moderates is an active participant in the /r/seduction Reddit under the name of TofuTofu. There, he has posted a "seduction guide" for lonely guys who want to learn how to "become awesome" with women. Hoinsky has a lot of fans. Though he set out to raise $2,000 to prepare his book, Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women, for publication, by the time it closed his Kickstarter had raised over $16,000.
Then the Internet vice squad went on Red Alert. The alarm was raised by one Casey Malone, a game developer and "comedian," who took to Tumblr to post two quotes from the forthcoming book—out-of-context and in the most disingenuous and outrageous manner imaginable. Then he whined and moaned about how rapey the author is and begged his readers to write to Kickstarter and get the project shut down.
The hysteria whipped up was such that Kickstarter issued a formal apology for having failed to stop the project from going through (though they declined to confiscate Hoinsky's money, and took their five percent, they donated $25,000 to RAINN, so at least something good came of it).
So here is where the real trouble starts.
"We are prohibiting 'seduction guides,' or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works," they wrote. "These things do not belong on Kickstarter."
Kickstarter is a private entity, and can police its use however it likes. No one has a "right" to Kickstarter. Out in the real world, however, we know that the rights to publish and speak are ten thousand times more important than the overheated rantings of some fool who can't read. As PUA guides go, Hoinsky's is very, very far from being the most aggressive or objectifying. It is an entirely harmless book—as all books are. In fact I found Hoinsky's Reddit guide to be full of interesting and valuable observations. There isn't a misogynist syllable in the whole thing. But even if it were as bad as the worst excesses of Frank T.J. Mackey, it is wrong and dangerous to suggest that shutting someone up is the best answer to any problem, ever. To that end, I picked up the phone and talked it through with Hoinsky.
There are many shy fellows around, and I talked to a number of them as well last week about the Hoinsky affair. Reddit, being the Internet home of computer geeks, is awash in guys complaining about how they can't get a girlfriend; a cliché, but true. The computer world, so short of women to practice on, is about the worst environment for shy young guys who want to learn about dating. One tech guy I know jokingly offered his own "seduction" strategy: "Stare at your shoes until you either cry or have a girlfriend."
At the other extreme, in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia, Tom Cruise plays infamous PUA Frank T.J. Mackey, author of Seduce and Destroy ("No Pussy Has Nine Lives"). It is infinitely his best performance. Strutting and thrusting in his samurai ponytail, wearing an outlandish outfit (black leather vest over a skintight three-quarter-sleeved pullover and tight black trousers) that looks as though it might have come from Ann Taylor, Cruise as Mackey demands that his cheering audience Respect the Cock and Tame the Cunt. It's a barely-exaggerated depiction of the outermost element of the PUA culture, as exemplified by lunatics like Ross Jeffries and R. Don Steele. The most extreme of these guys appear to consider all other human beings in an adversarial and almost sociopathic way: either as prey, or as rivals.
Somewhere between paralyzing shyness and selfish, naked hostility, there is the realm of passion. Something about passion is by definition a little wild, uncontrolled. Some people like sex to be aggressive and rough, and others do not. What should not be in question is that people are free to seek their own fulfillment within the confines of consent. There is great hypocrisy out there on this point. Witness for example this recent episode of "New Girl," wherein great mockery is made of "gender equality."
"Be a man and rip it off!" Really! Where was the outrage for this?
It seems relevant to establish: what did Hoinsky's guide actually say? Here are the salient parts of the two quotes snipped by Malone:
All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with. They began touching them immediately, kept great body language and eye contact, and were shameless in their physicality. Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically.
Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.
Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.
Even without the context, which is beyond crucial, think about this for a moment. As it happens, the latter quote refers to events taking place once consensual sexual activity has already begun. Furthermore. "Grab her hand, and put it right on your dick." It should be clear to the meanest intelligence who the vulnerable party is in this transaction. Where, exactly, is the aggression here? I can think of a thousand ways whereby a woman could easily (easily) extricate herself from such a scenario if she were an unwilling participant.
But no! Such considerations did not occur to Malone and the rest of the virtual Mutaween, who marched right into the imaginary bedroom. "This isn’t harmless. People come to these boards because they are scared of being humiliated, and they are saying to the world, “Tell me what to do, because I don’t know what to do.” And this guy has chosen to tell them, 'You should be a rapist.'"
No, he has not. But he has chosen to tell them, just a few paragraphs away from what appears to me to be perfectly reasonable dick-touching advice:
If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says "STOP," or "GET AWAY FROM ME," or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:
"No problem. I don't want you to do anything you aren't comfortable with."
Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You'll be no different. If a woman isn't comfortable, take a break and try again later.
All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it's not happening. She wants to be desired, but the circumstances need to be right. With some experience, you will learn to differentiate the "No, we can't… my parents are in the next room… OMG FUCK ME FUCK ME HARD" from the "SERIOUSLY GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME, YOU CREEP" variety of resistance.
Of course if you're really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.
Experiment with each other! Ask her what her favorite positions are. Touch her everywhere, including her arms, legs, throat, face, and breasts. Make her cum with the force of the hammer of Thor. Rock her fucking world.
There is no substitute for sexual experience. Anyone can become a sexual master with a little bit of research, applied effort, and healthy experimentation. Learn what YOU enjoy and seek it out in a partner. Genuinely love the act of giving sexual pleasure to another human being. It's a gift. Embrace it.
Thus it was that I found myself resolutely defending dick touching on Twitter at the end of an already ridiculous week.
Maria Bustillos: What do you think about Kickstarter's decision to issue this apology, and to stop posting what they call "seduction" projects?
Ken Hoinsky: I'm disappointed in their decision. Okay look, I'm not saying that my guide is the greatest guide that will ever be written or can be written. It had some flaws in it, and people have gone pretty crazy pointing them out. That being said, what Kickstarter said was: "no more seduction guides, ever again." That's not a solution to the problem. The idea is, okay, people have an issue with some of these things; let's have a public conversation around that, so that the next guy, the next book, the next person who comes along, whether or not it's me, will have an opportunity to [learn from it].
Kickstarter is a very influential site, and a lot of projects are being launched there. So to leave all these frustrated, unsatisfied men completely in the dark is very, very disappointing. They're a private company and they can do whatever they want, but it's a cop-out, and it's an overreaction on their part.
Maria: One thing I've seen a lot in the criticism of your work online is that it promotes violence against women. Please discuss your feelings about violence against women, and/or respect for women.
Ken: When someone accuses me of encouraging violence against women, or says something like, "somebody is going to use this guide to rape a woman," those are not allegations that I take lightly…. In the intention of anything that I've written, there is nothing that encourages violence against women, that's absurd; I would never ever do that, that goes against every value that I have. But I don't want to just completely write it off and say okay, that was just sensationalism and overreaction, and there might not be any point there. I want to figure out what the point is, and how do I correct that. I do want to understand why people might interpret me that way.
Maria: You're pitching your ideas to people who have problems with sexual assertiveness and don't understand that it's okay to make the first move. So what's the line between encouraging a healthy degree of sexual assertiveness, and harmful aggression? What defines that for you?
Ken: There's two parts to it. If we're talking about things that happen in the bedroom, it's basically the idea that consent needs to be established and in place. People use the term "enthusiastic consent." I look at it as, if you're two consenting adults and you understand that consent is in place, you don't need to ask permission to ask to do every single little thing in the bedroom, you know; if you want to pick a girl up and reposition her on the bed, you don't need to ask permission to do that. In fact, it's… from everything I've heard from women, it's a very big turn-off, for guys who do act in that way.
Now, outside of the bedroom, as far as being able to actually approach and talk to women and be direct with women: here is the way that I've resolved this, and that I'm going to be re-editing in the book. My message is about giving the power to the woman with respect to making a decision about your sexual candidacy….
In the real world we live in, you can't expect—for whatever reason, it's not the norm—for women to make the first move, for a woman to be sexual, you know, um, uh, the more assertive—
Ken: Initiator! Yeah. I'm trying to get away from words that are…
Maria: I know! Haha. Aggressor!
Ken: I'm practicing getting my PC words.
Maria: You know, you want to make it so polite, you can't say "aggressor," but the fact is… I hate to say it, but it should be a little aggressive. Because, passionate.
Ken: I agree 100 percent. The woman needs to be able to make a call as to whether or not she feels comfortable enough to be sexual with the man. And that way that that's done is not always through words and asking, because it's a turnoff. "Do you mind if I hold your hand?" you know, that's cute when you're in seventh grade, but like, for adults to be operating that way, that's not the real world….
I regret saying, "force her to rebuff your advances," I regret the wording that I used. But the spirit of it is all about giving her the power to decide. It's not forcing her to do something against her will; it's encouraging her to make the decision on whether or not she wants to continue things.
Maria:To confront the question, you could say.
