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.

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How English identity politics will shape the 2017 general election

"English" voters are more likely to vote Conservative and Ukip. But the Tories are playing identity politics in Scotland and Wales too. 

Recent polls have challenged some widely shared assumptions about the direction of UK elections. For some time each part of the UK has seemed to be evolving quite distinctly. Different political cultures in each nation were contested by different political parties and with different parties emerging victorious in each.

This view is now being challenged. Early general election surveys that show the Tories leading in Wales and taking up to a third of the vote in Scotland. At first sight, this looks a lot more like 1997 (though less enjoyable for Labour): an increasingly hegemonic mainland party only challenged sporadically and in certain places.

Is this, then, a return to "politics as normal"? Perhaps the Tories are becoming, once again, the Conservative and Unionist Party. Maybe identity politics is getting back into its box post Brexit, the decline of Ukip, and weak support for a second independence referendum. We won’t really know until the election is over. However, I doubt that we’ve seen the back of identity politics. It may actually bite more sharply than ever before.

Although there’s talk about "identity politics" as a new phenomenon, most votes have always been cast on a sense of "who do I identify with?" or "who will stand up for someone like us?" Many voters take little notice of the ideology and policy beloved of activists, often voting against their "objective interests" to support a party they trust. The new "identity politics" simply reflects the breakdown of long-established political identities, which were in turn based on social class and collective experiences. In their place, come new identities based around people, nations and place. Brexit was never really about the technocratic calculation of profit and loss, but about what sort of country we are becoming, and what we want to be. 

Most social democratic parties in Europe are struggling with this change. Labour is no different. At the start of the general election, it faces a perfect storm of changing identities. Its relationship with working-class voters continues to decline. This is not because the working class has disappeared, but because old industries, with their large workplaces, shared communities and strong unions are no longer there to generate a labour identity. 

Labour is badly adrift in England. The English electorate has become increasingly assertive (and increasingly English). The Brexit vote was most strongly endorsed by the voters who felt most intensely English. In the previous year’s general election, it was fear of Scottish National Party influence on a Labour minority government that almost certainly gave the Tories the English seats needed for an overall majority. In that same election, Labour’s support amongst "English only" voters was half its support amongst "British only" voters. The more "English" the voters, the more likely they were to vote Ukip or Conservative. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Ukip voters now go Tory. Those who think that Ukip somehow groomed Labour voters to become Tories are missing the crucial role that identity may be playing.

So strong are these issues that, until recently, it looked as though the next election - whenever it was called - would be an English election - fought almost entirely in English battlegrounds, on English issues, and by a Tory party that was, increasingly, an English National Conservative Party in all but name. Two powerful identity issues are confounding that assumption.

Brexit has brought a distinctly British issue into play. It is enabling the Tories to consolidate support as the Brexit party in England, and at the same time reach many Leave voters in Wales, and maybe Scotland too. This serendipitous consequence of David Cameron’s referendum doesn’t mean the Tories are yet fully transformed. The Conservative Party in England is indeed increasingly focused on England. Its members believe devolution has harmed England and are remarkably sanguine about a break up of the union. But the new ability to appeal to Leave voters outside England is a further problem for Labour. The Brexit issue also cuts both ways. Without a clear appeal cutting through to Leave and Remain voters, Labour will be under pressure from both sides.

North of the border, the Tories seemed to have found - by accident or design - the way to articulate a familial relationship between the party in Scotland and the party in England. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appears to combine conservatism, unionism and distance from English politics more successfully than Scottish Labour, which must ride the two horses of "near home rule" and committed unionism. Scottish Labour has a perfectly good call for a reformed union, but it is undermined by the failure of Labour in England to mobilise enough popular support to make the prospect credible.

Identity politics is not, of course, the be all and end all of politics. Plenty of voters do cast their ballots on the traditional tests of leadership, economic competence, and policy. Labour’s campaign will have to make big inroads here too. But, paradoxically, Labour’s best chance of a strong result lies in taking identity politics head on, and not trying to shift the conversation onto bread and butter policy, as the leaked "talking points" seem to suggest. Plenty of voters will worry what Theresa May would do with the untrammelled power she seeks. Challenging her right or ability to speak for the nation, as Keir Starmer has done, is Labour’s best bet.

 

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University

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