Here’s my first confession: I enjoy being angry. I am peaceable interpersonally, but I definitely enjoy being angry, particularly about politics. This has always worried me, but, since it doesn’t hurt anyone, I often indulge, particularly by hate-reading. I’ve known this was not a good habit, and it’s always been in the back of my mind as something that, someday, I need to eliminate. But to my pleasant surprise, when I started to analyze it, I realized that I’ve actually gained a lot from getting angry as entertainment.

Hate-reading is the well-recognized phenomenon of deliberately reading things which exasperate you. For example, if you’re a conservative, you might read The Daily Kos or, if you’re a liberal, you might stop by Fox News. This isn’t the intellectually-honest, exploring-other-ideas reading, but rather reading simply to become frustrated. By no means is hate-reading limited to the merely political: Rich Kids of Instagram collects examples of conspicuous consumption by teenagers, generally accompanied by tone-deaf statements of entitlement. It makes for perfect hate-reading, because who doesn’t like to mock the young, rich, and clueless?

In all cases, you are deliberately exposing yourself to exasperation and anger as a form of entertainment. There are other ingredients in this intoxicating cocktail: morbid fascination, a sharpened sense of superiority and, of course, some self-congratulation. I told you I would be honest; hate-reading is not part of the best and highest that humans have to offer. Above all, though, it’s simple curiosity. Hate-reading may be one of the best ways to really get out of yourself and expose yourself to truly different ideas and attitudes.

For me, my hate-reading material of choice was Men’s Rights Activist material. MRAs are activists who are (at least in name) dedicated to fighting for rights for men, but who are best known for hating feminists and women in general. They can be found at A Voice for Men, the mensrights subreddit, and The Red Pill subreddit. It should be noted that these venues are the home of the men’s rights movement, not a fringe element.

These websites are cesspools of anger, entitlement, and poor reasoning.

MRAs claim to be standing up for men’s rights in a world that is prejudiced against all men; some of their particular issues include male rape, prison rape (which they say predominantly affects men), male suicide and mental illness, a supposed bias in child custody courts, domestic violence against men and, of course, that well-known epidemic of false rape allegations.

Many of these are things that feminists (both male and female) have been working on for years. For example, it was feminists who pressured the FBI to change its definition of rape to allow for male victims–in fact, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was spearheaded by a feminist. Similar stories can be told for male suicide, male mental illness and the harm that traditional gender roles do to men.

Not all issues promoted by MRAs are valid; the “false rape accusation epidemic” so favored by MRAs is not at all accurate.

As one example of the culture of the men’s rights movements, consider how often leaders of the movement—including the A Voice for Men PR director, Judgy Bitch—use gender-based slurs to deride people they disagree with. Instead of moving away from rigid gender roles, which would benefit both men and women, the men’s rights movement delights in calling women they disagree with “whores” and men they disagree with “mangina.”

Hint: if you’re using a comparison to a woman as an insult, you’re not doing much to defeat traditional gender roles. And traditional gender roles, including the idea of a man as the unemotional financial provider, could be contributing to the massive numbers of unemployed men suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.

The truth is that the few real issues are used as a cover to complain about women. As J.F. Sargent pointed out in his excellent post, it’s no mistake that the “fundamental beliefs” of the Red Pill subreddit are all about how women are manipulative, irrational, and immoral. This is not a movement about helping men.

However, this article is not about the various problems with the men’s rights movement. More information about the failings and contradictions of the men’s rights movement can be found here, here, here and here. I think I’ve said enough for you to see what qualifies MRA blogs for hate-reading, at least for me.

And as I mentioned above, there are certainly ugly motivations for hate-reading, but I don’t imagine these are unique to me. Nobody is perfect, and maybe there’s a way to put our vices to work, to trick them into helping us become better people.  Honestly, hate-reading is how I became a feminist. I started reading Jezebel out of sick fascination with the self-righteousness and snarky liberalism, but particularly in the comments, I saw a lot of valid points that led me to become a feminist. I still read Jezebel, and I still roll my eyes at some of it, but I also ultimately changed my worldview based on it.

So how did hate-reading change me?

I View Men More Sympathetically

The first truth is that, as much as I hate to admit it, the men’s rights movement did lead me to view men with more sympathy. It’s not that I was anti-male before, but as someone without brothers or any long-term romantic relationships, I’d never been particularly acquainted with the unique problems that men face.

To that extent, the men’s rights movement does give a voice–granted, a hate-filled, invective-spewing, historically ignorant voice–to some of men’s problems. Under all the anger and the rage—and I would never want to be in a room alone with many of these people—I did see their hurt and disappointment. Online, it is possible to take a step back and see the pain.

