Fawn-fight.

This is going to be a super-quick summary of a very large and deep topic. I’m going to put some links up, but please don’t leave here thinking that this is in any way a comprehensive blog. For more information on this I recommend starting with Pete Walker’s book, which is a damn good read anyway.

Most people have heard about the freeze-fight-flight response to threats or dangerous situations. All these responses have their place, and all can be successful in the right situation. The problems start when an inappropriate response is used against a certain threat. The freeze response that might have saved you from a sight predator will be less than useful against an incoming bus.

The same kind of semi-automatic response can come into operation during stressful or threatening social situations. Even though we may not be in physical danger, our physiological responses activate as if social conflict was life-threatening. As Rory Miller states referring to the “monkey brain” part of the “triune brain”, “the Monkey cannot distinguish between humiliation and death.” Our reactions may not be as extreme as in the case of physical danger, but our response may be classed under the same three headings. For instance, we might become verbally aggressive (fight), disengage and leave (flight), or not react at all (freeze).

Social conflict can also result in a fourth response – the “fawn” response. This consists of taking steps to appease the person we are in conflict with. Humans aren’t unique in doing this. Even dogs kiss ass to avoid or smooth over confrontations. However, humans in our society may be unique in increasingly trying to raise children to believe that this is the only appropriate response – that there is always an acceptable middle ground, that negotiation is always possible, that being ‘nice’ is paramount, that everyone can be talked down, and that every other kind of response is wrong. (If you wish to teach your children, or your inner child, an alternative view of this, I suggest “Horrible Stories I Told My Children”.)

Through a combination of practice and social conditioning, people can end up having a response that become their go-to response, regardless of how appropriate it is to a given situation. We end up so used to reacting in a certain way that we get essentially stuck with that type of reaction. Every encounter where that reaction is successful (for a given value of “success,” anyway; you might win a battle and lose the war, but fail to register that) will reinforce that response as the go-to response. Problems will ensue when people find themselves in a situation where that response is entirely inappropriate, but it’s so ingrained that it’s very hard to control. For instance, you can end up with someone so used to flipping out every time a situation causes them any kind of discomfort that they flip out in the same way at a mugger, at a traffic warden trying to issue them with a ticket, at a fast food employee telling them that they have no chicken nuggets, and at their child who urgently needs the toilet.

People can also end up with a basic go-to response, and a response they jump to if the first one failed. For instance, there are fawn-fight types. First they try to appease the person with whom they are in conflict, and if that doesn’t work, they go berserk. That was my automatic conflict style for a very long time.

That combination has the potential to work very well in some situations. Dalton wasn’t wrong in encouraging his bouncers to “be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” The sudden switch between those two responses has several tactical advantages. It gives you the element of surprise against ill-minded opponents, which can keep you out of the morgue. If your responses are accompanied by clear verbal clues, being nice until it’s time not to be nice can convince bystanders that you were trying to get along and you were pushed into being conflictual by the other party, which can keep you out of jail.

If done badly, or if done in the wrong situation, however, fawn-fight absolutely sucks. For asocial situations, fawning can make predators choose us as targets because they believe we will be compliant. It can also help predators manipulate us into situations where our danger is much greater – separating us from our friends, taking us to a secondary location, and so on. If our fight is not successful in getting us out of the resulting scrape, we can have serious problems.

Fawn-fight can also fail us in social situations, or asocial situations masked to look social by the perpetrator. People can’t read minds. Fawning can mean that nobody but us knows that we have a problem. If our response to being unhappy with what people are doing is to facilitate them doing it, they will carry on doing it. If they are not ill-intentioned, this could mean that we are unnecessarily putting up with something we find distressing.

The combination of fawn and fight can also make us look like the bad guys. In our heads, it may look as if the situation has escalated to the point where we were forced to take action. From the outside, however, it will look as if out of the blue we just lost it and flipped out at a poor bastard for no reason at all. No warnings, no explanations, nada; just a sudden explosion. In a safe situation, that can make us look not only as if we’re in the wrong, but also unstable, or at least unreliable.

If we are dealing with ill-intentioned people, the fact that we started out going along seemingly happily with the events can greatly reduce the help we get from third parties. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there suggesting that relying on third party involvement is risky at best, because not everyone around you wants to be a hero. However, acting as if we’re happy with whatever is going on can pretty much guarantee that nobody will come to our aid, even the heroes. If we do not manifest our distress or unhappiness in some way, people can’t know that something is wrong. If people don’t think anything is wrong, they will leave us to it.

 

 

The reason I’m subjecting you to this volume of word-vomit on this subject is this happens a lot. So many people ask so many times why someone won’t cut out a bad behaviour, why nobody is helping them, why something unpleasant keeps happening to them; yet they freely admit that all along they have never done anything to tell anyone that there was a problem. They expect people to know that they are unhappy, even though their fawn response is designed specifically to give no sign of that unhappiness. But now they’ve had enough of it, dammit, and something’s gotta change or someone’s gonna get it! And their fight response leaves everyone around them totally shocked, because nobody but them knew that there was a problem.

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Use your words.

One of the most common reasons that paralyses people when dealing with a creepy person, is that they are not sure whether the creepiness is intended. What if they don’t mean anything by that? What if the person is just socially awkward? The socially awkward card can also be used to justify a person’s ongoing creepiness. Poor bugger just doesn’t know how to deal with people. All we can do is put up with it, forever, until it’s pushed too far. At that point we will be entitled to wreak havoc on a person to whom we’d given no prior warning whatsoever that there was a problem.

