It takes two to tango, or not – 2. Request.

The first step of the dance is the social request – a request made by a person to a person they consider a fellow human being of relatively equal worth and standing (though, in many cases, this may just mean someone suitably hawt). This is a question designed to ensure and secure the INFORMED CONSENT of a party in a given activity.

The term “consent” has been co-opted for use in a very narrow range of situations, which is a shame because the concept encompasses and underpins all aspect of human interpersonal interactions. Consent is also one of those concepts that gets a lot of lip service, yet is rarely defined. The dictionary describes consent as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.[1]” Unfortunately, that is only half of the story. For consent to be valid, it must be:

  • Given by an individual who has been fully informed. People must be given all of the information in terms of what the activity involves.
  • Given by an individual with the capacity to consent. People must be able to understand the information given to them, and be able to use it to make informed decisions.
  • Given voluntarily. People must decide to sign up without coercion or deceit.
  • For ongoing activities, consent should also be revocable. People must be able to withdraw their consent if they so wish, without any penalties or the requirement to provide any reason.

It doesn’t matter what the sphere of interaction is: whether people are asking you if you would like to have sex, go on a date, have a coffee, or adopt a pet crocodile. The basic criteria for informed consent remain the same.

What constitutes an appropriate request varies hugely depending on the social settings in question. “Wanna dance” may be perfectly appropriate on a dance floor, but a tad more unusual in a supermarket. “Wanna suck my dick” will most likely be inappropriate at church, yet both normal and welcome at some parties. This doesn’t mean that we cannot draw any kind of line on whether a request is inappropriate, though. The basic rule of thumb is that any attempt to overcome or bypass our consent is NOT okay. Unfortunately such attempts are not always obvious unless we know what kind of tactics people may use to do so.

“Come with me and don’t make a scene” is not a social request; it is an implied threat. This is hopefully obvious to most of us. Other tactics are less blatant.

“I know you’re not one of those stuck-up bitches so I thought I’d ask you…” is not a social request either. It is an attempt at manipulation, using “typecasting” to force our hand into saying yes. “If you don’t say yes, I’ll have nobody to go with” is doing the same by using emotional blackmail. “If you don’t go with me, I’ll tell everyone you let me down” is putting a cost on a possible rejection. They are all attempts at twisting our arm into consenting.

Another common tactic is to misinform us as to the nature of an invitation in order to secure our agreement. For instance, “would you like to just hang out, not like a date” when their intentions are actually romantic, or “come to my place to meet my friends” when they’re actually going to be there alone. If they know that we would have probably said “no” to a forthright request, so they are misrepresenting the nature of the request to get a yes, they are trying to bypass our consent rather than gain it.

Although these weasel tactics are hardly criminal, they are not benign, either. They indicate that the person doing the asking is ultimately more invested in gaining our acquiescence than our consent. This is not a good basis on which to start any kind of social interaction, and particularly a romantic or sexual one. People who play fast-and-loose with our consent are not safe to be around, and they’re definitely not safe to bed.

If a woman reacts “inappropriately” to a request, allegedly starting off a chain of escalations and retaliations, it pays to look at how that request was presented. It could very well be that her reaction was so negative because she wasn’t faced with a social request in the first place. Yes, “he just asked her out for pizza”, but how did he ask her? The manner of a request is as important as the content.



It takes two to tango, or not – 1. Intro.

I’ve been writing about creeps a lot lately, so people have been sending me lots of creep-related goodies. One of the main type of goodies I’ve been getting are articles aiming to teach women how to turn men down. Please note that the gendering is from the articles themselves, not from me: that’s how the articles I’m getting are written.

Although they all purport to be teaching women how to say “no”, in reality the articles vary so much in their intent that it’s hard to compare them. Some aim to teach women how to turn someone down without ruffling any feathers whatsoever. These articles suggest methods so subtle, so gentle, that the men in question might not even realise that they have been turned down. Others aim to teach women how to punish men for daring to approach them, regardless of the context or manner of this approach. These articles concern me because they might cause unnecessary escalations. There are plenty of articles sitting between these two extremes. Some even oscillate from one extreme to the other. All the articles, however, have something in common: they all look at the women’s boundary setting as if it were the only significant element in the rejection process. They completely ignore what comes before and after. In doing so, they entirely overlook two key factors:

  1. Women do not say “no” in a vacuum; their rejection is part of a longer process.
  2. It’s not always the “no” that is the problem: the process can fail at any point.

It seems to me that in order to teach how a rejection should work, we need to look out at the entire rejection process, and from both sides. We need to look at the whole social request dance, not at a single step in it. For the dance to be completed successfully, with no bruised toes or egos, all the steps need to be completed adequately by both partners. A failure on either person’s part at any point will result in someone’s toes getting stepped on.

The Social Request And Rejection is a dance with four main parts:

  1. Person A makes a social request;
  2. Person B accepts or rejects the request;
  3. Person A responds to the acceptance or rejection;
  4. Person B responds to the way Person A responded.

What we are doing now is teaching a quarter of a dance – one-eight part of a dance, in fact, because this is a dance with two partners.

Furthermore, we ignore that the rest of the process affects how women set boundaries, or fail to. Women are often reluctant to state a clear, calm “no” because, in their experience, it’s common enough for men to either brush by it, or flip out in response. We could play a chicken-or-egg game with this: what comes first, women’s reluctance to reject, or men’s reluctance to take rejection on the chin? By focusing solely on women’s ability to reject, we’re overlooking the other half of the equation.