I am more aware of men’s issues, such as prison rape, male suicide, etc., than I was previously. The men’s rights movement doesn’t actually do anything about those issues; in fact, feminists are better at getting their issues addressed than they are. But this is where I personally became aware of those issues.

I Treat Men Differently (Hopefully Better)

The second truth is that hate-reading MRA blogs did change my behavior. While I’ve always paid for my own dates because I don’t see why men should be responsible for that, I hadn’t worked out all the other ways in which traditional gender roles for men get reinforced in casual behavior.

For example, I used to love a good “compensating for something?” joke when I saw a man driving a huge pick-up truck, or telling men to “man up” when I thought they were being whiny. But if women shouldn’t be judged for their bodies, then neither should men. Small-penis jokes are just another form of body-shaming, and I don’t do that anymore. These are only a few of the small changes that have accumulated; in most cases, I already agreed with the precepts but hadn’t worked out all the conclusions. Unfortunately, rather than finding a way out of these stifling roles, in many ways they are reinforced in the MRM.

I Understand that There Is a Greater Sense of Us-Vs.Them

The third truth is the most difficult: Even as my understanding of men’s pain has grown, I feel a greater sensation of “feminists vs. sexists.” I know, logically, that this dichotomy is excessively simple, yet the effect of reading so many profoundly sexist things on MRA blogs and of seeing misogyny carried so far, is that I am entirely less tolerant of any of its milder manifestations.

Previously, I believed that there could be such a thing as a minor manifestation of misogyny; now, seeing how MRAs have elevated and extended misogyny into an all-encompassing worldview, I am more likely to regard anyone who says something sexist as “one of them.” In short, I feel a greater sense of identity with fellow feminists and less inclination to patiently educate those who aren’t. This is the side effect of reading so many attacks aimed at feminists; I feel a greater need to regroup, to have solidarity, to mark any non-feminists as the enemy. I am not claiming that this is good, only that I have noticed it in myself.

This contradiction may be unique to the men’s rights movement; after all, it’s always going to be difficult to extend the hand of friendship to people who compare you to dogs who must be trained (only one recurring example of the dehumanizing language often applied to women by MRAs). There is tension between my newly-expanded empathy and my emotional reaction to being attacked, even if in the abstract. However, since I am aware of this “us-vs.-them” thinking, I can work to correct it.

I Can Better Fight My Own Biases

This is the final and most important effect of hate-reading: with a little curating, it can lead to profound transformations in a person’s biases. The very silence of hate-reading is what allows actual transformations to happen. Trolling or arguing, even online, is far too emotional to allow for reflection. But as I read, I simultaneously watch myself and try to understand my own reactions and my own biases. There is both time and space to interrogate myself, and perhaps even educate myself.

There are, however, no cure-alls, and some things have to be kept in mind. The most important thing is context. Earlier, I mentioned that the context can help in understanding MRAs; if I heard a man in real life saying the sort of things these men say on the Internet, I would quite literally fear for my safety and never be in the same room with him.

In that case, the context of a non-physical location makes it possible for me to hear them. Since I am not physically threatened by their anger, I can listen rather than fear for myself. But the lack of context also means I don’t know who they “really” are, or how large this movement actually is.

Another risk of hate-reading is that it might make the ideological division worse. I say this because hate-reading is closely related to shaming. As soon as I start sharing my hate-reading, it has become a social activity aimed at policing morality: shaming. But shaming, in my opinion, is the opposite of education. Instead of enlightening, shaming forces people ever further into an us-vs.-them ideology in which ambiguity is not tolerated and neither is betrayal. All these attitudes increase the social cost of change and make it less likely.

I Understand Why Hate Reading is Important

I don’t think I’ll ever stop hate-reading. I enjoy it too much. But despite the risks, I do think there’s a way to do it productively. Sometimes empathy is difficult, and it’s okay to rely on curiosity and a morbid sense of self-righteousness in the mean time. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few rules for making hate-reading as productive as possible:

  • Go deep. Don’t just choose one blog. Read a variety of “enemy” blogs. This exposes you to multiple voices and ways of reasoning.
  • Read the comments. Sometimes, the commenters can provide the individual voice or necessary fact that makes the argument so much better and more personal.
  • Take breaks. My experience with hate-reading is that the anger fades but the newly gained empathy remains.

Maybe, if we pay attention, we can actually use hate-reading to help us become more empathetic, instead of more angry. I believe the ultimate goal is to see others as human beings, to value them for their humanity; this means taking difficult journeys outside oneself, and hate-reading might be a short-cut.