In response to the horrific murders at UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, many commentators have pointed out the perpetrator’s connection to so-called Anti-Pickup Artist online communities and to the misogynist and racist motivations of the shooting. Whereas the Pick-Up Artist fad has received some media attention and academic study in the past, the so-called Anti-Pick-Up artist scene has received much less attention – with notable exceptions well worth reading – and has probably been completely off the radar even for those of us studying gender. Even though the name suggests an oppositional stance on the idea of PickUp artistry, in reality, these Anti-Pick-Up Artists share in the very same gender ideology as those being drawn to Pick-Up Artist message boards and websites. Add in the frustration with the ineffectiveness of the Pick-Up Artists’ tips and strategies, and the Anti-Pick-Up Artist scene reveals itself as promoting an equally – if note more – toxic gender ideology.
A quick read of any of the popular Pick-Up Artist websites shows a predictable and disheartening gender ideology: Women are treated quite literally as objects: They are rated on 0 – 10 scales (purely in terms of their physical attractiveness, predictably), are seen as sex objects to be conquered, portrayed as “prey” to be “approached”, “targets” to be “engaged”, and depicted as de facto robots that will deliver on the desired outcome (sex) if only the correct script is followed. Rather than about the messiness of human interaction, the “game” Pick-Up Artists are selling is one that revolves around trickery and scoring, a game that can supposedly be “won” if man only learns the right moves and strategies. In addition to these objectifying tendencies, women are being repeatedly portrayed as withholding what men supposedly should have access to: Their bodies.
On a different – but structurally very similar – corner of the internet, are those that call themselves the Anti-Pick-Up Artists or PUAhaters; some of which refer to themselves as ‘InCel’ Men – short for ‘Involuntary Celibacy’. But instead of exposing the Pick-Up Artistry as the misogynist and flawed ideology it is, these men actually buy into the very same premises that the Pick-Up-Artist disciples do. However, they have lost faith that Pick-Up strategies work – for them. As this article on Jezebel from roughly two years ago documents and any analysis of the PUAhaters subreddits and message boards reveals, their worldview is simply the opposite side of the same coin of the Pick-Up Artists’ promises. Instead of questioning the view of women as “prey” to be “approached”, these men, too, rate women and denounce them for their alleged sexual unavailability. What is more, women are blamed for the very thing these men are engaged in: Rating the opposite sex according to physical attractiveness and only being sexually available to those at the top of the ranking.
Thus, the frustration of not having had success in applying the Pick-Up artists strategies is turned not into a questioning of the sexist premises of Pick-Up artistry but into anger and hate directed at women and into defeatism about themselves. Blog posts and message board entries by ‘InCel’ men and PUAhaters abound with self-pity of men debating their own looks – ultimately turning the toxic obsession with perfect bodies and attractiveness against themselves – and with men professing that because of their lack of beauty ultimately none of the PickUp artists’ strategies can translate into success for them. Rather than questioning whether the ideology that the Pick-Up Artists’ game is build upon, these men thus actually embrace their conceptions of gender and seem to genuinely believe their problems are to be found in the way women supposedly are and in the type of men they “naturally” are. That their own approach to human relations as based on Pick-Up chicanery might actually be at the root of the problem seems to not even cross these men’s minds. Much less are they able to decode their gender ideologies – and the genuine frustration these may imply – as rooted in unhealthy conceptions of masculinity and femininity in our society.
In an paradoxical way and as we have been forced to find out in the most gruesome way possible, these so-called Anti-Pick-Up Artists are potentially even more dangerous than their Pick-Up Artist counterparts: Whereas for the latter, women serve as the sexual objects in their petty game of heterosexual narcissism, for the former, women can serve as nothing more than the objects of their resentment and hate.
Leek, Cliff & Michael Kimmel. 2014. The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder. In: Rob Okun (ed.): Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books.