In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her groundbreaking text, On Death and Dying. Although she wasn’t the first to investigate the science of how people cope with the end of their lives, the text inspired mass consciousness about the ways in which terminally ill people struggle to confront the fact that they will die — and the purpose their life had up to that point.
In popular culture, these stages are often depicted as happening in order, with “acceptance” portrayed as the desired end goal. The model has also expanded past applying to terminally ill people, instead becoming a tidy way to describe the processing of all kinds of trauma and grief, including breakups, major life changes and even the COVID pandemic.
No surprise, then, that self-righteous men who blame women for their emotional struggles have applied the Kübler-Ross model to themselves. For “redpilled” men — a coterie of incels, “men’s rights” activists and MGTOW (“Men Going Their Own Way”) acolytes — the Five Stages of Grief is a handy way to explain and justify their existence. In reality, it’s just another way in which the redpill community uses misogynistic assumptions and hyperbole to frame aggrieved men as the ultimate victims of society, forced to confront the “death” of their masculine needs against all odds.
Incels, MRAs and MGTOW believers often insist that their subcultures are distinct, but there’s a consistent undercurrent: They blame women, and a purportedly “gynocentric” society obsessed with their needs, for oppressing men into unfulfilled lives that lack sex, love and a sense of belonging. Navigating the “Five Stages of Redpill,” the logic goes, is the only curative to this oppression.
Some of the most pointed, dramatized framings of this “grief cycle” comes from “Turd Flinging Monkey,” the pseudonym of a popular MGTOW content creator. In a multi-part video, he describes the danger of “gynocentrism” and compares male ignorance of it as a terminal illness. “If you had a disease, a painful disease like cancer, you would want to know as soon as possible that you had cancer, so that you could fight it, so you could live. In the same way, being ignorant of gynocentrism can allow you to avoid the pain of accepting the red pill and starting this grief cycle. It’ll get you killed. It’ll do permanent, irreparable damage to your life… if you survive at all,” he declares. “It is far better to accept the truth … than to wait for the cancer to kill you.”
Furthermore, he uses the grief cycle to claim that the “anger” stage, in which men begin lashing out at women and society for victimizing them, is “normal” and “healthy”: “People outside of MGTOW think redpill rage is unhealthy,” he says. “[But] if you haven’t experienced any redpill rage, you may even still be in the denial phase.”
It’s a perfect example of how redpilled men use the Kübler-Ross grief cycle to both justify misogynist talking points and forward the zero-sum conviction that men are victims far more than women are. In a redpill forum, one poster describes criticism of the movement, such as “the redpill is sexist,” as evidence of someone in the “denial” stage. Elsewhere, a belief as innocuous as “looks matter, but personality does too” is deemed a red flag of someone in “bargaining” mode.
More examples abound in a post on the cycle of grief by a redpilled pick-up artist, where he decries the “the female penchant for manipulation and deception” and makes typically biased claims about why men fail to find satisfying relationships. “[Being] locked in a long-term relationship, especially one where the parties are living with each other, means constantly having to be aware of shit tests and maintaining an alpha frame,” he writes in his explanation of a hypothetical man stuck in the “depression” phase of the cycle, unable to relinquish the final elements of his “bluepilled” past.
You see these grief-cycle talking points over and over again, and what’s troubling about them is not merely the appropriation of the Kübler-Ross framework, but the use of it to justify feelings that are rooted in self-hatred and suspicion, not objective observation. Redpilled men could probably learn a lot by talking to women who disagree with them, but for any man obsessed with “gynocentrism” as a poisonous influence that the rest of us “bluepills” can’t see, that step makes no sense.
Instead, these men turn to a bubble to confirm their own beliefs, taping together weak analogs from psychology and evolutionary biology to lend an air of credibility to the movement. Consider the group “A Voice for Men,” a for-profit outfit that claims to “lift [men] above the din of misandry” and “reject the unhealthy demands of gynocentrism in all its forms.” Along with peddling anti-abortion material and rants about the “woke left,” a 2017 article from A Voice for Men analyzes the way in which Kübler-Ross’ model explains the “redpill rage” felt by angry men early in their awakening.
It is critical of the model, arguing that five stages aren’t enough to fit the experience of MGTOWs, redpilled pickup artists and anti-feminists. Instead, the author posits a sixth stage: An urge to act in opposition to “gynocentrism,” rather than just sit there and accept it. “We are men. We do stuff. We get revenge,” the author concludes.
And even when the Kübler-Ross model is used to give some seemingly decent advice to fellow redpilled men — say, not making major life decisions while fighting through anger and grief — it’s immediately followed by absurd assertions that may backfire. Case in point: On a Reddit forum for married redpillers, a poster suggests seeking a “Morpheus figure” to discuss their struggle. “Caution: Never discuss these feelings with your wife or [long-term relationship]. A therapist may be an option, but if you go that route, choose your therapist carefully. When it comes to relationships therapists often (wittingly or unwittingly) have a gynocentric philosophy.”
This is exactly the kind of thinking that keeps men trapped in redpill misery, rather than opening their minds to the possibility that the world isn’t constructed of an us-versus-them binary between men and women. Emily Carian, an expert on gender inequality and MRA culture, observes that this is a key problem with the ideology of men’s rights activists. “The movement claims that feminism has ‘oppressed’ men. But empirical data doesn’t support the idea that men are an oppressed group,” she previously told me. “[There are] broader problems with the movement, including its misunderstanding of what feminism is and its failure to look at other forms of oppression, like based on class and race.”
The twist is also that the Kübler-Ross model of grief doesn’t even seem to exist as described, at least based on modern standards of empirical study. Kübler-Ross has said she regrets implying that the “stages” happen in any particular order, and psychology experts have questioned the methodology used to find this “phenomenon” in the first place. In other words, the men who peddle this grief model to frame the arc of a successful redpilling are basically conjuring pseudoscience out of thin air.
It’s hard to view this as anything but regressive for men, especially those who assume that “having it all” means having to eschew all things “gynocentric.” You can see it in the comment-section arguments about the redpill grief cycle; in response to one author suggesting that “acceptance” means feeling free to improve oneself and pursue a relationship, commenters note that this conclusion “looks like bluepill logic.”
“Yes, they’re definitely still bargaining,” another poster quips.
I can’t help but think of a statement from grief researcher Kenneth J. Doka, who argues that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with doubt, hurt and loss. “Kübler-Ross originally saw these stages as reflecting how people cope with illness and dying,” he writes in Grief Is a Journey, “not as reflections of how people grieve.”
In reality, the men who blame the world for oppressing their existence aren’t squaring up with reality by co-opting the Kübler-Ross model to confirm their worldview. Rather, it just reflects their own hurt and continued struggle to cope — and convinces them there’s no other way to feel whole again.