March 24, 2012

A view: Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men

One of my recent purchases has been Clarisse Thorn's bookConfessions of a pick up artist chaser: long interviews with hideous men. This isn't a review of the book so much as such as some of my ponderings as a result of the book.

CoaPUAC (sorry, I can't write out the whole title each time) was a bit of an unusual purchase for me, being not a novel but a semi-autobiographical factual/philosophical account about the author's experiences with pick up artists and the pick up artist (PUA) community. It also was unusual for me because I try (for the sake of all around me) not to engage with things that are liable to make me rant. And men being assholes are liable to make me rant. A lot.

However, all is going well so far and Clarisse does most of the snarky remarks for me, so I don't feel the need to tear the book, or the opinions of the people in the book, apart. (This is no minor achievement.) CoaPUAC has made me think - in a good way. One thing has struck me (so far) especially. Thorn's description of The Game and PUAs in general rather reminded me of The Rules, a sort of equivalent dating guide for women. Just in case you're unfamiliar with these titles, The Game is essentially a men's self help book to get women to sleep with them; The Rules is a women's self help book to get men to treat them well and marry them.

Self help can be truly ridiculous, but I sympathize with Thorn and the PUAs, as I agree that the unspoken societal rules are frankly confusing to those of us who, for whatever reason, didn't pick them up by osmosis. Some women are born with that 'something' that means that they're successful in relationships and never get messed around. Some men are born with charisma that makes women want to sleep with them. For the rest of us books are a help. (Incidentally, if this idea intrigues you, I recommend How to make anyone fall in love with you, which cover similar ground from both male and female pov. I liked it a lot more that The Rules.)

An over simplified summary of The Rules is this: take control and don't put up with any nonsense. The Game, and PUA in general, also seems to be very much about taking control of the situation. When I first started thinking about this, I saw The Rules and The Game as two opposite ends of a spectrum: female control on one end - male control on the other. A kind of tug-of-war between women searching for love/marriage vs men searching for no strings sex. As I continued to read CoaPUAC, I began to wonder about that. Thorn quotes a PUA who says that 80% of men who are involved with PUA turn up with a girl they want to get together with in mind, then are never heard from again once they (presumably) succeed. Most of the PUA men probably wanted a relationship - but that doesn't make good male friendly advertising copy, because it sounds sappy. So maybe The Rules and The Game aren't two ends of a spectrum, but just gender differentiated views on the same issue of engaging with people in a way that builds a good relationship (regardless of duration).

The anti-feminist view of PUA also intrigued me - seeing PUA as pandering to women. The PUA viewpoint is perhaps, to some extent, that women have something men want (sex) and it's up to men to persuade them to give it to them. (I guess the anti-feminist view is that rohypnol is the male dominant way to get sex.) For a Rules girl, sex is partly a tool to get a man to commit to you. What is most interesting in all of this is that sex becomes a commodity or currency, a bargaining chip, reward and something that can be taken. It's a pretty old fashioned idea - that cliche of the wife who gives her husband sex for birthdays, anniversaries etc., or the idea of a man 'taking' a woman's virginity.  I thought that as a society we had gotten past 'sex as a commodity' and begun to see it as an activity. Clearly not.

How far you condem or condone the outlook of PUA probably depends partly on your own pov and partly on the extremes to which the men involved take it. It's easy to see women as the innocent victims of PUA (though Thorn doesn't). The point that I see Thorn making is that some of these PUA are assholes, regardless of the PUA label and the gender label and I agree with her. For me, I see PUA in itself as not really much more dubious than being a Rules girl. However, the kind of people attracted to non-consensual power games and manipulation can be really nasty pieces of work, regardless of gender.

I could go on and on about this book and the discussions I had with it and about it (in my head - obviously...). It's a bit of a cliche to say it, but CoaPUAC really is thought provoking. It's not always a pleasant or comfortable read but it is undoubtedly interesting.


  1. While I'm glad you read that book, it really isn't so simple, as the view of a "sexual marketplace" tends to be dominant in things such as evolutionary psychology and economics. I do think there is some truth to it.

    Your basic point about power and mind games is correct, but in fact I merely see PUA as a toolkit. It's sort of like being attuned to the force (Star Wars) and choosing whether you use the "lightside" techniques or darkside techniques.


  2. I did not mean to imply that I am an expert on PUA, gender studies, sexuality etc. (I'm definitely not) or that any of these subjects are simple (they're not!).

    As far as the 'sexual marketplace' idea goes - I was talking from my own experience really when I said that I thought sex was more of an activity than a trading token. Clearly (from the paper you linked) there is still a sexual marketplace reality in many countries (including the US). But you can also view sexuality from a cultural constructivist pov - that is to say - a sexual marketplace may be the current reality, but it is only the case because societal norms make it that way. Sex is something that is traded because society does that, NOT because sex is intrinsically something that it tradable.

    I totally agree that the Star Wars metaphor is applicable to PUA, as it is to any aspect of life. I do think that there is a risk with PUA that the good, constructive advice gets mixed up with misogynistic manipulative crap, and that people may believe the the latter because the former was effective. As you say, it's a matter of not getting tempted over to the 'darkside' - my concern would be for those who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to distinguish between the two.

    Thanks for your comment Clarence. May the force be with you. ;)