Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 7:15

Research shows that having a strong support system has many positive benefits, such as higher levels of well-being, better coping skills, and a longer and healthier life. Studies have also shown that social support can reduce depression and anxiety. The connections we make and maintain in our lives are crucial for our long term well-being.

As men, we know that having a strong support network is vital.   With around 14 men dying by suicide every day in the UK, support is therefore important.  When it comes to being there for a friend, colleague, or acquaintance I would suggest that support is unconditional. 

At this time, we often see so called men’s rights activists presenting as supporters of men.  Seemingly good guys who suggest that boys and men need to be supported.  Supported in their education, their family disputes, supported as victims of domestic abuse and supported as a group that often fails to engage with mental health services.

Can I start by saying that I agree with them on this.  Our boys are flaming out academically and, in their relationships, it’s obvious that these issues require to be addressed.

However, as I’ve learned over the past days, many of these self-proclaimed messiahs only offer conditional support.  Support on the condition that you adhere to their ways of thinking, that men’s problems are due to feminism.  When you try to discuss men’s violence, support is quickly withdrawn.

In her book ‘Men Who Hate Women’, Laura Bates investigates the world of Incels. The term ‘Incel’ denotes an online culture of men who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.

Bates discusses how many vulnerable young men are leaning towards these groups as they feel disconnected from friends and society itself.  At first many are disturbed about the often-hateful depiction of girls and women they observe within this culture.  Whilst some remain quiet, saying nothing, some question the views they see.  When they do so they are ridiculed, bullied, and isolated.  Within these groups support is again conditional. 

As Bates points out many of these young men are vulnerable and need connection.  It’s clear that unless these men conform to the rigid, often hateful views, they won’t receive the connection that drew them to these sites in the first place.

A ‘Wolf in sheep’s clothing’ has its origin in the bible and used to describe those playing a role contrary to their real character and with whom contact is dangerous. For me the signs that someone is a wolf in disguise include:

  • They live to take power instead of empowering others. …
  • Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. …
  • They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. …
  • A wolf will charm you first. …
  • Their stories are full of holes.

Many (not all) men’s rights activists (MRAs) are a danger to our boys, and we must find ways to help our boys navigate their lives in a healthy and respectful way that helps them steer clear of these men. 

I see many of these signs in my interactions with the MRA’s I meet in my work. Men who are at first supportive until you speak about men’s violence. Very quickly you become the enemy, a threat to boys and men. Support is withdrawn and it’s clear that this support was conditional all along.

Many groups have a sense of loyalty.  I like that idea.  Loyalty can be a power for good.  Loyalty is part of a team flow – the flow that will help any team be successful, whether on the sports field or in the world of business.  Loyalty, however, has its negative outcomes as well. 

The three officers who stood by whilst Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in 2020, in part did not intervene out of a sense of loyalty.  Silence around violence is often the price many men pay for remaining part of a group.

We need to teach boys and young men ‘critical loyalty’. This is a commitment to the long-term welfare of a group but also a commitment to oppose certain behaviours that pose a threat to the welfare of that group. 

As men we are currently being defined by the worst behaviours, we are willing to accept and unless we respond, this will continue to happen.  We owe it to our boys to help them remain loyal, to maintain their friendships but we require to support them to be critical but also supportive when a peer does something they don’t agree with.

These wolves, these MRA’s are damaging our relationships and contributing to men’s violence.  The first step to violence according to US psychologist Ervin Staub is devaluation of a group.  Staub suggests that without interruption violence will continue and spread. 

As I often say “we need our boys and men to be allies, and not passive bystanders”. At this time whilst we debate men’s role in the majority of violence we create the perfect space for MRA’s to infect our boys with the poisonous narrative they communicate. Some say to me just stop giving them the airtime, they are just a minority. Whilst in the context of a global population this might be the case, their reach is clear and I observe it in my work with young men who are looking for that connection we, as human beings crave.

Some people aren’t who they claim to be. Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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