Hello everyone. The New York Magazine article featuring this teleconference panel has been published, so I can now put this post back up. I wrote this post from memory of our (two-and-a-half hour) conversation, but as you'll see from the article, my memory was pretty true to spirit. Thanks again to Jada Yuan and NY Mag for facilitating this enlightening and lively experience!
For the record, the authors of The Rules and I got into a debate about this post on Twitter (follow me @ardensirens). They apologized and said that "no one called me a slut" and they were "sorry if it came off that way." I sent them this article to educate them on slut-shaming, and they replied that they "don't discuss slut shame" because they "don't use words like that."
They were also really mad that I put their book in Wesley's litter box.
-- AL, 7.22.13
I got slut-shamed by Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, the authors of The Rules, over teleconference today. According to them, neither I nor any of my poly friends could possibly be happy being non-monogamous, I have low self-worth and daddy issues if that's what I think I deserve, and I'm either fucked up or in denial for saying I'm not interested in marriage.
I actually bought the damn thing to be informed for today's talk.
The other day I was contacted by a journalist from New York Magazine who wanted a few PUAs and a few old school dating authors to join in on a teleconference so she could interview us as a group for their upcoming sex issue. The final lineup was me, my pal and mentor Adam Lyons, Ken Hoinsky (of Kickstarter scandal reknown), Zan Perrion, and Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, the authors of the early 90s dating tome The Rules, who are back in 2013 with a new book called Not Your Mother's Rules, since the original book was written for a society which communicated solely by landline phones, pagers, answering machines, and carrier pigeons. (John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, was also supposed to join but was ultimately unable due to scheduling conflicts.)
We were asked to introduce ourselves and divulge our relationship statuses and orientations. I identified myself as a primary-oriented non-monogamist currently in a new non-monogamous long-distance relationship. I told the group about my book The New Rules Of Attraction and my organization the Sirens Seduction Forum, and how I studied pickup artistry in order to teach women a set of tools to be proactive about creating the love lives they want by approaching the men they desire in a way in which they can build attraction, create emotional connection, and form healthy relationships in which they add value to their partners' lives and get their needs met in return.
Obviously the first thing out of the Rules ladies' mouths at me was that I should never, ever, ever approach a guy, and that my doing so was why I hadn't found one who had committed to me yet. I expected as much; their book is pretty clear on their stance about approach as Rule #3 is titled Don't Talk to or Text a Guy First. "If you speak to or text a guy first, that's making the first move, so how will you ever know if he would have reached out on his own? You won't -- and that's the problem!" To which I furrow my brow and respond in befuddlement, "If I don't approach a guy, how will I ever know if he would have found out about me on his own? I won't. And that's the problem."
Schneider argued that every man knows his "type," and that if a woman is his physical type, he will absolutely approach that woman in public and nothing will stop him from repeatedly asking her out. She cited one instance of a man she knew who asked out his friendly dating service professional as empirical evidence of natural male persistence in the face of attraction. Adam countered: "I can absolutely tell you that's not true. As a dating coach, I have coached over 100,000 men who were too shy to approach a woman let alone ask her out."
"I haven't dated a single man who's approached me first," I told the group. "I'm always the initiator, and I prefer it."
"How'd you meet your boyfriend?" Schneider asked me.
"Well, back in 2007 I saw him on television and I thought he was attractive. So I contacted one of his close friends through social media by asking about their work, and when they were all hanging out together I managed to get introduced to him. Of course, I had a boyfriend at the time so nothing happened, but we exchanged emails and lightly kept in touch over the years, and we just got in contact again this spring over Facebook and started messaging regularly. When our chats turned romantic, I finally said, 'Okay, enough, I'm coming to visit you' -- he lives in Canada -- 'I'm getting a hotel room for the weekend and we'll hang out and whatever happens happens.' And I did, and we hit it off, and he asked me to be his girlfriend."
"Why didn't he come visit you?"
"He did," I replied. "He came back to New York with me and stayed with me for two weeks."
"And you're not monogamous?"
"No, I said, "I don't do long-distance monogamy."
"Honey," said Schneider (or maybe it was Fein, it was hard to tell them apart) to me drippingly in well-meaning auntly pity, "I don't think you've got the guy. You're short-term, long-distance, and non-monogamous? And you're telling me you're happy with this?"
"Um, yes," I said, weirded out at having to defend my relationship choices. "I know a lot of people who are in happy non-monogamous relationships. I know polyamorous couples who have been together over a decade and are even married."
"Oh, they're not actually happy!"
