A collage of merch withman hating slogans on them against a background of dollar and pound signs.

The Commodification of Hating Men 

20 years on from “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them!”, are we finally over hater merch?

Once upon a time, in 2003, long before social media and memes, a cartoon drawing of a boy running away from airborne rocks and the words “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them!” became a viral sensation. The brainchild of Florida clothing company David & Goliath, the image was sold on T-shirts, lunchboxes, posters, pencil cases, and just about everything you can think of. It even got turned into a book detailing “exactly what girls wish they could do to boys – well sometimes”. 


In retort, radio host and sort of men’s right activist, Glenn Sacks, initiated a campaign against the T-shirts, whining that they victimised boys. But actually, all this did was boost their sales to the fine tune of $90 million in 2004, according to data provided to the Wall Street Journal. Its cultural impact was arguably even bigger: It could be said that David & Goliath founder, Todd Goldman (who also released "Boys tell lies, poke them in the eyes!" and "The stupid factory, where boys are made" merch lines) turbocharged a strange and surreal phenomenon of brands commodifying anger towards men.

In the years since, this anti-male sentiment has continued to flourish. In 2020, French writer Pauline Harmange released her controversial book, I Hate Men, exploring whether women have good reasons to actually hate them. On social media, female rage is thriving – from “dump him, sis” Insta graphics to fan-appointed “Andrew Tate for girls” influencers @TheWizardLiz and @SheraSeven touting hardened dating advice to combat the toxic manosphere. Here simply dumping him isn’t enough, now it’s about “phoning up his workplace and pretending you’re an escort who didn’t get paid for your services”. Of course, this all sounds pretty extreme, but these attitudes towards men aren’t exactly unprovoked. 


“It feels like the internet held a mirror up to the sheer volume of negative experiences women have had with men, with social media being a genuinely safe space for women to discuss everything,” says Letty Cole, creative strategist at MØRNING and editor of Substack newsletter Burn After Reading. Last year alone, social media oversaw the shift dismantling of Roe v. Wade, the misogynistic spectacle of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial and the rise of the “king of toxic masculinity” Andrew Tate – while internet-propelled movements like #MeToo and Iran’s 2022 women’s uprising have been a constant, traumatic reminder how violent the encroachment of our rights can be. Even on a significantly smaller scale, the rise of Facebook groups like “Are we dating the same guy” reflect the barrage of bad dating experiences crowdsourced on the internet.

“I think it's healthy for women to bitch about men and complain about the way they're treated,” says journalist Marie Le Conte, author of Escape: How a Generation Shaped, Destroyed and Survived the Internet. “But not only have brands ruined the internet, they are the internet. They encroach on all our conversations, identities and personalities. They just want to make money and the problem is social media has offered them such an efficient way of targeting us, what we’re talking about and what we feel strongly about.”


Just last month, Jonah Hill was accused of being emotionally abusive and controlling by his ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady who shared screenshots of their old texts. As the internet debated his wrongdoings and projected their own shared negative dating experiences, the actor was controversially selling “Complete Unrelenting Control” merch that seemingly mocked the outrage. His intention was supposedly to ridicule co-opted therapy speak phrases by wellness influencers, but all he did was capitalise it and drive it even more.

His decision to do so does not exist in a vacuum. It’s emails from clothing brands telling you: “PSA: He’s a bum, sis,” and if you feel like texting him back you should instead “channel that dumb b**** energy  we all feel from time to time, and buy the Boys Lie pieces that say what wants to be said, (but shouldn’t be).” Or brands piling onto viral, bloated spectacles, such as last year’s West Elm Caleb witch hunt: After multiple women realised they were dating the same man, who left a string of repeated bad behaviour in his wake, he became a For You Page’s overnight villain sensation. The most random of brands tried to piggy-back engagement off the debacle, from Hellman tweeting “West Elm Caleb thinks Mayo is spicy,” to dating app Keepler going as far as putting, “Red flags: 6’4”, moustache, furniture designer,” on a billboard. 


“Female rage has earnt a cultural capital that’s lucrative for brands,” continues Cole. “Women are more likely to spend their disposable income than men, and are also earning more money as workplace inequality evens out. This means women’s trust is super valuable to brands.”

That doesn’t mean the trust is always deserved, though. “I always say that if you see brands commodifying any discussion to do with social justice, then it means that movement isn't really beneficial,” says Rukiat Ashawe, an award-winning sex educator and The Digi Fairy’s editorial and social executive. “It’s very surface level, it’s not addressing structural issues or even discussing the patriarchy in more detail, because that isn’t especially sexy or marketable. That’s why you’ve seen brands commodify other sectors of social justice, too.”

Brands have long commodified and capitalised on feminism, the body positivity movement and queer culture, so maybe it’s no surprise they’re now coming for man-bashing memes. In fact, Carl Rhodes has even coined this phenomenon “woke capitalism”. 

“In many ways, woke capitalism is a natural extension of the corporate social responsibility movement that came before it, but what's different with this is that it addresses political issues that have little to do with the core business of the corporations themselves,” Rhodes tells VICE. “We always have to remember that when it comes to social and political causes, businesses are always the followers and never the leaders. They will always have commercial and financial outcomes top of mind when doing politics.”


He points out that we hardly ever see corporations address economic matters, such as increasing the minimum wage, building organised labour and trade unionism or remedying the gender gap at the company’s executive level – all of which helps to readdress unfair systems. Instead they co-opt causes that’ve already built momentum through the real work of citizens and activists – only swooping in at the last minute to benefit from it.

“It's so sad to see how women's trauma has been warped and weaponised for commercial gain,” continues Cole. “The interference of social media companies and brands has shifted the narrative to a dangerous place – from what could've been supportive and hopeful, to hateful and polarising. The right-wing media love this too, of course, as polarisation helps further their mission of demonising minorities and upholding patriarchal power structures.”

Although I regularly say, “Men are trash” to my friends, I know it doesn’t really achieve anything. As Sean Thor Conroe wrote in his 2022 book Fuccboi: “Like, OK, yes – dudes have been shitty for all time. But so, what, now the move was to… out-shitty them? I don’t know, bro. Didn’t know whether that was the move. Whether that would provide long-term satisfaction, once that hit of reactionary “clapback” power wore off.”


As was the case with the West Elm Caleb debacle, venting online about the shared negative experiences of men can quickly turn into a witch hunt – one that brands’ insertion into the narrative only helps propel exponentially forward. And although internet personas like the @TheWizardLiz’s popularity seems a direct response to incendiary, incel leaders such as Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson, really we need to dismantle the whole toxic ecosystem that has arisen – not co-opt it with slogan tees and caps.

“There’s hope in the fact mainstream brand adoption is the final stage of the trend cycle. We’re having this discussion because the conversation has already reached maturity,” agrees Cole, meaning that we know this because we already disagree. “Luckily, as over-blown as this whole thing gets, individuals of all genders are increasingly accepting the nuance. Not all men are bad, but no, we don't need to be told this, what we need is to support men and boys in order to fix inequalities in society, toxic masculinity harms all.”

“I find it all very icky,” agrees Ashawe. “A lot of the online discourse is just infected and you have to ask yourself, how does a T-shirt help any of this?”

It doesn’t, and never has. “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them!” was nothing more than a lucrative IP for a male-owned company. And these newer iterations are just a continuation of a phenomenon we should have derailed years ago – but can now.