While it would seem that the manosphere is exclusively the domain of miserable white men, there’s a surprising number of women among it, too. And so, throughout this week, we will present you with six features that explore the lives and beliefs of these women, from femcels to Honey Badgers: Who are they? What have they experienced in life to end up cavorting with men who — to varying degrees — deny their humanity? And why do we know so little about them?
Since the first episode of The Joe Rogan Experience aired in 2009, the self-identified standup comedian has established himself as a podcaster and bro-whisperer, with around 200 million listens a month. Each two- to four-hour episode covers topics like supplements, fitness, MMA, circumcision, conspiracies, free speech and can feel like a date with a dude who got too high before showing up. There are no formal segments, just the occasional YouTube clip to break up long conversations with a single guest, each representing a different breed of bro: tech bro Elon Musk, science bro Neil deGrasse Tyson, comedy bro Bill Burr, brocialist Bernie Sanders and whistlebro-er Edward Snowden.
But as much as it’s a podcast about whatever Rogan is into, it’s really a show about men. It’s no coincidence, then, that JRE caught on during a decade that’s demanded that straight white guys do better and has become as popular as the phrase toxic masculinity, if not more so. Rogan gives men a way to seek out self-improvement, self-care and occasional sobriety without having to be less masculine. His point-of-view is seemingly evolved yet distinctly traditional: Men can challenge themselves without the discomfort of having to challenge the status quo. Part of Rogan’s alpha approach, too, includes engaging in provocative conversations with guests like Ben Shapiro and Mel Gibson, who have been shunned everywhere else. Sure, he encourages men to have feelings, but sometimes those feelings are about why women deserve to make less money.
About that latter point — the man cave he’s carved out has been accused of being colder and less welcoming to women. This can be seen in altercations with female audience members after live shows, sexualized edits of episodes featuring women and posing on-the-nose questions like, “Why is it pretty women don’t seem to have problems with men?” on air. Research from Media Matters reveals that more than 91 percent of JRE guests are men, and data analysis from a redditor indicates that episodes receive significantly more negative reviews when women are on them. (One episode featuring comedian Iliza Shlesinger received upwards of 19,000 dislikes compared to only 9,400 likes.)
Rogan hasn’t released numbers on his audience specific to gender, but when Josh Katzowitz claimed that the most well-known podcaster on the planet has a “serious women problem,” many women came to Rogan’s defense on Reddit and Twitter, confirming the suspicion that ladies are going Rog too. “When he does have women on I rarely watch/listen,” redditor BlikeBianca posted. “Some women don’t have a sense of humor for most comedians. I’m going to leave it at that.”
For 41-year-old Sylwia Wiesenberg, though, the draw is much more about trying to understand men and what they want. “Personally, I’d rather openly hear what men typically say about us women in the locker room and behind closed doors,” she tells me.
The founder of Bawdy Beauty, a line of sheet masks for butts, first found Rogan while watching a YouTube review of her product and a related clip of Rogan and model Gabrielle Reece came on. They were discussing how young women are taking more butt pictures than ever before, thanks to Instagram. Rogan brought up that these women have the option of putting more complex messages out into the world, but “you’re not going to get the immediate gratification of a picture of your ass,” he argued. “And you have to decide, are you after quality or quantity? Are you trying to accurately express how you feel and work it out through communicating with people? Or do you just want to have a piece of dental floss up the crack of your ass and stick it in front of the camera?”
Wiesenberg was immediately a fan. She made a promise to herself that if she were ever a guest on a podcast as a wellness entrepreneur, it would be his. “I can see how some women might be more sensitive to his comments, but controversy is what makes Joe Rogan, Joe Rogan,” she says.
Other than Rogan’s no-so-female-friendly feelings on feminism, GamerGate and #MeToo, the most controversial commentary on JRE usually comes from his guests. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has publicly denied that the Sandy Hook school shootings happened, which caused grieving family members to be stalked, harassed and threatened. Canadian professor Jordan Peterson refused to call students and faculty by their preferred gender pronouns in order to advocate against the expansion of a human rights bill that would further protect transgender individuals from discrimination. Gavin McInnes founded the Proud Boys, spoke out about white genocide and dropped the N-word multiple times without reprimand during his Rogan interview. And alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos has publicly stated that 13-year-olds are mature enough to consent to sex and that vigilantes should shoot journalists. In other words, they’re all men who other media outlets have stopped talking to — for good reason.
Yet female fans listen not in spite of these guests, but precisely because of them. They see it as a part of Rogan’s own intellectual fight club where the only rule is there’s a ton of talking. “His show is informative and makes me think and question my beliefs,” explains Chelsey Tucker, a 25-year-old writer. “Some people only like listening to people with the same beliefs as themselves as well as people who haven’t made big mistakes. When we do this, we don’t learn and expand.”
