Monday, May 26, 2014

special comment: a message to PUAs, MRAs, and #notallmen

I've been planning to do this Special Comment for months now. As a music critic and observer of popular culture, I've felt compelled to speak out on this issue time and time again, and yet I was unsure of the time and place. I wasn't sure if I was the person to say something, as someone who is very much aware of his own privilege when it comes to where I got to where I am.

And yet in the wake of the Elliot Rodger shooting and the disquieting aftermath, I feel obliged to say something - and as a cultural critic and one who has a reputation for not mincing words especially on topics of social justice, I'd argue it'd be worse if I didn't. 

So to begin, this message goes out to three groups: pick-up artists, those who deem themselves men's rights activists, and, well, everyone else. Friendly warning here, I'm going to say some very uncomfortable things and I'm not looking for praise for saying this. Hell, I'm expecting to piss a lot of you off and lose subscribers thanks to this comment. But for me, what I'm going to say is common sense, fundamental truths by which I live - and you might not share them, but I hope you respect the frankness and honesty in which they are delivered.

First, an introduction. Hi, I'm Mark. I'm 24, plainly a white male, and I'm straight. I'm Canadian, I have a degree in Physics, and I'm gainfully, stably employed outside of YouTube with my own apartment. When I was five, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, so I can occasionally come across as awkward, don't make great eye contact, and I can make nearly two hundred videos talking about music in the course of less than a year. I admit right out of the gate that I was very lucky, because my parents caught the diagnosis early and were able to get me some of the help I needed. Now I don't hide this - half because I think it's obvious in today's age and half because I feel that maybe my accomplishments can help others, both kids who are on the spectrum and parents who are looking for advice and that hope their kids can be self-sufficient and successful. There's no shame in it, it's just who I am - you could say I was born this way - and at a certain point, the focus it provides can become a powerful strength.

At the same time, I'm not going to lie when I say it takes work. I'm not going to lie and say it wasn't hard for me at points, and there are many who don't have the support system I've had - and thus I respect their accomplishments all the more. But I'm not saying it's been easy - I've been suicidal twice in my life, first when I was eleven and second when I was twenty. And I can speak with empathy to people who feel lost and alone and purposeless and helpless and angry at things they can't even properly articulate or understand. I may not be able to directly relate to all of your situations but I can feel empathy - I might not be the best at showing it, but I can feel it - on a fundamental human level, I believe we have some form of this that various brands of societal dehumanization do their best to stamp out. And pushing against that dehumanization is hard - especially when the system gives you certain privileges that you did not earn and to which you are not entitled. Because when you push against that system, it's harder - because it means what you do has to stand on its own, and we live in a world that's far from forgiving. As much as we like to think we've evolved, so much of modern society follows principles laid by down by Hobbes, how life is 'nasty, brutish, and short'.

In other words, I get my privilege. I get my power. And since a comment like this from a nerd like me would be incomplete without it, 'with that power comes great responsibility'. So enough about me, let's talk about you: and I think I should start with the pick-up artist scene - because honestly, it's the one to which I'm closest, and one I definitely understand. Because, for a period of my life in university, it'd be hard not to classify me as one. I've read through a lot of the literature, including The Game, but my reasoning for it was a little different than I imagine most. Because outside of some psychology journals, I don't think I've ever seen this much compiled material discussing body language and human relationships, particularly with strangers - and for a guy with Asperger's who has always struggled with that sort of thing, it was invaluable beyond its original intent. 

But let's be brutally honest here: for the majority of people engaged in the pick-up artist scene, it's not about learning social skills, it's about getting laid with as many women as possible by using all manner of techniques that work with disturbing effectiveness - trust me, I know. And I'm not going to lie that in weaker moments, it's very easy to succumb to temptation and succumb to the casual dehumanization that comes in that world, not think of people as people but under other labels or as competition - when you lock yourself in that echo chamber, it's very hard to get out. What's worse is that it strips away empathy for women and fellow men alike and it's not a healthy worldview, no matter how many women with which you have sex. And the more times I've read The Game, the more I've come to realize that author Neil Strauss knows this on some level. Does everyone miss the chapter where the author includes an extended digression on how you shouldn't just apply the pick-up artist lessons to getting laid but instead taking control of one's life and being sociable and how success elsewhere makes you a better, more attractive person? Does everyone miss how deeply screwed up some of the other pick-up artists became because they used casual sex as a way to avoid dealing with very real problems in their personal lives? Does everyone miss that by the end of the book, the author ends up in a relationship not because of some set of skills, but because he became comfortable with who he was and put 'The Game' behind him? As with privilege, knowledge is power, and that power requires responsibility, and it's troublesome that guys who abuse or rely on that 'power' in order to manipulate others are lionized in the community. The ethics of the pick-up artist community are already questionable in several areas, you don't need to make it worse by putting the winners of the 'numbers game' on a pedestal. And I shouldn't even have to begin to stress the point that one should always, always err on the side of ensuring there is mutual consent.

