MGTOW, whose celebrations were evident in gloating Reddit threads (“Why feminists fear the Mike Pence Rule”) and YouTube videos (“We invented the Pence Rule”). Nor does it remain a niche idea: a 2019 study found that 27% of American men now avoid one-on-one meetings with female colleagues. So the ideas we might think of as the shadowy, ridiculous concerns of the extreme internet fringes are actually being waved under our very noses from the White House front lawn.