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.

Photo: Getty
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The vitriol aimed at Hillary Clinton shows the fragility of women's half-won freedom

The more I understand about the way the world treats women, the more I feel the terror of it coming for me.

I’m worried about my age. I’m 36. There’s a line between my eyebrows that’s been making itself known for about the last six years. Every time I see a picture of myself, I automatically seek out the crease. One nick of Botox could probably get rid of it. Has my skin lost its smoothness and glow?

My bathroom shelf has gone from “busy” to “cluttered” lately with things designed to plump, purify and resurface. It’s all very pleasant, but there’s something desperate I know at the bottom of it: I don’t want to look my age.

You might think that being a feminist would help when it comes to doing battle with the beauty myth, but I don’t know if it has. The more I understand about the way the world treats women – and especially older women – the more I feel the terror of it coming for me. Look at the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s book. Too soon. Can’t she go quietly. Why won’t she own her mistakes.

Well Bernie Sanders put a book out the week after the presidential election – an election Clinton has said Sanders did not fully back her in –  and no one said “too soon” about that. (Side note: when it comes to not owning mistakes, Sanders’s Our Revolution deserves a category all to itself, being as how the entire thing was written under the erroneous impression that Clinton, not Trump, would be president.) Al Gore parlayed his loss into a ceaseless tour of activism with An Inconvenient Truth, and everyone seems fine with that. John McCain – Christ, everyone loves John McCain now.

But Hillary? Something about Hillary just makes people want to tell her to STFU. As Mrs Merton might have asked: “What is it that repulses you so much about the first female candidate for US president?” Too emotional, too robotic, too radical, too conservative, too feminist, too patriarchal – Hillary has been called all these things, and all it really means is she’s too female.

How many women can dance on the head of pin? None, that’s the point: give them a millimetre of space to stand in and shake your head sadly as one by one they fall off. Oh dear. Not this woman. Maybe the next one.

It’s in that last bit that that confidence racket being worked on women really tells: maybe the next one. And maybe the next one could be you! If you do everything right, condemn all the mistakes of the women before you (and condemn the women themselves too), then maybe you’ll be the one standing tippy-toe on the miniscule territory that women are permitted. I’m angry with the men who engage in Clinton-bashing. With the women, it’s something else. Sadness. Pity, maybe. You think they’ll let it be you. You think you’ve found the Right Kind of Feminism. But you haven’t and you never will, because it doesn’t exist.

Still, who wouldn’t want to be the Right Kind of Feminist when there are so many ready lessons on what happens to the Wrong Kind of Feminist. The wrong kind of feminist, now, is the kind of feminist who thinks men have no right to lease women by the fuck (the “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist”, or SWERF) or the kind of feminist who thinks gender is a repressive social construct (rechristened the “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, or TERF).

Hillary Clinton, who has said that prostitution is “demeaning to women” – because it absolutely is demeaning to treat sexual access to women as a tradeable commodity – got attacked from the left as a SWERF. Her pre-election promises suggest that she would probably have continued the Obama administration’s sloppy reinterpretation of sex discrimination protections as gender identity protections, so not a TERF. Even so, one of the charges against her from those who considered her not radical enough was that she was a “rich, white, cis lady.” Linger over that. Savour its absurdity. Because what it means is: I won’t be excited about a woman presidential candidate who was born female.

This year was the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and of the Abortion Act. One of these was met with seasons of celebratory programming; one, barely mentioned at all. (I took part in a radio documentary about “men’s emotional experiences of abortion”, where I made the apparently radical point that abortion is actually something that principally affects women.) No surprise that the landmark benefiting women was the one that got ignored. Because women don’t get to have history.

That urge to shuffle women off the stage – troublesome women, complicated women, brilliant women – means that female achievements are wiped of all significance as soon as they’re made. The second wave was “problematic”, so better not to expose yourself to Dworkin, Raymond, Lorde, Millett, the Combahee River Collective, Firestone or de Beauvoir (except for that one line that everyone misquotes as if it means that sex is of no significance). Call them SWERFs and TERFs and leave the books unread. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t perfect”, so don’t listen to anything she has to say based on her vast and unique experience of government and politics: just deride, deride, deride.

Maybe, if you’re a woman, you’ll be able to deride her hard enough to show you deserve what she didn’t. But you’ll still have feminine obsolescence yawning in your future. Even if you can’t admit it – because, as Katrine Marçal has pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, our entire economy is predicated on discounting women’s work – you’ll need the politics of women who analysed and understood their situation as women. You’ll still be a woman, like the women who came before us, to whom we owe the impossible debt of our half-won freedom.

In the summer of 2016, a radio interviewer asked me whether women should be grateful to Clinton. At the time, I said no: we should be respectful, but what I wanted was a future where women could take their place in the world for granted. What nonsense. We should be laying down armfuls of flowers for our foremothers every day.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.