REVIEW OF SEDUCTION: MEN, MASCULINITY and MEDIATED INTIMACY by Rachel O’Neill. Polity Press. 2018 (HB/PB) 230pp.
review by ashley morgan, cardiff metropolitan university, uk.
In this book, Rachel O’Neill traces the way in which seduction has become an ‘industry’ that generates knowledge and skills for heterosexual men to seduce women. O’Neill situates the seduction industry on the same continuum as self-help guides and self-improvement.
O’Neill draws on the work of Ros Gill and her comprehensive studies of women’s magazines. Gill found that women were called upon to commit to prospective sexual relations and inherent appearances and intimacies in order to be the best they could for prospective male partners. But in order to do this, they were also required to appear as if this work was a personal, autonomous choice. Therefore, the labour was concealed, yet subject to constant monitoring. As media outlets have become digitized and subject to intertextuality, there are now greater and more diverse opportunities for self-monitoring and discursively produced information. Moreover, such outlets have lost the overbearing notion of advice around sexual relationships and intimacy and now percolate through the many and various outlets of information available which produce conventions of ways of being sexual, therefore, O’Neill tells us, ‘intimacy is mediated’ (15).
In neoliberal and postfeminist times, how do men engage with women? The extensive and detailed ethnographic research that O’Neill has conducted indicates that certain groups of men, with very little shared commonalities apart from education and heterosexuality, desire the ability to seduce and have sex with women. This might seem like a fairly mundane and primitive concept. Sex has always been bought and sold, but now the process by which it is possible to obtain sex itself has become commodified and worthy of academic scrutiny. Somewhere along the line, in a neoliberal world of high education, commerce and limited time, serendipitous meetings between men and women which lead to love, a constant narrative in a number of romantic films from the turn of the millennium such as Sliding Doors (Howlett, 1999), Serendipity (Chelsom, 2001) and The Wedding Planner (Shankman, 2001) have declined – even if they were ever possible. Instead, the neoliberal concept of paying for and then receiving a service has been applied to virtually everything including, it seems, to the concept of seduction. Seduction is now being sold by training companies as a ‘skill’ to be acquired, through regular disciplinary practices and financial means. O’Neill is at pains to refer to the kinds of masculinity that she is researching into is that of the men who affect the trappings of hegemonic masculinity.
The desire for seduction appears to come from the way that men see women as having gained more power and ground, perhaps especially in relationships and neoliberal hook-up culture. Many men feel marginalized because of this and need to ‘take back control’ of potential romantic and sexual relationships. These men are overtly middle class and educated, therefore, they desire modes that appear as an academic form of education in the art of seducing women.
This book has been meticulously researched and is written in an extremely accessible manner. O’Neill immediately sets the scene by diving straight into descriptive accounts of attendance at seduction seminars and we are allowed access into a very personal and masculine space. Ethnography as a method is methodically outlined in addition to the theories of neoliberal masculinity. O’Neill is not afraid of telling us about getting access to groups and, sometimes, of failing to do so and about sometimes being the only woman in the room. Moreover, there is an excellent postscript in the rear of the book that outlines the ways in which she had to negotiate her position as an academic researcher and as a woman researching into masculinity. This is an extremely useful book for students undertaking ethnographic studies and qualitative interviewing.
This is an extremely timely book and one which contributes to the growing academic discourse on the impact of neoliberalism on masculine subjectivities. This research contributes to that propagated by the ethnographic work of Cornwall and Lindisfarne et al. in Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (1994) and updated in Global Masculinities: Masculinities Under Neoliberalism (Cornwall, Karioris and Lindisfarne, 2016). Seduction sits ably alongside other recently published books such as Work That Body: Male Bodies in Digital Culture (Hakim 2019) and Masculinity, Labour and Neoliberalism: Working Class Men (Walker and Roberts 2018) which suggests that there is still considerable scope for research into masculine subjectivities.