Now that should be common sense - but then you start looking at some truly horrifying true statistics. Statistics that don't surprise me because I've been going to bars for the past four years, and I have a little sister who also goes out with her friends. And here's the funny thing: if you talked to most of the people in those bars and confronted them with the statistics about sexual assault and rape and the constant mixed messages that society as a whole send women about how they should behave, I'd get one of two responses that say the same thing. The first would likely be disbelief and the second would be a protest saying, 'well, I'd never do something like that!' And this takes us to the second group, the #notallmen crowd. Because let's be clear here: I believe on a fundamental level that people are good, and I have to believe that deep down, hopefully a majority of guys would stop immediately if she said no, or if she was too intoxicated to give consent, higher brain functions would click in and you'd stop. That you'd realize your physical satisfaction and gratification can wait if she's not ready or if she reconsiders. That you show some empathy and think that if you were in her shoes, you'd want your partner doing the same.

I'd like to think the majority of guys think this way - but it's not the way society thinks. It's not the way a culture of alpha male empowerment and the encouragement of virgin/whore complexes for women and the oversexualization of everything operates, all catering to young people seeking all the pleasure with none of the responsibilities. But most people aren't directly aware of that, so when they see hashtags like #yesallwomen, they immediately say 'not all men' - and of course that's true, not all men are like that and it would be disingenuous to imply otherwise. But the conversation isn't about you, and by bringing up that point, it's a marginalization of a very real problem. And of course it's not your intention to marginalize the real issues of how people treat rape victims and promiscuous girls and women in the workplace - because unless you're being intellectually dishonest or you just don't know otherwise, these are very real issues that still happen today - but there is something much more disquieting here. It's the feeling you're being blamed for something horrible that you didn't do - but implicitly, you've condoned, or you've silently accepted, or you haven't made the effort to learn more. The times you didn't speak up, because at some point there has always been that time. In short, you don't want to admit having any responsibility in perpetuating a broken, unfair system.

You should feel some responsibility - because to some extent, we're all guilty. The moments we didn't speak up because we didn't understand or we didn't want to put our necks on the line or lose friends or we didn't want to come across as a 'white knight' or 'social justice warrior', terms that the internet has demonized by stripping the empathy out of the context. If you stick up for people, they don't see you as a feminist or a critic or someone who is sick of the rampant misogyny and mixed messages in society, but as someone who's standing up for causes they don't believe in to get sympathy, to get laid, or to reinforce one's ego. Because in their minds, chivalry is a dirty word invented by the feminazis to subvert mankind, and the whole concept of doing something for someone else without the slightest hint of reciprocity is communism, and that showing the slightest vestige of empathy or common human decency has to be phony. Because that's the only way they can contextualize people behaving with a shred of decency towards women or a minority group, they try to shame good people for being decent or not being normal, or they use the same schoolyard tactics they probably malign or have experienced themselves to bully others - and by refusing to speak against it, the silent majority supports the oppressor, not the oppressed.

So let's talk to those oppressors - well, not oppressors in their minds. To them, they're the oppressed, they're the victims. They're the ones that send rape and death threats to any woman who points out the slightest facet of their little world might be sexist. They're the ones who in every discussion surrounding issues of rape and sexual abuse and quotas and equality and gender roles jump in with a tirade of bile that only serves to completely ruin the few valid points they might have. They who have been in the culturally defined 'majority', the group most prominently attended by the media, business and everyone else - and are now coming to realize that majority is no longer valid, if it ever truly was.

