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

An undated photo of Elliot Rodger. Did a "pick-up artist" culture lead Elliot Rodger to blame women for his problems?

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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.

Start Quote

Women, in PUA culture, are not humans deserving of respect; they are a necessary evil to conquer in the name of sex”

End Quote Sarah Hedgecock Bustle

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.

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We live in a society where being shy, normal or a little awkward is duly punished by entitled American women”

End Quote Roosh Vorek Pick-up artist

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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    None of this is news. Not to make light of the issue, but the Strategic Dating Host website reminds me of "Seduce and Destroy", the program offered to sad blokes by Tom Cruise's Frank T.J. Mackie character in Magnolia (1999). If you know the movie you'll see the connection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    It's very clear from parts of this video. That Rodger was spoiled and had entitlement issues. It has little to do with the PUA movement meant to instill me with confidence in talking to women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Autistic boy,struggles to make friends,probably doesn't see his dad very much,parents break up,turns to porn,gets bullied by the snobs he attends school with,goes to college,doesn't see many people at all, gets more lonely and depressed, sees sex as the reason for why he is shunned,blames girls,snaps.

    Should he be blamed? Of course. Should society be blamed? Probably. Access to guns? No!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    @rather_be_cycling - but do you realize how hard it is to get your own kids helped here in the states? Sending your child off to jail when they haven't done anything is cruel, but that's the only place to go. And even if you think that's the necessary route, you have to try and find illegal behaviors, report them, create a paper trail, and even then, esp. as minors, often police will do nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Lunatics are lunatics and you cant rationalise the irrational. Its a pointless excercise. Anybody who runs rampant with a gun indiscriminately shooting because they cant resolve their own issues is a flaming lunatic. If you ever try to warn somebody may be a problem to themselves or others you will come up against a barricade of frothing do-gooders who spout about rights and take no action. Enjoy

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Skimmed manifesto.He was exposed to nudity and sex pics at an age that seemed too early for him and had a shameful, hateful reaction that was beyond normal, imo.He had traits of narcissistic personality disorder. I don't think his parents were very helpful to him. Something was amiss there. His end rant on how women are responsible and thus should be treated, was reminiscent of a certain religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    "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")"
    Not nice. I agree. Still pretty far from butchering people.
    Has Ms Hedgecock not met women talking this way?
    And how come one sick person suddenly symbolizes a whole group of people she does not happen to like?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    More navel gazing mumbo jumbo. Like so many of these tragedies, this was committed by a lunatic who should have locked away years ago. By his own parents. End of story. And save us the nonsense about "gun control".. he bludgeoned two of his victims and ran over another one. So ban clubs and cars? We need lunatic control. Get these people off our streets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    40.mscracker. Medications and psychotherapy, if used appropriately, can help in some cases. Personality disorders are not at all easy to treat. Just as in the case of disorders like cancer, every mental disorder does not have a good remedy. That is not the failure of the mental health care system. Preventive interventions such as making lethal weapons more difficult to get, can make society safer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Once again, there is nothing more 'empowering' than a bunch of automatics: we see it again and again in the USA and pundits rush to blame untreated mental illness, duh! Given the strides made by the NRA to ensure no impediment to gun purchases, this incident just commonplace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @58.Blythespirits ,
    Actually many Americans believe in 2nd ammendment rights to own firearms & also believe we have a broken system for treating the mentally ill. Additionally,we need structures in place for keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. Privacy laws can make that more difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    "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."

    Seriously? Not rich? The kid lived in a posh neighborhood, bragged about his BMW and his Prada wardrobe, posted pictures of repeatedly flying and dining in first-class, and was infuriated when a guy driving an "old Honda" was undeservingly in the company of a pretty girl.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    As long as people continue playing psychologist the shootings will repeat themselves because nothing changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I watched his video. He seems so conceited, and to have a very low opinion of others. I doubt that he had Asperger's (as reported). He probably had a Narcissistic personality disorder. Some aspects of the culture perhaps bolstered his beliefs. Maybe girls found him insufferable and hence rejected him. Eventually his anger got the better of him. And, of course, guns were easily available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    His behavior should not be excused - even his therapist didn't definitively diagnose him with a specific disorder. His actions instead are of a petulant child; he didn't get what he wanted.

    Listen, I get that there are sexually frustrated young people out there. I'm one of them. But unless we stop glorifying the UNATTAINABLE casual sex ideal, loneliness and anxiety are going to be rampant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Actually I disagree. PUA community exists to help guys who can't get girls and are forced to write stupid articles instead. You know how they say "Do not hate the game..."

  • Comment number 61.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Yeah his parents were divorced and his dad remarried, but I don't think this had anything to do with it. He describes his parents in his manifesto and they appear to be loving and supportive. He thought a lot of them. He turned to them for help, and they tried to help him as best as they could. The parents aren't to blame here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Rich parents too preoccupied with their own lives to know what their son is doing. This is sad but true of America today. I wonder if his parents were divorced and remarried other people - can anyone confirm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The guy was mentally ill he needed psychiatric help. Sadly in the USA young men don't seem to get the help they need until its too late for everyone. They vent their paranoid delusions on everyone and they can readily get various guns to do so. Yet there are still plenty of people who want to enable this by allowing anyone to have guns.


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