When I proposed to create a project in which the anonymized women — accounted for as flags or notches in the writings of Bang author Roosh V — have a space to share their perspective on their sexual exchanges with him, I did not expect to end up having a two hour long interview with the love tourist and “the web’s most infamous misogynist” himself. The original proposal I made to Rhizome at the New Museum for their Internet Art Microgrant looked like this (and it won):
Roosh V, pick-up artist and author of BANG: The Pickup Bible as well as Bang Ukraine, Don’t Bang Denmark and Day Bang (among countless other books that clearly start with a bang) teaches insecure “beta” men to alpha up and get laid as quickly and often as possible. Distinguishing himself from other PUAs through his globetrotting sexcapades and his Red Pill philosophy (google it), Roosh earns a living publishing his “rabid wolf” methodology – but doesn’t care to provide testimonials from the women he’s banging! I intend to create a platform for the women who have been on the receiving end of Roosh’s dick. “BANGED” will be a webpage of interviews, yelp-style text reviews of Roosh’s sexual performance + pick-up game, and much more from the women he refuses to acknowledge beyond the notch.
“BANGED” was initially proposed as a platform in which I would interview women who have had sexual encounters the former industrial microbiologist who now writes textbooks about picking up girls and getting laid” (though that focus seems to be expanding into fighting so-called Social Justice Warriors more recently). Have you had an exchange with possibly the worst person Jezebel has encountered? Are you accounted for numerically as one of Roosh’s 1,000+ notches? Have you been with this man? If you have – I’m looking for you. I want to know how your experience was. I want to know because this man has made a very public assessment of you but hasn’t given you a voice. Not even a testimonial! Please be in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org – I want to know your side of his one-sided mythology. I can promise you anonymity, empathy, respect and an opportunity to critique his performance.
But I should back up a second. Why Roosh V? And how/why did I end up interviewing him if this was about providing a platform for the women that have engaged with him?
My correspondence with author and lifestyle blogger Roosh V began on September 22nd, 2014 via email. However, I became acquainted with the man formerly known as Daryush Valizadeh and his work more than a year before after reading “Cockblocked by Redistribution: A Pick-up Artist in Denmark” by Katie J.M. Baker, an essay outlining Roosh V’s somewhat unsuccessful sex tour of Denmark and the reception of his latest book Don’t Bang Denmark: How To Sleep With Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must) in that country. From her article, I learned not only about the pick-up artist (not how he identifies, but the most commonly understood term for the subject of his writing) but also his brilliant conclusion that his failure to seduce women in Denmark was in direct relation to the country’s incredible social welfare system. (Roosh was not fond of Baker’s article and you can read his retort here.) The article intrigued me enough that I bought and read Bang: The Pickup Bible. By read, I mean – I became obsessed with it and could not put it down.
I became fascinated by seduction treated as a series of mathematical equations, backed by a mixture of Darwinian biological determinism and pseudo-scientific arguments for radically traditional gender roles, and became hooked through Roosh’s eloquent turns of phrase. I highly recommend the section called “If You Don’t Feel Like A Creep, You’re Not Pushing Hard Enough” on page 155 of Bang. I started reading his website obsessively and even continued to read back through his posts when he was operating in Washington DC as the DC Bachelor. Because a lot of Roosh’s practice now involves traveling the globe searching for pussy paradise, I also began tracking the locations he describes in his posts and textbooks as a way to target distribution of my call for bang-ees to places he was most likely to be practicing his game (see The Roosh Program). Here are a few in case you’re reading from one of these places: Washington DC, Las Vegas, Richmond VA, Virginia Beach, Toronto, Montreal, most cities in Ukraine, Moscow, Tomsk, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Reykjavik, Gothenburg, Tallinn, Tartu, Warsaw, Lublin, beach towns in Turkey, London, Zagreb, most cities in Romania, Chisinau, Riga, Kaunas, Valparaiso, Santiago, Cusco, Buenos Aires, Medellin and the cities outlined in his Bang/Don’t Bang travel books.
Because of the abundance of writing about Roosh and by Roosh – what I really wanted to know after following his output for so long was how women responded to and regarded his performance – his performance of masculinity, his sexual performance, his courtship performance. Did it really work? Also – Roosh’s framing of these women makes it clear that he believes he is manipulating them to some degree with his game, however I imagine their experiences are much more complex and much more interesting than Roosh’s one-sided story of conquering victims with logic and reason would ever allow it to be.
