Friday, October 4, 2013

Atheism+: A (Not) Brief Reflection on Pick Up Artistry

Normally, I wouldn't care about such things. But because I somehow got onto the spam list of a bunch of PUA sites (and keep seeing PUA ads on Pandora and such), I think I'll post a rant about PUA from an Atheist+ perspective.
The following material is flagged Red Level. It deals with the blogger's original ideas, personal beliefs, and delusions; and might not be believed by any expert in any field anywhere.
There will be two parts to this rant: one explaining what PUA is, one dealing with the problems with PUA from a Skeptical perspective, and one dealing with the problems from a Feminist perspective.

Three parts.  There are three parts to this rant: what PUA is, Skeptical problems, Feminist problems, and a conclusion.

I'll come in again.
The following material is flagged Red Level. It deals with the blogger's original ideas, personal beliefs, and delusions; and might not be believed by any expert in any field anywhere.
There are four parts to this post, yadda yadda. Cardinal! Read the charges!
Charges? I thought this was just a rant.
The rant is the charges, Cardinal. Never mind; I'll do it.

First off, what is PUA? PUA, or Pick Up Artistry, is a technique that a number of people teach. These people claim that, by using their techniques, any person (usually but not always male) can enjoy the intimate company of any person or persons (usually but not always female) xe desires. Usually, these techniques are claimed to be "perfect", "undetectable", "irresistible", and so forth. It is claimed that by buying the book or taking the class that the "trainer" offers, the subject will never lack for intimate company again.

The advertising used will be discussed here (because I don't feel like shelling out cash just to write a more thorough take-down). Often, the advertising is based on a testimonial, often personal, claiming that the person was completely unable to attract intimate company until having taken the class, after which people (almost always women) were desperate to give xim their company. Other methods are used in the advertising, such as social proof ("everyone's doing it!"), appeal to authority ("let me tell you what Einstein said!", as well as references to the author's questionable credentials ["I've read three books on this subject!"] in psychology or "female psychology"), time pressure ("limited time offer! Act now!"), low-balling ("this would normally be worth $700, but we're giving it away for a tenth of that!"), likeability ("I'm really on your side!"), mock anti-authoritarianism ("I'm on the run from THEM, because THEY want to suppress this!"), and so forth. Generally, any component of the advertising that is not posted in plain sight in a public place is overtly sexual (at least, for the version aimed at men).

First, I will start with a skeptical perspective on the subject. The claim made is that the person has discovered an easy, generally applicable, undetectable, and irresistible form of what is essentially mind control. At the very least, the claim is that the person has discovered a way to block impulse control while controlling emotion.

To which I respond, "Why then are you not the Evil Overlord yet?"

There are many better uses for mind control than obtaining intimate company. One could go with the old standby of RULING THE WORLD! MUAHAHAHA! One could sell the secret to military or intelligence organizations (heaven knows the CIA would be interested). One could easily go viral as an artist or a pop-culture phenomenon.

One could even, say, make irresistible and undetectable advertising to sell the secret.

And yet, the world remains unruled, the military does not field mind control battalions, intelligence agencies are restricted to conventional propaganda, artists and pop-culture phenomena have less-than-universal appeal, and the secret to mind control is sold using transparent and resistible manipulation.

Doubtless the defenders would claim that there are reasons for this: it only works on women, it can only be used for sexual purposes, and so on. To which I respond: this is classic special pleading. Nothing in the advertising suggests that this might be the case. Nothing in conventional (read: appearing in respectable peer-reviewed journals) psychological research indicates that there are inherent psychological differences across gender lines, or that there are neural pathways tied to sexuality that are unrelated to anything else (in fact, the common adage that "sex sells" is very much true).

(I might do another piece more fully examining the problems from a skeptical perspective, such as regression to the mean in the testimonials, placebo effect, committedness bias, and so on; but that's for another time. This is already starting to run a bit long.)

Next, the feminist perspective.

There are some truly serious problems in this.

First, there's the problematic takes on sex and sexuality and intimacy. The advertising plays into the gendered tropes surrounding intimate relationships: that men only think of sex, and that women only think of relationships.

