Another day, another red-pill outrage online. The target of the manosphere’s ire this time is Australian actor Margot Robbie, who plays the lead in the upcoming film “Barbie.”
The manosphere, the network of websites, blogs and social media discussions led by men who reject feminism and promote their understanding of masculinity, has another strong and equally telling opinion about Robbie. She is barely average looking, or “mid,” the term for women who obtain a ranking of six out of 10 at most, the men have declared. One tweet stated that the actor was cast because she is “not attractive enough to alienate a female audience.” Another posted a (lovely) picture of her without makeup, stating she was a “6 at best. Definitely mid.” Their unsolicited opining about Robbie’s appearance quickly went viral, and within hours Robbie was not only Twitter’s number one trending topic, but also Google searches for her jumped to the top 10 globally. While beauty is indeed subjective, Robbie objectively falls into the category of conventionally attractive people.
The discussion started, in pure manosphere fashion, with — wait for it — a complaint about women. Why were modern women so average, the men pondered. All the actors in the ’80s and ’90s were more attractive. Where are all the 10 out of 10s? Counter tweets and memes followed, yet the critique-resistant manosphere persisted. Robbie is “mid,” and men were once again being judged for exercising their basic right to rank women’s physical appearance and voice an opinion. Then things spiraled into the abyss of social media tit for tat. The men who mocked the appearance of Robbie were themselves mocked for their looks, and the whole affair turned into an ugly race to the bottom: Who gets to shame whose face and body faster and more effectively, dunking on profile pictures and name calling. “Maybe just ignore the trolls,” one tweet stated — as if embodying the mandatory but lone voice of reason that we so often come upon on social media.
Of course, being provocative and edgy can get you places on Twitter, but the war on Robbie is multilayered. It is neither an isolated incident nor strictly about her appearance but reflects another symptom of the manosphere’s boldness, entitlement and increasingly thin skin.
One of the earliest “teachings” of the manosphere, as committed as it believes itself to be in self-improvement, come from the “gurus” who believe that they’ve cracked the code to get into a woman’s head. Their warped logic goes like this: If a man feels that a woman he desires may not find him appealing, then perhaps he can employ his devious genius by using reverse psychology to make her feel “average looking,” thus “triggering her insecurities about her looks” so that she throws caution to the wind and submits to the oil barrel that she had previously ignored, if only to gain his approval.
However, the recent anger directed toward women seems to go above and beyond past trolling. Nowadays, the manosphere has apparently decided, beauty is well defined (by them), and all women must exert effort to look appealing for the (unsolicited) ranking system of the self-appointed online judges. Makeup must be simple and natural, the manosphere has determined, and hair long and lush. The body, of course, must be skinny. Only these attributes could earn a woman the ranking of 5 or above, but she would have to possess other qualities to break this “mid” ranking. So it goes without saying that when any woman who does not fit this manosphere-set classification ends up winning public appeal, the manosphere has a meltdown. In recent weeks, criticisms of actor Zendeya and rapper Ice Spice also hit trending status as the manosphere stated both women were “below average looking,” yet the world was “forced to call them attractive because of feminism and the war on masculinity and gender norms.”
Last year, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, one of the leading voices in the manosphere, created a stir when he declared with a self-possessed authority that the plus-size model chosen for the cover of Sports Illustrated was “not beautiful” and that “no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”
There is indeed something nauseating about men, many in their 40s and above, making such public statements on the physical appearance of women who never asked for their opinion. The entitlement and self-permitted authority with which they utter their judgments mirror much of their worldview. Everything is a conspiracy against masculinity, especially — gasp — the attempt to “delude” women into believing that they have value outside some incel-inspired opinion of them. This hostile, anti-man, zero-sum world aims to elevate women at the expense of men, the manosphere feels, and that is indeed a sad state of affairs.
Among the saddest ironies of this — and there are many — is that the film has not yet been released, and no one in the manosphere busy vilifying it has even seen it. There is no way to know for sure if the plot deliberately reduces Ken to being Barbie’s male companion with no significant contribution. All the anger and rage were outcomes of speculation and conclusion from the tagline. “She is everything. He is just Ken,” which appeared in one of the early promotional posters for the film. From the interviews and released clips, the film discusses themes of equality with Robbie herself stating that Barbie, as the world knows her, does not represent equality “because Ken is often disregarded,” but in the movie — with what little is known about the plot — Ken is not a minor character. He has his own story arc and addresses his own grievances, whatever they may be. To summarize, the male character in the fictional film is not sidelined. Robbie, 33, has become the bete noire. Not only does she star in a movie about a doll that attacks masculinity, but she is over the age of 28, a favorite grab by the manosphere, which swiftly proclaims that she has “hit the wall.” Perhaps most triggering for them is that Robbie is highly regarded by the general public as one of the most beautiful women in movie history. Ranking the physical appearance of women is a sport the manosphere takes pride in, but Robbie’s appeal is too universal for them to win at it. The actor, who has not engaged with the social media trolls, will most likely endure more online attacks after the film’s release.
If there is any takeaway from grown men fuming over a film about a doll, it is this: The manosphere started with the aim to help men overcome their insecurities in dating and, well, life in general — something anyone can relate to. But it has devolved into a network of angry and petty men, many of them professional adults with degrees, who publicly objectify and hate on women while expressing an unrequited desire for them. Defending masculinity has made the manosphere followers so thin-skinned that a bubblegum aesthetic film and its lead actor is triggering and it ignites another meaningless (not to mention ridiculous) culture war.
The one thing that the manosphere might be right about is this: Some men are indeed not all right. But instead of redressing the rights of men and improving their lives, these lofty goals were derailed, and they got angry about a doll.