When my male acquaintances bemoan that some women are too unclear or too hostile in expressing their rejections, I encourage them to create a fake female profile on a free dating site – a very naughty thing to do, but a great educational experience. In no time at all, they discover how often a woman can turn down a man in a considerate, clear fashion only to be met with a stream of weasel tactics, emotional blackmail, insults, and even threats. Maybe, just maybe, women’s apparently inexplicable, aberrant behaviours would be less common if perfectly good “nos” didn’t blow up in their faces quite as often.

Drawing a line – 2.

And then Dan of The Aikitchen sent me this article.

I hate it. It’s the best article I’ve read on the subject to date, and I didn’t write it. Read it, share it, print it on metal signs and hit people on the head with it. It’s better than good.

Dan and I got to talk about an issue the article doesn’t specifically raise: is it possible to turn socially awkward people into creeps over time by over-validating their behaviour?

My gut reaction was no, no way, oh hell no. I don’t think I could ever get to enjoy  repulsing people, or breaching their consent, however much my social group supported that kind of behaviour. Hell, if my social group supported that kind of behaviour, they wouldn’t remain my social group for long, goshdarnit. Problem is, my gut reaction is composed of an equal proportion of wishful thinking and bovine excrement.

Anyone who’s studied any history or anthropology knows that it’s absolutely possible to raise people who believe that “taking the non-given”, breaching consent, and similar behaviours are not only acceptable options, but the only right way to do business. All you have to do is catch people young enough, give them a consistent message, and make sure that the right efforts are rewarded. They won’t feel bad doing it. They won’t feel bad after they’ve done it. They won’t even consider stopping doing it. They’ll regard other ways of behaving as wrong or stupid.

Anyone who’s spent any time around people knows that it’s absolutely possible to get many if not most people to break their own established rules, even their own taboos, by applying a judicious mixture of peer pressure, brainwashing, and rewards. It’s back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; belonging trumps self-actualisation. They may feel bad doing it. They may feel bad after they’ve done it. But they’ll still do it, and if the reward is enough they might do it time and time again. Problem is that people can only break a taboo once; after that, it’s broken. And, over time, the guilt may lessen to the point that a once inconceivable behaviour may become a habit.

When you combine the two, the answer to the question becomes obvious. Of course it’s possible to turn socially awkward people into creeps over time by over-validating their behaviour. Some socially awkward people only really get to use and develop their social dynamics skills once they find accepting environments. They don’t quite come at the issue with no previous experiences, but they may come at it with no previous positive experiences. For whatever reasons, they lack some of the skills required to fix the problem. They can’t fit in the mainstream, and the mainstream won’t adapt to accept them. They then find an environment where they suddenly belong; where their behaviours and attitudes are not only accepted, but even encouraged; where they may be told that those who do not accept those behaviours and attitudes are in the wrong; that the problem has never been their behaviour, but other people’s intolerance to it.

This is how Dan put it:

What if you have almost exclusively negative interactions with people, and because you’re the “proper broken” (e.g. social dynamics = advanced quantum math) type of awkward, you can’t fix it without help. Then suddenly you are somewhere where that behaviour gets validated (aka. it’s not wrong/bad/immoral, this is important). Now you have power over people (both in the “direct emotional impact” way and in the “they need to accommodate me, cool” way). See how this could condition somebody in a bad way?

In many social circles, we’re already seeing this. What we’re often failing to see is the causal link between poor social skills, inclusiveness/permissiveness, and giant clusterfucks. Clusterfucks that are actually resulting in many good, innocent people getting hurt, or leaving a scene in order to avoid getting hurt.

I was reminded of a quote I stole from a thread I’ve long lost, where people were talking about the problems of sexual harassment at cons:

“Unfortunately the combination of a very socially accepting place for people with less social skills, and exposure to what can be a very permissive environment, can cause people to make really bad social choices at cons.”

Efforts to bring the problems into the light and put a stop to them are often thankless and hopeless. From the same thread, different source:

“(…) I have backed out of most conventions. They used the be the equivalent of a family reunion, now the only family left it seems are the ones that you hope don’t come over to visit – the weird uncle, the cousin right out of rehab, the zealots, the literally delusional. I’ve been through too much in my life to have to deal with that kind of hassle.”

I’ve personally sat and listened to guys lecturing about the non-significance of the problem. Cons take place in areas commonly used for hook ups: of course guys will try to hook up with women there. (Yeah, and if you’re walking through a cemetery, it’s perfectly normal for someone to try and bury you.) Cons are increasingly mixed-gender affairs: of course guys who don’t get to meet women much in their daily lives will do their best to strike connections there. (Because forcing women to interact with you when they don’t want to is such a sure-fire way to get laid.) People go to cons to get seen: of course guys will be looking at women there. (Eh? I go places because I have an interest in the subject matter.) If women didn’t wanna get looked at, they wouldn’t go through all the bother of wearing costumes. Yeah, some women not in costume are also getting bothered, but, yannow, they should see it as a compliment; it’s a sign someone finds them attractive! And yeah, some guys get carried away, may get a bit too touchy-feely, or a bit threatening, or a bit fixated, but they don’t mean any harm by that. If women don’t wanna interact with every thirsty male in the room, they can just stay at home. Their presence is their consent, right?

I’m just picking on cons because they make a good example of how a culture can justify and foster certain behaviours (and also because I’d love to be able to enjoy them, but I can’t). Similar arguments are made by similar people about similar problems occurring in other places. If women didn’t wanna get catcalled, they’d stop going to places were catcalling happens, like, yannow, the street. If they didn’t wanna get creeped at, they’d stop using public transport. If they think it’s bad here, they should move to Saudi Arabia. That’ll teach them! Women just need to realise how good they have it, really, and to learn where they can go. And yes, I’m quoting.


