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How not to pick up women in SA

Written with Rethabile Mashale*

City Press ran a story on December 22 by Charl du Plessis titled “The art of picking up women in SA”. The article on Pick Up Artist SA’s boot camp on picking up women is about “the secret psychological techniques that will help [men and lesbian women] get lucky with South African women” every time. The co-founder, Ryan Peimer goes on to say that the Pick Up Artist is a global community that collects teachings from thousands of pick-up artists on “approaching, developing attraction and sealing the deal with women”. This movement appropriates this “secret” information they access to use it to the advantage of men over women.

Responding to the question of the obvious misogyny of the boot camp, Peimer says the camp teaches men “to use their pick-up skills with integrity” and yet reading the five tips Pick Up Artist SA’s provides to City Press it is clear that the programme is not only misogynistic, but is demonstrative of white male capitalistic patriarchy. At the centre of the programme is a clear concern with encouraging male dominance (for profit) at the expense of women’s bodies.

The five tips for picking up women by Pick Up Artists SA include assertions that men must get out of their shell because “women want to be approached”, that men must “give women nicknames” and that women love to be touched and thus men should touch themselves to get to a woman’s heart. And the iceberg, being the last tip, is asking men to “take control”. Pick Up Artists say “women are attracted to dominance. They’re attracted to guys who have a certain element of dominance and carelessness”.

Throughout the article, there are no voices from women about how they would like to be approached by men; instead the white male voice is the dominant one in dictating what men should do to women and the confines of women’s agency. That an organisation like Pick Up Artist SA should encourage forms of manhood that encourage men to dominate women and say that women are naturally always wanting to be approached by men is a clear encouragement of rape culture. These assumption based on “medicine” is in the same tone as men who sexually assault and rape women and then say “she asked for it”, or “I know she wanted it” without women having consented.

This type of manhood we know doesn’t just affect men, but has very deleterious effects for the lives and bodies of women and children. These types of boot camps for men encourage male dominance over women, without clearly teaching men how to practice healthy manhood. Furthermore the uncritical coverage by City Press, which hypes these programmes without examining the harmfulness of the ideas presented reinforces male dominance and rape culture. Barely a month out of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence against Women and Children, this article, along with the Pick Up Artist SA is basically telling men to go around sexually dominating women.

The writer of the article, a white male, could have easily been writing a promotional pamphlet for Pick Up Artist SA in promoting the service to men who want to get “lucky” with South African women. Articles like these by City Press, and particular programmes like the Pick Up Artist SA embody what we should be telling men (and women) NOT to do when picking up a partner. If one bases it on the five “pick up” tips by Pick Up Artist SA, we should be telling men to do the opposite.

Not all women want to be approached by men, thus men should first gather consent from women. Men should not present body language that is “up there” but should rather present and learn friendly accommodating non-threatening mannerism. Men should not give women “nicknames” or catcall them, but should when consent has been gathered, learn from the woman what she would like to be referred to as. Men should not learn from other men that women “love to be touched” but should establish trust and consent and allow the woman to negotiate her agency about what she will allow a man to touch. And lastly, men should not “take control” and practice “dominance and carelessness” but rather should realise relationships are partnerships not the sovereign domain for men to dominate.

To imply the simplistic and dangerously patriarchal ideas by Pick Up Artist SA are the way to go for men is extremely problematic, especially in the context our high rape and sexual assault reports in South Africa. These ideas are dangerous for both men and women and take us back in the agenda to do away with sexual violence.

*Rethabile Mashale leads a women’s rights organisation in Cape Town. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town.