Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh drew worldwide attention due to claims that he would host secret “pro-rape rallies” (how do you even hold a secret rally?) around the world. These claims turned out to be exaggerated, though he promoted rape on his website returnofkings.com, and once paradoxically proposed that rape rates would fall if rape were to be legalized on private property.
The “tribal meetings,” as he called them, were never explicitly intended to be pro-rape themselves. Instead, they were simply meant to be an opportunity to “allow masculine men to regularly bond.” Except secretly. With directions to violently attack any women or gay men who showed up. So it was still bad, just not quite as bad as some people said.
Though misinformation and sensationalism played a large role in Valizadeh’s exposure, the resulting large-scale reaction persuaded him to cancel the meeting to protect his followers’ privacy. The means may have been a little deceptive, but the end remained a victory.
Sounds like a nice story, right? A sexist Internet troll had his plans exposed and defeated. And now everybody’s (rightfully) talking about this creep as if he’s the scum of the earth, wondering how anyone could do that that’s so disgusting I would never even think of supporting what he does, because his actions are unusual enough to make a shocking, viral story.
But is Roosh V really that different from the rest of the country?
For one thing, like Valizadeh, many men claim to oppose rape, but they don’t even know what rape is. A December 2014 survey conducted by the University of North Dakota revealed that nearly 31.7% of men would force unwanted sexual intercourse on someone if not for the threat of negative consequences, though only 13.6% (which is still too much) said they would when the word “rape” was explicitly used.
Valizadeh thinks that women need to be submissive to men, but so do plenty of religious organizations. An evangelical Christian community of “warrior wives” exists, in which women dedicate themselves to taking literally the biblical admonition to submit to their husbands. And I’ve bumped into plenty of guys that have acted exactly like Valizadeh tells men to in order to pick up girls. (Hint: It doesn’t work.) My point isn’t to excuse what he’s doing, because it’s inexcusable. It’s to stop treating him like he’s an outlier when he’s not.
We do this a lot. Donald Trump, the most overtly nationalistic and bigoted of this year’s presidential candidates, has also been covered the most widely, with almost every news site shouting daily about what Trump did this time. And Martin Shkreli, the “pharma bro” who became nationally reviled after raising the price of a life-saving malaria drug from $13.50 to $750 per tablet, has been all over the news for his continuing antics, which range from threatening to destroy an exclusive Wu-Tang Clan album to committing securities fraud.
Like Roosh, these two get a lot of attention, most of it negative. And just like him, they get picked out as The Worst People Ever. Yet Ted Cruz holds very similar views to Trump, as do the many supporters of both candidates, and Shkreli is serving as a great diversion that allows other drug companies to continue engaging in the same price-gouging tactics that he used.
Choosing one specific mascot to concentrate all our hate on distracts from the fact that plenty of other people are doing exactly the same thing. They’re just less showy about it. As a culture, we’re more likely to attack people who don’t conform to our expectations of “professionalism,” and while some of these people deserve to be attacked, that’s not a very good reason.
Besides, even if we stamp out all the Roosh V’s of the world, there’s a huge chance millions more will continue to pop up. Sexism is the problem; “neo-masculine” Internet trolls are just a symptom of the problem, and will never go away until institutionalized sexism does. The same goes for Trump and xenophobia, and Shkreli and capitalism as a whole. Plus, it allows people to ignore their own biases and wrongdoings, since at least they’re not as bad as that one guy on TV.
It’s easy to give one person a lot of attention, especially if their behavior seems entertaining or extreme, but the publicity will only fuel them to continue. And until we address the reasons why they’re doing what they’re doing in the first place, nothing is going to change.