Last week The Legends Academy’s Ben Alexander was back in Auckland to hold one of his regular workshops on ‘modern dating skills’ for men. The Academy claims to reject the blatant misogyny of the old-style PUA culture, but what does it offer men instead? Branko Marcetic joined the audience to find out.
If our Google searches tell us one thing, it’s that being single isn’t easy – especially for men. Variations of the phrase “how to pick up girls” have been popular search queries for almost as long as the internet itself has existed. For a long time, the go-to experts in this were men known as pick-up artists (or PUAs), popularised in books like Neil Strauss’ 2005 bestseller The Game. But the PUA movement soon earned a backlash for dispensing what many viewed as questionable or even misogynistic advice for picking up women.
The decline of the PUA is exemplified by the case of Julien Blanc, a “female attraction expert” whose “tips” include choking and grabbing women, who has been banned from several countries, including Australia. Just last year, the PUA group from which Blanc first emerged, Real Social Dynamics (RSD) – which has come under fire for its misogynistic “teachings” – cancelled a planned event in New Zealand after a public outcry.
Enter the Legends Academy, founded by Ben Alexander and Chris Duncan, which appears to be part of a new trend in the dating industry in which coaches and “experts” reject the aggressive, misogynistic, and increasingly unpopular approach of the typical PUA in favour of what seems to be a kinder, gentler style. Gone is “negging” – subtly putting women down in order to lower their self-esteem enough to fall for you. Out is “peacocking” – dressing outlandishly in order to receive attention. The point isn’t to manipulate and trick women so they’ll sleep you with, Alexander tells his pupils. Rather, he wants women to fall for “your most naturally attractive self”.
According to its website, the Academy trains thousands of men each year across the world “to have the Confidence, Dating & Relationship Success and Financial Freedom they deserve,” including in New Zealand. Alexander, its “head trainer,” gives free seminars and workshops on modern dating in cities around the South Pacific, ranging from Perth to Singapore – and, frequently, in Auckland – as well as private coaching and “in-field” training, imparting the basics of what he calls his “Natural Attraction Blueprint.”
Although the Academy claims to be focused on improving men’s results in all areas of their lives, dating success appears to be its almost exclusive focus. And fair enough – dating can indeed be a mine field for anyone, let alone for those lacking some of the more essential social skills that others are blessed with. Why shouldn’t they be able to get advice for those who have successfully navigated the choppy waters of singledom?
The Academy advertises its free seminars on Meetup.com and Facebook. It was while browsing the latter that I received an offer for a free ticket to one of its seminars in Auckland, held last week. Curious, I made my way down to the Mercure Hotel on Customs Street and sat in. I soon began to question whether there really was all that much separating the worldview espoused by the Academy and the more toxic one advanced by other PUAs.
The Legends Academy programme does appear to genuinely want to offer a kinder, gentler PUA system. Alexander tells seminar attendees that he developed his programme because he was tired of “manipulating girls and making them feel bad to make himself feel good.”
Talking to Cleo last year, Alexander was critical of PUA methods, telling the magazine that experimenting with them had made him “addicted to trying to get every woman to be attracted to me,” and tying his self-esteem to women’s reactions to him, “which is obviously very unhealthy”.
By putting on a front or using canned pick-up lines, he cautions, women can’t see the genuine part of you. The best way to be a lot more confident – and therefore successful with women – he advises, is to be who you are.
Yet there’s a disconnect between how the Academy’s programme is presented and its actual reality. The Academy frequently promotes itself as helping men with their relationships, yet the seminar never covers the stock-standard talking points—communication or compromise, for instance—that you might expect to hear at a relationship seminar.
Rather, the focus is overwhelmingly on meeting a girl, taking her home and sleeping with her. Alexander spends a long time elaborating on a Mount Everest analogy where the summit is, of course, sex, explaining that you can only reach the top by making every important stop on the way. If a man goes home with a woman and then she doesn’t want to have sex, he says, it’s because he didn’t do everything he was supposed to in seducing her.
As proof of the results of the programme, Alexander flashes a screen comprised of photos of himself with various women he’s been with. He talks at length about one of his former girlfriends, an Austrian model, “the hottest chick I’d ever seen”, complete with photos demonstrating her attractiveness. A grateful former pupil’s private message outlining in gratuitous detail his night with a woman he picked up thanks to Alexander’s tips is given a prominent place in the seminar. It all suggests the Academy’s talk of relationship help is little more than window dressing.
In Alexander’s own words, he wants his pupils to be what he calls “selectors”, actively choosing from a number of different women rather than settling for those they don’t want or find unattractive. He himself is such a “selector”, he says. He is now in a relationship, he tells attendees, “with a girl that I’ve chosen from many, many, many women”. “I choose to be in a relationship,” he stresses, suggesting that a large portion of men in relationships are forced to make do with the first halfway decent person that comes along.
