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?


  1. In my opinion, you are correct in your analysis. To move forward as a society we need to stop treating women as something we have to protect because a woman is just as capable of being their own person as a man is.

  2. Thank you for writing this!

  3. I told you I’d post something, but I have difficulty finding the words. I think these types of “guides” are manipulative. I’ll give two examples.

    First, one of my problems is that they don’t just encourage men to put some pressure on women more often, but that they teach them how to put more pressure on each single woman and make it harder and more socially uncomfortable for women to say no. Sure, women can still say no. But let’s not kid ourselves – humans are not infallible. And the idea that someone can be taught to take advantage of these imperfections to get what they want – be it through social, psychological, or physiological tricks or manipulation – it makes me a little bit sick to my stomach. These types of things can begin to blur the lines of consent, remind me a little bit of rape, and they certainly don’t seem respectful to me.

    A second problem that I have is not so much a matter of whether I agree or disagree with the suggestions listed there. It’s the idea that someone should have to be told them in the first place. For example, obviously it’s a good idea to not force someone to do something they don’t want to do. But what kind of person needs to be given that advice? As a woman, would you really want to be with a man who needs to be instructed to memorize the sentence, “I wouldn’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.” In bold! Are you fucking serious?

    I understand that there are men who don’t relate well to women (and I’m probably one of them), but I don’t think the answer lies in giving men a play-by-play instruction manual of what to do at every step of a relationship, averaged over the statistical ensemble of women in the world. Sometimes I think that advice, and especially internet advice, is best considered as a series of suggestions – as a list of ideas that can be referred to as logically consistent, or as inspiration, or perhaps most often simply ignored, depending on the situation.

    1. I actually agree with pretty much everything you're saying here. Yes, 'seduction guides' are, pretty much by definition, manipulative, though this one in particular espoused a pretty healthy, respectful attitude toward women. There are always going to be men out there looking for this type of thing, and I'd much rather them read something like this than some of the hateful misogynistic crap that's out there (read: Roosh).

      But pretty much any time you try to convince someone to do something you want, you could say you're 'manipulating' them, but sometimes 'negotiating' might be a better word. As long as the manipulation has some compromise built in, it's not really manipulation. And since guys are using these techniques on real live female human beings, they are probably going to get some push back, and will eventually find themselves enmeshed in all the compromises that constitute a real relationship, especially if they're dealing with a woman with a modicum of self respect.

      As for whether women want a guy who needs this kind of advice, I also agree with you: it's pretty lame that a guy would need to be told to say 'I wouldn't want you to do anything you aren't comfortable with.' But then again, communicating about sex can be really difficult. As a hyper-expressive and literate person, I definitely have a lot of trouble expressing myself in sexual situations, so I have a lot of empathy for those who need help finding the right words to say.

      There's a feministy movement to put a lot of importance on getting a woman's explicit consent, and I think this is actually a lot worse than helping a guy find respectful words to express his sexual disappointment. The focus on consent seems to assume that without explicit teaching, men would be going around inadvertently raping women. If I were a man, I would find that incredibly offensive.

  4. I don't think guys will necessarily always be looking for this kind of thing. I see it as a fad, and I don't really think it should be encouraged. There's a difference between a self-help book and a step-by-step guide.

    I don't have anything against people of either gender who can't find the right words to express themselves, that's not what I meant at all, and I agree with you and empathize with it as well.

    My problem is with people who really are hoping to get other people to do things they aren't comfortable with, and don't care if it's done through trickery or some other method. There are in fact actual rapists out there, there are people with varying levels of selfishness, and there are people with little empathy or compassion for others. I think it would be nice if they weren't explicitly given a line to memorize and hollowly recite (but with feeling!) in case their advances are at first rebuffed. I don't want those types of people to be taught how to lie to other people.

    Sometimes communication difficulties are just that. Other times, they're obvious warning signs. I prefer not to remove obvious warning signs.

    I don't have much to say about this explicit consent stuff. Consent is a very tricky topic and I can see why people have difficulty defining it.

  5. It is empowering to act as though all things are possible: you can physically invite a woman to sit on your lap, and she can also rebuff your advance with words or her body.

    The skills of seduction are also important even once people are already in established relationship, and few feminists would want verbal consent for every step from kiss to vagina for the possibly tens of thousands of sexual experiences over decades.

    Respect involves honoring "no", not making every "yes" require a signature on a dotted line. Also, all involved would require vulnerability and courage to make visible the "yes" behind a "no". Hoinsky pointed to this in considering if resistance to escalation was consideration for parents in the next room or a simple lack of interest, which can be seen as a "yes" for only escalating when it is aligned with your deepest hopes.

    1. Nice to see you here! Thanks for your comment. I love the idea of acting "as though all things are possible." A good reminder that sometimes the biggest limits we confront are the ones we put on ourselves. Which isn't always a bad thing—sometimes saying no to someone else is a way of saying yes to yourself.

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  7. Thank you for this piece! T'is gorgeous.


    I happened upon the apology linked to from an article on Cracked (where the book was referred to as 'psychotic') and it infuriated me. Because, basically, of everything you've said here. It was such a relief to see all this articulated by a woman.

    I actually found your piece Googling for Kickstarter projects designed to help women attract men. Didn't find any, but I'm glad I found this instead.

    You should send a link to Kickstarter and demand a response.

    If you get nothing, then demand to know why the knee-jerk reaction to a blog written by a man that took quotes out of context, but no reaction to a blog written by a woman who actually thought it through and spoke from experience.

    Really, this piece needs to be seen. Good work. Take it further.