There are infinite varieties of misogyny on the Internet. Arguably the most visible type of digital woman-hating emanates from the pick-up artist movement, something between a sociopathic self-help theory and an ersatz philosophy. Among the most visible leaders of this revanchist style of gender politics is Daryush Valizadeh, a pick-up artist who operates under the pseudonym “Roosh V.”
Roosh V writes on a variety of platforms, and maintains a catalog of erotic travelogues that purport to offer tips on seducing local women. He became known more broadly beyond his online audience for an angrily written screed against Denmark, which reporter Katie J. M. Baker analyzed in a 2013 essay for Dissent. What, by Roosh’s account, was the matter with the state of Denmark?
According to Baker, Roosh found it difficult to score with women who had no pressing financial need to affix themselves to men. All the methods engineered by enterprising pick-up artists to make themselves appear confident and wealthy were of little interest to Danish women, who can rely upon a robust social insurance regime for financial support rather than the vicissitudes of male sexual taste. As Baker writes,
Marginalized women who need male spouses to flourish might, indeed, find pick-up artists alluring. But women in countries that have gender-equalizing policies supported by an anti-individualist culture may not.
In a recent essay for Vox, Emmett Rensin interviewed Roosh on the subject of gender and sex. For all of Roosh’s frustration at not drowning in no-strings-attached intercourse in Denmark, Rensin reports the pick-up artist found what he does to be merely pragmatic, but not optimal. “In Roosh V's ideal world,” Rensin writes, “there would be no need for men like Roosh. He claims no deep biological imperative beneath his seduction tactics. Only a culture falling apart in the West, marriages dying as women are no longer beholden to the pillars of its stability.”
The pillars of marital stability are, for Roosh, primarily financial. Feminist artist Angela Washko asked Roosh about his ideal world during a lengthy video interview with him in January. In Roosh’s utopia, he explained,
“…a man has to come first. But that doesn’t happen anymore. From that I think a lot of good things would probably happen. By removing the dependency of women on men you’ve unleashed a can of worms where women no longer have to try…So what is actually happening by giving women an independent source of income, you have allowed them to aim for their most base degenerate instincts. The fact that she doesn’t have to get the approval of a man who is taking care of her means that she will get tattoos on her arms and her neck, she will get the gauge earrings and piercings, she will shave half of her head, she will burp, she will curse, she will gain a lot of weight, she won’t have any style, she won’t look good, she’ll be loud and violent. And that’s what we see now.”
Viewing marriage as a financial last resort for women seems typical of Roosh and his cohort, though the idea that only women who cannot support themselves independently marry doesn’t mesh with the fact that the wealthy and highly educated tend to enjoy the highest rates of marriage in society. Dissonance with the evidence aside, it would be easy to write off Roosh’s pathological view of women and marriage as an artifact of his anomalous misogyny, were it not so very common. In fact, the idea that marriage is such a financial lifejacket for women that they must be forced into via the threat of poverty lest they revert to nasty instincts is somewhat typical of the pro-family right.
George Gilder, a pro-family conservative who was the person most often quoted by President Ronald Reagan, believes that welfare “usurps the male role as chief provider and undermines the foundation of families. His provider role is absolutely central to the family; if the state replaces the male provider, you don’t have families. The welfare state cuckolds the man.” In other words, if the state provides women a source of income that doesn’t require marriage, Gilder surmises, women simply won’t marry. Worse yet, in Gilder’s parlance, welfare constitutes state cuckoldry, as though food stamps steal sexual access men are rightfully entitled to. Thus, in the words of once and likely future Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee, Uncle Sam becomes “Uncle Sugar.”
Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project, expressed a similar objection to my recent criticism of an Economist editorial which argued that people who use welfare should refuse public assistance, and leave their families and homes in order to seek work. I contended that this approach removes vital social supports from the people who need their networks the most. But according to Wilcox, any form of long-term assistance weakens one’s dependence upon one’s spouse, thus undermining family formation:
It’s no far cry from Gilder’s assessment that reducing women’s dependence on men for financial sustenance will reduce marriage rates. But it’s also not far off from the worldview of Roosh V and other assorted misogynists who believe, for whatever reason, that women don’t want to be married and must be made to do so.
Pew research shows that, in fact, more than half of all never-married adults would like to be married. Rather than avoiding marriage out of disinterest, 34 percent of never-married adults between the ages of 25 and 34 say that they have avoided marriage because of financial insecurity. Marriage can actually intensify financial risk, contradicting the conservative imagination. Others in the same age cohort consider themselves too young, or believe they have not met the right person yet.
Perhaps these latter two reasons (though made up of smaller percentages than those citing financial insecurity as their reason for never having been married) fit into the narrative Roosh and his conservative compatriots advance about women and marriage. After all, if women’s options were limited to immediately marrying someone at the age of majority or when they are suffering poverty, they would probably settle down immediately. Being unhappy is marginally better than being homeless. But this is where the similarities between the pick-up artist’s story about women and conservative hesitation about welfare reveal a disturbing reality: if welfare income is wrong because it reduces women’s dependency upon their spouses and thereby undermines marriage, then any income is equally dangerous to the American family. Roosh detests the Danish social democratic system for supporting women, but he’s equally disenchanted, as Washko and Rensin’s interviews demonstrate, with women pursuing degrees and jobs.
Roosh’s suspicion of women’s work and education carries over to conservative mistrust of welfare used by women because both camps believe female independence undermines American families. Of course, rather than focusing on trying to cattle-prod women into marriage with the threat of poverty, we could always focus on the reasons women leave relationships, such as the asymmetrical division of emotional labor. We could also try to make young people more financially secure with job guarantees or a universal basic income. But these policies, alas, may be too woman-friendly to survive the currents of conservative thought, which blend, as Roosh V demonstrates, with considerably darker waters.