“Curious about your take on this guy’s book.”
A smart female friend messaged me with a link to comedian Casey Malone’s blog post decrying self-proclaimed pickup artist Ken Hoinsky’s Kickstarter project seduction guide "Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women." Malone had investigated into Hoinsky’s Reddit posts and was calling for people to rally Kickstarter to take down the project just hours away from its funding deadline. He cited what appeared to be excerpts from the book that he had found online:
“Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically."
“Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances."
“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."
On the other side of my smartphone, I let out a groan of world-weary exasperation. As I have confessed to xoJane readers once before, I am a female pickup artist: I wrote a seduction guide for women called "The New Rules Of Attraction" and I’m the founder of a New York City meetup group called The Sirens Seduction Forum for Women. Self-identifying with the seduction community has been a controversial enough stance as it is (just witness all the comments on my last article here!), and now I was going to have to deal with another asshole contributing to the misogynist tarnish on the brand of the philosophy I, as a woman, espouse as having changed my life for the better.
“I’m trying to figure out if I’m upset about something taken completely out of context, or if this is genuinely unfortunate rapey advice,” my friend followed up.
It didn’t matter. When you’re writing about something as polarizing as pickup, you can’t afford to write something that’s going to sound like an endorsement of sexual assault, not only because of how vulnerable to attack from your detractors it’s going to leave you, but even more importantly because your advice is inevitably going to be devoured and implemented by your acolytes who may not know better than to take it literally.
The pickup artist community is one that unfortunately tends to conglomerate online, with many frustrated keyboard jockeys sitting around at their computers advising each other on how to get laid. For Hoinsky to poise himself as an expert and then say something so potentially dangerous and problematic, no matter how much he may or may not value consent in his real-time romantic interludes, was stupid. Facepalm, headdesk stupid.
The PUAs I talked to felt the same way. Most of us saw the intent behind Hoinsky’s poorly worded posts, and none of us condoned them literally.
In pickup, two very important skill sets are taught: “microcalibration,” which is a sharp attunement to every reaction you're getting from your target to know how they feel in each moment, and "compliance testing," which is a means of divining whether your target is on the same page with you and wants you to continue moving forward. A good pickup artist who is microcalibrating and compliance testing can make a first move and know with almost perfect accuracy whether it's going to be welcomed. This is not only helpful in making sure that every gesture is consensual, but also helpful in not being rejected.
A good pickup artist doesn’t want to annoy or harass a woman. He wants her to want him. That’s the irony in the associations of pickup artistry with sexual assault: the goal of pickup is to make your target chase you.
I Skyped about the upheaval in the community that weekend with my long-distance boyfriend of roughly two months now, who incidentally happens to be Mystery, the host from VH1’s reality show "The Pickup Artist."
Back in May, I had traveled to Toronto to visit him and we became inseparable for the next several weeks, going back and forth between his hometown and my city of New York. This is not only germane to the topic at hand but also particularly hilarious to write about for XoJane, especially when you consider that in my previous XoJane article I had confessed to my longstanding crush on him and to my belief that because of our pre-PUA history as sexually frustrated teenage Ren Faire geeks, in some parallel universe we had “the most beautiful LARPy love that had ever existed.” (He found that article, by the way, and I’m never living that down.)
“I mean, what do I say to this?” my boyfriend sighed to me over webcam. “There’s a time and a place to put a girl’s hand on your cock. It’s not your opener.”
As we skyped, Hoinsky messaged him on Facebook. He was being contacted by some major media outlets and wanted Mystery’s advice on what to say.
“He says I’m his hero and he wants to be the next Mystery. And I’m supposed to help him? He goes and writes some very problematic material on the internet and I’m supposed to help him save face and become the next me? What do I say to this?”
I thought for a moment. “Tell him he made a big mistake. Tell him he should never use the word ‘force’ when talking about women. Tell him that making excuses won’t exonerate him and he’s going to have to acknowledge how badly he fucked up.”
“Tell him to look it up.”
In the meantime, Kickstarter issued a formal apology for having let "Above the Game" slip through the cracks. They claimed that since the fundraiser deadline had closed, the $16,000 raised had already gone through to Hoinsky and that they were unable to take it back. They decided instead to donate $25,000 to RAINN, and then, issued a ban on all future seduction guides:
“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.”
Let’s be clear about something. Seduction is not inherently misogynistic. Hell, I’m a woman and I use it all the time (ethically and responsibly). And I’m sick of people vilifying pickup and lumping it all into the category that falls beneath the socially uncalibrated, idiotic and often mentally unstable Internet forum posters whose indefensible rants seem to get all the mainstream media attention.
