The internet caught on fire this week with reports that the infamous "pickup artist" Daryush Valizadeh, known as Roosh V, was going to hold "pro-rape rallies" around the world in 165 cities and 43 countries on February 6.
Women's rights advocates, members of Anonymous, and even a women's boxing club in Toronto quickly started organizing counter-protests. Police were on alert. Tens of thousands of people in the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Australia signed petitions to keep Roosh and his anti-woman "hate speech" out of their country.
All this attention led Roosh to announce he was canceling his events, because he could "no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend." Anonymous "doxed" him (dug up and published his home address and other information), and Roosh held a press conference in Washington on Saturday in Washington, DC blaming the media's "lies" for all of this.
Indeed, calling Roosh's events "pro-rape" or "make rape legal" rallies wasn't exactly accurate — and perhaps unnecessarily alarmist. It's true that Roosh and his supporters have said some disgusting things about rape and predatory behavior, including a post arguing rape should be legal that Roosh insists is satire. But the promotional materials for the event did not explicitly or implicitly promote rape. Roosh is adamant that he doesn't endorse rape.
He's dubbed the gatherings "tribal meetings" — basically heterosexual-male-only happy hours for his online fans to bond, make friends, and build solidarity against what they see as feminist oppression. The meetups were probably just going to be a couple of guys grumbling about women over beers.
Roosh promotes some truly noxious ideas that dehumanize women and contribute to rape culture, and publicly resisting those kinds of ideas is an important part of fighting for women's rights. At the same time, though, he is probably less powerful and less dangerous than people think — and this incident may well have been a deliberate trolling stunt to boost his public profile and gain more followers.
Who is Roosh V?
Daryush Valizadeh is the 35-year-old son of Armenian and Iranian immigrants. The Daily Mail reported that he lives with his mother in Silver Spring, Maryland, but Roosh denies that and says he lives "somewhere in Europe." He got his start blogging anonymously as "The DC Bachelor" before he gained more notoriety.
He says he's traveled to 30 countries in his life, and has studied the best strategies for bedding women in all of them. He's self-published 15 books, most of which are guides to getting laid in different countries that include the word "bang" in the title. He advises fans to "bang Brazil" because "in general the girls are prettier and easier than American girls — at least 50% easier," but "don't bang Denmark" because its robust social insurance programs make women too independent of men to easily seduce.
Roosh dubs his philosophy neomasculinity. It holds that traditional, biologically determined gender roles (men dominant and rational, women submissive and emotional) mean that women aren't capable of regulating their own behavior or decisions and must be controlled by men.
Roosh also says that "a woman's value significantly depends on her fertility and beauty," whereas "a man's value significantly depends on his resources, intellect and character." He believes in the power of "game" to level the sexual playing field that has been supposedly distorted by excessive women's liberation.
He's often called a "pickup artist," someone who promises frustrated young men the secrets to seduction and treats women like a video game that you just have to enter the right cheat codes to win. But he says he doesn't really identify as a pickup artist anymore. He definitely doesn't identify with "men's rights activists" like Paul Elam, who tend not to share his hedonistic nihilism about sexual conquests. Like any other ideological space, the "manosphere" can be fraught with factionalism.
But like most reactionary anti-feminists, Roosh believes that feminism and modernity have led to the downfall of Western society and to the oppression of men. As evidence of this, he and his ilk cite burdensome custody laws, higher suicide and incarceration rates for men, and the greater danger men face from gendered male labor like coal mining — all of which are genuine problems.
But for the manosphere, solving these problems tends to begin and end with blaming women for them. This attitude also leads to dangerous railing against nonexistent problems, like the mistaken belief that women routinely lie about rape or exploit domestic violence laws to harm men.
Why does Roosh upset people so much? Is he actually pro-rape?
It's no mystery why Roosh upsets people: He is rampantly, unapologetically misogynistic and homophobic. He routinely says or publishes absolutely vile things about women — and men, for that matter, especially "unmasculine" or queer men. His website, Return of Kings, runs pieces with titles like "5 Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder" and "Street Harassment Is a Myth Invented by Socially Retarded White Women."
As for why people are so upset about Roosh in connection to these rallies, though, his "How to Stop Rape" piece from last year has a lot to do with it. In that post, Roosh argued that if rape were legalized on private property, women would be more vigilant about their safety and not go home with men they didn't want to have sex with.
Roosh insists that the article was a "satirical thought experiment," not an actual policy proposal, and the post now carries a disclaimer to that effect. But the idea driving this "satire" seems to be either that women are usually responsible for their own rapes or that they routinely call something rape when it isn't.
That's an offensive idea to be sure, one that fuels the rampant victim blaming of rape culture. But we can probably take Roosh at his word that he doesn't actually want to legalize rape.
One woman who repeatedly told him to leave while he was walking her home eventually let him inside her apartment to use the bathroom. Then Roosh says he kissed her (without saying whether she responded), and then:
"I went so fast in her bedroom. Clothes ripped off. Jam the dick inside. Barely any kissing. she was too drunk to produce much in the way of lubrication, so after five minutes we stopped having sex, if that’s what you want to call it. She fell asleep and started snoring. Then I got dressed and left while she slept."
