The New York Times devoted coveted space on the front page of its Sunday edition to an article chock full of the unchecked extreme opinions of men’s rights activists and, in some cases, known harassers.
The September 24 front-page piece -- headlined “As Inequality Roils Tech World, A Group Wants More Say: Men” -- featured photos of men’s rights poster boy James Damore, who was fired from Google last month after posting an internal memo arguing that innate biological differences were to blame for a lack of female representation in the tech industry. The 1,600-word Times article also included quotes from sources overwhelmingly associated with the extremist “men’s rights activist” (MRA) movement in some capacity. Of the 10 people quoted in the article, all but three were individuals associated with some faction within the men’s rights activist (MRA) community or who employed classic MRA rhetoric in their remarks. The writer reached out to three additional tech insiders who had expressed some agreement with Damore; two provided vague statements covering for their initial remarks (paraphrased in print, without challenge) and a third declined to comment.
The article did not feature a single comment from any of the numerous women who have been targeted, harassed, or categorically dismissed by members of the various subgroups that constitute the “manosphere” or men’s rights community (MRAs, Men Going Their Own Way, Gamergaters, Proud Boys, pick-up artists, incels, and all the anonymous Internet communities that follow them). Seemingly, Sunday’s article was instead a weak attempt to offer a false balance; it gave unchallenged voice to one extreme side of a debate -- the side that has historically enjoyed more power and advantage than any other group, and that doesn’t believe in the full humanity of the other. (So not really a “debate,” either.)
The tech industry has long been a nexus of misogyny and sexism. Its culture -- passively or actively -- certainly seems to perpetuate structural inequalities and permit harassment in an industry that is disproportionately male across all levels. And some of its leaders, as the Times briefly noted and has reported extensively in the past, have stepped down after reports of sexual harassment.
The tech industry’s primary playground, anonymous online forums, enabled early MRAs like Paul Elam, who is quoted in the article, to publish the personal information of female criminals and women who allegedly made false rape accusations on a site called register-her.com. More recently, such activity has morphed into less targeted but equally personal and dangerous online threats against women simply for being outspoken or for daring to participate in tech production of any kind.
Online forums continue to serve as the primary way for MRA groups to organize themselves; the rhetoric and in-group references from these forums connect splintered subgroups within the MRA community and their leaders, from the father of the men’s rights movement, Warren Farrell, and Elam to the heroes of the modern far-right, like James Damore (all quoted in the Times). Online community members have used this common language as they follow professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos’ lead in harassing -- and even issuing death threats against -- female video game developers. The shared terminology also shows up in the more overtly violent actions of mass shooter Elliot Rodger, far-right extremist James Jackson, and figures in the white nationalist space.
The women MRA leaders like Elam and their fractured followers have attacked, however, were excluded from the Times’ interviews, instead left to comment on the piece from Twitter. Writer Jessica Valenti pointed out that the Times article is exactly what MRAs want: “Making violent misogyny seem like it’s just the flip side of feminism.” Valenti singled out the Times’ inclusion of Elam specifically, sharing that she had been added to Elam’s “registry” and subsequently received threats that caused her to flee her home in fear, with her 1-year-old “in tow.” Video game developer Zoë Quinn, the target of the violently misogynist Gamergate harassment campaign, called out the imbalance of voices included in the piece, writing, “Every time you highlight an asshole who is part of the problem try and highlight three people or more who are part of the solution.”
The violence and personal threats encouraged by MRA groups are essential to any story about Silicon Valley and how women can exist in that space. To leave out this critical facet when writing about men’s rights activism is to elevate its essential goal of marginalizing women, by making them one side of a story that supposedly has two equal components. It is to decide that extremists deserve the chance to market their heinous beliefs without challenge or regard for the dark truth about what those beliefs mean for real people. And The New York Times seems to think such reporting is not only justified, but important enough for the front page.