For those of you who don’t know, The Red Pill (or TRP) is an online community dedicated to men’s sexual strategy, and it is one of the fastest growing groups on the Internet’s most dynamic hub of content: Reddit. The seeming similarity to a pick-up artist cult, combined with an undeniable anti-feminist subtext mean any discussions about the Red Pill quickly become indistinguishable from a Glasgow Friday night brawl, just with less fists and more violence. The part I find most disturbing is that they often refer to women as “plates” because they want to have “as many plates spinning as possible.”
Red Pillers however, would disagree. They’re simply wanting to stand up for mens’ rights, to criticise modern gender roles for disempowering men, to give the shy and meek the tools to make themselves a more fulfilled (and more sexually successful) person. All of course, while realising the true nature of men as dominant leadership figures, the “captains” to the emotionally volatile snowflakes that are women. 80,000 subscribers include teachers, bankers, the young, the old, single and married men. Who all buy into these ideals. Clearly, their message is taking an intellectual root in men across society. This cannot be blamed on an archaic view of gender: this is a recently sprung reaction to recent developments in inter-gender relationships. Everyone, myself included, who wants equality for women should be extremely, shitting-your-pants worried.
And yet, rather than dismiss this phenomenon, I want to critique it. At the risk of pissing off every feminist and TRPer who’s ever lived, you and I are going to swallow this pill. Because I believe you can strip off the misogyny, cut off the crass language, and burn off the generalisations then what you find is gender neutral, insightful analysis of human social relations that both men and women can benefit from.
Now that we know what TRP is, what is it saying? A typical response is “It’s asking men to stop being meek, and start behaving like a dominant male.” A statement loaded with so many assumptions, to really understand what this means we need to strip away the underlying prejudice. What aspects of this fictitious “dominant alpha,” is it advising men to emulate? I’m going to give you their version of these tips, so that you can see how problematic it is.
Tip # 1 – Frame Control
Frame control. The phrase sounds as slick and greasy as the pick-up artists who teach it, and yet in the world of politics it comes under basic training. The political class now receives the advice of “It’s not the person with the best arguments who wins an election, it’s the person who frames the choice in the most advantageous way and makes it stick.”
Frame is massively important currently, in the battle to dissuade voters from UKIP. Let’s look at the situation as it looks like without a frame. UKIP have won 2 by elections, is receiving much media attention and claim to be a party of controlled immigration and leaving Europe. The Tories on the other hand support a referendum on Europe and modest immigration control. The choice presented to a voter in this “frameless” situation is,
- Do you support UKIP’s policies, the Tories or some other party?
But in order to increase their vote share, each party places a frame, or “spin” onto these statistics.
- The Tories say that a vote for UKIP is a vote for Ed Miliband, a weak leader
- UKIP present themselves as the anti-establishment party who are gaining momentum from the centre ground.
- The Labour Party say that the Tories are in crisis, so you should vote for them to keep UKIP out.
A cynical person would argue that who wins the election will depend on which of these 3 frames people believe in the most, rather than the policies of each individual party. Looking at this, there is probably some truth in that.
Frame Control and Attraction
Now picture this in a relationship. There are times when our frames we put on situations clash with those around us. Let us imagine a situation when a frame clashes – Both James and Tom have asked Emma out, but she’s not sure whether she likes either of these guys. Let’s see how they deal with it.
Scenario 1 – James
E: Well ok then, but as long as it’s just as friends right?
J: I kind of meant as a bit more than friends.
E: Well I’m not sure I want to be more than friends.
J: Ok then, we can go as friends, it’s no problem.
Scenario 2 – Tom
E: Well ok then, but as long as it’s just as friends right?
T: I can’t promise that, but I can promise that you’ll enjoy yourself!
E: Well I’m not sure I want to be more than friends.
T: Well why don’t come along anyway, and then you can find out?
In the first example, James’ frame (that he is inviting out Emma as a potential romantic interest) gets completely crushed under the weight of Emma’s frame (that she will only go out with him if it is entirely platonic). The point here is that Emma gets what she wants, but James definitely does not.
In the second example, Tom has a different frame. His frame is that even if Emma doesn’t know whether she likes him yet and should go along anyway. He ultimately succeeds in “holding frame” and Emma’s objections are circumvented. In this scenario, both people are getting what they want, and there is the potential for greater attraction. I mean, even in this very simplistic example, just read both scenarios – who FEELS like the more attractive person!?
Tip #2 – Don’t be a whiney nice guy
How many of the following scenarios have you heard a man complain about?
