The internet is in an uproar this week over Julien Blanc, an American and self-described “dating expert” who travels the globe giving workshops to men who are seeking to become so-called pick-up artists.
For those who aren’t familiar, pick-up artistry is basically what would happen if a self-help motivational speaker had a love-child with a mens’ rights advocate. Pick-up artistry is a system of taught social interactions designed to seduce women. Associated with the self-described seduction community, pick-up artists charge between $2000-$3000 for a multi-day workshop targeted towards single men, and promises to train men to improve their sexual and romantic success. To gauge the degree to which men are improving their seductive abilities, workshop attendees are taught to treat women as targets, and to rank us on an “objective” (not to mention objectifying, and often racialized) scale of attractiveness. Men are taught to value their own self-worth based on the ranking of the women they are able to target (sound familiar?), and the workshops promise to improve the “caliber” of woman they can seduce by several points on this scale: the expert claims to be able to easily seduce women of ranking 9 or 10 under any situation, and this is proposed to be the eventual goal of anyone who adopts the “pick-up artist lifestyle”.
Supporters of the pick-up artist system (which include some of my personal friends), claim that pick-up artistry isn’t about sex; it’s really intended to be about bolstering male self-confidence through bravado. When a (heterosexual) man is able to “pull” hotter women, so the thinking goes, their own self-image improves. Furthermore, pick-up artistry claims that its skillset is applicable to business and other platonic relationships by teaching language and self-awareness, not to mention grooming and eye contact. And, to be clear, a self-help program for socially awkward men and women that teaches a few basics of social interactions like eye contact and how to hold a conversation doesn’t bother me.
The problem is that pick-up artistry isn’t just that. Pick-up artistry is, at its core, about manipulating and objectifying women for the purposes of sexual and/or social exploitation. Period.
Julien Blanc isn’t the exception in the pick-up artist community. He’s the rule.
Julien Blanc made news this week after a video from a Melbourne, Australia workshop he conducted through his company Real Social Dynamics went viral. In it, Blanc makes wildly misogynistic remarks about how to sexually harass Japanese women in Tokyo. He gleefully declares (perhaps hyperbolically, perhaps not) that on his last trip to Japan, he was grabbing women off the street and shoving them in his crotch, and claims to sooth their concerns by simultaneously yelling the names of Japanese things — “Pikachu”, “Tamagochi”, etc. In one video, Blanc teaches his attendees to choke women to assert dominance over them and make them more pliant for subsequent seduction tactics.
That’s not dating. That’s sexual assault, with a distinctly anti-Asian tinge.
A viral online campaign protesting Julien Blanc was born, and it soon went offline at one of Blanc’s workshops in Australia. Then, an amazing thing happened: Australia revoked Julien Blanc’s visa unequivocally. Police Chief Commissioner of Victoria, Ken Lay, called Blanc’s workshops and tactics “deeply disturbing and offensive”.
“Labelling women as objects and actively promoting the abuse of women degrades the dignity of our whole community,” Mr Lay said on Friday.
“We want to assure everyone we have been paying close attention to this issue and appreciate that so many community members have expressed concern.”
That’s awesome. So, why can’t that happen here in America?
In Australia, officials are taking a stand against Julien Blanc and pick-up artistry in general. Meanwhile, in America, pick-up artistry is a booming industry, one that is even defended as at least harmless, if not overtly political. This week, Julien Blanc is being labelled as among the most extreme of misogynistic pick-up artists. And he is clearly on the fringe end of pick-up artistry — most emphasize being polite, and not budding rapists. But, in so doing, do we run the risk of excusing the whole of the pick-up artist philosophy that is responsible for someone like Julien Blanc?
Most pick-up artists are not taught to grab women’s heads and shove them at their penises, as Julien Blanc espouses. Most pick-up artists are instead taught to be polite — “magnificent gentlemen”, as it were (sound familiar?) — around women. But these efforts at distinguishing between Blanc and the rest of the seduction sub-culture distracts from the core problem: the entire pick-up artist philosophy relies upon the base objectification and exploitation of women.
Whether pick-up artists are violently harassing women on the streets of Tokyo, or using subtle verbal and physical cues to target women on the streets of New York City, the point remains the same: pick-up artistry is about manipulation. Nathan Thompson, a reformed pick-up artist writes:
[T]heir techniques are unethical. Manipulating people for your own selfish ends is enshrined in PUA culture – a “pivot” is a girl you use to raise your social status, “AMOGing” is a technique used to bully rivals away from girls you like and “boyfriend destroyers” are designed to lay a girl already in a relationship.
It goes without saying, therefore, that even the most overtly “chivalrous” of pick-up artist is still fundamentally exploitative. Although most pick-up artists claim the point of the workshops isn’t getting laid — they are taught to pursue phone numbers, not sex — it’s hard to reconcile this with the workshops’ central teachings regarding “alpha” and “beta” males. Nathan Thompson explains:
Beta males are men who want to be with one woman and alphas are those with access to many. So the gold standard of success in the PUA community is the “MLTR” or “Multiple Long Term Relationship”, where a PUA has sexual relationships with multiple women at the same time.
Things get darker when you get to “relationship game”. Based on more evolutionary psychology, some PUAs believe that all women are subconsciously trying to entrap them in long-term relationships, a process they call “betaisation”. Tactics to avoid betaisation involve refusing intimacy (which basically means you can only do “hard fucking” only) and freezing-out partners while you focus on seducing other women (called “nexting”). This is the sad heart of the culture – where insecure men form relationships with women, who allow themselves to be mistreated.
