Reverse engineering the pervdar.

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.


2 thoughts on “Reverse engineering the pervdar.

  1. As always, you make some good observations. A few points: It is VERY important for women to set and maintain clear boundaries. If YOU feel uncomfortable with someone or a certain situation, there are multiple ways to address it . . . but most women prefer to ignore it out of fear of being perceived as “rude” so the behaviors continue indefinately and frequently escalate. Because many men feel that a failure to object constitutes approval or acceptance. If you tell someone no, or “you are making me uncomfortable, please stop doing that,” the normal reaction is to apologize and stop doing that. Ignoring no or insulting the offended party is a clear sign you are not dealing with normal social ineptitude, which means it is time to stop being civil.


  2. As:

    (1) Someone on the autism spectrum who has done some of the above, resulting in mega-bad feelings, without ever realizing it because no one told me anything specific so I just figured there must be a horde of invisible immortal unicorn/gremlin/leprechauns with me everywhere casting anti-charisma spells.

    (2) One who now helps fellow “Aspies” dispel the UGLies (by spelling out what makes most humans tick [and particularly women] and how to avoid tripping the alarms) and helps everyone else dispel their ignorance a bit.

    (3) Father to a little girl.

    Thank you for posting this!

    Extra wrinkle in this game: A woman (or for that matter anyone else) may start out ignoring a problem, not wanting to be rude. Sometimes she (or he) does a slow burn and then, without warning…BOOM!

    And yes, I go by qui tacet consentire videtur (silence means consent). In large part, that’s how society works. (Among other things, that’s how you can cover your you-know-what by sending someone a letter or email outlining what [you believe] you and they have agreed to. If you don’t hear back within a reasonable time — and you have no reason to believe they didn’t receive it — you can assume they’re in agreement. Indeed, if they do respond questioning some things you said, you can also assume they’re OK with everything else.)

    But it also can be a matter of necessity. If I don’t know which particular action the other person might have a problem with, do I just nail myself to the floor and sew my mouth shut?

    So yes, by all means please speak up both civilly and directly if there’s an issue. Either I’ll stop doing whatever you need me to stop doing, or we can work something out. (Eg, if you want me to back up from you but I wouldn’t be able to hear you standing further back, I can back up and then lean in and present my ear to you.)

    Keep up the good work!


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