This is the best, most true thing Polly has written.
@barnhouse I’m glad that you agree that much of what the author says is problematic. That wasn’t at all clear from your article. You start the piece by calling the initial critique of the project disingenuous, outrageous, and whiney. You don’t engage with any of the numerous and thoughtful articles and blog posts that explain why people think the quotes, even the excerpts that you cite as exonerating ‘context’, are so disturbing. You just asked for engagement, but in the article you seem to dismiss the massive internet engagement and discussion so far as “hysteria”.
It is totally possible to engage and confront someone respectfully, in a way that helps both parties challenge their initial assumptions and beliefs. You didn’t do that. At all. Yes, in the actual interview you push back a bit against the ‘try again later’ advice and give some context to why you think it’s perceived as offensive, but in the 1300+ word intro to the interview, you give no indication that you think ANY of the criticisms are valid in ANY way. In fact, it reads like you are insultingly dismissive of them. So fine, you say that you wanted to engage. I still think you failed. What you ended up doing, at least from the perspective of myself and many of the other commenters here, was support and promote the author and his message, including the parts you say are problematic, while dismissing and belittling his critics.
I don’t think that most people advocate shunning or “bleeping this person out of society”. Kickstarter is a growing business and they have every right to drop ‘seduction guides’ from their offerings if they think it will hurt their brand. Free speech means that Ken gets to write and publish his seduction guide, but it also means that people get to criticize it and that Kickstarter gets to decide that it doesn’t want to support future projects like it.
You ask “What now?”. You call for engagement. Well, this is what engagement looks like. Ken is now going to re-examine his book and edit it to reflect some of the criticisms. Do you really think he would have done so if the original blogger had emailed him privately with his critique? Or even if several people did? He posted this stuff publicly and people engaged with it, also publicly. I’m sure that he is a nice person, with good intentions, who hasn’t thought about the wider context of his words and actions and who, until now, hasn’t had to confront that what he says and does may be perceived differently, by different people, with different histories. He doesn’t mean to threaten, so is perplexed as to why anyone sees him as threatening. But unless he’s willing to do the work, to engage with his ideas AND those of his critics, to not simply defend his position, but actually interrogate it, his book is not going to be different in any substantial way from the countless other PUA guides already on the market.
@barnhouse But again, understanding boundaries and signals that aren't instinctive isn't something that's exclusive to men. That's part of social interaction. In this context it may be a particularly gendered part of social interaction, but it isn't unique. I behave differently at work than I do at home or with friends. I moved to the other side of the country and had to learn slightly different social mores than the ones I was taught growing up. If the goal is to demystify women and our sexuality to men who are inexperienced or have not had much interaction with women, either sexual or otherwise, than are "seduction guides" really the best way to do it? Because Ken can change the language he uses in the final version of his book, but he's still not writing a dating guide or a male version of the (also horribly sexist and damaging) how-to-get-married books marketed to women. He's not writing a book on relationship advice. He's writing a seduction guide. A guide to getting laid.
And its not like any of this stuff is new. Dr. Nerdlove has been writing his blog for a few years now. Captain Awkward has responded to a number of letters from men and women asking for advice, both general and specific, on approaching someone they want to bone.
I am perfectly willing to believe that 90% of the info and advice in the book is useful, pro-women and even pro feminist. But some quotes I've read, even "in context" with huge excerpts from the reddit thread, are deeply problematic. And those problematic parts, like the "try again" stuff that you yourself pushed back on, are not cancelled out by the stuff that's positive. It just doesn't work like that.
@barnhouse "I believe and hope that a careful review of writing like Ken's may help them understand just how very firm that "no" needs to be. I believe men like Ken want to understand it, too. That's why I wanted to talk with him."
I'm going to take you at your word that you wanted to convey something helpful and positive with this article/interview. It's unfortunate then that what you actually conveyed was more of the common victim blame-y bs that there's a right and a wrong way to say no. Experiences like anon's are exactly why the kind of boundary pushing promoted by PUA is, as you yourself say, ugly and near-sociopathic.
One reason why I think the PUA stuff, even Ken's supposedly warm and fuzzy version, is so very toxic is that fundamentally they are focusing on the wrong thing. The problem isn't that a shy, insecure and lonely dude doesn't know how to talk to WOMEN, it's that he doesn't know how to talk to PEOPLE, period. There is no magic way to get a woman to want to fuck you. There is no cheat code. There are, however, a bunch of things you can do, regardless of your gender, to help you feel more comfortable in social situations, to get over social anxiety, that will help you present yourself as an interesting person who is worth talking to and maybe even fucking. I want to fuck my boyfriend because I think he's interesting and awesome in too many ways for me to list here. And he wants to fuck me because he genuinely likes me, the whole and complete me, not simply my tits, ass and vagina.
Look, I am a chick who's a deep introvert and can be very awkward. I like nerdy stuff that isn't in the mainstream. When I was younger I would NEVER start a conversation with someone I didn't know, male or female, because why would they want to talk to me? And it bothered me. I felt very alone and isolated. So I taught myself how to talk to people. It was hard and occasionally scary and confusing and sometimes I looked like an ass, but it was so worth it. Because now, a good decade later, the way I see myself and the way I present myself are much better aligned.
If Ken really wants to help men be "able to actually approach and talk to women and be direct with women" then he is going about the wrong way. Because women are not "mysterious creatures" any more than men are. Women, like men, are people. Complex, interesting, frustrating, contradictory people. We are vast. We contain multitudes. We are NOT a mystery to be solved or decoded. And until Ken and the other PUA really understand that, they will never be able to "kill the stigma against men's "seduction" advice once and for all."
@jolie I am in no way a journalist/blogger/internet persona, so maybe I'm being naive, but I just assumed that anything published by this site is first read by an editor. And that if the editor saw something particularly problematic, they would let the author know. Does the Awl really just print whatever it's contributors send in, without review?
@srs though it all makes sense if the Awl's primary purpose isn't an examination of gendered socialization and the ways it confines both men and women to uncomfortable stereotypes that we all want to transcend and instead is actually a ploy for clicks, comments, and links. If so, well done I guess?
@Brad Nelson yep, I am seriously disappointed that the Awl let that 2nd sentence through editorial review. I mean, I disagree with just about every part of this apologia/interview, but accept that not everyone holds the same opinion I do and want to read thoughtful examinations of differing opinions, especially on issues that are so fraught and subjective. This piece... was not that.
I have heard very, VERY, mixed things about this book. On the one hand, both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly gave it starred reviews. On the other hand, the chatter on some of the book blogs I frequent is that this is the most offensively sexist book ever written. So I figure I'll borrow it from the library and decide for myself.
My day is going really, really shitty, thanks for asking.
@LondonLee The character's name is actually Karen Cartwright, not Carpenter.
That said, she is pretty skinny, so Choire's mistake is understandable.