That makes perfect sense, as long as we believe that it is iniquitous for us to ask others to change their behaviour around us, regardless of how subtle that change of behaviour may be or of how politely we ask. If we believe that anyone has the right to do anything to anyone, at any time, then of course we cannot ask a potentially-just-socially-awkward person to stop doing whatever is making us feel creeped out. Although, if everyone’s behaviour is inherently acceptable, then our asking for a change in behaviour should also be acceptable… wait, I’m probably overthinking this.

Maybe we believe that socially awkward people are incapable of learning to stop being socially awkward. That because they were socialised differently from us, or because they cannot read subtle, non-verbal clues, they are incapable of ever reaching our standards of behaviour. So we must show them consideration and respect by treating them as lesser people… wait, that doesn’t sound right either.

Maybe we cannot convey our displeasure to them because the only way we can do so is by exploding: by physically injuring them, or by kicking up such a ruckus that our entire social world would collapse around our ears. After all, it’s not as if we’re capable of expressing our needs and feelings in a calm and controlled fashion, right?

The truth of the matter is that the only way to distinguish between “someone who is just socially awkward” and someone who isn’t, is to talk the problem out. Which yes, sounds uncomfortable as hell, but that’s largely because we don’t practice it, so we don’t learn to do it right. We don’t do it because it’s uncomfortable, and it’s uncomfortable because we don’t do it. And seriously, the only way to break out of this is to do the thing.

I personally hate this sort of thing. I hate socially awkward situations with such a passion that I actually prefer when said situations reveal themselves to be asocial. So it’s not as if I don’t sympathise with anyone’s wishes to avoid social friction at all costs. But avoidance just isn’t a cure in this kind of situation. The problem needs to be addressed if it’s ever to go away.

Seriously, I can’t think of any other way, short of telepathy of some kind of psychometric testing by experts, to identify whether someone is “just socially awkward.” This is the ultimate and simplest litmus test for this kind of situation. Socially awkward people respond to being told when and how they are stepping out of line, provided it’s done with a degree of consideration. If they don’t, they are not “just” socially awkward: they are socially awkward, and some kind of asshole to boot.

Repetitions.

I’m having the following conversations way too many times. They are going to come up terribly gendered, because they are conversations women have with me about men. I have no reasons to believe that the issues per se are gendered, though. Guys, feel free to wade in – I lack the data.

 

“I’m being stalked!”

“What exactly is happening?”

“This guy sent me 84 messages yesterday!”

“How many did you send him?”

“Errrrrrrr… 83?”

“Did any of them involve you telling him to stop messaging you?”

“Noooooooo! I can’t do that! It would be rude/might upset him/might make him mad!”

Hmkay. If you are routinely exchanging messages with somebody, and you haven’t told that person you don’t want to be exchanging messages with them, you’re not being stalked. You’re having a conversation. A conversation that the poor bastard at the other end might have no idea is unwanted by you, because you haven’t told them and people don’t read minds. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference that you think they are sending you ‘too many’ messages, or that you want them to stop, unless you have told them this. If you do tell them, and they carry on, then you can start talking about harassment and stalking. But you need to tell them.

(Note: if you have expressed your disapproval in any kind of written format, keep a copy. That will be Exhibit A if ever there comes a time for you to call in the cavalry.)

 

 

“This horrible guy has got my number!”

“How did he get your number?”

“I gave it to him!”

“Why?”

“Because he was so pushy/scary/creepy!”

Someone is being unpleasant. So, in order to make the problem go away, you give them the means to contact you, so they can have further opportunities to be unpleasant at you. Makes perfect sense.

Yes, I understand that it’s hard to say no to scary people. Sometimes it can be genuinely dangerous, which is why I’m not advising it as a matter of course. If you believe that a straight no could put you in danger, lie. Give a false name, give them the number of one of those rejection hotlines number (866-740-4531 – I Am Groot), get a second mobile phone purely to wrangle assholes, do whatever is most likely to make the problem go away safely in those specific circumstances (but do not, under any circumstances, give them a friend’s number. I’ve seen that done. Colour me unimpressed.). Yes, I understand that that’s not what Assertive Liberated People do. I understand that it’s not going to help people practice enforcing boundaries. However, in some situations, it may be the best option to ensure that people get home safe. That’s pretty damn important.

I can’t tell anyone what to do without knowing the specific circumstances they are in. I am happy to tell them what to not do, though. Do not give your actual contact information to people who have already shown you that they are not nice. They’re unlikely to improve once they get to know you better.

 

“This complete stranger has got my contact details on X platform and he’s sending me horrible things!”

“Can he physically track you down?”

“No!”

“Can you report him and block him?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point!”

I do not know what the point is, then. Are we supposed to be collectively shocked by the existence of horrible people, because we were hitherto unaware of their existence? Are we supposed to be able to eradicate them from this world? Are we supposed to take the time to let them know just how much they’ve managed to upset us, because that works so well at discouraging people who upset people on purpose? What the hell are we supposed to do, beyond alerting the relevant authorities (or, if you have the time and ability, telling their moms), removing them from our presence, and moving the hell on?

 

“This guy wanted to buy me a drink, and I said no.”

“Then what?”

“Then he brought me the drink anyway.”

“Then what?”

“Then I had to drink it not to be rude/make a scene/whatever!”

“Then what?”

“Then he wouldn’t leave me alone for the rest of the evening!”

This kind of situation scares the hell out of me. If you have a problem with people who won’t take no for an answer, the one way guaranteed to make the situation worse is by showing them that by ignoring your nos they can get precisely what they want, at no cost to them. It’s only going to get worse. And the more they have invested on you (time, money, whatever), the worse it’s likely to get. In the short term, in the moment, it doesn’t matter why they’re ignoring your nos – whether they are entitled, poorly socialised, or evil. All that matters is that they’re doing it. And if they ignore the small ones, you cannot reasonably expect to respect the big ones. It just doesn’t work like that.

If you’ve said no to somebody clearly, and that didn’t work, it’s time to escalate things, not to back down. Raise your voice; make a scene; tell a bouncer; enlist the help of friends, or even helpful-looking strangers (funny how some guys happy to hassle a woman alone become deeply unhappy when confronted by a whole bunch of women). Using the resources around you, including the support of other people, doesn’t make you’re weak. It makes you smart. If nothing is working and nobody is helping, that would suggest to me that I’m in a bad place with bad people and bad things are likely to go down. Time to leave, safely, as soon as possible. But never believe that going along, however begrudgingly, with the first 49 things someone pushes you into doing will somehow make you able to get them to stop at the 50th, because that’s a broken boundary too many.

 

 

Calling the cavalry.

We interrupt our regular schedule to address a comment left by Jeff about this blog. It raises a number of points that I think really need addressing.

“In light of my other comments, let me make this clear:
If anybody treated me like that guy treated you, at a minimum I would email the builders merchants (in the US, Home Depot or Lowe’s, among other places) general manager and officially complain. Yes, complete with his name. (And needless to say Bcc: or Cc: myself.)
Any further contact from him, I’d call the police. Specifically refusing to take no for an answer may not be stalking, but it certainly is harassment.
Good luck!”

 

“If anybody treated me like that guy treated you…”

From one point of view, the guy broke the Data Protection Act to access my private information for personal purposes, which makes him dodgy at a minimum; he then refused to accept my negative response, which makes him even dodgier.

From another point of view, the guy asked me out for pizza, because he thought I was cute.

Yes, the circumstances and manner of his asking were such that I’d rather date a syphilitic baboon, but he gave no indications that his intentions were malicious. The point of view one takes will be dictated largely by whether we’re judging him by his actions, by his intentions, by the impact of his activities upon my person, or by a combination of these factors.

The guy didn’t say anything offensive or remotely suggestive. He didn’t try to threaten me. When I told him to eff off, he backed the hell down and was never heard of again. As for the manner of his suit, the myth of Male Persistence is still very active in older generations and in many subcultures. As a friend pointed out “I don’t think any leading man in a romantic movie in the 80s and 90s would have gotten the girl if he hadn’t done the exact opposite of what this article says.”  From what I know of him, I firmly believed that in his head he was being brave, and following his heart, and letting me know how much he caaaaared. Not so long ago, that strategy was commonplace. Nowadays and in my circle, it makes him a social imbecile.

 

“…at a minimum I would email the builders merchants (in the US, Home Depot or Lowe’s, among other places) general manager and officially complain. Yes, complete with his name.”

In this country (UK), this could have two likely results. Basically either the management would take it seriously, or they wouldn’t. If they did take it seriously, they could dismiss him (I’ve not seen that shop’s disciplinary policy, but breaches of the Data Protection Act are often classed up there with violence and theft). Given the difficulty of gaining any kind of employment around here, particularly with a dismissal under your belt, this would most likely mean he would lose his house, as he’s young enough to still have a mortgage. So I could have financially destroyed him.

Two problems with this. If the guy was, as I believe and he’s given me no reason to doubt, just a social imbecile, it would seem a rather excessive punishment. If, on the other hand, the guy was someone with ill intentions, I would find myself with a very angry enemy with nothing much left to lose. (Even if things had started friendly, I think most people could develop ill intentions towards someone who’d just essentially collapsed the financial fabric of their lives over a social faux pas. I know I would.) So if by farming out the conflict to third parties I was seeking to not have to deal with it myself, this could backfire. Badly.

I’m NOT saying that we should all be meek and mild to avoid aggravating anyone. But if our priority is ensuring our personal safety, then we need to think about this sort of stuff. Actions can result in repercussions. If you are going to antagonise someone to the point where you could turn a social situation into an asocial one, then you MUST take steps to up your personal safety game. (And, in this country, that’s easier said than done.)

The other likely scenario is that the shop would not have taken it seriously. After all, I couldn’t actually prove the means by which he’d gotten my contact details. He could say that I’d given them to him. His colleagues would most likely back him up. Having to go through this kind of hassle may or may not get him to stop doing this kind of thing, assuming that it is something he has done more than once (which I personally doubt), so I potentially could have made the world a better place. However, if me calling him seven shades of asshole and threatening him with reporting him didn’t achieve that anyway, that would suggest that I am dealing with a different kind of animal entirely. And that kind of animal is not going to be deterred by a memo from HR.

 

“Any further contact from him, I’d call the police. Specifically refusing to take no for an answer may not be stalking, but it certainly is harassment.”