It’s hard to be convinced, therefore, that pick-up artistry isn’t about sex and seduction when virtually all pick-up artists market themselves through promises of sex. “Learn how to attract women!” is emblazoned in bold letters across the website of the most prominent pick-up artist in the Asian American community, JT Tran, alongside pictures of Tran kissing (blonde) women. In a post advertising a workshop in Melbourne, pick-up artists claim that the system will teach men “the amazing ability to attract and seduce the most beautiful women in the world to be your girlfriend!”
Pick-up artistry is particularly popular within the Asian American community, where it is either casually condoned or openly endorsed as a justifiable reaction to the very real and lamentable emasculation stereotypes of Asian American men. Tran’s front-page video is cued to a thumbnail where he is captioned saying “Do you know what they say about Asians, right? (sic)”, a clear dogwhistle reference to the plight of his target demographic. Tran and his stable of fellow pick-up artists frequently reference emasculation stereotypes to justify their program. Says Alice, a member of Tran’s staff:
Our experiment is revolutionary because the dating world almost always fails to acknowledge the difficulties of dating for minority communities, especially Asian men. Everyone knows that dating when you’re a tall, handsome white guy who looks like a carbon copy of Channing Tatum or Bradley Cooper is basically playing the game on easy mode and that being short or different is practically an online death sentence. But the majority in America have grown up with white privilege and they don’t realize that having a different race requires a different approach, especially when the media emasculates Asian men.
Integrated into the Asian American pick-up artist brand is also a disturbing reinforcement of White supremacy, where White women are positioned as the pinnacle. Tran asserts his status as an alpha not just through images of his success with multiple women, but with multiple White women. That pick-up artistry — and its core values regarding women — continues to exist largely unchallenged within Asian American circles cannot help but to send a clear, and hostile, message towards Asian American feminists: the objectification of women remains at least marginally acceptable within our community.
Instead of speaking out against these workshops like Australia is doing, we in America are silent or even supportive. Tran (who markets predominantly to Asian American men), Blanc (who markets predominantly to White men) and many other “dating coaches” are wildly successful. They have no trouble finding an audience.
At the end, workshop attendees emerge thousands of dollars poorer, having spent days learning the twin teachings that 1) women are easily manipulated through sub-conscious social cues into divulging their phone numbers, and 2) that masculinity is achieved through ownership of as many of these numbers as possible. The roots of an entitlement complex can’t help but take hold: alpha hopefuls are trained to expect dating success through the judicious application of more eye contact and a better cologne. And, when this system fails — as it inevitably will, because most women have learned since puberty to see through faux bravado and rehearsed lines, and I personally cannot think of anything less attractive — a large swath of pick-up artists become angry. They form forums like PUAHate where disillusioned workshop attendees take exception with pick-up artistry; but rather than to criticize the ethics of treating women like targets, they are united by their frustration that they didn’t get their promised results. They develop hate against pick-up artists, but also against women for failing to deliver the promised results. A (very small) select few of these men even become misogynistically violent. Writes The American Prospect:
[The videos] that [Elliot Rodger] put on his YouTube channel were full of language that was immediately recognizable to many: He was speaking the lingoof the “pick-up artist” (PUA) community that feminists have been raising alarms about for many years now, arguing that it’s a breeding ground for misogynist resentment and may even be encouraging violence against women.
“Alpha,” PUA lingo for a dominant male, was in the video threatening the mass murder. Rodger identified as an “incel,” which means “involuntarily celibate,” a term that was developed on web-based bulletin boards devoted to PUA enthusiasts that weren’t finding much luck getting laid. His theories about what “women” are thinking and why they are denying him the sex he felt entitled to came straight out of the theories of mating and dating that underlie the entire concept of PUA. He followed many PUAs on YouTube and was a frequent poster at forums that purported to analyze PUA theory.
This week, feminists and Asian American activists are up in arms over the disgusting fetishism and exploitation of Asian women espoused by Julien Blanc. We are organizing additional efforts to protest him in Japan and in the U.S.
But why are we stopping with Blanc? Pick-up artistry isn’t more disgusting when its practiced as overt violence. In the same month where we’ve finally opened a conversation about how street harassment — even when packaged in a polite compliment — is actually harassing, we need to apply that same focus to ourselves and our tolerance of pick-up artistry and its jargony pseudo-scientific steaming pile of bullshit.
I completely endorse a workshop that might teach socially awkward men (and women) the secrets of self-confident social interaction. Teaching men and women to be more comfortable making eye contact and having smalltalk conversations is really fabulous; and yes it would be applicable in platonic settings. Workshops designed to react against the racist and Orientalist stereotypes of Asian American emasculation are positive things… but not when they must go hand-in-hand with casual misogyny. White supremacy, institutionalized sexism, and anti-Asian racism should not be used as shade for more White supremacy, institutionalized sexism, and anti-Asian racism.
So, yes, let’s #TakeDownJulienBlanc. But, let’s just not stop there. Julien Blanc is the easy, obvious target for our ire. Feminists, and our male allies, can we finally hear some broader criticism of the entire pick-up artist philosophy and the seduction community’s central focus on female objectification and exploitation?