The struggle against fascism begins with the struggle against toxic masculinity
Have you ever wondered how to talk dirty without reinforcing the patriarchy? Or what all the fuss is about polyamory? These are just two of the many topics tackled by the Anarcho Agony Aunts (AAA), an anarcha-feminist duo offering anonymous sex and relationship advice via their YouTube channel. The pair see what they’re doing as having a dual-pronged strategy: helping to tackle issues with dating on the left while also reaching out to young men who are preyed on by men’s rights activists and the alt-right.
“There's two different strands we want to address in AAA”, co-host Rowan tells me as we sit in the back room of the semi-detached east London house the duo share. “There is a tendency among left-wing men who have a desire to be a 'good feminist' but also to be sexy and date. That's caused a lot of left-wing men a lot of anxiety, understandably, because the feminist scene can be quite a hostile scene. Because of things such as rape and assault and men generally being scum. There's not that much sympathy with men on the feminist scene. A lot of men have kind of withdrawn and not been forward in dating.”
The other host, Marijam adds: “It seems like a lot of the weight on the dating scene has been very much held on women in the past couple of years. We just want to give a bit of encouragement to men that there is a correct way of doing flirting which doesn't imply misogyny.” She continues: “It came down to us having pub chats where we realised we have a lot of friends that are single men and they're awesome. A lot of them told us that they don't feel comfortable to be dating because they're worried they're going to be perceived as creeps or something.”
The other aspect of the project is attempting to pull people away from the far-right. When Gamergate happened it brought together a number of different groups, including pick up artists, men’s rights activists and incels (involuntary celibates), all motivated by a vile misogyny to harass young women working in or writing about the video games industry. It was this misogynist coalition mixing with white nationalists and neo-Nazis which spawned the alt-right and rampant misogyny has underpinned the alt-right ever since.
“We want to look at incels, the alt-right and people who are drawn towards those politics because of a different model of masculinity based around the nuclear family and long term girlfriends, 'all wives only' as the Proud Boys website says. Also incels who have sworn off women altogether as thots and sluts and not worthy of their time, and we want to look into why that came to be. What the process was where you come from someone who maybe feels sad and rejected and unable to get a date, to full on misogyny?”
One of the reasons the alt-right exists is because of a sense of masculinity in crisis; after existing for centuries the patriarchal system is now being robustly challenged. Growing up as a young man can be difficult today, as they begin to balance an increasing awareness of gender oppression and inequality with a continued socialisation into oppressive gender roles which were always impossible to fulfil.
Predominantly, this crisis is being driven by the decline in living standards in the Western world as neo-liberalism completely guts the post-war settlements, well paying manufacturing jobs are taken by robots or moved overseas and benefits systems are dismantled. This crisis in masculinity comes at the same time as movements against forms of oppression based on gender, race and sexuality are making substantial progress.
The alt-right has been fairly successful in framing this crisis as being caused by struggles against oppression. From Jordan Peterson to the Daily Stormer, they claim the ‘social justice warrior’ is to blame for the ills young men face. Peterson aims to sell glorified self-help books, while the more extreme sections of the alt-right want to turn their followers into killers. This makes what AAA is doing is an integral part of the anti-fascist struggle. Something which they’re worried isn’t being recognised enough by anti-fascists.
When I ask if any other agony aunts have inspired their approach, the pair laugh. Marijam tells me she hadn’t even heard of the term before Rowan had said it to her. Rowan says that the only agony aunt she’d read before was Dear Mariella, The Observer’s agony aunt, and that she certainly hadn’t been an inspiration. “I would say in terms of our approach, ContraPoints, because she approaches the alt-right with a curious and empathetic gaze which I think is really legit and awesome”, Rowan explains. ContraPoints has built an audience of hundreds of thousands by engaging with and dismantling alt-right ideas.
Initially the project was a live streamed from a camera phone and called ‘NHS 4 lefties’. It was described as a “3-week project designed to help YOU lefty men (and women) in need of advice on love, lust, masculinity etc.” but after a surprising level of interest has continued for much more than three weeks and morphed into AAA. Marijam tells me: “We got 1,000 views in our first 24 hours and a bunch of questions and we were like ‘fuck we've really hit a fucking nerve here’”. Since that initial stream, the pair haven’t looked back.
The project was born from pub chats between Marijam, 28, from Lithuania and Rowan, 25, from London. The pair first met on a holiday in Croatia and then ended up living together for six months, before Rowan left to spend a couple of years in Europe, where she ended up becoming part of a queer feminist stand up comedy duo. Marijam has built up small but established social media following through her show ‘Left Left Up’, where she discusses the latest news in tech and gaming, helping video games workers to unionise and writing about gaming and politics for some well known outlets (which has also repeatedly bought her to the attention of the KotakuInAction sub-reddit which spawned Gamergate).
One anti-fascist to endorse what AAA is doing is legendary Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie. A couple of months ago Christie shared an AAA video on his Facebook profile, much to AAA’s delight, telling them “it’s a pity the pair of you weren't around when I was growing up”. When I discussed this with them they didn't know what his gender politics were like when he was younger, but they couldn’t see how someone who had tried to blow up General Franco would ever have struggled to get laid.
Want some sex and dating advice? Ask AAA an anonymous question via their Curious Cat account. Watch Anarcho Agony Aunts being filmed LIVE with hosts Rowan and Marijam at the London Action Resource Centre on Friday 31st May, 6pm-9:30pm as part of the Anarchist Festival.