Young men gather in remote camps to celebrate “masculine” ideals. On social media, your marketing strikes a chord.

Two men covered in mud, one hanging on the other's back

Are real men like this? Photo: getty

They call themselves Sigma Males, Giga Alpha Superiors or Wolves. And this is how they behave: screaming, they run shirtless through the dark, frozen forest with torches. “In an increasingly soft world, we must respect masculine values!” the muscular, curly-haired man says to the camera. In front of him the flames of the bonfire burn and behind him there is an ax stuck deep in the trunk of the tree.

This is Angelo, 20 years old and leader of the “pack”: a “brotherhood” that organizes trips for men, usually “isolated from civilization.” There he learns to be a “man”: for them that means practicing martial arts at 5:30 in the morning, lifting tree trunks, chest drums and ice baths at sub-zero temperatures.

The pack is a network of men. It is currently made up of 80 “wolves,” says one member. Every few months, adventure trips take place with between 20 and 50 members in Germany and abroad. They are currently in Thailand. The event is being promoted on social media to attract attention. They are followed by 18,000 people on Instagram. And there they polarize: while young people in particular admire them, others accuse them of toxic masculinity due to their outdated image of masculinity and the exclusion of women.

“The Pack offers clear answers in an age when men are often disoriented,” says literary scholar Christoph May of the Institute for Critical Men's Studies. An image of masculinity is transmitted in which the man must be strong, determined and disciplined. Many of the “wolves” say they are entrepreneurs, others want to be entrepreneurs. According to the pack ideology, to be considered a “true doer,” you need to have strict, optimized daily routines and exercise “until you die.”

Hypermasculine body image

“It is propagated that men need competition and peer pressure to achieve their goals,” May says. However, women would also benefit if men became “mentally stronger and physically more stable” and earned more money, Angelo says in a video. May, however, says the pack embodies toxic masculinity through their hypermasculine body image and the narrative that she needs to move away from femininity.

Anyone who wants to join must go through an application process.. According to Rudel's website, the monthly membership fee costs 99 euros. But one thing Angelo makes clear is that they don't scam anyone here.

Part of the Boy Scout's recharged program is also self-reflection. “It was interesting to reflect on one's own weaknesses and insecurities,” says Sergej, influencer and member of the pack. The feeling of community was also enriching “in a world where everyone is distant from each other.” That sounds different than on the package bill, where it asks “Testo, Testo!” and “Protein! Ahhhh!” they dominate.

“This is how content creation works today,” says Sergei. “It's mainly about generating attention and reach.” And this comes from the provocation: “If you filmed everyone sitting there and scribbling on their papers, it would stick less than if you were shirtless in a minus 10 degree lake.”

Biceps, violence and power.

However, upon closer inspection, it's clear there's more to it, he says. From time to time, the pack lets this come out. One video says something like: “What you see on social media: flexing biceps, missing therapy, committing violence. What is not seen: deep conversations, mutual learning and business added value.” But videos like these are rare. Short excerpts predominate: biceps, violence and strength instead of reflection and meditation. Binary narratives instead of differentiation.

“In times of accelerated feminism, this is provocative,” May says. Instagram videos are flooded with accusations of toxic masculinity: “Misogyny 101” or “Incel alarm” are the comments. Well-known feminists such as Sophie Passman and Tara-Louise Wittwer also criticize the pack: “Do these men know that they can get together without having to go to boot camp and call it pack training? You can even meet in a t-shirt,” says Wittwer.

“The criticism is more of a motivation for the pack to want to provoke even more,” says May. The pack reposts them and comments: “If people get in your way, it's just a sign that your voice is being heard.”

For every movement there is a countermovement, May says: the more representative spaces women and queer people occupy, the greater the resistance from men. “A movement that is regaining popularity and whose characteristics the pack shows is the mythopoetic men's movement of the 1980s.” In this movement, the search for a masculine identity is based on archaic images of men. “It's always been polarizing, but there wasn't immediate visibility before,” she says. Social media has changed that.

The herd is not an isolated phenomenon. The Internet is full of men's groups. The problem is mainly its reach, May says: Accounts like “Strengthening Masculinity,” which claim to be “experts on flirting, sex and being a man,” are followed by 7,000 people, while “Bali Time Chamber,” which advertises it, is “the next Generation of Strong Men”, 240,000. This is “extremely dangerous”, says May, especially when it comes to the younger generation.

“If young men glorify misogyny, they will reproduce these anti-feminist behaviors in society.” Instagram strives to be a place free of discrimination. However, since there are no clearly misogynistic attitudes in the pack, but rather implicit anti-feminist attitudes, the platform's power of action is limited. That's why it's important for opinion makers to “name and criticize” the toxic masculinity of the pack, says May. The fact that they pay special attention to this issue is not a contradiction: “It is not the pack that draws attention, but criticism of the pack.”

Sergei cannot understand the emotion. The overly masculine appearance on social media is simply “an attention currency,” he says. “And you can see that it works.” The main thing is clicks. Sense of responsibility: none.