Smiling or grimacing (Credit: Instagram/justpearlythings1)

August 17, 2023   5 mins

“Men do not love you, okay? So stop thinking that they do. They tolerate you. They lust you. That’s it.”

The YouTube influencer SheRa Seven’s advice for young women is as sharp as the wings of her black eyeliner. To single ladies, she offers the following on sex: “The longer you hold off, the more that he will like you.” To married ones: “Don’t give it up every time he want it. Make him wait, make him work for it still. Gotta make him chase!”

This chaste strategy, promoted by straight-talking female influencers with lush lips and eyelash extensions, is everywhere at the moment, proliferating under TikTok hashtags such as #feminineenergy and #lawofattraction. The women who swear by it have been compared with the pick-up artist and alleged human trafficker Andrew Tate, which has provoked a whole host of articles explaining why this comparison is extremely wrong and offensive. But it’s easy to see how these women might serve as a sort of funhouse mirror to the manosphere pick-up artists.

And yet, the advice pumped out by SheRa Seven and her kind appears to have much less in common with its contemporary male counterpart than it does with the self-help gurus of eras past. At least superficially. “Gotta make him chase” is just a reboot of “play hard to get” — a central tenet of one of 1995’s bestselling books, The Rules. Subtitled, “Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right”, it effectively schooled young single women in the art of entrapping — that is, enticing — a man. The rules number in the dozens, but they all circle the same fundamental thesis: that a woman must use her feminine wiles to stoke a man’s prey drive, just as hunters use fake rabbits on a string to train their hounds.

On this front, The Rules differs very little from the advice of contemporary dating influencers — or indeed the archaic courtship norms that ruled before the sexual revolution. And as with the YouTubers whose CashApp usernames are prominently displayed on their video content, then as now there was a certain amount of grift involved. A Time magazine article from 1996 announced: “The Rules is not just a book; it’s a movement. Around the country, Rules Girls are
 paying $45 a pop to attend Rules seminars and forking over $250 an hour for phone consultations with authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider — neither of whom is a credentialed anything.”

Of course, the influencers would say that their own lives are credential enough. They are, after all, the patient-zero success story for the strategies they’re selling. In the Nineties, the women who wrote The Rules held up their own successful marriages as proof that their method worked; today, in a YouTube video entitled “How to receive princess treatment” with one million views, TheWizardLiz says: “I want you to look at this video and think, whoa, if Liz expects this much from her partner, then maybe I can expect my partner to at least give me some respect.”

That this brand of self-help is having a resurgence right now is hardly surprising. The sexual revolution, whatever its benefits, also blew up virtually all the social structures and strictures that used to regulate romantic entanglements, leaving young people to navigate a lawless, chaotic landscape in which there’s no guarantee that the person you’re sleeping with even likes you, let alone intends to commit. Almost every trend in this sphere — from the demisexuals who insist that requiring an emotional connection before sex represents a protected identity category to the ubiquitous therapy-speak that turns ordinary disappointments into pathologies — represents an attempt by young women to reestablish some sort of order, to make their romantic and sexual lives make sense. And when young women are less likely to be looking for Mr. Right than hunting for the red flags that reveal a man to be undateable, it’s not hard to see the appeal of imposing a rigid framework on the whole endeavour, even if that framework is rooted in manipulation and pretence.

And yet, there is one major difference: for the Rules Girl, all this romantic espionage was ultimately a marriage plot. Yes, there was a material element — the big honking diamond ring on the book’s cover isn’t exactly subtle — but there was also the question, right there in the subtitle, of a man’s heart and how to ensnare it. The endgame was love, marriage, a committed partnership. The endgame was finding your person.

The new Rules-esque paradigm, on the other hand, wants little to do with that. The woman who successfully employs these methods isn’t loved; she’s pampered, paid for, and worshipped like the goddess she is. If marriage is mentioned, it’s as a business arrangement, one in which the woman trades her presence — and, if her husband plays his cards right, sex — for being kept in the manner to which she’s accustomed. Men are meant to be milked for all they’re worth and summarily discarded the moment they step out of line. One of the movement’s biggest influencers, Chidera Eggerue, actually got her start as an evangelist for the “dump him” school of feminism, which is exactly what it sounds like. The central thesis is that any relationship which makes demands on a woman’s time, energy and attention — which is to say, every relationship, ever — is better off terminated so that she can focus on the only thing that truly matters: herself.

Posting under the moniker “Slumflower”, Eggerue bemoans the “internalised misogyny” of heterosexual women who yearn to fall in love, who see any value in it at all. “YOU are the beginning and end of everything wonderful that could ever occur in your life,” she has written. Other influencers, such as SheRa Seven, insist that romantic love itself is a lie and a pipe dream; if you want to experience real love, she advises, your best bet is to have children.

Given how hard it leans into a certain variety of hardline gender stereotyping, you’d think the business-minded dating strategy peddled by influencers would overlap with the burgeoning trad movement, represented by antifeminist commentators such as Pearl Davis. (Davis is the purveyor of such spicy-hot takes as, “Can we at least admit a chick not being a virgin on her wedding day is equally as bad as a man cheating??”) In fact, it has far more parallels with a mainstream, #MeToo-era, progressive view of relationships — one in which love and lust and fondness are replaced by a bleak, transactional vision of romance, in which the only meaningful currency is power, and the only thing that matters is who is wielding it.

As such, perhaps it’s no surprise that some people — including the influencers themselves — insist that there’s something feminist about all this. Mainly, this seems like the result of confusing power, the kind a woman can wield over a man through manipulation and subterfuge, with the empowerment of women at large. So if the man is reduced to an object — say, his wallet — and the woman gets what she wants, the woman wins, and hence
 feminism? As one outraged letter to the editor from a reader who took exception to the Andrew Tate comparisons insisted: “Some women tackle power inequalities in society by the manipulation, exploitation or indeed humiliation of men, but this takes place within the context of the gender hierarchy where men retain pre-eminence.”

Granted, if you imagine that women are the eternal underdog in a relationship landscape ruled by patriarchy, it’s possible to convince yourself that literally anything you do at the expense of a man — including batting eyelashes until he buys you shoes — is a form of female empowerment. Just ignore the part where it reinforces rather than subverts every gendered stereotype of women as hypergamous gold diggers. This is how men who manipulate women’s psychology to get them into bed can be derided as loathsome misogynists, while women who take a similar approach with men are yass kweened all the way home.

But they’re both playing the same game; indeed, they couldn’t exist without each other. And more than that, they’re making the same mistake with their suspicious, mistrustful approach to the opposite sex. The pick-up artists instruct that women need to be tricked into giving up sex, their sole asset in the dating marketplace; the dump-him feminists do the same with men and their money. What both fail to understand, or maybe don’t want to, is that the desire for love and companionship doesn’t break down along gendered lines. Most people want to fall in love. Most people want to find a partner. And most people understand that these desires are not grotesque weaknesses, but a normal — and, if you’re lucky, wonderful — part of the human experience.

Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.