Female Dating Strategy wants to help women navigate the horrors of heterosexuality. The growing subreddit describes a dating landscape in which women are up against everything from sexual assault to reproductive control, the orgasm gap to the sexual double standard. But for FDS, the prescription isn’t political but rather looks something like a 1950s dating manual. Women should tailor their personalities and engineer their dating life in order to get what they want from men. In the parlance of the subreddit, women should avoid worthless “scrotes” and should always avoid “slanging pussy to fuckboys.” Women should also maximize their looks: “Your beauty, confidence, good company is a ‘commodity’ and can get you anything from men that crave just that,” writes one FDS poster. “Men do everything and anything to gain attention from women.”
Founded in 2019, FDS has drawn comparisons to the broader manosphere, the collection of online communities united in feminist backlash. Even the description of the subreddit has shades of the manosphere. “We focus on effective dating strategies for women who want to take control of their dating lives,” it reads. Compare that to the notoriously misogynistic The Red Pill subreddit: “Discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”
As Madeleine Holden at MEL observed, both communities are gender essentialist and “see heterosexual relationships as an ultimate prize requiring ruthless strategizing and gaming.” Dominique Sisley at Vice pointed out that both rely on biological determinism and cliquish jargon. The manosphere, for example, has “Average Frustrated Chimps,” or AFCs, meaning men who aren’t good with women, and their supposed opposite, the “Alpha Male of the Group,” or AMOG. Meanwhile, “FDS has “high value males” and “low value males,” or HVMs and LVMs. One of the primary aims of FDS advice is getting commitment from HVMs on their own terms. (FDS’s disregard for certain types doesn’t end with men; it also has little respect for women they call “Pickmeishas”—a woman in thrall of “pick me” culture who will do anything for a man to “pick” them.)
These parallels are by design: FDS was started in reaction to the notorious men’s right subreddit The Red Pill. But the deepest similarity between FDS and the broader manosphere is more than winking acronymic references and romantic strategizing. Both perceive the world as unjust, only from drastically different perspectives: either tilting in women’s or men’s favor. In both cases, that unfairness, the rigged game of it all, is used to justify an unapologetically selfish approach that strategically controls and exploits other people.
These communities have a fundamental shared politics, even as they stand in supposed opposition to one another. It’s a neoliberal ideology of self-interest, individualism, personal responsibility, and political apathy. “[Y]ou really have to know what game you’re playing, the game men have created and control,” writes one poster. “Pretending to be naive, stupid or giving riffraff a chance, against your instinctive better judgement [sic], only cements your position as ‘loser’ in this game.”
A great deal of FDS chatter is devoted to recognizing, avoiding, and becoming immune to red pill sexual strategies. Users advise women to check out a man’s media consumption habits for red flags—say, that he’s reading Jordan Peterson, listens to Joe Rogan’s podcast, or follows Elon Musk on Twitter. Screening isn’t enough, though. A woman should immerse herself in the manospherian world, according to some FDS members. “You must keep up to date with the conversations they’re having, the language and terminology they use, the people they follow and the tactics they’re using because modern misogynists are always adapting, evolving and finding new ways to organise/manipulate us and disguise what they’re doing and who they really are,” reads one post.
The same user, invoking the maxim about keeping friends close and enemies even closer, writes, “I’ve sometimes kept suspected red pill scrotes as friends or played dumb fox just to pick their brains and let them expose themselves.” (“Scrote” is FDS lingo for an insignificant, low-value man.) But in guarding against the red pill, FDS seems to have absorbed its basic values.
The Red Pill delusionally believes we live in a world that benefits women to the detriment of men, particularly when it comes to sex and relationships. This perceived injustice is rooted in evolutionary psychology: specifically, the idea that women are biologically designed to sleep with “alphas” in the interest of securing good genes for their offspring while relying on sad “beta” providers. Additionally, says TRP, feminism has emerged as a “sexual strategy,” allowing women to reach “the best position they can find, to select mates, to determine when they want to switch mates, to locate the best dna possible, and to garner the most resources they can individually achieve.” TRP is a corrective, designed to allow men to get what they want, despite supposed evo-psych setbacks and the rise of feminism.
