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Is Pickup Artistry Good For Women After All?
I get most of my men to create female profiles online to see how men are objectifying women and that’s not really what women want.
By Johannah King-Slutzky
It's "The Sex Issue" in New York Magazine, which means one of the staff had the bright idea to put a bunch of pickup artists, male and female, in a room together to claw each others' eyes out. It's a good hate-read, with inter-PUA exchanges like:
[Ellen] Fein: We don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this guy that you’re dating — we don’t think you got him.
[Arden] Leigh: You don’t know me, and you don’t know my relationship.
[Sherrie] Schneider: One on one, if I were to do a consultation with you, I would grill you about why you don’t have a bit more. Anytime you want to call we are available.
The "panel" was composed of The Rules co-authors Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, self-styled romance artist Zan Perrion, pickup artist Adam Lyons, Arden Leigh (author of The New Rules of Attraction and, if you can't tell from the name, biologically female), and Ken Hoinsky, that kind of rapey Kickstarter guy.
In an age of infinite pickup artist coverage, it's unusual to find anything redeeming about the PUA community, particularly after well-publicized advice like, "Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. 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" (Hoinsky). And actually, The Awl, which is pretty liberal and woman-friendly, attempted to defend Hoinsky about a month ago with an interview between Hoinsky and an actual woman. In it, they provide some useful context for Hoinsky's dick touching advice:
All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it's not happening. She wants to be desired, but the circumstances need to be right. With some experience, you will learn to differentiate the "No, we can't… my parents are in the next room… OMG FUCK ME FUCK ME HARD" from the "SERIOUSLY GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME, YOU CREEP" variety of resistance.
Of course if you're really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.
As Slate reminds us, this doesn't totally solve the problem; it's still eliding the idea that women often voluntarily touch penises without excessive encouragement. So before I go any further, let's get this on the record: pickup artistry, and its woman-centric homologues like The Rules, is deeply problematic. But I don't think pickup artistry is inherently misogynistic (though many of its users and authors are assholes).
For one thing, PUA guides can be useful tools to expose the cogs in the machine that is desire. For example, when confronted with "the friendzone" (a terrible term by the way-- but so much of this comes down to the real problems of language), Hoinsky advises, "This is going to sound strange to people, but you have to date other women. If you’re in the dreaded friend zone, you have to be seen as desired by other women." Which is just a variant of ideas sported by a lot of noted feminists and theorists (Eve Sedgwick's "homosocial," Rene Girard's "mimetic desire") who argue that desire always includes triangles and jealousy. Reading a PUA guide can be elucidating and fun in the way that Jenny Holzer or vanity plates are fun: seeing truisms laid out so explicitly can be totally cathartic.
The conventional knowledge about desire is that it is seamless, spiritual, and instantaneous. But in PUA guides, there's no such thing as letting desire "come natural"-- a relief to cerebral people like me. I have to admit, although I would never purchase or follow a pickup artist guide, I take pleasure in their literally machinistic axioms, tidbits like 'if I say, “High five!' and you match me, then I know you’re into me and I can maybe move forward and put my arm around you." Other times, exposing the inner-workings of conventional courtship comes off as straightforwardly feminist-- though doubtless the PUAs would object to me using the f-word. Adam Lyons, for example, says, "I get most of my men to create female profiles online to see how men are objectifying women and that’s not really what women want..."
And Arden Leigh, who is bisexual and nonmanogamous, is in favor of expanding pickup artistry to include typically marginalized communities: "I’ve had a lot of requests for gay, lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, and pansexual seduction...How do you take seduction out of just the heteronormative sphere... that’s not the only world that we exist in."
So while pickup artistry is a thorny topic, we shouldn't be so quick to judge. Do I think PUA guides are kind to women? No. But when you take it in context, some of its advice can be cathartically lucid.
Follow Johannah on Twitter @jjjjjjjjohannah