“The army of unfuckable hate nerds”—Marc Maron’s term for the mass of young men who pollute the internet with their misogyny. “They play video games all day,” the comedian said on his podcast, “then they watch MMA, then they spend the evening jerking off to … porn, then they put a few hours” into attacking women online.
He’s right, of course. There are hordes of these young men (and, no doubt, of not-so-young ones). They congregate on Twitter, in comment threads, on forums and platforms like Reddit, Discord, Kiwi Farms, and 8kun, the successor to 8chan. They trade in misogyny, racism, antisemitism, and assorted other hatreds. Their words are violent and vile.
But Maron is also wrong. I mean in his response, which is that of so many: to answer hate with hate, contempt with contempt. As opposed to what? As opposed to understanding, just like we extend, at least on the left (and I am on the left), to another set of violent young men, the ones who live in inner cities. Yes, I am calling for sympathy for my brothers in the army of unfuckable hate nerds.
My brothers: I was a young man once. And since there’s now an ever-growing genre of commentary in which feminists speak, with placid condescension, like so many anthropologists (if not entomologists), on the topic of men, especially young men, I thought it might be useful to hear from someone who actually knows what it’s like to be one.
Here’s what it’s like: It sucks. Male privilege? Absolutely, in many contexts, but there are important ways in which young men are clearly underprivileged.
Women are sex objects, goes the cliché, and men are success objects. But success requires many years to achieve, if you ever achieve it at all. Young men, in that respect, are much like older women: Society has little use for them, barely deigns to notice them. I’m not talking about the advertising industry, or the entertainment industry; I’m talking about the day-to-day experience of living in the world. Young women often have a lot of social power, whereas, except for the fortunate few—the born rich, the strikingly handsome, the 6-foot-3—young men have none. Socially speaking, young men are shit, and nobody gives a shit.
Any young woman who is even moderately attractive will be courted, complimented, paid attention to, by women as well as men. Older men will buy them things. People will hang on their words even when they aren’t interesting and laugh at their jokes even when they aren’t funny. They will have entry into places—private clubs, backstage after a show—young men can only press their noses against. They will be able to advance professionally by batting their eyelashes at powerful men. Young men, meanwhile—those losers, those loners, those apes—are left to pick their psychic zits on the periphery.
There’s more. Young women can have sex whenever they want. For most young men, persuading a woman to sleep with them is like trying to crack a safe. You understand that it’s theoretically possible, but you have no idea how to do it. Which means that you’re stuck with your hard-on. Unfuckable? No one needs to tell you that. You are unfucked: unwanted, unattractive; in the most literal sense, unloved.
The mental climate of the typical young man is three parts unrelenting horniness to one part self-disgust. Young women are not the only ones who are taught to hate their bodies. So, if less intensely, are young men. Why else would they lift all those weights? What you are really working out, when you go to the gym, is your dysmorphia. Aella, the OnlyFans star and online commentator, has said that what men look for when they come to her—and her clientele is mostly young—isn’t sex per se but “sexual acceptance.” They want to be assured, in other words, that they aren’t hideous. The fact they have to pay for this says everything you need to know.
Do I sound bitter? I’m channeling my younger self. It’s all worked out for me, I have no complaints, but I am intensely aware that it could have gone a different way. Turn this dial a click to the left, turn that one a click to the right—a little less privilege, a little more emotional instability—and I could have turned into a hate nerd myself. I suspect that a lot of men sense that. What does it feel like to be a young man? It feels like you are Kafka’s cockroach, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. It feels like you were drawn by Harvey Pekar or R. Crumb. You are an Untermensch, a particle, a stew of envies and resentments, a festering sore. You look, from below, at the happy and lovely and rich. You creep, alone, along a wall. You masturbate as if your life depended on it.
Yes, I made it out. I found success; I reached the fabled land of love. But many men do not; many recognize, and recognize quite early, that they never will. And I was young in the ’80s and ’90s. We know what’s happened since. Blue-collar wages have slumped. Men have lost the education race. Add to that the dating apps, which gamify sex and love and quantify desirability and value. Like everything else on the web, the distribution follows a power law curve, with a small fraction of alphas soaking up the lion’s share of female attention. Add further the misandry that has now become de rigueur wherever the liberal elite holds sway: the ritual (and often gleeful) man-hating, the pathologization of masculinity.
We also know how young men are responding. Some are opting out of manhood by becoming trans or nonbinary. Some are going the other way, reaching for an ersatz hypermasculinity and joining the army of unfuckable hate nerds. Their behavior is disgusting, it is inexcusable, but what do we think is going to make them stop? Telling them to comb their hair, to put down the Xbox, to get a life? Reminding them that they’re unlovable and worthless? They know that already; that is precisely the problem. Hate breeds hate. Revenge is not justice. The hate nerds are human, no less than you and me. We need to treat them like it.
William Deresiewicz is the author of Excellent Sheep, The Death of the Artist, and The End of Solitude: Selected Essays on Culture and Society.