Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Kickstarter was wrong to apologize: seduction guides can be good for women

On Friday, Kickstarter posted an apology for allowing a seduction guide to get funding through its site:
Let us be 100% clear: Content promoting or glorifying violence against women or anyone else has always been prohibited from Kickstarter. If a project page contains hateful or abusive material we don’t approve it in the first place. If we had seen this material when the project was submitted to Kickstarter (we didn’t), it never would have been approved. Kickstarter is committed to a culture of respect.
They removed the page from their site, announced they were banning seduction guides in the future, and donated $25,000 to the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN.

The apology received thousands of comments, mostly enthusiastic praise; a handful of people thought Kickstarter didn’t act harshly or swiftly enough, and a handful accused it of being part of a feminist conspiracy to destroy men. All of these responses missed the mark. The guide may have been a little sleazy and ridiculous in parts, but its main tenet—that men should be straightforward with women about their desires—is good for women.

The guide, written by Ken Hoinsky, was pulled from a series of Reddit posts. The section on “Physical Escalation & Sex” inspired the most ire, particularly this excerpt:
Decide that you're going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg & 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.

Lots of people worried that this was promoting sexual assault. Indeed, if Hoinsky were advocating that men walk up to women in bars and take out their dicks, these critics would have a point. But that’s not what he’s doing: he’s teaching men how to seduce women, and that kind of behavior would almost certainly be counterproductive. The context in this excerpt is important: he’s talking about how to escalate a situation towards sex when a woman has already expressed some interest and receptivity. It’s the second to last of nine chapters explaining how to help women feel comfortable enough around you to be open to sex, starting with making small talk, flirting, getting her number, and going on dates.  

Of course, just because a woman has been receptive to some of a man’s advances doesn’t mean she must be receptive to all of them—a kiss doesn’t necessarily set off a chain of events that ends in a vagina. But that’s not what Hoinsky is advocating at all. There’s a big difference between telling men that being upfront about their desires will help attract women, and telling them that being upfront about their desires makes them entitled to women. Nowhere does Hoinsky imply the latter; if he did, what would be the point in putting so much effort into wooing women into bed?

When Hoinsky tells men to “grab her hand, and put it right on your dick,” he’s saying: you are an adult man who doesn’t have to be timid about your desires. He’s also implicitly saying: your partner is an adult woman who can express her own desires—including a desire for you to back off. And he’s very ready to accept that this is a real possibility:
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.
This implication—that it’s okay for a woman to be in an uncomfortable situation, because she can speak up for herself—is the part that has a lot of people freaking out. They worry that Hoinsky is telling men to put too much pressure on women, and that some women might not speak up out of fear or intimidation. To prevent that from happening, they argue, we need to teach men not to do anything without getting explicit permission.

I can understand the sentiment, having been in plenty of sexual situations where I didn’t know how to slow things down. When I liked a guy, I was often afraid that saying no to sex would make him lose interest or think me a prude. But those fears didn’t abdicate me of my responsibility to be visible in the relationship. I had to either deal with the discomfort of speaking up (and risk losing him), or deal with the discomfort of feeling bad about myself for not speaking up (and risk losing myself). It’s not the guy’s job to save me from that choice by asking if I’m okay every step of the way. Looking back, I’m grateful for all the discomfort caused me by horny, aggressive men—it was a much better lesson in sexual autonomy and self-respect than sensitive, gentle, permission-asking men could have ever provided me.

Sex brings men and women together, but we’re still different minds and different bodies. When our desires conflict, we shouldn’t automatically implicate the man: men and women both have a responsibility to make ourselves visible.

Hoinsky’s seduction guide is good for women because it treats us like human beings capable of making our own decisions and deserving of respect (note that Kickstarter’s apology referenced a commitment to a culture of respect). It also gives us exactly what we always claim to want in our partners: more openness and vulnerability, because what could be more vulnerable than a man showing his attraction to you in the face of possible rejection?