Thirty-three-year-old Daryush Valizadeh, known to his predominantly heterosexual male fan base as Roosh, is a well-known pick-up artist within the worldwide “Seduction Community,” which relies on pop evolutionary psychology to teach the art of getting laid. Its origins date back to dubious neuro-linguistic programming “speed seduction” theories in the early 1990s, but the Community rose to prominence with investigative reporter Neil Strauss’s 2005 bestseller exposé The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, which spawned a VH1 reality show and drew aspiring “PUAs” to online forums and self-proclaimed gurus promising foolproof seduction strategies.
Pick-up artists believe that all women are the same: submissive, choosier than men when picking sexual partners, entranced by shiny objects. In the Community, players are self-made; most renowned pick-up artists claim they were socially awkward losers until they learned the tricks of the trade. If a pick-up artist hones his “inner game” (confidence) as well as his “outer game” (appearance), he can control his sexual future. When women come with cheat codes, rejection is not an option; if a play fails, the player tweaks his strategy instead of conceding defeat.
Roosh enjoys middling success as the author of the “Bang” series of travel guides, which trains readers to seduce women based on derogatory ethnic stereotypes. In Bang Brazil, Roosh warns his followers that “poor favela chicks are very easy, but quality is a serious problem.” He vows never to return to the Polish city of Katowice unless forced to “maintain the pussy flow.” Roosh’s predations haven’t gone without recognition. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, included Roosh’s personal blog in a March 2012 report on American hate groups; it quotes an Icelandic feminist group that described Bang Iceland as a “rape guide.”
But Roosh’s Denmark directory diverges from his usual frat-boy Casanova fantasies liberally seasoned with rape jokes. Don’t Bang Denmark—note the dramatic title change—is a cranky volume that (spoiler alert!) probably won’t help any Roosh acolytes score. Roosh calls it the “most angry book” he’s ever written. “This book is a warning of how bad things can get for a single man looking for beautiful, feminine, sexy women.”
What’s blocking the pussy flow in Denmark? The country’s excellent social welfare services. Really.
Fans of the travel writer will be disappointed that “pussy literally goes into hibernation” in this “mostly pacifist nanny state,” where the social programs rank among the best in the world. Roosh’s initial admiration for those resources is almost charming, if you’re able to momentarily forget that this is a man who considers devirginizing teenagers a sport.
“A Danish person has no idea what it feels like to not have medical care or free access to university education,” an awed Roosh reports. “They have no fear of becoming homeless or permanently jobless. The government’s soothing hand will catch everyone as they fall. To an American like myself, brainwashed to believe that you need to earn things like basic health care or education by working your ass off, it was quite a shock.”
Shock turns into disbelief and then rage when Roosh is rejected by heaps of “the most unfeminine and androgynous robotic women” he’s ever met. “Not a feminine drop of blood courses through their veins,” Roosh rants. He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.”
He’s not wrong. Several of Denmark’s social services are intended to reduce gender inequality by supporting women, a sort of state feminism that he can’t accept.
Denmark provides eighteen weeks of maternity pay (usually at about two-thirds pay) as well as separate parental leave options that couples may provide to the mother if they wish. The country has also offered incentives to fathers since the 1990s to encourage them to take up paternity benefits. In Denmark, shareable family leaves are two weeks longer if the father pitches in; if he doesn’t, the family loses out on the additional time. This small “daddy quota” may not sound like much, but it indicates a state interest in rectifying unequal historical norms of caretaking.
Denmark also offers one of the best universal child care systems in the world; as a result, the maternal employment rate in Denmark exceeds 80 percent. The country’s mothers accrue 34 to 38 percent of the earnings taken home by couples with children; compare that to American mothers, who only take home 28 percent of parental earnings.
Roosh seems unaware of these services—probably because he’s not on the prowl for moms. His gripes focus on benefits that ensure single women (and men) aren’t in dire need and that coupling is decoupled from dependency; for example, he attacks government-funded higher education because the universities “destroy a woman’s femininity. The more years she spends in them, the less likely she will be able to please you, physically and emotionally.”
Unlike in America, where bestsellers goad already overworked and underpaid women to Lean In even further, the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit. Danish women are less likely to be financially dependent on men and therefore feel less pressure to “settle” or change their behavior by, in Roosh’s words, “adopting a pleasing figure or style that’s more likely to attract men.” Imagine that.
Roosh’s game cannot accommodate the Danish women he meets because the PUA community assumes women seek evolutionarily advantageous traits in men that boil down to a dominant, caveman masculinity, even if they don’t realize that’s what turns them on; one PUA tactic, “negging,” refers to the art of dropping backhanded compliments (“I’m not usually attracted to women with broad shoulders”) to weaken a woman’s self-confidence and therefore render her more vulnerable to seduction.
Roosh’s game cannot accommodate the Danish women he meets because the PUA community assumes women seek evolutionarily advantageous traits in men that boil down to a dominant, caveman masculinity, even if they don’t realize that’s what turns them on.
