Men's magazines don't exactly have a reputation for giving progressive, feminist advice about sex. But there's a difference between giving vaguely sexist dating advice and outright advocating for sexual harassment.
In the latter vein, Men's Fitness is coming under fire for publishing a two-year-old pickup guide by self-professed "attraction expert" Nick Savoy. In the (now-deleted) piece, "How to Turn a 'No' Into a Yes,'" Savoy tells men how to deal with being rejected by women — basically, by ignoring it entirely.
Savoy addresses guys who want to pick up women at bars. If they're rejected, Savoy writes, they should "plow ahead anyway," as women are more likely to respect men who don't "give up too easily."
Of course, there's another word for what happens when men ignore women's requests to leave them alone: sexual harassment. But moving on!
Later in the piece, Savoy focuses on the first date itself. He starts by recommending that men "bring the energy up" and "end the night on a high note" if the date starts to go sour — which is good (if not super-duper obvious) advice!
Unfortunately, he then suggests that men use calculated deception to wound women's self-esteem:
"Get to an emotional high point, where she is laughing and feeling good, and then abruptly end the date... She'll be wondering what she did wrong."
Obviously, trying to influence another person's decision-making process through manipulation is a morally shitty thing to do. But it's also likely to be unsuccessful. If the chemistry isn't there, walking out on a date and leaving a woman hurt and confused won't change that — it'll just piss her off more than she already was to begin with.
Savoy's advice about sex, however, is the most troubling aspect of the piece. While he (thankfully) makes a point of affirming that "no means no" when it comes to obtaining consent, he suggests there are a number of ways that men can change women's minds if they don't want to have sex.
To overcome any resistance, Savoy says men need to pinpoint what women's potential "concerns" about having sex on the first date might be. "A woman can be in a situation where she wants to have sex with you, but she doesn't want there to be consequences," Savoy writes. (Obviously, because women are so dumb and easily confused that they just can't make any decisions about whether they want to have sex for themselves.)
Instead of recommending that men and women engage in honest communication about sex, Savoy recommends that men tease women and joke about whatever perceived insecurities might be keeping her sexual desires at bay. He calls this conversational technique "embedding." We call it "emotional manipulation."
Understandably, women on the internet were furious about the article, prompting a firestorm of criticism on Twitter:
By suggesting that men focus on outmaneuvering sexually reluctant women, the article suggests not only that men should engage in coercion and manipulation to get into women's pants, but also (and perhaps more offensively) that women are dumb enough to buy it.
What's even more troubling about the article, however, is that it perpetuates dangerous ideas about consent. If a woman doesn't want to have sex, that's not a challenge for a man to try to read her mind and guess her true intentions. She just doesn't want to have sex with you. And ignoring that, or trying to manipulate a woman into feeling otherwise, is a slippery slope toward ignoring the value of consent entirely.
While it might sound dramatic to say that a man who doesn't care about a woman's personal boundaries will be more likely not to care about her sexual ones, either, it's not an unfounded assumption to make. In a study by the University of North Dakota, a whopping 32% of male respondents said they would have "intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse" if ''nobody would ever know and there wouldn't be any consequences.'' Yet only 13.6% of those same men said they had "any intentions to rape a woman" — even though both responses were essentially the same.
Savoy responded to the recent controversy surrounding his article by dismissing critics who conflate his tactics with sexual aggression. "The article says that no always means no, but that if you can change the circumstances so that she no longer wants to say no, then it's okay to accept a yes," Savoy replied to Mic via email. "To pretend otherwise is to create a straw man and trivializes real issues around sexual assault and consent...If trying to make someone feel more comfortable so that they want to have sex with you is harassment, then my girlfriend harassed me last Saturday when I wasn't in the mood, and then I was. It makes the term meaningless."
In a misogynistic culture that considers sex a form of conquest, it's unfortunately not surprising that advice columns like Savoy's have a captive audience. Yet advice that encourages men to view women's rejection as a challenge or a game jeopardizes women's safety and undermines their sexual autonomy.
A healthy relationship doesn't start by turning a "no into a yes." There's another word for that kind of thinking: "rapey," and it has no place in 2016.
*This story has been updated 4 pm, June 29.