Kickstarter apologises for publishing "seduction guide", donates $25,000 to charity

"This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works."

Update, 16:35 21/06/13

Kickstarter has published a blog post, headlined "We were wrong", apologising for failing to remove Hoinsky's project in time, and laying out what they're going to do to make amends. An excerpt:

Where does this leave us?

First, there is no taking back money from the project or canceling funding after the fact. When the project was funded the backers’ money went directly from them to the creator. We missed the window.

Second, the project page has been removed from Kickstarter. The project has no place on our site. For transparency’s sake, a record of the page is cached here.

Third, 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. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

Fourth, today Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization calledRAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.

Original post

"Pick-up artists" are kinda skeevy. This is a fact: when you develop an entire subculture around treating women like machines which can be reprogrammed to give sex, you are unlikely to come off as classy, well-adjusted guys.

In case you've missed out, the pick-up artist culture – which sprang out of online forums in the early 90s – hit the mainstream following the release of the book The Game, in which journalist Neil Strauss threw himself into the community with glee. It's become particularly associated with one particular technique, called "negging", where an insult is paired with a compliment. The idea, apparently, is to undermine someone's confidence with the snide remarks, while masking it with the complements; your interlocutor finds herself craving your approval without realising it, and then it's just a short hop to the bedroom.

Our own Nicky Woolf wrote a feature on the trend last year, highlighting a few of the worst:

Here are a few lines that women I interview have had used on them. “You look amazing. What have you done?” “If your face was as good as your legs I'd have to marry you.” “Nice eyes – even though one is bigger than the other.” “How brave of you to wear an outfit like that,” and even: “You have a great body. Are you bulimic?” (The last interviewee adds that she was, at the time, bulimic.)

The whole thing is rather ghastly. But the community behind it is making it worse.

The Reddit PUA community, on the subreddit r/seduction (or "Seddit"), meet to exchange tips and tricks for manipulating women into sleeping with them. You can find questions about the best way to pull at a festival ("Rave bracelets are a great opener"), advice on how to engineer a break in the conversation when you can kiss her (Say "wait", then make the move – "Field tested at least a dozen of times"), and ideas on how to pick up women who are working ("Picture this, you see a good looking girl at a bank, you walk up to her, she says 'Hello, how are you', you say 'What's your number?' She's shocked, her world is turned upside down.").

One user, TofuTofu, has spent the last three years posting articles on the subreddit, and is now asking Kickstarter for $2,000 to print them up as a book, Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women. He's already raised well above that total, which is rather concerning, because the book goes further than just exchanging creepily-phrased tips about what to say to women.

TofuTofu – real name Ken Hoinsky – has been posting extracts on the Seddit forum; and chapter seven, on "physical escalation and sex", is horrible. Apparently sensing the growing backlash, he's taken it down, but it lives on as a google cache. Here are some selections, emphasis his:

Never, ever, ever, wait for a SIGN before you escalate! You will miss out on the vast majority of chances if you sit around waiting for SIGNS. Men are notoriously bad at reading women's minds and body language. Don't think that you're any different. From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished. It's a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps…

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.

The secret to good kissing is using your body and not just your tongue. Don't slobber all over her like a dog, but don't peck her lips over and over either. As with everything, it's a balance. While you're doing this, grab her by the hips and pull her into you. Press your groin right into hers. Make her feel your erection.…

Grab her hair on the back of her head, by the base of her neck, and pull it back aggressively. Pause and stare her in the eye before going back in.…

Sex

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.

Tell her to suck your dick. Be dominant. Tell her how fucking hot she looks with your dick in her mouth.

That reads like a manual for sexual assault. Which 681 people are currently paying for, and from which Kickstarter will earn around $750. Is it just me, or is that slightly concerning?

Update, 10:50 20/06/13: Kickstarter responds

New York-based reporter Maha Rafi Atal has got a statement from Kickstarter

Kickstarter reviews projects based on our guidelines and the information creators share on their project pages. It’s a process we’ve refined over four years and continue to refine daily. We strive for fair and thoughtful policies that maintain the health of the Kickstarter ecosystem.

This morning, material that a project creator posted on Reddit earlier this year was brought to our and the public’s attention just hours before the project’s deadline. Some of this material is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as people and as an organization. Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.