Many of Rogan’s male listeners also don’t want to be sheltered from these perspectives and appreciate Rogan’s willingness to share them, but for his female fans, who tend to feel more coddled and overprotected, this appeal may be even stronger. “He doesn’t pander to me as a woman,” says Carrie Aulenbacher, a 41-year-old writer. “I don’t necessarily mean that I agree with everything Milo Yiannopoulos or Gavin McInnes are about. But how can I understand them and their work if I can never sit down and hear them talk in-depth?”
Part of this appears to be rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding as to why these people have been deplatformed in the first place. Best-case scenario, the person conducting the interview successfully proves the Milos of the world wrong, but they cannot guarantee they still won’t rally people. It’s not that other podcast hosts and journalists don’t want to give these nut jobs enough rhetorical rope to hang themselves, it’s that the risk or recruitment outweighs the reward of an interesting debate. Consider the intensity of the comment section for JRE episode 877 featuring Jordan Peterson. “Listening to Dr. Peterson is like having the father I never had. I appreciate everything he says. It’s like therapy and guidance,” YouTuber Myki S wrote.
“I’d never heard of Jordan Peterson 4 days ago. Now I’m listening to him talk 6 hours a day,” Stonewall Popincrop added.
Similar to Rogan’s approach to masculinity, booking guests like Peterson seems like an edgy, new move but it’s more old school than anything. For instance, his fans largely reject social justice warriors and safe spaces, but seek shelter in an echo chamber of mostly angry white guys. (Of the five women I interviewed, all were white.) Episodes that spread the gospel according to these men may get significantly more clicks and downloads, but there’s nothing exactly radical about letting them speak.
Still, Kelly Wilson, a 37-year-old nurse, mother and Christian who got into JRE to bond with her husband, listens because Rogan doesn’t tell her what she wants to hear. “I’m not the typical fan base, but that’s what is so great about his delivery,” Wilson tells me. “Some people just want to listen to others who share their same beliefs, and many feminists may not like his position on some things.” Alexis Alger, 29, feels the same, adding that sex appeal doesn’t hurt Rogan’s cause either. “He hosts important and challenging people that make you think deeply. He really is great, not to mention a total stud,” she says.
I, in fact, could only find one female listener who didn’t qualify Rogan’s booking habits as a positive. “It’s unfortunate he has people on like Gavin McInnes, or will go out of his way to say there’s no gender pay gap,” says Hannah Harkness, a 30-year-old comedian and podcaster. She is, however, a fan of Rogan’s work advocating for psychedelics, meditation, float tanks, introspection, expanded consciousness and mental health. She even brought her mom to a sensory deprivation tank after listening to the show. “I can’t point to a person who has done as much to bring psychedelic and DMT research into culture at the moment.”
Rogan’s interest in psychedelics might also help contextualize his more troublesome aspects, Harkness explains. Namely, since he’s done so much DMT, a chemical hallucinogenic that Rogan starred in a documentary about, it’s possible that identity politics, cancel culture, political correctness and other aspects of consensus reality mean little to him. “If you want to create a person who’s extremely out-of-touch with struggle, ideally they’d be extremely rich, have a cult of personality around them and they’d be on a shit-load of dissociative drugs,” she says, noting she doesn’t know Rogan personally, and so, she can’t say for certain. “This is just my armchair diagnosis.”
Either way, to Harkness, the potential positive impact of Rogan’s advocacy for psychedelics outweighs the potential negative impact of some of his other soapboxes. She’s cautious about evangelizing the show and doesn’t think of him as a guru per se, but compares his shortcomings to them, along with the upside of what he’s saying. “There’s also a lot of krishna consciousness and yoga teaching guru type people who have sexually abused people. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s a krishna consciousness adjacent guy because they have a huge problem with misogyny,” Harkness tells me. “But that doesn’t mean the whole thing is irrelevant or that chanting doesn’t help or that sensory deprivation tanks don’t work or that LSD can’t help with PTSD.”
In terms of a positive impact for women specifically, Rogan has done a lot to prop up female comedians over the years. His first female guest ever, comedian Esther Povitsky, subsequently appeared on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Dollface, as well as created and co-starred in the series Alone Together. Not to mention, about one hour and eight minutes into a recent episode with comedian Annie Lederman, Rogan became visibly upset about being associated with the alt-right. He acknowledged that booking McInnes was a mistake, and that in retrospect, there’s actually little value in hearing these men out. “There’s a lot of these people that go on shows and try to reinvent themselves in a disingenuous way. And they try to whitewash what they’re doing and whitewash their past,” Rogan says, in reference to the McInnes episode. “The idea is that you’re helping them recruit people.”
It’s worth nothing as well that McInnes and Yiannopoulos haven’t been back on the show in three to four years. It’s possible that Rogan is learning how to wield his platform in a more responsible way. Not that it bothers his female following either way. “It sucks that some of his views suck, and I’m not going to condone them,” Harkness adds. “But I’m glad he’s convincing a bunch of bros to get into sensory deprivation tanks and think. That’s valuable.”