Sometimes I can’t even tell what’s parody anymore

So I’ve been reading horrible things on the internet about being a “pick-up artist”, as part of research for an introductory presentation on gender norms and the culture of masculinity (oh, the things that teaching feminism will make you do. . .)

Anyway, I read this article in The Guardian – not carefully, mostly skimming the intro sections – and didn’t realize it was parody. I published a bitchy post about it. Jender had to gently point out to me that it was probably parody, and when I went back and read it (more closely, especially the intro) that reading became obvious. But, to be honest, that it might be parody hadn’t even occurred to me. I’ve been reading so much of this, and both the tone of the article and the kind of stuff being said were exactly the sort of thing I’ve been reading. Except that this article is a little more polite, and a little more respectful of women.

Increasingly, it seems like the rape-y, misogynistic aspects of a certain brand of masculinity are so hyperbolically displayed that I can’t even tell what’s parody anymore.

11 thoughts on “Sometimes I can’t even tell what’s parody anymore

  1. I think that’s right – there is a whole lot of anger and vitriol and hatred expressed on Men’s Rights sites (to which this PUA stuff is directly and visibly related). I guess some of it is probably to do with an attempt to display the kind of vision of masculinity that they feel is being threatened or lost, and I guess another part of it is to do with trying to spread (contagion-wise) their discontent (or anger) to men who might land on those sites, to get them fired up and resentful as well, and to perpetuate the movement for Men Going Their Own Way, the anti-feminist agenda of Men’s Rights Activism, and so on. So it’s like an expression of how upset these men are or seem to be, and also a form of propaganda itself (“See how much I hate, see how much psychic harm is being done to me personally, and to you as a man?! That can’t be right!” etc).

  2. Sometimes I wonder how much of the pick-up artistry stuff is just an (albeit not so impressive) attempt to codify and employ social behaviors that come to most people naturally. It’s funny that if someone who is socially skilled smiles unintentionally when someone does something they like – in a way that incentivizes the behavior – then it’s okay. But if someone who is not naturally socially skilled smiles intentionally because they have learned that they should do this in order to incentivize behaviors they like, then it’s creepy and manipulative. Obviously there are some awful, awful things in pick-up artistry that do indeed seem creepy and manipulative, but at the same time there’s also an underlying unfairness – that those to whom socializing comes easily generally do better, and yet it’s not really acceptable for those who don’t socialize easily to try to explicitly teach themselves the same behavior. Maybe what we object to in the pick-up artistry stuff is just the creepy/manipulative/sexist/MRAish parts of it, but I also think it might be a bit of a distaste for the explicit learning of social behaviors as well (some of which presumably do alter or manipulate the behavior of others when they are used unintentionally by individuals who are simply socially skilled).

    Would we welcome tips on how to negotiate for a casual sexual encounter with someone at a bar, say, if these tips literally just described the most effective ways that people successf ully negotiate such encounters in a way that remains respectful to all the parties involved? If so, it would be nice to see this emerging as a competitor to the more unsavory pick up artistry stuff that’s out there. After all, it’s pretty understandable why people would want these kinds of ‘pick up’ tips in the first place, and I don’t see anything in principle objectionable about researching and supplying these tips to those for whom thebehavior doesn’t come naturally. Is my instinct wrong here though? Maybe the thought is that employing these tips would nonetheless undermine the autonomy of the ‘recipient’ of the behavior in a way that’s perhaps okay to do unintentionally, but not okay to do intentionally. But I just don’t feel very convinced by that line of reasoning I guess.

  3. What bothers me is not that I sometimes am confused as to whether something is parody; but the feeling of certainty that half the male readers don’t know OR care whether it is parody!

  4. I think it’s clear that this is parody because it’s less disturbing than a lot of PUA stuff. Google ‘LMR pick up artist’ for some choice tips on how to overcome ‘last minute resistance’ to sex from a woman, which includes advice like ‘don’t try to reason with her – women just aren’t logical like men are’ and ‘just have sex with her anyway to show that you’re an alpha male’.

  5. Anonymous, you ask: ‘Would we welcome tips on how to negotiate for a casual sexual encounter with someone at a bar, say, if these tips literally just described the most effective ways that people successfully negotiate such encounters *in a way that remains respectful to all the parties involved*?’ [my emphasis]

    Personally, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with that, in principle. But I worry about whether and how it could actualized, especially if the recommendations were meant to be gender-specific. I think codifying a list of good ways for men to get women to sleep with them that doesn’t objectify women or reinforce harmful stereotypes would be difficult – to say the least – given the current social context.

    The trouble with most ‘pick up’ advice is, of course, that it is *not* respectful of all parties. And it may be that the most effective – if by ‘effective’ here we mean ‘likely to get you laid’ – ways of negotiating these encounters are themselves not respectful (cf., strategies like ‘negging’, where a man intentionally tries to heighten a woman’s self-esteem issues so that she is then grateful for any attention she receives from him). Cashing in on the patriarchy may in fact be an effective way to get sex, but it’s still an objectionable way to get sex!

  6. Yes, I was wondering whether there are some pieces of advice that might not be so problematic though. So I wasn’t thinking of the most effective advice simpliciter, but the most effective respectful advice that one can give. Women and men both sometimes want casual sex, and negotiating that space isn’t always easy, especially for people who don’t take to it naturally. But it feels like it *can* be done respectfully. The advice needn’t be gender specific in an essentialist way, but it could advise people in a way that pays attention to the different experience men and women might have in these contexts (e.g. it seems like a woman buying a man a drink has far fewer negative implications than a man buying a woman a drink does. But men who don’t have enough empathy to recognize the asymmetry might think ‘I’d love for a woman to buy me a drink in this context, so there’s no problem if I buy a woman a drink!’). It seems like people who are more socially skilled get this kind of thing and respond accordingly, but that many people might be well-intended but fail to pick up on these things. But I suppose there’s the worry that the most effective advice simply will ‘cash in on the patriarchy’ as you say, and that the less problematic advice will just be far less effective. If that’s the case, then it does seem like ‘nice’ pick up artistry just wouldn’t be an option (though the optimist in me hopes that this isn’t the case!).

  7. (Though I probably wouldn’t call it ‘nice pick up artistry’. ‘Pick up artistry’ just sounds horrid to start with.)

  8. There are non-creepy advice columns devoted to things like helping people negotiate casual sex in ways that are respectful of the needs of all parties. My favorite is Captain Awkward.

    These are incredibly different from pick-up artist sites, whose emphasis is on reasoning from gross stereotypes about women in order to find ways to manipulate and coerce them into sex.

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