Pick-up artistry is such an established subculture in America that in 2008, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch in which “Bill Clinton” dressed up as Mystery (also known as magician Erik von Markovik), the world-famous PUA from Strauss’s book, and accused “John Edwards” of using game to seduce “Hillary.” Mystery’s three-phase model for success—Attraction, Comfort and Trust, and Seduction—is widely replicated by pick-up artists around the world. Attraction covers how to capitalize on “evolved” signals for what women find sexy, like social dominance and risk-taking. You build Comfort and Trust once attraction has been established through rapport, which pick-up artists believe can be fast-tracked via touch. Seduction is possible once a woman is sufficiently attracted and comfortable.
It’s unsurprising that Mystery’s approach is deeply rooted in evolutionary theory; the preface to Mystery’s book begins, “Nature will unapologetically weed your genes out of existence if you don’t take action and learn how to attract women now.” Pretty harsh. Darwin’s theory of sexual selection as a combination of female choosiness and male competition is uncontested in the Community. The social Darwinism of the pub and club can therefore be approached like a science.
In Don’t Bang Denmark, PUAs’ Darwinian assumptions about women’s desires run up against Roosh’s Nordic bête noire: Jante Law. The term is derived from Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose’s 1933 novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, in which a small, fictitious working-class town champions solidarity over personal achievement. It describes a set of social norms such as self-deprecation that discourage individual preening.
“The Danish egalitarian system and Jante Law feed on each other to form what is one of the most liberal, feminist-friendly societies in the world,” Roosh writes.
Therefore, when it comes to getting laid, your American attitude and belief system will cockblock the fuck out of you before you even open your mouth. Since basically the entire point of game is showing you’re better than the next guy, something that Jante Law specifically forbids, it’s no surprise to find that game efforts will not be well received in Denmark, especially if you consider yourself an alpha male. It was amusing how often and how quickly I’d offend every Danish girl without even trying.
Jante Law is technically fictional, but like many stereotypes, it contains a degree of truth: Danish women don’t reward the alpha male “with more sex for his alphaness because alphaness breaks Jante Law.” In Denmark, the fail-proof pick-up artist cheat code does not compute, causing Roosh to get increasingly whiny—and disturbing—as Don’t Bang Denmark begins to flail in earnest.
Danish women “won’t defer to your masculinity,” he writes. “They can fuck you, but no more. What they do have are pussies and opinions you don’t really care about hearing. That’s it.” Advocates of Nordic social democracy should be thrilled to discover a perk of gender-equalizing work-family reconciliation policies: they combat skeeviness.
Roosh comes to the conclusion that women who aren’t as dependent on men for financial support are not susceptible to the narcissistic salesmanship that constitutes phase one: “attraction.” That’s why Roosh fails to advance to the second level—”trust”—without being creepy. Thus “seduction” is almost always out of the question.
We can agree with pick-up artists that men and women exhibit some behavioral differences. But the PUA framework places their sources in evolution instead of the sexual and social division of labor. In her essay “A Marxist Theory of Women’s Nature,” philosopher Nancy Holmstrom argues that women’s lives are less free than men’s under capitalism “both because they are dependent on men and because they have children dependent on them.” Therefore, “traditional sexual values constrain women more than they do men,” and women “are less able to act to realize their own desires” and must be “more passive and oriented to other people’s wishes than men.”
But in societies with a less marked sexual division of labor, those sexualized generalizations dissipate. Marginalized women who need male spouses to flourish might, indeed, find pick-up artists alluring. But women in countries that have gender-equalizing policies supported by an anti-individualist culture may not.
By his last night in Copenhagen, Roosh’s game is not on point. His face is shining “a molten red” at the injustice of it all. He can’t stop himself from calling his buddy’s friend a “stupid, ugly, fat, cock-blocking bitch.” He ends the night by lying his way into bed with an apprehensive eighteen-year-old virgin. The determined pick-up artist can switch from “proactive” to predatory at the drop of a fedora. Since the Community deploys the strategies of hypercompetitive “meritocratic” societies in which self-promotion is indispensable to survival, Roosh felt he was responsible for making his night a success. If the inexperienced teenager had been more reluctant, it seems doubtful he would have relented.
As Roosh himself admits in Don’t Bang Denmark, Nordic social democracy doesn’t support his kind. His guidebook concludes with a resigned “bottom line” acknowledgment that his time in Denmark “liberalized me when it came to a government taking care of its citizens….Denmark sucks balls for women, but it kills the United States when it comes to having a higher standard of living.” Still, he won’t be going back anytime soon.
“Unfortunately, we have to accept that they go hand-in-hand, that we can’t fulfill basic human rights for all without viewing everyone as equal,” Roosh writes. “That’s fine for most people, but I’ve spent way too much time happily surviving in the jungle to pack my bags and move into the zoo.”
According to his Twitter bio, Roosh is currently attempting to bang Eastern Europe.
Katie J.M. Baker is a staff writer at Jezebel who has also written for publications including the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.