Manosphere Mondays #4: Herbivores and MGTOW

Hot on the heels of my recent book review, I’d like to spend this “Manosphere Monday” expanding on the fourth essay there. Specifically, I’ll be detailing the differences between Japanese “Herbivorous Men” and the MGTOWs I’ve described before.

Why is this important? Because the MGTOWs seem to have latched on to the herbivores. To be fair, it’s not just them, as a lot of sites conflate the two groups. However, after everything I’ve read, I don’t think these guys are really equivalent, and explaining why will give you some more insight into my own views on relationships and gender.

Quick review of both terms: Herbivore Men, often referred to by a variety of other names, such as “shoushoku danshi” (grasseaters) or ojo-men (girly guys) are a new breed of young, urban Japanese males. They’re characterized by a disinterest in getting a corporate job and making dosh, they’re more passive rather than aggressive, and they display some “feminine” traits rather than “masculine” ones, at least as defined by Japanese society. They’re often frugal rather than aggressively consumptive, like (supposedly) girly foods such as sweets, and pay attention to their personal appearance. They’re getting some attention these days because they’re disinclined to marry or pursue relationships, which some say bodes ill for Japan’s demographics. That country is worried about its low birthrates, and herbivore males are getting some of the blame for that.

MGTOWs are “Men Going Their Own Way.” Like I said in my last post about them, they’re pretty hard to define. I said that so far as I can gather, the only thing that unifies them is a dislike of women and a desire to avoid them—so they’re pretty much the straight male version of lesbian separatists. But hey, let’s let them speak for themselves.

According to this guy (http://no-maam.blogspot.ca/2012/01/men-going-their-own-way-mgtow.html) the purpose of MGTOW is to instill masculinity in men, femininity in women, and work for limited government. I guess that’s not particularly negative, but it still has nothing to do with the interests of herbivore men (or me, for that matter). The guys in Japan don’t care much about masculinity and femininity, and certainly don’t care about “limited government.”

A more positive—at first glance—definition of MGTOW can be found at http://mgtow.com/. The first paragraph says stuff like “MGTOW is a statement of self-ownership,” “don’t surrender your own will to societal expectations,” “you can associate with women and even get married as long as that’s what *you* want to do,” and that you should focus on your own happiness and interests. Sounds good, right? Not so different from what the herbivores believe, right? Well, just scroll down. Literally all the rest of the page is just complaining about women! Videos about the horrors of divorce, a “levels of MGTOW” which only mention disengagement from women rather than anything else (except at the end, where you drop out of society entirely), and of course a typical “comments from married guys about how much they hate their lives” section. I don’t wanna get married either, but the bottom two-thirds of the page contradict the top third. The MGTOW guys start off by saying they’re not obsessed with women and focused on their own interests, but then spend the rest of their page talking about NOTHING BUT women, to the exclusion of near everything else. It’s silly.

Need more proof of this? Check out the now-defunct MGTOW forums. There are 249 threads in the video game section, 11 threads on the cars and bikes subforum, and 49, 84, 28 and 31 threads in the food, fitness, jobs and home improvement sections. On the other hand, the “anecdotals” section—where the MGTOWs just talk about all their bad experiences with women—has 2,620 threads. And that’s not even mentioning how a lot of the posts in the ostensibly non-women oriented sections of the forum are just thinly veiled excuses for more complaining. Threads like “hurr, women can’t cook/drive/etc.” are common. So it’s painfully obvious that MGTOWs, at least the ones you find calling themselves that on the Internet, are more interested in women than anything else.

And that, I think, is the primary difference between Japan’s herbivore men and the MGTOWs who’ve tried to claim them.

The herbivores are coming from a completely different place. Remember what I said in my book review? Herbivore men are rejecting “traditional” standards of masculinity because of an economic depression and a lack of job security. Those had traditionally been what Japanese employers gave to guys who lived up to the “manly breadwinner with a wife and kids” ideal. They’re not making a big deal out of withdrawing from women and relationships, and they’re certainly not defined by it. It’s just a symptom, a secondary effect, not a cause or main drive, of the herbivore males.  They’re critiquing the dog-eat-dog, hyper-consumerist corporate world and emphasizing how their own happiness is most important. Women are actually fairly distant in their list of concerns, and certainly not a motivating force for them.

