National Post Barbara Kay: A closer look at the sad, but improvable, lives of ‘pickup artists’

National Post - Thursday March 5th, 2020

Programs teaching men how to pickup women provide “a place of hope, fellowship and learning for young (often immigrant) men,” a Montreal study has found.

Before there was Harvey Weinstein, there was Daryush Valizadeh — more commonly known as “Roosh V” — a guru in what is known as the “seduction community” for his expertise in “pickup artistry” (PUA). Roosh V’s website, Return of Kings (successfully shuttered by boycotts in October 2018), included such abhorrent material as advocacy for changing laws to “make rape legal if done on private property.” Efforts to bar Roosh V from a Canadian tour failed, but it was generally agreed that any men who attended his seminars must be misogynists and worse.

Roosh V was the most outrageous of many gurus in the seduction community. Thousands of young men have attended three-day PUA “boot camps,” which purport to teach them techniques and mindsets for improving their sexual success with women through “practicing game.” A study released last week is taking us inside the world of PUAs, and the results are revealing in ways many might find surprising.

The study is titled: “Clueless: An ethnographic study of young men who participate in the seduction community with a focus on their psychosocial well-being and mental health.” It was authored by McGill University assistant professor of psychiatry Robert Whitley and researcher JunWei Zhou.

The results are revealing in ways many might find surprising

According to Whitley, this study is the first to approach the subject from a mental-health angle. It is data, rather than theory-driven — previous studies were based in theories of masculinity, Whitley says.

Whitley, who specializes in male loneliness and male suicide, and Zhou sought to understand the reasons why young men join the seduction community, and the impact of their experiences on participants’ lives. The research was conducted in Montreal. The mean age of the studied group was 25. Ethnically, half the participants were of white, European provenance, half of Asian or African. More than half were born outside of Canada, and had lived here five years on average. Most were students or working. Most were educated beyond high school.

The researchers conducted lengthy interviews with participants, attended seminars, and most interestingly, (discreetly) accompanied them as they practiced game. Some of the results surprised them. There was indeed a “dark side” to pick-up artistry — objectification of women, promiscuity, and obsession with pursuit — but that was not their principal finding. For most of the participants, the seduction communities provided “a place of hope, fellowship and learning for young (often immigrant) men.”

Programs teaching men how to pickup women provide “a place of hope, fellowship and learning for young (often immigrant) men,” a Montreal study has found. Getty Iimages

In other words, getting women into bed was the PUA marketing sizzle, but for many customers, the study found, the “steak” turned out to be the opportunity to form friendships with other males — something they had also struggled to do.

A 24-year-old Euro-Canadian told Whitley: “I was lonely, I had no friends. I’m a guy who couldn’t talk to a girl sitting next to me in class, forget about going out.” Another: “When I first came to Montreal, I’d never dated anyone and I was 25, so I had no idea what I was doing …” A third: “I was terrified of women. A real lack of knowledge.” The word “nerd” cropped up several times. One participant said that community involvement had made him “less guarded, less shy, more open.” Another said, “I don’t have anxiety anymore, I don’t feel depressed. I am friendlier, I am happier, I’m more willing to help other people.” Some of these benefits, but not all, related to relationships with women. But many of these benefits had nothing to do with picking up, and everything to do with feeling less alone in a new, bewildering culture.

Immigrant men from different cultures often described themselves as “clueless” about social dynamics and courtship customs here. Their fathers, reported as “old school” or otherwise preoccupied, had insufficient social knowledge to help them adjust. Some participants told the researchers they lacked any male guidance on how to interact with women, “often poignantly describing the absence of fathers from their lives due to bereavement, divorce or other factors.” Participants generally concluded that involvement in the seduction community “went some way to address their previously unresolved question of ‘how to be a man.’ ”

Immigrant men from different cultures often described themselves as ‘clueless’ about courtship customs here

Quite surprising to the researchers was the success the young men had when practicing game. They observed the men striding up to random women in malls and starting a conversation. “Interestingly, almost all of the women approached engaged positively with the participant and well over half of the interactions led to an exchange of phone numbers or Facebook details.”

Yes, there is still the dark side. One guy said: “I think it is a little bit culty, I don’t want to get too involved … there is no critical thinking.” Another: “It can be helpful, it can be harmful. I’d say a lot of the time one of the worst things it does is it closes you off to everyone who’s not a pickup person. It’s like you will actually make friends with pickup guys and those will be your only friends because you can’t make female friends because you’re just trying to f–k everyone you talk to, you can’t make any other male friends because they don’t do game; they don’t go out.”

How “harmful” exactly can it get? I asked Prof. Whitley in an email exchange: Do the seduction communities attract “Incels” — rage-filled “involuntary celibate” men? Whitley firmly stated, “There is no connection between Incel anger and PUAs.” He added that Incel massacrist Elliot Rodger was erroneously linked to PUAs, when in fact he was a member of an online group that attacks PUAs.

But are these guys able to leverage the hook-ups into a meaningful, even long-term relationship?

Fair, but another of the study’s (noted) limitations stands out for me. It’s made clear that practicing game works in effecting hook-ups. But then what? Are these guys able to leverage the hook-ups into a meaningful, even long-term relationship? Even though it brings a fresh and sympathetic perspective to the participants’ motivations and vulnerabilities, the study only offers a brief glimpse into the world of PUA as it is happening. Whitley admits that a longevity study including interviews with the women that are “gamed” would tell a far more sociologically instructive story.

Nevertheless, without attempting to whitewash PUA, Whitley does conclude that PUA circles “can be very helpful, especially as there are few other male-friendly services or supports for such men.” The study raises the fascinating prospect, and demonstrates the clear advantage, of finding other ways to help lonely, struggling men to adjust to societies from which they feel alienated — ones without the baggage, stigma and admitted dark sides of pickup artistry.

• Email: | Twitter: