Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

 

(This article originally appeared on These Certain Musings in July 2012.)

This story troubles me greatly.  It’s taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly–beyond the obvious–why.  During this morning’s karate class, I think I figured it out.  Now to see if I can articulate it.  I’m using a bunch of newbie-author italics and bolds.  Oh, well.

The decision made by the Readercon board says to me that harassment happened, and that witnesses backed it up.  It says the behavior was not acceptable–but it was excusable.  A short-term banning says the boundary-crossing–which I understand included physical contact, correct me if I’m wrong–was determined to be not nice, but not a big deal.

But there’s another notion I want to discuss–a related tangent, if you will–that this situation triggered for me.  I don’t think it’s anything new, and it incorporates what others are saying, but I decided to post it anyway.  While the situation I’ve read of is the jumping-off point, I am not talking about that specific situation.  I’m talking about generalities and probabilities, not specifics and certainties.

Statistically, the larger danger is not the creepy stranger lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce.  It’s the family member or acquaintance who keeps his behavior just inside the lines of what society tells us we should expect to accept, the level of behavior we should treat with subtlety and civility, until he’s ready to attack.

But the primary danger is where society puts those lines.

Alas, many acquaintance attacks begin with the same behavior that many would deem “mere clueless rudeness.”  But following from place to place, invading personal space, seemingly casual touching, refusal to stop–all are behaviors we know can lead to a life-threatening attack.  We know this at a deep and primal level.  That’s why it makes us uncomfortable.

And society as a whole has agreed we may not take defensive action until after the aggressor has attacked.  In other words, it’s perfectly cool for the man to say he misinterpreted a woman’s actions, even though the woman is left fearing for her physical safety.  But if the woman takes definitive and physical action to stop an attack before it escalates, she is usually blamed for overreacting.  Shamed for being rude.  Castigated for embarrassing the one who is crossing boundaries.

Y’all know I teach self-defense.  One thing we discuss and practice at length is the correlation between distance, time, and safety.  The greater the distance between you and danger, the more time there is to react.  The more time you have, the greater the likelihood of reaching safety.

But the good manners women are taught draw the lines of “appropriate” response inside an average person’s reaction time, inside the point of likely success.  It isn’t the man’s superior strength or size that is most dangerous.  It’s the fact we’re not permitted to take action against him until he’s already gained the advantage.

If society wants the woman to take defensive action only after she has been isolated, restrained, or struck, society is placing the woman’s right to protect herself far behind the man’s desire to avoid being embarrassed by his own behavior.  Clueless or intentional–I don’t care.  The aggressor’s feelings are given a higher value than the woman’s safety.  And frankly, it’s the ones who claim cluelessness who are more dangerous.  If they claim they don’t understand, “Please leave me alone,” they can’t be trusted to understand, “I don’t want to have sex with you,” either.

There is one thing I try to hammer home–for myself as much as for my students–in an attempt to override that societal conditioning:  If someone places an unwanted hand on me, that person has forfeited the right to said hand.  If it is on my body, it belongs to me, to do with as I think appropriate for the situation.  That might mean a pointed but low-key removal of the hand from my shoulder, or a blatant and painful pinky-finger twist, or something more aggressive.

(If my intuitions–which should be trusted–are telling me the man isn’t going to comply with my words, I hope to all that’s worth hoping to I’d do what I’ve been trained to do.  Saying with complete conviction that I’d do X would really be nothing but bravado.  We all hope we’ll know what to do, but it’s after you’ve faced a confrontation that you realize how unpredictable it can be.  Anyway.)

My actual response isn’t as important as knowing, deep down, that a person who harasses me, touches me, and tries to corner me has forfeited the right to polite words and civilized reactions.  I don’t need to be his teacher first, and verbally remind him to be a man rather than asshole.  If he hasn’t already learned, that isn’t my problem to solve nor my fault to bear.

If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.

Really think about that for a moment.  Consider the term “acceptable losses.”  Now put faces to those losses.  Put that in context of what price we’re willing to pay to keep those lopsided and threatening situations from being an “embarrassment.”  The physical and emotional wellbeing of the person  is of less value than the feelings of a man who may choose to pursue a woman who tells him to leave her alone.

Distance = time = safety.  No amount of training can compensate for a societal requirement that the woman wait until she is hurt and restrained before fighting back.

I can’t speak to what Readercon’s decision means to those who are involved or those who have faced similar situations.  That’s for others–who have more con-going experience than I–to explain and discuss.  It’s just this little sliver of self-defense I’m addressing.
Notes:
1.  All of the above applies equally to men who have been assaulted by men or women, and women who have been assaulted by women.  I struggled with what pronouns to use, and decided to default to the genders specific to the Readercon situation for the sake of clarity.

2.  I’ve had women ask me some variation of, “But what if it’s one of your husband’s friends, and he’s drunk, and he doesn’t mean any harm?” My response is some variation of, “But what if the next time he cops a feel, it’s your teenage daughter?”

3. Yes, it’s possible to turn an unwanted hug to your advantage, but not for the average person.  If that nitpick is the best response someone can come up with, I expect it to be followed by, “So let’s give everyone a year’s worth of Krav Maga training!”

Advertisements

The Conversation Continues

WordPress lets me see the places where others have clicked links to reach my site. I didn’t recognize one of the referring pages that landed on a past post (It’s the Same Advice), so I clicked it to find out where it came from. That led me to a LiveJournal were a person had linked to the above post, and Where the Boundaries Are Drawn (over at my LiveJournal).  That’s cool.

Then, the comment right under it made me laugh:

The moment a woman describes a guy who came onto her as “creepy”, she loses all my sympathy. “Creepy” means, precisely, “a man who is interested in me, but not good enough for me.” All the woman is saying is, “This guy thought he was good enough for me! Isn’t that awful?”

I couldn’t help but leave a response:

That might be your precise definition, but it certainly is not mine. A creeper is someone who does not believe the object of his/her desire has the right to decline said desire. A creeper is someone who is certain the primary reason the desired object declines is either extreme arrogance or complete stupidity. A creeper is someone who believes the arrogance and stupidity can be corrected by the right amount of mockery, insults, ignoring of requests to be left alone, and/or force.

Are there men who aren’t “good enough” for me? Why yes, there are. Men who think the best way to open a relationship is to place hands on private parts of my body, or back me into a corner, or refuse to take a polite “no thank you” as a valid response are, indeed, not good enough for me.

Every person has the right to choose the traits and behaviors they’d like in a partner, and it’s rather odd to see that right couched as a dismissive comment.

I’ve taught women in martial arts for more than a decade now, and I’ve had the chance to watch women decide what sort of shit they no longer need to put up with. As a result, more than one of the boyfriends/spouses faced with changing abusive behavior or losing their significant other have decided I’m a “man-hater.”

Nope. I’m an asshole-hater. There is a difference. Quite a big difference.

The Odd Feeling About A Much-Viewed Entry

So it’s been a little less than four months since I swallowed my nervousness and made Seeing Is Understanding publicly accessible.

I’ve been blown away by its continued visibility. It’s a rare day that someone doesn’t view it here or over at LiveJournal.  Between the two, it’s reached around 4000 views. And just when I think it’s finally trickling off, a sudden influx of viewers will come from a new Facebook or Tumblr link. Now I’m getting visitors from Google+. I have no idea how many people have read it at those other sources.

I’m blown away by that. (I know a great many folks wouldn’t blink at those stats, but I’m an unknown small fry, so the numbers surprise me.) I’d originally written this up for a double-handful of friends because I’d found the incident both interesting and unsettling. They urged me to give it a wider audience, and I’m glad I did. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

I’m also a little weirded out by the article’s reach. My website stats tell me folks come from all sorts of online places to see that post, reading from six continents, so I assume there is some conversation about it somewhere — but it’s not mine to participate in, or even know about. I just hope the conversations lead to better awareness on the part of men and women, and a greater ability to see the smaller manipulations that so often escape notice and acknowledgement.

Lastly, I can report I’ve not been subject to any backlash. Considering what has happened to others discussing harassment, that does surprise me. (I wonder if it’s because “Blair” is somewhat gender-ambiguous.)

Crossposted to These Certain Musings.

Seeing Is Understanding

This is about speaking up, creepers, and what good men don’t always see.  Names have been changed.

