Sorry, Female Pick-Up Artists — Your Version Isn't Feminist, Either
There was recently an outcry against Kickstarter for a page funding a book written by pick-up artist (PUA) Ken Hoinsky. A blogger named Casey Malone brought to light troublesome issues surrounding the book, including advice that seemed to border on sexual harassment. Quotes from his material included lines like "get CLOSE to her damn it." When I went to the source of the material on Reddit, the quotes circulated on the Internet did seem to be cherry-picked and provided without context. While I am not a supporter of anything to do with PUA there's something to be said for careful research over knee-jerk reactions. One of the most troublesome comments — "Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don't ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick” — was framed as a invitation to sexual assault, but Hoinsky was speaking about doing this in the act of sex. You may disagree with me — but look for yourself. One of the most positive outcomes from this was that Hoinsky apologized, and Kickstarter banned seduction manuals and gave a $25,000 donation to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.
Some proponents of pick-up artists (PUA) methods think that criticisms of the project are unfair, claiming that we allow a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. One of those people is Arden Leigh, author of The New Rules of Attraction: How To Get Him, Keep Him, and Make Him Beg for More.
Leigh, presumably championing the old school yard chant that anything boys can do girls can do better, hooked up with with queer burlesque artist Madame Rosebud and matchmaker Amy Van Doran to create a project in response to the dating guide called A Feminist Guide to Picking up Men. Here we see a race to the bottom rung for the liberation of women. To me this project declares: by golly, if he can manipulate women into having sex, then we shall too! Who will be the winner in this messy race to in-authenticity remains unclear.
According to the Kickstarter page, the purpose of the guide is "An empowering guide giving women tools to achieve self-actualization in their love lives while remaining true to personal integrity." One of the authors, Arden Leigh, often illustrates her personal integrity on her blog with fat-shaming and taking issue with people for being comfortable with their failures. She declares essentially that women can find happiness by doing what we have always done —being preoccupied with our looks to the exclusion of everything else.
Kickstarter decided to stick with the ban they had established from the criticism about allowing a "rapey" project to go through. Leigh's project was rejected, and I felt a great deal of relief. While Leigh commented that "I wanted to make Kickstarter question their own beliefs about the pick-up community. I'm really tired of seeing pick-up vilified." I say that, seeing as the funding for the original project went through, there was little in the way of vilification that Hoinsky's poorly written screed did not bring on himself. The writers for the female-focused project were disappointed. To quote from an article from the Daily Dot:
"The book, [Leigh] said, would teach women to achieve their romantic goals, without doing anything that is in conflict with their personal integrity. It will teach them not to just 'sit on a barstool and wait for some guy to approach you,' but to go after who they want."
The most troubling thing in this argument is the blinders that seem to come on as soon as the project is focused on women. As Dan Savage says in American Savage: "the advice industry is biased in favor of women … as women are likelier to ask for advice," so it makes sense that some writers would join in the outrage at this censorship of free speech because, hey, money is involved!
PUA is troubling when performed by men it is because it uses a set of psychology 101 and evolutionary psychology tactics determined to portray attractive women as targets. The focus is on women as the objects of desire — and an object has no self-determination. The well-being of women is not a priority as evident in their lingo, full of slogans and terms like "Bait, Hook, Reel, Release" and "Compliance Threshold." Leigh's blog fares no better in her self-description: "I am an incorrigible narcissist, I'm kind of self-obsessed, I am ferociously strong-willed and stubborn, I'm a control freak, I am by nature impatient, I'm hypersexual, I am terribly materialistic, I'm devastatingly capricious, I'm occasionally sadistic, I am ambitious to the point of antagonism, and I'm blatant in my means of seeking attention."
Are these two self-obsessed people, focused on personal attainment at all costs, really the people we need to be getting advice from? I’m glad to see them both come under scrutiny.