- Receiving friendship in return for unrequited love
- Liking a girl but being afraid of coming across too strong
- Being rejected despite “being as gentlemanly and chivalrous.”
For me, it is all 3. All of them are personal experiences I have had, and so have many of my peers. They are extremely common experiences. The thought process of someone in such a position often runs along the following lines.
- If I like them, surely they should like me back? How can they just want to be my friend?
- If I say something too crude, she might think I’m a dick. Surely I should show my feelings by being extra nice to her.
- I did everything right and wasn’t a dick; How can she not like me?
Men who feel hard-done by might not have many grounds to complain, you might think. Women aren’t responsible for these chumps feeling sorry for themselves, you might rationalise. And TRP would agree with you. They would say that immature men latch on to these narratives. Such narratives give them an intangible force to blame (society’s gender roles). Many of them claim they have TRP to thank for being able to stop thinking in the above way, and start thinking in a different way. And THIS is when TRP makes its big, misogynistic mistake.
The solution to the problem, TRP says, is to start acting “like an alpha.” To take responsibility when things don’t go the way you want and to make adjustments to you attitude and approach accordingly. It’s probably a much better attitude to take if a girl dumps you, or (since we’ve established that this advice is applicable outside a dating context) you get denied a promotion. Getting upset is unlikely to improve your situation, while on the other hand questioning what you could have done yourself is more likely to lead to self-improvement.
“Acting like an Alpha” – What it actually means
Everything up till this point has been what TRP, and pick-up artists espouse. The language used is to identify certain stereotypes, of “Nice Guys,” “Dicks” and “Alphas” is obviously problematic. But now let me give you my view– this isn’t about pickup or getting girls like TRP wants it to be, this is about charisma, and both men and women can learn to be charismatic.
Take the example of frame control. In every walk of life, more complicated frame clashes such as getting a pay rise, dealing with relationship drama, everything is more likely to go your way if you can control the frame. You will affect the outcome of scenarios by changing the context in which people see them. This isn’t pickup, this is basic social and negotiation skills. Not misogynistic, just common sense.
As for the advice given to guys to not be whiney, I find TRP’s stance entirely reasonable. The less you blame your circumstance, and more you question what you did in any situation, the more power you are going to have to change that situation next time.
But you will notice that this implies “not being a nice guy” isn’t the same as “being a dick.” TRP even goes so far as to make this distinction themselves. Being standoffish, or aggressive, is not condoned, because they see this as failing to take responsibility by acting in an inappropriate way. And I agree. You’re not being a good leader if you blame the people around you for bad things that happen to you, even if in some cases you are not responsible. It seems obvious to me that the male myth of “Girls say they want nice guys but always go out with dicks,” is not true. Rather, while they might say they don’t want to go out with misogynistic players such as Spencer Matthews from Made in Chelsea, they also don’t want to go out with defeatist, self-pitying guys. A person who combines confidence, formidableness and charm with compassion, politeness and warmth should surely fulfil most people’s lists of things they want in a partner.
Where I disagree with TRP is that there is a gender role involved – the idea that men are the dominant figures who should take the initiative and that girls somehow inherently want to go out with guys who have those traits. But this is what we call bullshit. And it’s bullshit because these things apply equally to both genders. Being confident and not being self-pitying is about the closest thing you can get to a universally attractive trait. It doesn’t follow that just because TRP has received the epiphany that, “wow, confidence is attractive,” that it justifies their narrow view of gender roles. Their idea of men being leaders and women wanting to be led.
And here’s the crux – this advice is equally applicable to women too. If you’re upset about how someone has treated you, stand up for yourself and don’t let people treat you like that again. If you’re worried that you’re not being taken seriously at your job, do something about it. If there is social pressure to stay at home, and you’re not happy about that because you want to work, then put some red lines in the sand and stick to them. And do so while maintaining composure, warmth and confidence. This advice isn’t for everybody and is not meant to solve problems like gender inequality. But having said that, isn’t it obvious that women and men who follow this advice will be in a better place to achieve their goals than those who do not?
Final Thoughts – How do we get rid of TRP?
So I hope that I’ve managed to do two things. Firstly, I wanted to give a balanced view of pick-up/male self-improvement communities such as The Red Pill that you won’t have heard before. And secondly, I wanted to argue that the advice actually has a much wider utility that the crass, misogynistic aims that it is used for. The dating and pickup community has the most bizarre ability to present solid, useful, advice and present it in the most hideous and unappealing of ways. TRP should be criticised for their misogyny, and for their anti-feminist rhetoric. But the best way to do this might be to point out that everything useful about their community can still exist without the sexist narrative, and not to just assume that they are all pigs.