Israel's pickup artists: A self-help community's dark side

The community promising men success with women isn’t as positive and exciting as it may seem – it often reinforces damaging attitudes and behaviors.

(photo credit: SUSANA VERA/REUTERS)

It is natural to be concerned about the women in our lives. As our society is – let’s face it – not always equal in its treatment of the sexes, women are often threatened by things that harm men far less. In recent years, a disturbing trend of men with hatred geared toward women (and more insidiously, themselves) has surfaced. While there are different levels of this and their modes of thought may vary, this development is alarming – and not just for women.

This report covers a topic you may not have heard about before, both in its prevalence in Israel and abroad. So arm yourselves with the knowledge of these communities, to ensure that the men you know – sons, grandsons, colleagues, friends – don’t get taken in by these sometimes seductive movements, and so that the women you know don’t fall victim to such harassment, or worse.

Instinctively, it feels as though there is some sort of connection to be made between “pickup artists,” as they call themselves, and incels. 

People involved in the “pickup game,” as it were, are often those with low self-esteem looking for a self-improvement program specifically centered around different ways to engage in conversation – and quite a bit more than conversation, as a matter of fact – with women. 

Incels (short for involuntary celibates), on the other hand, believe that they are either too ugly to attract women or too unwell, or both. They therefore toss and turn in a sense of self-righteousness, as though women owe them sex. This is a common theme among their ranks.

 ONLINE GROOMING: Are incel online forums harmless or sometimes a form of incitement? (credit: Charlesdeluvio/Unsplash) ONLINE GROOMING: Are incel online forums harmless or sometimes a form of incitement? (credit: Charlesdeluvio/Unsplash)

While they exhibit some opposing behaviors, the foundations seem to be the same: Low self-esteem, specifically surrounding women; a seemingly sexist approach; and a search for some community that relates to their sense of inferiority. The sexism exists in different manners in the two groups; while the pickup artists believe they have “won over” women if they have convinced them to engage in contact with them and have thus taken claim over them, the incels believe that women are inferior and are under the obligation to give them something – oftentimes sex.

The two groups have some overlapping lingo, too. Both discuss having “game,” for instance, meaning the ability to flirt with women and succeed in getting a phone number, a date or a sexual encounter. Both groups also differentiate between an “alpha male” and a “beta male.”

“An alpha male has to speak up and you have to get the girl and if she says no, it’s probably because she’s testing you,” Aviv Regev, a former member of a large Israeli “pickup” community, told the Magazine. “Being an alpha means being persistent, you have to keep at it until she says yes. You only walk away when she very clearly tells you ‘no.’ The thing is, most girls tend not to do that, because it’s very strange to look a stranger in the eye and say, ‘Hey, leave me alone.’ It’s not something most people can do.”

On the other side of the spectrum is the beta male.

“A beta male is your average, run-of-the-mill nerd guy,” Regev explained. “For example, in school, everyone knew this one kid who was a bit quieter, maybe walked with a slouched back and couldn’t really keep eye contact, didn’t smell the best, his hobbies were video games and reading books: How a nerd is portrayed in a lot of movies, for example. Being a beta male is a ‘simp,’ so to speak, trying to please her as much as possible.”

The terms alpha and beta males are derived from a theory on wolf packs stating that there is a leader of the pack, the “alpha,” and there is his second-in-command, the “beta.” The theory was disproved; wolves travel in packs by family with the leaders being the parents.

‘Sarging’ for women

The way these pickup groups function is as follows: Members are heavily encouraged to go “sarging” for single women. At meet-ups, seminars and even private lessons, they are taught tricks and methods of approaching these women, often after spending thousands of shekels to be taught. They practice on random women in the streets who, naturally, do not take very kindly to being a form of target practice.

One woman, for example, shared on a popular Tel Aviv social media page, “To all the men in the course ‘How to Hit on Women in Every Way Imaginable, Even if They Are 20 Years Younger Than You’ near Dizengoff Square that bothered me and my friend a thousand times this evening and especially to those who are responsible for this thing… If you’re already forcing upon me to participate in your experiment, don’t send someone more than one guy per evening… It’s pathetic and unrealistic! And by now, creepy. I’ll add that I told one of them that I’m uninterested in continuing the conversation and he insisted and insisted upon continuing.”

This, in turn, was shared as a screenshot in one of the main pickup Facebook groups, to which one commenter responded, “Bro, don’t let anyone shame you on the basic desire to not be a loser like most men.”