"Yes they are. I know them," I exclaimed. "Besides, I want to date locally and have other lovers too."
The Rules ladies interrupted and asked if I wanted kids. I said no, that if I'm in the right place for it one day then I'd be open to it, but that it's not a priority for me and I'm not going to shape my actions around a need for them. They averred that it's okay to not do The Rules while you're young and messing around having fun, but that when you want to actually get serious about your life, then it's time to put them into practice. They said they wouldn't judge a woman for wanting to hook up when she's young.
"But that's not what you said in your book," I said. I had a copy in front of me. "You said 'random hookups are unfulfilling acts of desperation.'"
"Where did we say that?" The Rules ladies stammered. I flipped through the book to where my margin notes were.
"Page 17. On Rules for Mothers talking to their daughters. 'Tell her that sex between a man and a woman is a beautiful thing, that anything you do when you are in love is wonderful and special, but that random hookups are unfulfilling acts of desperation.'"
"Oh right, but that's what we tell mothers to say to their teenagers, not to grown women."
"But those teenagers are going to be grown women one day, and those beliefs, given to them by their major caretakers, are going to stay with them!"
Finally they'd had enough with me. "Look honey, you're in this long-distance non-monogamous relationship, and you're settling for that because that's all you think you deserve. You clearly have very low self-worth. One day when you're ready, come to us, and we'll sit down and have a chat about what happened with Daddy and why it's made you so sad and desperate."
I kid you not.
Ken Hoinsky, whom I did not expect to be a hero of any sort in this conversation, jumped in then: "We're getting off topic here. Look, if I wanted to hear slut-shaming, I could just check my inbox."
Later, the interviewer, hoping to get back onto a relevant topic, asked each of us how we would approach someone we found attractive in a social setting. When it was my turn, I answered with a summary of my Approach chapter in TNROA:
"Well, there are three ways of going about it, and which way you choose depends on the environment you're in and the person you're approaching. The first is indirect, which is to stand where you'll be noticed and give signals such as baring your neck or making eye contact to invite approach. The second is semi-direct, which is when you approach the target's group as a whole or one of his friends and eventually work your way into an introduction where you have social proof. And the third is direct, where you approach a guy and begin a conversation."
"DISAGREE! THE RULES LADIES DISAGREE WITH THIS!" they shouted. "We disagree with the Lady Pickup Artist." (Which is, by the way, how they referred to me during the entire phone call, as though I didn't have a name.) "We like the men coaching the shy guys!"
So, it's cool if men do it, but as a woman, if I do it I'm pathetic and sad.
"I tried your way," I told them. "I did The Rules when I was twenty. I was miserable, lonely, and anxious. None of the guys I liked were approaching me. I didn't even lose my virginity til I was 22. What, was I supposed to get a great boyfriend just by sitting still?"
Toward the end of the conversation, they looked me up on Twitter. "Oh are you Arden? Is that you? With the dark hair?" Yes, I said, that was me. "Oh but you're so pretty. Surely you wouldn't have a problem having guys approach you."
Okay, let's unpack this here. I don't need to call out what's so awful about The Rules (Jezebel did it already, and more snarkily), and anyway I made my position clear about how I feel about advice that advocates female passivity and glorifies idleness in TNROA.
But today it's personal. Today, these two authors who have spent the past twenty years purporting this sexist crap went out of their way to attempt to humiliate me and make me feel bad about myself in front of my peers and the press. So right now it's fair game -- no pun intended.
First, as Adam pointed out, the idea that a man who is interested in a woman will approach her no matter what is deeply untrue. But let's let that slide for a moment. Even if a man does approach a woman as a sign of his sincere interest, if she's just sitting there at the bar he has no inkling of anything about her other than her looks -- whether she's his "type," as the authors say. This is okay for an initial interest, as physical attractiveness certainly matters, but following this approach, The Rules advises nothing about what to do to build attraction except to be unavailable. Really, really unavailable. No, even more unavailable than that. Oh, and mysterious. Don't text back, don't tell him anything about yourself, don't say or write more than he does. Don't even post about what you're doing on Facebook and Twitter! Let him guess where you are at all times!
The idea of withholding information and being "mysterious" is problematic enough in itself (I'll remind you of what Neil Strauss said about The Rules: that emotionally withholding from a guy and not asking to have your needs met is a great way to keep a relationship you shouldn't even be in), but let's take a look at what it means to advise women that the only successful relationships are ones where a man approaches them because of their physical looks and then after that they do as little as possible. It means that Schneider and Fein believe that a woman's only value to her partner is her physical appearance -- and of course sex, which she must hold out on at all costs. This is also unfair to men, as you've hopefully noticed, as it implies that all men are looking for in a woman is physical attractiveness and that personality doesn't matter to them, you know, just as long as she's not too clingy.