Maybe the system could/should work that way, but it doesn’t. The police deals with crimes. Asking someone out politely is not a crime. Even asking someone out politely three or four times is not a crime. When you call the police and they ask you “what is the nature of the emergency”, if your answer is “someone asked me out for pizza! TWICE!” they are unlikely to be impressed. If you do that a lot, you could get the reputation or be tagged in the system as ‘the girl who cried wolf.’ If that happens, you are infinitely less likely to be taken seriously in the future.

People need to actually break a law, or show reasonable indications that they are intending to, before the police can act. If refusing to take no for an answer means that someone touches you, tries to enter your home, becomes threatening or offensive, or commits any other type of criminal act, then yes, the police can step in. But non-violent, non-aggressive, non-threatening, non-sexual asking  of the same damn question has to become quite extreme before the cavalry will come to anyone’s aid. And you will need to be able to articulate (IMOP, again, or something of that ilk) why your situation requires their assistance.

(A note for people who don’t want to upset anyone by saying no, and would rather get third parties to do that on their behalf. If you are seriously getting bothered, the first question the police are likely to ask you is “have you asked them to stop?” If you haven’t actually told them to cut it out, and the manner of their bothering is not per se illegal, you’ll struggle to explain how/why they are supposed to be committing a crime.)

 

Again, I’m not saying that we should ignore calling in the cavalry as a way to resolve some issues. The support of our laws, public services, and social structures is one of our resources; we should never forget that. We should be very wary of people who try to make us forget that, too – anyone who tries to tell us that “there’s no need to call HR,” or the police, the insurance company, your boss, etc., is trying to separate us from our support system, and that’s a red flag. However, we need to be realistic about what official interventions can actually do.

We need to know when various organisations can step in. We need to know what we need to do ourselves in order to enable them to step in. We also need to know that this kind of intervention tends to lack the subtlety to handle grey areas; hell, it often lacks a middle gear altogether. If taking action is not justified, action will not be taken. If action is taken, it often ends up being some kind of punitive action. If the intentions of the person bugging you were completely innocent, you could end up a character in one of those comedy sketches about spurious sexual harassment suits.

Knowing when and how to ask for help is a skill. Knowing what we can do to resolve situations on our own is also a skill, and it’s a skill we have access to even when the cavalry is unavailable. If our go-to tactic is to farm out our conflicts – or, heavens forfend, if it is our ONLY tactic –  if ever the day comes when nobody can or will support us, we’re going to be totally screwed.

Words fail.

It seems that creep-wise, words are failing us. The word is used to describe so many personalities and behaviours that it ends up meaning completely different things to different people, ultimately meaning nothing. And as for using it to explain the problem to someone who has never experienced it, that seems completely hopeless.

As a minimum, we’d need labels for:

  • People who make people feel uncomfortable to test their reactions, as a predatory interview.
  • People who make people feel uncomfortable on purpose, because that’s how they get their pervy bennies, but don’t intend on going any further (I call them Cock-Roaches, because a. it amuses me and b. they scuttle when you shine a light on them. Oh, and c. I’m happy to squish them.)
  • People who make people feel uncomfortable because they are socially awkward, and they are socially awkward because they can’t parse scripts or read non-verbal clues. They have a blindness to those issues.
  • People who make people feel uncomfortable because they are socially awkward, and they are socially awkward because they are socialised for a different culture/subculture and haven’t adapted to this one.
  • People who make people feel uncomfortable because they are allegedly socially awkward, but when they are told how/why they are making people feel uncomfortable, they refuse to change their behaviour. So they may well be socially awkward, but they’re also kinda assholes, really.
  • People who haven’t done anything wrong at all other than approach someone waaaaaaay too entitled and inconsiderate, and have been falsely accused of being creeps as a result.

There’s almost definitely more- how do you class people who deliberately use their targets’ needs to try and set up an exchange of sex for goods or services, for instance? Are they predators? Does being non-violent make them non-predators, in which case what are they? Scavengers? Parasites? Are they just giving their targets the chance to make a fair and useful trade? Are they benefactors just reaping their just deserts? This seems a moral call, and, as a society, our morals are far from being uniform. So who decides?

I’m thinking that the only way out of this quagmire is to scrap labels, and start describing behaviours. Aside from moving us away from the whatchacallingwhom nonsense, it would have a whole host of other benefits:

  • It would encourage us to listen to our intuition, rather than bury it.
  • It would force us to observe the situation and start noticing what pings us wrong, instead of denying and ignoring it. This could teach us what a creep is doing, or reveal the fact that our intuition is misinformed by our prejudice, past history, etc.
  • It would enable us to present third parties with a list of objective, observable events, rather than rely on them buying into our interpretation of a situation, or trust than our feelings are an accurate reflection of reality. “Alfred keeps standing too close to me” is very different from “Alfred makes me feel creeped out.” People can actually see if Alfred is standing too close.
  • It would enable us to highlight when differences in perception between people are actually a result of differences in behaviour. For instance if  “Alfred keeps standing too close to me” is met with “but he doesn’t do it with me!”, or “he’s never done that in front of me,” that can be used to highlight the fact that Alfred’s behaviour is actually targeted.
  • It would also enable us to articulate to the person who’s bothering us how and why they are bothering us. And yes, sorry, but that’s important.

