I’m 24. I have never been in a relationship. I have spent countless hours on dating apps with not a single date to show for it. I watch my friends with significant others with envy. I don’t know how to date. I waste too much time wondering if former friendships could have been relationships. I am lonely.
What can I do? I can join The Red Pill subreddit, a forum for the “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” It’s called The Red Pill, because in one of the most iconic scenes of The Matrix, Neo is faced with a decision: either take the blue pill and return to the world he is from, or take the red pill and discover reality outside of the Matrix. In The Red Pill’s universe, the blue pill represents reality as presented by feminism, while the red pill represents a rejection of feminism for Social Darwinism. This worldview lays the motivation and reasoning for various techniques used to seduce women.
Sounds great, where do I start? First, read the stories of men who have gone down a similar path, who have realized that years of being unsuccessful in the dating and relationship arena are a result of “beta” behavior that can be corrected with a men-first worldview. Learn the words used by the “manosphere” to recognize and understand female manipulation. Then read the guide for specific, actionable tips on how to “become the best version of yourself.”
Wait, isn’t all this reminiscent of The Game and the pickup artist community? A culture accused of being manipulative and misogynistic? The Red Pill is where pickup artists commingle with men’s right activists, justifying their deceptive behavior as the resistance of a minority oppressed by feminism. This is the privileged plurality that feminism has left behind, and the increasing political and social polarization of America has lined them behind Trump, whose victory has validated their beliefs.
The Red Pill is dangerous because it mixes mainstream advice that could belong in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” with a perspective that promotes seduction by subjugating women. Eating healthy, working out, and focusing on self-happiness are invariably going to make a man more attractive. Yet the male fitness and fashion communities – which provide similar advice – are proof that it is possible to build a positive male identity without a pessimistic worldview. Unfortunately, self-help is already a crowded $10 billion industry, making the unique, bitter approach of The Red Pill attractive to men frustrated with mainstream self-improvement techniques.
The men of The Red Pill blame feminism for their lack of romantic success. Many of them also feel a lack of success in their career. Millions of prime-age men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from the workforce. Per Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard University, “some of the decline in work among young men is a mismatch between aspirations and identity.” And with women more likely to attend and graduate college, which leads to a greater likelihood of a career, it’s no surprise that men without college degrees have reason to despair. In a popular series of tweets, the writer Sidyanda reasons the men of The Red Pill have concluded that “feminism is why they can’t get girlfriends, that ‘feminization’ of schools is why they didn’t do well in high school.” But feminism is a social justice movement, not male oppression masquerading as dating app.
Sex is both a modern and a feminist problem. Recent research on casual sex has found that “men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.” Even sexual liberation has only “replaced the fear of having too many partners with the fear of having too few.” But when the World Health Organization has declared that all individuals have the right to have a child, should all humans have the right to have sex? Perhaps so, if millennials could stop looking at dating apps long enough to meet someone. This behavior has led to Vanity Fair to proclaim that we’re now in the “dating apocalypse.” Yet there is a huge gap between the experiences of men and women: one experiment on OkCupid found that “after a week, all of the women had received at least one message, the most attractive women had received hundreds, but several of the men remained un-contacted.” This chasm between effort and results is what drives men toward The Red Pill.
For men who do receive responses, The Red Pill is hyper-masculinity’s answer to “chill”, the “laissez-faire stance of being open to ‘seeing where things go’ [in a relationship] but not actually desiring that things go any certain way.” Seduction has one goal in mind: sex, without attachment. Fuck “chill.” Alana Massey gets it. Unfortunately, there are still “a ton of men out there who treat you like you’re just basically a walking orifice.” It would be generous to reason that harassers are sexually frustrated. They probably also read The Red Pill.
Even after dating, millennials as a whole are less likely to get married than previous generations, though most of them want to get married in some imaginary, debt-free future. Yet it’s tempting to blame social failures on economic malaise – the most common reason why they haven’t gotten married is because they haven’t found the right person.
The reality is that it is worse for “single, college-educated, straight women” who are trying to date “single, college-educated, straight men” – there are 33 percent more of them. So why are these men – romantically unsuccessful despite the odds – still looking for something to blame? These men are “nerds”: they “believe other oppressed people should shut the fuck up and stop complaining, because they themselves didn’t complain! They got jobs! They got engineering degrees! They earned what they have and deserve what they take.” The nerds were the victims of hegemonic masculinity, and sex is the wedge that drives them from being allies of feminism. Insecure in their masculinity, they flock toward hyper-masculinity. Women have another name for these nerds-turned-jocks: a “fuckboy”. In other words, “a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser.”
Yet the fuckboy rationalizes his behavior by theorizing that a woman’s hypergamous priorities means she always has a backup man. But “young women complain that young men still have the power to decide when something is going to be serious and when something is not.” The fuckboy is the wrench in the system, spamming pick-up lines and withholding commitment. Their goal is to outplay hypergamy with hyper-masculinity. Unfortunately, “no one has been able to discover a way to avoid him from taking advantage of your feelings and ambushing you with abandonment.” The fuckboy monopolizes a woman’s time without wasting any of his own.
Seeking tips for cultivating long-term relationships, frustrated women are motivated to join Red Pill Women, a subreddit that focuses on “self-improvement that will make [women] more attractive, appealing, and capable of finding a good man.” To accomplish this, women are advised to develop a “feminine frame of mind,” which means they are: “yielding, receptive, supportive, pleasant, empathetic, and poised.” Under the Red Pill Women framework, men are the captains of a relationship, while women are their “first mate.” It’s a worldview that promotes submission as cooperation and harmony as equality, for the sake of the relationship.
Marie Claire reports that “many of these women realize that they take a lot of guff from their women friends who think they are either crazy-nuts, or maybe that they can’t get a guy and this is the only way they can do it, and they are ridiculed.” The Red Pill Women prioritize the personal relationship over the feminist movement to achieve their long-term happiness. This subverts the fight against women’s oppression by building a wall between a woman’s private and public spheres, relegating feminism to one and relationships to the other. Yet as these women forge a path to marriage, their ideas are normalized, leading to op-eds that suggest “manxiety needs fempathy.”
Is it possible for a woman to be publicly feminist and privately feminine? One subtle goal of Red Pill Women is to reclaim femininity from feminism by declaring feminism as the opposite of femininity. Yet there is something feminist about women deciding on their own volition that femininity is their path to happiness in a country where all citizens have the right to pursue happiness. But the individual pursuit of happiness subverts the broader social goal of providing happiness by eliminating oppression for all women. But how do we stop relationship advice from being a social movement? How can feminists reclaim femininity?
The job of policing anti-feminist behavior does not solely fall on feminist women. But dating, as usual, pits the idealism of expectation against the reality of attraction. Should feminist women refuse to date non-feminist men? Should feminist men refuse to date non-feminist women? How do I intervene when my female friend is dating a terrible man when she already knows it?
The problem is that relationships are between two people, not between two socio-political movements. The Red Pill offers advice for seducing any woman, and Red Pill Woman offers advice for marrying any man. It’s not necessary for one to be with the other. But if feminists wish to eradicate _The Red Pill’_s subversive worldview, should they stick to dating feminists? Perhaps there are two dating pools, one feminist, the other not. Yet many non-feminists will be open to dating a feminist. Is the converse acceptable? Is it reasonable, in our short lifespans, to ask that we reduce the size of our dating pool to feminists? Is feminism a priority in our sex life?
One thought, in this age of dating apps, is that we might be better off if we “stop identifying ourselves primarily with our sex lives.” The Red Pill, on the other hand, breeds a fanatical obsession with analyzing and theorizing about sexual strategy. Maybe they would have benefited from a class in sex education, rather than teaching themselves using pornography. Instead of centering masculinity around sex, we could center it around virilitas. For Romans, “the defining quality of virilitas was self-control.” Virilitas does not oppress women. Virilitas is not “chill.” Masculinity can be feminist, but in a world with many perspectives on how to reclaim maleness, it will be a long process to teach young men that self-control does not undermine their manliness.
How did we end up tolerating the intolerance of toxic masculinity? In a well-shared op-ed in The New York Times, Charles M. Blow said of Trump: “unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory.” The same can be said of manipulative pick-up artists. Following this line of thought, Jill Filipovic demands that “women should refuse to tolerate men who would vote so clearly and aggressively against our interests — against the idea that we’re equal citizens, that we’re human beings.” No wonder the female “Ivanka voters” are reluctant to talk about politics. A man (or woman) who does everything a feminist does except vote for feminists is still anti-feminist. How do we reject silent anti-feminists before we date them? We should inspect our commitment to our own beliefs before we commit ourselves to others.
The life of young Russians under Putin gives us a hint of what motivates the 40% of young Americans who voted for Trump. Politically inactive, young Russians have a “desire for staid normalcy—intact families, reliable, if unsatisfying, jobs.” Will millennials choose intersectional equality over economic stability? Remember, 40% of women overlooked Trump’s misogynistic shortcomings for his campaign promises and voted for him. Putin’s confident hyper-masculinity serves as an effective distraction from radical liberalism. For Trump voters, Trump’s exaggerated masculinity establishes an identity they can imitate to restore their jobs and relationships.
Feminism did not fail men. Men have failed feminism. But at the crossroads of modern feminism and millennial dating, self-control is up against the addictive, polarizing effects of the internet, where dating forums and dating apps form an uncertain future.
I’m still swiping right. I hope you do too.