Further, by advising women to give so many signs of resistance to a man's advances even when she's interested in him (don't text back for four hours; don't propose any plans to hang out; don't accept the first three dates he proposes but also don't give him a date when you're available, just make him hunt for one til he finds it!), the authors are telling women that it's not okay to say "yes" and express consent even when it's what they mean. This should be obviously problematic for very obvious recent reasons: the world, myself included, jumped all over Ken Hoinsky for saying "Force her to rebuff your advances!" "Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her!" and "From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished!" But if every woman in the world behaved like a Rules girl, would you blame him? Saying no when you mean yes just leads more men to believe that no actually does mean yes until the point where you literally have to punch them to get them off you. Which I have had to do on occasion, and would really prefer not to have to in the future. (And I do take krav maga, make no mistake, but I'd rather not have to use it for more than a workout. You know, if given my druthers.)
This great post from Feminspire said it beautifully: "When we send the message that resistance is a form of flirtation -- a strategic move in the game of love -- we romanticize the imposition of one human being's will on another. The building block of violence. By looking at love and sex as a game, a chase, a fight, we give violence our social permission, cultivate a rape culture, and throw consent out with the bathwater."
Finally, there's their monogamy-only view which reared its ugly head in its full naked glory during the teleconference today. I told the group that I wouldn't judge a woman for wanting marriage and monogamy any more than I would want to be judged for not wanting it, and that what I advise in TNROA is for women to ask their partner to meet their needs -- whatever those needs may be -- and be willing to walk away from a partner who refuses. If a woman has demonstrated her value and shown her partner what she has to offer in a relationship (which you can't do by the way if you're always just doing nothing, obvs), then she has every right to sit down with him at an appropriate time and say, "Hey, I want to be exclusive. I see myself getting married one day. I want kids. Are you on board?"
But Schneider and Fein didn't show the same respect for my own lifestyle choices -- which, by the way, aren't even that extreme. As stated, I'm a bisexual primary-oriented non-monogamist, which ends up looking kind of like Dan Savage's term "monogamish." I value loyalty, trust, passion, and intimacy above all in my relationships and I want a partner who is going to commit to a deep, radical presence with me throughout the course of our relationship, and I don't see that commitment being at odds with us occasionally fucking other people, whether separately or together, because I don't feel that the quality of my relationship is measured by an exclusive contract of my partner's genitalia, and also I sometimes like threesomes.
However, according to the ladies behind The Rules, this means I am either fucked in the head or in denial and that I'm settling for a scumbag who can't keep his dick in his pants because that's all I feel I'm worthy of, which is likely related to my Daddy not loving me enough. (In the interest of full disclosure, my Daddy didn't love me enough, but a., I have an amazing mom and stepdad who love me tons; b., my Daddy not loving me enough has nothing to do with whether I want to be monogamous or not; and c., I'm a relationship expert AND a damn grown woman and being told that I don't actually know what I want is like stupidly, ridiculously offensive.)
And this thinking is further problematic because it assumes that women don't enjoy sex the way that men do: how could a woman possibly want other lovers as much as her husband/boyfriend would? Because all men are cads who want to put their dicks in everything and women just want their man to buy them a house and put a dick in them enough times to have a kid or two, clearly, so non-monogamy is a very bad deal for all women. And while I shouldn't have to explain with science (sciencesplain? can that be a thing?) why this is incorrect, I'll do it anyway for anyone who still remains a non-believer... or rather, I'll let smart sensualist Toni Bentley do it for you: "Daniel Bergner in his terrific new book, What Do Women Want? [...] has uncovered such worrisome wonders as the fact that we women tire of you chaps faster than you tire of us, that women are just as sexually visual as men, that female orgasm’s elusive, and yet, paradoxically, multiple qualities, promotes, even demands, promiscuity -- both to find the elusive one and then to prolong the party -- and thus that monogamy suits women even less than it suits men."
So there's that.
So much was wrong with today's conversation with Sherrie and Ellen. But here's what bothered me most: Neither woman could defend her position without resorting to a personal attack on me. I could have turned the tables on them and asked them how sexually satisfied they were in their decades-old marriages or whether they'd ever had a crush that they now regret not taking a chance on and wonder what might have been, but I didn't. I kept it to the work.
