The internet’s fake woke man died not with a whimper, but with Kendall Roy on Succession roaring, “Fuck the patriarchy!”
It was very Kendall — a tone-deaf interpretation of what the internet has decided is cool and good cringingly deployed as a weapon against Waystar Royco and his family in the wake of a rape scandal.
I would describe Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) as the final evolutionary form of the Male Pick-Me Feminist, a species, born of the internet, that first emerged in the public consciousness in the mid 2010s.
In the same Succession episode, Kendall tweets something equally vapid about “the patriarchy.” He sabotages Shiv’s first presentation in her new made-up leadership role by blasting Nirvana’s “Rape Me” in the middle of her speech, evidently unaware of how this move was, in itself, deeply misogynistic. He has hired a staff of thin, non-white women in power suits, probably thinking he looks progressive, when he really just looks like he’s trying to create a harem. He crashes the company shareholder’s meeting to read the names of the victims aloud. Kendall believes if he publicly ticks enough “Me Too Era” boxes, that will be enough to preserve his own position of immense privilege and exploit a weakness in his dad, Logan Roy, the show’s fictional Rupert Murdoch.
The Woke Man Is Officially Dead
The weakness Kendall sees is not that Logan allowed these horrific things to happen and covered it up, but that he hasn’t cracked the internet’s wokeness algorithm. “You almost feel like people are kind of machine-learning over time, ‘This is how I need to talk to be accepted by the people I want to be accepted by,'” says writer and podcaster Jamie Loftus, who cohosts Aack Cast! and The Bechdel Cast. “I feel like he’s like a shitty AI that upgraded just the smallest bit, but is pretty useless.” If you were to feed a bot a hundred hours’ worth of feminist tweets, Kendall Roy is what would pop out.
When I think about this kind of internet creature, the uncanny valley of feminism, the first modern celebrity who comes to mind is often Andrew Yang — who touted equal pay and childcare as key platform issues when running for president, but fostered a bro culture among his base. I am also reminded of those “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts that famous men like Benedict Cumberbach and Tom Hiddleston sometimes wore in photoshoots. In the flurry of post-2016 Women’s March energy, disingenuous male feminists were so ubiquitous they got their own SNL sketch.
And of course we have to talk about Jake Gyllenhaal (Taylor’s Version). In Taylor Swift’s rereleased, ten-minute version of her song “All Too Well,” new lyrics seem to claim Gyllenhaal carried around a keychain that said “fuck the patriarchy” while he was dating then-teenager Swift. He is, predictably, now being roasted to death on Twitter. “It’s giving 2010 era performative allyship it’s giving hipster runoff feminism it’s giving mustaches and bacon,” tweeted freelance journalist Carina Hsieh.
It’s one reason I have a hard time trusting any internet boyfriend du jour. Yes, even Bo Burnham, who is treated like Gloria Steinem because he made a wonderful movie about pubescent girlhood, Eighth Grade. Much as I love this movie, it bugs me that it was made by a dude because it was boys who made my eighth grade life hell. In many ways, Yang, Gyllenhaal, Kendall, and the like are descendents of Orange is the New Black actor Matt McGorry, perhaps the internet’s first true performance feminist. McGorry enjoyed a few brief months in the girl power sun before women began to call him out. He was criticized for his shallow understanding of a real political movement and for soaking up the excessive praise he received for posting things like shirtless IG selfies to #FreeTheNipple when he could have just passed the mic to a woman.
Social media is at the heart of performance feminism, as it is an easy medium to establish feminist credentials without any uncomfortable self-reflection or changing your life in any way. It is the perfect, all-purpose fig leaf should anyone call out your actual real-world misogyny.
“Well, social media has an instant gratification feedback machine, right? So if you say something that feeds into social media’s echo chamber, you get immediately applauded for it, retweeted, liked, it goes viral, it strokes your ego,” says Evette Dionne, cultural critic and former Editor-in-Chief of Bitch Media. The same is also true in reverse — if you say something that Twitter as a whole finds offensive, you can expect a dog-pile. Dionne doesn’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as it is a sort of built-in accountability mechanism, but it’s also a relatively simple game to master if you’re just a dude auditioning for People’s Sexiest Man Alive or trying to become president. Dionne likens it to a publicity deck, a way to promote a personal brand without any expectation of follow-through, and an online record of documented “goodness.”
“I don’t think that there’s anything wrong on a personal level with thinking that Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue is a step in the right direction,” says Dionne. “But on a systemic level, the way in which we, as a culture, deify celebrities and deify people who are famous and wealthy, just allows all of these inequalities to persist.”
But it’s not restricted to current celebrities. Would-be woke baes posting TikToks criticizing misogyny with varying degrees of nuance have recently been flooding my For You Page. To a cynical eye, TikTokers like Kyle Prue, who posts “Things you can say to piss off men” videos, or the guys continually shocked by how straight men treat women, could be seen as riding a viral feminist wave to Influencerdom. I suppose TikTok is the natural progression from Twitter and Instagram’s male feminists of yore, but God help us the minute Kendall Roy gets on that particular app.
Sometimes these would-be allies appear in the wild — on your dating apps, for instance, or in your friend group. “The fuckboy feminist thing is very, very funny but you can just kind of see right through it,” says Loftus. “But once they learn the correct talking points, it’s almost impossible to get through to them, it feels like.”
It certainly doesn’t seem like anyone has gotten through to Kendall, a character who thought he could survive a (fictionalized) Ziwe interview about the patriarchy — and who fired his “best lawyer in town” for being “toxic” the second she tried to speak up. My hope now is that having Kendall as a standard bearer will help drive Woke Men off the internet for good. Until then, I won’t begrudge you your internet boyfriend.