There’s something about Roosh V., the self-described pickup artist and blogger whose “pro-rape” meetups were cancelled last week, that begs to be looked at. He’s become a laughingstock, a media buffoon who has directed way more attention to himself – even negative attention – than he deserves. His ideas of neomasculinity look and sound like cartoon versions of male media icons of the last generation – John Wayne is the one who comes to mind at the moment – but without the style or panache. Overnight, he’s become the ISIS of the seduction community. Did he really attempt to organize a meetup for rapists? Who are they, and where did they come from?
On the face of it, Roosh is an ass. He’s written articles that seem to advocate the legalization of rape when it occurs on private property; he promotes a highly aggressive, manipulative style of interacting with women; and he and his fellow bloggers at Return of Kings have churned out material that was misogynistic enough to land it on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2012 list of hate groups–though this week SPLC said that ROK doesn’t really meet their criteria for a hate group. They said this because they couldn’t find any evidence that Roosh’s organization has a physical existence. Roosh himself claims a substantial following, but because the meetups have been cancelled, we still don’t know whether this following exists anywhere but in his own mind.
How has he garnered so much publicity? How has an internet hack gained so much notoriety that he’s had to lock out his online forum and request police protection?
I spent several hours poring over Roosh’s writings to find out what he actually says. I wanted to get into his world, to understand the rationale that would possess a man to write, even satirically, that rape might sometimes be OK. Roosh is more than the labels being hurled at him right now. He’s more than a man who writes and says stupid things. He’s a man, like the rest of us, with desires and aspirations, who has made a series of choices that has led him to this moment. What’s it like to be him?
As far as I can tell from his writing, the world inhabited by Roosh V. is a harsh, lonely one. It’s an ugly world, without love or compassion, where a man has to leverage a woman’s insecurities in order to have sex. Meeting women is hard work. Women are quick to dismiss a man at the slightest misstep. A man who wants any chance of being with a desirable woman has to simultaneously engage in several different behaviors that may or may not be natural for him, in the hope that she will sleep with him. Men who go out at night to meet women to have sex with shouldn’t go out with “wingmen”, and shouldn’t talk to other men they might meet in nighttime venues, because they’ll just get competitive and try to snatch away the girl.
Roosh’s world is governed by a rigid social hierarchy – men are “alpha”, “beta”, “omega”, and “zeta”. Women, as the prize, all have a number rating based on their level of physical desirability, with women who score eight and above being the most desirable. In this world, the dominant alpha male sets the rules by which everyone else has to play. Men don’t necessarily need to be alpha males in order to succeed with women, but they do need to emulate enough alpha-male traits to be able to sleep with a beautiful woman. Women, in this world, are totally unpredictable; a man needs to carefully distinguish between what a woman says with her words and what she says with her body language. A man needs to manage several different processes at once if he has any hope of succeeding, and it’s all very complicated. When in doubt, though, a man’s job is to push the interaction forward, whether he sees a green light or not. Push and plough through resistance, all the way, all the time.
Vast quantities of women, in his world, are more valuable than quality. Range is more valuable than depth. Feelings like love and attachment may arise, but they’re to be managed, just like anxiety or depression. What really matters are notches on the bedpost.
What I got, from hours of reading this stuff, is confusing and worrying. Roosh is many things, but he’s not, as some critics charge, an Internet troll or keyboard jockey. His personal goals and aspirations may be controversial, but he’s someone who has put in the footwork to accomplish those goals. His teachings are based on experience, not on theory. Unlike a lot of these guys, Roosh is someone who has actually spent time in the world of women – talking to them, getting to know them, and almost certainly sleeping with some of them. He writes articulately and convincingly. As a pickup artist who has made sleeping with women his primary goal in life, he’s walked away from mainstream values that cause other men to pursue committed relationships and to have families — and that’s horrifying to those who believe that all men should want those same things.