Some time ago, I was having lunch with a group of friends—four men, one woman, and me.  I’ve known most of the group for five or six years.  We were talking about shared past experiences when one of the men mentioned that he missed Larry.  “Gotta like a man who can make a good cup of coffee,” he said.

“No, I don’t,” I blurted out, and described how that man knew precisely where the lines of “inappropriate” behavior were drawn, and had spent the last couple of years nudging those lines whenever he came across a woman he considered “available.”  I mentioned he’d been called out for failing to heed polite turn-downs, that he got offended when the turn-down became less polite.  I mentioned how women who weren’t even the focus of his attention breathed a sigh of relief when he left the room.

None of the men discounted my experience or my descriptions.  But every one of them said they hadn’t seen or noticed anything like that.  I do want to be clear that their responses were not in the spirit, tone, or words of dismissal.  Instead, they were genuinely puzzled that their observations had missed something they assumed would be obvious.  One said he felt bad he hadn’t realized what was going on.

So I pushed the issue.

Without explaining what I was going to do, I got up and stood behind one of the men.  I put my hands on his shoulders, then stretched my fingers as far down his chest as possible while still seeming to give a platonic shoulder rub.*  I pulled him back against my chest, digging my fingers in when he resisted.  That action alone let him know I acknowledged he didn’t want me to be pulling on and touching him, and I didn’t care.

“You look so tense,” I said in a nice, soft voice.  Not sexy, not husky, but more intimate than standard conversation.  Not intimate enough to be “inappropriate,” though.  “You just let me give you a rub and I’ll make you feel better.  I can tell you need that.”

Then, while he sat immobile with surprise, I leaned past him to pick up his coffee cup, keeping my chest close to his face and my other hand firmly on his shoulder.  To the others, it likely looked as if I was just resting my hand there.  That man, though, could feel the pressure I exerted to keep him pressed close to me.  He would have had to make an obvious, rude-looking push to get away.  “I’ll get you some more coffee, too.  You just let me take care of that.”

I gave the man a sweet smile in answer to his shocked stare, then returned to my seat, put my napkin back on my lap, and said, “That’s what Larry does.”

The man I’d touched totally understood in that moment.  He’d experienced how it felt—even at the hands of a friend—to have your personal boundaries violated and your “polite” signals of resistance ignored.  The other men had that slack expression that comes when surprising facts suddenly jolt long-held assumptions.  “Creepy” was uttered, as was “awful” and “scary.”

Their words held a tone of… almost fear?  As if they were suddenly running through all sorts of past interactions in search of similar behaviors, and finding some.

Now they are able to see it.

*The “long-fingered” shoulder rub is a common tactic used by creepers who want to look like they’re being so tender and nurturing while actually making the woman fear he’s going to grab a breast at any moment.

See also:

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

It’s the Same Advice

Edited 08/09/2013 11:20 to correct word-choice mistake pointed out by a kind reader. 🙂

It’s the Same Advice

Many commenters on various forums have—predictably—stated how onerous it will be to monitor their own behavior toward women.  How they simply can’t be expected to know the difference between flirtation and harassment, between friendliness and creepiness, between acceptable adult behavior and unacceptable juvenile conduct.

On another blog I read often, the discussion came up because a commenter wanted to know the best way to avoid being falsely accused.  A very level-headed commenter answered with the following advice:

“Don’t put yourself into a situation where it’s just you and someone whose moral compass you aren’t sure of. Stay in a public or semi-public place. Maintain at least an arm’s length of distance when possible. Keep your hands away from the other person’s body — perhaps by holding a glass (at a party, say), a book, or a tablet. Be polite, but not intimate: don’t lean in to talk to them quietly, don’t go into personal topics.”

The next response deemed her advice “a large checklist,” and called it “overly sensitive.”

Questions: What part of that advice is particularly difficult?  Is it a great burden to avoid touching another person?  Is it unreasonable to avoid talking about intimate topics?  Is avoiding being alone with a person of questionable character an extreme act?

Better questions: How many of you would have read the advice out of context and assumed it was standard advice given to women on how to avoid giving a man/woman the wrong signals?  For heaven’s sake, how many of you know children who could follow those standards of behavior with ease?

As Elizabeth Bear wrote about the difference between harassment and flirtation: It’s not actually all that complicated.