Similarly, FDS is deeply enthralled by evolutionary psychology around mating and reproduction but specifically focuses on men competing for sexual access to women. A post on the FDS website announces, alongside a comparison to chimpanzees, that “All Males are Hardwired to Mate - Guard.” From this belief in primate-like courtship inclinations, women are encouraged to “at all times” trigger that alleged guarding instinct and strictly reserve “Sexual Access” for men “who have demonstrated good character and significant investment.”
Women who do not withhold sex are seen as betraying the sisterhood. As a post on the FDS website puts it, “Slanging pussy to fuckboys creates male entitlement and reinforces their sexist worldview.” (Full disclosure: Earlier this year, the FDS Twitter account called me “an architect of everything wrong with ‘Sex PoZZy’ Feminism” in response to coverage of my book.) Withholding sex, and generating “mate competition,” is a key way for women to get what they want from men, whether it’s money or marriage, says FDS. Sex work, however, is hatefully treated as abhorrent and shameful. “[Y]our hooha runs the world. Men run on your time and will do anything to get in between your legs,” says one post.
This is ostensibly a rejoinder to TRP, while also ironically seeming to confirm the TRP philosophy around women’s sexual striving. It’s also a reaction to “LibFems” for ostensibly encouraging women to have casual sex. The irony is that some of the “sex positivity” that FDS critiques is influenced by the same cultural forces that have explicitly shaped both it and TRP. The rise of neoliberalism in the ’90s helped recast women’s empowerment as a personal problem. Within the realm of sex, too, emphasis was placed on individual women’s perceived agency, as the feminist scholar Laina Bay-Cheng argues, as opposed to collective oppression and struggle.
The delusions of neoliberalism have big-tent appeal.
FDS is right about one thing: a patriarchal landscape that oppresses women. It takes issue with physical and emotional violence against women, particularly within the context of heterosexual relationships. FDS also accurately notes structural inequalities for straight women in sex and dating, while the manosphere reacts to women’s greater independence as a crime against men. But the respective rightness and wrongness of these two communities’ perceptions of injustice is overshadowed by their shared belief in individuals arming themselves to ruthlessly excel within a rigged contest.
In both realms, political action is spurned in favor of self-help. “The Red Pill was often likened to a club of elite men who had figured out how to beat their competition in the masculinity game, and to these men, political action was futile in comparison to personal improvement and sexual conquest,” explain scholars Pierce Alexander Dignam and Deana A. Rohlinger. TRP sees men “at the mercy of a state that does not care for their existence and must therefore use any means necessary to achieve personal happiness.”
Similarly, a popular FDS post explains why playing patriarchy is favorable to fighting it. “Sure, we all want to get rid of patriarchy but instead of letting it [sic] us get us down and hopeless, some women have turned to shrugging, admitting ‘it is what it is’ and using it to live their ideal life,” writes one user in explaining the FDS approach. “It’s going to be a looooong time before patriarchy is dismantled, why not make life enjoyable for you?”
The attitude of, shrug, “it is what it is” is a perfect reflection of TRP’s longstanding apathy. It wasn’t until Donald Trump’s election that TRP became engaged in mainstream politics, and all in the interest of fighting feminism’s so-called “war on men.” The TRP and FDS mentalities are oriented toward exploiting the system—whether it’s a delusionally perceived “gynocracy” or a correctly apprehended patriarchy—for personal gain.
In both communities, personal gain requires personal improvement. TRP emphasizes both mental and physical fitness in the journey from “beta” to “alpha.” Similarly, FDS users advise women to work toward “traits of the very most desirable women,” who exist “at the very highest end of the bell curve, the ones who can barely avoid tons of men wanting to commit to them forever.” (FDS holds men’s commitment as an ultimate goal.) One user advises focusing on physical appearance:
Transforming yourself can be such an exciting journey (I will never regret being so fed up with my looks and finally taking charge to becoming my ideal self. 10/10 experience). Putting effort into my looks before I leave my house has completely changed my life and the things I experience. ... You may think you look pretty cute now, but take a serious look from the outside and see if others see you as attractive as you think. Pretty privilege is very real and if you want to reap the rewards for it.. invest in yourself.
The user suggests that the brutal Vindicta subreddit, which allows women to post photos of themselves and ask other women to rate their looks and supply advice for improvement, “may be useful to some of you.”
