It should be easy to laugh at the deranged social theories of an alt-right internet figure like Stefan Molyneux. But his faux-intellectual YouTube videos and podcasts, which together make up the Freedomain Radio network — the more “philosophical” counterpart to Infowars’ political conspiracy-mongering — command an audience. Molyneux has more than 200,000 Twitter followers and has amassed nearly 50,000 fans for FDR’s Facebook page. Yet the starkest proof of his influence rests in his ability to destroy families: Last year, the Daily Beast described how acolytes are groomed to give Molyneux all their money and sever contact with their own parents in order to join his inner circle, a trend that has persuaded many to view his operation as a Scientology-like cult.
Much of what Molyneux tweets is boilerplate misogyny and anti-feminism — the claim that birth control isn’t health care, for example. Here, however, we see exactly what unifies a broad swath of the alt-right, from neo-Nazis to the “involuntarily celibate” crowd, both given to reading the personal as political, and sex as ideological:
Again, it’s tempting to laugh at a 50-year-old using a term best suited to white tween rappers…
And it’s not much of a strain to dunk on a dude who says this stuff…
Still, I can’t shake the idea that Molyneux, in trying to provoke us, has inadvertently exposed the synaptic misfires that have given rise to many of the popular and toxic opinions of our moment. The absurd rhetoric is less shocking than it is pervasive: The conservative insult “cuck” expresses fear of genetic contamination by African-American men, while the self-styled pickup artist Roosh complained that he couldn’t get laid in Denmark because of the “nanny state,” which has evidently removed women’s incentives for sexual adventure, “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.”
Let’s begin with the “friend zone” itself, a longstanding canard of insecure and undesirable man. Molyneux is married to Christina Papadopoulos, a therapist who was formally punished for endorsing her husband’s draconian take on family disconnection, so presumably he’s only annoyed about the friend zone on behalf of other guys out there; he’s annoyed, that is, about the platonic relationships these guys have with women, since they constitute the failure of said women to have sex with them.
If we’re asking when the “friend zone” first came into existence, though, Molyneux, horny redditors and fedora-wearing gentlemen may be surprised to learn that the concept was fittingly brought to us by the sitcom Friends. A 1994 episode titled “The One with the Blackout” saw Ross (David Schwimmer) teased by Joey (Matt LeBlanc) for failing to confess his romantic intentions toward Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Ross waited too long to make his move, Joey says, and has become “mayor” of the friend zone.
Since that moment, the friend zone has gone from a weak comedic device (we never heard Jerry Seinfeld complain about being friends with Elaine, did we?) to an outright obsession for men fixated on women who don’t want to fuck them. Nowadays, any mention of the friend zone is an implicit argument about gender dynamics — namely, that decent, humble bros are consistently relegated to third-wheel status while women bang their way through a rogue’s gallery of tall, handsome, insensitive assholes. In practice, of course, these professed “nice guys” are often deluded creeps.
But what does this have to do with the welfare state? Nothing. Except that men believe their penises entitle them to copulation. Since the welfare state as we know it dates back at least to the late-19th century legislative achievements of Otto von Bismarck in Germany, I suppose we must concede that the “friend zone” came afterward; until Rachel and Ross arrived on the scene, we just called it “unrequited love,” and the friend-zoned were “unwanted suitors.” The real connection between the friend zone and the social safety net is the year 1994, when TV convinced us the former was a thing and U.S. Republicans rose to congressional power thanks to Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, which included Heritage Foundation proposals that would deny welfare to teen mothers.
Without state financial support, Molyneux appears to suggest, single moms — and perhaps women in general — would be reliant on men to survive, and therefore grant them blowjobs in return. (Never mind that women have been escaping forced marriages for centuries and that even female chimpanzees will brush off male consorts who try to opportunistically mate with them.) If his premise holds any water at all, it’s because it’s built on the rotted foundation of a millennium-old Western patriarchy. Yes, women have exchanged erotic labor for access to other forms of power and control, but is that the balance we want? For my part, I’d prefer a socialist utopia where good sex is its own well-earned reward.
For a goon who loves talking about widely debunked “data” when arguing that women and non-whites have lower IQs, Molyneux is oddly incapable of grasping one biological truth: Someone can choose not to fuck someone else for reasons that have nothing to do with material gain. But I guess some people (especially those of latently fascist, borderline-eugenicist, alt-right affiliation) can only get horny about the death of democracy.