You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

“Rabbit hole” would be one way to describe the thriving subculture perpetuating gender essentialism, alpha-beta nonsense, and anti-feminism that has spawned the current generation of men’s rights activists (MRAs) and pick-up artists (PUAs). The popular subreddit called /r/theredpill, or “The Red Pill” (also commonly referred to as TRP), takes its name from The Matrix and has a sprawling following on Reddit and beyond.

What exactly is The Red Pill? Here’s your explainer on an internet famous ideology that’s even scarier than having an entire existential crisis in Laurence Fishburne’s sunglasses.

Sex as transaction, men as the oppressed

The Red Pill defines itself as a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” This gets succinctly at two pieces that are central to the philosophy. One is primarily focused on sex as a transaction; secondly, it is based on the notion that men are oppressed, primarily by feminism.

The community itself is incredibly organized. A long sidebar on main page links you to rules and guidelines for postings, 101 guides to terms and concepts, and theory readings.

At the core is the concept of an alpha-beta masculinity spectrum, alpha being the ideal that men want to be, and women want to bone. The goal is self improvement by moving toward the alpha side through a variety of techniques. Some are as innocuous as sharing fitness tips, but most involve analyzing, dissecting, or manipulating behavior in relationships.

The subredditors have compiled a very handy glossary, which is essential if you want to even casually skim some posts. If you can make it through that without feeling nauseated, congratulations — you’re probably a bad person. Keep in mind, this is some of the language that has caused pick-up artists to be banned from entire countries and fueled Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree.

The ideology revolves entirely around heterosexual relationships. There does not seem to be much room for LGBT folks, or perhaps it just doesn’t appeal to them as much. I did find one post by a self-identified gay who joked, “As a gay TRP member, I feel like I should do an AMA.”

Some of the advice and debate is not entirely bad, but the language and discussion is incredibly demeaning to women, using dehumanizing terminology like ‘plate’ and ‘hamstering’. Which brings us to the even more mystifying:

Who are the women of Red Pill?

The very first rule of TRP main page states: “TRP’s mission is to discuss men’s identity, sexual strategy, and options in the context of our current global culture for the benefit of men.” (emphasis theirs). So I was curious what exactly was going on over at the RedPillWomen.

Here, there is noticeably less emphasis on dating and more on maintaining an already existing relationship. The first page already reveals more posts on fitness and maintaining physical appearance than I saw on the TRP (which is not exclusively for men, but seems to be dominated by them). Both the men and women are interested in modifying their own behavior. Red pill women feels a little less gross, probably because it is more about keeping a relationship than snagging or avoiding one. Most red pill women are already married or in long term relationships with men, and were introduced to TRP philosophy through their partners. (Incidentally, “partner” is not a term they use much).

One noticeable addition to the vocabulary was “shrew”, a term women use to refer to other women or themselves before “swallowing the pill”. They also use “bitchy” quite frequently and subscribe to the concept of AWALT (all women are like that). My patience was being shit tested at this point in my reading.

Again, there are some good concepts in there, such as communication and reciprocating affection, but it is so couched in demeaning language that it still feels unhealthy. The most positive thing I can say about the discussion is that there is some genuinely civil and thoughtful rapport going on, and the community is largely supportive of its members.

Advanced Red Pill tactics, on “hard mode”

MarriedRedPill also exists. After a bit of browsing, this subreddit also seems to be populated primarily by men. The focus is on maintaining a relationship, which is less predatory than the pick-up artist/plate shit on the main TRP. One thing that hasn’t changed is that it’s still all about sex. Maintaining a marriage involves a lot of making sure she’s still putting out.

After spending some time on RedPillWomen, the whole thing was starting to bother me less. When both partners are interested in a RedPill lifestyle, then it’s just two consenting adults trying to strengthen their relationship through a means they agree on. What makes this creepy is that the wives are often not privy to the philosophy and probably aren’t aware of how much they are being manipulated or discussed on the internet.

A lot of this is not out-there advice, but it could be achieved without the obsessive theorizing and cultish language. “Y’all are hamstering way too much,” I mutter as I skim the third consecutive post by a dude analyzing a scene in which he does or does not have sex with his wife.

There is also a Red Pill Parenting site. I was going to tell you more about it, but one of the first posts is titled “Protecting your little girls from sluttiness” and the description says “developing a positive identity for boys and realistic expectations for our girls.” You guys, I’m so tired.

Not today, Satan.

Turns out flesh interfaces are not even remotely the creepiest thing on Reddit.

What remains unclear to me is how this is actually an enlightened, red pill ideology, when it’s really just same shit, different name on a slightly more organized platform. Here’s a palate cleanser of bell hooks memes for you.