Melbourne protestors shut down seminar by pick-up artist Julien Blanc

Originally published through Hijacked

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The meeting interrupted

A Melbourne-wide stand-off between feminist activists and “pick-up artists” took place from St. Kilda to South Wharf last night, culminating in self-described “executive dating coach” Julien Blanc and his disciples being escorted off a riverboat by police.

Blanc, a member of pick-up collective ‘Real Social Dynamics’, is currently on a world tour hosting seminars for men on how to get women to sleep with them. The catch? His tactics include everything from the merely insulting to what is clearly sexual assault – something he is evidently so proud of he has posted videos online of him approaching women in the street and forcing their heads into his crotch.

Unsurprisingly, a fairly large number of decent people have taken issue with Blanc’s seminars/presence on this Earth. Online campaigning has led to Blanc’s original Melbourne venue choice, the Como Hotel, refusing to host the event. Others quickly followed suit, and Blanc and his followers found themselves unable to find a location in which to bond over their creepy, dangerous attitudes towards women.

So they decided to improvise.

St. Kilda pier was their first choice of meeting place; followed by an attempt to hold the seminar in a random huddle in the middle of the street outside Flinders Street Station. This change of plan fooled exactly none of their detractors, however, and it wasn’t long before protestors came streaming through the tram lines from the pier to Blanc’s new location.

They easily surrounded the clearly uncomfortable men boys who had come to listen to him speak, and completely drowned out his ability to do so with chants of “listen loud, listen clear, sexism’s not welcome here” and “no to violence, no to sexual assault”among other, less publishable, phrases. The assembled pick-up artists responded by fleeing onto a nearby riverboat.

That’s when things got really interesting.

Protestors quickly surrounded the boat and physically prevented it from leaving shore, forming a barricade of people along its edges. One particularly outstanding participant leapt onto the boat and grabbed the rope used to keep it docked, refusing to let go. It was, for most people present, the only time in recent history they’d found themselves actively trying to stop a boat. As one astute crowd member commented, “where’s Scott Morrison when you need him?”

After an initial period of confusion, activist organisers explained to the Riverboat Melbourne crew exactly what is was that was being hosted inside their vessel, and they too got on board with the general sentiment of the milling, angry, vocal crowd; cancelling the booking, and calling the police to assist in the efforts to have Blanc and his followers leave. One crewmember, ruefully massaging his neck and surveying the dramatic scene, told me; “I’m not happy about it. I’ve definitely learned a lesson from this.”

The night ended on a satisfying note, as the seminar’s attendees trickled in a walk of shame off the boat behind a stern-faced line of police officers, who were now keeping them away from the by now fairly substantial crowd of vindicated onlookers.

How does this shit even happen?

It was a far cry from the start of the evening, when representatives from both sides of the issue were gathered in a somewhat awkward truce in the St Kilda sunshine, waiting for Blanc to show up. It was a surprisingly civil congregation of people that could only be described as polar opposites: pick up artists and feminist activists, engaging in discussion. Sure, conversation got heated, but it was still heart-warming seeing members of both camps humanised and talking.

Two fresh-faced 19 year old country boys – later to be seen with their heads down slinking off the riverboat – were explaining their side of the story to an activist. Apparently they deplore violence against women, but their involvement in the pick-up artist community is the only way they’ve been able to talk to them – even when that involves persisting in the face of clear signals that a girl isn’t interested, or getting a girl’s attention by unexpectedly grabbing their hands in the street.

“Did you ever think these girls don’t react badly when you do that because they think you’re going to assault them?” the young feminist activist asked.

“What, in the middle of the street!?” the country boy replied, genuinely incredulous. It was obvious that the constant threat of sexual violence and intimidation and the way that affects women’s behaviour was not something that had ever crossed their minds.

The exchange reminded me of an interaction I’d had not half an hour before, while was sitting alone in a park. A man I’d never met yelled out at me “how old are you? Old enough for me?” I mumbled “no,” and got up to leave, when he added; “Oh, are you leaving? Sorry.”

Without thinking about it, I heard myself responding; “Nah, you’re alright, I was leaving anyway.”

It wasn’t alright. I was enjoying eating my chips in the sun. I was annoyed that some random dude was able to interrupt my afternoon, put me on the defensive, and make me feel like a sex object with no provocation. Yet, like most women, my automatic reaction was to spare his feelings and get out of there as quickly as possible. One person’s harmless comment is another person’s harassment, and it was pretty clear when listening to “pick up artists” explaining themselves that the gulf between the two is seismic.

You couldn’t help but think those boys, no matter how golden their intentions, were getting their advice on how to talk to women from the wrong people. To avoid being chased down by an angry mob, maybe next time they should try listening to what women have to say.

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