I Turned The Game’s Neil Strauss into a Feminist

Eight years ago, I read the book The Game, the renowned bible of how to pick up women, profit from their insecurities, have sex with them quickly, and become a king among men… as one might put it. I did not like the book. However, the author, Neil Strauss, had a lot of evidence to support some really interesting gender dynamics. So I signed up for his mass email list and took the first step toward what would become an unexpected friendship.

My curiosity peaked when Neil notified his email list that he was creating The Society, a group of high-achieving individuals who would work together, as a community, to further improve themselves and the world. Being a self-improvement junkie, I wanted to know more. I orchestrated a plan through a mutual friend for us to meet at a party. Clearly, I had an agenda. Clearly, I was going to use my feminist agility (the ability to be both assertive & delightful) to secretly pull Neil and the whole Society over to the lady-team. As a long-time supporter of female non-profits, I believe that even the subtle minimization of women in the dating world can have much larger ramifications. This powerful Society would be fighting for equal pay and paid maternity-leave once I was done with them, right? If only life were so simple.

That night I also met Ingrid, Neil’s girlfriend, whom one might assume was a sexy accessory to abet the Master Pick-Up Artist persona. Ingrid is sexy, but more importantly, she knocked me off my judgmental pedestal with her intelligence, quirkiness, strength, kindness, and creativity. I wondered why a woman like her was with him. Ingrid and I hit it off that night, and through our blossoming friendship, I was given an open door to Neil’s world. I vigilantly stepped in…

It turned out that the Society was only for men. Yeah, so annoying. And when I expressed my irritation, I was met with an open invitation to all of the Society’s workshops and events… not what I was expecting. I started going and many assumptions faded away, as I began to know a man who wouldn’t settle for easy answers. Our friendship grew deeper, as we discussed violence against women, objectification, the media’s unreal standard of beauty, female leadership, and much more. I started to “call him out” on issues that pertained to the manipulation of women, and he always met me with an open mind that sought understanding and self-awareness. But considering his legions of male fans, I wanted more. I wanted him to take action.

Then he and Ingrid broke up. Jumping hastily backwards into old assumptions, I blamed him. I soon learned of his past unfaithfulness, and I was outright furious. Finally, he was revealing himself as the Pick-up Artist Misogynist that feminists, the media, and society at large all expected (and maybe wanted) him to be. Myself included.

I stayed close with Ingrid, and interestingly, she earnestly asked me to remain friends with Neil. She was worried that he wouldn’t have any wholesome friends left to help him through the break-up. I’ll never forget going to dinner with a completely devastated and miserable Neil. He was spiraling with questions, ranging from “is monogamy possible?” to “oh my god, have I lost the best thing that’s ever happened to me?” I responded, “Yes, you idiot. You lost her, and you’ll stupidly regret it forever” (or something angry and righteous like that). Honestly, it felt so easy to point the finger at him. I had been pointing that finger since I first met him. But after I said it, he looked at me with the most startling, emotional nakedness and said, “I’ll do whatever it takes to earn her trust back”… and I believed him. I never believe guys with past indiscretions who say crap like that. But, he said it in a way that pierced me to my core… and he would ultimately back it up with action.

I wish that I could recount the amount of therapy, reading, workshops, and even rehab in which Neil engaged during this time, but I assure you it’s more than any overachiever would attempt. He slowly began to regain my respect, as I witnessed him dig into the painful lessons of heartbreak, going deeper than anyone I’ve ever known. I learned the full extent of it when I read an early version of his book The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships, which unexpectedly illustrates the depths of self-discovery into which a human can venture. Honestly, I understand that this might look suspicious, since Neil is my friend, obviously I’m not objective. That said, I would not be writing this article if Neil hadn’t written this book. It changes the game… not “The Game” but rather, the game of his life, his story, and the much larger conversation. I shamelessly and profoundly want people to read the book.

In actuality, when Neil asked me to read that early draft, my “agenda” was finally playing out. He wanted to get my feminist take on it. I was so ready to dig in with my sparkly feminist teeth. And I was tempted, considering he explores some controversial worlds like polyamory and free-love cults. But as licentious as the book gets… I couldn’t judge. It is a wide-open window into his struggles with commitment and intimacy both throughout life and during that break-up. What I wasn’t expecting was how it pushed me to take a serious look at my own fears, my parents, my bad habits, my sexuality, my upbringing, my marriage, my ego, and everything in between. The gut-wrenching honesty and vulnerability helped me see everything in a new light. We’re all so imperfect. Men, women, people… all messed up.

I could finally see the real Neil Strauss… the human being. More than ever, Neil started to take intentional steps away from his former life. He hosted a full-blown funeral (casket, cemetery, et al) for his pick-up artist persona, named Style. He literally put Style to death, and for some reason, the news still dogged him for it. I began to wince when I saw Neil’s name dragged into the media fray every time a sexist misogynist said or did something horrible. If only they knew how he donated money from The Game to a domestic violence shelter. If only they knew how distressed Neil was over the negativity that pick-up artists were spewing. So many times, he shared with me: “I want to move the conversation to something much deeper and beyond a sleazy manipulation.”

A pivotal moment came when he asked me for the definition of “feminism,” something many men and women have asked me. It’s simply the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Neil’s response: “I would be worried about someone who didn’t believe that.” His expedition for personal growth surged as he put action in front of words, always meeting with the latest expert or activist to learn more. In the Society, I saw him healing childhood wounds and trauma, alongside other men, as they together consequently became something truly attractive to quality women. And with great love, I saw Neil take responsibility for how he hurt Ingrid and how he would repair it. He honored the value of a woman by bettering himself.

As a feminist, I could so easily point the finger at men… or I could point the finger at myself, because I’ve learned that’s the only finger I’m responsible for. While I was busy blaming Neil for reinforcing the patriarchal status quo, he was busy breaking it. I learned that very little progress is generated from the complain-and-blame-game, and perhaps if everyone took personal responsibility… we’d stop being so stagnant and we’d all start being effective.

Neil and Ingrid got back together and were married in 2013. It’s a happy ending because every day they seek more honesty and work hard to truly improve themselves. I never expected that one day I would ask Neil for marriage advice or watch him excitedly show me videos of his baby. Funny enough, I had my bachelorette party at his house… perhaps a past fantasy of his… ten gorgeous girls all sleeping in his living room. But no, he spent that night twenty feet away in his office writing The Truth. In August, Neil discussed an idea with me—to have a prominent feminist conduct a big interview for the October book release. I excitedly responded, “Yes!! Do it! You’re ready now.” Since then, he’s discussed the book with several well-known feminists. None of which have published his answer to, “Are you a feminist?” I wish they would, because he’ll respond with the truth, his truth. Something that took courage to find.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Los Angeles, CA

Chelsey Goodan writes movies that aim to inspire, delight, and advance a vision of equality. She has worked in many facets of the entertainment industry, learning the art of drama alongside Darren Aronofsky, and the art of comedy while acting in and assisting the producer of Superbad, Shauna Robertson. She’s the founder of the www.TheActivistCartel.org, a network of men and women dedicated to promoting women's rights. She actively supports the likeminded non-profits: A Call to Men, The Representation Project, and One Billion Rising. Additionally, she’s a Colorado native, New York University graduate, and a contributor for HelloGiggles. You can follow her spirited Instagram or TheListApp at @chelseygoodan.

Chelsey Goodan is an LA-based screenwriter trying to answer the plea for movies with vibrant, tenacious, quirky, and complex female leads.

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