Scholars urged to combat ‘manosphere’ misuse of sex research

Scientific writing should avoid use of terms like ‘cuckold’, says paper finding antifeminist online forums often draw on ‘reputable research’

November 21, 2023

Antifeminist “online manosphere” groups are making misogynistic misinterpretations of cutting-edge evolutionary research that stresses “female sexual agency and assertiveness”, according to a paper which urges scholars to combat the trend – including by avoiding terms like “cuckold”.

Evolutionary scholars “might be surprised to see sexist worldviews reinforced by the ‘dual mating strategy’ and ‘sexy son’ hypotheses, or by the latest research on the ovulatory cycle”, two University of Kent researchers write in the paper, published in Evolutionary Human Sciences.

Based on “extensive qualitative analysis of manosphere discourse” on forums, the paper by finds that the manosphere “has its own version of evolutionary psychology, mingling cutting-edge scientific theories and hypotheses with personal narratives, sexual double standards and misogynistic beliefs”.

Evolutionary research has undergone a shift in its portrayal of female sexuality, from early accounts in Darwin’s era insisting on “coyness and monogamous tendencies”, to a position where there now “exist many competing and overlapping hypotheses stressing the potential fitness benefits of female short-term and extra-pair mating”, write authors Louis Bachaud, a PhD student in Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, and Sarah Johns, reader in evolutionary anthropology at Kent.

“Evolutionary psychology is ubiquitous in the manosphere,” and “manosphere communities often draw on reputable research from peer-reviewed journals”, they found after analysing discourse on forums across a variety of strands, from men’s rights activists to “blackpilled” misogynist incels.

For example, they cite a Reddit post on the female “dual mating” hypothesis: “It’s 2019, we all know the secret females have been hiding for over a million years now. DUAL MATING STRATEGY. Fuck the alphas [alpha males], suck resources and attention from all others.” 

But “the dual mating strategy hypothesis is not described as such in the manosphere”, the authors write. “Here, it is just described as a scientific and ‘observed’ strategy that females engage in.” 

Evolutionary sex researchers can take steps to make misinterpretation “more difficult” and “to ensure their own language does not unnecessarily reflect that of the manosphere,” the authors argue.

“For example, the use of the verb ‘cuckold’ in reputable academic writing is unfortunate,” the authors write, arguing that “the standards of scientific writing should dictate the abandonment of a term which has traditionally been gender-biased and morally loaded, and is now increasingly politically charged”.

Beyond “neutral and careful scientific writing”, avoiding other loaded terms such as “infidelity”, evolutionary psychologists “might decide to engage directly with the issue, calling out or debunking biased interpretations of their research”, the authors recommend.

They hope their paper “will raise awareness, and spur debates and advances along those lines in the [evolutionary psychology] community”.

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