Toronto's pickup artist culture promotes misogyny, masks bigger issues for men
Pickup artists (PUAs) have been around for years, typically flying under the radar. But in recent years they have gained popularity and press for their bad behaviour.
At the end of May, Toronto police began investigating a man who posted several videos threatening violence against women to YouTube. The reason: His "pick-up" efforts had been rejected, and she should have to pay, stating, "She deserves to f***in' like [be] stabbed and cut up into tiny pieces for that s***…"
This is not the first time Toronto has dealt with the growing subculture of "pickup artists" overtaking public places. In 2013, the Toronto Eaton Centre (one of Canada's largest malls) had to issue a statement via Twitter that said, "We have been alerted to a Pick Up Artists (PUA) meet up at 5pm. Rest assured security is briefed & your health & safety are our top priority."
Harris O'Malley, author of Paging Dr. NerdLove, is a reformed pickup artist who chatted with me. While he is not against pickup culture, he tells me "the problem is with the way most pickup is taught, and the pickup community as a whole [as it currently exists] is toxic as hell, not just to women but to men as well." As it stands, I would have to agree.
Lyndsay Kirkham, writer and English professor, tells me, "I challenge those saying [the pickup community is OK] to explain how toxic masculinity and misogyny can be good for men. I honour communities that are formed around men spending time together, but I don't green-light spending time specifically to promote/practice 'techniques' for harassing women into dating them. The entire culture of PUAs is one of intimidation, manipulation, misogyny and control. How can one even begin to separate that ethos from the act of spending time together with other men?"
There is one thing both Harris and Lyndsay agree on: The pickup artist community does not respect women. In many ways, there is a lot of misdirected anger and misogyny intersecting in the teaching of the pickup artist, which Harris tells me, "A lot of the anger comes from a sense of entitlement and resentment — 'I deserve sex, yet these women refuse to give me what I'm owed' — and then you get the folks like Heartiste and Roosh V [two prominent examples], who out and out hate women and teach men that women are functionally worthless outside of sex. Roosh has said [amongst other things] that after sleeping with her two or three times, a woman has absolutely nothing to offer and that consent is basically unimportant."
A lot needs to change for us to diminish or change pickup artist culture. For starters, we need to deny access to public spaces for pickup artists to gather so that women can once again feel comfortable. Harris also suggests, "We need a profound cultural shift in how we as a whole view sex, gender and relationships. The toxic ideas surrounding masculinity need to be challenged because they're so harmful to everyone."
Let's spend more time supporting organizations like White Ribbon, one that Lyndsey suggests and explains is "helping untangle and confront the problematic toxic masculinity that men face from the time they are toddlers."