As stewards of Kickstarter we sometimes have to make difficult decisions. We followed the discussion around the web today very closely. It led to a lot of internal discussion and will lead to a further review of our policies.

In other words, the "abhorrent" material wasn't actually posted on Kickstarter, so the company doesn't feel empowered to act. It is linked to from Kickstarter, and described as a "snippet"of the book; but that is not enough for the company to make the "irreversible" action of cancelling it.

It's a tricky position for the company to be in. It is clearly aware of the risk of setting a precident of cancelling projects based on material tangentially relevent. At the same time, however, limiting their decision to only what is shared on the project pages is a policy which could easily backfire, and may have backfired here.

 

Update, 11:50 20/06/13: The author responds

Hoinsky has posted a statement responding to the criticism, reproduced (in full, to avoid further accusations of cherry-picking) below:

I am devastated and troubled by the allegations that my book, Above The Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women, promotes rape. That couldn't be further from the truth. A handful of quotes were taken out of context and posted on Tumblr which steamrolled in a game of telephone where hardly anyone bothered to read the original version. 

People took advice from a section on "Physical Escalation & Sex" and posted them online. Devoid of context, they appeared to be promoting sexually assaulting women when that wasn't the case at all.

The gist of the controversial advice is "Don't wait for signs before you make your move. Let her be the one who rejects your advances. If she says no, stop immediately and tell her you don't want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable. Try again at a later time if appropriate or cease entirely if she is absolutely not interested."

The thing that the commenters on social media are leaving out is that the advice was taken from a section in the guide offering advice on what to do AFTER a man has met a cute girl, gotten her phone number, gone on dates, spent time getting to know her, and now are alone behind closed doors fooling around. If "Don't wait for signs, make the first move" promotes sexual assault, then "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid was a song about rape.

That cherry-picked advice, without that important context, makes it sound like I am advocating non-consensual sexual advances on strangers. I would absolutely never do such a thing. 

In fact there is an entire section on consent that the bloggers conveniently left out to paint me in a poor light:

These are copied verbatim from Above The Game:

IMPORTANT NOTE ON RESISTANCE:

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.

Of course if you're really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.

---

You understand that honesty is the greatest aphrodisiac.

With great power comes great responsibility. You understand to your core that her heart will be broken if she ever feels manipulated by you. You literally have the power to color all her future interactions with men. As such, you demonstrate supreme desire without a drop of presumption. You make your intentions clear. She will never put you in the friend zone. You approach authentically. You leave her better than when you find her.

---

Additionally, the book contains an entire chapter on sexual assault & rape, preaching men what not to do. Of course no one has seen those parts yet because the book hasn't been released yet.

I realize these are delicate issues, but I ask people to lower their pitchforks until they take the time to hear the full story.

Thank you.

Complaining that "hardly anyone bothered to read the original version" is a bit rich, given Hoinsky rapidly took down the original version (it has now been replaced, with a link to this statement at the top). Even so, amongst most people objecting to the comments, a link to a cache of the original was being passed around not to provide mitigating context, but to point out that there was even more bad stuff which hadn't been excerpted. I heartily recommend anyone who was shocked by the original piece and who hadn't heard of the "seduction" community before to read all nine snippets posted by the author on Reddit. None of them show a particuarly pleasant view of women.

That's not surprising, given even the quotes which Hoinsky thinks exculpate him are themselves pretty damn creepy. Dude: if someone shouts "GET AWAY FROM ME", you probably shouldn't "take a break and try again later". Also, people probably had less issue with "make the first move" and more with "assume… she wants to be ravished" and "[p]ull out your cock and put her hand on it".

More broadly, though Hoinsky accidentaly makes a good point. In many ways, his advice is barely different from what you see in the wider world. A woman having gone on a couple of dates with a man does not necessarily mean that it's OK for him to pick her up and put her on his lap, and a woman kissing a man does not automatically consent to him shoving his cock in her hand; but many people really do think that is the case. Insofar as wider culture contributes to that impression, wider culture is wrong.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Ellie Foreman-Peck for New Statesman
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How Rome's new mayor Virginia Raggi is leading a normality revolution

The first female Roman mayor has promised an end to posturing public figures.