Which kinda brings me back to my recent lamentation about the problems brought upon trying to make allowances for special circumstances without drawing some very firm lines. The next logical step is often a general lowering of standards. This can result in a diaspora of anyone who recognises that those lower standards are actually not ok, and who is not willing to lower their standards in order to belong. And the final result can be the creation of an echo chamber of people who’re completely oblivious as to why certain people cannot abide their behaviours and attitude. There may be nobody left within their earshot to tell them that what they are doing is not ok. Their narrative may allow them to class anyone raising any issues as a bigot, an idiot, a naysayer, a insert-insult-here, and discard their opinions. An echo chamber which can help turn its participants into a much worse version of themselves, and to feel good about it.


Drawing a line – 1.

It all started when Randy King Live posted this video:

Randy thinks the guy is funny, and plans to use the video to illustrate a section of his Conflict Communication lecture, namely that the “belongingness” level in Maslow’s pyramid of needs comes before the “status” level, and how this manifests. People worry about being in a group first and foremost. The status they have in a group is important, but it is a secondary concern to belonging to a group. (For a quick summary of the pyramid and its applications to conflict management, check this blog by Rory Miller). And Randy’s right: the dude is a perfect example of someone who’s clearly so invested in being part of a group that he willing to be treated like a heel.

My gut reaction to the video was rather different from Randy’s. Within literally 8 seconds of the video rolling, I had an urge to hit the dude in the face with a brick (Figuratively. Mostly. Depending on how close he was to me, really.). Randy and I haven’t had any major disagreements to date. Why this disparity in reactions?

I don’t find the guy funny because he reminds me of the sort of chap you end up meeting at work or school, who decides he likes you and pesters you ceaselessly, to whom you end up saying “thank you, but no” in every polite way you can think of to no avail until you run out of formal options and end up telling him to, or worse things happen… and who then complains widely about how you’re hysterical or horrid, and often ends up getting the support of his/your social circle because “that’s just how he is” and “there was no need for that”.

I think Randy and I are both right. We’re just seeing two different sides of the coin. There can be a woefully fine line between someone who’s invested in belonging at any cost and a borderline stalker. Many of the behaviours and attitudes are actually the same, all based on a willingness to do abnormal things or put up with abnormal reactions in order to reach a level of closeness that would otherwise not be available. Really, the only significant difference is that many of us don’t really consider someone a stalker unless there’s a sexual or threatening component to their behaviour.

That reminded me of this letter to Captain Awkward, which sets my teeth on edge. I freely admit to being totally biased for the simple reason that my family tree has a lot of nuts in it. My immediate family members never had any truck with boundaries or privacy. They not only didn’t see them as rights, but they actually believed it was wrong for anyone to even consider wanting them. They had the right to know what you were doing, what you were thinking, how you were feeling. They had the right to collect and store whatever physical records of your life they felt necessary. If you did not provide said information and said items, it was their right to obtain them by whatever means necessary. If you took steps to enforce boundaries or meted out consequences for boundary breaking, it was you who was clearly out of order. The harder you fought, the more out of order you were, and the more your behaviour justified their intrusion.

I appreciate that the poor lady in the letter is not rummaging through her nephews’ bins looking for discarded diary pages or correspondence, or going into their dorm when they’re out in order to take photographs (hi, mom). She is, however, deliberately, repeatedly ignoring their very explicit request to be left the hell alone. She’s doing so because she prioritises the closeness and belonging she wants over what they want. More than that, she sees her Quest as Righteous, hence obviously infinitely more important than people’s puny wishes. In her particular case, the Goal of her Quest is Family. Most of us think family = good. She may be pathetic and a bit annoying and frankly oblivious, but she’s not doing anything really wrong, is she? Her heart is in the right place, bless her.

…except that if she did precisely the same stuff but the Goal of her Quest was Sex, or rather if there was the slightest possibility of a sexual undertone to what she’s trying to achieve, her actions would be looked at in a different light by a lot of people. Even simply swapping the genders in the narrative without altering it in any other way would probably make a lot of people interpret it very differently. If an uncle by marriage was cyber-stalking his younger nieces because they don’t wanna have anything to do with him, and using his wife, their auntie by blood, to try and weasel his way into their life, that’d creep many of us out.

Sexual intent, or the mere possibility of a sexual intent, is one of the standards people use to determine where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. We interpret what we see depending on whether sexual intent is on the menu.

Sex is not unique in this. There are other standards used in the same fashion. For instance, if someone ignores your nos to take something from you, that’s considered iniquitous and predatory. If someone ignores your nos to give you something, though, that’s often seen in a much kinder light. I could never understand this. If I tell you that I don’t want you to get into my house while I’m not there, I don’t care if you ignore my wishes to steal from me, fill up my fridge, or water my petunias. I’d set and communicated a boundary, and you deliberately ignored it. That, to me, is the key factor. Because if you justified to yourself breaking that boundary that time for that reason, I can be pretty damn sure you’re going to do it again unless I put a stop to it.

In the case of the video, though, the linchpin is sex. Both Randy and I see a chap willing to push boundaries in order to belong, to achieve a certain level of closeness. Randy, courtesy of his “testovision” (Randy coined the term! Randy’s a GENIUS!) sees a harmless sap. I see a potential stalker. We’re both looking at the same person doing the same thing, but our concerns inform our interpretation.

Whether my concerns ever become a reality will have less to do with the chap’s personal standards of behaviour, and more with those enforced by whichever group he manages to crowbar his way into. If he joins a group that encourages him to utilise the same tactics in his romantic quests, chances are he’s going to become a problem person. After all, he’s already willing to do whatever it takes to belong. The group may continue to see him as a funny sap, because that’s all they see, even though he’s may be terrifying his romantic targets.



