Men punching random women in NYC: A desperate last gasp of the male rage fueling MAGA

Random NYC attacks are an extreme manifestation of men feeling entitled to women's time and attention

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 8, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

People eat in a restaurant sidewalk shed on Mott Street in Little Italy in New York City. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
People eat in a restaurant sidewalk shed on Mott Street in Little Italy in New York City. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Men are punching random women on the streets of New York City. As usual with these kinds of diffuse and chaotic stories, there's much that is unknown, including how often this is happening, how many people are involved, or whether it's at all coordinated. But what we do know is already alarming. CNN reports that dozens of women have discussed being victims on social media, and formally interviewed six of them. NBC News reports there have been at least 3 arrests. CBS News reports that NYPD released images last week of a fourth man wanted for allegedly punching a woman in Union Square. Even reality TV star Bethany Frankel says she's been victimized

Women report being assaulted by men of different races and ages. Still, across the different stories, a couple of similarities pop out: The alleged victims are mostly young and pretty, and most of them say they were minding their own business when they were attacked. Some were on their phones or reading on tablets. Others were speaking to friends or daydreaming. Whatever they were doing, they were just living their lives, and that, it seems, is what enraged their assailants. 

The alleged victims are mostly young and pretty, and most of them say they were minding their own business when they were attacked.

Whatever the scale of this problem eventually turns out to be, it's not surprising that these stories have gone viral and captured the public's imagination. While it rarely turns to violence, most women who spend much time walking around in public have experience with men who berate them for paying attention to something other than the man who is now, often out of nowhere, spewing invectives. In our modern era, that often manifests with men who are infuriated at women for looking at their phones. But I'm old enough to remember when I would get yelled at for reading books in public.

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Whatever the excuse the angry man concocts, the impetus is always the same: The eyes of a woman are directed at someone or something that is not him, and he is indignant over it. So he will make sure she has no choice but to look at him, either by getting in her face or — in these alarming New York cases — punching her. If he cannot capture her adoring gaze, well, he will make her stare at him in fear. 

These stories resonate, as well, because the nation is having a moment of increasingly unhinged male fury at women for daring to have lives that are centered around something other than catering to a man's every whim. Unleashed by Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, there's an upswell of loud male entitlement shouting at us from every corner. 

We see it in the male fans of Jordan Peterson, who clamor to his events to hear him croak out a just-so story about how lobsters justify their faith in male dominance. Or the rise of "tradwives" online who make a living pretending they're unemployed and housebound. Or Ben Shapiro setting fire to a Barbie doll because he can't stand that a blockbuster comedy starring a woman is about anything but her quest for male affection. Or MAGA pundits telling lies about birth control, in hopes of tricking women into having babies before they're ready. Or conservatives writing op-eds that blame women for male loneliness, telling women they must self-sacrifice to relieve male pain by marrying Donald Trump voters. Or right-wing men yelling because Taylor Swift has cats or because she dates a hunky, vaccinated NFL player instead of, I dunno, having babies with a guy in ill-fitting cargo shorts. 

The word "backlash," in reference to the famous Susan Faludi book that chronicled the dramatic recession of women's rights and status in the 80s, which erased much of what was gained by the second wave of feminism, gets thrown around a lot. And these things indeed tend to be cyclical. The late 90s/early 2000s was another backlash period, as the rise of Limp Bizkit, George W. Bush, and trucker caps eclipsed the relatively feminist mid-90s. 

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But there's one big difference between the male tantrum we're experiencing now and the backlashes of old: This time, women aren't really playing along. A few, maybe, especially if they can get a piece of that sweet "tradwife" income. But, in the past, backlashes tended to draw large numbers of women along, or at least convince them to silence their opinions, lest they be labeled a "man-hater." In the more conservative parts of the country in the early 2000s, it manifested as widespread shaming of women for having sex before marriage, from abstinence-only "education" to purity rings. But it wasn't great in more liberal areas, where women put up with hipster sexism to get the prize of being called a "cool girl." 

Now, there just seems to be much less interest among women in placating men by silencing ourselves or "compromising" on basic rights. All the male bellyaching about "Barbie" and Taylor Swift did nothing to dent ticket sales. Roe v. Wade was overturned and instead of scaling back our claims to our own bodies, women revolted, organizing ballot initiatives around the country to protect abortion rights. Polls show that while young men might be backing Trump in large numbers, young women have not been browbeaten out of voting for Democrats. Just last week, a women's college basketball game between LSU and Iowa became the highest-rated college basketball game in ESPN history. 

The rise of MAGA is fueled by misogyny. But it's less a backlash than a tantrum, a rage explosion by men who want to restore their dominance but fear that, this time, women won't buckle to their bullying. This rash of men punching women in New York City captures this moment in a dark way. We don't even need to know their names or faces to know that men who do this are losers, lashing out because they've learned that actually, women don't owe them anything just because they're men. It's also true that women aren't just suffering in silence, but telling their stories without shame or self-blame. There's something nakedly pathetic about punching women, as scary as it is for the victims. It's not like the cat-calling or groping of old, which disguised male aggression as a mere over-exuberance of lust. This is a last gasp of men who, unable to justify their sexism in any way, must resort to brute force. Yet even then, they're unable to shut women up. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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