Then there was this:
I was fucking her from behind, getting to the end in the way I normally did, when all of a sudden she said, "Wait stop, I want to go back on top." I refused and we argued. … She tried to squirm away while I was laying down my strokes so I had to use some muscle to prevent her from escaping. I was able to finish, but my orgasm was weak.
Afterwards I told her she was selfish and that she couldn’t call an audible so late in the game.
He describes hectoring women until they say yes (or just stop saying no), and said of one Icelandic woman, "In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she legally couldn’t give her consent." In his view, consent is a fluid enough concept that when a woman says no, she usually doesn't mean it at first (or even eight hours later), and that she can almost always be convinced. He reasons that, sure, maybe that woman in Iceland was too drunk — but she was down for more later, so it was all fine in the end.
Again, Roosh aggressively denies that he endorses rape. But his definition of rape is much narrower than most, including the FBI's. When he talks about rape (including his own fantasies about it, which he says don't mean he supports real-life rape), he condemns violence. In his "How to Stop Rape" piece, he said (or perhaps satirized) that rape in public spaces should still be illegal, because of the "seedy and deranged men who randomly select their rape victims on alleys and jogging trails."
Four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and sometimes victims don't resist because they are in shock or fear being hurt even more. But Roosh seems to believe that the only "real" rape is one committed with obvious, brutal violence.
Any other violation of a woman's consent, like badgering her until she stops resisting, or any other use of force, like holding a woman down against her will to keep her from changing positions, doesn't count. And he doesn't always seem concerned with how a woman feels afterward, or anything other than how hot it was and whether she accused him of rape (he says no one has).
Roosh is prepared to seek retribution against anyone who says he advocates rape. He encouraged his followers to "dox" journalists who write unfavorable things about him and rape — which is ironic, given that Anonymous later did the same thing to him. (Roosh also said he doesn't respect the work of women journalists and has denied them interviews as a result — but he will tweet photos of them with an assessment of whether he'd bang them.) His followers create a formidable enough swarm of online harassers that when I reached out to several women who have written about him in the past, they didn't want to be quoted because it might put them back in the mob's sights.
This is why many observers find it profoundly ironic that Roosh canceled his meetups out of fear for his followers' safety. He promotes the kinds of rape culture ideas that make women objectively less safe in society, and he encourages his followers to harass and intimidate women who disagree with him.
But Roosh has a brand that thrives on trolling
It's honestly hard to know when to take Roosh seriously, including about his own sexual conquests. In an article calling the rape accusations against him a "malicious lie," he says that his "too drunk to consent" story was really just about hooking up with a girl who was drunker than he was, nothing more. Claiming that he was doing something technically illegal, he says, was just his "exaggerated 'I’m a nonstop sex machine' bravado." As gross as it is that he might try to make himself seem more dominant and macho by lying about committing legal rape, it could actually be true.
It's also more than possible that Roosh arranged his "meetups" for the express purpose of getting media attention and stoking widespread feminist outrage, which he could then use to bring more eyeballs to his website and bolster his arguments that he and his followers are oppressed.
David Futrelle of We Hunted the Mammoth, a blog that tracks men's right activism and "the new misogyny," cautions that Roosh "loves to troll" and is "clearly stoking the fires of the current controversy in order to get more attention for himself and his noxious ideas."
At the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey argues that based on social network analyses, Roosh's actual following is much smaller than it appears to be. Anecdotal evidence backs this up, Dewey says: "The last time he attempted something like Saturday’s canceled meet-up — a well-publicized, eight-city lecture series last summer — his largest crowd maxed out at 77 in New York City."
This isn't to say that he couldn't be dangerous. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, listed him and other members of the "manosphere" in a report on misogynist websites. Security analysts worry about the potential of sites like his to radicalize young men like Elliot Rodger. Even the exposure from negative publicity can help more men join the cause.
But my colleague Emmett Rensin, who interviewed Roosh last year, tells me that Roosh is more or less "a lifestyle blogger who writes self-help books, and who is primarily interested in recruiting more followers who will subscribe to his lifestyle blog and buy his self-help books." Basically, the Oprah of the men's rights movement.
Or maybe the Donald Trump — someone bombastically invested in his own dominance and success, and who promises others similar dominance and success if they follow him.
But amid the bombast and the misogyny and the cynicism, there is also some sincerity and sadness. Roosh seems to genuinely believe that he is doing something important for men who feel lost in the world. And as he's gotten older, he seems to be more lost himself.
Roosh says going back to a world with traditional gender roles would be the ideal, but he also doesn't seem to think that's possible. That's one reason he's spent so much time on sexual debauchery. Society is ruined, so you might as well party while the ship goes down.
But the celebration isn't without mourning. He actually seems to regret the fact that, as he's infamously quoted saying, "My default opinion of any girl I meet is 'worthless dirty whore until proven otherwise.'" And he's said he worries about his younger male cousins growing up in a future without meaning.
"Pursuing external experiences, objects, or sex with beautiful women made me joyous but only for a short period of time, and then I returned back to the same emotional level. Was it all a waste? Was it all for vanity?" he wrote in January. "In the modern age, a life of meaning for men is impossible to achieve without also having to perpetually fight."