Another commenter wrote, “As long as what you’re doing isn’t illegal, there’s no problem.”

This woman is not the first to have felt harassed or manipulated by these groups.

“A few years back, I went on Tinder and I matched with this guy,” Naomi told the Magazine. “We started to build a connection between us. When we still hadn’t met, he would say in the evenings, ‘I’m sorry I’m busy, I’m out with friends.’ I didn’t think anything of it. I later found out that he’d been sleeping with other girls. I mean, we hadn’t even met, so it was okay, and he kept on saying that he didn’t want to be exclusive.

“I decided to Google him and I found pictures of myself, I found screenshots of our conversations, I found posts by him saying, ‘She’s not that attractive but she’s a bit on the cute side.’ I could see what other men were saying, what they thought of me. He didn’t stand up once for me. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable, so I sent him a screenshot and asked him, ‘Is this how our relationship is going to be?’ and then I blocked him.”

Naomi explained that there’s nevertheless a certain appeal to these men; they will say whatever you want to hear. The problem is that none of it is real; they’re only saying that to get something from the woman.

“I decided to do a bit more digging, and I found this whole community on a bodybuilding website,” she explained. “They call them Tinder threads where people would write tips about how to pick girls up, they would get advice. They were making fun of these guys that weren’t getting laid. I was very aware that he was using all of these tricks on me that he was doing on every other girl. 

“At the end of the day, they have no respect for the fact that you’re a person and that you don’t want to be exposed on the Internet to all his friends.”

 MEME POKING fun at the mindset.  (credit: The Implausible Girl/Twitter) MEME POKING fun at the mindset. (credit: The Implausible Girl/Twitter)
Confusing weakness for kindness

Still, there is something to be said about a self-improvement program focused on confidence. 

The program they often follow is called Real Social Dynamics (RSD), started by a company by the same name, which taught men how to improve their success with women. Their reputation began to collapse when people began to realize that they weren’t merely teaching success with women; they were teaching men how to dominate women. 

Julien Blanc, one of the lead teachers, received a lot of backlash in particular for allegedly encouraging men to abuse women. Men who had followed his methodology were being arrested left and right on sexual assault or harassment charges.

While RSD no longer exists, its methods are still in practice today. “I had a very powerful personal experience with someone who changed my perspective on emotions, and I discovered that the people around me were unable to understand the conclusions I had reached,” T., who preferred to go unnamed, told the Magazine. “At that time, I happened upon a video of someone else on RSD. It was a 30-minute lecture, and to my amazement, he just went through all these things I was thinking about, the ones that no one understood, one after the other. From that moment on, I started to regularly consume his and other guides’ content on YouTube.

“I thought there was truth in what they were saying; that there are things that work and things that do not,” he continued. “I believed there were components of my behavior I could change to be more effective. But taking a step back, I think I was really ashamed that I was a virgin. In my head this was proof that I was a ‘loser.’ If attractive girls – who everyone wants their attention – choose me, then I’ll feel good enough.”

The group finds these men who feel unsure of themselves surrounding women and teaches them to speak with them. Or at least, that’s the premise. In reality, they sell thousands of shekels’ worth of courses and private lessons, all while demeaning the students who are anxious or unsuccessful.

“I remember this feeling of competitiveness: you want to be out there, you want to be the guy who has the most girls,” said Regev. “These pickup guys were really afraid of being kind, for example. They confused weakness for kindness. They portrayed anyone who didn’t stand up with shoulders back, constantly making eye contact, as being very bad. 

“You keep thinking even more about how you’re not an alpha male, you’re just a beta male, because you don’t have the courage to go up to a girl. You have to not give a damn.

“It’s a lot of trying to prove to someone that you’re good with girls,” he added. “The general vibe is that if you can’t pick up a girl, you’re a loser. Essentially, they do really give you a bad feeling when it comes to, ‘why am I not successful with girls?’

“I felt there was so much charlatanry and/or people talking nonsense that I was tired of following what they were,” T. said on the matter.

 DO YOU have to be a ‘Chad’ to hit it off with a woman? (credit: Simone Pellegrini/Unsplash) DO YOU have to be a ‘Chad’ to hit it off with a woman? (credit: Simone Pellegrini/Unsplash)
Like leaving a religion

Leaving this group of guys, according to Regev, was a lot harder than one might expect. He described it as being similar to leaving a religion.