A heap of good stuff.

I’m going to try something new here.

I am going to go to my death with a giant heap of books I’ve not been able to read. In fact, if it weren’t for the Kindle, I might well go to my death UNDER a giant pile of books I’ve not been able to read. I’m aware there are lots of good resources I’m missing on. I don’t see this as a valid reason for everyone else missing out on them too, but I can’t personally recommend stuff I’ve not checked out.

In order to fix that, I’ve set up this blog page as an opportunity for people to post suggestions for any kind of resource (books, DVDs, training courses, podcasts, etc.) they’ve found useful. Anyone who feels that way inclined can post their suggestions in the comments. Only rule I’d like is “don’t push your own stuff”, because that’s not a offering a recommendation, that’s using this site for free marketing.

The format I think may work well (but you don’t have to stick to it) is:

  • Title, author, link.
  • Brief summary of what the thing is all about.
  • What you got out of it.
  • Anything else relevant.

So, for instance:

  • “Removing the narcissistic malware course”, by Richard Grannon, link.
  • From the website – “Topics Covered:
    • How the narcissistic “shell” personality is formed.
    • How narcissistic abuse manifests and the damage it does to the victim.
    • How to overcome the types of issues from childhood that leave us “open” to narcissistic abuse.
    • How to fully recover from abuse and the CPTSD it causes.
    • How to “upgrade our mental software” and learn how to detect abusive types and protect ourselves from them.
    • How to get on with and enjoy life after narcissistic abuse.”
  • This is a live recording of a seminar. I found it both useful and user-friendly. Useful because it explains in very simple terms some of the incorrect and counterproductive beliefs that growing up or living with narcissists can leave us with, AND gives strategies for coping with and overcoming both the beliefs and their fallout. User-friendly because I can’t be having with sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, but I could listen to the seminars while doing stuff around the house (in that particular case, painting). I would NOT recommend listening to them while driving as the content is rather distracting.
  • Richard also has a YouTube channel full of free videos. Although the free videos don’t cover all the material in the course, they are extremely useful on their own and can also give you an idea of whether his style of presentation is what you’re after.

Or something like that. It’s worth a try, I hope.


Coming up short.

I had a conversation with a young friend recently that made me rather sad. She’s a lovely young woman who comes from a rather unsupporting family. It’s not that her folk are baaad, it’s just that they’re under-resourced. They’ve always been too busy struggling to look after themselves and each other to find enough time and energy to look after the kids. As a result, she’s had to overcome a variety of issues. Depending on how you measure success, overall she’s either doing reasonably well for a “normal” person or spectacularly well for someone with her background.

One of the things she’s not doing terribly well at, though, is relationships. I’m a tad biased here because I like her, but her current boyfriend is a giant poopoohead who does not deserve her and should have mud thrown at him. He wasn’t a poopoohead at the start of the relationship, btw. He behaved impeccably. It’s only when he realised that she was committed that he decided to start acting up, which is often how these things go. She’s now depressingly aware of his giant poopooheadness, and she’s aware that he’s not treating her as she’d like to be treated, and she’s aware that the relationship does not make her happy, and she’s aware that being with him is bringing her no closer to the kind of relationship she would like to be in. But she doesn’t want to break up with him, because then she’d be single. Although being in that relationship doesn’t make her happy, being in no relationship makes her even unhappier.

On the surface, it may sound as if she’s being obtuse. She knows what she wants. She knows that she’s not got it. She knows that if she carries on doing what she’s doing, she’s not going to get it, ever. Yet she’s not changing what she’s doing. Stupid girl, no helping her, move on. And that’s all very well, provided that you don’t look at her entire situation and you completely ignore her point of view.

Her main problem is that she’s lacking in human resources. Her social circle is underpopulated. If she gives up her boyfriend, she will lose one of these people. The remaining people will not be able to help her cope with that loss, nor to help her create a new relationship with someone less poopooheady. Her network does not facilitate much networking.

This must surely be her fault, though! If she was a half-decent person, she would surely be surrounded by BetterPeople©! …except that, if you have a basic understanding of human networks, that isn’t necessarily how it works. Forming new interpersonal relationships, like committing a crime, requires IMO – intent, means, and opportunities. Take any element out, and you don’t get anywhere. In my friend’s case, throughout her childhood she’s had scant opportunities to network, for the simple reason that it’s damn hard to network when you’re stuck home alone (sans internet, to boot). It doesn’t matter how wonderful you are if nobody gets a chance to meet you. And now, as a 20-something living in a poor rural area, where most 20-somethings have already popped a few kids, where there is no community life, where there are no clubs or activities to join, where the official past-time is drinking, it’s damn hard for her to get the opportunity to meet new people, let alone find herself a new partner. Plus, those elusive “better” people are also often busy with their own lives. It’s not a case of just finding them, but finding them and having the chance to convince them that they should give you their time before they’ve gone off to do their thing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an elevator pitch for myself. I’d be wary as hell of people who do.

This is the kind of situation where I find that a lot of lifestyle advice, and particularly self-defence-as-lifestyle-advice tends to fall short. It’s easy to take a statistical, mechanical, rational look at problems that are not statistical, mechanical or rational. They are human problems. And if you don’t take into account the human factor, all you’re gonna do is generate truisms that won’t benefit anyone.