Men's Rights Activists, if you can't tell, I'm talking to you - and let me start by saying I get it. Yes, men can be abused and raped, and it's wrong how society laughs it off. Yes, it is an unequal system that family court systems tend to support the mother in divorce proceedings. Yes, universities have quotas, even if they don't want to admit it, and you know you're not on that list. Yes, modern society is sending out a confused message to men and it's hard to articulate what 'being a man' is today. And yes, there are hiring policies being implemented across the world that mean others who have not had the same opportunities you would have had and who might not have as strong qualifications as you do will get hired first. 

And I'm here to tell you that all of these would be a lot more relevant if they weren't a tiny fraction of what women go through in analogous cases, and have been for decades. Sometimes to move towards equalization, you have to have a strong push in the opposite direction - that's not feminism, that's basic equality through math. And that's not discounting the cases you describe, because depending on the circumstance, they can be quite valid - but at this point, they are the exception, not the rule, and the numbers do not show anything close to equivalency. So equating them in an argument is intellectual dishonesty at best, and I'm fairly certain you know it.

But to be fair, those are the issues with merit that are worth discussing and debating rationally. That's not touching on the rape and death threats leveled online against any woman who dares to criticize traditionally male-dominated media, like comics or video games. That's not touching on the slut-shaming that gets hurled at every female music act who comes across as overtly sexual in their music. That's not touching the online firebombing of any sane discussion of the depiction of rape, or the gendered insults that show up that show up time and time again and are seemingly tolerated. 

That's not touching on the shooting by a linked Men's Rights Activist who wasn't just a white heterosexual man around my age, but who also came from a wealthy family and was enraged most by the women who would not sleep with him. 

I'm not saying you're all like him - he had psychological issues beyond the norm. But you enabled his way of thinking - I've spent enough time observing the forums and the MRA subreddits, I've seen more than a few manifestos where he could have cribbed plenty of notes. And there's a whole load of you who are looking to make excuses now that he's gone and killed people, say that 'you'd never go that far' - congratulations, you reach the basic standards of existing in a society by not killing people, do you want a goddamn cookie? In other words, you're looking for everyone else to blame, and I can bet there are even some who have blamed the women for not sleeping with him. Because after all, he wasn't just rich, he was a rich guy, women should have lined up around the block to sleep with him, he's entitled to that sort of attention!

No, he wasn't, and you're not either. I've seen enough of the forums and read enough of the stats to know the MRA community isn't all bitter, disenfranchised men in the mid-40s or older - in fact, most of you are my age or younger. And it's the internet, you don't know what consequences are, you can fire off illiterate rape tweets with one hand and shakily masturbate with the other. You blame women for your sexual frustration and think they should all be back in the kitchen making you sandwiches and catering to your every whim - or at least, not sleeping with that guy at the bar with the doofy haircut and dumb but friendly smile. 

But the problem isn't him, or her - the problem is you. Because you are not entitled to sex or attention, and you're sure as hell not entitled to avoiding the consequences when people call you on the hateful garbage you spew or when you behave like a lecherous piece of shit. You don't want to own up to the fact that, on some level, you might be wrong, or you might actually have to wait for a woman to make up her mind or choose to be with you like any sane member of a modern society. You don't want to own up to the fact that it's hard to put yourself out there and get rejected time and time again, and that it's so much easier to follow the party line, especially when mainstream culture supports it. It's so much easier to blame someone else, or not put yourself out there, or not try a little harder, or to realize that the nonsense you say could have consequences beyond your keyboard. So let's call it what it is, a nice old-fashioned slur from the age where chivalry wasn't a dead word and common decency to others was expected and not the exception: cowardice.

So at the end of the day, I have to wonder what this will all mean. As a guy who is a sex-positive feminist, I find myself more repulsed by some of my own gender than enthused, and when I see the ignorance and the anger, I just get so very, very sad. How would they feel if someone spoke like that to their mothers, or their grandmothers, or their sisters or daughters? How would they feel if the situation was reversed? I have to wonder about their home lives and what has so thoroughly rendered them so cynical, so completely devoid of empathy beyond the echo chamber, and the poor women and girls who might end up in relationships with these guys and who might not have the courage to speak out. And then I have sickening realization that if I had been a woman making these music reviews and calling acts out for being sexist, for every death threat that I've received, I would have gotten over a dozen threats of rape or sexual assault. And that's fucking despicable. 

