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Pick-up in the 1970s, and the beginnings of game

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A personal hero, and very hairy lady’s man Barry Sheene in the 1970s

‘What makes a man sexy?’  According to Eric Weber’s 1970 classic How to Pick Up Girls, it’s long hair.  ‘So if you have an army crew cut or a marine mo-hawk, and you want to do better with women … try looking a little more like a shaggy violinist. According to the girls, long hair is dynamite!’  How to Pick Up Girls is a very 1970s publication, coming from a place of cultural excess – not just in terms of hair, but also for its exuberant display of masculine confidence and sex appeal.

Despite being the very first modern pick up book, it’s a very crude and direct account of what women think, filtered through a Weber’s own anecdotes.  Weber’s simplicity cuts through some of society’s judgements about sexuality, in a time when young men and women were both actively questioning the meaning of traditional gender roles.  The post sexual revolution politics are evident in the book’s attempt to ‘uncover’ what women really think about sex, drawing as it does on the author’s ‘interviews with 25 beautiful girls’.  Weber uses the quotes to reflect quite a ‘un-feminist’ truth for the 1970s – women actually enjoyed being picked-up.

Reviewing the very brief history of game in parts 1 and 2 of my blog, such an upfront approach reflected a time when ‘pickup’ became a thing in itself.  Weber’s book showed the increasing acceptance of the idea that two people could meet in a public place and escalate their mutual interest in such a way that it could quickly lead to sex.  With the death of the concert-induced utopian ideal of the sixties (such as Woodstock, Newport and The Isle of Wight), the politics of sexual liberation would manifest itself in other popular fora such as Playboy articles, swingers parties and the new cultural practice of picking up women – however much these cultural forms favored the man’s preference for uncommitted sex.

In a very odd combination of feminist politics and pick up culture, Nicole Ariana’s 1972 How to Pick up Men! even tried to replicate Weber’s success for the lady’s market.  But unlike Weber’s book, How to Pick Up Men! failed to appeal to women for the obvious reason that it’s not that hard for many young women to attract a man’s sexual interest.  Both books are a good example of the shift towards an increasing acceptance of pick up culture in the 1970s; and the varying success of these two publications underlies the fact that men and women are biologically different, especially when it comes to picking up and being picked up.

What do women want, in the 1970s?

As second wave feminism emerged in the early 1970s, young women were able to explore their sexuality in a less socially restrictive society.  Many women still wanted the conventional, monogamous relationship which led to marriage and children during her early twenties, but increasingly the ‘progressives’ were also keen to participate in the new sexual market place.  The most disruptive elements of radical feminism had yet to be felt by society in 1970, as it was still a time of radical possibilities – for both sexes.  Ever the optimistic opportunist, here’s what Weber had to say about the women’s liberation movement:

Even with Women’s Lib coming into its own, it’s going to be a long time before the average chick can approach a strange man without feeling like a whore.

The solution to meeting women in this new, liberating society was to go out to places where women could be found.  This included venues like museums and bars, but also more everyday locations like parks and public transport.  Weber even suggested men join ‘ballet classes’ or hang out at ‘an all-girl college’.  The location didn’t matter; the point was that as women were exploring their interests together, being a part of that meant you could increase your masculine attractiveness to them.

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Eric Weber’s 1970s classic – the first book about ‘game’

But rather than encourage men to feign an interest in women’s liberation to get laid, as is the aim of today’s liberal ‘brogressive’ feminist, Weber’s guide to pick up placed a far greater emphasis on honesty.  Men still need to be confident, and in practice this simply meant approaching women wherever you meet them – in your natural state.  In contrast to today’s best PUA advice, picking women in the 1970s didn’t involve ‘negging’ or elaborate pick up lines but instead involved giving her ‘nice’ compliments:

If you’re a genuinely nice guy, or at least know how to act nice, then you’ll be good at picking up girls.  Remember, when it comes to picking up chicks, nice guys finish first.

