Ah, pick-up artistry. How awful you are.
This Hugo Schwyzer article on negging is characteristically excellent (minus the crack about gay hairdressers, which, what?–come on man, you’re better than that). But the comments are something. They’re mostly fine over at Jez, which isn’t surprising, but over at the GMP—and on Schwyzer’s own blog—well. You know.
My own feelings about negging are not complex: I just don’t think it’s very nice. I don’t understand what would possess a person to walk up to someone they presumably find attractive and make a derogatory comment. Why would you do that? Why would you think that’s okay?
Well, I suppose you’d think it was okay if you had no respect for women, and didn’t quite believe we were people, and if you were too embittered to consider other alternatives. I guess you’d be alright with negging if you were the kind of person who refused to really analyze your failed relationships, if you perceived every rejection as some kind of undeserved slight against You As a Human, if you believed you were entitled to a woman’s time, energy, and body. And if you lacked basic human empathy, that would help too. But nah, clearly the problem is that Women Are Mean.
Here, PUAs, let me explain something to you:
I am a bitch because I need to be. Because I am harassed in some way pretty much daily. Because I’m The Girl Who Walks Everywhere, and people think they know me, and that they’re entitled to my time. And I have heard everything already. I have had people take it upon themselves to figure out where I live; I have had salespeople call my cellphone after I leave their stores; I have had customers call my place of work and ask me out while I was on the clock. I have been pestered on the street, on staircases, on sidewalks, in restaurants, on the job, at home, and in class. I have heard pretty much any line you could imagine.
I say this not to make some arrogant point about how awesome I am (I’m really not that great), but to stress that my bristlyness is a learned behavior. I used to be friendlier, but it complicated my life, and now I’m a little standoffish. According to the PUA literature, this makes me one of those women who “needs to be taken down a notch”—except, no. No I don’t.
In fact, I basically have the self-esteem of a teenager, and although negging won’t hurt me as much now as it would have a couple years ago, it certainly won’t help. When I was twenty, negging could make me start or extend a fast, literally punch my body, or have a panic attack; now it won’t make me do any of those things, but the words will sit in the back of my head, chanting. They don’t just slip through me—they cling. Remember the Nickelodeon amusement park slime machines?
Negging, for me, is like standing under a slime machine, only the effects are harder to wash away. I wish I were the kind of person who could just let those comments roll right off, but I’m not, and it’s taken me a long time to realize it, but: nobody gets to demand that I be that person, because nobody has the right to make those comments in the first place. Strange men shouldn’t be taking it upon themselves to “take me down a notch,” regardless of how insecure they are themselves. And chances are, if I’m being pestered, I’m not feeling confident; I’m feeling uncomfortable. I’m feeling cornered, and anxious, and irritated. What you’re reading as arrogance is likely something else entirely.
So yes, negging is mean. It’s a shitty way to treat another person. It suggests that you don’t actually consider me equal on the human scale, which makes you objectively terrible. And yeah, it might be effective sometimes—but it’s generally effective with people who were already vulnerable, whose insecurities are easier to locate and exploit. (I say this from personal experience.) And if you’re deliberately seeking out, and taking advantage of, vulnerable people…well, again, you are terrible, and you shouldn’t be dating anyone.
But, you know, the PUAs have complaints. They always have complaints. The most common of these seems to be “I haz insecurity and bitchez be mean!” I’ve no doubt there’s some truth to that, and to a degree I sympathize—but that’s a very small degree, because there’s no excuse for being a misogynist asshat. I mean, I’m sure it is, at times, ZOMG so hard to charm to laydee folk. But my answer to that is, well, duh—the patriarchy hurts men too. Any system that attempts to force people into narrow, prescribed roles harms everyone involved. And that sucks for you, PUAs-in-training, it really does. It saddens me. It saddens me so much, I’m drinking a monstrous glass of wine to cope.
But it’s not my problem.
I have similar feelings about racism, so let’s start there. I personally feel that racists harm themselves, not only because they’re setting limits on what they will experience, and how they’ll feel about what experiences they do have, but also because, while we in no way live in a post-racial society (lollerskates!), there are usually some social consequences to blatant racism. Subtle, underhanded racism, not so much—in fact, it can often benefit a person—but someone who casually tosses out racial slurs will likely face some repercussions. So yeah, racism hurts racists. But it would be ridiculous to suggest that people of color bear the responsibility of reforming racists. (I’m sure that someone has tried to make that argument at some point, but whoever it was deserves a punch in the face.)
Coming to terms with your privilege isn’t pleasant. Realizing how much I benefit by being thin, white, young, cis-gendered, and able-bodied wasn’t fun. But you need to do it, and you don’t have the right to demand that other people drag you up into the light and make it all feel better. If there are people kind and compassionate enough to assist you in that realization, you’re lucky—but you’re not entitled to their help.
Similarly, women are not responsible for correcting the damage done to men by the patriarchy; men are responsible for that. I’m sorry, PUAs, if the pressure to conform to a narrow definition of masculinity has led to insecurity and resentment, but it’s not my fault, and I can’t fix it.
Sex and dating can be hard. It’s harder if you’re a dick.