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.
“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.