When I hear about men’s rights activists – such as Daryush 'Roosh V' Valizadeh and his band of online acolytes ‘Return of Kings’ (where are they returning from? Sample sale of badly fitting Burton menswear jackets? Wiping semen off their keyboard?) – I experience a rollercoaster of emotion. Actually it’s more like a spinning teacup ride – devoid of excitement yet entirely nauseous.
My first reaction, as you may have guessed, is scorn. When 80,000 people signed a petition to ban Valizadeh from entering the UK, with the vocal support of shadow Home Office minister Sarah Champion, there was the usual handwringing about free speech. However, the debate was cut short by “Roosh” himself declaring he was cancelling worldwide meetings of ‘masculinists’ due to be held tomorrow because he “can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend” following threats. Safety and privacy, eh? Are these bepenised bastions of free speech now saying they need safe spaces as well as basic legal freedom from state punishment? There’s actually a group already advocating for that, lads. They’re called feminists.
When Roosh V appeared on Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK programme for the BBC, all of the attendees being filmed at the Return of Kings meeting asked for their faces to be pixelated. It’s almost as if these “pick-up artists” (you say “artist”, I say “mentally abusive wanker”) who want to ban women from voting and think anorexics make the best girlfriends due to their low self confidence know that they are, in fact, not kings. It’s as if, deep down, they may know what they truly are: pariahs with limited emotional intelligence switching browser tab whenever his mum passes by his bedroom door. Roosh V reportedly actually lives in his mother’s basement.
As I say, my first impulse is mockery and denigration but this feels vaguely unsatisfying and I ask myself why. Outrage and mockery of these guys will go down well anywhere – but they do exist and, on the internet, they’re kept invisible. Who are they and why are they drawn to a man who thinks it is humorous or acceptable to call for the legalisation of rape? As we – the enlightened – congratulate ourselves on their humiliation this weekend and engage in jokes, these men and the bizarre cocktail of social forces that created them have not actually gone anywhere.
Another eerie thought occurs to me – the outspoken mindset of these men or their blogposts may be a minority opinion in public but their worldview is realised on a larger scale than should leave us comfortable. Rape isn’t legal but most survivors often feel it practically is, given the appalling conviction rates and the culture of suspicion and silence forced upon them. The problem of rape culture is now acknowledged to be so prevalent it’s mostly accepted students need consent classes on campus – in essence, men need direction on how not to rape. Most men wouldn’t say proudly they would date a woman for her lack of self confidence, yet one in four British women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime – in which physical, mental and financial control are used to deliberately erode her self esteem.
The stark truth is the misogyny of the men’s rights activists isn’t just the irrelevant babblings of a small group of paranoid wackjobs. They are just the proud advocates of a violent misogyny practiced in stealth by many, many men outside their own small number – no face pixelation needed, patriarchy provides all the masking. If anything, these masculinists are so troubling because they are just more honest about continuing to uphold the violent structures that actually oppress women already.
Pick-up artistry is a philosophy which promises men they are entitled to women’s bodies, they just need the right tools to manipulate her out of her own false sense of independence. In fact, this doctrine is no surprise to me – in my unusual circumstance of being trans and incorrectly raised as male alongside males. In teenage boys, “success with women” or “game” is cheekily imbued and reinforced as a sign of adult maleness by dads (and mums), teachers and friends. (Often falsified) sexual prowess is incubated as a badge of pride and, for some men, this generates anger with the object of their presumption (i.e. women) whenever this isn’t satisfied.
“The stark truth is the misogyny of the men’s rights activists isn’t just the irrelevant babblings of a small group of paranoid wackjobs”
Last month saw the first convictions for so-called “revenge porn” under a new law introduced last April. Worryingly, FOI requests by the Telegraph indicate 191 of cases reported in the last 9 months were by teenagers – it’s likely many more were not reported. It’s clear from such crimes that male socialised entitlement to women and their bodies begins young. I even despise use of the term “revenge porn” by the media as it frames such abuse exactly in the terms misogynists see it. Porn is, by definition, people performing sexually for public consumption out of free choice: to apply it to a girl or woman who gave no consent for its distribution conflates her with the consenting porn performer and subliminally lays some blame for her abuse with her, instead of her abuser. In the very phrasing “revenge porn” we see a classic example – not only of the entitlement of some young men - but of the subtle reinforcement and concession to this entitlement by culture as a whole.
The news this week that ‘Resting Bitch Face’, a phenomenon usually attributed to women, is (of course) nothing physically to do with gender, points to a more everyday form of entitlement. Resting Bitch Face exists as an idea solely because of the latent presumption women are socialised to be consistently open, warm and smiling. Having presented as both genders myself, a huge disparity I notice is that when they believe me to be a woman, random men feel they have the right to tell me to smile or cheer up. When read as a boy, this has never happened – not even once. The men asking may not realise it, but their imagined prerogative to demand I change my mood is cousin to the demands of Roosh V and his merry band of shits. We can and should mock the self-proclaimed masculinists and pick up-artists and chase them out of their meeting rooms – rightly so – but don’t forget the cheap, nasty scent left by their cologne of male entitlement still remains among us.
Follow Shon Faye on Twitter here @shonfaye