The room was dimly lit, but even in the gloom I spotted him immediately, languidly propped up against the bar in his black tie, more handsome than any man has a right to be, surrounded by beautiful girls.
They parted like the Red Sea as I walked up to him, my darling gorgeous boyfriend. I’d spent hours getting ready: big hair perfectly tousled, red lipstick slicked on; short gold frock I’d broken the bank to buy.
He smiled, took my hand and said: ‘Look at you.’ Pause. ‘Your hair’s all over the place, your mouth is too wide and your nose is too big. But I love you.’
We didn’t have a name for his behaviour back in the Eighties, but today we do. It’s called ‘negging’ — an extraordinary seduction ‘technique’ based on criticism, hurtfulness and downright rudeness.
According to the Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of common slang, ‘Negs’ are ‘low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to advances’.
‘Negging’ has become big business. Seminars, blogs and online forums all purport to teach men how to ‘neg’ women into bed, working on the extraordinary premise that insulting and knocking her down will make her more malleable and willing. And that then throwing her a kind word or a scrap of love, like chucking a bone to a starving dog, is the most psychologically effective means of making a woman want a man.
It is, I suppose, the modern version of the horrible maxim ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’. And I am ashamed to say it worked for that long-ago boyfriend — and, to my utter horror, looks like it will continue to work for the next generation, too.
My boyfriend was an artful and instinctive negger long before it became what it is now — an international movement and supposed ‘artform’, practised by self-styled ‘pick-up artists’ (PUAs) who learn at the feet of so-called gurus such as Julien Blanc.
Barred from these shores earlier this month by Home Secretary Theresa May after an online petition was signed by 150,000 people, Swiss-born Blanc is the deeply misogynistic U.S.-based negger who exists at the extreme end of the PUA movement and charges men $3,000 (£2,000) to learn the dark arts of female manipulation at boot camps.
The general technique, seduction as subjugation, has gained a frighteningly large following, and demands that we ask why many modern men regard it with such disgusting glee. Blanc himself admits of his teachings: ‘It’s offensive. It’s inappropriate. It’s emotionally scarring. But it’s damn effective.’
When I first heard about ‘negging’ in the wake of the furore surrounding Blanc, I talked to my girlfriends, and many shamefacedly confessed to having been on the receiving end of such behaviour, as young women and into middle age.
One said she was recently approached by a nice-looking, slightly podgy man in the local pub, who piped up: ‘You’re brave wearing skinny jeans.’ Then: ‘I’m really turned on by big women.’
She’s a size 14. She replied: ‘Sadly for you, I’m not turned on by middle-aged idiots.’
At least as older women, if insults still get chucked at us, we are more likely to be equipped to hit back.
But it’s different for younger women, who seem much more susceptible to the PUA’s contemptuous subliminal message. And that message is one that ultimately aims to shatter self-confidence. After all, say psychologists, a woman who feels ‘imperfect’ almost always demands less from a partner.
Low self-esteem leads to a craving for approval. It may all be a tawdry and disgusting game to the ‘neggers’, but such behaviour has its roots in credible psychology.
How often have I listened to my friends’ daughters agonising over the casual if not callous way a boy is treating her. The agony of waiting for a text, the disappearance after sex, the insecurity, the way young men build them up just to knock them down. But that’s the ‘neg’ technique.
Young people are quite cruel in the dating game. They commit and marry a decade later than we did, so have a lot of time to play the field and to wreak havoc in it.
In today’s dating landscape, the horrid practice of rating the opposite sex on a one-to-ten scale seems ‘normal’ and widespread.
The basic principle here is that you can’t date a person who is three points higher than you — which is where ‘negging’ comes in. The six boy gets a ten girl in his sights and the only way to have sex with her is to make her feel like a three.
By devaluing her she becomes within his reach. In the process he makes a clever young woman feel like a loser — and a bewilderingly large number of today’s girls seem to embrace that feeling with something akin to martyrdom.
Why do they have such low self-esteem? Part of the problem lies within the existence of Facebook and Twitter.
The virtual world is doing half the neggers’ work for them. Every thought, action and encounter, is accompanied by a constant and often cruel online commentary that they’re not good enough, clever enough or slim enough. And as a result, in some strange way, they’ve become addicted to being put down.
There were certainly neggers on the scene when I was a girl, but we weren’t such easy prey.
Where young people today are in contact at all hours of the day and night, we spoke to boys on the landline telephone — how quaint! — for no more than a few minutes at a time. We made our own clothes. Now girls have to look cool, wear the right designers, be gorgeous, be funny, and conform to a rigid set of suffocating ‘norms’.
And it erodes their self-confidence. Just as it does dating a boy who’s obsessed with internet porn, for example, and who expects female bodies to look like the ones on the screen.
Or to be immersed in a teen culture where pop stars promote sexual availability, skinniness, and an unattainable fantasy of what a young woman is really like or should be.
And the PUAs, the despicable Blancs of this world, exploit that vulnerability.
The PUA culture really kicked off more than a decade ago with the bestselling book The Game, by Neil Strauss. It claimed to penetrate the secret society of pick-up artists, offering techniques and strategies with one sole purpose — having sex with women, then ditching them.
It doesn’t take too much surfing of Julien Blanc’s ‘manosphere’ — the informal network of blogs and websites set up by men in opposition to feminism — to realise that it is populated by a bunch of nerdy losers.
Hopeless, hapless men who feel lost in a world of accomplished young women. They feel emasculated, like spare parts, and the only way of hitting on women is to knock them down to their own size.
Indeed, I’d heartily recommend that every young woman reads one of these obnoxious sites to see exactly what they’re up to. Try seductionscience.com, perhaps, which claims to offer ‘advice’ to loser men. Some of it is too vulgar to be repeated in a family newspaper, but its ethos is summed up by Jesse Charger, the ‘seduction guru’ who runs the site.
‘This should be a mantra in your head every time you see a woman that stirs your loins . . . “She just wants to be bent over and have her hair pulled!” ’
Any woman who’s visited the site should be able spot the signs she is being ‘negged’ — before running a mile.
This story was written by Amanda Platell.
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