The Pick-Up Apologist: Kickstarter, Reddit, The Awl, and The Real Problem With Seduction Culture
Last night a reader forwarded me The Awl’s interview of Ken Hoinsky by Maria Bustillos. To be honest, I hadn’t intended to chime in on this story when I first came across it via Ethan — no real controversy here, I assumed. But after reading Bustillos’s apologetics of Hoinsky, I’ve foolishly decided to add my voice to the chorus condemning Hoinsky and to make that case that regardless of whatever bad press he has to live through, it isn’t nearly enough.
For those delightfully ignorant, Hoinsky gained a certain amount of notoriety recently when Kickstarter pulled his book project and issued an apology for allowing it on their site in the first place. Compiling some of the advice he has been dispensing under the pseudonym TofuTofu on the /r/seduction Reddit, Hoinsky was raising money for the book Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women, yet another of the seemingly unending seduction manuals for the 22-and-never-kissed-a-girl set.
It’s hard to know exactly what advice Hoinsky was dolling out, because since Kickstarter gave him the boot he has deleted his posts on Reddit. All that we are left with are the bits that caused the mini-intertubes firestorm, which critics claim advocate rape:
Get CLOSE to her, damn it!: To quote Rob Judge, “Personal space is for pussies.” I already told you that the most successful seducers are those who can’t keep their hands off of women. Well you’re not gonna be able to do that if you aren’t in close! …
All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with. They began touching them immediately, kept great body language and eye contact, and were shameless in their physicality. 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.”
At the time of his Kickstarter expulsion, Hoinsky had raised over $16,000.
In her interview, Bustillos claims that Hoinsky’s quotes were taken out of context in a way that was “the most disingenuous and outrageous manner imaginable.” She laments that critics “whined and moaned about how rapey the author is,” and defends what she sees as Hoinsky’s “passion.” To give credit where due, Bustillos does indeed offer additional context that suggests Hoinsky’s supposed “pro-rape” stance is an outrage-of-the-day fiction. The very piece the above quote is taken from apparently also contained this:
If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says “STOP,” or “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:?”No problem. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”
Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You’ll be no different. 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. 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.
Given this context, it’s hard to paint Hoinsky as an intentional rapist-senei. (Although I think we can all agree that the whole “after ‘some experience’ one will be able discern the difference between playful fun and sexual assault” advice carries more than a few inherent problems of its own.) So let us grant to Bustillos that Hoinsky does not, in fact, deserve to be banished to the ninth circle of Hell. Let us instead ask, does he deserve to be banished to any of the others?
Because he really, really does.
Seduction Culture and its proliferation of seduction manuals is one of the most fascinating -- and troubling -- cottage industries on the Internet. Spanning the mediums of books, ebooks, seminars, paid-content web sites, and even television shows, (and, yes, Opposite Day posts as well), these manuals dangle the “secret” of bedding women to lonely young men. And not just any woman -- each seduction manual promises its reader the hottest women in any bar. The phrases “model,” “super-model,” and “looks just like a super-model” are thrown about with the same frequency that Stephen Hawking throws around “gravity” and “time” in his books.
After reading the interview, I decided to follow Bustillos’s lead and read through Reddit’s seduction posts, as well as (where I could find excerpts online) some of the seduction manuals mentioned on those threads.
There are variations in the various writings, of course -- (hey, free markets, eh?) -- but for the most part they seem to be remarkably consistent. Pretending to be someone you’re not, to one degree or another, is widely encouraged, as is ranking and valuing women solely on their looks. Attempting to play a woman against her friends is applauded, as is “jumping” from a woman to her friends once a bedding has occurred, regardless of what the seducer may (or may not) have led the first woman to believe were the relationship parameters. Indeed, dishonesty seems to be a big part of Seduction Culture’s strategy for getting to first base and beyond: I found advice to take wedding rings off if you are married, as well as advice to get a fake wedding ring if you are single.
