Know Thy Enemy …

So, I was reading the comments of this post at Pharyngula, and one of the underlying motivations for the harassment policies was revealed: to foil PUAs. Or, at least, Ogvorbis said that:

Look, a conference is a private event. The conference organizers, and the host venue, have the right to ask people to leave for any reason. If a PUA wants to attend a conference, that is fine. I have no problem with that. If the PUA harasses anyone, that is a problem.

So what would make it less likely for a PUA to play sick games? A secret document which does not tell people where the line is until after they have crossed the line, or a public document that says ‘here is the line, do not cross it, or this will happen’?

Here’s the problem: good PUAs won’t do anything that you can actually cover in a sexual harassment policy without you, in fact, eliminating or chilling normal flirting and hooking up.

Take touching. PUAs rely heavily on touch as “anchoring”, as an attempt to build a connection and build intimacy. But they aren’t doing it in any way that comes across as “creepy”. If they come across as creepy and, in fact, if their target even notices it they’ve done it wrong! The whole point of anchoring is to have it be subtle, unnoticed, and yet tie into the existing ways touch builds intimacy and connection. If it leaves the target with a bad feeling, with an unpleasantly uncomfortable feeling, then the PUA is not, in fact, going to get what they want. So, they simply won’t make the target uncomfortable unless they screw up, and so will never be reported. It’ll be clumsy PUAs or ordinary guys screwing up that will get reported under the policy.

What this proves is that many of the people who criticize PUAs don’t, in fact, know what they actually advocate. Fortunately — or unfortunately — I spent a lot of time on shyness newsgroups which is where a lot of PUAs come to preach, and so I have a good idea of what they advocate. I don’t like it, although of course there is some truth and even some good things in it, things that people can use to make things better for themselves. Like the idea that touching is important in building intimacy, which is why I am so annoyed by the insistence that somehow limiting touching isn’t limiting any normal social interaction from people who clearly don’t realize how much they touch on a regular basis.

Another concept that PUAs advocate is the notion of “social proof”. This, essentially, is the idea that if you can demonstrate that women find you attractive, other women will raise their estimation of you and find you more attractive. And, of course, if you can’t demonstrate that, women at least won’t get that burst of attractiveness and might even class you in the “loser” class. And this is not something limited to PUAs. A long while ago, this one woman and I were exchanging E-mails and phone calls, and then when I sent her my picture she, well, was unimpressed, but later changed her mind to see how things would go in person. A very attractive friend of mine offered to go with me to meet her initially to, essentially, demonstrate social proof. To which my reply was that it would probably work, but I didn’t want to get it that way. (BTW, it ended up not working out, but I think that was due to my problems with touching and so with building a connection more than this). But social proof is a real and understandable phenomenon, and not one that you can build a policy against.

Back to touching. Various people have commented that you can, in fact, turn asking if you can hug or touch someone into something that builds intimacy. If this is the case — and I think it’s generally true — then if they aren’t already doing it PUAs will, in fact, quite quickly learn how to ask so that it does that. Again, their purpose is to make the woman feel comfortable, build a connection, and build intimacy. You don’t do that by offending them, but by doing things in such a way that they both feel comfortable and yet attracted to the PUA at the same time. Again, the harassment policy is based around people feeling uncomfortable, but PUAs are, generally, so practiced that the person don’t feel uncomfortable.

Another misunderstood part of PUA theory is the “neg hit”. XKCD took a shot at it here, and got it completely wrong. A neg hit, properly executed, is not an insult, and it isn’t aimed at “… belittling them to undermine their self-confidence so that they’ll be more vulnerable and seek your approval”. Like “social proof”, negging is aimed at demonstrating value. It works best — and is aimed to work — against women who are at the top of the attractiveness chain and know it. These women, generally, have all sorts of men always complimenting them and pretty much being careful to not offend them. They are continually flattered. Neg hits are generally comments that are not only not simply flattery, but are even comments that are the exact opposite. What this does, primarily, is not lower her self-confidence, per se, but demonstrate that you don’t have her up on the pedestal that the others have her on. In some sense, it demonstrates that you can take her or leave her; you find her interesting, but not so interesting that you’re going to walk on eggshells to seek her approval. Ultimately, it demonstrates that you have confidence in yourself to the extent that it doesn’t really matter to you if she gets offended by your comment and “cuts you off”; you’ll just go and find someone else to associate with or flirt with or have fun with.

And so the benefits of this are: a) confidence is attractive, b) like with social proof, you demonstrate that you can indeed attract women and so are worthy of attention, c) it puts the two of you on the same level and d) it demonstrates that she needs to do more than simply be attractive to appeal to you, which is the only part where you could say that it encourages her to seek your approval. But to do this, neg hits can’t be just nasty, bitter insults. They have to be light, fluffy, pancake-like jokes and shots. They have to seem natural, and fit naturally into the conversation. They can’t cause annoyance or anger, because then you’ve lost.

I never really liked PUA theory because, for the most part, it seemed to be about playing games and building an image of yourself based on what you think she wants to see as opposed to who you really are. Basically, it’s the male equivalent of “The Rules”. But to oppose it, you need to understand it, and need to understand why PUAs — good ones, at least — won’t be stopped by sexual harassment policies. It’s not that they don’t care, but that they don’t do anything except deliberately and consciously take advantage of all the little social structures that we normally do to build relationships but don’t pay attention to. Often this does involve image shaping and being slightly dishonest in representing yourself, but non-PUAs can learn from what the little social structures say. Thus, if you are going to criticize PUAs, do it for what they really advocate, not for what you want to believe they advocate.

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One Response to “Know Thy Enemy …”

  1. Héctor Muñoz Says:

    Most men doing the PUA thing are just trying to overcome social ostracism, you can’t punish them for trying to flirt even if they are terribly sloppy.

    You can’t even punish men presuming the ethics or their flirting intention.

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