Kickstarter is a private company. No one has a right to it. It can revoke its services from anyone for any reason. And had its statement read something more like, “We are prohibiting all advice and self-help works, effective immediately, because we do not have the resources to comb through all the advice given to make sure that it isn’t really bad advice,” then I probably wouldn’t have gotten so upset about it. But they didn’t.
Nor did they even prevent Hoinsky, the problem-starter, from getting the $16,000 he’d raised to fund his project. Instead, rather than admit that they had failed to properly police their site’s content for hate speech, they blamed seduction, my own chosen field, for encouraging misogynistic behavior. And I take that personally.
I called up one of my Sirens co-moderators, a queer, female-bodied, gender-fluid burlesque artist named Madame Rosebud; and a friend who’s a matchmaker and dating coach, Amy Van Doran -- both of whom I knew would agree that seduction and feminism are not mutually exclusive concepts, and both of whom I know take up both causes.
“I’m unhappy about this Kickstarter fiasco,” I told them, “and I want to raise a few questions. What if we were to propose a seduction guide, written by women and for women, that couldn’t possibly be termed misogynistic?” They signed on, and within 24 hours, we had uploaded the Kickstarter project proposal for A Feminist Guide To Picking Up Men. Our minimum funding goal? $16,000.
I sent the link to the Kickstarter proposal to Mystery, and the next day I woke up to a Skype text from him:
“I have an important thought to share with you. YOU ARE GREAT. More people should know this. End of rant.”
I contacted Jezebel the day after. Jezebel has a well-known anti-PUA stance, but I believed in their willingness to help me ask some important questions. Other online news outlets followed.
The following afternoon, Amy, Rosebud, and I got together at Amy’s apartment to film a video clip for our project. We had put up our proposal draft to make a point, but now we realized we had an important project on our hands. There had to be an ethical, consent-based, female-oriented guide to being proactive about getting the kinds of lovers you want, and while I certainly believe my book "The New Rules Of Attraction" meets those criteria, what if we could write one that would intertwine seamlessly with feminist doctrine, with the notion that inherent to feminism is the belief in giving women the widest range of possible choices for their personal agency? What if we culled together all of our individual experiences, and even interviewed other noted feminists and pickup artists, in order to present women with a kind of anthology of seduction, a volume from which they could pick and choose what resonated most?
That evening, I received the email from Kickstarter:
“Thanks for taking the time to share your project with Kickstarter. Unfortunately, the project you submitted does not meet our guidelines. On 6/25/13, we made an adjustment to the guidelines that prohibits material offering advice of this nature. This isn’t a judgment on the quality of this project, just a reflection of our focus, which can change as we learn and grow.”
I forwarded it to the media that had been in contact with me.
As soon as the story hit The Daily Dot, Hoinsky posted it and contacted me on Twitter:
I wanted to write back, YOU. You started all this! You put our necks on the chopping block! Your idiotic, badly written posts made PUAs everywhere look bad and now I have to come in and do damage control to try and clean up all your mess!
Instead I just tweeted back my email address. I haven’t heard from him and I’m not disappointed about that.
My co-authors and I decided to take our book to Indiegogo. (The campaign is here if you’re interested.) We had the option of dropping it after Kickstarter’s rejection; after all, we’d already made our point rather publicly and gotten a number of bloggers and news organizations to start asking what we felt were the necessary questions about the nature of pickup. But why stop there? We have an opportunity to create something cool and useful, something that may just start allowing people to associate seduction with empowerment, self-actualization, consent culture, and yes, even feminism.
This isn’t my first defense of seduction and I doubt it will be my last. I’ve done it several times before. And I’ve gotten ripped apart for it many times over. But I have seen the effects of what I teach and I have known those effects to be positive: greater self-confidence, greater purpose in life, happy relationships built, and enjoyable sex had.
I mean, I am a pickup artist in a relationship with another pickup artist, and I can attest that everything we do together is enthusiastic and consensual. Make fun of our hats all you want; we’re happy. It’s early in the game for us but I hope over time we can prove to be a testament to the better parts of our own culture.
And as for the Keyboard PUAs out there, I have a message for them:
Stop it. Stop making us look bad. The more awful, misogynist energy you put out there, the more you treat women as adversaries, the more you are the kind of person who prioritizes the achievement of sexual intercourse over the way that anyone involved feels about it, THE LESS LIKELY YOU WILL BE TO GET LAID. Got that? Hey, know what’s sexy? Try being a feminist ally. Try being the kind of guy who is schooled on social issues and has empathy for the humans he meets. And maybe try to have sex that both parties are deeply, enthusiastically into. I promise it’s much more fun that way.
Consent is not the absence of “no” but the profound presence of “yes.” Seduction aims to make more of those yeses happen by creating peak romantic experience and bringing mutual pleasure into people’s lives. That’s a cause I’ll take up as long as I’m alive on this planet.