Maria: Well the other problem is like… for a woman, if there's another guy out there who is calling you all the time, obviously indicating without shyness or hesitation that he wants to pursue something with you, that is an encouragement; more attractive, perhaps, than the guy who doesn't make it clear. Otherwise we don't think oh, he's shy! We think: oh, he doesn't really like me that much.
Ken: At least you know that he's being authentic, he's being direct with his intentions, and he's putting himself out there and saying: I desire you, I want you, and I'm giving you the opportunity to be with me: what do you say?
Maria: Those are the magic words! No seriously. [cf. Act Like A Gentleman, an early little self-publishing project of mine, a parody of Steve Harvey's book, is almost exactly on the same page with this guy.] I know this has not been pleasant for you, but I think you're broaching a conversation that is badly needed.
Ken: [Many of my ideas come] from cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is that taking small steps to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, and building up an understanding of okay, rejection's going to happen, [and learning] to move forward until it is absolutely clear.
Maria: I'm going to part company with you here, because to me if it's someone for whom the door might be open later, then you might just say like oh god, and dither and be no no no, or like, whoa! But if it's really no, then you say it right away, forcefully. If it's really maybe, then no might sound more maybeish? Does that seem right to you?
Ken: It definitely seems right. And it definitely is pretty common. This is why I tell them, when that moment happens it is [a matter of] genuinely saying, okay, no problem let's cool down. Say it, mean it, like be genuine with that. Honestly, why would a man want to hook up with a girl if she's uncomfortable hooking up? Nothing about that is enjoyable, unless you're a sociopath or a rapist, you know what I mean? That's not how anyone should be operating.
Maria: It's not the goal.
Ken: No. It's not the goal…. A lot of feminists' arguments basically say that no is forever, permanent, and that's the way it is. But there have been thousands of love stories about a man who pursued a woman who initially rejected him. The idea that a man's not allowed to pursue a woman who at one point slightly rejected him is absurd.
Maria: The literary aspect of this thing, where the parameters are on the woman's side, say like in Pamela, or Pride and Prejudice, the woman's resistance is in part to do with her imperfect understanding of herself, as well as of the man. But she comes to understand herself, and she comes to understand this man, and that is the basis of her acceptance. Both the man and the woman learn, and change. Speaking just as a writer, though, I would advise you to approach the question this way. Rather than say, "try again later," which sounds way too much like "keep trying, and no will eventually turn into yes, no matter what"? Acknowledge, and say explicitly, I am not saying that no will eventually turn into yes: you need to understand when no is no. But. If you hear no first, and you really want to be closer with this woman, then come to understand why no was no to begin with, so that you can see if there is a basis for making adjustments. And LISTEN really carefully to her. Then, you'll be cool.
Ken: That's really, really good feedback. It's a very male-centric way of thinking about it, where you'll drive yourself nuts trying to figure out why she rejected you, because women are mysterious creatures.
Maria: Yeah that's lacking subtlety. "Try again later," it's almost the opposite of what you want, I think. A woman—or like, a sensitive, intelligent woman who says yes to you is almost 100 percent of the time, I suspect, saying yes because she believes you do understand her.
[a pause, here.]
Ken: True. I'll figure this out, how to say it. There's also the issue, though, of having guys learn not to fear rejection, because for too many guys it's the fear of rejection that causes them to be paralyzed as it is…. Indecision is really making a decision to not take action or do anything. A decision to maintain your status quo, which could be a guy who is sexually frustrated, wants to change but doesn't. So spending time trying to understand rejection is complicated by that stuff.
Ken: But yes. If this is a woman that you're pursuing, it's worth the time to spend a moment to figure out what went wrong. Or more likely, what needs to be in place. The experience of doing that will get you closer to the woman, in the long run.
Maria: Yes! Yes. That's a huge distinction. It's not about what went wrong. It's about what could be right, in the future.
Ken will be doing an AMA on Reddit later today, and he has posted a new website explaining how he intends to alter the parts of the book that could be misconstrued.
He wrote to me this morning, after we spoke:
I'm still writing the book.
I admit wrongdoing and apologize for some of the language in the book.
I have been in touch with Do Something and some leading anti-rape and anti-abuse organizations to rewrite the problematic advice under their guidance and advice.
I am starting a public dialogue on the intersection of men's dating advice & feminist issues. With this I am attempting to kill the stigma against men's "seduction" advice once and for all.
Maria Bustillos is a Los Angeles-based journalist and critic.