Daryush Valizadeh – also known as Roosh V – is an American self-styled "pickup artist" known less for his dating tips, of which he provides surprisingly few, than for his extravagant and sometimes theatrical misogyny, best exemplified by his now-infamous proposal to "end rape" by making it legal on private property.
Roosh's notoriety got the better of him this week, however, when public outrage over his noxious views led him to cancel his plans to hold 165 simultaneous meet-ups for his fans in 43 countries around the world. In a plaintive note on his Return of Kings website, Roosh lamented that he could "no longer guarantee the safety or privacy" of those who planned to attend his meetups – many of which are apparently still taking place in secret, just not under his name.
Roosh has complained bitterly that the media has pegged him as a "rape advocate". He has repeatedly proclaimed his proposal to legalise rape was some kind of Swiftian satire – though to my knowledge, he hasn't ever explained exactly what or whom he was trying to satirise.
That said, his post was less a serious legislative proposal than a twisted, misogynistic "thought experiment": if women knew they could be legally raped on private property, he suggested, they would be more careful about who they went home with. Voila, no more rape!
It's an argument as ridiculous as it is offensive. And while it certainly deserves the criticism it has received, to focus too much on this one post of his is to miss the truly dangerous elements in Roosh's philosophy. Roosh, like many other gurus of so-called "pick-up artistry", likes to pretend he's discovered some secret codes that – like the cheat codes that make video games easier to play – allow men to charm and/or manipulate almost any woman into having sex with them.
In reality, of course, there are no cheat codes; women aren't video games. But there is another, more old-fashioned technique that men have used since time immemorial when they want to have sex with women who aren't interested in having sex with them. This technique is known as rape.
While Roosh indignantly insists he is no "rape advocate", in his books and blog posts, he encourages his followers to treat a woman saying "No" as little more than a temporary obstacle to sex. In a blog post entitled When No Means Yes, Roosh insists: "'No' when you try to take off her bra means... 'Try again in five minutes'," and that: "'No' when you try to take off her panties means... 'Don't give up now!'"
In a post titled How Many No's Does It Take To Enter A Vagina, Roosh insists it's "rare that you have sex with a girl who gives you no resistance before sex". As he sees it, "as long as the girl remains in your presence and makes no attempt to withdraw, leave or call the police, you're being the right kind of persistent... With one of my more recent seductions in Poland on a girl of accomplished beauty, I received over 50 no's from start to end".
Even more chillingly, his writings are filled with deeply disturbing, self-styled "field reports" detailing his alleged sexual "conquests".
In one infamous passage in his book Bang Iceland, he describes how he "banged" one extremely drunk Icelandic woman, acknowledging that: "In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she legally couldn't give her consent … but I can't say I cared or even hesitated. I won't rationalise my actions, but having sex is what I do. If a girl is willing to walk home with me, she's going to get the dick no matter how much she has drunk. When it comes to sex, one ounce of hesitation or a feeling of morality will get me nothing."
Roosh insists he is no rapist and it is certainly possible that none of the women he's been with consider themselves to have been violated. But his advice could be misinterpreted as a rape "how-to" guide, and that's a dangerous thing. There are a lot of young men in the world with surging hormones and not-as-yet-fully functional moral compasses; pick-up artists telling them "no" means "try harder" are the last thing they and the women in their lives need.
Indeed, one chilling recent survey of young men attending an American university found nearly a third of them admitted they would force an unwilling woman to have sex with them "if nobody would ever know and there wouldn't be any consequences". Even more disturbingly, most of those who said they would happily commit such a "consequence-free" rape didn't even understand that it was rape.
Roosh's insistence that sex for him almost always involved "resistance" from women, and his repeated claims that a woman's "No" almost never really means "No" – are things that make his pick-up philosophy truly dangerous.
"This is exactly what feminists want, to have men living in fear by allowing women to retroactively change their minds about all their sex encounters," writes Roosh. He may seem like a fringe character but his websites and videos reach more young men than you might expect, drawing considerably more traffic than many of the men's rights sites that have been much in the news in the past few years.
And, unfortunately, many of the most egregious notions of pick-up artists such as Roosh have spread far beyond the confines of what's called "the manosphere" online. As the proprietor of a blog that tracks online misogyny, I regularly hear from concerned readers whose boyfriends, brothers or sons have "taken the red pill", as online misogynists like to say, and taken some of the noxious notions of people such as Roosh to heart.
More heartening are the notes I get from former followers of Roosh and his comrades who've since come to realise that the philosophy they had adopted was poisonous not only for the women in their life but for them as well. That's why it's important to stand up to people like Roosh and let young men know there are healthy alternatives to his hateful ideology.
David Futrelle, a writer in Chicago, runs the blog We Hunted The Mammoth. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including Salon, Time.com, The American Prospect and the Washington Post.