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Let me start by stating my qualifications for writing this, my first-ever public blog:  I’m forty years old and have been paying attention.

That’s it.  Not – I’ve spent years teaching martial arts and self-defense.  Not – I have a two month old daughter and I’m deeply concerned about what her experience of sexual harassment will be (not whether she will be harassed, but how she will respond when it inevitably happens).

It’s just that I’m here, and I’ve been watching and observing, as all the rest of you have hopefully also have been doing.  And if you have been paying attention, the truth is obvious – but just for fun, let’s connect the dots together, using a couple of recent examples:

1.  Friday, June 21, 2013.  A firestorm sweeps the Kickstarter-verse over a book titled “Above the Game” – a book critics claim is essentially a how-to guide for sexual harassment, and which its defenders counter is merely another entry into the canon of self-help literature that teaches men the art of seduction.  The controversy centers around language like this:

“If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later. All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it’s not happening.”  

Full disclosure:  my own experience of the PUA (that’s “Pick-up Artist”) community is very limited, but I have read enough firsthand to believe the language quoted above is in fact reflective of the philosophy of seduction in general.  That book isn’t an isolated incident, or its author a single bad apple.  I’d be shocked if essentially all of the seduction literature doesn’t basically echo this same philosophy.

Meanwhile…

2.  About the same time, the University of Oregon posts the results of a study addressing whether or not teaching self-defense techniques to women actually, y’know, matters.  Does it help?  The good news is that the answer is yes; the link above has the data if you want to see for yourself.

Of particular relevance here, though, are the anecdotes that are quoted, the stories told by the women that received the training, and how they used it.  Here’s the first one:

“Walking into a bar the other night, a man grabbed the back of my cowgirl hat and when I turned around [he] continued to screw with it. I looked him in the eye and said ‘We don’t know each other. Don’t touch me.’ This is huge for me, I didn’t used to look men in the eye, and most often when I say things, it’s too quiet for people to hear.”

Get it?  You see it, right?  It’s not just me?

THE EXACT SAME THING THAT WOMEN HAVE TO TAKE SELF DEFENSE CLASSES TO LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH IS WHAT IS BEING TAUGHT IN SELF-HELP LITERATURE MARKETED AND SOLD TO SEXUALLY FRUSTRATED MEN.

Think about that for a second.  Just let it sink in, and form your own conclusions about what it means.

While you do, here are mine:  the presupposition that all women by the age of eighteen are auto-magically equipped with the requisite sense of self and inner strength to know how to say no with what is apparently the required degree of conviction to deter a true pick-up artist is ridiculous on its face.

So there’s that.

But also this:  generally speaking, any time two groups are being pitted against each other so obviously, some third group is profiting from the conflict.  And certainly powerfully divisive forces have always been at work in our society.

So who stands to benefit?  Who could possibly profit from a nation of frustrated men raised on, say, impossible standards of female beauty, and unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a successful man?  And who benefits from a nation of women trained from a young age to accept things like “that’s just the way he is”?

Food for thought.

Y’know, it might be apocryphal, but I hope it’s actually true that when Emerson visited Thoreau in jail, he really asked him – “Henry, why are you in there?”, and that Thoreau really did respond with – “Ralph, why aren’t you?”

If you were ever to ask me why I am a feminist, my answer would be the same.

Really, though, I’d like to think I’m just a humanist.  There are real issues confronting men in as well (see, e.g., declining college admission rates).  And as unutterably awful as it must be to be a girl growing up with shit like this, it’s not super constructive to be a man constantly bombarded with those kind of images either.  And that’s to say nothing of things like the stereotypes of middle aged men in television sit-coms.  Apparently, at least as far as CBS is concerned, we are all Walter Mitty.

I would hate to end this by asking why we can’t just all get along.  But can we at least agree it’s a heck of a lot more satisfying to be attracted to someone because you share your strengths, rather than because you exploit each other’s weaknesses?

In any case, the extant power imbalance between the sexes is what it is, physical and institutional.  There’s a reason I have historically chosen to spend my time teaching self defense (often to women), and not, say, seduction skills to men (as if I were qualified, but you get the point).

It isn’t just because I have a daughter.  It’s because I’ve been paying attention.

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