If you follow pop culture, you may have heard of a community of men known as pick up artists — or PUAs — who give advice in books, online and on TV shows on how to “score” with women. While they may claim to just want to help lonely men be more successful in relationships, the reality of their advice is far more sinister.
Recently, a PUA named Julien Blanc made international news when — thanks to pressure from activists — Australia revoked his visa and he was forced to leave the country. Australia’s immigration minister explained the decision as follows: “This guy wasn’t putting forward political ideas, he was putting forward abuse that was derogatory to women and that’s just something, those are values abhorred in this country.” Blanc is employed by Real Social Dynamics (RSD), a U.S. based company that hold seminars and boot camps around the world for men looking for dating advice (in other words, it’s a PUA business). But Blanc’s tactics went far beyond anything that could be considered dating advice — he openly advised seminar attendees to grab women by the throat or to force women’s head into their crotch. He also stated that “at least in Tokyo, if you are a white man, you can do what you want.” Disgusted by videos of these seminars, an activist started a campaign to stop him from spreading this hate, writing for a British newspaper about why she wanted to #TakeDownJulienBlanc. Her campaign has had great success; shortly after Blanc was booted out of Australia, Canadian immigration authorities announced that they would take steps to protect Canadian women and prevent Blanc from entering the country. A petition to bar Blanc from entering the U.K. has more than 75,000 signatures. Additional petitions have succeeded in persuading hotels and conference spaces to cancel Blanc’s planned seminars, and internet companies to stop hosting Blanc and RSD’s content. The backlash against Blanc has been swift, severe and well-deserved.
It is obvious why Blanc’s techniques are so offensive; he is telling men to assault women, and calling it dating advice. But even when it isn’t advising men to assault women, the pick up artist community is hugely problematic. A number of men have declared themselves to be authorities at picking up women, and offer their advice online or in seminars (for large amounts of money). There are entire websites and forums devoted to this culture, with its own demeaning lingo. PUAs have a theory that women are attracted to “alpha” males who treat them badly, and that “beta” males (nice guys) don’t stand a chance unless they act like jerks. Women are called “targets” and given number scores, with men aiming to “bag” the highest number target possible. The PUA philosophy is that they can score with “targets” by insulting and ignoring them so that they will try to earn approval by sleeping with them. The advice gets scarier from there, with websites and forums telling PUAs to isolate the “target” from her friends, or teaching them techniques to overcome “last-minute resistance” to sex. The idea is that what women say isn’t what they mean, that “resistance” can be overcome even if a woman is saying that she doesn’t want to have sex (with one PUA advising that “no” doesn’t mean no until it’s a “NO! NO! NO!”). Does this sound more like seduction or rape?
Pick up artist culture is clearly a huge contributor to rape culture in our society. It teaches men that women are objects to be won, and that when a woman says no, it doesn’t actually mean no — it’s all some game that you can “win” with the proper techniques (and the PUA gurus will happily take your money to teach you those techniques). But it also has contributed to the overall objectification and dehumanization of women in our society — leading to more violence against women. Elliot Rodger — the man who murdered 6 people, injured 13 more and killed himself in California last year — used PUA language in his 141 page manifesto, which included lines such as “Women are incapable of having morals or thinking rationally.” In the wake of these killings, some in the PUA community stated that if only Rodger had purchased their product and followed their advice, these people would not have died. And of course, you have men like Julien Blanc, who believe that sexual and physical assault is a seduction technique. When women are reduced to a number value, and viewed as objects rather than people, it is that much easier for them to be subjected to violence — because to PUAs, women aren’t people, but targets. The stand against Julien Blanc is heartening — but what about PUAs who don’t directly advocate violence against women, but who offer techniques to “overcome resistance”? Isn’t that potentially just as harmful to women?
Education is the key to changing these attitudes. Start by learning more about how media hurts — and become a conscious consumer of media and pop culture. You can also learn more about what exactly sexual assault is, and spread the word by scheduling a training or educational program for your school or organization. Take the pledge against gender violence, and get personally involved in the fight by volunteering for or donating to Blackburn Center. But don’t stop there — sign the petitions urging action against men like Julien Blanc and join the community of activists dedicated to exposing these behaviors. Talk to friends and family about why the strategies of the PUA community are so offensive, and so harmful to women. By learning more and speaking out, we can strike back against these harmful ideas — and make a real change in our culture.