 

 

Anatomy of a train wreck.

Behind the scene, I’m chatting to a few guys who have no experience dealing with “creeps.” One of the communication problems we’re having is that the word “creep” is used and misused so much, it means so many different things to different people, that it has become effectively meaningless. I know what it means to me in what contexts, but I can’t expect people to be able to read my mind. So, while I’m searching for better words (and suggestions are welcome), here is a story about one of the types of problems I’m talking about.

I used to go to the local builders merchants a lot – I’m talking at least once or twice per week for a period of months. I used to go there because I actually needed to buy building materials. That fact was made quite obvious by the fact that I did in fact buy building materials when I was there.  I’m not going to saddle myself with pallet-loads of bricks just so I can get to talk to someone.

Nonetheless, as I was going there a lot, and as I often had to wait to get served, I did get talking to people. All of them were guys. Most of them were married – and I know this because they’d freely chat about their partners and kids. One of them was not. I didn’t find this out from him – he hardly spoke to me at all – but from his colleagues, because after a while they felt the urge to tell me that the guy was single and he liked me.

I felt completely indifferent about it. I neither liked nor disliked the guy. I didn’t really think of him that way at all. He was just one of the guys selling me bricks. I was aware of the fact that we had absolutely no overlapping interests (an easy feat, given that I’m into fairly obscure stuff, and very much not into most popular stuff). I was also aware of the fact that he had some hobbies which for me would have been deal-breakers even if I had been interested in him (for instance, heavy drinking). No disrespect to the fellow, but there was nothing about him that screamed “yes” and a lot that mumbled “no.”

Anyhoo, I carried on going there and buying whatever I needed, and not really being troubled by the issue. Then I stopped needing bricks so I stopped going, and I thought that’d be the end of it. I was wrong.

Come Valentine’s day, I got a mystery card – both unexpected and unsigned. It was a generic service station last-minute-panic Valentine’s card – and I knew this because it still had the service station’s price tag on it – containing some vague expressions of attraction. Given that I had no idea whatsoever where the card may originate from, so I could do nothing about it even if I wanted to, I filed it under “meh.”

A random evening some weeks later, I got a text from a guy asking me how I was doing. I don’t give my number out to people, so that was rather perplexing. After a few exchanges, including me having to admit that his name meant nothing to me, I managed to grasp that it was the guy from the builders merchants, wanting to ask me out.

That set my wrongdar pinging. I had not given the guy my number. If asked, I would have not given him my number, because I didn’t want him to have it. I had given the shop my number, because they needed to contact me for deliveries. The guy had gone into my file and took out my number for his personal use. That to me indicated an excessively relaxed attitude towards privacy.

I realised that I’d also given the shop my address. Two of my neurons managed to collide, so I asked him if he had sent me a card. And yes, he was the mystery Valentine’s sender. So he had obtained and used both my number and my address without my consent. Jolly good.

I didn’t feel particularly concerned, but I felt rather put upon. I hadn’t invited or facilitated any kind of attentions. I had in fact publicly manifested a lack of interest in such attentions. Now I was having to deal with them, as well as his breach of my privacy. That, for me, moved my opinion towards the guy from neutral to negative. From “thank you, but no” to “NO,” kinda thing.

That apparently wasn’t enough, because the guy responded by texting me that “he would not take no for an answer.”

I could never understand that approach, because, as far as I’m concerned, it leaves me with only one answer: “Will you take a ‘fuck off’?” Because at that point that’s all they’re getting.

I am aware that there are cultures in which the women are obliged to say no several times in order not to be classed as “loose,” but I don’t belong to one of them. I’m aware that what my granddad did to woo my grandma would now be considered stalking, but I live here and now. I’m aware that there are women who subscribe to the “treat them mean to keep them keen” school of thought, but I’m not them. And I do not find it endearing when men try to press their suit.

Do I think the guy was a predator? Was he trying to intimidate or worry me? Was he likely to go violent at me? Almost certainly not. But that’s not really the point. I didn’t feel threatened by him, but that was largely due to my confidence in my security arrangements rather than his actions. I’m sure some women would have found his intrusion and insistence threatening. That’s not really the point, either.

I think he acted like a jackass. I know that’s not a recognised technical term, but the cap fits. What he was saying, openly and to my face, is that he would not respect my “no.” If he did not respect that no, I could not reasonably expect him to respect any other nos. And some of the nos that come up as a romantic relationship develops are pretty damn important. That was on top of him already having failed to respect my privacy. With that one sentence, the guy moved himself into the “OH HELL NO” category, and that was that.

I ❤ CT – a ranty rant.

I like Channing Tatum. I own most of the movies he’s been in, with the notable exception of “The Vow” because I watched it once and cried all the way through. Magic Mike XXL is my very favourite movie – and yes, that assessment includes the Star Wars trilogy. No, it’s not just about the abs; it’s because of the whole combo of road movie/hero’s journey/coming of age/brotherhood themes. Yes, I can say that with a straight face, because it’s actually true. I also like Channing Tatum as a person, from what I’ve seen in interviews; he seems like a personable guy. Overall, as they say around here, “I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for farting.”

