“I do not think you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men.”

That Nikola Tesla quote is emblazoned across a page of the official website for Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW). The implication is that great men like Tesla felt it better to avoid any romantic interest in the opposite sex, and to instead focus on his work and scientific advancement.

It’s a bold claim, and perhaps a noble one. After all, advancing the global knowledge of humanity could be considered one of the most noble of pursuits. Upon seeing this quote, however, I must admit the first thing I did was search for some of the greatest ever inventions.

The assembly line, as created by Henry Ford, revolutionized how we manufactured goods and products. The lightbulb, invented by Thomas Edison, provided us with a means of lighting our homes. The telephone, from the mind of Alexander Graham Bell, brought us all closer together than ever before. I think it’s fair to say that each of those is a great invention.

But here’s the thing: All three of those great inventors have one thing in common. That’s right. They were married. Edison, a bitter rival of Tesla’s, married twice in fact. As noble as Tesla’s claim was, it appears he may have jumped the gun. Either that or he didn’t consider the telephone to be a worthy invention, or the lightbulb to be worth mentioning.

I first heard of MGTOW from a couple of friends on Facebook, who were engaged in the kind of pointless pseudo-debating that the platform is perfect for. One argued that MGTOW was a separatist movement, predicated on spewing hatred towards women. The other defended them, suggesting that there was nothing wrong with choosing to stand up for men’s rights, and that there was no spewing of hatred towards anyone. It all fizzled out rather quickly, and left me more clueless that I’d been to start with. What was MGTOW? How could it cause such a divisive range of opinions? And so began my journey.

My first port of call was MGTOW’s official site. It’s cool and sleek, with a black colour scheme that perhaps resembles a financial institution more than anything else. This is their definition of MGTOW:

“MGTOW – Men Going Their Own Way – is a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else. It is the manifestation of one word: “No”. Ejecting silly preconceptions and cultural definitions of what a man is. Looking to no one else for social cues. Refusing to bow, serve and kneel for the opportunity to be treated like a disposable utility. And, living according to his own best interests in a world which would rather he didn’t. In other words . . . common sense for men.”

Reading this, it seemed to me that I would have to work harder to truly understand what was happening. This definition only served to puzzle me more. It’s a series of empty and vague statements, using complex words where simple ones would do. To iron home the point, they even provide a dictionary definition of “sovereignty” for any men who wish to go their own way but lack the vocabulary apparently required to do so.

I ventured to the forums, with the trepidation of a child on his first day of school. I thought that reading through posts from members of the community would help to clarify what their aims are. I was wrong. Some posts explored the positives of going your own way – such as feeling happier, more confident, and, rather fittingly, acquiring an improved vocabulary. Others, however, mentioned terms such as “The Red Pill” and “Going Galt” which only served to mystify me more.

As for the alleged hate spewing that my friend spoke of, several members of the forums spoke of “liberal cunts” and “rape-cultured women”, downplaying serious sexual crimes and poking fun at women on dating sites. It soon became apparent that a lot of the community did, as my friend suggested, hate women, and it seemed weren’t afraid to show it. Yet in amongst those vitriolic posts there were some men claiming that MGTOW had saved them in some way, along with messages of support and togetherness, and measured discussions and debate on the topics of our times.

Anyone can look at one or two posts on a forum and form an opinion on a community. At first glance, you would be forgiven for seeing a group of single men shooting down women and having fun at their expense. But looking between the lines, I began to see a solidarity of spirit emerge. These men have each other’s backs, they support each other.

But ultimately, I still had questions. A lot of them, in fact. I couldn’t shake the feeling that these men were simply misinformed and had banded together around a conclusion that simply wasn’t true. Like any community, when everyone believes in something, it becomes fact. It’s the very foundation of a cult. So what, exactly, had brought these men together?