It isn’t just appearances that women should tailor for men, according to FDS. Posters claim men want “a fun girl,” who is “positive, full of banter + laughter, interesting, and relaxing to be around because she’s great company.” Men do not like “nagging, moody behavior, and sadness (even though they may be the cause of all these).” A “dreamgirl” is “an immovable mover who always seems to be doing precisely what she wants to be doing, who prioritizes herself in all normal situations.” In other words, she is self-interested and self-impressed. “If you’re morbidly obese, struggling with untreated mental illness, and just got fired from your Wal-Mart job, your energy is probably best spent on bettering yourself and your circumstances rather than dating,” writes another user.
The same poster argues, “If she has mental health issues, they are well-managed through therapy and possibly medication, and have been well-managed for years.” From this abhorrent perspective, a woman’s individual health and economic class are issues of individual savvy and motivation.
A true “queen,” explains FDS, “has a great career, loving friends and family, financial independence, and an abundance of hobbies and pastimes to fill the hours when she isn’t crushing it at her workplace.” She doesn’t need a man. The idea isn’t to pretend to be a “queen,” but to become one through self-improvement. This is decidedly aligned with the Red Pill’s notion of getting chicks by, as The Game author Neil Strauss put it, becoming “the best version of yourself.”
FDS doesn’t just reflect the individualistic ethos of the manosphere; it’s also derivative of popular dating advice, which remains loyal to remarkably dated ideals. Take the hit 1995 dating manual The Rules, which advised women against actively pursuing men, going dutch on dates, or rushing into sex, while telling readers to be “easy to be with but hard to get.” Just as FDS coaches women on being queens, The Rules suggests “being a creature unlike any other,” which it defines as “an attitude, a sense of confidence and radiance that permeates your being from head to toe.”
Chief among the dating books recommended by the subreddit is 2002's Why Men Love Bitches, which advertises a guided journey from “doormat” to “dreamgirl.” Many FDS principles can be drawn to the book, from having a man pay for a date to using sex as a tool. “Every man wants to have sex first; whether he wants a girlfriend is something he thinks about later,” writes author Sherry Argov. “By not giving him what he wants up front, you become his girlfriend without him realizing it.”
FDS women are encouraged to own their desires and make demands, but specifically in the interest of attracting HVMs, so that they can get what they want from those men. “When a man has found his dream girl, he will ditch his old ways and become the man that she expects to have,” says one post. “The woman who becomes a man’s dream girl is a woman that has standards.” Having “standards” frequently manifests on FDS as adhering to old-fashioned courtship ideals, like a man taking a woman out on a nice dinner date, opening the door for her, and speaking on her behalf to the waiter. FDS teaches women to instrumentalize themselves and other people in the interest of getting ahead.
The FDS personal improvement mentality necessarily places responsibility on individual women for avoiding victimhood and exploitation, which is, of course, inherently victim-blaming. “You HAVE to be repulsive to predators. Be the opposite of what predators look for,” writes one poster. “Predators look for someone naive or for people with unresolved traumas. If you are [naive]—either completely avoid men, or learn to not be naive. If you have any traumas— work on them.” Another poster argues: “Young women need to be aware of the behaviors of men, how to recognize them and avoid being destroyed by said men. You need to plan and strategize so that you don’t fall victim. Victimhood will not fly here ... .”
Personal savvy eclipses the systemic threats to women’s safety. It is a compelling fantasy of the individual triumphing over injustice.
FDS is no stranger to hate: the community takes a moralizing stance against porn and BDSM, and exhibits transphobia, whorephobia, and fatphobia. Of course, opportunism and desperation tend to play out somewhat differently for women, thanks to the systemic inequality that FDS is uninvested in collectively tackling. FDS gives women advice on using men to their personal benefit, much as TRP does for men, but, unlike in the manosphere, this runs alongside strategizing on legitimate, proportional, reality-based concerns around everything from sexual assault to reproductive control.
Regardless of their mutual disdain, or the respective legitimacy of their grievances, FDS and TRP are tied together by their fundamental ethos. Neither of these communities are interested in equality, mutuality, vulnerability, or interdependence. Instead, their focus is on control and manipulation, and opportunistic personal advancement via sex and dating. “I don’t date men that can’t elevate or improve my life in any way,” write one FDS poster. “I think more women should do this to protect themselves as you won’t fall victim to bums that hold you back for years on end. With my ex, I was able to get trips overseas, gifts, protection, devotion and admiration.”
She adds, “They recognize women that know they’re the prize.”