Are 'pick-up artists' to blame for Isla Vista shooting?

  • 27 May 2014
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An undated photo of Elliot Rodger.
Image caption Did a "pick-up artist" culture lead Elliot Rodger to blame women for his problems?

In Elliot Rodger's YouTube "manifesto", recorded before he killed six in Isla Vista, California, he said his actions were provoked by women who spurned his romantic advances in favour of men he considered less appealing.

This led to the creation of the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, with women sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault as a push back against those who dismissed Rodger's views as the rantings of a mentally ill individual.

Another debate over gender and sex has arisen from Rodger's use of language often associated with the "pick-up artist" (PUA) community, and news reports indicate that he took interest in the techniques and views espoused by a subculture that seeks to offer advice on how men can be more successful at attracting members of the opposite sex.

This advice, critics say, objectifies women and may have fuelled Rodger's anger.

Bustle's Sarah Hedgecock offers her take on the PUA world:

Dedicated to having sex with women determined to score at least 7 out of 10 on the PUA scale of attractiveness, these men trade tips for scoring "targets" (yes, that's code for "women") and becoming the dominant dudes they believe all women truly want to sleep with. These are the guys who try to pick women up by insulting - or "negging" - them. The beliefs that women control the sexual market, that one is owed sex for doing favours for women, that girls only sleep with jerks and that there is one true key to getting all the (straight, hetero, unattached) sex a man could want form the basic creed of the PUA community. Women, in PUA culture, are not humans deserving of respect; they are a necessary evil to conquer in the name of sex.

Amanda Marcotte, writing for the American Prospect, says that PUA tactics differ from traditional dating advice in that they don't attempt to help men be better people.

"Pick-up artistry argues that men who can't get laid are fine the way they are, and it's women - the entire lot of them - who are broken," she writes. "And that by accepting that women are the ones to blame here, the student of PUA can finally start getting the sex he feels entitled to."

By fostering this "women are the problem" view, she argues, the PUA culture gave Rodger a focus for his anger and resentment:

With so many men spending so much time egging each other on, and trying to top each other when it comes to blaming women for their own pitiful lives - to the point of advocating for the denial of basic rights to women - it's little surprise that one of them would finally work up the nerve to get his "revenge" for all these imagined slights.

Marcotte notes that Rodger was a regular poster on a website critical of PUAs, but she says such sites are no different in their attitude toward women:

They still believe that women are "inferior and forbidding monsters, pre-programmed to reject worthy betas in favour of supposedly awful alphas, and their main complaint against PUAs is that they mislead betas into thinking they can game the system.

Slate's Amanda Hess says that while she doesn't blame PUAs for Rodger's behaviour, some reactions within the community were "disturbing, if not surprising".

Many saw it as an opportunity to ridicule Rodger as being a poor practitioner of the PUA craft, she writes.

Hess quotes one website, Strategic Dating Coach, which boasted that Rodger "should have gone to our website and got our personal dating coaching or purchased one of our products".

Roosh Vorek, a self-professed pick-up artist who writes books on attracting women, says attacks on the PUA community are unjustified. The critics, he contends, are the real ones responsible for "creating a cultural environment that allowed this massacre to occur":

Six lives would have been saved if there was a societal mechanism to steer sexually frustrated males like Rodger into learning self-improvement, game and masculinity, the very values that are taught here and on many other manosphere sites that inexplicably have been attacked, disparaged and even sought for eradication by the American media and blogosphere, men's rights activists, "PUA haters" and progressive organisations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He notes that while Rodger was "undoubtedly mentally unstable", he was not that different than many "socially awkward males".

"We live in a society where being shy, normal or a little awkward is duly punished by entitled American women who have been encouraged to pursue exciting and fun casual sex in their prime with sexy and hot men as a way of 'experimentation'," he writes.

He argues that giving Rodger a sexual outlet - whether by improving his "game" or through legalised prostitution - could have prevented the massacre. In the end, however, he says the real culprit is a declining US culture that has "stopped rewarding nice guys" and encourages women to be attracted to only the "top 10% of alpha males".

"Game is a tiny release valve on a cultural pressure cooker where meaningful relationships have become sick, fractured, and unfulfilling compared to the time of our grandparents when traditional sex roles existed," he concludes.

It's a controversial view that has opened Vorek to ridicule, but it's not unlike the right's criticism of what it perceives as a flawed culture of sexual permissiveness.

"A generation or so ago a woman might have looked for a man who was kind, loving, pious, generous, faithful, hardworking," writes American Thinker's Jack Cashill. "The women in Rodger's circle, as he saw it, looked for men who were hot, hunky and/or rich, none of which he was."

"In a 'war on women' culture, some vocal voices have seized on this as what happens to men questing for a fully masculine culture," writes RedState's Erick Erickson. "In fact, nothing could be further from the truth."

He continues:

Young men need role models. But all the role models are now considered outmoded creations of Victorian society and the '50s. In the world of having the most toys and getting the most hookups, life becomes far too expendable, and some young men cannot cope.

Following a violent attack like this one, the discussion almost always turns to gun control and often with how to deal with mental illness. Thanks to Rodger's particularly long, vitriolic internet paper trail, gender and the nature of dating and relationships have also become grist for the mill.