Assuming that Roosh has never raped anyone (he’s never been charged), and that all his conquests have been consensual, the only thing left to condemn about Roosh is writing some very distasteful, misogynistic material. A man who makes casual sex his goal in life will likely reach midlife with some big disappointments. But there’s really no reason to pronounce moralistic judgments about a man like that. So once we remove the judgments and the intense emotion around what he values, and we put the responsibility for Roosh’s happiness where it belongs – with Roosh himself — here are my takeaways from Roosh:
#1. Roosh’s view of women is disgusting. It’s based on experience, but he’s drawn the wrong lessons from that experience. His experience of women is also inconsistent: sometimes his stories sound like things that could have actually happened, other times they’re so bizarre, so outside of my own personal experience, that I have trouble believing he’s even talking about females of the same species. In this strange world, the worse you treat women, the better they respond to you; and the moment you begin treating them well, they grind you underfoot. Women and men can never be equal in this world; all relationships are a struggle for dominance.
Roosh’s methods, even when successful, have had some serious and toxic side-effects. He both desires women and detests them. Most of his writing is shot through with this hate, but it’s most explicit in “The Dark Side of Game”, excerpted here from his “Best of Roosh Volume I”:
When so many girls have opened their legs up for me so quickly and easily, it’s hard for me to respect them (and their opinions or ideas) like I would a family member or close friend. I think this is leaking out into other areas of life as someone pointed out to me that I seem to read books written only by men.
He goes on to acknowledge that his pursuit of sex has led him to lose his capacity to empathize with women, to resolve disagreements, or even to view sex as a loving act. This is a man moving through very dangerous territory.
#2. Roosh does not advocate rape. The article that caused such a frenzy, “How to Stop Rape”, reads like Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”. The part where he proposes making rape legal on private property is 100% satire; it’s not even a question. People taking him seriously and labeling him “pro-rape” on the basis of that piece are demonstrating an astounding lack of appreciation for subtlety. The joke (or “thought experiment” as he later called it) is in extremely poor taste; it’s an offensive, obscene argument; but it’s an attempt, however grotesque, at satire.
#3. Of the rest of Roosh’s writing, some of it is has a point. There is a piece of substance behind some of his drivel. It’s twisted and disfigured, but it’s there. Social hierarchy does govern much human interaction, though maybe not in the way he describes it. Human beings are primates; we create hierarchy, as well as unwritten rules and punishments for anyone who violates them. Roosh’s source for this part of his worldview is likely evolutionary psychology, a field which is still in its infancy but which is already making some convincing points. People don’t usually respond well when these unwritten social structures are pointed out, however, and with good reason: it challenges the narrative our civilization tells us of everyone being equal, of everyone having opportunity. People are uncomfortable with the idea that there’s a much older story that drives some human behavior, and mating behavior in particular: a story of winners and losers, of popular people and outcasts; of people chosen as mates and life-partners, and others who get passed over. What other kind of reaction can he expect when he rubs our noses in our own worst nature?
I felt dirty after all this reading, like I needed a shower. I detested what Roosh had to say, even – and maybe especially – when he had a point. Yes, most men have a preference for slender women, and there may be evolutionary reasons for it, but that doesn’t make it OK to suggest that women with eating disorders make better girlfriends. Even if women comply with demands that are made angrily, that doesn’t make it OK to use anger as a tool to get what you want from a woman you’ve already bedded. Anyone who has dated a lot knows that Roosh’s techniques, although they might get results, will at best reward a man with what I call the “booby prize”: an insecure, high-maintenance, possessive woman with baggage. Alternatively, they will leave in his wake a trail of women who either don’t like him or don’t remember him. And at worst, he’ll leave himself open to criminal charges—either now, or 30 years from now.
The amazing thing is not that Roosh has had some success with these methods, but that he’s not alone. He’s got a fair number of followers on Twitter, and Return of Kings is exploding with traffic right now. Clearly he speaks in some way for a segment of men who feel isolated and unfulfilled, who will accept any form of sex – even rushed sex with drunk girls – over being alone. Of course it’s angering, but there’s also something profoundly discouraging and sad about it. One imagines him stuck in this holding pattern for years, going out every weekend to hunt for fresh meat while his friends all fall in love and get married. Don’t hate on Roosh. Let’s hope he can recover his humanity, and soon.