In case you missed it, a buzzing, cologne-drenched swarm of pickup artists attempted to take over the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto, Canada. Luckily they were stopped in their tracks by a flurry of Twitter activity that eventually forced the Eaton Centre itself to get involved. The event crumbled after the mall’s social media team tweeted that the “health & safety” of Eaton Centre shoppers were the top priority in the midst of forthcoming pickup tornado. Apparently for the men who inspired this safety warning, trying to get laid at the Eaton Centre is a numbers game. If you approach x amount of women, eventually one will take you up on your proposition. Evidently though, this scattershot approach to gettin’ laid doesn’t take into account the wrath of social media or preemptive maneuvers from mall security.
In the video embedded above, you can hear one Toronto pickup artist attempt to shine light on this creepy phenomenon. He explains that, “Some women who wear make-up and are desperate to meet guys—they go to the mall, hoping that guys will approach them. They show off their cleavage, they walk the streets, they do whatever to leave the house and be approached, obviously.”
This kind of pickup artist logic perfectly encapsulates the problematic outlook on women that these guys have. The fundamental message of this video is that women want this. It appears that this video is attempting to rally pickup artists in the face of the Eaton Centre's careful acknowledgement that such an organized swarm is a safety issue, while also completely failing to acknowledge the difference between being hit on by an interested guy and being harassed by someone who’s part of a cultish pickup crew.
A quick Google search for “Toronto Pickup Artists” will show you tons of online communities where these dudes can find each other—the same goes for “Vancouver Pickup Artists,” or “Montreal Pickup Artists." Spending any amount of time on these community pages leads me to believe these pickup artists are honing their manipulative craft to get one thing: sex.
I managed to grab a screenshot showing the original call to action for the failed Eaton Centre swarm before it was taken down, which you can see below.
This sounds more like sexual harassment than soul mate searching to me. The Ontario Human Rights Code defines harassment as, "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome." The Ontario Human Rights Association says it becomes sexual harassment when, among other things, "asking for dates and not taking 'no' for an answer," "making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching," and "making comments about a person’s physical appearance (for example, whether or not they are attractive)."
The event was deleted after hundreds of tweets were sent out to warn girls about the predators at the mall. These en masse pickup operations are designed by seasoned pickup “coaches” under the guise of helping insecure men come out of their shells and learn how to approach women. But for the love of god, these are not shy boys walking up to you with an endearing smile. These are well-rehearsed players who ambush woman after woman until a victim bites.
This Eaton Centre swarm began to unravel when Reddit user HoneyThyme submitted an account of a recent experience she had in a thread called "Something weird is going on at the Eaton Centre." In it, she described how men approached her twice in one day and again a few weeks later, all offering her the same pitch. The pitch is the key to the PUA's attack plan. It is supposed to make the men feel more comfortable, but it tends to have the opposite effect on their "targets." Her account is typical.
"I was in the area in front of Forever 21 when a man approached me. Very boldly he said, 'you're so beautiful, where are you going today? What's your name? I'd like to get to know you more, can we shop together?' I was a little taken aback, he was so forward and way too curious for my comfort," she wrote on Reddit.
The same thing happened to her 15 minutes later. She thought she was being pranked and asked if he knew the other guy, but he said he didn't and continued with his plan. "He was way too curious and hard to get rid of, just like the other man. I got a little spooked and went home." She wrote that the experience "left me feeling very uncomfortable going there on my own."
But she wasn't the only one. Reddit and Twitter users quickly described their own experiences. A friend of mine confided she had recently met a PUA outside a bar. He asked her to go out for a drink, but he was so smooth she ended up at his apartment before she realized the potential danger of the situation and bolted. These meetups may help some men come out of their shells, but they turn others into assholes that use these tactics as an opportunity to take advantage of women.
Check out this video by “Big Willie Style,” a Toronto pickup artist who made this video to show less experienced pickup artists how good he is at walking around Toronto and aggressively hitting on any and all women he can encounter. Some highlights here include Willie very awkwardly and insistently going in for kisses, repeatedly using the same generic pickup lines on several women, and ostensibly recording audio of him having sex with an unnamed woman that does not appear to be consensual.
Arguably the most disturbing part of this entire pickup culture is how normal it appears to feel for the pickup artists themselves. This pre-swarm exchange says it all.
Unfortunately this wasn't the only pickup event scheduled on arguably the worst day ever to hold such an event: December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It's also the 24-year anniversary of the l'Ecole Polytechnique massacre. Another group had one planned for Yonge-Dundas Square.
I phoned the Eaton Centre to further discuss their plan of action in the face of this pick up swarm, but no one returned my calls. Then I tried Junaid, whose number was listed on the initial meetup page, but it has since been disconnected.
Pickup artists are nothing new in Toronto. Most famous is Dimitri the Lover, a self-proclaimed sexpert and disgraced doctor with a history of sexual assault who brags about being able to "seduce and enslave sluts." He is often revered as some kind of sleazy deity among PUAs, and his relentless strategy has been appropriated into the style that pickup artists use today. Dimitri has helped pave the way for an abundance of 20-something men who are just itching to get their beast on. And when these "hungry for beast mode" PUAs get together, they organize flash mobs of creepy, straight dudes who have condensed meeting women into a gamble based on a manipulative, aggressive approach.
This game really does come down to the numbers in Toronto. One in 5 Canadians live in the greater Toronto area and almost half of the downtown population is 20-39 years old, almost double that of the suburbs and definitely more than anywhere else in Canada. This is a young city (median age is mid-30s according to the Vital Signs report) with a large population who has access to the Internet. When you combine this with the fact that Toronto is also home to more recent immigrants than anywhere else in Canada, men with little clue of how to meet women in a new city and culture, then it's clear to see why it's so easy to coordinate these swarms.
The very fact that the Eaton Centre had to officially respond to such an operation is indicative of the growing popularity these guys have. Given their persistent behavior, it’s not likely that these artists will be going anywhere anytime soon—but their flimsy, insistent approach is so easy to spot when you’ve become familiar with the pickup artist strategy, that hopefully women can start to dismiss these advances in record time.