Note: The following article concerns some very troubling online communities; while I cannot assert that the hyperlinks are to non-triggering content (almost all probably are), they are nevertheless exclusively to mainstream media and feminist writers/websites; none directly link to Roosh V.’s work or like-minded thinkers’ websites.
The less insane parts of the Internet today are having a field-day with mockery of Roosh V. (Wikipedia), the pick-up artist (PUA) and Men’s Rights Activist (MRA, just to understand the lingo, even if he wouldn’t agree with the term) who may or may not be living in his mom’s basement (NYMag).
The background of this is that Roosh V. announced last week his intention to hold an international meetup of “neomasculinists” (his term) in 43 countries this Saturday (since cancelled due to “security concerns”). This supposed meetup (more in a minute on that qualifier) got a lot of press because Roosh V. has argued in the past that, essentially, some forms of rape should be legal. Hence their characterization as “pro-rape rallies.”
Anyone really interested can research more of this themselves. These people and their ideas aren’t news to me, unfortunately, but the publicity Roosh V.’s claims generated got a lot of attention from people who perhaps more blissfully unaware. And I found myself reading numerous outraged posts on social media about the event, mostly written by people with little or no knowledge about how people like Roosh V. operate. Which was problematic, because at least one of his prominent critics was consistently arguing that the entire affair was essentially a canard, a ploy for attention that would result in a predictable public backlash, grant valuable publicity to Roosh V., who likely never intended nor would have been able to pull off a 43-county collective protest against feminism by people who explicitly or implicitly endorse rape.
If you’re unfamiliar with the work of artist Angela Washko, please use this opportunity to become familiar. She’s one of a group of emerging feminist artists working in the digital space whose work I follow and immensely respect. And yes, she gets a lot of shit online from trolls. But I have a lot of respect for her work, which I think is representative of one voice among many who are using the online sphere to explore and challenge the ways in which aspects of identity are performed in contemporary culture. She also, somewhat brilliantly, created an art work out of engaging directly with Roosh V. There was a performance based on it as part of the SFX Festival in New York this last January that I highly recommended (though was unable to attend), but you can get video as well as Washko’s own thoughts on the original at the now-defunct ANIMAL NY website.
Anyway, I follow Washko on Facebook and saw her (I don’t want to speak for her here) discouraging people from taking Roosh V.’s bait over the past week, as global outrage mounted. And then, trying to convey this sense to friends on Facebook, I got frustrated again trying to explain to people blissfully unaware (after things like #gamergate or Neil Strauss’s The Game or countless other entrees into a world most of us don’t want to be in) that these ideas exist and enjoy some form of popular currency, mostly online where the ideologues can hide behind anonymity in order to spout some of the most ridiculous misogyny imaginable.
Washko did amazing work engaging with this psycho and publicized it. Yet all he had to do was announce his intention to hold a 43-country protest in favor of rape, for him to dominate the news cycle. Was it cool for a Toronto all-woman boxing league to threaten his supposed supporters? Sure. But was Roosh V. actually popular enough to convince followers to show up in 43 countries to publicly protest in favor of his ideas? Not likely.
Quite the opposite, by relying on public ignorance of his reprehensible ideas, Roosh V. was able to garner more publicity for himself and his ideas than he could have otherwise dreamed. By making outlandish and unsubstantiated claims, he governed a newscycle. And while the response was overwhelmingly negative, it’s important to consider it in light of how people like Roosh V. operate. He relies for his living on encouraging misogyny–by selling books on how, with his unique pseudo-psychological insights, sexually frustrated men can “seduce” any woman to have sex with them. Sexual inadequacy and misogyny are profitable for people like Roosh V. Which indeed makes attention to his efforts important. But public outrage only helps put him on the radar of those who share his tendencies but were perhaps unaware of his work. And his ability to cry foul at perceived violent threats from feminists (and those who deny the term but are nevertheless outraged by his pro-rape ideology) only helps steer new recruits to him. It’s the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity” in action.
In practice, the particular strain of misogyny that Roosh V. represents exists mainly online in terms of its discourse, though it certainly has real world consequences. And however extreme, it’s also a manifestation of deeper social issues that themselves need to be addressed absent a demon-head like Roosh V. (Consider this article for more perspective on this front.) And the fact that people like Roosh V. operate primarily online is no assurance that there are not specific real-world consequences to their actions, as Anita Sarkeesian (Wikipedia) could attest to, among many others (also, see: doxxing, swatting).
So, here’s my PSA. If what he’s advocating concerns you, get educated. The first resource people should be aware of is We Hunted the Mammoth. Run by a white guy named David Futrelle in Chicago (here’s him writing about Roosh V’s rallies recently in the IBT), it’s an excellent resource on what he refers to as the “New Misogyny,” and does an excellent job of tracking developments from the online communities run by people like Roosh V. The next time something like this comes up, I highly recommend interested readers refer to We Hunted the Mammoth to try to orient themselves and understand the background of what’s at stake. It’s hardly the only resource online, but it does a few things very well. First, it’s dedicated to covering and describing these online communities. Second, it uses various technologies to prevent the hosted sites it references from receiving clickthroughs–you’re not supporting advertisers or raising Google rankings by engaging through this site. And third and finally, it provides a lot of important background, as Futrelle has been following this for several years.
And of course people should bother reading important feminist writers on the subject. Lindy West, for instance, formerly of The Stranger and now at The Guardian, I think is indispensable.
If any readers have additional resources they’d like me to add, email me by following the “Contact” link above.