What We're All Getting Wrong About Pickup Artists
Hey, are you familiar with Roosh V? It sounds like a knockoff Iranian vacuum cleaner, but it's actually the pseudonym of Daryush Valizadeh, a self-proclaimed pickup artist and noted piece of human garbage. Men who perform female circumcisions find Roosh's views on women abhorrent, as they (and we) should. His basic argument is that women should exist only to look hot and fuck men, with a dash of "Ew, homosexuality is icky" thrown in for good measure. He's so perfectly hateable, I'm still not entirely convinced that he isn't part of a secret marketing campaign by Big Rape Whistle.
Traditionally, this is where an article would show a picture of the man being discussed,
but fuck him. Here are bunnies kissing.
Case in point: Roosh recently arranged meetups of his disciples, which would have been in a bunch of different cities around the Western world. It's unclear how many meetups actually would have occurred, and it's unclear how many would have been anything other than a handful of dudes drinking beer and complaining that they aren't getting laid. I say "would" because dozens of outraged articles were written, hundreds of outraged social media posts were made, politicians stepped in to say that they'd rather see their city host a Klan rally, and the whole shebang was canceled. Shit, I probably could have used a better word there.
So we made it clear that we won't stand for intolerance, and also, uh, gave Roosh a ton of free publicity that vastly overstates his influence. Yeah, this isn't the first time one of his events has generated a firestorm of criticism. That's Roosh's shtick -- he says a bunch of inflammatory nonsense, everyone makes a big deal about getting mad at him, and in the ensuing outrage some lonely dudes learn about him and buy one of his overpriced books (which openly advertise how controversial they are, feeding the outrage cycle further).
"Bell Hooks says it sucks, but you'll show her!"
Personally, I think it would have been better to have just ignored these chucklefucks, let them have their dumb little No Girls Allowed Club meeting (they were going to use a code phrase to identity each other! That's adorable!), and go on with our lives. Stone cold silence speaks to the utter irrelevance of their views more than anger ever could, because anger is still an acknowledgment that their opinions are, on some level, worthy of engagement. It's the difference between ignoring a child's demand for "all the world's candy" and explaining the economic impossibility of the request. You're suggesting there's a debate to be had, and that if they try hard enough they can make you see the light.
On the other hand, I make the same argument for silence over confrontation when the pizza guy delivers the wrong order, because I'm shy and don't want to antagonize the Bringer of Pepperoni. And the last thing I want to do is mansplain the appropriate reaction to a hate group that targets women. You might argue that it's better to rattle the heavens themselves with criticism, to broadcast their countless flaws from every outlet so impressionable young men aren't misled by Roosh's douche call. I can get behind that. But let's look at how we do it.
Now, here are some responses to other stories about men's rights activists, pickup artists, and their ilk. Not people who make this their profession like Roosh, just the everyday dudes who follow him. The college student who's striking out at parties, the office IT guy not having much luck with online dating -- I could find hundreds of these.
"The Red Pill" is another dumb men's rights type thing. It's also a good name for a band
made up of pharmacologists.
To be fair, there have also been plenty of calm, thoughtful comments. In fact, those are probably the majority. But which do you think are most remembered by the people they're targeting? To answer that, I'm going to tell you something that might shock those of you who are used to reading about my sexual exploits -- I used to not be great with girls. I didn't react to my failings the way Roosh's followers have, by deciding that all women are slutty, stuck-up, manipulative bitches who need to get in line for my benefit. No, my ineptitude was internalized. I decided that most girls (and most guys) are perfectly lovely people and that there was just something fundamentally and uniquely wrong with me. I could talk and make friends all right, but I could never quite get over the dating hump and, dammit, my phrasing is just terrible today.
But then I just ... did get over it. There was no sudden revelation, no manic pixie dream girl who taught me to love loving love. With time and experience and trial and error, I slowly but surely reached the point where I realized my dick wasn't giving off a secret auto-rejection pheromone, and that some people in fact wouldn't mind having it inserted into one or more of their orifices. I'm, uh, still working on my charm.
"Hi, I'm Dick C. Normous. I own eight yachts."
