The 1970 manual “How to Pick Up Girls!” opens by asking the reader to imagine what at first seems like a romantic scene. “You’re walking down the street. Minding your own business. … And suddenly you spot a girl,” it reads. “Not just an ordinary girl. Not just a fantastic girl. But the girl.” It’s a bit of a generic setup, but, OK, I’m following. “You’ve just got to see more of her long lean legs,” writes author Eric Weber. “Her fine rounded breasts. Her high, firm behind. For an instant you even consider rape.”
Whoa. As Redditor putontheglasses, who featured this passage in a post this week that subsequently went viral, said, “Well, that escalated quickly.” Later editions of the book, which was a runaway success in 1970, by the way, replaced that disturbing line with the marginally less terrifying, “For an instant you even consider grabbing her right there in the street.” So, like, rape but not “rape.”
Four decades have passed since that original line was written, and in that time there has been a lot of desperately needed awareness-raising about sexual assault. So, it isn’t particularly remarkable that a dated book espouses such disturbing attitudes. Here’s what is fascinating about that rape-normalizing passage: The book is the progenitor of what we know today as the pickup artist community. It not only helped mainstream the term “pick up,” but it’s also referred to as a biblical text among some of today’s leading “pickup artists” or PUAs.
So in the interest of understanding the foundational philosophy of pickup artistry, I decided to read this retro tome. It’s amazing what truths are revealed by looking at a movement in its earliest incarnation.
Male entitlement to women’s bodies is a running theme throughout the book. “As a man, it’s your right, your privilege to approach a woman any time you want,” it reads. At one point it suggests, “Next time you move in on a girl, think to yourself, I’m doing her a favor.” You see, this entitlement is justified by the notion that women are perpetually asking for it: “Why do you think they wear skintight jeans and low cut, slinky blouses? Why do you think so many of them have completely stopped wearing bras and panties? Just to look pretty? Don’t be crazy. They’re showing you their breasts and behinds to stimulate you. To make you want to go to bed with them. Because every girl knows if her body is packaged well, you’ll try to pick her up.”
This sense of entitlement unsurprisingly leads to brutish aggression. “Show her that nothing, neither her feigned look of disinterest nor the pack of girls she hangs around with, is going to stop you from having her.” Then there’s this obliviously creepy recommendation: “If you see a good-looking girl in the lobby of a building, make sure you get on the same elevator as she does. When she gets off, follow her — even if it’s not your floor.” And there’s nothing like a captive audience: “Try to pick up receptionists and executive secretaries,” writes Weber. “They’re sitting ducks because they’ve got to stay behind their desks. And they’ve got to be polite to you.”
All this stalker-ly, rape-y behavior is accompanied by a total incredulity at women’s defensiveness. Weber writes of a friend who got angry at a female stranger who didn’t respond to his catcall on the street. He writes, “It got him so angry in fact that he ran after the girl who’d just snubbed him and began to berate her. ‘You know, all I did was say, hello … But you walk by as if l’m trying to rape you or mug you. What the hell’s the matter with you? Why are you being so damn suspicious? Don’t you have enough confidence and decency to return a fellow human being’s greeting?’” This harassment is presented as a successful pickup technique, because in the end, his friend gets the girl!
This, my friends, is the very underpinning of what is called “rape culture,” a term I initially bristled at as an imprecise buzzword but increasingly embrace because it is just so unfortunately real. Just sit for a moment with this book’s beliefs: The idea that men are entitled to women and should stubbornly persist even in the face of rejection. The idea that women’s fear of assault is something to disregard or outright belittle. The idea that as a man it’s common to find yourself “walking down the street … minding your own business” when a women assaults you with her beauty. The injustice! You weren’t asking for trouble, it’s just this hot chick walked by and you just had to grab “her right there in the street.” If she didn’t want the attention, she should have covered up!
Men are so deserving of women that any pickup means are warranted, even lying. “Tell a girl she has the cutest ears you’ve ever seen and she’ll love you for it. Even if in your heart of hearts you know you’re only slinging the bull,” writes Weber. At one point in the book, he advises, ”The woman you’re approaching must be made to feel you’re head over heels in love with her . . . Half the time you want to pick up a girl it’s because she’s got a set of breasts that make you dizzy. Or the face of a movie star. Or the hips of a belly dancer. Not because she has some magnetic inner quality. … But you can’t let them know that.” Then consider this tip: “March in a peace demonstration, even if you’re secretly for war. I’ve heard countless stories of guys who’ve picked up fantastic broads at peace demonstrations.”
In comparison to these boorish observations, modern pickup artistry might seem almost enlightened. At least today’s PUAs know to avoid normalizing rape — I mean, when they aren’t driving their self-described “rape vans” or raising funds for “seduction manuals” that advocate ignoring women’s “no’s.” Ehem. But seriously, they know better than to write a line like, “For an instant you even consider rape.” That doesn’t mean that the entitlement, aggression, dishonesty and disrespect has disappeared. It’s fundamentally ingrained, as this book shows. Now, it’s just subtler — or, well, “subtle” in the land of fuzzy-hat-wearing PUAs.