It’s also important to note that herbivore men are pretty laid back when it comes to marriage. To again summarize one of Chris Deacon’s interviewees (check my last entry for the citation), herbivore guys often think that marriage isn’t for them. They don’t look down on guys who do get married, though. They just think it’s a personal choice. On the other hand, I’ve heard guys say you can’t get married and be a MGTOW:

http://www.avoiceformen.com/sexual-politics/m-g-t-o-w/subverting-mgtow/

I guess the author wouldn’t agree with the mgtow.com guy who thought that even some MGTOWs can get married.

All this makes me think that, unfortunately, MGTOWs are *exactly* the opposite of the herbivore men. Sure, a lot of MGTOWs claim to be just “indifferent” to women and more concentrated on their own happiness, like herbivore guys. But pretty much every MGTOW site I’ve seen is obsessed with women, like the ones I’ve linked above. They talk about women constantly, all the time. If you ask a MGTOW why he calls himself a “MGTOW,” you’ll almost invariably get an answer that revolves around women in some way. I’ve never heard of a self-described MGTOW who chose his path because he disliked consumerism, or felt betrayed by corporate malfeasance (aside from sexual harassment lawsuits), or wanted a more laid-back life. No, it’s always women, women, women. Gender is central to these MGTOWs; the perceived breakdown of gender relations is pretty much the crux and the driving force behind the MGTOW identity, such as it is.

Thus, it’s completely different—I would say just plain backwards—compared to what the herbivores are doing. The guys in Japan are saying a quieter life can be more fulfilling than a hard corporate life, regardless of gender and regardless of whether or not they have a gf. They’re positive, focused on their interests and being happy rather than gender. MGTOW, on the other hand, barely mention social circumstances aside from gender (or, occasionally, libertarian talking points). They don’t focus much on their own interests and making their own identities—again, looking at their forums, the general interest sections are usually real quiet. No, they’re all about complaining about women. That is to say, they’re very negative.

Me, I don’t have much time for negativity these days, and I much prefer being positive. So, you won’t be surprised to hear that I much prefer the Japanese “Herbivore Men” to the MGTOWs. And by this point, you should be able to understand why I think the two groups don’t have as much in common as the MGTOWs say they do. Not that I expect the MGTOWs to pay much attention to me, of course. Still, I wrote this entry more for myself than anything else, as a fun exercise to put down my own beliefs on gender in writing. Even so, if some manospherian wanders across this entry and thinks I’ve made some good points, I certainly won’t mind.

Despite all the nice things I’ve said about herbivores, though, I don’t think it’s appropriate to call myself one. Why? Well, a few years ago I might have been more enthusiastic about picking up that label. However, in all the writing I’ve done about MGTOWs and the manosphere, I’m getting the feeling that such labels are often not a good idea. I’ve already talked about how MGTOW is unwieldy and actually means “Maximum Gross Take-Off Weight.” At least “Herbivore Man” is easier to pronounce and doesn’t mean something completely different and unrelated. However, the term refers to not only Japanese guys but also has roots in a specifically Japanese context. As I’ve already mentioned several times, the Japanese guys are also rejecting a Japanese corporate culture of a type that never really existed in America. Since my path through life doesn’t really have anything to do with that kind of thing, it’d feel like an unwarranted appropriation if I started calling myself a “herbivore.” Though we may have similar outlooks on life, my experiences are too different from theirs. So while I’ll continue to respect my grass-eating buddies, I’m not gonna call myself one of them.

What should I—and other guys like me in other parts of the world—call ourselves, then? I dunno, honestly, and quite frankly I get the feeling we don’t need to and shouldn’t really call ourselves anything. I’ve heard of some MGTOWs trying to “rebrand” themselves, but the two efforts I’ve seen—“Zeta Males” and “Wind Eaters” both strike me as dumb. The former’s yet another addition to the already bloated manosphere alphabet soup (alphas! Gammas! Omegas! Deltas!). The latter is just a rip-off of the Japanese term. Nah, I don’t think I need any of that. There have been plenty of men throughout history who lived solitary lifestyles focused on their own interests (academic, professional, artistic, or whatever). There are plenty of words to use for such guys. Introverts, simple-livers, anchorites (for those of us who are religious), folks who like their privacy, and so on, and so forth. If you gotta call me anything, call me a private guy, someone who’s happy being a bachelor, laid back, or an aficionado of the simple life. I don’t really need any kind of specific term or label to describe me, at least not any that hasn’t been used before.