This philosophy appears to stem from Alexander’s personal experience. As his Legends Academy bio states, “before beginning his Personal-Development journey, Ben was terrible with women, he had no confidence and he was working in a job he didn’t like.” He had “no choice in women,” he explains to attendees, and a “rubbish girlfriend” who cheated on him. But he chose to stay with her, thinking that if he didn’t, “how do I know I’ll get another?”
In addition to this, for all the talk of letting women become attracted to the genuine, real you, Alexander’s advice doesn’t appear to be about helping men forge any real connection with women they’re interested in. Noting that body language is a large part of communication, Alexander argues it largely doesn’t matter what a man says to a woman. “If you ever hear me to talk to a girl, most of what I’m saying is absolute nonsense,” he tells attendees.
More worryingly, it quickly becomes clear that while the Legends Academy eschews the outright misogyny of the PUAs of yesteryear, much of its programme still lies on a bedrock of sexism.
Alexander tells attendees that a woman will “punish” a man by not letting him “have” her if he doesn’t make physical contact with her. He describes various “closes” – such as kissing a woman, getting her number, or taking her dancing – as “getting her used to complying with you”.
When explaining why it’s important to have the ability to pick up women anytime, anywhere, he breaks down the numbers and claims most men on average know 25 women in the dating age range. “Of those 25 girls, how many are actually attractive enough that you’d date them?” he asks the audience.
“Are women logical or emotional?” Alexander at one point asked the attendees of the seminar I went to. “Emotional,” came a chorus of murmurs.
“But how many of you know how to deal with this?” he asked.
In Alexander’s view, women make decisions based on emotion while men make decisions based on logic – which is where men fall short.
It makes logical sense for women to be with you, he tells attendees, but the reason they don’t want to is that they’re you not making them feel how they should. Women derive their logic from their feelings, he says, being the highly emotional creatures that they are.
In the world of the Legends Academy, women appear to have little say in the matter of relationships, sexual or otherwise. This is purely up to the man.
How many times, he asks, have you heard a woman say she really likes a guy, but just doesn’t feel a “connection” with him? Don’t take those words at face value: That just means the man hasn’t made her feel the way she ought to around him. Similar to a woman’s decision not to sleep with a man at the end of the night, it’s not really a choice she might have made for specific, rational reasons – it’s a product of the man’s failure.
This ethos seems to infuse Alexander’s worldview, not just when it comes to dating. At one point, he approvingly says, “If you’re born poor, it’s not your fault, but if you stay poor, it is,” citing Bill Gates as the originator of the quote. (Although many on the Internet credit the quote to Gates, there’s no evidence he actually said it). Ignoring more deeply ingrained structural issues, he tells attendees that people are more likely to become poor or overweight if their family is, too, because they’ve absorbed the same mindset from their parents that led them down this road.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Alexander himself started out as a pupil of Real Social Dynamics, spending “over $5,000” to attend the group’s course in the United States many years ago. While Alexander appears to now spurn the PUA movement, it was when he took the course and travelled to the United States that he says “everything changed” for him.
The Legends Academy is clearly trying to avoid the overt misogyny of PUAs like the men behind RSD, placing the focus more on boosting men’s confidence. Yet the fact that even an apparently milder iteration of PUA culture like the Academy is grounded in a pretty glaring sexist worldview speaks volumes about the nature of an “industry” which feeds into a culture of male entitlement towards women.
You also have to feel for the guys who attend the Legends Academy seminars. While I have no doubt Alexander’s training works for some men, there’s also little reason to believe this is any significant percentage of the lonely attendees who come to hear him speak. Alexander himself seems to acknowledge this, ending his seminar by telling attendees as they depart that it breaks his heart most of them won’t end up taking his techniques on board.
But is it simply a matter of unwillingness? Throughout his seminar, besides the questionable belief system at the heart of the “programme,” I found myself wondering how useful Alexander’s tips actually would be for these men, many of whom appeared to have trouble simply holding a conversation with women or holding down a relationship, and a number of whom were middle-aged or older and not likely to spend time loitering at bars and clubs to “practise”, as Alexander did in his early days and where he still conducts “infield trainings”. Alexander was instructing them how to pick up models and not to “settle” for women they found unattractive, but it seemed like the troubles these men were experiencing were far more basic.
Sure, these men needed to feel confident and sure of themselves. But it appeared they also needed more fundamental help, such as learning how to hold a conversation. And at the end of the day, some things, like charm, can’t necessarily be taught.
An episode at the seminar illustrates this. Explaining how to open a conversation with a woman, Alexander advised attendees to simply introduce themselves. A short silence followed. “What happens after that?” asked one attendee. “We’ll get to that,” said Alexander. We never did get to that.
The Legends Academy course is therefore a twofer: It imbues its lessons with a sexist worldview that broadly tells men women are simply there for the taking; and it gives men superficial advice that only a few will ever be able to use, while also heaping guilt on them for their failings.
The fact that the PUA world appears to be evolving from the toxic misogyny of the likes of Julien Blanc and the rest of the RSD alumni is perhaps a sign of some mild social progress. But the fact that its essentially sexist worldview continues to attract desperate adherents is a sign of how far things still have to go.
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