I was also frustrated by most of the writing I found about him, other manosphere members, and pick-up artists — these men should be subject to serious critical analysis. The dogmatic shaming approach that has been taken so far to address their issues with women has certainly had impact (the recent public shutdown of Julien Blanc’s practice is a good example) but this approach often fails to address the larger cultural and structural issues that create a perceived need for the services and spaces that these men provide. It is also assumed by members of the manosphere that we feminists only listen to the opinions of those who agree with us, and are incapable of having empathy for anyone else outside of our “bubble” (the same arguments that are often being made about the manosphere). Each side takes turns taking shots at each other through internet news media. I was hoping to take a more empathetic approach to understanding Roosh’s work, even though I disagree with his views wholeheartedly. I know that taking a black and white stance feels better for news media and is easier to understand – but I’m going to go gray on this one.
I am interested in how a practice like Roosh’s becomes a lens to view one’s experiences and the substantial following that has also found this framing useful to explain their shortcomings and perceived everyday injustices. Kathleen Blee’s Inside Organized Racism looks at the ways in which women have been targeted and recruited into extreme racist groups by leaders who have strategically learned to explain their traumatic experiences as racially motivated. I found her book to be an interesting parallel to the practices of manosphere networks. People in Roosh’s field write sex strategy guides, facilitate conferences and run huge marketing schemes to teach men to decode the contemporary woman and explain men’s struggles to succeed emotionally, sexually, and socially as the direct result of increasingly independent women and contemporary feminism.
My journey to find and interview women who have slept with Roosh V took a bit of a left turn when it occurred to me that Roosh was aware of my plan (via Twitter and a concerned email from Rhizome’s assistant director Zachary Kaplan). This made me realize I should pursue interviewing Roosh himself, as it made more sense to me and my practice to explore the nuances of pick-up art from all angles, and move away from the overly-simplified black-and-white thinking I began with. As I had already started interviewing and searching for women that have had experiences with pick-up artists (not just Roosh), I became aware that the practice is much more complicated than I initially imagined – these game guides are commonly used by men who are looking to improve their confidence and social skills to have a more satisfying romantic life – which is a quite healthy endeavor when described on paper.
Roosh did not respond to my initial Twitter request to interview him in reply to his announcement of my project, so I moved to email him. After consulting the FAQ section of his website, I was informed that if I wanted to engage with him via email I needed to send him a picture with both my face and body visible.
And if you scroll down the page:
Learning and following protocols of spaces before questioning/subverting them has been an important part of my practice, whether I’m working in video game spaces or in physical public spaces. So along with my introductory email, I sent him this photo – which I thought at the very least showed that I was willing to play by the rules of his realm. I also didn’t want to look too desperate – so the photo I chose is only kind of cute and silly at best — certainly not a 10 by Roosh’s community’s standards.
I knew that it would be a tough sell as a self-identified feminist to start a public conversation with Roosh V. In my initial email, I mentioned that I recognized that many media members have made articles about how he is a shitty anti-feminist sex-crazed misogynistic asshole and that I hoped to take a different approach by reaching out to him personally in an attempt to understand how he ended up framing the world the way that he has in direct opposition with “progressive” career-oriented and socially critical independent women.
To my complete surprise — and after a great deal of negotiation — Roosh was up for doing an interview with me. (My art project was not enough of a selling point for him…he wanted me to find him hot girls in Poland and Ukraine….I couldn’t think of anyone single…I offered him the grant money instead…he wouldn’t take it…ultimately it was the opportunity to have himself presented in an art gallery context that won him over!)
Initially I requested a Skype interview with him. He was not game for this and alternatively suggested that I send him 1-2 questions per day over email and that he would eventually create a video for me using those interview questions. Roosh is very tactical in his approach to working with writers and interviewers and even wrote a text called How To Do Interviews With The Mainstream Media which explained to me his initial hesitation with relinquishing control to me regarding the interview process. As outlined in his media primer, he almost exclusively sticks to email text-based interviews (although he has been known to take TV opportunities as they come – including a segment on a Romanian News show and an episode of a Ukrainian talk show). Roosh is also a prolific video maker in his own right and a great deal of his writing and videos are about his personal experiences therefore he has likely already answered every question one could possibly ask if you are willing to dig through it all.
Despite his reservations about doing a live interview with me, after a month of email correspondences Roosh consented to the original Skype interview I requested because he felt as though I was not out to exploit him. When I asked him why he decided to go through with an interview with me at all, he stated via email: “I thought you were sincere about wanting to understand my views instead of just trying to whip up a hate piece and I was enticed by your mention of me being in a museum exhibit. I also felt that you would treat me fairly (as fairly as a woman could treat me, anyway).” Out of respect for Roosh and our trust, I will not include screenshots from the email process here…but next week, I will post the interview in its entirety.
Angela Washko is a feminist artist, curator and gamer who often works under the moniker The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft.
(Photos and Images: Angela Washko)