Article Thumbnail

Why Korea’s ‘Dishwasher Theory’ Is the Manosphere’s New Favorite Insult

All it took was a one-word response on a Korean forum to supercharge incels and MGTOWs across the internet. Here’s how ‘dishwashing’ weaponized dreams of male revolution

Over the last half-decade, redpilled men, incels and MGTOWs (Men Going Their Own Way) have been on a tear, devising an entire universe of slang, code and symbols to explain the way they see the world — and radicalize other men into new believers, too. 

It’s where we get the incel obsession over “Chads” and “Stacys” versus “Betas” and “Beckys” — and the belief that the supremacy of the former is an immovable force in society. It’s the same subculture that gave rise to the notion of cucking as a framework of male hierarchy. It comes from the same men who promote disinformation about the “sexual economy,” like when they repeate the tired, false trope that 80 percent of women are hooking up with just 20 percent of men. 

Now, along with the misguided beliefs around hypergamy and “gynocentrism,” there’s a new hot topic that’s burning up the redpilled internet: “Dishwasher theory,” birthed in South Korea and now spread across the digital hinterlands of male victimization. 

The “dishwasher theory” is simple: Women who date and sleep around are dirty dishes, and the beta men who eventually marry them are mere dishwashers, unable to eat the meal yet forced to clean the smeared remains of other men. 

While it’s hard to verify the exact origin of the metaphor, one Korean user of the “free speech” platform attributes the rise of dishwasher theory to a post in late October on South Korea’s popular forum site, DCInside. The original poster innocuously described how his wife was popular and stylish in school (wearing things like a “mid-thigh skirt”) and how she teased him for looking dumpy as a younger man. 

A single, one-word response set the post on viral fire: 설거지, or “dishwashing.” And now, the concept is the toast of the globalized manosphere. 

Literally everyone in Korea, many of them with less than zero knowledge about [the red pill] or MGTOW or ANYTHING about manosphere (these topics were near-nonexistent in Korea before), just intuitionally understood about the modern intersexual dynamics … by that single word. It’s the greatest rhetoric I have ever seen in my entire life,” the Korean user on effused. 

Others in the forum were equally thrilled. “Glad to see Koreans here. I would love to see native Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and others,” a different user wrote. “We have a revolution to start and teach men all across the world to take their countries and civilizations back.” 

That thread has spread across the manosphere thanks to the discussion of “dishwasher theory” by redpill influencers like Sandman MGTOW and translations of Korean-language debates on dishwashing, rife with slut-shaming and misogynist dog whistles

Comparing a relationship to a dirty chore, with a fixation on the perceived “cleanliness” (read: “purity”) of the woman, is horrible on its face. But it becomes even more toxic when the male “dishwasher” is portrayed as an inevitable victim, forced to slave away despite his awareness of “corruption.” And it’s made triply problematic when the dishwasher theory is girded by a belief in hypergamy, or the act of marrying up in social status or wealth. In this metaphor, the beta dishwasher isn’t just a font of small-dick stability — he’s a host for a parasitic woman who had her sexual fun and now reaps the benefits of settling down. 

There are other redpill shorthands like “AF/BB,” or “alpha fucks, beta bucks,” that are used to describe this alleged phenomenon. But “dishwasher theory” has supercharged the rhetoric around misandry. Korean-language comments on DCInside show people sharing deeply flawed portrayals of women as all-powerful beings, relentlessly shaping society to control men through pop culture, feminism and sex. Amid this debate, calling a man a “dishwasher” is a one-two punch: It’s an insult to bluepilled “beta men” who aren’t part of the MGTOW revolution, but also a slandering of the common enemy at hand: Self-aware women. 

The hypocrisy here is hard to stomach, given all we know about how women have been oppressed and exploited by dominant male societies over the course of many centuries, both in Western and Eastern cultures. 

Lee Hyun-jae, a feminist philosopher and professor at the University of Seoul, notes to Korea JoongAng Daily that in the 20th century, men were more easily able to secure their influence by dominating the workforce and having access to high wages. Without that same ease of upward mobility, men are pointing fingers at women and other men (the “dishwashers”) as the cause of their existential angst, leading to all kinds of double standards. “It has been socially acceptable for men to desire physically attractive women, then seek ‘chaste’ women when it’s time to choose a wife,” she says. “But when women do the same — date physically attractive men and later marry a stable partner — it’s suddenly unethical, and men are some sort of victims who are ‘forced to do the dishes.’”

There is little doubt that things are getting harder for single men in South Korea. Generational wealth inequality, sagging wages, a lack of long-term career options and increased isolation have all contributed to a massive decline in marriages and birth rates in the nation over recent decades, mirroring similar problems in Japan and China. The same is true in America, which is seeing a less dramatic, but significant, decline in new marriages and newborns. 

But rather than seeing this as a holistic problem, aggrieved men are scrambling to seek solutions that will soothe their wounds, all while ignoring their own role in the crisis. It’s not a coincidence that the rise of lonely men who take their anger out online and in real life is happening during a time of broad social instability under the scarcities of capitalism and ineffective electoral politics. One 2022 study examined social media posts about inceldom in the U.S., and found that incel commentary rises disportionately in locations where “mating competition between men” is increased due to “male-biased sex ratios” (i.e., a lot of single men), high wealth inequality and small gaps in wages between genders — the latter suggesting that men are responding to a perceived loss of power. 

It brings to mind something that came up in my conversation with researcher Zachary Palmer on the rise of toxic “brony” culture, in which he mused about the impact of men losing obvious influence and economic advantages over women. “How do people in power react to shifting trends when their power may feel eroded?” Palmer asked.

The answer, at least around “dishwasher theory,” is to believe that a global uprising of men can take back what is owed in a multitude of ways — from covert to explicitly violent. “I’m starting to believe the only hope for men the globe over is to declare civil war against women and turn them all into war brides,” one user wrote in a reply to the dishwashing post. 

“I wish the Korean men in your country good fortune with this new knowledge. … Push for changes that provide men with advantages in child custody cases and the deletion of an allocation of resources to the female through divorce. Force prenuptial agreements in every marriage. No compromises,” another proclaimed. 

Over and over again, redpilled men have appropriated the language of resistance in their culture war against a perceived enemy who is, in reality, as much of a victim of social institutions that are fracturing under the weight of patriarchal expectations and economic strain. Both men and women are struggling with loneliness and questions about their worth, and there are unique differences as to why. But instead of examining the very real inequalities that boys and men face, the redpill ideology offers a tidy explanation for all kinds of misery, served up in language that triggers men’s worst gut instincts about why they’re alone.

Amid this fight, the “dishwasher theory” is a new wrinkle from Korea, yet also nothing new at all. Like every other memeable redpill theory, it shows how desperate men grasp for straws and scream for revolution, unable to find assurance in anything else.