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What Women Can Learn From Studying Pickup Artists

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

Women unconsciously collude with sexual predators. Know their tactics, and reclaim your power

Women aren’t helpless little ‘targets’. We can fortify ourselves against males who seek to exploit our psychological weaknesses. Photo by SilviaP_Design on Needpix

The smarter a girl is, the better it works. Party girls with attention deficit disorder generally don’t stick around to hear the routines. A more perceptive, worldly, or educated girl will listen and think, and soon find herself ensnared. — Neil Strauss, ‘The Game’

Loren blew into my life like a Highland warrior, the literal embodiment of the sexy, chesty, take-charge, long-haired hero of a medieval romance novel.

We both belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-creation group I was part of in my twenties.

Charismatic and compellingly attractive, dark-haired, dark-eyed, brash and brimming with sexuality, he glommed onto me like a Scottish laird to a guileless virgin. Except I was a flamboyant and outrageous belly dancer, famous throughout New England SCAdian ‘kingdoms’ for my flirting and sexual innuendo as well as my energetic performances.

Loren epitomized the hottest, most popular guy in school whose head, just a few years previously, my dorky ass could never hope to turn.

But, ugh, he flirted with every woman he met and often had a woman (or two) under each arm. Right in front of me, even as he actively worked to crank my every sexual button into hyperdrive.

Seventeen years later, pickup artist (PUA) Neil Strauss, a/k/a Style, explained in his exposé and how-to manual The Game how this was ‘social proof’: “The notion that if everyone else is doing something, then it must be good.” Have one or more beautiful women around you, which always looks better than if you’re alone.

I was no longer La Dorkola. Now I was Gisèle, with a ton more self-esteem and male admirers than high school. I disliked arrogant assholes, hip to the games they played with women to massage their own mammoth egos.

Today we call them ‘players’. Back then I called them ‘sluts’.

I decided not having sex with Loren would give me far greater pleasure than bedding him.

I made a conscious decision to be the one woman he couldn’t nail.

The best and worst of pickup artist practice

Not all The Game’s advice for men is bad. It offers some pretty basic female attraction lessons many men never learn, even well into middle age. Here’s what makes me want to scream, “Hallelujah, Brothah Style! Say it again! Tell them like it is!”

  • Smile when you enter a room. The game is on. You’re together, you’re fun, you’re somebody.

  • Be well-groomed.

  • Have a sense of humor.

  • Connect with people.

  • Don’t approach a woman with a sexual come-on; learn about her first. Strauss thinks she should earn the right to be hit on. No, he must earn the right to hit on her.

  • Demonstrate value. Be different. (Oh dear gods on Mount Olympus, if men learn just one thing from The Game let it be this!)

The Game, for women, is a road map to every easy exploit in the female brain. Patch your weaknesses, and you’ll be impervious to the perv-ious.

Ladies, take note of the following. This is just a taste of what women need to understand about themselves to effectively avoid not just PUAs but other toxic men. The less laudable, if lamentably effective advice:

  • Negging. Alienating her by lowering her self-esteem and displaying an active lack of interest in her. (Remember: This works, particularly for those women PUAs correctly label LSE: Low Self-Esteem.)

  • Cat string theory. If they make it too easy for her she loses interest and goes away. (The Game’s female counterpart, The Rules, is entirely based on this same premise.)

  • Using NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) techniques to, essentially, trick her into wanting to be with him. NLP is considered hogwash by scientists, but it seems to work for PUAs, and strikes me as being at least a little based in current neuroscience: We can, indeed, rewire or ‘reprogram’ our brains.

  • Strauss really nails many women (figuratively) with what I call woo-woo. He calls it ‘chick crack’, the conversational ice-breaker psychology ‘tests’ and New Age fluffy nonsense many women adore. One example: He writes down a number and asks you to choose between one and ten. You chose 7; he reveals that’s the number he wrote down! He knew you were going to say that because you’re meant to be together or some such crap! Amazing! (Except that 70% of people choose 7.)

Or, he gives you and your friend some silly ‘best friends test’ and spouts a bunch of psychobabble he made up utilizing fairly pedestrian knowledge about people. Not only is he rarely ever wrong, but if he is he can find a different frame to make it look like he wasn’t. It’s what fake psychics do: ‘Cold reading’.