Trawling through post after post, I began to notice a pattern. A lot of the benefits proclaimed by members revolved around self-esteem. Before they found MGTOW, before they “red-pilled” and went their own way, these men were down in the dumps. Single, penniless, depressed, confused, anxious – they were all of these things. When they found MGTOW, their lives changed. They transformed into strong-minded men who had the power to achieve what they wanted, on their own terms. They were empowered by each other.

Now I must admit that the prospect of boosting my confidence and knowledge of the world was an inviting one. Who wouldn’t want that? But I wasn’t quite ready to go my own way. Partly because I wasn’t convinced that this wasn’t a cult, based on ancient views of women as less intelligent, weak, and vastly inferior to men. Mostly because I was, and still am, in a long-term relationship with a woman who I loved. The men who have embraced the MGTOW mindset rally around the idea that they don’t need a relationship to be happy. But it occurred to me that the very benefits they receive from their relationship to MGTOW are the same benefits that I receive from my relationship to my partner.

I started painting a picture of these men in my head, and I began to sympathize with them. I thought that these men must have had a problematic relationship, perhaps even an abusive one. I reasoned that they were lonely and isolated, with nobody to talk to, no network of friends. I decided that they were anxious for the future, and that when things seemed most bleak, MGTOW appeared to stop them from jumping. In this picture, MGTOW was a saviour to these men, a cause that they could get behind. Sure, their thoughts are ill-informed and mis-guided but their hearts are in the right place.

Then I got the chance to speak with one of them…

This person, who I’ll refer to as John, is a active member of the MGTOW subreddit. He writes with an aloof and factual tone of voice, as if to distance himself from me. But he tells me he’s more than happy to answer any questions I have about MGTOW. I compile a list of questions and send them across. Several hours later and he’s sent back his responses.

At first glance, it seems like that picture I painted in my mind is fairly accurate. Much like the official site explained, John tells me that the ideas behind MGTOW have existed for centuries. While the label was coined roughly 15 years ago, the term “confirmed bachelor” has been used for years before, and means the same thing. John knew from an early age, eight years old in fact, that he was in line with the MGTOW ideas. Due to his early acceptance of the ideas, John has never been interested in marriage, and only treats relationships in a way that “benefits” him. While John admits that MGTOW hasn’t changed him, he points out that a lot of other members of the community come from “bad relationships” or have “noticed how toxic today’s young women are in college”.

It strikes me that eight is extremely young to decide that the ideas of MGTOW are also his own. I can’t help but wonder what led a young boy down that path, let alone how perceptive a child that age can possibly be. But it seems that being part of the MGTOW community has been beneficial for John in that he’s able to help other men through support and guidance. As for how he defines himself: “It’s not relevant to me how society wants me to be, only how I want to be.”

I decide to dig a little deeper. John speaks about marriage in terms of a “cost/benefit analysis”, arguing that from a man’s point of view, marriage fails. I ask him to elaborate and he explains that married men end up “losing control” over their finances, and that the man has “all the responsibility of protecting the family and paying for everything.” Rather puzzlingly, the only benefit John can think of is that “if it matters to you, people won’t think you’re gay.”

John’s relationships are intriguing to me. Can a man so solely focused on the benefits to him engage in a fulfilling relationship? What do the women in his life think? Is this the reason MGTOW devotees struggle to form meaningful relationships with women? Is there an element of narcissism? John maintains that his relationships enable him to “have the authority” and that the women he’s with are “very on board with [his] dominant sexist desires.” I wonder if John simply likes having the power?

I ask John about the “bad relationships” he alluded to previously. I propose to him that “a lot of people go through bad relationships and they ultimately realize it’s part of life and end up moving on and into other, better relationships.” He seems dismissive of my theory. “Repeatedly making mistakes,” he suggests, “isn’t a sign of high intelligence.” The implication is clear. MGTOW members see themselves as superior to the men who “jump from relationship to relationship.” Those men who decide to settle down into happy relationships are stupid for doing so. A little offended, I bring the topic back to John’s views on feminism.

