Roosh V Tests Forces Us To Ask Questions About A Cherished Value
(Originally posted on Hautnews.com August, 2015)
Take a good, long look at the face up above. Looks ordinary doesn’t it? Fairly unremarkable. Mediocre. Forgettable even. But that face, and the words that come out of it, are the heavy, ugly price we have to pay for freedom of speech as well as the dark, potentially violent flip side for that right.
The face belongs to Roosh V (real name Darush Valizadeh), a controversial YouTube personality, blogger and “pick up artist,” whose currently in the middle of the Canadian swing of a speaking tour. His views are a lightning rod of protest and controversy to say the least. His numerous critics have equated his views with thinly veiled misogyny and hate speech towards women, and perusing his online essays it’s easy to see how. The one that draws the most attention (and scorn) is a post titled “How to Stop Rape” and it suggests passing legislation that men cannot be charged with any sexual assault that does not happen in a public space. Essentially, if a woman is assaulted or raped in a private residence, Roosh’s suggested law would not define it as a crime. And that’s just a taste of the buffet that is Roosh V.
An online petition demanding he be prevented from entering Canada collected more than 43,000 signatures before he arrived North of the Border and a protest was held at Queen’s Park yesterday regarding his speaking engagement in Toronto. Toronto Mayor John Tory has openly declared him unwelcome in TO and Ontario MPP Cheryl DeNovo has expressed confusion as to how Roosh and his questionable views were allowed into Canada to begin with. Following his Montreal engagement, where his audience consisted of 34 attendees, he encountered an angry mob at a bar, where he received a face full of beer and he and his entourage were chased from the back to their hotel. This prompted him to keep the location of his Toronto lecture secret, using social media in a campaign of media disinformation and clandestine note passing to prevent further protests.
All of this has shone a spotlight on the fine line between free speech and hate speech, and how far a culture is willing to go, how much it is willing to tolerate, in the name of one of its most cherished values. And while Roosh seems to be reveling in it, soaking up every moment of the controversy that follows him everywhere he goes, it has forced everyone else to ask some uncomfortable questions and face some unsettling realities.
You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of Roosh before; his audience is fairly anemic (see the attendance at his Montreal seminar). It was his temper tantrum over Mad Max: Fury Road made a few headlines last May (apparently the fact that Charlize Theron wasn’t spending the whole movie getting raped made it feminist?) and odds are the past few days are a carefully orchestrated public relations stunt to attract more attention to his little noticed brand. It would be easy to dismiss him, believing that if he’s ignored he’ll disappear into obscurity, that he’s growing fat off the attention people are paying to him
Others have defended his right to free speech and they’re correct when they remind us that of all the values western democracies are supposed to hold dear, tolerance for free speech is perhaps the most difficult and the most gut wrenching. Our conviction is truly tested when we must choose between defending it when we’re exposed to something that makes our blood boil and offends us to the very core of our being, or if we choose to embrace it only when we agree with the message. Is it a universal right we grant everyone or a mere convenience? Free speech is easily the most expensive freedom we take for granted.
Except it isn’t always that easy. It’s simple for those who aren’t the victim of cruel speech to stand on the sidelines and urge tolerance from those who find themselves in the crosshairs of hate and slander. It’s easy for someone to urge the Jewish community to cling to freedom while men proudly wearing swastikas take to a stage and scream anti-Semitism at the top of their lungs. It’s easy for a middle aged white man to tell a black man to remain silent when an historical revisionist tells the world slavery was “a good thing.” And it’s easy for men to tell women to look the other way when someone like Roosh comes along.
There is an unmistakable current of misogyny in all of Roosh’s work, and while he’s technically right when he says he does not advocate violence against women, he’s a huge apologist for both it and the West’s current rape culture. In his blog entry How To Stop Rape, where he suggests making rape legal if it happens on private property, his arguments feed into the false narratives that the majority of rape allegations are false and vindictive weapons women wield with ruthless impunity, that an allegation of sexual assault will land a man in jail immediately (ignoring that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported and even more unpunished) and he ultimately gets around to victim blaming, stating that a women’s fate is ultimately her responsibility (he has another video-blog post entitled When No Means Yes). He may not be a voice calling for violence against women, but he is a voice defending it and essentially telling women it’s their fault. He considers sexual promiscuity a blight on a woman’s character but is always trying to “educate” men on how to pick women up for one night stands, and one his primary social belief is that a woman’s value is tied to her physical beauty (one of his favorite insults for feminists is that they’re overweight and ugly, and therefore bitter because no one wants them). You can see why he’s not exactly Mr. Popularity among women (or men who no longer drag their knuckles).
But let’s turn the question around; how many men would truly be ready to die defending the free speech of a woman professing that a man’s worth to society was defined by his six pack or the size of his penis? And when bad stuff happened to them, well it was their fault so they should stop crying. It may sound funny, but we’re already seeing something painfully similar in the United States with the Religious Far Right. When someone in that ideological camp name calls or refuses service to someone from a minority they don’t like (particularly LGBT and Muslims), they defend their actions by calling it religious liberty. When someone does it to them (or calls them on it), they call it religious persecution.
But here’s where it gets dicier. Recently Roosh has encouraged his followers to “take one for the team” and have sex with activists who have protested him to acquire and post their personal information online. Called “doxxing,” it is a tactic that was perfected by the #GamerGate movement where a women’s information is revealed and inevitably leads to a wave of harassment that includes threats of rape and murder. Actress Felicia Day received threatening letters at her home (which was also broken into) and some women have been forced to flee their homes as a result (law enforcement is either powerless or indifferent). If that doesn’t blur the line between free speech and the hateful brand, what does?
Because while some may point at the 34 men who attended Roosh’s orgy of misogyny in Montreal as a number small enough to offer some comfort, as one online commenter succinctly put it, that’s still 34 men for women to be afraid of.