The blogger Clarisse Thorn published a book a week or so ago; she called it Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, and I wasn’t quite sure how much she meant the ‘chaser’ part of the title. The term implies that you’re fetishising a group, often in problematic ways. I haven’t seen anyone claim it in much seriousness.

Besides, the subtitle was ‘Long Interviews with Hideous Men’. That contrast there stays throughout the book: a title that casts her as an eager admirer set against a subtitle that warns a reader off the misogyny of the men she’s after. Kink and fetishisation set against the (feminist) revulsion against the pickup community. I found this pretty fascinating: I wouldn’t want to read about pickup artists except through a feminist filter, and most feminists I know wouldn’t want to research and write about them except to issue sweeping dismissals. Clarisse Thorn has written a lot of things about women’s sexuality that I find incisive and rarely see discussed overtly: a lot about BDSM, about her sex life without orgasm, and about her later deconstruction of that progression, and how she doesn’t see orgasm as the be-all and end-all of sex, and more.

So, reading about the ‘seduction community’ as seen by an emotionally intelligent feminist sounded pretty interesting to me. Reading about what happened to an analytical-minded woman who spent a long time with this very analytical but very unfeminist culture was even more so: Thorn tells the story of how she absorbed pickup artist ideas and attitudes to relationships, puts together feminine counterparts to pickup artist relationship models, then uses them on her own relationships. It’s fascinating, and I bet a lot of feminists who wouldn’t choose to read about pickup artists would enjoy how Thorn picks apart the way non-explicit communication can be skewed to give men or women more control over a relationship.

A lot of feminists wouldn’t read it. Clarisse Thorn has been criticised for her defence of one Hugo Schwyzer. Those who found her stance objectionable there will find similar tendencies here, book and they’d quickly notice that the book’s subtitle is not particularly representative of the author’s main stance. Lots of long interviews are recounted, but outside this title the author is reluctant to cast many of them in them as hideous. In fact, she’s pretty invested in offering them credit for any feminist sentiments they hold, or actually just for tendencies to see women as people with feelings of their very own. This, though, is a personal project rather than a public defence.

Beyond that, there are plenty of occasions when she describes pickup artist tactics that explicitly rely on the insecurities and inequalities that put women under social pressure in relationships with men, and while she points out that those pressures exist, she plays the man’s role in exploiting them down.  I suspect she’s doing this deliberately to sneak feminist understandings into the minds of male readers: she clearly and deliberately state when male behaviours make her uncomfortable and points out why, but without using words like rape culture or patriarchy to explain why. I hope it’s successful for them, because as a feminist reader I felt like this choice that made the book more accessible for men and non-feminists meant missing out on a lot of potential for interesting feminist analysis.

As a personal narrative and not a feminist one, though, I found it honest and compelling. She decides she feels a little drawn to the pickup artist community because she identifies with them on one level, but that on another level she wants them to want her, and on one more the power dynamics their methods bring into relationships suit her as a BDSM practitioner. I’m doubt I would have felt able to write anything so frank myself, and I feel like her book may well be useful to women in heterosexual relationships and to men interested in identifying and removing coercive behaviours they use with women. It’s also a very perceptive set of observations that acknowledges it’s a small and biased sample of a subculture, and I read it in two days and kept pondering it for a week more. So: I didn’t feel like the target audience, and it may not be every feminist’s cup of tea, but for the asking price of £1.99 I found it an interesting read.

Edited 20/03/12 23:47 to remove commentary related to Hugo Schwyzer; I don’t believe that I have anything to add to that discussion that isn’t being better said elsewhere, and I don’t know enough about the situation now: if he’s now cut his losses and left then I was just adding to personal attacks against a feminist instead of showing solidarity against a threat, and I apologise for that.  [Original: “A lot of feminists wouldn’t read it. Clarisse Thorn has been criticised fairly broadly for defending a rapist in feminist circles and privileging his voice above the voices of survivors.”].