Here's what I think MGTOW means:
(1) The society in which I find myself (in my case, American) has prescribed roles into which I am pressured to conform.
I'm supposed to:
(1.a) organize my life so as to be useful to women. Specifically, I must have excess resources (which mostly means, make enough money) to not only support a family, but also to afford a very specific lifestyle (sometimes called, "keeping up with the Jones'").
(1.b) approach and pursue women. This requires an investment of time, energy, and money to learn the skills of picking up women (because even for an attractive guy, this requires some practice and effort) and time, energy, and money to actually do it (dating isn't free when you're in this societal role - even if it's free for other men).
(1.c) initiate relationships and propose marriage.
(1.d) organize my life around the marriage. This substantially means giving up pursuits that I enjoy (because stereotypical male pursuits are labeled immature and condescended to with terms like "man cave" and "midlife crisis") and take up the company of and lifestyle chosen by my wife.
(1.e) bear a disproportionate responsibility for the success or failure of the marriage. There is a long list of things that husbands are expected to do for their wives under the auspices of being romantic or adventurous or just keeping her from being bored, but little if anything that is expected of wives (indeed, the very suggestion that she has responsibilities may be labeled oppressive).
(2) I have the ability to fulfill this role. It's completely within my power as a man. I could do it as easily and as successfully as all the generations of men before me. But in the present society in which I find myself, I just don't see that there are any real rewards for it. It appears to be all work with nothing in return.
(2.a) The supposed benefits of following this path are either not persuasive (not enough of a reward for the amount of work required), not true, or not rewards that I actually care about.
The promise of sex is not persuasive. Sex is available at a fixed and guaranteed cost outside of this path. But on this path, the cost of sex is greatly variable and not guaranteed.
I don't believe that following this path will make me happy. Surveys that find married men are happier are only finding that successful marriages are happy. No shit. Lottery winners are richer, but that doesn't mean that playing the lottery is a good idea.
(2.b) Society does not ask what men want, or what we would consider to be a fair trade for the work required of this role.
There is no negotiation here. We are derided if we express dissatisfaction, and shamed if we refuse to play along.
(2.c) Many women see this role not as a social contract between men and women for which they should be thankful, but as a safety net or golden parachute.
One possible answer to 2.b above is that many men would like sexual access to a woman when she is young (for discussion, let's say mid 20's). And in return for that, men would be happy to bear the substantial costs laid out above. But many women ask that the type of man willing to fill this role should wait until she is a decade or more older. This of course is her right, but it substantially reduces the benefit of this path without any reduction in its cost.
It also makes it clear that we are plan B, and likely prevents any real bond between us.
(3) Worse, there are substantial risks for anyone who attempts to fulfill this role.
(3.a) Too many men are falsely accused of rape.
(3.b) The majority of marriages end in divorce. Divorce is painful and expensive. Many men pay exorbitant alimony.
(3.c) Family courts are hostile to fathers. Child support is out of proportion to the actual needs of the child, is often not applied to the child, and in some cases amounts to indentured servitude (as when a judge says, "your ability to pay is not relevant to your obligation to pay" - and sends a man to jail because his 3rd quarter sales numbers are down).
(3.d) There is no legal protection against paternity fraud.
(4) Fatherhood appears to be a thankless job. I don't believe that I'll have much if any authority over my children.
(5) I therefore choose to deviate from the prescribed role in various ways.
Each man looks at the list of things that is expected of him, and makes his own decision about where he will leave the path and what alternative direction he will go. We are united only in this core idea: none of us will follow society's path from start to finish. We are going our own way.