At first blush, these manuals seem harmless enough. After all, telling an impressionable, socially awkward, twenty-three year-old guy to “always have an opening a line to use” with “as many women in the bar as possible” isn’t just milquetoast-posing-as-edgy, it’s a pretty effective way to increase his odds of going home alone at the end of the night. Looking deeper, though, these manuals can be pretty harmful when actually employed.
For one thing, at the heart of each is an objectification of women that seems deeply grounded in hostility. The objects of affection are frequently referred to as “targets.” That these fantasy women have not already bedded the reader is assumed to be a function of the women’s emotional shortcomings, inflated senses of self-worth, or “being a bitch.” The degree of hostility varies from author to author, obviously, and in many cases I am sure the author honestly and mistakenly sees this hostility as a benign and honest function of their “love of all women.” Women who are confident and emotionally strong are viewed with particular derision, and are given labels such as The Entitled Princess. “This type of girl dominates because she wants to see how far she can push you, how much she can control you with her sexuality,” advises a much agreed-with Reddit poster. “It doesn’t necessarily turn her on, in fact, it’s a form of punishment for being weaker than her.”
Much of the advice also seems to be depressingly solipsistic. When one poster asks what people’s “play” is when they meet a woman who is depressed because she ended a long-term relationship less than 36 hours prior, the replies are telling: Some advise not engaging with that person on any level at all because she wouldn’t be worth it, while others recommend slipping in as a “good guy” because that girl might have “banging hot ass friends.” And of course, at least one charming lothario recommends moving in for “rebound sex” but cautions, “she might end up stopping in the middle of things and start crying.”
But even these troublingly common denominators pale in comparison to the two most heinous pieces of near-universal seduction advice, which focus on female body image and alcohol.
Women, the seducers tell us, want to be with a man who is used to being with women hotter than they are. But since you probably can’t walk into a bar with Jennifers Lawrence and Anniston attached to each arm, it may be hard for a woman out for a night with friends to know how just how many real or imaginary (ha! no, seriously, imaginary) fashion models you have bedded in the past month. The solution? Mock her body and physical appearance in public, to her face, in the hope of lowering her own self-image. This will make you seem far cooler in comparison, of course, and will ease her hesitation to go home with you.
Does this actually work? Probably, with some women who are in the right (read: the wrong) frame of mind. As the seduction manuals say, it’s a numbers game: you just have to keep attempting to break down the self-confidence of enough women until you wind one self-loathing enough to fit the bill. Making a woman feel good about themselves, say the seduction guides, is a suckers game -- better to make them feel so ugly, fat, and whorish that advances from a creep like you doesn’t seem so insulting.
Recommendations surrounding alcohol are just as bad, and have the potential to lead to worse.
In the seduction game, alcohol is neither an accompaniment to a good meal nor a pleasure for its own sake. Rather, it is a tool which, when used in the sufficient amounts, can get a “target” to allow advances she might otherwise have found unwelcome. I should note that in my scanning I did not come across anyone actually advocating taking advantage of someone once they had passed out, which would in fact be actual rape. And yet it’s not too difficult to imagine where a certain kind of reader -- frustrated by years of rejection and viewing women as objects to be treated with hostility and derision -- might read into one of these seduction manuals a wink and nod of approval for just such an act, regardless of the writer’s intent.
So when I read Bustillos’s apologetics, I am forced to agree that Hoinsky does not advocate rape. But when I read the rest of the Reddit threads and the excerpts of seduction manuals, I am also forced to recognize that his intention might not matter.
There is a second victim in the seduction manual game, of course: that socially awkward twenty-three year-old.