It’s easy to say that in order to form relationships with better people you have to stop hanging out with not-so-good people. But that ignores the fact that, for some people, not-so-good people is all they’ve got. It ignores the fact that most humans are social animals, and find loneliness terrifying. It ignores the fact that social isolation can be a real, practical problem, as well as a psychological one (if you don’t believe me, how well would you cope if your entire support network evaporated overnight and you had any kind of illness, injury or disability? Say you caught pneumonia, or broke your ankle?). It ignores that most people improve their lives by climbing a ladder – using a rung to reach the next rung – rather than just letting go of whatever it is that’s holding them up and hoping that they’re gonna catch a new handhold before they start plummeting towards the ground, because landing hurts.

It also ends up ignoring the fact that when people are hurting, and sad, and painfully aware of how they’re coming up short, they are often not at their best or their bravest. And that when you are painfully aware of how little you’ve got, and how much you need it, it can be infinitely harder to give it all up in the hope for better things that you know you may never get.

Dick pic.

Last week this came out:

“Claudia Gadelha and Bethe Correia want fans to stop sending d*ck pics.” For those who have no idea who these ladies are, they are UFC fighters. In the article, they spoke out against both genuine fan and random pervs behaving inappropriately towards them both in public and on cyberspace:

“Once, close to my house, a man on a motorcycle showed me his genitals and drove away. I’ve been through complicated situations. Online, though, they are braver. I hope it doesn’t go beyond that. I know how to defend myself and I would have to use it. Maybe break an arm or choke someone out.”

The vast majority of the people I know, of all genders, reacted with a mixture of disgust and confusion. Why in the name of all that is holy would anyone engage in offensive behaviour towards women who’re capable of pounding them into next week? Why would they do so when this behaviour is notoriously anti-useful at achieving any kind of closeness with the vast majority of women? I’ve yet to meet a woman who, when receiving an unsolicited dick pic, was so impressed that she just had to meet the owner of the trousersnake in question. I’m sure those women exist, but they are definitely not in the majority. And if your dick is so special, so different from the average that you feel it stands out from the norm… do you seriously think it’s a good thing? Shouldn’t you be showing that picture to a urologist?

So we were all running around shaking heads, going “what the hell?!”… and then a bright spark by the name of Brad entered our metaphorical room, and graced us with this comment:

“(Sending unsolicited dick pics) is definitely a little bit worse than jumping on the offense against other men for things they do that women don’t like but also that don’t affect you at all. I don’t get the thought process. Has to be, “this will make them feel like I’m on their side, soon they be melting for my white-knightness.” Otherwise it’s like being white and getting offended on behalf of Asians for a joke you heard from another white person.”

This is such a gem, I can’t just ignore it. In fact, it deserves special treatment. I’m going to analyse it first, and then fisk it.

Now, I’ve yet to meet a self-labelled “white knight” who wasn’t a creep with a strategy. Their formidable creepiness meant that any woman with any level of personal resources would either run away from them as fast as her legs would carry her, or react to them as one would upon finding a putrefying, tentacled spider taking a poop on one’s pillow. This resulted in said creepknights being tolerated almost solely by women who were lacking in resources. This may have led the creepknights to believe that women, as a group, are fragile petals who need and welcome protection (it’s a chicken-and-egg game: what came first, the terrible social skills or the wonky social circle?). More importantly, it led them to think that said women’s cockpits would/should/could become accessible to them as a “thank you” after the performance of said protective favours. (Don’t trouble yourself with sending a “thank you” card, love: just gift wrap your vagina.)

How bad this whole thing is depends entirely on whom you’re asking. I think it’s sketchy as hell, but then again I don’t use it. I consider exchanges of goods or services for sex as prostitution, regardless of how they’re packaged,  and while I have nothing whatsoever against the practice, it isn’t something I do or I am keen to do. I know plenty of ladies who think otherwise, and that’s perfectly fine with me. However, I still take a pretty dim view of people who are 1. willing to exploit people’s weakness or desperation in order to get them to prostitute themselves and 2. wanting a medal for it afterwards.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly honourable in protecting those in need for protection, regardless of their gender, age, race, etc. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. (And, in my head, it’s the right thing to do because it’s the right thing to do, which puts it firmly in the “belief” category for me. Mea culpa.) Sometimes that drive may push some individuals into doing something heroic, and that heroism should be praised. But the basic drive itself… Nah. There’s a difference between picking up a bag of abandoned kittens from a dumpster and taking them to the nearest animal shelter, and running into a burning house to rescue said kittens, or spending several weeks hand-feeding them and trying to find them homes. Some things you just do, without asking for or expecting a bloody medal. That’s my bias, and I’m not intending to give it up any time soon.

If you think there’s something special about what amounts to basic human decency, I think there’s something wrong with you. And if you only do the right thing with an eye to a reward, then you’re nothing but a loan shark. That classes you as a predator, not a hero.

(Incidentally, I found much the same issue to apply to banner-waving Male Feminists – and, before anyone starts yelling at me, that’s definitely a generational and socioeconomic issue. I grew up in a time and place where it was normal to believe in equal rights and responsibilities regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. That belief was just there, same as believing in gravity. Those in my peer group who feel the need to make a huge fuss about the fact that they are not sexist often have an incredibly awkward relationship with the opposite sex that they are actively trying to overcome. They’re often nowhere near as non-sexist as they claim, and they want a prize for any non-sexism they display. Because, to them not being sexist is a big deal, rather than the norm. I find them incredibly hard work.)

So, yes, I’m with Brad in being skeptical of white-knightism. However, there’s a lot more to his comment. I think he’s absolutely accurate in his comparison. Being a man standing up to other men who send unsolicited dick pictures is “like being white and getting offended on behalf of Asians for a joke you heard from another white person.” It can show in the same way that you’re capable of empathy; that problems that don’t affect you directly still matter to you, because you understand that they matter to other people. It can show that you’re willing to stand up for your beliefs even when the company you are keeping doesn’t support them. Hell, it can quite simply show that you actually know and love some of the affected people; that you might not care much for them as a group, but you understand the potential impact of certain activity on certain individuals whom you care about, and that’s enough to motivate you.