Contrary to today’s advice How to Pick up Girls avoided all the flashy techniques that post-feminist game offers because an unprompted conversation with a woman was itself a completely novel thing, regardless of how lame the conversation topic may have been.  As any PUA knows well the effectiveness of a single pick up line is often dependent on context (and the woman’s initial interest, of course), and in the 1970s the simple effort of showing interest was enough to get many women interested.  Here’s a sample of Weber’s classic, albeit very ‘cornball’, lines:

You’re a Pisces, aren’t you? (Most girls are fascinated by astrology).

You look sensational in that! (To a girl trying on a blouse in a clothing store).

How long do you cook a leg of lamb? (You’ve spotted a pretty chick in your grocery store).

Are you Italian? (She has such fantastic dark eyes is why you ask).

You’re the second prettiest girl in the world. (naturally she’ll want to know who’s the prettiest).

Leaving aside all the complimentary and situational openers, my favourite in the list is this one:

Hi. (Simple but direct and friendly).

I think any man willing to try this line as an ‘opener’ will certainly gain from having to improvise a response, which is why I’d certainly recommend it.

In a new era of pick up culture though, Weber asks the reader this important question about the pick up artist: ‘How does he do it?’  The answer has more to do with ‘inner game’:  ‘Because he likes himself.  He feels that the very fact that he’s a pleasant, decent human being means that he’s worth other people’s time and affection’.

Self-esteem and confidence are the solution to the lack of male social skills.  But making the approach a normal, expected part of your life was what the book was really about.   In the 1980s PUAs like Ross Jeffries’ used lines like the ‘Manny the Martian’ opener, and others discuss different uses of ‘the neg’ – all of which are more elaborate ways of doing the same thing – building confidence.

However, women’s sense of entitlement and inflated egos may have desensitised them to the everyday compliments and niceties that might have worked in Weber’s day.  It’s interesting to think that in the 1970s niceness was a marker of status and class, in a way that being arrogant and cocky is in today’s post-feminist pick up culture.

How to Pick up Men … or be picked up by them

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Nicole Ariana’s book, the ultimate redundant guidebook

The format of How to Pick up Men! is identical to Weber’s book, using interview material from ’25 of the hippest, sharpest men’ to explain what makes a woman desirable.  Just like How to Pick up Girls the book draws attention to the many ordinary situations where seduction might take place.  Some of the pick up lines are identical to Webers, but others seem a little weirder by comparison.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

Your head interests me. (Explain you’re studying phrenology and you’d love to know whether he has a bump behind his left ear).

Do you believe all those terrible things they say about cigarettes? (To a guy lighting a cigarette.  Real smokers love to talk about their theories).

Let me help you with that. (Said in jest to a man carrying a heavy suitcase.  He’ll be amused by the role-reversal of it all).

This last pick up line is a good example of the author’s insistence that men like more assertive women.  Though the book does encourage women to be more confident, How to Pick up Men! differs from Weber’s book in this one key area: it spends a great deal of time building up its feminist credentials.  In a way it might be seen as an early ‘sex-positive’ guide for women, with a strong element of feminist propagandising about what men actually find attractive in women.

In suggesting that women should enjoy picking up men (in exactly the same way that women enjoy being picked up by men) the feminist ideals in the book often downplay the importance of physical attractiveness.  Much like the self-esteem bolstering books written for women today, Ariana echoes the feminist fantasy that men are less attracted by looks than they are by a woman’s personality.  Ideally both are important, but this story from a man called Henry shows why women shouldn’t worry too much about maintaining a good figure:

Anyway, one day we went to the beach together and while she was changing, a short, chubby-ish girl with jeans and a bikini top saunters by eating an ice cream cone.  She had a tiny little belly hanging ever so slightly over the top of her jeans.  For some inexplicable reason, I just wanted to chew on that little belly … it looked so sexy.

The more beautiful a woman is the more most men find her threatening.  Men think they’d like to posses gorgeous girls, but basically they’re afraid of them.

Nothing could be clearer as a case of feminist projection: men like assertive women, and yet are afraid of girls who are too sexy.  In the context of the early second wave feminist movement, the subjective recasting of male desire sought to change what was attractive about women.  The attractive women as just like a man (assertive and direct), only less trim and less – well – feminine.

As a book which seeks to teach women about picking up men, this wishful thinking also extended to how men feel about feminism.  Right out of the brogressive’s play book, Ariana cites the following account from Adam to how sexy the modern ‘enlightened woman’ is:

From the bad publicity women’s lib has been getting you’d expect liberated types to be a bunch of threatening dykes.  But it’s not so.  Just the opposite, in fact.  It’s a lot less scary to go out with a chick with a good head – like the girls I go out with now – because they tell you what they’re thinking.  And they take an active part in the relationship.  If a girl wants to sleep with me, she lets me know, and if she enjoys it, she tells me so – which is a real turn on for a guy.  The girls I used to go out with made me feel like I was deflowering a virgin and I always felt guilty, as if I were being a boorish pig because I enjoyed a girl’s body.  Now we both enjoy it.

‘Contrary to what you might expect … good men find all this liberation sexy.  They get the feeling that an important woman chose them (as much as they chose her).’  Role reversals, chubby women getting undressed on the beach and bra burning feminists – they’re all hot, according to Ariana’s book!

The contradictions that we see in today’s feminist movement were ever apparent back then, with the book also telling women that wearing perfume and high heels, as well as having carefully manicured nails were also among the sexiest things a woman could do.  I’m not sure how attractive the male-female role reversals would have been with cosmetics and eye-liners for men.  Well, maybe the makeup was an exception – it was the 70s after all!

The new pick up culture

How to Pick up Girls and the less successful How to Pick up Men were books which introduced young people to the new pick up culture of early 1970s.  Both books gave young people advice about what the opposite sex might find attractive, and to varying degrees drew upon the emerging feminist narrative to show that picking up members of the opposite sex was as easy as saying ‘hi’ – despite how difficult it may have been for some women to make that very first move.

Ariana’s advice to women from 1972 reads just like an intro to Sex and the City in 2002, affirming the fantasy that women were just as happy pursuing anonymous, commitment-free sex as men:

How do you find a man for a one-night affair?  I think the best place is a singles’ bar. Better than half the guys there are on the make and if you pick up on their line, you’ll be where you want to be in no time – in bed.  Which is a fine place to be when you’re in the mood.  And you’ll probably learn what men have always known: that an affair with no catches can be incredibly liberating.  And fun, too.

Selling the idea of a one night stand to a man is not such a difficult task, which is why Weber’s book sold over 3 million copies.  How to Pick up Girls didn’t receive much attention from feminists at the time, but today there are hundreds of amateur ‘feminist’ blogs quoting sections of both books – all smugly trying to show how sexist we all were back in the 1970s.

Feminism, pick up and the continuing history of seduction

Game is a genre that encourages men to be comfortable with their own sexuality, and not to be ashamed of their desires in the company of women.  Harnessing male sexuality positively, whether it is driving a woman to the canasta club on a Sunday evening or chatting up a girl at a museum, game also teaches men that many women are naturally curious about male sexual desire.  This is a theme that connects books from the 1940s, 1970s and 2000s.  Women still find men sexually interesting, but since the 1970s there has been a distinct change in the suggested styles, content and the boldness of approaches.

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The 1978 film adaptation of Weber’s book ‘How to Pick up Girls’

As feminism became increasingly mainstream throughout the 1980s, the emphasis on the chivalrous and gentlemanly approach to picking up women had to change.  Greater female entitlement, combined with the eased restrictions on sex, meant that women no longer found conventional approaches interesting enough.  In the new, mixed-gendered public spaces of work and recreation, men chatting up women by simply saying ‘hello’ and talking about mutual interests, fashion, popular culture or other safe topics, quickly lost its appeal.

In the 1980s pick up came into its own and gave men a more scientific and systematic approach to female psychology, and in doing so helped to deconstruct the feminist myth of sexual equalism that began to permeate through mainstream media and politics.  As part 4 of this history shows, pick up became strategic as a measure to counter the effects of feminism, a movement which itself was increasingly seen as a a form of female game – with sexual and political implications.

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