The Female Pickup Artist
It's not 1855 (or even 1955) anymore, so most of us understand that a woman making the first move isn't a reason to gather a posse and start a witch-hunt. A hot girl hits on you at a bar? Great. She strolls up to you at a show and coolly asks for your number? Even better. But what if she's a full-on 2013 Don Juan? What if she's memorized the rules of Neil Strauss' The Game, too, and can play you like a Russian chess champ?
It's been almost eight years since The Game exposed the "secret" world of pickup artists (PUAs) and spawned hundreds of new ones who hit up the clubs and practiced gentlemanly tactics like manipulation and NEGS (things you say to a chick to slightly lower her self-esteem) to lure women into bed. The movement is still out there, even though it's mostly seen as lame, offensive and sleazy. But what would happen if the tables were turned -- if women became the PUAs? There are signs that, among some women, it's becoming a thing.
It's a pretty even playing field today, unless you're still operating under some antiquated Gone With the Wind-era dating rules. I've approached guys, asked them for their number, and most women I know have, too. I read Robert Greene's book The Art of Seduction a few years ago after a breakup, because I'd been out of the dating world for a long time and had no clue what to do. Eventually, I took a lot of chances, even telling one guy, "This is just a one-night stand; we're not exchanging numbers or anything." I had never had a one-night stand and thought it might feel empowering -- which it did. That is, until he asked for my number the next morning and I gave it to him. Then it was just dating as usual. But some women are beginning to approach the pickup in a more full-throttle way.
Arden Leigh, the author of the book The New Rules of Attraction and a self-described "Weapon of Mass Seduction" (and one of the few women who can legitimately be called a female PUA), says, "A lot of young women are frustrated by books like The Rules or He's Just Not That Into You -- books that are about what not to do, and teach you how to score a great guy by not doing the wrong things. They advocate passivity and glorify idleness -- it doesn't ring true for women of my generation." It's no wonder some women want to hurl these books back to the 1950s and make the first move.
"I don't see a lot of women self-identifying as PUAs," says Leigh. "The few women who do aren't really trying to rack up their numbers so they can go brag about it to their friends while they play Halo. They're just sick of sitting on the sidelines and looking pretty. They want the confidence to walk up and make the first move. That's different than wanting the confidence to walk up and get laid."
Women might want to make the first move, but that doesn't mean we don't care about relationships or that we want to objectify and manipulate guys as some sort of revenge. That is, unless you're one of the women registered for the new dating site Checkhimout.com. I found out about it when some friends and I strolled past a pop-up shop they'd set up in a Los Angeles mall. It caught our attention because the sign said "Manventory," and in the center of the shop was a makeshift clothing rack with three male models strung up by coat hangers. If the roles were reversed and a bunch of women were hanging from a rack in a store, a picket line would form faster than you could say "blatant sexism." A blonde "dating expert" in a pink dress called us over and urged us to check out the Manventory. "Go on in!" she urged. "See if there's anything you like."
The display definitely caught our attention, but it was also a little bit creepy. Do women really long to objectify and humiliate men in order to feel empowered? Do they want to do the exact things that they can't stand sleazy guys -- and PUAs -- doing to them? "I don't really want to meet a guy by picking him out like a pair of shoes," one of my friends said after we checked out the Manventory.
Yannick Rolland, CRM and e-marketing manager of Checkhimout.com, said he and his partners created the site because they thought women were being harassed on other dating sites. "We wondered how they coped with that," he said. "We wanted to create a site where women have the power and the choice." On the site, men can't reach out to a woman until she makes the first move. The guys are "a product to be shopped for," and users can add men to their shopping bag. The guys do have a tiny bit of power, though -- they can "be a gentleman and send a virtual gift: a candle, a beer, a glass of wine." Rolland adds, "Women have been objectified, so how about a role reversal?"
UK-based Kezia Noble, one of the "leading female dating experts for men," thinks that women should definitely be proactive and get what they want -- to a point. "Women like to be seduced and still like the idea of a guy coming up to them and saying something amazing that they can go back and tell their friends. That story is a little more interesting than, 'Well, I had to go to the bar and make conversation with this guy.' I always respect women who are proactive, though." That's true enough. Still, it wouldn't be the worst "how did you two meet" story if you said, "Well, she told me it was just a one-night stand, but then I asked for her number and eight months later here we are!"
Leigh thinks that, "Boys are kind of the new girls. It's not so cut and dried anymore," she explains. Even though she's one of the few women who call themselves a PUA, she also uses the term "seduction coach." Maybe the idea of being a pickup artist doesn't really fit for most women because it's really about being confident and going after what you want, rather than acting like some female Lothario and leaving a path of broken-hearted lovers in your wake. Surprisingly, even Neil Strauss -- one of the people most frequently associated with the PUA community because of his book -- says, "I think 'pickup artist' is a terrible term." I wouldn't have called myself a PUA the time I said, "this is just a one-night stand," but I never would have done that had I listened to all those lame warnings to "let guys make the first move" and "play hard to get." It should be a level playing field, and if people of any gender are interested in someone, they should be able to walk up confidently and say "Hi" without being paranoid about rejection or social stigma. No one likes rejection, but that's just part of life. You get over it.
"I've had to do a lot of pursuing," Leigh says. "It's not taboo anymore. It's in the way you pursue someone. You have to keep him wanting to join in on your party. But if you're doing it just to impress, it's inauthentic." Madame Rosebud, whose Twitter bio says she's the "punk rock Jessica Rabbit" and an acquaintance of Leigh, says she wasn't confident in her early dating life "because I was trying my best to live as a heterosexual vanilla monogamous female." By asking herself what she really wanted and learning that there's no shame in going after it, she can "approach men and women anywhere and everywhere and say, 'Hey, you're beautiful, you're sexy, you're funny, you're smart. Can I give you my number?' Making the first move is easy after you know what you're looking for."
Leigh admits that even though she's a "Weapon of Mass Seduction" today, she wasn't always so confident when it came to sex. Her first kiss didn't happen until after high school, and she was a virgin all through college. She went into the PUA community to change all that. "I'm very simple to figure out," she says. "I was the nerdy girl."
Even though the term "PUA" might not be for everyone, I think most women today would rather identify with it than with a shrinking-violet archetype. Does it really matter today, who seduces whom? Dating and pickups should be fun, not rigid and full of rules. Female PUAs like Leigh understand that, and they're not afraid to get what they want.