The really execrable advice for men:

  • Challenge yourself to overcome shyness doing things like talking a homeless person out of a quarter. If you can overcome that, you can be an effective PUA. You’ll also be a horrible human being, and everyone in Strauss’s book paid a price later. TANSTAAFL.

Still, there’s a point: Push yourself to face rejection, and get so good at what you do you don’t get it nearly as much. Relentless rejection saps your will to live, but only occasional rejection is just part of The Game.

I can’t wholeheartedly condemn their tactics. I’ve been in sales for almost all my career; we, too, know a lot of little tips and nudges to win prospects over. (As PUAs dehumanize women as ‘targets’ or ‘sets’, we salescritters refer to prospects and leads. No, nothing dehumanizing here.)

Early in my career, a savvy, successful salesman told me, “When someone objects or resists, distract them by talking about something else; then go back to it, and keep doing this until they give you what you want.”

I did this just the other day to a woman resisting booking a meeting with our team lead. I cracked a joke and she laughed and I laughed and then I cracked another joke and then went back to booking the meeting. And I did.

These tactics work.

Who’s truly being victimized?

The #MeToo movement has focused much-needed attention on predatory men. Women have slid male manipulation, control and abuse under the microscope, scrutinizing experiences and exchanging data like scientists parsing the differences between ancient fossilized bacteria.

Some women don’t yet connect the fact that we’re not, or don’t have to be, helpless recipients of male machinations. We can draw lessons from #MeToo, studying The Enemy, those predatory men who seek to use and abuse women à la Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and Gamers. The Game helps us to better understand our own psychological weaknesses and eliminate them. Forewarned is forearmed.

I was right speculating that PUAs were more adept at understanding female psychology than many actual females.

But here’s the rub: Not all The Game’s ‘targets’ are the helpless, naive victims one might assume. Female readers will identify with the seemingly hapless ‘targets’ while guided dick missiles Style, Mystery, Extramask, Papa or Tyler Durden walk into a club or party and hone in on their ‘prey’. They’re about to ‘put one over on her’! They’re about to ‘use her’ and discard her! Don’t they understand these women have feelings?

That’s how it would be if these guys targeted us, the mortal less-than-10s.

These guys have set high standards for themselves. They weren’t good-looking or rich enough to score the really hot high school girls, so they learned The Game not just to get the head cheerleader, but the head cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. They’re all style and little substance.

But the women they’re going for aren’t exactly Michelle Obamas either. Often lacking in substance themselves, both ‘targets’ and PUAs cater to the equally callow and shallow.

Many have been super-hotties their entire young lives. Males have always come easy to them, and they’ve developed a hyper-awareness of the games men play. They retaliate with their own games. There are probably as many books on how to emotionally and sexually manipulate men as there are for men seeking the same for women, even if the desired outcomes are different (monogamy versus polygamy).

Strauss was surprised to learn not all women are out to isolate a man from sexual nirvana with a ring, a house and a baby. Many women, he found, are just as interested in sex as men, but have to contend with matters like the Slut Rep.

And sometimes women are commitment-phobic, too. Or accept behavior others would find creepy and threatening.

Like the woman Strauss dropped off at her address, then followed her into her apartment without asking, and she didn’t object. And they had consensual sex.

If you act as the authority, says his friend Grimble, many women won’t question you.

He’s right.

These women let them do these things.

It’s not always oppression. Sometimes they consent, for their own reasons. One woman’s meat (ar ar) is another one’s poison.

So women have to learn to not let them. Our bodies, our choices, right? Now that we know what they’re doing, we can put the kibosh on it if we want to.

Often, women collude in their own oppression. Perhaps they don’t know any better, especially if they’re very young. Ignorance is bliss, for abusers. The good news is women don’t have to take it!

I can’t emphasize this enough: Women respond to The Game’s cheesy tactics because they work.

For those who seek something more substantial than cheap hookups, it’s our job, as women, to educate ourselves, and educate girls better on how to identify and avoid men who are only out to use us. How to handle early male attempts at control. How never to allow a man to mistreat us. We decide how we want to be treated.

We’re not victims. We empower ourselves.

Image by Harmony Lawrence from Pixabay

“Take my power. Please.”

