Pickup artists

I find the phenomenon of ‘pickup artists‘ somewhat disturbing.

Basically, these are individuals who exploit quirks of human psychology in order to get people to sleep with them easily. Human behaviour is predictable to such an extent that many tricks are effective against a sizable proportion of the population. For example, you can use a minor insult called a ‘neg’ to make a person feel like they have to prove themselves to you. A long piece on pickup artists in The Point Magazine describes how this is at the core of the technique: “the key to the method is, unquestionably, that the pickup artist ignore, tease, or even insult the targeted female, accustomed as she is to constant, beleaguering attention from men.” There is also the whole collection of cold reading tricks long employed by psychics and con artists to give the false sense that they have special insight into you.

If people were widely aware that such tricks can be effective, the practice of people using them would be less worrisome. When they are employed against unwitting subjects, however, they strike me as exploitative and potentially unethical. The article linked above contains a detailed discussion of the ethics and psychology of this unusual set of skills.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Pickup artists”

  1. What I think these courses give men, is the confidence to actually approach a woman and a few pointers on how not to come off as a total creep or dork. I suspect that most women hanging around in bars (which, according to the article is the prime pick-up place) are there because they’re already well open to being picked up. The man suceeds not because he has special magical pick-up powers now, but because he actually made the approach and did so with confidence. I think we are seriously underestimating women if we believe they are so easily duped. It’s like hypnosis — no one can be hypnotised if they don’t want to be. But still, you’re right that the whole idea of a course that thinks it’s teaching men how to trick women into having sex is distasteful. There are plenty of books, articles, courses, etc.. that claim to teach women how to con a man into marrying them which are equally distasteful.

  2. Women probably do go to bars hoping to be picked up, but I suspect the better pickup artists are able to convey a false sense that they are interesting, charming, etc. In reality, they are just manipulative and equipped with psychological tricks.

  3. Being actually interesting or charming isn’t a prerequisite for having sex. I also don’t think this is a new phenomenon, that some people are adept at going out and getting sex.

    I agree with XUP, that if you’re in a bar willing to leave with and sleep with someone you just met, the tactics they used to get you to leave become less important. If, on the other hand suppose you met someone online and over a series of dates a person misrepresents themselves as to their intentions, I would find that more troubling.

  4. I don’t think ‘PUAs’ apply these strategies exclusively in bars.

  5. “Women probably do go to bars hoping to be picked up…”
    Wrong. Like most women I know, I go to a bar in order to get a drink.

    Now, when a MAN walks into a bar, you know there’s some kind of setup. You hope it’s a joke with a duck, not a pickup artist, involved.

  6. Certainly, not all women go to bars with that intention.

    What I meant to say is that it is plausible that the women who end up sleeping with PUAs do so because they intended to find someone to have sex with all along – not because they were tricked using psychological techniques.

  7. “Women probably do go to bars hoping to be picked up”

    There is an ambiguity in the term “women”. If by women you mean some specific women, then the expression is trivially true. In this sense, it would also be true that “Women probably do go to bars hoping to find someone to murder.” But, if you mean (or if it is interpreted as you meaning) an archetype, a norm, or an axiomatic standard by “women”, then the expression is (perhaps trivially) false, deceptive, and offensive. It’s trivially false because the axiom “women” is as empty as the axiom of “man” or “asian driver”.

    It’s better not to use the term “women”, or “men” (or “Asian driver” for that matter) in an ambiguous or axiomatic way. Instead, it’s easy to say “some women”. If you want to make a stronger claim, you could say “a significant proportion of women” or “many women”.

  8. “Women probably do go to bars hoping to be picked up”

    This can sound offensive on first glance, but it has to be read the context of the topic at hand. That is, the pickup artists in question are generally men and their targets are generally women.

    It’s appropriate to say “a lot of people go to bars hoping to find someone to have sex with.” But in the scope of this discussion, it is men seeking out women, and thus it’s appropriate to say “[some] women go to bars hoping to be picked up.”

  9. One could also object to the grammar here: women being ‘picked up’ while men do the picking.

    That is certainly the assumption built into our gender stereotypes, but perhaps it is something we should be breaking down.

    Also, on the simple grounds of realism, the ordinary arrangement seems to be: man sees interesting woman, man offers bid for sex, woman accepts or rejects bid. The woman is doing the picking, from within the set of men willing to bid.

  10. That experiment (where women can easily pick up male strangers) demonstrates this bidding/acceptance process.

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