My Facebook feed and inbox are currently full of a petition to keep Roosh V out of the UK. Roosh V is variously described as a Pickup Artist (PUA) and a rape advocate, but I had a quick glance at his website and see he favours the term ‘neomasculinity’.
Other currently popular uses of the prefix ‘neo-‘ include neoliberal, which means ‘liberal economics applied without common sense or compassion’, and neo-classical rock, which means ‘Bach sonatas played on electric guitar with neither taste nor subtlety’. I think Roosh V’s application of ‘neo-‘ is very much in this tradition, here meaning ‘we took some old ideas and made them really shit’. This is an achievement, because masculinity, traditionally conceived, does not have a great deal to be said for it in the first place.
Like I said, I logged onto Roosh V’s website earlier, and was amused by this in his FAQ:
“I’m a girl. I want to ask you a question.”
I probably won’t answer your email unless you include a link to your picture (both face and body must be visible).
Sure enough, his contact form then has a box labelled:
If you are a female, house rules dictate that you must show me a photo of yourself. Upload your photo to sharing service imgur.com and paste the URL below…
His list of “All Time Top 50 Articles” includes titles that sound like something Wonkette would come up with to satirise MRAs: “The Decimation Of Western Women Is Complete”, “7 Ways Feminism Is Destroying American Women”, and the spectacular “Women Must Have Their Behavior And Decisions Controlled By Men”.
But all this risks making Roosh V sound like he is merely a cartoon, when he in fact shows every sign of being a genuine menace. If you want to know more about him, Reggie Yates’ BBC3 documentary Men At War is still on iPlayer.
As I’ve mentioned previously on Leaving Fundamentalism, I used to be a PUA. Yes, not content with starting out as a fundamentalist Christian, I attempted to take on a grand slam of toxic worldviews and become a man with Game. It’s as though I felt my life just wouldn’t be complete if I hadn’t adopted every awful belief available to me. So I’m interested in Roosh V because I think we ought to be paying more attention to pickup culture and the reasons it resonates with a lot of young men. I’m not here to advocate the petition. I actually don’t know whether Roosh V should be denied entry to the UK; I think both the anti-hate speech and pro-free speech crowds have important points.
What I do think is that since the media has only reported on Julien Blanc and Roosh V, many people have a misleading picture of what PUAs are like. I don’t think either of them was on the scene in 2006-2008, when I was most involved in the community, but I rarely came across voices so extreme. I don’t say this to defend pickup artists in general. I was at the friendliest, least manipulative end of the spectrum and it was still utterly toxic. But I think had I seen the way the media depicted Blanc and Mr V back when I was still trying to be a pickup artist, I would have felt that the coverage distorted the truth. I would have said “Well, I don’t defend rape and nor does anyone I know”. The press coverage would have done nothing to help me see why what I was doing was harmful to myself and to women.
Like I said, the PUAs I knew were at the friendly end of the spectrum. We didn’t believe in using tricks or manipulation to ‘get’ women; we didn’t do negging, and we avoided pickup jargon most of the time. We were all about being authentic and making real connections. And even in that world, things were frequently dangerous.
I only met one PUA who resembled the stereotype. He lived near me, so we met up to go out hitting on clubs. I thought we’d begin by having a drink and getting to know each other, but it was immediately obvious he had no interest in me at all. He just wanted a wingman so he wouldn’t look like a weirdo who’d gone out alone to hit on chicks. He also had no interest in the women he met apart from whether he could fuck them. I ended up meeting a woman I genuinely liked that night, but it never went anywhere, in part because she was so creeped out by my ‘friend’ and wanted to know why I was with him. I never did come up with a convincing explanation for that.
One PUA we liked used to advocate the ‘hug opener’—marching straight up to a woman you’ve never met and giving her a hug. In hindsight, this is a good illustration of what’s wrong with even ‘friendly’ pickup culture. At the time, this seemed like a friendly way to break the ice. Now it seems like a reminder that we didn’t really respect women’s right to decide what they did with their own bodies, that consent wasn’t something we really cared about. Still, the instructor who used to do it had a winning smile and often got a good reaction. Not so my friend, whose staring eyes and unsmiling face showed the hug opener for what it was: an invasion.
The next time I heard from this guy was in a forum post where he wrote about his hatred for women. All he wanted was sex and they would not give it to him. He openly used words like ‘rage’ and ‘fury’ to describe his frustration at the sluts who were having sex with everyone but him. When Elliot Rodger went on his killing spree in 2014, I immediately thought of that guy. If anything, Rodger sounded less angry. I have no idea what happened to him; I don’t even remember his whole name to track him down. And the worrying thing was that the community was only encouraging him. I told my instructor I was concerned, and the instructor just rolled his eyes and said “Yeah. He’s got issues.” But the company was still happy to take his money and take him on courses on how to ‘succeed with women’.
This is why I think consent classes at university an excellent idea (although they should start younger). PUAs do not think of themselves as rapists, even when that’s really what they’re doing. The most shared Roosh V article, “How to Stop Rape”, is not (as some have characterised it) an explicit defence of rape. He begins by talking about how he doesn’t want his sister to get raped. It’s just that Roosh V, and his fans, don’t know what rape is. And nor did I when I was in that world.