It can also be infinitely more selfish. It can show that you’re bright enough to understand that, if you’re a man interested in women, all men who mistreat women are pissing in your pool. Because if some girl has just deleted 9 inappropriate messages from her inbox, the tenth message asking her politely out for a drink may not be as well received as it could have been otherwise.

So, what does this say about Brad? To me, it says that none of the above apply. It says that he lacks the empathy to care for things that don’t affect him personally. That he doesn’t believe that there’s anything implicitly wrong in sexual harassment (or racism). That he doesn’t have any women in his life he feels a basic urge to look after. That he’s dumb enough to be oblivious to the impact sexual misconduct has on the dating game as a whole. Moreover, it says (literally – he comes right out and says it) that the only motivation he can think of for other men demonstrating a care for women is the hope of being rewarded with sex for their efforts. That tells me a lot about what motivates him.

And that’s why the only way I can fisk his comment is thusly:

My name is Brad, and I am only moved to be decent towards women when there’s a chance of getting laid.

And here’s me hoping he doesn’t have any daughters.

Clutching at straws.

At VioDy in Oakland, Terry Trahan showed us one of his toys. I’m going to sound like a nincompoop trying to describe it, for the simple reason that I am, but basically it’s a straw made out of a carbon fibre. It’s very hard and very pointy. I imagine it would be pretty handy for emergency tracheostomies, but it’s also not entirely unlike a shiv. Terry’s is disguised as an everyday item; before he told us about it, he was wearing it openly for hours without anyone noticing it.

As soon as he showed it to us, some people immediately commented that suuuuurely it wasn’t a good enough disguise. The fact that they had completely failed to notice it did not seem to inform their conviction that it was too noticeable. In real life, people would be bound to notice it. I pointed out that, given that the damn thing was a straw, if I stuck it in a milkshake and proceeded to drink from it it would be unlikely that people would look at it twice. Some folk remained unconvinced.

Roll on the environmental observation day – the final day of VioDy, when you walk around a real place, surrounded  by real people, and practice playing observation games from different points of view. How does a sniper look at a physical location? How can you use the crowds and the architecture to your advantage to carry out a crime, or hide in plain view? So we’re all there, after six days of training, eyes on stalks, being hyper-aware of what’s going on. Think ninja meerkats.

During a break, I asked Terry where he got his toy from, and he let me have a prototype. (Did I mention Terry is now one of my favourite persons in the world? He is. Thank you, Terry.) I promptly proceeded to get me a drink, shove the straw in it, and walk around so full of glee and smugness that I thought I might burst. Lo and behold, nobody spotted it. This did not satisfy my need to s̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶ share my happiness, so I took to shoving the drink, avec le straw, in people’s faces, going “loooookit!” …and people still failed to see what I was showing them, apparently more ready to assume that I could get seriously excited over a drink (poor kid; don’t they have ice cubes where she comes from?) than to consider that there may be something special about it. I literally had to remove the straw from the drink, stick it under people’s noses, explain to them what they were seeing, and wait for their brains to catch up.

There’s one or two lessons to be learnt here, I think, though I’m not entirely sure what they are as yet. It does come to something when we can be shown a potential problem, be told how that potential problem could be disguised, then be shown that very problem in that very disguise by the very person who said that’s how she’d disguise it… and still miss it. On a situational awareness day, of all things. Or was that part of the problem – that when we’re tuned up to looking for certain things it can blind us to all others? Can we truly increase the level of attention we pay in our everyday lives, or can we just redirect whatever our stock of attention is towards different goals?



Protected status.

A wee while ago, I left a self-defence forum. To date, it is the only location in cyberspace where I’ve been threatened. Someone got all pissy at me (over a meme, of all things) and decided that it was ok to threaten me with serious physical violence. I didn’t leave because of the threat itself, which I found laughable. The thing that convinced me that I was in the wrong place was how people reacted to it.

A few of the forum users went all AWMYGAWD RUN RUN AWAY NOW COS THE NINJAS ARE COMING. They were seriously concerned about my welfare, because Mr Pissy is apparently a Super Ninja Power Ranger or some suchlike thing. They advised me to apologise, go into hiding, or do whatever it would take to prevent Mr Pissy from getting to me.

Now, while under normal circumstances I’m positive that a ninja, even a below-average one, could hurt me very badly indeed, I can’t see that happening while there’s an ocean between us. I’m in the UK, and Mr Pissy is in the US. The dude would have had to pick up his passport, get on a plane, and come find me. Turns out that “in the UK” is a slightly vague address. If he expected me to pick him up from the airport so we could duel to the death, he would be waiting a while. Even if he managed to find my address, there’s the inconvenient fact that threatening people with deadly force is a crime in many jurisdictions. Threatening someone and then chasing them halfway across the globe isn’t going to look good. I’m not entirely sure how successful he would have been at entering the country if I’d sent a screenshot of the conversation to the relevant authorities. Anyway, if I’m going to panic about something, it’s not going to be someone who’s some 7000 miles away and stupid enough to announce his intentions in advance. I mean, it’s all very epic and shit, but it’s not terribly clever. Overall, it seemed to me that for self-defence enthusiasts, those folks seemed to have a pretty loose understanding of IMOP.

The forum moderators, who were experts, took a completely different view of the subject. They did their very best to minimize the incident, and to make me feel comfortable and unthreatened. It’s just what he does. He gets like that all the time. It’s just one of those things. And this was the final straw that caused me to walk out of that door and never look back.