I really like Channing Tatum. However, I wouldn’t like Channing Tatum hiding in the hedge in front of my house, peering through my windows. I wouldn’t like him rubbing his genitals through his pockets while he’s talking to me. I wouldn’t like him loudly describing in public which part of my body he’d like to do what to. I wouldn’t like him asking me out for the umpteenth time and telling me that he won’t take no for an answer. I wouldn’t like him obtaining my address or phone number behind my back, particularly if I refused to give them to him. I wouldn’t like him trying to push money or favours on me, and then demanding sex in return as fair dues. I wouldn’t like him saying that it’s not fair I won’t have sex with him, because I’ve had sex with other people so it’s not as if I’m saving it, so why not him? I wouldn’t like him telling me that as he didn’t rape me yesterday, when he had a chance to, I should have sex with him today as a thank you.

I like Channing Tatum a lot. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t get to dislike him pretty damn quickly if he manifested a lack of respect for my boundaries; if he treated me like a hunk of meat; if he manifested any sense of entitlement about my body or my time; if he one-sidedly decided that “we’ve got something special”; if he didn’t seem to care about my consent. Despite his numerous good qualities, any actions demonstrating those attitudes would cause me to immediately dislike him and not to want anything to do with him.

This rant is brought to you by someone mentioning that old chestnut:

“A creep is a man the woman doesn’t find attractive.”

 

I’d like to  be able to dismiss this statement off-hand, ideally via a not-very-controlled explosion. Unfortunately, I can’t. Annoying as it may be, and counterproductive to my argument, there is a kernel of truth in this.

There are people of both genders who either get offended or pretend to be offended when they are approached by people they consider “beneath” them. For some of them, that means most people, though it is infinitely more likely to happen if they find that person unattractive. Although that really sucks in the moment, it really is a good thing. Getting into a relationship with people like this is about as healthy a long-term prospect as repeatedly smacking yourself in the face with a rake, prongs first.

There are also people out there who do not mean to come across as creepy, but they do. Their intentions are beautiful, but they are conveyed in a manner that scares people off. That just plain sucks. However, it is not something that can be cured by re-educating the people who are being scared off. We cannot see and we are not affected by anyone’s inner world. We form opinions about other people based on their actions and the attitudes they display, not what goes on in their heads while they’re doing it.

People’s opinions aren’t static, though. A romantic overture may reveal a mismatch in interest levels, with one person being very keen and the other one being either indifferent, or definitely not keen but with no hard feelings. This mismatch can escalate wildly if the person being turned out reacts badly.

If someone’s response to being turned down is to verbally assault the person turning them down; to use typecasting, loan-sharking, blame, shame, pity, or any other pushy tactics to change their mind; to just ignore their no and carry on asking; to lecture them on how their mate selection criteria are faulty; to act as if the no had been a yes; to bitch about being “friendzoned” but take the “friendship” because it allows them to hang around in case sex is brought back on the menu. Hell, if their response to being turned down is anything that starts from a position of “that’s not fair” or “that’s not right”, that is enough to put them squarely into creep territory. And that’s also the camp from whence most of the bitching about the iniquity of women seems to come from.

There are plenty of ways for people, even incredibly attractive people, to start out with a winning hand and blow it through bad behaviour. Yet the bitching maintains that it’s all about that initial attraction. It makes me wonder about the mentality of those who insist upon it. They seem to believe that all women always judge their potential partners only by their looks, or their clothes, or their cars, or the thickness of their wallets, or insert-superficial-attribute-here. I wonder if that this is how they judge their potential partners: by their value as physical assets. As things. I personally find that rather creepy.

 

Just a Creeping Sensation.

One of the worst aspects of being the target of a creep is that it is often very hard to convey to other people what the problem is, or even that there really is a problem. Creeps thrive by hiding within social scripts. They push boundaries, rather than overtly break them. Unless they get cocky or stupid, or they are in a creep-supportive environment (and there are PLENTY of those), they avoid doing anything that could get them busted. That way they get to do it all again tomorrow.

It is is very hard to articulate this kind of issue. In fact, it can be hard to the point that some targets can’t even explain the problem to themselves. There is nothing tangible going on, just icky feelings and not-quite-right non-events. It all feels unpleasant, but it’s hard to explain why. That puts us in a very uncertain situation, and human beings tend to dislike uncertainty.

Because the issue is so undefined, many targets end up breaking one of Peyton Quinn’s ‘Five Rules’ for dealing with violence: “Do not deny it’s happening.” It’s often easier to bury the unpleasant sensations, to tell ourself that nothing untoward is taking place, not really, than to face an uncertain situation. Unfortunately, denial not only doesn’t make the problem go away, but it can make it worse.

First of all, once we start lying to ourself about that kind of sensation, we are effectively gagging our intuition, in the DeBecker interpretation of the word. Although our intuition can be corrupted by a number of factors – past experiences, cultural indoctrination, prejudices, etc. – there is no upside to shutting it up. By ignoring our intuition we can fail to read critical signs, which can put us in serious danger. By paying attention to it – not necessarily immediately acting upon it, but acknowledging its messages and investigating them further – we can help improve both our intuition and our ability to interpret it. It’s not about letting vague feelings lead us blindly by the nose; it’s about learning to pay attention to ourselves and the world around us in order to allow our intuition to inform our decision-making.

Secondly, once we decide to bury our intuition, to silence it to prevent it from sending those unpleasant feelings our way, we can end up looking for the wrong kind of evidence. “Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” Once we decide that everything is ok, we start looking for evidence that everything is ok, and ignore any evidence that things are not ok. Creeps are masters at putting out confusing evidence. By focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative, we’re actively helping them fool us.

