I routinely get asked by women “How can I tell if a situation is social or asocial?” The question is based on Rory Miller’s classification of types of violence, which can be found here.
On the surface, this may seem a simple question. If someone’s pointing a gun at you and screaming to hand over your money, you can be pretty sure it’s an asocial situation. If someone’s starting to puff up and asking you “what you’re looking at”, it’s probably social. The distinction between social and asocial violence can be pretty obvious, provided one is willing to accept that violence can come in both flavours.
The situations that seem to put many women in a spin are much less clear-cut. They generally involve a guy (occasionally a gal) at work/where they live/at their gym/church/club/whatever, who makes them feel uncomfortable. The guy hasn’t done anything major, and definitely nothing they could report him for, but he constantly does little creepy things. He may be saying slightly inappropriate stuff, being overfriendly, standing too close, hounding them, and invariably not responding to subtle clues that the women in question are not happy with that behaviour. These situation often go on seemingly forever. They never seem to get worse, which prevents the women in questions from feeling justified in taking action, but they also never go away.
Is it social or asocial? Are you dealing with someone socially awkward, a perv enjoying your discomfiture, or a predator testing the water? As an ex-hitchhiker, can I reverse-engineer how my pervdar works and come up with a list of criteria other women can use in their assessment?
To date, the answer to the last question is “no”. I have repeatedly tried and failed. Then it occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t with the answer, but with the question itself.
Why do women want to know if a situation is social or asocial? Mostly it is because we are trapped between two fears, that of sexual predators and that of a social faux pas. We don’t want to be assaulted, but we also don’t want to over-react towards an awkward guy by treating him like a perv. So we end up stuck, acting as if our lives or social standing depended on our assessment, and wasting mental energy on trying to resolve this dilemma.
This would make sense if there were only two courses of action: tolerating the awkward guy or attacking the perv. That’s just not the case. We can actually use our words to see if we can resolve the situation or at least clarify it. We can issue a clear, calm, and polite request to cease the behaviour that is bothering us for the simple reason that it is bothering us. without launching accusations. “Could you please stand further back? I feel crowded out when people stand close to me.” Even if it doesn’t work, the response can give us a bigger clue as to what is really going on.