The forum had the customary set of rules typical of internet forums these days. Personally, I have a theory as to how well they can ever hope to work, but that’s another story someone else has already written. However, though the rules both clear and strict, their applications was, well, somewhat uneven. Certain persons, due to their status within the group, were treated as if above the rules. Mr Pissy enjoyed that protected status because of his superior ninja skillz and b̶r̶e̶e̶d̶ ̶r̶e̶g̶i̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ lineage . He could get away with doing things to lower status members that, if they’d dared retaliate in kind, would have gotten them barred straight away. Other forum members enjoyed the same protected status for a variety of reasons, such as being friends, collaborators, or bedfellows with the moderators.

I’ve always found double standards incredibly icky. I understand that sometimes genuinely ok people have unavoidable personality quirks they make up for in other ways. Hell, I have unavoidable (at present) personality quirks I constantly try to make up for. Nobody’s perfect. I also understand that people with specific skillsets may be highly useful to a group even though they have conspicuous failings. However, at times there’s a fine line between putting up with Joe because is really good at coding though he has the social skills of a potato, and “Uncle Joe is fine, really; just never, ever leave him alone with the kids…” At some point, a very rigid line HAS to be drawn, and the more lines have been deleted to accommodate people’s ‘quirks’ the more difficult it gets to pick that point. When I see that kind of attitude becoming the norm in a group, rather than the exception, I get worried; is that line going to be drawn before or after someone gets hurt? And when a group is asking people to tolerate the misbehaviours of those in power just because they are in power… no. Just no.

It’s infinitely too easy for a group to learn to tolerate the intolerable, learn to work around “missing stair people“:

“I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair.  Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?”  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.

“Fixing” doesn’t always mean throwing someone out. (…)  Sometimes a person can be “fixed” by talking with them bluntly about their behavior, giving them specific rules to follow, or putting them on notice that they have one strike left.  You don’t always have to get rid of “missing stair” people, but you do have to work with the person, not around them.”


Missing stair people are a goddamn nightmare in everyday life. In the context of a self-defence environment, however, they are simply unacceptable. What the hell are these ‘experts’ teaching? That we do have a right to set and enforce reasonable boundaries, provided those boundaries are not inconvenient to their little friends? That powerful people have the right to victimise us, and we should go along with it?

There is, of course, another possibility. It could be that I was being the asshole, and the resulting threats, although against both the rules and the law, were somehow warranted. But even then, why sweep the incident under the carpet? How can anyone reconcile tolerating my aggravating behaviour and any half-decent self-defence teaching? If I’m doing stuff that could reasonably cause the average person to react violently, shouldn’t I be told? Giving me protected status within the forum not only would not help me develop my self-defence skills, but could actively put me in danger. If I became accustomed to treating people like heels online and getting away with it, I might find myself in a heap of trouble doing the same in real life.

I have no idea what kind of mental gymnastics that group went through in order to make protected statuses compatible with any kind of self-defence system. I have no idea how any group could do that, frankly. It just makes no sense to me. On either side of the equation, it looks like a bum deal.

The Taming of the Screw

Rory asked a couple of weeks ago if I could list the ways customers try to screw us at work. I can’t get a handle on organising the issues we see, other than just piling them into a giant “how to be an asshole” list, so here it is. Please note that we offer animal care services, rather than sell stuff, so straightforward theft and product-dependent swindles are not an issue.