This combination of denial and confirmation bias pretty much destroy our chances of being able to articulate our problem. How can we articulate a situation when we’re refusing to look at it? How can we gather evidence to help us articulate the IMOP of our creep, when we’re busy proving to ourselves than nothing is going wrong?

Sometimes we give ourselves very good reasons for ignoring our feelings. Mustn’t judge. Can’t jump to conclusions. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty. They probably didn’t mean it. It’s all in our heads. There is so much wrong with this, that I struggle to disentangle it.

First of all, if it’s so important to respect people’s feelings, that should include ours.if we’re burying our feelings to spare other people’s, does that suggest that we are lesser people, or non-people?

Secondly, we seem to be confusing acknowledging our feelings and apportioning blame. There is a world of difference between saying “I feel creeped out by George” and “George is a creep.” There may be a myriad reasons while I’m feeling creeped out by George that do not in fact involve any intentional creepiness on George’s part – but I AM feeling creeped out. That sensation is a valid data point.

But no: we prefer to cling to some kind of notion that acknowledging our negative feelings towards someone will somehow hurt them, our group, or our social standing. As if they could read our minds. As if thinking less than well about someone must necessarily translate itself into less than good behaviour on our part. As if lying about how we feel was ever successful at making our feelings go away, rather than making them pop out unexpectedly and uncontrollably at inconvenient moments.

IMOP of a creep.

If you are ever called upon to justify your decision to act in self-defence, you will be required to articulate why you did what you did. Some of the elements you are likely to have to explain are  summarised by the acronym IMOP – intent, means, opportunity, and preclusion. (Different people use different terminology to cover the same points – for instance Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, and Preclusion – but I favour acronyms I have a fighting chance of remembering. And I mop.)

IMOP can be summarised as follows:

“Intent: the threat must indicate to you by some means that he wants to, intends to harm you.
Means: he must have the means to carry out his intent. Size, fist or boots, gun, weapons, knife, etc.
Opportunity: the threat must have the ability to reach you with the means.

Once those three have been fulfilled, one more element should be satisfied for you to convince the jury that your actions were justified:

Preclusion – You must be able to convince the jury that you did not have any other viable option.

You could not leave. Threat blocking exit. Family left behind. Tried to leave and he stopped you. Tried to talk your way out and it didn’t work. You couldn’t call for help. Help would not arrive in time. You must articulate why force was the only option that would safely work.”

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE. DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS VARY, AND I AM NOT A LEGAL EXPERT. THIS IS A QUICK SUMMARY OF A COMPLICATED CONCEPT. I seriously recommend finding out what you need to know about self-defence laws in your jurisdiction BEFORE you need to know it.

The IMOP breakdown can be repurposed to help us think as criminals. We can look at IMO as elements we need to put into place before we are able to commit a criminal act. Assuming we have the intent, we need to acquire the means and find or create the opportunity.

The same breakdown can be applied to help us think like creeps, by which I mean those low-level sexual predators who elect to get their pervy kicks while never quite doing anything bad or clear-cut enough to put them at risk of being punished.

Imagine that you get your kicks out of making people feel somehow violated; you  enjoy their discomfort, their fear, their disgust, their non-consent. For whatever reason, that’s what turns you on. You are not, however, committed enough to your craft to be willing to risk playing find-the-soap with some burly people in a prison shower. You want to get your pervy bennies today, but you also want to be able to continue getting them tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after… So you need to work out a way of achieving your goals without risking retribution. This may on the surface seem a really difficult task to achieve; unfortunately, it actually isn’t.

Going back to the IMOP acronym, you already have the intent: you have decided what you want to achieve. However, you have also decided what you want to avoid. This will limit your range of options; you will only choose outlets for your proclivities with a fairly conservative risk-reward ratio.

You have the means: you have ways in which you interact and communicate with other people. You may be able to use your body, your voice, or just words on a screen. As long as you have some means of interpersonal communication, you have the means to be creepy at people.

You need to find or create the opportunity. You need to have access to your targets of choice. This could mean physical proximity (e.g. joining a workplace or club, going to a shop, etc.), or just having a way to contact the targets (e.g. joining an internet forum, obtaining a phone number, etc.). If you can’t access your targets, there is nothing you can do.

However, mere access is not enough. You could walk into a ladies’ changing room and stare at naked women, but that is unlikely to end well, or be a game you can play for any length of time. In order not to get busted for your creeping, you need to have justified access to your targets – you need have a valid reason to be near them at all. You need to become the kind of person whose presence and behaviour around your targets either just won’t be questioned, or can be justified if required.

Justified access can be obtained in a number of ways. The amount of effort you’ll need to put into this will depend on how specific a game you’re playing. If you are content with rubbing against strangers, for instance, all you need to do is use public transport at peak times. If you want to play a longer-term game, to create a personal “relationship” with your targets, or to target a group that is usually protected (e.g. children), you will need to work harder.

(For an extreme example, paedophile Scout leaders and the like aren’t unfortunate souls who, wishing to help children, find themselves inexplicably and uncontrollably sexually attracted to them. They are people who specifically worked at getting justified access to their targets of choice.)

