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You Don't Have to Be a Sexist Pig to Pick Up Women

With pickup artist misogyny in the news once again, here's some advice on attracting women -- without the sexism.

Is all pickup advice sexist? That’s what I found myself wondering after “pickup artist” Ken Hoinsky made headlines last week by raising more than $16,000 via a Kickstarter campaign to publish his book, “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome With Women.” Critics say Hoinsky’s idea of a pickup is actually predatory — for example, he advises men to “continue to try to escalate physically” with a woman until she responds by shouting “STOP” or “GET AWAY FROM ME.”

The controversy inspired Maria Bustillos at the Awl to write  a defense of Hoinsky with a great big nod of sympathy to all the “shy fellows” out there. I disagree with her contention that Hoinsky’s advice is harmless — but we do agree on one thing: There is nothing wrong with wanting to attract women — whether it’s for a one-night stand or a long-term relationship. The problem arises when the advice is sexist, demeaning or hostile.

All of which raises the question of what reasonable, inoffensive advice on wooing women would look like. Clarisse Thorn, author of “Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser,” has put a great deal of thought into the question. “Ethics was a central question in my book,” she told me in an email. “ It’s a very complicated topic, but I think that ethical pickup artistry boils down to using ‘tactics’ that are mutual rather than adversarial.” There is plenty in the pickup artist, or PUA, community that is “ sleazy and misogynistic,” she says, but there are also self-help aspects that seem relatively harmless and legitimately therapeutic. “Some cognitive-behavioral therapists suggest that patients with social anxiety keep a log of successful social encounters in order to build up self-confidence — and PUAs sometimes do this by writing what they call ‘Field Reports,’” she says.

Thorn refrains from giving “concrete ‘tips,’” she says, “since any tactic can be used for harm or for good.” It’s possible, though, to give some clear pointers on how to avoid being a dick to women — and  despite the nonsense about “nice guys finishing last,” that is a pretty strong attractant (at least to women who are confident and secure). With the help of Thorn and feminist activist and author Jaclyn Friedman — as well as wisdom gleaned from my own unfortunate  run-ins with pickup artists – I’ve devised a list of basic principles for guys who want to pursue women without becoming a Hoinsky.

Women are people

I know, crazy, right? Women are people, and people are different. As Thorn wrote in a blog post on “ethical pickup artistry” a couple of years back, “Pickup artists often say ‘women are all X,’ ‘women love X,’ ‘women all respond to X,’ etc,” she writes. “Sometimes they are correct for the majority of women; sometimes they are correct for a minority of women; sometimes they’re wrong. The bottom line is this: Anything pickup artists say about women is not true for all women.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a beloved female friend and wondered at how very alien her wants and needs were to mine, and vice versa. I remember the look of horror that registered on a friend’s face when I told her that I had never seen “Love Actually.” It’s the same look I’d given her years back when she asked me whether performers had “real” sex in porn.

Friedman brilliantly adds, “If you’re looking for any formula that will work on all women, you’re doing it wrong, because you’re treating women as vending machines that will dispense sex if you put in the right input.” On that note, the headline above is tongue-in-cheek: Stop thinking about women as “chicks” you can “get” and, ironically, you might actually get some.

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