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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Roosh?

A widely despised blogger and lauded hero within the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement” grabbed headlines this week.

Daryush "Roosh" Valizadeh in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo: Bartek Kucharczyk; Edited: LW / TO)

A widely despised blogger and lauded hero within the so-called “Men’s Right Movement” grabbed headlines this week as the “pro-rape” website Return of Kings announced a series of international meetups for its hyper-masculine fan base. Daryush Valizadeh, also known by the online moniker Roosh V, or Roosh Valizadeh, said that the meetups were being planned to allow men who view themselves as “pickup artists” and “men’s rights activists” to “come out of the shadows” and build deeper relationships with like-minded, straight cis men. The Return of Kings website, which treats women as both “the enemy” and the subject of constant sexual fixation, promised “furious retribution” against anyone who attempted to disrupt the boys-only rendezvous. But amid widespread threats of protest and confrontation, Roosh apparently lost touch with his self-purported ferocity, and announced on Wednesday that all scheduled meetups were cancelled.

By Thursday, Roosh had apparently become so concerned for his safety that he actually summoned police to his mother’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland – where he lives in the basement – to discuss threats he’s received from around the world.

Much of the outrage directed at Roosh highlighted a piece from last year, in which the blogger argued that rape should be legalized, so long as it occurs on private property. Roosh now claims the post was satirical, but the Return of Kings website has never been known to stray from the contention that the term “rape” is used too broadly to describe the sexual conduct of men, or the notion that manipulating women into sex, or even taking advantage of women who are too intoxicated to consent, is acceptable behavior.

While the blowback against these meetups was wholly understandable, there is a hard truth that will likely be lost in much of the conversation about Roosh and his followers.

In the predictably sensational media coverage of a standoff between feminists and misogynists that never quite played out, there has been virtually no discussion of the fact that a great number of men who feel comfortable denouncing Roosh and his fandom are, in fact, part of the problem.

While George Lawlor, the University student who famously proclaimed, “This is not what a rapist looks like!” was greatly maligned on social media, his sentiments were actually fairly normative. While there was no doubt racism and classism embedded in Lawlor’s comments, there was something else at work that also poses an ongoing threat to the safety of women: the idea that men with good intentions – or even “good politics” – are not capable of crossing boundaries of consent, and that such things are not commonplace.

The fact that extremity exists in the world, on the spectrum of every bad “-ism,” in no way astonishes me, or even startles me. When I encounter Roosh’s vitriol amid my social media scrolling, it neither brings my blood to a boil, nor inspires me to take significant action. To me, he is a mere caricature. And while caricatures can be deeply disturbing, they can also keep us comfortable.

If popular fiction tells us anything, it’s that people love battles that come down to good vs. evil. We love the simplicity of obvious targets and the satisfaction of righteous victories. We want a world that offers us heroes and villains, and allows us to feel confident that we are standing on the right side of whatever conflict is at hand. But the real world rarely offers such simplicity, and our aversion to complex matters leaves many issues and manifestations of harm unaddressed.

I am not afraid of Roosh Valizadeh.

Because to me, he is not the face of rape.

I am afraid because most of the women I know who have survived assault have not been abused by blustering creeps like Roosh. They have been harmed by their friends, their neighbors, their partners and others who managed to gain their trust. The situations in which many are harmed are often mundane, or even positive, until someone crosses a line. And in the aftermath of such moments, those responsible rarely believe that they’ve committed any harm at all. Because rape, to them, is a clear-cut matter. And when they brush aside the possibility of two people experiencing the same events differently, and focus on terms they cannot reconcile with their own identities rather than pondering what it is to feel harmed or violated, in real human terms, they reject all responsibility.

And they will almost always be abetted in doing so, because their friends, coworkers and partners are equally averse to acknowledging the complications of harm and the true bounds of consent, because no one wants to believe that “good guys” are capable of bad things.

So when Roosh says he’s coming to their town, these men raise their voices in disgust, and are applauded for doing so. Because they are nothing like Roosh. And really, we shouldn’t pretend that they are. Because a person need not be wholly bad or terrifying to do great harm. A person can be decent in many ways, and still hurt someone – even someone they care about. A person living in a culture of rape can mistake violation for passion, and they often do.

Each and every day.

And this is why some of us are so very afraid.

Not because of Roosh or a stranger in the bushes or some other human being that can be reduced to a concept.

But because some of the people reading this have no doubt crossed lines and broken boundaries of consent without ever knowing they’d caused harm.

Just as some of the people reading this will cross those lines tomorrow, or the next day, or some time after that.

And the person they harm won’t see it coming.

So rage against the likes of Roosh, if that rage empowers you. Mock them, call them what they are and menace them all you like, as they are no doubt worthy of scorn. But be careful. Because there’s a reason that people so readily engage with these moments, rather than the day-to-day realities of rape culture and sexual violence. There’s a reason that we sort the world into heroes and villains. There’s a reason most rapes are never answered for. And it’s not because of the Big Bad Roosh.

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