I have to believe, as Bustillos does, that there is a link between Seduction Culture and shy, good-hearted young men who are sincerely bamboozled about how to secure an emotionally or sexually satisfying relationship with the opposite sex. Where she and I differ, however, is that I see purveyors of this culture as predators preying upon those same men’s insecurities. I have little doubt that Hoinsky and everyone else promising a swimsuit model on each arm to every overly shy, pasty-faced, young Don Jaun-a-be for the price of a book, seminar ticket, or monthly website fee knows full well the worth of their own product. Really, seduction manuals are just today’s version of the penis enlargement pills that used to be advertised in the back pages of Playboy.
In his interview with her, Hoinsky tries to sell himself as a misunderstood geek that wanted to help his fellow geeks, guilty merely of a bad turn-of-phrase that was misconstrued. In fact, he appears to be an opportunist that actively sought the notoriety he achieved.
Over at Jezebel, Katie Baker notes that well before he was kicked off Kickstarter, Hoinsky approached her and asked her to drum up feminist indignation over his project, saying he was “begging [her] to write about his exploits:”
“Wanna let your readers know [about the Kickstarter]? I’m sure they’ll have a field day with this,” he wrote in May, as if we were collaborating on a project. I didn’t respond, but he updated me nonetheless: “The funding has reached 300% of goal, almost exclusively from reddit. I think your readers will find the story of a book on meeting women, stemming from an online community like reddit, very compelling.”
When I finally told him I wasn’t interested, he wrote: “Boo… I showed it to my brother’s Jezebel-addicted ex-girlfriend and she went on a 3 hour diatribe about it. Your readers will eat it up! Come on, a bunch of nerdy guys on reddit live-blogging their exploits with women? You can’t make this shit up :)”
Bustillos does not mention Hionsky’s attempts to become the edgy, anti-women poster boy to drum up page hits, and as such it’s unclear whether or not she knew this about him. Even so, it’s interesting to note where, in her interview, she seems to most connect with her subject. Says Bustillos to Hoinsky:
Well the other problem is like… for a woman, if there’s another guy out there who is calling you all the time, obviously indicating without shyness or hesitation that he wants to pursue something with you, that is an encouragement; more attractive, perhaps, than the guy who doesn’t make it clear. Otherwise we don’t think oh, he’s shy! We think: oh, he doesn’t really like me that much.
Here, Bustillos falls for Hoinsky’s con just as surely as the socially awkward young men who pitched in to fund his book: In Bustillos’s words, there’s no sign of a world where you find different women all across the emotional, intellectual and sexual spectrums, each unique and individual. There is simply the monolithic “Women” and “Things Women Want” and “Things Women Expect,” as if women everywhere were all driven by the same, single sub-routine, which, if cracked and decoded, would make tomes such as Hoinsky’s seduction manual something more than the claptrap they are. It seems like she had a good level of communication going with Hoinsky, and for that her interview is but a sea of wasted opportunities.
I wish, for example, that she had asked her subject why he sees women as being fairly interchangeable in their actions.
I wish she’d asked Hoinsky why an in-shape woman should be condemned as a bitch if she doesn’t want to go out with an out-of -shape man, but an out-of-shape man deserves better than to have to date “fatties.” His reader’s want their women’s butts and midriffs to be just so, why can’t they get their own lazy asses to the gym?
I wish she’d asked Hoinsky why every writer in his industry believes that the solution to falling short as a man is to foster greater duplicity, rather than striving to be a better man.
I wish she’d asked Hoinsky how it is he can possibly now claim that he’s just offering dating advice, that he has nothing against women, and that he just wants good folks to find one another on a seduction site, as if he were a Klan member saying he had no idea his club was racist and had joined merely for the summer barbeques.
I wish she’d asked Hoinsky for the “digits” of his many, many supposed conquests, so that she as a journalist and critic could follow up and see what these scores of women really think of a man that operates in the manner Hoinsky does -- or if they in fact really exist at all.
Instead, after hearing straight from the horse’s ass all we are left with is an almost choreographed dance of chauvinistic apologetics, a light misogynist shuffle, and the realization that while Hoinsky’s duplicitous, self-serving lines might not work on all women, they do alright with those at The Awl.