So, while I always thought MRAs and PUAs were awful people, I understood their frustration and loneliness, because we shared the same low ERA. And make no mistake, these people are frustrated and lonely -- behind all their anger and bravado are guys who wake up every morning wondering why they don't have the partner their friends and family have. The partner pop culture tells them that they're failures for lacking. And I think the main reason I got over my hang-ups while they haven't is that I didn't have random strangers calling me a fat, neckbeard-sporting, basement-dwelling, virginal nerd who would rather play video games and watch porn than talk to another human being.
I called myself those things. Not in those precise words -- I'm a skinny little fucker, and I stay clean-shaven because facial hair makes me look like a pedophile who's letting himself go -- but I was constantly convincing myself that I was inherently flawed. I stopped only after I realized that everyone I knew just thought I was a regular dude. What would have happened if they had reinforced those beliefs instead?
For starters, I probably wouldn't be nearly as well-adjusted and attractive as I appear in this selfie.
I'm glad I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if, in my own personal Darkest Timeline, I'm running around clubs wearing a large felt hat that fails to mask my desperation. If you mock and insult someone in an effort to change them (or just because it's fun), they're going to double down and go hang out with the people who are nice to them. It's like how mocking overweight people to inspire them to diet just makes them eat more. Why change yourself for the benefit of an asshole?
If a lonely dude goes to a pickup artist meetup, he's not the loser the rest of the world calls him anymore. He's surrounded by people telling him that he's awesome, that he's desirable, that the world owes him something. He's surrounded by friends. Bad friends, friends who enable flaws and destructive behavior, but if that's all the friendship you can get, you're sure as hell going to take it. And then he'll want to defend his friends from the insults of, say, the people who forced them to cancel their meetups. Because that's further proof that it's him and his buddies against the world. It's like how the ex-neo-Nazi we interviewed didn't start hanging out with Nazis because he wanted to kill Jews -- they were just the first people he knew who invited him to chill instead of calling him a screw-up.
"Oh, sure, yeah, I totally agree that Jews are the worst. Anyway, what time are we going bowling, again?"
I'm not saying we all need to start inviting these guys to our dodgeball leagues and then give them pity handies in the showers, but we should remember that they're victims of the same system that created them. Guys grow up being told that their self-worth revolves around having lots of sex. They're told that by their friends, by pop culture, maybe by their dads. Then inevitably some fail, get frustrated, and are seduced by an opportunistic jackass who says he can help. And then strangers call them ugly losers who are going to die sexless and alone, which reinforces what they've believed their whole lives -- that sex is all that matters and they're pathetic for not getting any. We're reminding them of why they fell for the pickup artist scam in the first place. They want to stop being hated, and they want to stop hating themselves.
That's also why stern lectures on patriarchy and male privilege just make them angrier, usually with a response like, "What do you mean, 'male privilege'? You feminists are the ones who keep rejecting me!" It comes across as a fancier insult. "You live in a society where men continue to hold most of the cards, yet you're still failing." A better message is that modern conceptions of manhood screw both women and men (dammit, seriously, what's with my phrasing today?), but that's kind of tricky to cram into a tweet and might just garner a reply of, "Shut your stupid mouth, you feminazi SJW."
Oh, yeah, that's the final problem. It's easy to insult and dismiss these guys because sometimes they really are just objectively terrible people. I don't think Roosh is lonely and misguided; I think he's such a hateful embarrassment to humanity that he's single-handedly keeping aliens from contacting us. And even the misguided ones can do real damage, whether it's creeping out a woman at the bar or bombarding a woman with rape threats because, hey, all his friends are doing it. It's fun, too. I'd be lying if I claimed I've never mocked these guys, because when you're having a bad day, calling out people even worse than you is an easy pick-me-up.
It's always comforting to remember that at least you're not Roosh. Just look at his dumb face.
But that's why this is so simple. We don't have to respond to anger with passionate, moving speeches that make these guys tearfully reevaluate their lives. We just have to stop responding to anger with more anger. Maybe try a gentle reminder that, hey, it's not the end of the world if you're struggling to get a date. Take a night off. Try a new hobby, and make some new friends who talk about something other than how awful women are. Because those new friends can do a better job of showing you why your old friends were wrong than yelling on the Internet ever will.
Mark has a sensitive Twitter account and a huge story collection. Ladies.
Learn to talk to women from the master of pickup himself, Dan O'Brien, in How To Talk To Women (According To The Internet), and read why we think Mystery (star of VH1's The Pickup Artist) is a giant creep in The 5 Worst Sources Of Advice On Television.
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