And this sounds like an excellent time for another installment of Tropes Versus Men and Women Alike!
(Be warned: there are TVTropes links ahead.)

1.Men Are Horndogs
Versus Men: It's an old joke: men are always interested in physical intimacy. The running assumption is that men are incapable of thinking while female secondary sexual characteristics are visible, that a man who receives any sexual attention wanted it (even if he transparently did not), and that it is the Natural State of Men to always pursue physical intimacy. Naturally, this leads to a number of problems for men: men who are harassed or assaulted sexually are treated, at best, as the butt of a joke; at worst given a "why are you complaining?" treatment. It is believed that men "cannot be trusted" around anyone they might possibly be interested in. And men who do not fit this template, who do not pursue every woman around them or are capable of thinking clearly even while near conventionally-or-otherwise-attractive women, are "not Real Men".
Versus Women:  Naturally, if men cannot control themselves while seeing women they find attractive, this places a duty on women to, as some Evangelical Christians put it, "prevent their brothers from stumbling". Under this idea, there is an assumption that a woman who does not do this is "asking" for any unwanted attention or action she receives; and therefore that if a woman receives unwanted attention, she may have done something to "deserve" it or she may have been "asking for it".

2.Women Are Sensitive
Versus Women: The other side of that trope is that women care about emotional intimacy to the exclusion of physical intimacy. The idea is that while the Man enjoys himself, the woman "lies back and thinks of England" (or her country of choice). Of course, the main problem with this is that this presents a stunted and severely warped perspective on women's motivations in relationships: it's always about the emotional (or in some cases, financial) aspects, and never about the physical ones. This has the effect of causing women who feel physical attraction (which is most of them, at some point) to feel as though there is something "disgusting" or "wrong" about them for it, and to be shunned for their "impure" thoughts.
Versus Men: Of course, if caring about emotional attachments is an exclusively feminine trait, this means that men cannot be allowed to care about such "soft" things. Men are expected to only enter into relationships for the physical aspects, or sometimes for the cooking or cleaning; never because they "feel" something as wussy as an "emotional bond" with another person. This means that men are supposed to function without any emotional support network, or even a supportive emotional bond.
But how does this apply to PUA? Simple. Male!PUA and Female!PUA are advertised very differently. In Male!PUA advertising, the usual formula in video media involves a man who is depicted as vaguely pathetic and meant to be the audience: not a True Man because He Is Not Sexually Active. With the Help Of Our Product, he becomes a True Man who is depicted (sometimes in ways bordering on pornographic) enjoying the company of a number of Beautiful Women in Various States Of Undress. On the other hand, Female!PUA advertising focuses on a woman who is Interested In Pursuing A Relationship With A Man. Instead of showing her undressed and physically involved with the man, she is shown as getting him to The Marital Altar (both fully dressed, of course). This suggests completely different goals in the products sold: men getting some action, and women getting some commitment. The idea that men might want commitment, or women might want action, or either might want a relationship (even just for one night) based on mutual respect does not seem to occur to the producers.

And that segues nicely into the next point. A good sexual relationship (from what I understand anyway; I can't really speak from experience here) is based on communication, mutual respect, mutual desire, and very importantly consent. See, consent is the difference between sex and rape (regardless of what Todd Akin might have to say on the subject). And this leads to a very important problem in PUA: if it worked, how would any "consent" given be meaningful? If consent absolutely must be given, and not consenting is psychologically impossible, that consent is not consent. And so, using mind control to obtain intimacy, especially physical intimacy, is a Very Bad Thing.

And so, to conclude: PUA is a technique that cannot possibly work as advertised, because if it did the advertising would be a lot better (at least). It seems to be marketed in ways that play into and reinforce gender stereotypes that are fundamentally harmful to both men and women (the ways in which they harm genderqueer, agender, and genderfluid persons are left as an exercise to the reader; as are the harms to LGBTA persons). And it is a very good thing that it does not work, because if it did using it would be a horrific crime.

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