One PUA observed that the ‘weakness’ of small, petite women turned him on. Naomi Wolf observed in The Beauty Myth that super-skinny, anorexic women may be attractive to men because an undernourished woman is too weak to resist. The anorexic also conveys an important dark message: She’s so desperate for male approval and/or a partner, she’s willing to nearly starve herself to death.

Anorexia is one way women hand over their power to men. The kind who will likely mistreat them.

Women find other ways to collude with sexual predators, however unconsciously, to victimize themselves and others.

And some of the ‘targets’ are little better than the PUAs themselves. There are some other pretty depressing truths about The Game’s ‘targets’ and ‘sets’:

  • Men may drop women easily, but women will dump men just as quickly for a bigger, better deal.

  • A particularly depressing observation is how women still think and allow themselves to be defined as ‘sluts’, as though men still held all the power of their perception, not to mention their reputation. Strauss describes LMR (Last Minute Resistance) as an understandable ASD (Anti-Slut Defense). The woman pulls back a bit so he understands she’s not easy.

  • Women married three or more years were easier to bed than single ones. (So much for the evils of tomcats.)

  • One PUA’s conquest accidentally sent her judgemental review of their date to her entire address book, revealing several details of how shallow and stereotypical she actually was. PUAs screen for women who are ‘users’. Touché.

  • ‘Style’ (Strauss) found women were usually okay with learning he’s a PUA after sleeping with them, and didn’t believe he’d been ‘running game’ on them. But once they broke up or stopped seeing each other, they used it against him. They were okay with what he was until the end.

  • “If you lower a woman’s self-esteem, she will seek validation from you.” If there’s only one lesson I want women to learn from reading The Game, it’s this one!

What I wish men would draw from The Game:

  • Learn about women, understand them better. PUAs may be cads and rapscallions, but if guys with good will understood women as well as PUAs, there’d be no such thing as ‘incels’.

  • Learn about ‘social proof’, something everyone responds to — if everyone else is doing it, it must be good. FOMO! My seducer-wannabe Loren exploited women for social proof, but a solo, confident man with lots of people around him is a good fortune magnet.

  • Most importantly, Strauss learned one of the core lessons about women that many men never, ever seem to figure out: Women are not as ‘ready to go’ as men are. Most men are thinking and acting on getting into a woman’s pants before she’s even thinking about what’s in his pants.

There’s a stiff (erm) price to be paid for focusing too much on one field of knowledge while ignoring another. The Game doesn’t end on a very positive note. Strauss, a professional writer already well-versed in analyzing and drilling down, details how the PUA community fell apart when the need for something deeper necessitated focusing on one compelling woman, perhaps marrying, and having children. These guys only knew how to get women into bed; they had no clue how to connect with them on a deeper level. Often the relationships fell apart, and they didn’t understand why.

One PUA student who’d only wanted to get married found a wife, but his marriage fell apart a few years later for his lack of relationship skills. Mystery, Strauss’s best friend in the community, suffered a suicidal nervous breakdown over his failed real relationships; like a typical PUA with little self-awareness, he attempted to intellectualize failures with evolutionary psychology and other things he’d learned, rather than recognizing that neither he nor she had the requisite human connection skills. (Easily-acquired men and cheap, shallow sex comes with a price for women, too.)

Goodbye to you

Rather than go for Loren, I turned my attentions to David, his roommate, who’d caught my eye just before Loren blew in like a gale force wind over the Orkney Isles. Loren backed off. We remained casual friends.

Several months later I learned he was leaving our community so I stopped into his place of work to say goodbye.

“I will tell you something, Gisèle,” he said. “If you hadn’t gone for David I would have done my damnedest to get you into bed. But I wouldn’t do that to a friend.”

“No you wouldn’t have bedded me,” I told him. “You were far too arrogant and women come too easily to you. I decided to be your one and only failure.”

“You’re wrong,” he said, “I would have nailed you, but I guess we’ll never know.”

Au contraire. As compelling as he was, as much as I wanted to do the dirty with him, I valued myself too highly. I refused to give him my power. I derived my own power in being the one woman he couldn’t get.

Not all women can be Gamed. Seventeen years before the how-to manual came out, I’d studied and analyzed dating dynamics and the games men played. And I had a mother who armed me well against the games men have always played.

You can’t Game a woman whose weaknesses have been identified and patched, like a computer network.

Forewarned is forearmed.

This originally appeared on Medium in October 2020.

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