Oh Boob Grab, We’ll Miss Thee (actually, we won’t, but…)

Oh Boob Grab, We'll Miss Thee (actually, we won't, but...)

Yesterday when I found out about the open source boob project I figured I should write something up for FSFBlog about it. Something more comprehensive than WTF PEOPLE. However, Liz beat me to it! And brilliantly. Everyone should go read her post, cuz she has awesome links.

I am as impressed with the swiftness and voracity of the response to the original post as Liz is, but not entirely surprised. I think there is a lot of built-up, sometimes unspoken, anger about the issue of sexual harassment or skeeviness at cons or with the community in general. And it’s not just with the obvious crap from inappropriate touching or overtly creepy people, but also that subtle shit or with people who take advantage of the politeness, introversion, or shyness of the people–usually women–they are creepy and inappropriate and worse with.

And because it’s not completely over the line stuff like actual touching or actual verbal abuse, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do. Even I find myself struggling to get past the barrier of basic human politeness and have the courage to say, “Dude, you are creeping me the fuck out.”

I’ll give an example, since I’ve been telling folks about this a lot lately. I was at a big con a while back and met a person through mutual friends. Upon first meeting, this person seemed to be nice and friendly and someone I wouldn’t mind knowing. Later, at a party, I saw this person again when they approached me and proceeded to compliment my various physical attributes and declared me hot and sexy.

On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the majority of the people reading this journal know that there’s a way in which someone can compliment your looks that is flattering, even a turn on. And then there’s ways they can compliment you that makes you want to have a very hot shower, perhaps with a nice exfoliating piece of brillo, just to be sure the slime goes away. But the person didn’t say something disgusting, didn’t slip me his room key and wink, didn’t touch me, didn’t threaten. It’s right on that edge of not cool, enough to make me go EWWWWEWEWEWOMGNO on the inside. On the outside, I just smiled and accepted the compliment (as young ladies are taught to do) and resolved to not go near that person again, if I could help it.

But, like I said, this was a friend of a friend, so I did see them again over the course of the con, and they continued to flirt and skeeve in my general direction. (and after that, friended me on LJ, moving into virtual skeeving. Lovely.) And even I marveled at why I couldn’t just say, “I do very much mind that you keep flirting with me, since you asked, because you’re ICKY.” But then, that’s really mean.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I have ideas about when it’s appropriate to just cut someone down and when it’s not. Someone says something racist? Yes. Someone touches my person or the person of someone I know for a fact doesn’t want to be touched? Yes. Someone is just being generally creepy? Not so much.

Perhaps I should re-evaluate this. Because this is a problem. Not just at cons, not just with guys. (If I counted the # of times some women of my acquaintance have been completely inappropriate with the flirting and skeeving all over a person she KNOWS to be in a relationship… gah! Don’t get me started. Though I do recognize that the power dynamics with that are different.) And, at this point, as this boob touching thing has proven, even mild creepiness calls for swift, loud, direct correction. Honestly, how else is this crap going to stop?

I just realized I am sitting here getting angry because I was imagining the kind of bullshit I would hear from people if I were to ever go off on someone for being creepy but not over the line. People telling me that I’m being MEEN, or that just talking to someone privately would achieve more, and why should I completely embarrass that person when they may not even know they’re doing something wrong, or similar sentiments. Preemptively I say to that: BULLSHIT.

Just as I will not, WILL NOT, put up with racism or sexism when it’s seemingly not overt, I also will not put up with this skeeviness. Our community should not. And if I have to be the one to loudly proclaim “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” in order to get my message across, regardless of who it embarrasses, then I will just have to.

That’s my project. Don’t have a cool name for it, though.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh yeah. I agree, it is often the “not quite over the line” incidents that really bother me over the course of days or longer. The result is often that I sort of self-limit and avoid places I might encounter that person in future.

    I think you have described some of the dynamic really well here. A person comes off as creepy, automatic response is to smile and say something neutral, because anything else would be rude, and overreacting, and we don’t quite have a way to get the message across. But, the creepy or unwelcome person then never gets the message. Other people see the smile and think that the woman is pleased, flattered, friendly, or even flirty.

    Have you seen how some women recognize when other women are experiencing “backed into a corner uncomfortably smiling at annoying guy at a party” syndrome and effect a Social Extraction & Rescue. While, to other people, the entire transaction was invisible?

    So, for me, I have been experimenting with methods of snubbing. Acting uninterested usually isn’t clear enough. I am trying things like saying “I don’t have any interest in social interaction with you” and see what results. So far I see that what results is usually bewilderment, open hostility, boundary pushing, attempts to explain and persuade. it is quite amazing to say “I have no interest in you, and don’t want to talk” and then have the guy dog your footsteps to try to get you to talk. Like, if I already don’t want to talk with someone, then, I sure don’t want to go off and process that desire not to talk with them, WITH THEM…

    At the Wiscon flirting panel we advised guys to practice how they would deal with signals of rejection. If they react to disinterest or a “no” with woundedness, accusations, hostility, etc. They actuallky have a good chance of *more success* with certain women whose placatory survival behavior will kick in. And, that just isn’t pretty… for anyone.

    Personally I gotta train myself harder not to smile in that placatory way while saying NO.

  2. seaya says

    This is totally exactly what happened to me at Wiscon (and other moments in my life). I want to be “nice” and then well because I am nice, men take that as meaning they are entitled to spend time with me because they want me. If I yell at them for it, I’m a bitch. Also, sometimes guys are teetering just barely close to the edge such that it takes several moments for the creepiness factor to be confirmed by my benefit of the doubt giving subconscious.

    At last year’s Wiscon I had to be rescued twice by men I trusted by talking to them for hours until the creepy guy went away. Then he later came to sit at my table at the dessert reception, and I was exchanging looks with my friend A. who apparently had been receiving the same treatment as me the whole weekend by this guy. I had to move tables.

    Only after the guy left the con and we weren’t going to see him again did several folk kinda confirm to me that they noticed! It’s a shame none of us overcame our conditioning and said “Go away!”

  3. says

    Hi, I got here from Girls Read Comics.

    Who but you decides what is over the line? Isn’t that what we teach little children when we want them to look out for sexual predators. If it doesn’t feel right then it shouldn’t be happening – at least not to you. Chase him away and let him skeeve on someone else – or maybe he really doesn’t know what he’s doing is wrong or inappropriate and he should be educated.

    Why are women so afraid to be judged as mean or bitchy in this way? Is it some subtle conditioning that says we must be gentle and ‘feminine’ (i.e. not strong and forthright)?

    You could always just respond to inappropriate comments with “Well I think you are exceedingly average looking and while you have big muscles (or whatever), you have no ass” – or something to that effect.

  4. littlem says

    “Why are women so afraid to be judged as mean or bitchy in this way? Is it some subtle conditioning that says we must be gentle and ‘feminine’ (i.e. not strong and forthright)?”

    Yes. Otherwise we will be shamed, excoriated and ostracized.

    Didn’t you get the memo?

  5. goatchowder says

    If you can counter the not-quite-creepiness with not-quite-rudeness, you’re golden.

    Something as straightforward as, “I don’t like that”. Or, “I’m not going there”. Or, “Let’s do this instead…”. Or just remove them from your presence or yourself from theirs.

    Most not-quite-creepy guys won’t cross the line if you jump away to where they can’t get to you without crossing it. If they do, then you can respond REALLY rudely and forcefully.

Trackbacks

  1. […] K. Tempest Bradford: Oh Boob Grab, We’ll Miss Thee (actually, we won’t, but…) Just as I will not, WILL NOT, put up with racism or sexism when it’s seemingly not overt, I also will not put up with this skeeviness. Our community should not. And if I have to be the one to loudly proclaim “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” in order to get my message across, regardless of who it embarrasses, then I will just have to. […]