But in the end, it's simple. Pick-up artists, you need to think about what you're doing and why you're doing it, and to what ends. This isn't slut-shaming or condemning promiscuity - if you're responsible and there's consent going both ways, then go ahead, have fun - but verifying that consent and your underlying rationale can only help you build real relationships and encounters that matter. Men's Rights Activists, there are legitimate grievances you have, but overshadowing them is a cancer in your community and you need to burn it out in the same way the heavy metal community forcibly excised neo-nazi groups. Enough with the manifestos and entitlement and the targets you think are easy because you can say whatever you want online - because continuing to push in this direction only makes the valid cases come across as so much worse. And all the rest of you guys... it only becomes about you when you keep quiet and allow it to keep happening.

You know, there's a certain amount of controversy behind the phrase 'Be A Man', because it's viewed as asserting a view of hypermasculine outdated nonsense that's a relic from a bygone age and a dying generation. But for me the phrase still has weight, and it comes down to the underlying principle: responsibility. Accountability. Owning up to your words and actions. Everything else of which I've spoken - decency, chivalry, empathy, they all spring from this concept, and yet somehow there is a subsection of my gender that has become terrified of it. Of accepting the consequences, facing the music, realizing they aren't the center of the universe anymore and thus must learn to live with others instead of above them. And oh dear god it can be hard, especially when society has built in every available method of escaping that obligation, ignoring your power and the responsibility it holds.

So here's my message: grow up. Be a man. Or if that's too much, try just being a decent, respectful human being and conscious of someone's wants beyond your own. Who knows, it might surprise you.


  1. I found this journal on accident but I've got to say, I'm in love with it.

  2. I’ve been following since you reviewed Beyonce’s self titled album. How did I miss this?
    “Yes, it is an unequal system that family court systems tend to support the mother in divorce proceedings.”
    I have not yet explored this subject (and I’m going to be honest: it’s not one of the subjects I love, so it’s not really in my priorities) , but I think I’ll recommend: min: 1:46

    “Yes, men can be abused and raped, and it's wrong how society laughs it off.”
    It is true that this happens even among feminist circles (which definitely should know better than the rest), but I’d also like to point out that it’s thanks to a feminist campaign that men are able to complain about being raped, since FBI changed its definition of rape to include men in 2012 thanks to the campaign “Rape is Rape” (which is still going on, btw, just with rape kits)
    This to say that MRA may talk about men’s issues, but more often than not, not because they care about them, but just as a diversion tactic. Of course, this does not apply to all MRA, but it does apply to a very significant part of them and I also find it unfair dismissing the work of feminism for men’s issues. Intersectional feminism is mostly about women, non-white people and LGTBQ, but it doesn’t ignore men completely and it would ignore them a lot less, if they brought up those issues as more than just a diversion tactic. Still, I’d argue that one of the main goals of feminism nowadays is to deconstruct gender roles and challenging the meaning of “being a man” (in the sense of challenging the pressure not to be emotionally expressive, for example). I have seen more than one MRA who flat out said about some feminist that she didn’t care about men’s issues, because, otherwise, she wouldn’t be “inventing” issues (like saying men aren’t free to be as emotionally expressive as they want without negative consequences) and would talk about real ones, like male suicide. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t get more developed than that, which is pretty crappy, since I’d argue that the problem the feminist pointed out could actually affect suicide rates. I really don’t want to “femsplain” here, so I’ll leave the experience of what is like to be a man to actual men and I will not deny that that guy isn’t feeling pressure to hide his feelings. Still, “According to literature on gender and suicide, male suicide rates are explained in terms of traditional gender roles. Male gender roles tend to emphasize greater levels of strength, independence, and risk-taking behavior.[9] Reinforcement of this gender role often prevents males from seeking help for suicidal feelings and depression.[10]” ( and Also, women are more likely to seek help from psychiatry than men (I don’t remember where I read that).

    I know I went off topic, but I had to try to correct some of the things of that article you linked at some point on twitter of some other blog. I could talk about it a lot more (yap, it really wasn’t great), but this will do.

    I’d also suggest not using the expression “echo chamber” – it’s used way too much, and, by now, I think it hurts conversation more than it helps to illustrate a point.