Australian Outlook

In this section

Misogyny as Violent Extremism

07 Nov 2018
By Dr David Duriesmith, Luisa Ryan and Dr Shannon Zimmerman
Vigil for Eurydice Dixon. Source: Flickr user retrokatz

Misogynist violence continues to be seen as an individual, private problem when it in fact constitutes a major security issue. Australia is uniquely positioned to act due to its ground-breaking work on gender-based violence prevention.

On Friday, 40-year-old Scott Beierle walked into a yoga studio in Tallahassee and opened fire, killing two before turning the gun on himself. Beierle had a history of violence against women. He had also posted videos on his YouTube channel where he ranted against women, calling them “whores”, accusing them of “treachery” and blaming women who had “wronged” him for his “rebirth” as an anti-women crusader. 

Beierle is just one example of a disturbing increase of violent misogyny. In April Alek Minassian drove a rented van into a crowd of people in Toronto, killing 10 pedestrians, predominantly women. Other recent examples include Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six people and injured 19 at a Quebec mosque, and Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in a Florida high school. All resonate with the ideology of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 in California in 2014, and his 137-page manifesto on his sexual frustration.

A public security issue

Misogyny is not a private issue; it is a direct threat to broader public security. There is an undeniable link between misogyny – hatred of women – and violence. This link is clear to see in domestic violence, which experts say is a way for male abusers to impose and enforce “traditional” gender roles based on ideas of men having control over women. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 1 in 6 women (1.6 million) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner since age 15. This violence is estimated to cost the Australian economy 22 billion dollars annually.

Not only are misogynistic attitudes and ideologies harmful to an entire society, domestic violence is a key correlate of public violence. Recent research in the United States has shown that more than 50% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 were preceded by the murder of a partner, ex-partner or family member. This connection can be seen in Australia with prominent attacks such as the Lindt Café Siege and the January 2017 Melbourne Car attack both being committed by men with records of gender-based violence.

Additionally, violent political misogyny follows the same pattern of dehumanisation and incitement to violence as other violent extremist groups. Male Supremacists, alt-right, fascist and white supremacist circles overlap and reinforce each other’s misogynist ideas. This makes paying serious attention to violent political misogyny even more urgent, as far right discourse is again gaining “legitimate” traction in our society. 

Incel terrorism in Australia 

Made up of mostly young, white men, Incels (a contraction of “involuntary” and “celibate”) see sex as a fundamental right, which “attractive” women owe to men. For example, if no attractive women consents to dating an Incel, they should be forced to do so, potentially through government-devised programs to distribute sexual access to women. 

The Incel movement remains difficult to detect. In contrast to the other anti-feminist groups in Australia, Incels remain invisible because they do not have on-the-ground infrastructure and rarely formally meet. Instead they are commonly self-radicalising and link online through a group of anti-feminist websites commonly referred to as the ‘Manosphere.’ The result is an echo chamber which justifies and amplifies feelings of male entitlement and rage. 

The Manosphere is massive: the subreddit r/Incels had roughly 40,000 members when it was shut down by reddit in 2017 for inciting violence against women. This community encourages despair, desperation and violence: a toxic and terrifying combination. In the words of journalist David Futrelle who charts anti-feminist groups: “Of all the toxic misogynistic groups I monitor on my blog, the Incel subculture is easily the most troubling. It’s a strange and toxic little world that transforms lovelorn men by the thousands into potential terrorists.”

While no research has explored the prevalence of Incel ideology in Australia, there is reason to believe it may be a rising issue. The strength of far-right misogynist groups in Australia, and the tendency of these sorts of groups to facilitate Incel ideology, all indicates that Australia is likely to face increasing threats from Incels in coming years. Other branches of the misogynist far-right have risen rapidly, most recently in the growth of the Lads Society, a series of clubs where white nationalist, anti-feminist men meet to train in weight-lifting and martial arts. 

Last month, Andrew Nolch testified in court that his vandalism of a memorial to Eurydice Dixon, a young comedian who was raped and murdered while walking home from a performance, was a “political statement” against feminism. 

Incel attacks as terror attacks

While Incel violence has not yet been perpetrated on the same scale as other acts of terror in Australia, its ideology has already motivated terrorist attacks overseas and is a serious security threat comparable to the racist and jihadist ideologies that fuel other violent extremist movements. 

However, unlike other forms of violent extremism, Incel attacks may not be immediately defined as terrorism. After Incel attacks the perpetrators have often been branded “lone wolves” suffering from mental illness. These depictions downplay the ideological nature of their violence and distance their actions from other forms of terrorism. As Toula Drimonis in the Huffington Post noted of one perpetrator, his behaviour “had all the hallmarks of terrorism. If he had been indoctrinated by Islamist extremists instead of by a virulently misogynistic Incel group, his would have been considered an open-and-shut case.”

The sympathy for the Incel agenda within some mainstream circles is disturbing. Earlier this year, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled “The Redistribution of Sex” that positioned access to sex as a legitimate issue and included the quote Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane”.

A policy response is needed

Australia has a strong history in addressing misogynist attitudes that lead to violence and is a world leader in conducting primary prevention work on gender-based violence. It has taken an innovative approach to primary prevention of violent extremism with initiative such as the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre in Victoria. The national initiative OurWatch leads work on preventing violence against women and their children by targeting the core misogynist attitudes that enable violence. 

In addition to the work already being done Australia can strengthen its defences against misogynistic violence by:

  • Including reference to misogynist forms of violent extremism in Australia’s upcoming National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
  • Updating the Criminal Code Act to include targeting groups due to gender.
  • Enforcing policies against speech intended to incite violence or harm against an individual or group.  
  • Supporting education campaigns around gender quality, feminism and misogyny both in schools and the wider community.
  • Enforcing laws against domestic violence both a serious crime in and of itself as well as a strong indicator of future violence.
  • Ensuring that those working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence receive training on the warning signs of radicalisation and escalation. 

Australia is uniquely positioned to take the lead in responding to misogynist violent extremism. Australia has the national expertise and infrastructure to combat misogynistic violence at a national and state level. 

Australia needs to strengthen its defences by addressing misogynistic ideology with the same seriousness as other forms of violent extremism.

Dr David Duriesmith is a UQ Fellow in the School of Political Science & International Studies at the University of Queensland.

Luisa Ryan is a PhD Researcher at the University of Queensland’s Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and is a Womendu in International Security (WIIS) Next Generation Fellow. 

Shannon Zimmerman is a PhD Researcher at the University of Queensland’s Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.