  1. “I need what you have but can’t pay for it, so you have to give it to me for free.” Sometimes the poverty is genuine (e.g. people on basic pensions – though the issue then is “why did you get a dog that needs regular professional care if you can’t afford it?”). Sometimes it’s obvious bullshit (e.g. people going on a two weeks family holiday to Disneyland who somehow just can’t afford kennelling for their dog). The common thread is that their need somehow creates a moral obligation on our part. If we don’t oblige, we’re demonstrating that we don’t care about their animals, and any suffering on the animals’ part will be our responsibility.
  2. “I want the cheapest, most basic model you offer. But I want it with these 52 added extras.” People negotiate a price, then try to add extra features, for that same price. When we explain that it will carry a higher price tag, it’s we who are trying to screw them.
  3. “I want a quote for a regular weekly groom.” And then they come monthly, or every three months, and expect to pay what we originally quoted. Similar to point 2 in its impact on our workload.
  4. “It’s cheaper/faster/better over there, rant rant.” Yet they never seem to go over there, even when we suggest it to them. It’s uncanny.
  5. “You did this thing X months ago and it didn’t last so I want it again for free.” Turns out dog hair grows. Turns out that’s somehow our fault.
  6. “Can you please look at X medical problem.” No, what you need is a vet. “But the vets charge £15 for a basic consultation!” You still need a vet. “But can’t you just tell me what to do?” I did. Go see the vet.
  7. “I have an entirely unconnected problem so you must give me VIP treatment because.” We have a lady who has been demanding emergency appointments for the last five years “because she has cancer.” Bear in mind we groom her poodles. I’m unsure as to how this interacts with her chemo, but apparently it does.
  8. “I am sorry for doing this thing that I am actually doing right now and have been doing ever since I became your customer and will continue doing until you physically stop me but I’m apologising so it cancels it all out.” Classic ones are ringing us at ludicrous hours or turning up stupidly early or massively late. (I now have a policy to not only not ring back, but automatically bar potential kennel customers who ring at antisocial hours, because they invariably turn out to be total tools and having their dogs in our care is a nightmare.)
  9. “You groomed/kennelled my dog and now it’s sick so it’s your fault and you need to pay.” This includes ludicrous time gaps (if we “mutilated” your dog two weeks ago, why didn’t you go to the vets until today?), conditions we couldn’t possibly have an effect on (the best to date was diabetes), and routine treatments (worming, vaccinations).
  10. “You told me that my dog had a medical problem, so it’s your fault and you need to pay.” Most common ones are lumps, ear infections, and arthritis, though we’ve seen all kinds.
  11. “My lack of planning is your emergency.” Some people apparently don’t have a calendar, because they’re shocked by things like the coming of summer, or Christmas. So they’ll ring us on the 23rd of December wanting the dogs done by Christmas Day, and when we can’t oblige they flip out and threaten to go elsewhere. We normally see them in mid Jan, tails firmly between their legs.
  12. “I have this problem that I absolutely can’t solve.” We can solve that for you, but it will cost you X money. “Oh, actually, I can solve it after all.” The classic one is people who can’t pick up their dogs on time, or at all. When we offer them kennelling or transport for a fee, they suddenly become able to make alternative arrangements.
  13. “I’m booking my sister’s cousin’s daughter’s husband’s dog…” Every time someone books a dog that isn’t their dogs and feels the need to tell us, it is their dog and it’s in such a state it’s borderline reportable. One guy does that with a different dog each month. We suspect he’s a puppy farmer, but have no proof.
  14. “My dog was in kennels last week and now it’s in a terrible state.” Yes, love, but your dog has roughly 12 months worth of knots, which would make sense as we last groomed it 12 months ago, when you told us that same story.
  15. “My dog doesn’t bite” = my dog bites. Every time someone states that their animal doesn’t engage in an aberrant behaviour, it means that it absolutely will. It makes sense, really. We don’t feel the need to mention all the behaviours we shouldn’t engage in that we don’t engage in. I don’t introduce myself with a “my name is Anna and I will not stab you in the eye with a fork.” But people seem to think that if they describe reality a certain way, it will make it so.
  16. “It’s shy with strangers” = it’s gonna try and eat your face off.
  17. “It’s a bit fluffy” = it’s matted to the eyeballs.
  18. “It does X horrible/obnoxious/dangerous thing, but it’s in the breed!” Apparently a valid explanation even when people bring two or more dogs of the same breed, only one of which engages in the behaviour.
  19. “I’ve lost the vaccination certificates” = the dog is unvaccinated. People whose dogs are vaccinated who lose their certificates either get a copy from their vets, or offer to ring their vets so they can confirm the date of vaccination. People who don’t volunteer to do any of the above and just turn up have unvaccinated dogs. Apparently they believe that if they turn up at our doorstep and leave themselves with no time to make alternative arrangements we will go along with it. That belief is incorrect.
  20. Omissions: people will withhold all manners of information in order to secure a booking. This can include critical, life-or-death stuff, like their dogs having serious medical conditions, or behavioural issues that could result in us getting savaged. I’m now not booking any dog for kennelling I’ve not met before, because it’s just not worth it.
  21. “I need to leave at 6am, but you don’t open until 8:30, but if I drop my dog with you the night before I’ll have to pay for an extra night, so can you open at 6am for me instead?” So you’d like me to start work 2.5 hrs earlier so you can pay me less money? “That’s not what I meant!”
  22. From ‘friends’: “I don’t want you to think that I only ring you when I need you to look after my dog, but I need you to look after my dog.” Repeat at 8 month intervals, with no calls in between. Oh, and they offer to pay, as if it was an optional extra, then don’t.
  23. “I absolutely need to make X booking.” We don’t have any spaces. “But I need that booking!” But we’re full. “But I neeeeeed that booking!” The only way I could book you would be by cancelling someone else’s appointment. “Oh, that’s great! Will you do that?” No. Oh hell no.
  24. “Your girl said X completely incorrect thing, so the consequences are your fault.” This is always amusing because I work in the same room as the Minion. I hear her side of any conversation. It’s even more amusing when “my girl” was actually me, with my phone voice on.
  25. “I know you said you needed my dog picked up two hours ago because you closed/ you didn’t have space for it, but I haven’t set off yet. When do I have to come to pick it up?” Apparently the same happens in childcare settings. People are aware that we can’t throw their dogs/children on the street, so they take advantage.
  26. “Can you send your Minion down to my house tonight so I can show her how to give my dog his pills?” This was from an elderly ‘gentleman’ with whom I’d already had a quiet talk because he was being a creep. I suggested his needs would be better served by an escort agency and banned the bastard.
  27. “I can’t pay because you don’t take cards.” There’s a cash point in the village. “I can’t get any money out because I don’t have any money in the account. Will you take a cheque?” I give you three guesses. And no, I won’t release the dog until I’ve seen the money, and I don’t book them again.
  28. We’ve once had a dog booked in who had been subjected to fairly horrific long-term abuse by his owner. We reported it to the relevant people and it was taken into care. The owner wasn’t prosecuted. It’s counterintuitive, but if you’ve gone a bit too far with your abuse and you are now in an emergency situation, it’s easier to get away with it if you’ve booked your dog in for some outside care. Of course you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong… if you didn’t care about your dog, you wouldn’t be paying to have it groomed, right?
  29. So far we’ve had one abandoned dog. Apparently it’s quite common for breeds that are hard to rehome (pitbulls, staffies, rotties) to be left at animal care places as shelters are hard to get into. If we get a funny feeling about a booking (e.g. non-groomable breeds booked for grooming, or any kind of iffyness with an owner’s living situation) we don’t book them in.
  30. My personal favourite. We collect dogs for free from the village. So someone decided to lie to us and tell us that they lived in the village, so they’d get a free collection, when they actually lived about 15 miles down the road… That didn’t work too well for them.