Anyways, I’ll leave you guys off with some of the better articles I’ve managed to find on herbivore males. These make good companions to Chris Deacon’s essay, which I praised so effusively in my last entry. They’re more sympathetic to the herbivores and less sensationalistic than a lot of the other articles I’ve seen.

http://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/whats-the-deal-with-the-japanese-herbivore-men/

Blogger points out that herbivore men aren’t necessarily asexual.

http://thebaboose.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/japanese-herbivore-men-soushokudanshi/

This guy thinks herbivores and MGTOW are more similar than I do, but he does note they don’t hew to two of the three criteria in Rob Fedders’ MGTOW manifesto.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/05/10/life/blurring-the-boundaries/#.UxMZ34WzXX9

A reasonably balanced look at the herbivore phenomenon, which notes that while some women are disturbed by the “passivity” of these men, others support their changing social role.

http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/06/a-wild-sheep-chase.html

Excellent article which notes that a lot of the hysteria surrounding herbivore males is similar to the “otaku” scares of the 1980s. Also notes that herbivore men may not necessarily be “rejecting” the corporate-culture ideals of masculinity as much as being simply unable to reach for them, period. The interviews Deacon did indicate they may have a bit more agency than that, though. Still, a good opposing view you should read.

http://drupagliassotti.com/2009/11/25/japans-herbivorous-boys-asexuality/

Another good comparison of the differences between these herbivore guys and asexuals.

http://gradland.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/sexless-panic/

This article also notes that fears of herbivores never marrying may be misplaced—according to a poll the author found, a lot of young Japanese people surveyed say they want to marry “someday.”

http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/2013/10/japanese-herbivore-men-hold-mirror-to.html

Fantastic article which addresses many of the points regarding MGTOWs that I’ve made here.

I think and hope you guys will enjoy these as much as you liked my post! 😀

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6 comments

  1. A nice, well-thought out post. I was familiar with herbivores but the first time I ever heard of MGTOWs was from your blog. I agree with all of what you’re saying, but you might want to keep in mind that there might be translation errors when talking about the herbivores – maybe they are frustrated with women but it’s not getting through in the articles/news coming to the U.S.

  2. Very nice post. The one commonality I think you missed (or maybe addressed elsewhere) is that both movements are driven by economic decline. So while the MGOTW (which sounds like some sort of noxious food additive) are very negative, and the herbivore men less so, both are reacting to real life declines in the quality of life available. Whether this is the loss of rights or privileges is really besides the point.

    For myself, my instinct is to be more approving of the herbivore men and less of the MGOTW since I agree with the herbavoire men that Japanese corporate culture is corrosive and I happen to know that the majority of the facts on the ground for the MGOTW don’t justify their behavior. But is this just a trick of my own perspective? It’s easier to be “understanding”, that is, sympathetic to a distant culture, when you don’t actually understand that culture, and you don’t bear any of the costs.

    Great write up.

    1. Hey, thanks! Glad to see you here 🙂 I think you’re right, it’s as easy to be unreasonably positive about another culture as it is to be unreasonably negative about it. That’s the thing with perspectives closer or farther from your own. I think it’s fair to look at what Japanese people themselves have said about their own cultural changes, though. Some Japanese are negative about the herbivore male, as the sites lamenting the declining birthrates attest. Others, however, are more positive. The lady who coined the term “Herbivore Man” has herself compared them favorably to great Japanese like Natsume Souseki. So I think our sympathies towards the herbivores are more justified and soundly-based when we note that people closer to them have approved as well.

  3. Formerly married MGTOW here… I stumbled in via Google.

    What makes you think that MGTOWs need your sympathy, let alone your approval? You do your thing and we’ll do ours, but get in our way, oh white knight and you’ll have your a$$ handed to you. I can assure you it’s not braggadocio; I’m a successful mid-career professional who has delivered on this offer before. Believe it or not we’re becoming politically active. Look for PACs to sprout up shortly.

    1. I sense an Internet tough guy. In any case, I don’t much care about whether you need sympathy or approval or not–you’ll be getting neither, but as long as you leave the rest of us alone you’re not worthy of anything more than derision. Alas, if you’re going to be making threats and other such nonsense, I predict you’ll be running up against opposition a little tougher than someone who’s just “mid-career” can deal with.

      The entire concept of MGTOW PACs is laughable enough on its own, but in any case, if you jokers feel like getting louder and more annoying than you already are, I’ll be watching and laughing when the rest of the world puts you in your place, the same as we’ve done to every stupid band of malcontents with delusions of grandeur.

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