I’d thought of something interesting. John had mentioned that relationships were not equal, and that the costs for men outweighed the benefits. As far as John, and other MGTOW members are concerned, women take all the benefits. One major aspect of this is the financial contribution to the household. I was tempted to tell John that my partner actually earns more than I do, and as such brings more money into the household, but I didn’t want to make this about me or based on anecdotal evidence.

The feminist movement has long been fighting for equal rights, and one of their battles is for equal pay. The gender pay gap is well documented. In fact, enter ‘gender pay gap’ into Google and you’ll see for yourself. It occurred to me that feminists and MGTOW were solving the same issue, from two different sides of the same coin. MGTOW resent the fact that women make a smaller financial contribution to a relationship. Feminists are actively trying to enable women to contribute equally to a relationship. Are their ultimate aims not the same?

I suggest this to John, as my parting question. It’s safe to say he doesn’t agree with my claim. John tells me that “feminism has nothing to do with equality.” He backs this up with the idea that women actually achieved equality, at least in the United States, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act made it unlawful for an employer to:

“fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

In a sense, yes, this was a victory for women’s rights. But it misses the bigger picture. Certainly the pay gap is decreasing but it does still exist. In some jobs the gap is around 5%, but in others it’s as much as 30%. The reason isn’t necessarily that employers are ignoring the Civil Rights Act. It’s that women are often forced to raise children, or dissuaded from choosing the subjects that will set them up for financial success later in life. In fact, you could argue that society has defined women in such a way that is detrimental to them. Is this not the same issue that men face, at least according to MGTOW?

John also raises the issue of false rape accusations, as a way of discrediting feminists. False rape accusations are extremely rare. They aren’t as prevalent as John believes. But it quickly becomes clear that John doesn’t like feminists. Not one bit. He calls them a “white supremacist racist hate group”, he says that they’re “pathetic and stupid”, and that he likes to “mock them”. His evidence is taken from the very fringes of feminism, the extreme edges that even an ardent feminist would criticise.

Perhaps the most telling statement that John made was this: “It’s funny calling out stupid people.” The idea that less-intelligent people deserve to be mocked and insulted is an intrinsically horrible one. John and other MGTOW members have decided to shun what society thinks, and to ignore what other people believe. Yet they deem it perfectly acceptable to belittle other people. To me, this is a hypocritical standpoint, and one I’m still struggling to understand.

Could it be that this is a case of the bullied becoming the bullies? From what I’ve seen on the MGTOW forums and the subreddit, for every supportive outcry there are 3 or 4 posts of memes or jokes or general insults aimed at other non-MGTOW people. It reminds me of a high-school clique. A group of people with self-esteem so low that they band together and build a fortress. In this case, the fortress takes the form of MGTOW. John took great pains to stress that MGTOW was not a “movement or ideology”. As far as he was concerned, MGTOW was “just an idea”, and an idea that has been around since the dawn of man.

Most movements and ideologies spring forth from just an idea. An idea so insidious and intoxicating that it develops into something more. Religions, social movements, cults, all start as an idea. In this case, MGTOW started by embracing the idea that men have found themselves up against the world. The idea says that men are the victim, struggling to stand up to the oppressive clutches of society. It provides a rallying cry for men to “red-pill” and cast off from the world. It says that men are stronger if they rely on each other. It may be just an idea, but ideas form the foundation of everything.

My time lurking on the forums and speaking with John have provided me with an answer. I went into this journey with no idea of what MGTOW was. It was a collection of letters, nothing more. I now know that MGTOW is an idea, a group, an identity. And those who identify with it have chosen to distance themselves, or even isolate themselves completely, from society. For them, women are the root of all evil. So they turn to in-jokes and mockery, they laugh at women, even at other men. Their hatred is both overwhelming and surprising to me. Yet I can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy.

I started my journey into the heart of MGTOW with a quote by Nikola Tesla, and over the course of my research I found another:

“If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.”

If what Tesla says is true, then MGTOW seem to be giving it a very good go.