So I'm upset by the fact that as punishment for my differing approach they felt they had to shame me for my entire lifestyle.
I'm upset by this a lot lately, actually. A few weeks ago I went to a networking salon, and was asked by a self-proclaimed feminist at my table how I justified using my sexuality in my work (pro-domming, seduction coaching, gogo dancing, lingerie modeling) and why I felt that was my "only option" or what about it "validated me." I fielded her questions politely for the better part of twenty minutes or so and then finally told her she was being judgmental. She stood up at the table, pointed a finger in my face, and screamed at me how I was the most narcissistic person she'd ever met and how I was both "minimizing her" and "getting off" on her being judgmental because I liked being the center of attention, before storming off from the table never to return for the rest of the evening. What should have been a conceptual disagreement turned into a loud, embarrassingly public attack on me.
Then there's the always-amusing (and by amusing I mean lame) trend of internet hate comments that I get. When I posted an article about my defense of seduction in the wake of the Kickstarter scandal on xoJane, I was accused of being not only unfeminist but manipulative, misogynistic, creepy, insane, insecure, and a rape apologist. Those same commenters then proceeded to make fun of my relationship with my boyfriend (all this fuss over one fuzzy hat, jeez!), make derisive comments about his penis (which they've obviously never seen), and write things like, "I think you're lost, sweetie. Let's try to find your mommy and get you back to where the other kids are." Two days later, xoJane issued an apology regarding some ignorant comments from one of their writers (about how she thought black slavery was worse than the Holocaust -- which, admittedly, is a dumb case to argue either for or against, as I hear they were both pretty bad) and stated a new policy of banning hate speech in comments. But calling my boyfriend a rapist was totally cool.
I was also called out on xoJane and on Twitter for apparently body-shaming in my last blog post. To which I'm like, "You guys, I was body-shaming MYSELF!" and also "Really? THAT'S what you took away from that entire post? Was ONE PARAGRAPH where I talked about being fat?" That post was about trying to be our best so that we can inspire others, or at the very least not be a liability to them by accepting our fuck-ups that screw them over. But okay, my intent was not to offend, so sorry if that happened. And besides, just because I was unhappy with my body at 21 doesn't mean you have to be unhappy with yours, ever. (Though if you ARE unhappy, fix it! Be happy!) But then on an internet forum recently, people ostensibly discussing the value of my work said, "My first thought was 'Hmmm, I wonder if she's hot.' So I checked out the links, and I couldn't help but wonder from the CBS Talk Philly video: does it seem like the right side of her face is a little droopy?" And, "I googled her. She has a lot of nude photos. Her boobs are kind of weird." And also, "All I know is she looks very trashy. I would never take advice on how to attract men from a woman whose boobs are down to her elbows, doesn't know how to apply eyeliner, and clearly doesn't own a brush." You guys. Now we're not body-shaming in general, but we're talking about my face, and my boobs.
Which are both fucking fabulous, by the way.
Do I need to explain how attacking someone personally and web-searchably is so much nastier than just posting theoretical stuff that you happen not to like? Or are the angry people of the internet going to cry hypocrite and say that I just don't like shaming when it's about me? And like, okay, I get that this is part of the price I pay for being a semi-public figure and claiming to know what I'm talking about when I'm talking about something, or just of being a woman on the internet with an opinion. Of course, according to the internet commenters on my first XoJane article, I'm actually too pretty to possibly know what it's like to be lonely and therefore my work as a seduction coach is totally invalid. (Do I need to post the *headdesk* photo again?)
And yeah, internet commenters are not exactly the creme of society, but seriously, when did disagreeing with someone fester into a need to make a personal attack on someone's choices, character, boyfriend, and BOOBS for fuck's sake? When did we stop giving people the benefit of the doubt that they maybe just might know what feels best for themselves? When did a differing opinion necessitate a public outburst about what a horrible person the dissenter is?
I realize, kind of actually as I am writing this, what difficult battles I've chosen. I'm endorsing pickup artistry to feminists. I'm schooling pickup artists on consent culture. I'm advocating the choice for alternative lifestyles to two old ladies whose book has a goddamn wedding ring on the cover for fuck's sake.
But goddammit people deserve good relationships and I will be damned if anyone is going to try to stop me from advocating for the proactive and self-aware creation of authentic, empowering, generous, consent-based, honest, brave romantic interactions with their fellow human beings based upon the acceptance of their own desires and of themselves. I don't care what the parameters to those relationships are as long as everyone's happy.
And neither should you.