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Seduction Guides, Pick-Up Artists, and Real Consent

Debbie says:

As readers may or may not know, the crowd-funding site Kickstarter recently cancelled the fundraiser for a “seduction guide,” and issued an admirable apology, along with the kind of change in policy that goes with a real apoogy:

We are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

… Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization called RAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.

This excellent BoingBoing piece by Glenn Fleishman analyzes the pick-up artist (PUA) scene–the context for this cancelled project–in detail, with an emphasis on the relationship between PUA “values” and sexual assault. WARNING: Fleishman intentionally uses offensive and derogatory language to get into the minds of the community he is examining–I think to powerful effect, but you may not want to read more.

It all has to do with the social ineptness or downright sociopathy of those playing the PUA “game,” and how their inability to have the empathy and understanding of those they wish to attract also prevents them from understanding why this book could possibly be seen as a guide to escalating contact all the way to sexual assault. …

The PUA world applies algorithms, testing and feedback, and gamification to human interaction, turning women into not just sexual objects but essentially treating that cisgendered biological configuration as a Turing-complete machine in which specifying the right sequence of inputs results in access to specific ports and protocols.

In this case, the vagina is typically the desired port, with other orifices of interest as well. Working one’s way through various handshaking protocols and debugging the process of obtaining port access is part of the game. Vaginas have points attached based on various primary and secondary sexual attributes related to “hotness.” Some operators obtain status through alleged accomplishment — there is no gameboard with verified scores — and participants in the culture actively exchange tips and advice.

What does the book being Kickstarted recommend? What kind of “advice” does it offer?

Some of it is even perfectly reasonable: advice about striking up conversations, progressing with consent, providing physical pleasure to a partner before asking it for yourself, and maintaining a healthy relationship when you find the right person.

Mixed in, however—sometimes in the same sentence—are appalling recommendations that pretend to be scientifically based and generalize certain forms of behavior. Men should use conversation as a “weapon” to keep women off base. Men should use “negs,” statement designed to make a woman seek out self-assurance from the passive-aggressive asshole using them. Real interaction is to be avoided. This is a game. You’re left-right-down-down-down-down’ing your way to success.

Since there is a full-fledged, self-sustaining community offering this kind of advice, women might as well understand that it is out there, and have the tools to recognize what is being tried on them. But it gets worse.

Then there is outright assault. The PUA should pull a woman onto his lap or try to kiss her without any interest being exhibited, according to Hoinsky. Men should pull a women’s hair back while they’re kissing. PUAs are supposed to “physically escalate” continuously. After achieving some measure of intimacy, a man should pull out his penis and force a woman to put her hand on it.

After Steubenville made the news, many people were asking how the high-school perpetrators could have believed that they were anything but rapists. This post by Abby Norman at Accidental Devotional clarifies what too many men and boys (and women and girls!) believe.

Some of my kids were genuinely confused. “How can she be raped?” they asked, “She wasn’t awake to say no.” These words out of a full fledged adult would have made me furious. I did get a good few minutes in response on victim blaming and why it is so terrible. But out of the face of a kid who still has baby fat, those words just made me sick. My students are still young enough, that mostly they just spout what they have learned, and they have learned that absent a no, the yes is implied. …

My students have lived in a world for fifteen years where the joke “she probably wanted it” isn’t really a joke, they need to unlearn some lessons that no one will admit to teaching them.

Standing in front of my classroom and stating that a woman’s clothing choice is never permission to rape her should not be a radical act. But only a few heads nodded in agreement. Most were stunned, like this was a completely new thought. The follow up questions were terrifying in their earnestness. “Ms. Norman, you mean a woman walking down the street naked is not her inviting sex? How will I know she wants to have sex?”  A surprisingly bold voice came out of a girl in the back “You’ll know when she says, you want to have sex?!”

This takes us back to Fleishman’s analysis of the Kickstarter book and its author:

“Take a break and try again later.” No doesn’t mean no to the PUA. Yes apparently never enters in the equation at all.

For men who turn to PUA sites and books, who lack emotional maturity or experience with women, these rules blur the line between consent and attack. For sociopaths and narcissists, these recommendations allow them to justify their actions. This is advice that reassures men along the path to physical assault and rape.

Fleishman’s distinction between the immature and inexperienced (like the students in Abby Norman’s class), and the sociopaths and the narcissists, is very useful. Being immature or inexperienced does not excuse rape or other forms of sexual assault. Nonetheless, the distinction, along with Norman’s essay, highlights the gap in the culture these people grow up in, the refraction of the light on the water they swim in. Among other things, being immersed in the PUA community almost certainly increases the chances that an immature or inexperienced kid will grow up to be a narcissist, at least in these contexts, because he will probably never encounter any reason to be anything else.

Most feminists reflexively think about consent as “yes means yes.” To keep/restore/strengthen that simple concept, we must understand that way too many potential perpetrators have a completely contradictory vision. So we must get our message out. Here’s how Abby Norman did it:

When we reversed the conversation from, “well she didn’t say no,” to “she has to say YES!” many of them lit up. “Ms. Norman,” they said, “that does make a lot more sense.” “Ms. Norman,” they exclaimed, “that way leaves a lot less confusion.” When one of the boys asked, well what do you want me to do, get a napkin and make her sign it, about four girls from the back yelled, YEAH!

And if you have a spare dollar or two, RAINN is a fine organization.

2 Responses to “Seduction Guides, Pick-Up Artists, and Real Consent”

  1. Ed H Says:

    Just FYI, they did *not* cancel the kickstarter — they were only informed of the full nature of the situation with a few hours to spare, and they did not during that time come to the conclusion that canceling was the right thing to do. After that, it was too late to take the money back, it had been transmitted, which was why when they finally came to the conclusion that they had done entirely the wrong thing, they went out of their way to say so in so many words, put their money where their mouth was, and promise changes in future behavior.

    Still, they have been criticized for not canceling it (or at least freezing things so that they would have more time to decide on whether to cancel it) in the time they did have.

  2. Debbie Says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I understood much (but not all) of this. However, since the post was not primarily about Kickstarter’s response, I didn’t dig into it.

    I hope the critics are sure they would have done better in the same circumstances …

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