Words || Shinae Taylor
I became fascinated with the pick-up artist community several years ago after having come across a discussion of the community on a popular forum website. I can only describe my initial reaction as being a mixture of curiosity and revulsion. I began skim reading PUA forums. Entranced by their multiple excuses for subordinating women, I couldn’t help but be disgusted with the men who followed the seduction doctrine.
Pick up artistry, or PUA, refers to the contemporary community of men who engage in seduction techniques with the intent of sexual success with women. PUA is a well-developed sport, with an increasing amount of self-professed experts and numerous theories of seduction approaches. The majority of the PUA community exists on the internet, however prominent seduction experts often ‘tour’ nationally and internationally, hosting pricey seminars, conferences and workshops for men who desire to improve their ‘game’. Recently the seduction community (a term interchangeable with PUA) has come under a great deal of public backlash. Critics argue that pick up artists objectify women and encourage sexual harassment and violence. Based on the casual misogyny I have witnessed on PUA forums, I would have to agree.
“Negging is an offensive remark delivered to a woman in an attempt to bruise her ego and therefore lower her ‘bitch shield’”
Sexism is so prevalent in society that incidents in which women are made to feel degraded, objectified and uncomfortable are extremely common. Pick-up artists reinforce this androcentric culture; their techniques often employ a degree of predatory behaviour. Articles are littered with terms such as ‘negging’. Negging is an offensive remark delivered to a woman in an attempt to bruise her ego and therefore lower her ‘bitch shield’ (her defensive response to deter unknown men), while ‘targets’ are reduced to a numeral value of their perceived attractiveness, such as HB6 (hot babe 6/10).
In recent times pick-up artistry has become the domain of many colourful individuals who proclaim to know the secret to seduction. Mystery, star of The Pickup Artist on VH1 (2007-2008) has become synonymous with pick-up artistry. He is specifically associated with the practice of ‘peacocking’, in which pick-up artists don outlandish and eye-grabbing attire in an attempt to acquire female attention. Within the seduction community there are many different strands of PUA approaches to attracting women. While Mystery employs a linear step-by-step model of seduction (‘Mystery Method’), Ross Jeffries advocates ‘Speed Seduction’. This incorporates many elements of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis. I can only consider hypnotising women in an attempt to seduce them as being quite despicable, yet this practice is seemingly justifiable in PUA as Ross Jeffries, like Neil Strauss and Mystery, are considered integral the seduction community.
Typical PUA routine follows an established blueprint of seduction. First the PUA approaches the woman with the intent of capturing initial interest. He then ‘opens’ the target. ‘Opening’ involves striking up a conversation to sustain the woman’s interest. Attempts are made to appear interesting, funny and quirky, along with ‘negging’, which usually includes undermining some aspect of the target’s appearance. Differentiating oneself from other men is a key component of pick-up artistry. While most non-PUA men might compliment the woman, pick-up artists deviate from these expectations. In doing so, they anticipate increased sexual success for their originality. ‘Closing’ an encounter refers to receiving a woman’s phone number, which is often attained by the pick-up artist’s persistent attempts at banter and lowering the self-esteem of his target. ‘Natural Game’ is used to describe more organic methods of seduction, such as the techniques described above. ‘Unnatural Game’ encompasses canned one-liners, hypnosis, NLP techniques and the art of repeating scripted material to multiple women. A lot of PUA personalities in the public eye (i.e. Mystery) use the latter branch of seduction, with Mystery placing a high emphasis on ‘chick crack’, which involves topics like relationships, astrology, tarots, and generally mysterious behaviour. This is because it’s more formulaic, hence easier to teach, and flashier, allowing artists to construct charismatic personas while selling their foolproof tactics to their faithful disciples.
Instances where people have crossed the border from incredibly creepy to straight up unlawful have brought a lot of criticism onto the seduction community. Julien Blanc is a pick-up artist notorious for making sexually degrading remarks about Japanese women based on his experiences in Tokyo. In November 2014, when touring in Australia, Julien Blanc had his visa forcibly cancelled. It came as the result of public outcry as protestors swarmed event locations. Julien Blanc would not be the last pick-up artist denied entry to Australia. In February of this year popular pick-up artist Roosh V was prohibited from entering Australian borders. Roosh V has been heavily criticised internationally for his advocacy of ‘legal rape’ in which he is pushing to legalise rape on private property.
“This backwards idea of sexual consent is in direct opposition to the contemporary feminist ‘NO means NO’ consent campaign.”
Over 100,000 people signed the Change.org petition to have him barred from entering the country. Immigration minister Peter Dutton personally confirmed that he was prohibited due to disturbing and violent attitudes towards women. I think this shows that society we have a greater awareness of what constitutes healthy and unhealthy perceptions of women.
Throughout the body of techniques is the concept of women being the perpetual gatekeepers of sex. This idea is embodied by pick-up term ‘Last Minute Resistance’ (LMR), which describes a woman’s decision to halt the progression of sexual relations with the man. The situation described by LMR encompasses conflicting perceptions of sexual consent. On one hand, legal rape supporter Roosh V maintains that if a woman has been engaging in a developed degree of sexual foreplay such as kissing, then she does not have the right to object to further sexual contact. This backwards idea of sexual consent is in direct opposition to the contemporary feminist ‘NO means NO’ consent campaign.
The blurred lines surrounding sexual consent in the PUA community and the limitation of women as sex gatekeepers severely limits men’s perception of female expression of sexuality. Women are perpetually trapped in the lens of the ‘male gaze’, only regarded as the receivers of sex, never the initiators. Throughout the many bodies of PUA thought, there is a tangible sense of sexual frustration and entitlement to women’s bodies. In a 2014 article for VICE News, Nathan Thompson, a former pickup artist, reduced PUA practices to being ‘a bunch of psychological tricks.’ He criticises the PUA assumption that women are trying to entrap men in long-term relationships and stresses personal happiness and self-confidence as being superior to seduction techniques. I have to agree; individual self-fulfilment is a far more rewarding endeavour; it doesn’t require paying sums of money to self-proclaimed ‘experts’, and, more importantly, it doesn’t involve reducing women to sexual objects to be won.
The PUA community has a far-reaching impact. It affects the men involved, distorting their perception to consider women as sexual targets. The misogynistic messages of PUA also place women in uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. From my experiences reading PUA forums, the majority of commenters were men who, prior to discovering seduction techniques, experienced great difficulty engaging with women. For these men PUA provides the means of assured success with the opposite sex, which appears to be an irresistible offer – the contemporary construct of masculinity is centred on a man’s sexual success. As a woman I believe I am not in a position to judge these men for feeling sexually inadequate. Both sexes are under scrutiny for deviations from gender expectations. My judgement begins, however, when male insecurity endangers the safety of women.
Discuss PUA, sexism, and rape culture at the Respect.Now.Always panel on 16 Aug at the Campus Hub. The panel will be preceded by a screening of The Hunting Ground. Event details here.