Was Elliot Rodger a madman or a misogynist? For all the debate, no doubt the answer lies somewhere in between.
But the 22-year-old’s shocking killing spree has shone a light on a murky corner of the internet, where aggrieved men resist what they regard as little short of a feminist takeover.
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Rodger’s dark manifesto revealed his sense of being overlooked, wronged and dismissed by women. In this he was not alone. The self-proclaimed virgin had subscribed to a number of YouTube channels that form part of the “pick-up artist” community.
A PUA excels – or more likely, claims to excel – in the art of picking up women. The community has its own jargon, the main goal being a “full close”, or sexual intercourse. According to the “7 Hour Rule”, the average amount of time one must spend with a woman to get to this point is seven hours.
PUA theory gained a deal of exposure from Neil Strauss’s 2005 book The Game, which chronicled the seduction community’s tips and techniques for convincing and indeed manipulating women into bed, including its extensive lexicon.
- Negging is the art of using a backhanded compliment to both praise and demean the target. One site gives the example: “Nice nails – are they real?” This is supposed to “get past the bitch shield of hot women”, after which they will try to win the PUA’s approval.
- Pawning occurs when the man uses a woman he is not interested in as proof of his own social value. The pawn can be traded or discarded at any time. “It is important to note that pawning does not mean the PUA is exploiting the woman who is the pawn,” one dictionary states. “Rather, he is adding value to her by introducing her to other people.”
- Going caveman means eliminating unnecessary conversation and escalating the amount of physical contact with the target. The aim might be to achieve a ZNS (zero night stand), which involves sex without spending the night.
Rodger employed some of this terminology, but had also posted on “PUA hate” sites, where the community is heavily criticised. His failure to successfully employ any of these techniques is documented in his 137-page manifesto. Some on the site refer to themselves as "incel", or "involuntary celibate".
PUA is linked with a broader movement that calls itself MRA – men’s rights activism. The movement’s aims are nebulous and varied. At its most basic, it seeks to reclaim the traditional territory of the "Alpha Male", one of sexual dominance, strength and privilege.
One such forum on the social site Reddit, called “The Red Pill”, bills itself as a space for users to discuss “sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for women”.
The language is more sophisticated than your typical YouTube comment, but the messages are essentially the same. Income inequality between the sexes is a “myth”. Presidents can’t get elected without “succumbing to the feminist narrative”. Gender studies is brainwashing. Women are “irrational and inconsistent”, and disloyal.
Red pill-ers see themselves as defending an uncomfortable but natural reality, in contrast to blue pill-ers who extol generosity, kindness and equality.
One Reddit poster said he was concerned about his blue pill son. “I’d like to teach him that unless he treats females like dogs, he’ll never be happy like me,” he posted. He then noted his ex-wife had successfully received custody of his children, and a restraining order.
As Amanda Hess observed in Slate, these sites cannot be directly blamed for Rodger's actions, but their reaction has been telling. If only he had learnt the "game", they argue, perhaps the tragedy could have been averted.
"It is disturbing, if not surprising, that they are using these murders to reinforce their hatred of women," Hess wrote.
While it would be wrong to suggest there is no dissent within these communities, they are united in their desire to assert old notions of masculinity in what they call a “feminist culture”.
Men’s Rights and PUA groups meet up frequently in Sydney, Melbourne and across the country. But it is online, under the comfortable cloak of anonymity, where those like Rodger thrive.