It seemed apt that Blanc’s richly deserved comeuppance was happening on the same night as the Amazing Babes event: the former was an exercise of female power, and the latter a celebration of it. The next morning, that exercise of female power was complete: Victoria Police confirmed in a tweet that Blanc had left the country after Scott Morrison used his ministerial powers to cancel Blanc’s visa. This is the same Scott Morrison who has presided over a system of offshore detention so barbaric that two young Iranian men have died from its tender mercies; the same Scott Morrison whose response to allegations of the sexual assault of women and children in the offshore detention facility in Nauru was to launch an inquiry that would not just examine whether the claims were true, but also look into the possibility that the claims had been fabricated for political purposes. Is it feasible that Morrison has had his own feminist road to Damascus moment, or does Morrison’s willingness to cancel Blanc’s visa point to a more complicated landscape of power relations within patriarchy, and women’s roles in maintaining those power relationships, than we might like to assume?
We might start by looking at the particular kind of heterosexual masculinity that Blanc exemplifies, and its relationship with the broader patriarchal power structure. Anyone who has followed the Blanc situation will by now be aware of his misdeeds: the infamous video of Blanc describing his exploits in Tokyo (“I’m just romping through the streets, just grabbing girls’ heads, just like, head, pfft, on dick, head, on dick, yelling ‘Pikachu’”); the fact that he started his own Twitter hashtag, #ChokingGirlsAroundtheWorld; and the series of morally indefensible tweets (featuring such pearls as “It’s a lot easier to treat her like shit if you objectify her first” and “My favourite sexual position is the one where I cum and she doesn’t”).
“His tweets are so offensive that he often adds the hashtag #justkidding, a semantic dick move that allows him to have it both ways: he’s just kidding, but also just kidding about being just kidding. “
The grand guignol nature of these misdeeds – almost perfectly calibrated to upset feminists – gives away that they are not entirely meant in earnest, but are rather performative. The video of Blanc in Tokyo features a small number of ambiguously edited shots of him pushing young women’s heads around; although that’s a gross enough violation of women’s boundaries and more than enough proof that Blanc is a turd of a human being, it’s not quite the ‘romp’ of oral rape that Blanc would have his seminar audiences believe he was inflicting on the women of Tokyo. His tweets are so offensive that he often adds the hashtag #justkidding, a semantic dick move that allows him to have it both ways: he’s just kidding, but also just kidding about being just kidding. In any case, though, Blanc’s words – with all their layers of braggadocio and sarcasm – can’t be taken as an uncomplicated report of his actions or intentions. Rather, he is performing a particular mode of heterosexual masculinity, that of the grotty young straight man, and doing so in order to provoke a reaction from women.
This “grotty young man” mode of heterosexual masculinity – so prevalent that you could call it an archetype of the contemporary west’s cultural imagination – isn’t just restricted to pick-up artists, although the field is surely rich with them. You can also see it in any number of all-male or male-dominated environments: sporting teams, with their gross “team building exercises” that frequently occasion the sexual humiliation of other men or the actual rape of women; all-male colleges or fraternities, with their toxic environment of privileged hedonism and the enabling fiction that “boys will be boys”; buck’s nights and the whole bizarre concept that they represent “one last night of freedom” which is best spent getting completely blotto and receiving lap dances. The grotty young straight man archetype is obsessed with a small number of pursuits – bodily functions, partying hard, getting laid, and, perhaps most importantly, cementing social relationships with other men. It’s no wonder “gang bangs” are a fixation within this cohort: when several men have simultaneously have sex with the same woman, that woman becomes the means of a sexualised social exchange; the young men can, essentially, fuck each other without having to fuck each other, nor abandon the privileges of heterosexual identity.
But while the grotty young straight man archetype is the recipient of any number of privileges afforded him by western society at large – such as a lack of condemnation and reduced censure or legal consequences when his actions inevitably harm others – it’s important to note that the grotty young straight man does not sit at the apex of social privilege. That position is reserved instead for the former grotty young straight man, he who has had a wild youth but who has now ‘straightened up’, usually through the love of a good woman, and who is now a productive (and re-productive) member of society. The grotty young straight man who does not transition from this role into a respectable family man will, sooner or later, find himself not the object of admiration but of pity: a kind of sad Peter Pan figure who in their mid-thirties is still inventing disgusting new sex acts to define on Urban Dictionary.
“It’s no wonder “gang bangs” are a fixation within this cohort: when several men have simultaneously have sex with the same woman, that woman becomes the means of a sexualised social exchange; the young men can, essentially, fuck each other without having to fuck each other, nor abandon the privileges of heterosexual identity”
That the grotty young straight man thrives in environments without a female presence is telling, because the grotty young straight man’s identity is tied in with resistance to female power. While patriarchy, broadly speaking, disempowers women and empowers men, it doesn’t do so entirely en bloc; indeed, as many women who don’t identify as feminists have discovered, there is a special class of privileges and powers given to women who conform with social expectations of feminine behaviour.
In patriarchy, women have the power to set standards for male behaviour both inside and outside the domestic sphere, and to punish men through the denial of affection or sex when those standards are breached. Women are often tasked with the affective labour of disciplining small (and not-so-small) children – one need only think of the cultural prevalence of the stern hausfrau archetype and her opposite, the aloof, permissive dad whose catchcry is “You’ll have to ask your mother”. Similarly, the grotty young straight man is made presentable by the affective labour of a woman, usually his first “serious” girlfriend, who painstakingly housetrains him and ever-patiently forgives his various transgressions against social propriety. The grotty young straight man will rebel against the imposition of female power, but will not seek to escape it entirely, because he knows that in submitting to female power he will eventually make of himself a fully-fledged heterosexual man in possession of all of the privileges that this role entails. As for the women the grotty young straight man encounters, those can be divided into two broad categories: good girls and bad ones, or, as the title of Anne Summers’s feminist classic has it, Damned Whores and God’s Police.
Pick-up artistry appeals to wannabe grotty young straight men; the men who attend Real Social Dynamics’ seminars are attracted by Blanc’s outrageous performance of this archetype. (Unlike Clementine Ford, I’m not totally convinced that the men who attend who attend Blanc’s seminars are entirely clueless about heterosexual social interaction – if that were the case, why would Blanc feel the need to ham up his grotty young straight man persona?)
“Those of us who identify as feminist and took place in actions against Blanc should feel proud of our work, and should celebrate our achievement. “
What Blanc teaches is not so much the means of obtaining sex from women, but the means of performing a certain male identity for an audience of other men. That this identity might occasionally be attractive to a certain kind of woman – although any sane person would surely have to take Real Social Dynamics’ claims of clients’ sexual success with a heaping tablespoon of salt – does not mean that pick-up artistry is fundamentally about teaching men how to pick up women, just as #gamergate is not actually about ethics in video game journalism, nor is the government’s immigration policy actually about preventing deaths at sea.
The identity of the grotty straight young man is predicated on his conflict with exercises of female power, which explains why Blanc is so keen to provoke feminists. So much of the power given to women in patriarchal societies is the negative power of interdiction: the power to veto family plans, to refuse to give sex or affection, to ban movies or books or booze. The young men attracted to the grotty young straight man archetype experience female power in this form: in the space between one domestic sphere (their childhood home) and another (their eventual marriage), they resent women’s power to say no. Thus Blanc’s defenders can talk, seemingly with straight faces, of a powerful “global-feminist machinery”, and of the “bullshit” that women use to keep men down, because they are conditioned to see all exercises of female agency as repressive to men.
Blanc and Real Social Dynamics have been hounded out of Australia, and it appears that his frosty reception here has alerted feminist groups in other places around the world to Blanc’s abhorrent antics. Those of us who identify as feminist and took place in actions against Blanc should feel proud of our work, and should celebrate our achievement. But while we do so, it might also pay to reflect critically on the forms of power that we have wielded to get this result, and how those forms of power might owe more than a little of their force to the systems of patriarchy that we are trying to dismantle.