“I made an Excel sheet, near the end of 2019, and I wrote down all the numbers I had from girls, and I had 150 numbers,” he recalled. “I wrote them all down with the names and everything and by the end of the day, I didn’t date any one of these girls. They gave me their numbers because they just wanted me to leave them alone. The guys from the group were saying, ‘Wow, dude, you have courage, you’re getting numbers, the girls like you’ and stuff like that.

“There was this one time I was going from my army base to Azrieli Mall [to hit on women] and on the way there I had a little panic attack,” he admitted. “I felt like I had to do it. I was so compelled to go there even though I didn’t want to go there. I was after a long day in the army, I wanted to go home, workout, meet with friends and go to sleep, but I had to prove my dating life. I thought that if I’m the only one who feels this way, I’m just making up excuses, I just have to work harder.”

A concern for women’s safety

What do these pickup guys have to do with the far-more-extreme alternative of incels?

Regev, who at the time of his involvement with the pickup world was also close friends with an incel, said that both groups hold a hatred for women.

“When the pickup guys speak, you can hear a bit of hatred toward women,” he explained. “‘I had sex with her, so she lost.’ We don’t understand women, we’re afraid of women, so if we’re afraid of something, as human beings, we start to dislike it, and then this dislike turns into hate.”

He added that it felt as though most members of the group developed a dependency on it; they seemingly worshiped the leaders and instructors and felt they had found a family in this mentality. He said the people who fell into pickup felt something was missing in their lives and that pickup was the way to fill the gaping hole.

This is, once again, very similar to how people fall into incel culture. Incels often take to forums on Reddit or 4chan – websites with little or no filtering of extremist content – to share their dilapidated worldview, claiming sex would solve all their problems but “all women are whores.”

Posts saying things like “I’m a lonely loser but I hate women so much, I can’t even imagine loving one” or “All women are disgusting whores and I gave up going for them” pollute these forums. In the most extreme cases, they express appreciation for men who have gone out and murdered women, reading their manifestos like it’s a religion. Indeed, at least eight murders or mass murders are thought to have been carried out by self-indentified incels.

It does not seem to be a slippery slope of getting from the lesser evil to the most depraved community; the differences are nevertheless massive. But the foundations are not unalike. And in that, there is a growing concern for women’s safety everywhere. ■

This article is the first installation in a series of articles on cults and cult-like groupings and organizations in Israel.

 REDPILL OR blackpill? (credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr) REDPILL OR blackpill? (credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr)

Community vernacular

The following are key terms or phrases in the pickup community, the incel community or both, which are key to understanding their mentalities and approaches.

  • Becky (n.): A “typical” woman with the stereotypes of going to Starbucks, having Ugg boots, etc. Considered inferior to Stacy (see “Stacy”). 
  • Blackpill (n.): An extreme version of redpill (see “Redpill”); a form of nihilism that states that physical attractiveness is the primary determining factor in dating success. This is the basis for the incel ideology.
  • Chad (n.): An ideal male specimen who can attract nearly all women easily.
  • Close (v.): To succeed in convincing a woman to give you her phone number, to go on a date, to kiss, to have sex, etc. To “full-close,” or FC, is to convince her to have sex with you.
  • Field report (n.): After going out and flirting with unfamiliar women in the street, men in these groups file tactical reports on how their evening went, what strategies they had tried, alongside photographs of the women they flirted with. Other men in the group typically respond with congratulations or with constructive criticism.
  • Game (v.): To participate in a challenge of sorts in which you convince a girl to give you her number or go out with you.
  • Incel (n.): An abbreviation of “involuntary celibate,” often used by men who believe that while they are too unattractive or mentally unwell to acquire a relationship with a woman, women are inferior to them and owe them.
  • Negging (v.): To degrade a woman to make her feel less confident so that she may be more vulnerable to your flirtation tactics. 
  • Normie (n.): A normal person who has average interactions with women. This is usually something both pickup guys and incels frown upon and make fun of.
  • Redpill (n.): A free-thinking attitude that prefers the truth over the fallacy, no matter how difficult it may be. Derived from the red pill in the movie The Matrix. This term is often used in cyber culture to refer to pickup guys.
  • Sarge (v.): To go to a highly populated area such as a mall or city center and begin conversations with unfamiliar women in the street.
  • Simp (n.): Derived from the word “simpleton”; someone who goes out of their way for the person they are attracted to. 
  • Stacy (n.): The female counterpart to a Chad; the woman who is unattainable to anyone who is not a Chad.