The better your cover is – the more justifications you have for the access you are misusing – the harder it will be for your targets not only to avoid you, but also to call you out or punish you. Your tango partners may face social or even legal repercussions if they punch you in the groin for standing too close. The same might not apply if you take up skiing.

If your targets use force against you, and sometimes even if they try to get the relevant authorities to manage your behaviour, they will also struggle to articulate their preclusion. If, for instance, they have consented to take part in an activity that involves a degree of physical contact, the question becomes in many people’s minds “if they don’t like being touched, why did they carry on going?” This puts the burden of proof on the victim: they have to demonstrate that the creep crossed a sometimes very fine line. This can be incredibly hard to do.

It becomes even harder if the collective ego of a group, or the individual ego of a group leader, make it impossible for them to accept that they have a problem. If everyone is so convinced that “something like that could never happen here,” for a victim to successfully prove such a fine breach of conduct and obtain adequate resolution can be almost impossible.

One of the things people tend to forget – or deliberately sweep under the carpet – is that self-defence and martial arts classes can provide all of these elements. This is particularly true of classes that involve grappling, but it’s not exclusive to them. Joining a self-defence class can provide creeps with the justified access to bother their targets of choice. Refusing to accept that possibility blinds some people to the fact that they have a problem that needs dealing with.

 

Dissecting That Dude.

Had lots of questions about the “That Dude” blog.

Lots of people want to know how to tell if someone is a creeper. Unfortunately, there are no fixed visual cues helping in their identification. They don’t all look, dress, or carry themselves a certain way. I also can’t list specific behaviours – if there where actions only creepers ever carry out, the problem would quite simply not exist. They’d get found out at the first offence, get punished for it, and that’d be the end of it. They secret of their success is that they can hide behind social scripts. They’ve got a good game going on – twisted, but good.

I don’t know an easy way to tell if someone is a creeper. However, there is a highly technical way of telling if someone is creeping somebody out: listen to the people around you; observe their behaviour around certain people; ask them if they are ok; be willing to respect their answer.

If someone is feeling creeped out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their “problem person” is a creep; it could just be somebody whose behaviour is perceived as creepy, maybe rightfully so, but with no underlying creepy intentions. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily mean that the “problem person” is being objectively creepy; there may be simply a mismatch in etiquette. Also, DeBecker notwithstanding, our intuition rarely exists in a vacuum. Memories, prejudices, etc. tend to affect our feelings about the people around us.

If someone feels creeped out, however, they are feeling creeped out. I realise this sounds damn obvious, but it clearly isn’t, because it’s routinely ignored, even by the people experiencing the feeling.

Pretending that the problem isn’t there doesn’t make it go away. Lying to yourself about your feelings doesn’t affect the situation, and often doesn’t even affect your feelings. Sweeping other people’s problems under the carpet may mean that you never hear about them again, but that’s generally because they’re given up talking to you. Talking to everyone but the person causing the problem also doesn’t tend to make it go away. And the vast majority of people going forth to deal with this kind of situation have to do so without knowing what the situation actually is.

If it was simple to deal with, so many people wouldn’t find it so damn hard to resolve.

 

I can’t tell you how to spot a creep. Misogynists, though, can be pretty easy to spot. They are also super-easy to mess around with, provided you are not greatly invested in your social standing or personal safety. The same signs tend to apply to misandrists, and people who embrace other “isms” and “phobias”: racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. The only changing factor seems to be the nature of the people they have a problem with; their attitudes and how they manifest seem to be broadly similar – in the contexts where I’ve seen it, in a time and place where overt discrimination is not only socially unacceptable but also a criminal offence. Take all of this with several pinches of salt.

Also, please note that I’m trying to work out how their brains work based on their outward behaviour and reactions, and what they say about how they think. I don’t read minds. I don’t have a crystal ball. I could be dead wrong.

If someone truly believes that you’re inferior, their behaviour towards you tends to consistently reflect that belief. They may not tolerate your presence in their team because “you don’t belong there.” More often these days, they seem to tolerate your presence provided that your role reinforces your inferiority (e.g. you’re a lower grade) or your output demonstrates it (e.g. you produce less stuff, or stuff of a lower quality). They may be willing to have you around as an underling or mascot; some may designate you as an useful scapegoat.

If anything threatens the balance of your relationship (them on top, you below), though, they’re going to kick off. This could be anything from you getting a promotion, getting good grades, producing the same volume or quality of output – anything that suggests that you are their equal is an insult. How dare you behave as if you are their equal? And heavens forfend if you do better than them. That’s going beyond impudence into naked insolence.

And it’s not that they are getting competitive, though they may very well pass it all off as honest, natural competition. People don’t generally get competitive with those beneath them. This is not the workplace equivalent of a monkey dance. Their behaviour tends to have a slightly different flavour, involve a wider range of less-acceptable behaviours, and potentially escalate much further than a straight competition between adults (though some people are unfair, awful competitors, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what goes on in their heads).

When misogynists try to put you back in your place, in essence they are handing out an educational beat down. Because you are already inherently disrespecting their authority and they are often insecure, they’re likely to be quite vicious about it (for whatever value viciousness takes in your workplace). And their behaviour will continue to escalate until you start respecting the rule you’ve violated; the rule stating that you are and will always be an inferior life form. That, or until you take some (relatively) drastic steps or someone steps in to stop them.