The Ottavia area of Rome, on the northern periphery of the Italian capital, is a part of the city that tourists rarely visit. In a sense, this is the real Rome, with problems that are typical of the rot that most residents have to put up with every day. It is a jumble of decaying concrete eyesores from the 1950s and 1960s – the legacy of rapid economic development and Mafia corruption – surrounded by parks where drug deals go down, and piles of refuse that sit uncollected for days.

It was here that the young mother of a newborn baby – who after her marriage had resettled in the area from the middle-class Roman neighbourhood where she was raised – started to become interested in politics. Seven years later, Virginia Raggi has been elected as Rome’s first female mayor and, having just turned 38, its youngest mayor ever. She is a symbol of change in Italy after two years of rule by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, another young leader, which have left millions of Italians disenchanted. Her rise is a sign that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, may be coming of age after years as a protest vehicle.

Raggi not only won the run-off on 19 June but did so by the biggest margin in the history of Roman mayoral elections, trouncing the candidate whom Renzi supported by a ratio of 67:33.

Her story begins far from the glamour of the Capitoline Hill, on the dreary streets of Ottavia, where she pushed her baby boy, Matteo, in his pram and was forced to weave in and out of traffic, walk along “non-existent” footpaths where cars were double- or triple-parked, and negotiate the perils of abandoned municipal parks. “Rage at seeing my splendid city reduced to an undignified state” is what pushed her into politics, she writes on her website. It was a path that led to her unlikely victory as mayor of Rome (a post equal in importance in Italy to the mayor of London in the UK and a launchpad for campaigns to become prime minister).

Raggi, who was a lawyer before she became a politician, grew up largely indifferent to politics. When she became a parent, she joined neighbourhood committees and volunteer groups and started to press for sustainable organic farming and decent public transport. In 2011, disillusioned by the centre left after years of voting for Renzi’s Democratic Party (she comes from a family of progressive intellectuals), Raggi joined the Five Star Movement, having been dragged to its meetings by her husband, a radio technician.

Her rise was rapid. She ran in 2013 as a Five Star candidate for Rome’s 48-member city council and picked up one of the movement’s three seats (she received 1,525 votes; her husband also ran but failed to make it on to the council, with only 132 votes). When the former Rome mayor Ignazio Marino, an ally of Renzi, resigned after an expenses scandal, Raggi – already the Five Star Movement’s spokesperson for Rome – stepped forward as a candidate in the party’s primaries.

She defeated four rivals in the online balloting in February. It is a startling tale in an age of unlikely political narratives, reflecting a global pandemic of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. Italy’s Panorama magazine described her election, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, as “a cultural revolution without precedent”.

There is a paradox at the heart of the upheaval that Raggi has caused. In Italy’s sordid and grimly entertaining political landscape – with its tales of the former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties, as well as Grillo’s clownish antics – the most surprising thing about the new mayor is that she seems normal. Raggi calls her campaign the “revolution of normality” – refreshing, perhaps, for Italians tired of posturing public figures. Inevitably the subject of Italian chatter for her fetching looks, Raggi comes across, above all, as serious, low-key, articulate and compassionate. She is selling policy over persona.

There have been shadows over her ascent. Her Rome law firm has past associations with Berlusconi’s long-time right-hand man Cesare Previti – a convicted criminal – and Raggi launched her legal career as an apprentice in Previti’s office. She has vehemently denounced whispers that she may be a double agent for Berlusconi’s centre-right party, Forza Italia.

Graver doubts arise from concerns that she may turn out to be a pawn of her anti-establishment party’s own establishment, in the form of Grillo. And because of the city’s Gordian knot of vested interests, being the mayor of Rome is in many ways a tougher job than being the prime minister of Italy. It has been a poisoned chalice for many an ambitious leader.

Yet the truth is that, even for Italians, Raggi remains a mystery – and that opens up intriguing possibilities. She may turn out to be a blank canvas on to which Romans, of both the left and the right, can project their hopes and frustrations. If she succeeds in steering her own course, however, she could position herself as a viable alternative to Renzi. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Five Star Movement may have edged past his Democrats and become Italy’s most popular party, with about 28 per cent of the nation’s support.

It is worth considering that Renzi rose to national prominence as the mayor of Florence – a city whose political significance pales in comparison with that of Rome – and went on to become prime minister. Could Raggi do the same?

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue