The Myth of the Male Bumbler
November 15, 2017 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Male bumblers are an epidemic. A nice explanation to provide to those who confess to be worried that they can't tell the difference between sexual assault and asking someone out on a date.

Everyone seems to be touched by a different part of this essay. For me, the kicker was:

Economists have long and lazily attributed the exodus of women in various industries to their decision to bear children, but now this giant explanatory iceberg is floating up — this absolutely gigantic, widely denied story about how women are routinely driven from their industries because their male colleagues need to be free to use their professional power to indulge their sexual urges.
posted by janey47 (60 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
OMG this:

"Women VERY frequently say one thing and mean another, display expressions or reactions that don't jibe with their feelings, and so on. But it's actually really easy to decode once you understand why it happens. It is survival behavior," Shearer writes.

AND THIS:

"Most of us know that when a politician sits on the stand and insists that he "does not recall," that it's a political performance, a manipulative pretense intended to obfuscate. Let's apply that intelligent skepticism toward this rash of professions of male incompetence. To put it in pragmatic terms: You can be a bumbler, or you can keep your job. You can't have both."
posted by ZakDaddy at 11:38 AM on November 15, 2017 [32 favorites]


Celebrities, they're just like our husbands and boyfriends, as testified in this morning's thread.

That line about women's talent for dissembling being survival behavior... that really hit home. Having read at least dozen articles like this one this week, this is worth the read, although like most of the others, the only solution offered (call these douchebags out and keep calling until they're in big trouble) is one that is difficult to execute without solidarity and collective action, and often comes with collateral damage to the accusers.

For my part, I commit to a complete shutdown on giving men the benefit of the doubt until we figure out what's going on.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 12:27 PM on November 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be.

This is absolutely true. My cohort growing up was nerdy guys, and almost all the cliches about mean girls in Hollywood applied to every group I was ever a part of: backbiting, ostracization, informal pecking orders, jabs, gossip, etc.

Hell, it's true of me, and I was a clueless child for real: I'm mildly Aspie, and I'm old enough that nobody caught it when I was little. I spent a good chunk of my teenage years learning how to engage productively in socialization because I legitimately did not know how to, and speaking as someone who bumbled for real? It was awful. Everybody else 'got it.' They understood what they were supposed to say and do, and I didn't, and I knew I'd be left behind if I didn't figure it out for myself. Nobody wants to be a bumbling sitcom dad for real. Nobody would let it happen to them unless there was something genuinely wrong with them.

End result: I think about this stuff more than most of the women in my life, not less.

I think most guys couldn't articulate the rules because we are legit not socialized to talk about feelings, which also obfuscates this a bit: the knowledge is more intuitive, and so it's easier to pretend it isn't there. But with rare and obvious exception, it is.

With predators, it absolutely is because it's how they don't get caught.
posted by mordax at 12:58 PM on November 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


Something that occurred to me as I was reading this was just how much programming there is in popular culture to accept this. Bumbledad occurs again and again in sitcoms; I was thinking of a scene in Malcolm in the Middle in which Hal and the boys forget Lois' birthday, and a penitent Hal pleads with Lois, "We're at the top of our game here." (Arguably, this even extends to Bryan Cranston's even better known role, in which Walt becomes less bumbling in direct proportion to his growing villainy.)

And I agree with mordax that nerd boys do the mean girl thing absolutely. At least my posse did.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


"How many deliberate, premeditated lies, how many carefully set traps, how many instances of deceit do we need before we can admit that men are every bit as duplicitous and two-faced as women are suspected of being? That harassment is not an accident? That predation requires planning? That this gigantic apparatus through which women's careers are destroyed and men's are preserved isn't just happenstance?"
Apparently an infinite number. I've started cringing at "surely this" jokes, because there is no this. The target is permanently shifting.

It is part of why sending these men to rehab is so infuriating-- rehab is supposed to be for people who are out of control, but all of the stories coming out are about men who are superbly in control. The machinations and the scripting and the bit players and the consistent threats and the carefully pulled threads-- it's a symphony of planning and organization and follow up. It's a ballet, and the fact that they never seem to slip in front of the "wrong" people shows how completely in control they are.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:11 PM on November 15, 2017 [48 favorites]


How did I never see this before?? I've definitely thought "Maybe he doesn't understand the impact of his actions," or "Maybe he's socially awkward." But for some reason I've failed to think, "Maybe he's straight up lying." Huh. I will have to add that to the mental list of possibilities.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


The internet has been so disappointing the last couple of years. But #metoo and everything associated with it is the best and most unexpected thing in my life. And I am hopeful that the end of accepting predatory behaviour from men will change society in profound and at this point unknowable ways.
I could write a 30-page essay on this, where maybe 10 pages would be about my own acceptance and collusion, in spite of my general feminist views and no-nonsense attitude.
The times are a changing
posted by mumimor at 1:50 PM on November 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


Rehab doesn't work because they don't want to stop. Probably the only thing that would stop them is being unable to move, or being dead. Though I'd settle for fired.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:52 PM on November 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


I like the parallel to addiction. An addict does something harmful to himself and others, in order to satisfy an emotional need, repeatedly, for as long as he can get away with it. *

And the fundamental addiction is always to control.

a fiendish thingy wrote,
The machinations and the scripting and the bit players and the consistent threats and the carefully pulled threads-- it's a symphony of planning and organization and follow up. It's a ballet, and the fact that they never seem to slip in front of the "wrong" people shows how completely in control they are.
That could be about any addict I know. It only works up until it doesn't, and you're only in control until you aren't, as many powerful men are finding out.

(*ask me how I know.)
posted by Horkus at 1:54 PM on November 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


This comes up any time there's accusations of harassment or sexual assault at conventions - "maybe he's just awkward; he misread the situation; maybe he's got Asperger's" (there are blank looks if you reply, "what if she has Asperger's?"), "he meant well; he probably just didn't understand," like oops his hand just kinda slipped into her bra... and the bra of some other woman an hour ago.... and at the last convention... and the one before that.

It's especially fascinating when the guy is on the ConCom, or has been chairman of another convention in the past, or in one notable case, ran a Worldcon bid. These are the guys who have the most social skills in all of SF fandom, the ones who can persuade strangers to throw money at them, and they're being excused with "he's just bumbling around women."

I stopped having any belief whatsoever in that when I met guys on the spectrum who had, accidentally, committed awkward acts that could be considered harassment if taken out of context. The difference is, someone who's on the spectrum honestly doesn't know that what they said or did was hurtful, and if you tell them, they stop. The apologize (real apologies, not "I'm sorry you were bothered"), and they change their behavior. Oops, did not know that's not an appropriate question; won't ask again; won't ask other women again. Oops, did not realize I shouldn't touch the costume; won't do it again. And so on.

Not, Oops, sorry you got offended; it's an innocent question really; didn't mean to bother you; I just wanted to know if... Oops, the costume just looked so inviting; only wanted to see if it felt real; didn't do any harm to it. And certainly not, hey you shouldn't be upset by that.

And the fact that the "bumblers" somehow manage to never molest the hotel's Head of Guest Services or the woman who's 6'4" husband is looming next to her, says that they're damn well aware of exactly what they're trying to get away with.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:04 PM on November 15, 2017 [91 favorites]


Oh Jesus this. I have had to cut out (subtly, haven’t actually had to act on it. If I run into him socially I plan to loudly proclaim that his gross rape jokes freak me out, and then leave whatever event it is) from my life a dear college friend of a partner. This dude made a fake subtle gross rape joke and I called him out on it and my partner squirmed. Then gross joke dude leaned in and said so only I could hear ‘but like, in a Rapey way’ and waggled his eyebrows.

I was so fucking shocked. I couldn’t move. After the party I asked my partner if he’d heard that part of the exchange. I was so shocked and hurt that he hadn’t said anything, I’d have been really passed if he had heard it and done nothing. More pissed than I was that he didn’t back me up with the initial joke. He hadn’t heard.

That friend knew exactly what he was doing, he knows it was creepy. My partner still thinks the friend didn’t do it to be creepy. Didn’t even believe his friend registered that it would be creepy.

I have literally thousands of stories like this. Workplace. Friends. Strangers on the subway. Guys who respond ‘fuck bitch, can’t you take a compliment’ when I get mad that they’ve told me they bet my pussy is wet or that if I didn’t work for their client they’d date me or that I should shave or wear makeup or would be prettier if I smiled. It’s all creepy. Most men know this shit is creepy, and I can tell because they make sure men who might stick up for me don’t hear this shit, and they make sure no one hears the especially egregious shit. And when I bring it up they say I’m exaggerating or that I’m jealous ornthat I propositioned them first or that I’m too ugly to rape. Almost never does a guy say, “oh shit, I didn’t realize I sounded like such an ass. I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me know, I’ll try to do better. I hope you always feel safe telling me when I’ve fucked up.” Not even a single part of that, much less the whole thing.

Guys who want to do better, that’s your script. I’ll put it in block quotes so you can print it out and keep it in your wallet.
oh shit, I didn’t realize I sounded like such an ass. I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me know, I’ll try to do better. I hope you always feel safe telling me when I’ve said something inappropriate.
You’re welcome.
posted by bilabial at 2:45 PM on November 15, 2017 [68 favorites]


"The machinations and the scripting and the bit players and the consistent threats and the carefully pulled threads-" -a fiendish thingy at 1:11 PM

Is that what "wing-men" do? I've never understood this wingman concept besides seeing that it seems to mean that they are supposed to help men extract sex from women by hook or by crook.
Is there such a thing as innocent "wing-men" or they always a part of manipulation?

As an autistic women I do not have an easy time understanding social stuff of women and girls, so I doubly am at a loss to understand male-related social behavior/words.
Anyone care to take a stab at what wing-men are for?
posted by RuvaBlue at 2:58 PM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


In a non-skeevy setting, the wing-man does some bragging for a guy where it's not appropriate to do so for himself. The wingman is a third party telling the woman she could be interested in Our Hero. For this to be non-skeevy, they need to be obvious friends; she knows the friend is biased, but it's okay for him to tell the woman, "Joe here is a terrific dancer" or "he's worked at at Mason & Gerome for three years; he's stable," at a point where if Joe told her, it would just be bragging or creepy oversharing.

If nothing else, it establishes that these (supposed) facts are just things that people who know Joe, know about him; they are not intended to be secrets meant to coerce her. The wingman also serves as a chaperone: wingman is not interested in her directly, so it's okay for her to sit with the two of them; that will presumably keep Joe from doing anything inappropriate with a new acquaintance. This also provides an opportunity for her to leave - if there's no spark, she doesn't have to feel guilty for "leaving Joe all alone at the bar" because his friend is also keeping him company.

In a "clean" setting, the wingman introduces himself to the women nearby, figures out which of them is compatible with his buddy Joe, and does the introductions between them, then provides himself as a foil to get over the initial awkwardness phase. If they don't hit it off, she leaves, and wingman looks for someone else who'd like Joe, or he consoles Joe and they drink a beer or watch the game or whateverthefuck guys do when they're in mixed-gender social settings but don't have dates.

In more sketchy arrangements, the wingman lies on Joe's behalf, or appears to be someone he just met, in order to deceive the woman into thinking that a total stranger thinks well of Joe. Or he's overtly creepy to her, so she'll look to Joe for protection. Or there are various other emotional coercions going on.

Note that both Joe and Wingman have to be pretty damn socially savvy for any of this to work. The idea of a wingman doing introductions for an awkward, shy, bumbling guy... that's part of the myth. For that to be true, Joe can't have any history of going out with a wingman.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:13 PM on November 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


That could be about any addict I know. It only works up until it doesn't, and you're only in control until you aren't, as many powerful men are finding out.

Here's the thing that you are missing: It has worked for millennia for the vast vast majority of men who do this shit. There isn't a nice story where men always end up "out of control" and get caught. These men are IN CONTROL of their behavior. This isn't a compulsion that they can't control. It's something they enjoy and that society tacitly approves of. It's not that the men spin out of control with their creepy behavior and then get caught. The reason that Weinstein et al are being called out now is that women finally have just a bit of power (and, I would argue, the internet as a way to communicate) and can call him on it and be believed (sometimes).
posted by mcduff at 3:31 PM on November 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


This completely explains why I've not been comfortable with the way I handled something 15 years ago. I gave a lecherous ski instructor the benefit of the doubt and treated him like a bumbler ( and he acted like one--"Oh, whoa. I had no idea...!), when I should have treated him like the lech that he was and reported him to his bosses. I owe an apology to the teenage girl who brought the problem to me.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have an incredible temptation to reply to guys who say "oh how terrible; I had no idea; I didn't mean any offense!" with "let's sit you down in front of a 4-hour marathon of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood until you've learned the basics of How Not To Be An Asshole."

Because the social rules they're violating are the ones we teach three-year-olds to follow: don't touch people without permission; ask before you take someone's stuff; apologize when you scared or hurt someone; don't call people liars because they said something you didn't want to hear.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:06 PM on November 15, 2017 [24 favorites]


I've typed and re-typed a comment I really want to make here so many times, but I just can't put together the abysmal rage I feel when I think about a specific event that happened to an ex-girlfriend of mine, by someone who use to be a good friend. The whole "well he has Asperger's"/"he didn't know what he was doing" line of defense is insulting and repugnant, especially considering there are a lot of people who have Asperger's or are socially awkward, yet are not rapists/disgusting pieces of filth.
posted by gucci mane at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


In my time stripping, I’ve spent a lot of time interacting with "bumblers." I just want to chime in with an observation and an uncomfortable emotional exercise.

If we locked up every person who has committed sexual assault — i.e. touched another person indecently without permission — society would grind to a halt. I’m not exaggerating one ounce. I cannot count the number of people who have tried to touch me indecently (i.e. tried to touch my vag) after I told them no. Hundreds at least, maybe over a thousand, though probably not thousands (yet). And I'm just one (1) stripper who sees mostly regulars.

So, I ask you (yes, YOU) to engage in an uncomfortable exercise.

---------------------------
(1) Think of someone you genuinely like: someone intelligent, kind, genuinely caring, helpful, trustworthy. The caring professor who launched your interest in your career; the contractor whom you trust enough to have your house key; the politician who personally advocated for you when you reached out to their office and needed help; the teacher who got you through that rough period in middle school; the cousin who was so supportive during your break-up; the friend who was so supportive when you were sexually assaulted; the best friend who was sexually assaulted and is so supportive to other survivors; your boyfriend; your son; your daughter. Ideally someone you love.

(2) Imagine that this person has made their way to a strip club. They’ve probably had at least a few drinks. They’re getting a lap dance. The stripper is definitely trying to turn them on, and she is acting like she herself is turned on. They want to touch her. They genuinely believe, in that moment, that she wants them to touch her. She says no. They touch her anyway because they know in their heart of hearts that she wants it, on a deeper level than her surface-level protestations, and if they could only do it, she’d be glad.

(3) Answer the tough questions: Should they go to jail for the first touch, before the stripper explicitly said no? Should they go to jail for the second touch, after the stripper explicitly said no? If yes, for how long? If no, should there be other consequences?
---------------------------

I ask because I honestly don’t know. I haven’t worked it out. I still like many of the people who did this to me, in a strange way. I don’t think they’re “evil,” necessarily, or deserving of jail time — but they sexually assaulted me. It goes from being work to being violated in a split second. It’s sex work when it’s consensual; and it’s sexual assault the moment it’s not consensual. They shouldn’t have done it. I don’t know if the “special circumstances” of sex work should matter, or if they do even though they shouldn’t. "Evil" is a big word.

But ... they sexually assaulted me. They sexually assaulted me. They sexually assaulted me.

Once you put the face of a loved one on the abstract "bumbler," so many people start rationalizing. It was a mistake; they didn’t mean harm; you can see why they would have thought that she wanted it; look at all the other good they've done; okay, it was sexual assault, but it shouldn't warrant those consequences, because those consequences are meant for worse sexual assaults.

Most readers are probably thinking right now that this hypothetical (or a comparable scenario) doesn’t apply to someone they love. Unless you’re a very isolated person, I’m here to tell you that it probably does. And I'm sorry for you. It's an awful, complicated feeling to love someone who has committed sexual assault.

This is a great article with a lot of important insights, some of which have been highlighted in this thread already. But it's much easier to excoriate public-figure bumblers who are already being excoriated by the general public. I think it’s fair that I (and other victims of bumblers) ask everyone to do in advance some of the emotional heavy-lifting of putting a familiar face on the next bumbler.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 4:23 PM on November 15, 2017 [61 favorites]


I ask because I honestly don’t know. I haven’t worked it out.

I'm working on a blog post/essay about "what I want to hear from the guys who've finally been outed as abusers." I'm aware that if every past assaulter went to jail overnight, we'd have a collapsed ruin of a society.

They touch her anyway because they know in their heart of hearts that she wants it, on a deeper level than her surface-level protestations ... Should they go to jail for the first touch, before the stripper explicitly said no? Should they go to jail for the second touch, after the stripper explicitly said no?

Groping is not a jail-worthy offense at the moment. (For some types of groping.) If he grabbed her, pinned her to the wall, wouldn't let her leave... yeah, that's assault and battery (and kidnapping); a couple months in jail might well be appropriate. If he patted her tits, and she said don't touch me, and he groped her ass... "thrown out of that club and banned" might be all the penalty that's appropriate, if she's not traumatized by it.

What we need, is not an official punishment for the "I didn't know she didn't want it" guys. Even if we all agreed there should be punishments, they'd adjust to the details of the event.

We need everyone else to believe the woman who says, he assaulted me, and it doesn't matter if he "didn't know" or not - he's old enough to have unsupervised encounters with women and therefore should know. If he knew, he's guilty of a crime; if he didn't, he needs to be taught basic manners, the way that preschoolers are taught if they don't yet know how to be polite to others.

We need more people willing to ask him: Did you commit assault, or are you saying your social skills are a notch below Elmo's?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:35 PM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


And at what age? I spent a couple of days recently with a troubled teenage boy, helping out. I parent two young men (I'm still coming to terms with them not being chubby cheeked teens anymore) and they had rough adolescences, but in comparison not any of the sheer misogyny this boy had. I just wasn't used to it coming from a teenage boy at such length and I know it was mild compared to what I've read online but it was raw to live with for a week.

The thing is, he was just a kid for all his bravado. A frightened out of his depth kid with neglect and violence behind him. And I know kids like him who turned a corner and made it without becoming toxic but it's so hard. He got infected and was drowning, thrashing and pulling his girlfriend down with him.

But he's just a kid. I'm fine at this point writing off my ex as an adult who can access resources and chooses not to, but the teenagers and angry boys who are rapidly inhaling this cloud of "how to be a real man" (my 5 year old daughter told me that in cartoons, boys aren't allowed to cry because they look silly. Only girls can be sad.) So what's the cut-off for responsibility?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:22 PM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


Peppermint Snowflake, I'm so sorry that not only happened to you, but does so repeatedly, as a part of your job. There is no defending it.

I don't know how to answer your question about jail, because I don't really know how I feel about jail to begin with. It doesn't solve anything. I want rehabilitation. I want people to learn not to do this in the first place. I want to somehow stop whatever compulsion we have as a species that makes most of us prey on people weaker than us. I don't know the right answer. I'm just so sorry. None of this is ok.
posted by greermahoney at 6:28 PM on November 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Two twelve year old boys have started calling my twelve year old daughter "baby" at school, and when she told them to knock it off they did it more, along with comments about their having touched various girls' body parts.

She escalated it to her teacher in writing, who escalated it to the assistant principal, who called to tell her she was wonderful for reporting it, that they would be seated elsewhere in the class (and no longer together), and there will be further intervention.

Meanwhile both of my kids (both genders) have been taught long before the age of twelve about consent, harassment, and so on. How not to do it, how to intervene or defend when it happens, and so on. We also call them out (and their friends) when they do wrong, and most of the kids who entered our sphere of influence with a lack of guidance in that area have gotten much better about such things.

I think the responsibility starts when the kids are born, really. If a parent is not teaching them that physical and verbal harassment are wrong as part of normal parenting activities, there is room for improvement.
posted by davejay at 6:46 PM on November 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


(3) Answer the tough questions: Should they go to jail for the first touch, before the stripper explicitly said no? Should they go to jail for the second touch, after the stripper explicitly said no? If yes, for how long? If no, should there be other consequences?

I can't say I'm an expert in strip clubs (I've been maybe four times in my life, never my idea), but I'm pretty sure that's what the big security folks are there for - to kick you out if you do that. Maybe they'll rough you up. I doubt the stripper, nor the bouncer wants to spend 2-3 hours engaging with police for that infraction (which probably occurs multiple times a day in their establishments).
posted by el io at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


It is survival behavior.
Yes. This is my experience. I did not giggle and apologize after a "friend" hit me in the face when I would not kiss him because I thought it was hilarious and my fault. I did it because I was scared and wanted to appease him and stop him from doing worse. So he punched me in the face and I held his hand and let him do whatever he wanted until my grandmother got home. Long experience has taught me that fighting back is dangerous, and I have the bent nose to remind me in case I am ever in danger of forgetting.
posted by xyzzy at 10:13 PM on November 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


Speaking as a male with a mild porn-addiction I would like to provide my perspective. I usually believe in the power my rational mind to control the urges, but I still find myself sexualizing women in regular, every-day contexts (in my mind that is). It is uncomfortable, but I partly blame the availability of porn for this. Why?

In my experience, a healthy coitus with another human being leads to a feeling of completion or closure (as the latin phrase puts it, post coitum omnia animal triste est, where I understand the triste also as exhausted, spent or satisfied). Porn and masturbation do not provide that outlet, but leave me forever unsatisfied, and eager to get more, even after a formal ejaculation.

Incidentally, and I certainly mean no disrespect to Peppermint Snowflake, strip-clubs play along similar lines. Myself and some others don't see the point of getting aroused only to be left wanting. In my male mind there is a hard-wired response to arousal, which is to mate. You may cool off, but something remains, and that something then leads to leering at women in the street and blurting inappropriate remarks at work.

This problem is compounded when the society acts very prudishly on the surface, but there is always an undercurrent, a glut, of smut. It is easy to see how this can cause a strong dissonance.

Now, would a reduction of availability of porn/strip-clubs/titillating advertising/revealing clothing solve things? I don't know yet, but there is a place to conduct research: the Muslim world. Are women harassed less there? (some data shows less reported harassment, but there are many factors which mean that reporting != real incidence). Porn use seems to be on a steep rise there, which might simply point to its increased (clandestine) availability. If anyone can dig out data on the impacts of a real, effective porn ban, I'd like to read them.

But back to my problem: I would like to become a less "bumbling" man, but I feel overstimulated. I know I could block porn on my computer (and I'm moving towards that, but it has its downsides, like increased irritability), but there are just so many things all around us which sexualize pretty much everything.
posted by Laotic at 2:23 AM on November 16, 2017


We have a lot of cultural norms and practices about sexuality that confuse us all, or at least most of us, men and women, boys and girls. And a whole huge set of those permit men to do things to women that are at the very least uncomfortable for the women, and at worst actual assault. Those norms and practices need to go.
It starts in kindergarten, when it is excused that Bobby pulls June's ponytail "because he doesn't know how to express his feelings for her". It's expressed in the cultural assumption that men need sex more than women, and thus have a right to "let steam out". It presents itself when we (maybe subconsciously) still condition our daughters to be "nice" and "pretty" and our sons to be "strong" and "bold". And even when we do all we can as parents, there is still a society out there, dominated by those assumptions and norms.
As a woman I have a healthy sex drive, I can enjoy porn, and can find random men sexy. Still, I have been perfectly able to conduct myself in social situations without bumbling for my entire life, as have most women I know or have met. Whereas many, many men I know, including some I like, have behaved in completely unacceptable ways towards colleagues, students, staff at hotels and restaurants, random women in the street or in bars and even family members. It's not all men, but it is a significant majority, and that just can't be right.
posted by mumimor at 4:14 AM on November 16, 2017 [13 favorites]


Laotic, if you think porn is pushing you towards harassment and assault then it seems to me you have a pretty large ethical obligation to stop, or seek counseling. I don’t agree with a lot of your post, but regardless, there it is.

On to the don’t agree - thirst is a pretty basic drive too but imagine a world where you are sitting on the bus and someone sidles up next to you, takes your coffee, takes a long, deep sip of it, smirks, and gives it back. This is what used to happen to me a few times a year, only it was assholes rubbing their junk on me on the subway.

If we make this coffee instead we can see how if someone sips your coffee in your face, they are acting extremely aggressively, establishing their right to anything on your person, breaking the social contract, making your personal space and boundaries meaningless, etc. We can also see how the same person doesn’t grab his boss’s coffee, doesn’t rob Starbucks, etc., but just decides to be shitty at a moment on the bus. I’m sure lots of people have had the experience of being thirsty and seeing someone with a drink but they don’t run up and grab it because it’s unthinkable in our society. They get off the bus and go look for a legit source of water.

Harassing and assaulting women should be the same. If someone truly is having some kind of sex drive meltdown, get off the bus, go home, fantasize, whatever but don’t touch the coffee, make cream and sugar jokes designed to get the coffee, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:19 AM on November 16, 2017 [64 favorites]


Oh, and I forgot, men also feel entitled to assault younger men, men they hold power over. It's not about men and women, it's about using sexual language and sexual acts as violent tools of power. Which IMO takes the sexiness out of sex.
posted by mumimor at 4:25 AM on November 16, 2017 [11 favorites]


Yes, this is not about sex. You can think whatever you want, but acting aggressively toward another human is unacceptable.

In all of these stories there is no grey area. The man grabbed, forced, touched, kissed, forced someone to watch him masturbate who was less powerful than him. Did he do it to the boss? Or the person who made funding decisions on his film? No. He chose a child, or a young actor, or an assistant or someone who wanted something from him. It’s always about power. And misogyny in the case where women are the victims. Women do not have equal power in our society, all else being equal.

Woody Allen is exhibit A - what normal person would think marrying their step-daughter was a reasonable thing to do? That’s not bumbling, it’s being a predator. (And I believe he did worse to his other children). This is about power and misogyny.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:01 AM on November 16, 2017 [9 favorites]


Laotic... how do you want to be? If you are not comfortable sexualizing people, then let go of the porn that's helping fuel that. It's really that simple. Yet not so simple because, as you said, the porn has a purpose. If you can see the purpose more clearly then you can replace something you acknowledge is creating difficulties with something that is healthier for you and those around you.

If you get irritable from not having sex or being stimulated then look closely at that irritability. Where is it coming from? What do you want that you're not getting? (and that probably goes deeper than sex - what's behind the want and behind that want and so on... ). How can you replace an unhealthy want with a healthy one? (because it's really hard to fulfill a negative)

We as men have a responsibility to look at our desires and emotions and how they affect the people around us. Always yet especially now that the damage being done is being shared by so many women. This is so pervasive in our culture. The road is difficult but not impossible; it's easier when you realize that maybe a little sacrifice will help women feel less attacked by the world around them. I speak from experience of doing this myself and letting things go that seemed necessary but really just reinforced bad habits and behavior patterns.
posted by kokaku at 5:03 AM on November 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


My partner and I watched The Secret Lives of 4 Year Olds the other day. For those of you that don't know this show, they film children in a nursery setting with child psychologists analysing their behaviour. It's an interesting look at social dynamics and how children learn to behave with each other.

There was one child this week whose parents described him as a ladies man (at 4!) and this little kid demanded that one of the girls be his girlfriend. He was referring to her as babe at one point I think. It seemed clear that he had learned this boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic somewhere and wanted to act it out. All the other children started to pair off when they saw him behaving in this way.

Now, none of the behaviour was unusual for children apparently, and the biggest tension was between this boy and another boy that he wanted to be friends with, but it was clear that this wee boy had already started to objectify girls. That's a learned behaviour, and it was quite shocking.

Dorothyisunderwood and davejay, you both touch on this.
posted by trif at 5:03 AM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


And I actually find the comparison to the Muslim world offensive. Again, this isn’t about sexual permissiveness, it’s about power and inequality. In a society where women are oppressed this kind of thing is very likely to go on. It’s not about porn and “confusion” about sex.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:04 AM on November 16, 2017 [21 favorites]


rainydayfilms, many people find many things offensive these days.

I know about the inequality that women face in the Muslim world and never did I say they fared better there in terms of harassment.

What is relevant in this comparison is the very ostentatious restriction on anything sexually stimulating in most of Muslim countries.

My point was (implicitly) that even despite such ostentatious bans (on porn or whatever else) people will still be pigs towards each other, so perhaps a total ban is not in order.

On the other hand, partials bans do work in certain areas, like smoking or perhaps alcohol consumption.

As I said, I don't know the answers.
posted by Laotic at 6:03 AM on November 16, 2017


What I deduce from my own personal example is that perhaps a part of the policy should be a drive to reduce the omnipresent nagging.

This is a repugnant way to respond in this thread of all threads, and a total denial of your own agency.

Also: "If in your world, sexualization equals sexual exploitation of women, then I have news for you, it does not."

Sorry, self-confessed porn addicts don't get to decide how harmful their acts are.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:04 AM on November 16, 2017 [18 favorites]


Laotic, I would suggest that the restrictions on things sexually stimulating in certain cultures has not reduced the difficulties women face one iota. Merely hidden them away and made it harder for women to speak out against them.

As one who also works with my own depression, I hear you when you say 'don't be depressed'. But that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying you have the ability to change things and a responsibility to do so.

You are distancing yourself from the problem....
there must be a quantum leap to the next level: thinking about solutions and courses of action, from the personal all the way to the societal level.

So I agree, there is a problem with men behaving sordidly, and what can we do about it? What I deduce from my own personal example is that perhaps a part of the policy should be a drive to reduce the omnipresent nagging.


All the way from the personal...what can we do about it...the only thing you have immediate control over is the personal so start there. You voiced your awareness of the problem here in a public space, so that suggests that you want to change it. It means working on the problem. Being willing to take the leap of letting go of something familiar (even an uncomfortable habit) because you recognize it is harmful to you and others around you and trust that something better will come of it (maybe bolstered and supported by people around you who have gone through similar leaps).

I'm offering these words in support not criticism.
I also don't want to derail this thread and make you feel targeted.
Memail me if you want to continue this discussion there.
posted by kokaku at 6:16 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I doubt the stripper, nor the bouncer wants to spend 2-3 hours engaging with police for that infraction (which probably occurs multiple times a day in their establishments).

I doubt the stripper wants to humiliate her client. I doubt the stripper wants to lose a client when she is doing her goddamn job properly. I doubt the client getting hauled out of the club in front of everyone is going to help her co-workers any.

The point is not that the stripper can punish the client. It's the the client is supposed to know the goddamn rules in the first place. It's that the stripper is having to deal with "infractions" 2-3 times a day.

Yeah, a strip club has a bouncer. Doesn't sound like it's 100% effective, does it?
posted by maryr at 6:17 AM on November 16, 2017 [10 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. This needs to not become Laotic vs. everyone else.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:49 AM on November 16, 2017


To elaborate on what dorothyisunderwood, davejay, and trif said: In many families, children are not allowed bodily autonomy and boundaries. Boundaries are for adults, and children are treated like squeezy toys for adults to tickle, poke, and maul. They are made to kiss adults they don't want to, to be nice to Creepy Uncle because he's an adult, etc. etc. - and then we're surprised, shocked, and dismayed when these kids get older and either don't respect others' boundaries, or allow their boundaries to be invaded. (Girls who are not allowed bodily autonomy as children are not going to suddenly say No to handsy boys as teenagers.)

I'm not talking about cuddles or tickle games that kids want to participate in and then the adult stops when the kid says no/has had enough, or about "yes, you have to take a bath/brush your teeth/wipe your butt even though you don't really want to." I'm talking about the fact that many times, kids - especially girls - are not allowed body autonomy at all. If you teach kids that boundaries can be violated at will, especially female boundaries, don't be surprised that the child grows up to be an adult who violates boundaries.

Respect and consent begin in the cradle. I don't think that there is such a thing as "male nature" that is innately predatory, but I think we do a terrible job of teaching our children about boundaries and respect for others' space and autonomy and personhood.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:40 AM on November 16, 2017 [29 favorites]


If he patted her tits, and she said don't touch me, and he groped her ass... "thrown out of that club and banned" might be all the penalty that's appropriate, if she's not traumatized by it.

all the penalty that is legally allowed is not all the penalty that's appropriate.

Yes, a man who sexually assaults a woman two discrete times in quick succession, the second time as deliberate unambiguous payback for her protest, as you describe, should be arrested and should face actual prison time. but also yes, I am aware that most men and some women think that this not only is, but should remain, unrealistic.

the principle by which this is made unrealistic is also the principle by which other mass political uprisings, mass violence, etc., operate: they can't jail us if we all do it! the situation as it exists, bolstered by widespread agreement that of course we can't take these assaults seriously as crimes, does function as a highly effective warning and threat. a political tactic which works. the law can't be used or modified for this, everyone suddenly seems to agree.

your little parenthetical about "if she's not traumatized" is the most telling and depressing part of this whole thought experiment. Not just because what if she's bruised and enraged but not emotionally traumatized; what, only those below a certain emotional fragility threshold get justice? but because you must know as well as everybody else that the women to whom this is most likely to happen, strippers and other sex workers, are those with the least ability to convince cops, juries, and judges that they suffered trauma from sexual assault. It's not the victim of violent crimes who gets to decide whether the offense against her matters enough to have consequences. and in fact, it rarely should be. sexual assaults should be taken seriously without requiring dramatic emotional displays from their victims to prove they really feel violated enough.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:44 AM on November 16, 2017 [24 favorites]


The lack of meaningful consequences for predatory behavior before it becomes pervasive is he real issue, and besides “try to change the culture”, I don’t have a good answer to this. I think it’s clear the shifts in current consequences for extreme predators is a result of women gaining more capital and Feminist education on consent, but this is inherently amorphous and uneven.

As aside note, what transformed my understanding of street harassment for real as reading a story about a young girl in a country which required full cover for all women. She went from being able to walk to school unnoticed to persistently and repeatedly harassed when she went under full cover. Her brother started walking her to school and the harassment persisted.

The reason why sex workers are targeted is not he sec part, it’s the way in which they are culturally devalued. “She’s a stripper” is an easy way for people in general to discount what a person says - male or female - and there is pretty solid evidence that referring sex workers for assault and abuse is an easy way to avoid any consequences at all. I think the obvious shift is toward valuing all people no matter what their profession is, but that’s far easier said than done.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:54 AM on November 16, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's not the victim of violent crimes who gets to decide whether the offense against her matters enough to have consequences. and in fact, it rarely should be. sexual assaults should be taken seriously without requiring dramatic emotional displays from their victims to prove they really feel violated enough.

I partially agree. I think the victim should have some choice in saying either, "ugh, do whatever it takes to make him stop" (arrest him; let him face jail time), or "aww geeze; I can tell he was so scared by the bouncers that he won't do it again; don't waste my time making me go to court to testify over this." Police resources are spread thin; we won't be improving women's lives by sending them after every creep who gets handsy in a party setting. (Strip clubs aren't parties, but they're designed to feel like them.)

I definitely agree that she shouldn't have to show dramatic emotional damage to prosecute. I didn't mean, "if she doesn't look traumatized;" I meant if she honestly feels she can shrug it off. And she doesn't have to decide it that night - we have a statute of limitations for that. So she could file a police report that night, and they'll put it on the "maybe deal with this later" stack, and if she's still bothered a week later, she can call them up and say "I want to do something about this; I don't want him to be free to go after the next girl."

And yes, they should be deciding that on their own. But prosecution is complicated and expensive, and requires her cooperation to go well; if she doesn't want to put him to jail, they're not going to convince a jury.

I don't mean "Sex workers are used to be groped so what he did was okay." I do mean that sex workers' jobs involve inspiring lust, and they should get to set their own bar for how much they're willing to deal with. And some of that may well involve cops deciding to prosecute even if she says it's nothing important, because a lot of sex workers have been coerced into believing they don't have that right. But she should have the right to say, "it was no big deal to me," and for that to be taken into consideration in deciding whether to press charges.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:34 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


My point was (implicitly) that even despite such ostentatious bans (on porn or whatever else) people will still be pigs towards each other, so perhaps a total ban is not in order.

And by "people," you apparently mean "men," and by "each other," you seem to mean "women." Women pretty much manage not to be pigs to each other nor to men, despite the incredible amount of porn available. Men manage not to be pigs to anyone who has power over them.

Lustful thoughts are not the problem. The problem is that men think their lustful thoughts entitle them to sexual activity, and that women should be grateful to appear in their lustful thoughts.

I read a hell of a lot of erotic fiction, and I manage not to leer at my coworkers, even the ones who look like the characters who feature in the porn I read.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:38 AM on November 16, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think the victim should have some choice in saying either, "ugh, do whatever it takes to make him stop" (arrest him; let him face jail time), or "aww geeze; I can tell he was so scared by the bouncers that he won't do it again; don't waste my time making me go to court to testify over this." Police resources are spread thin; we won't be improving women's lives by sending them after every creep who gets handsy in a party setting.

Oh HELL to the NO. The State brings charges for CRIMES. If the person committed a crime, charge 'em. Police are often the ones who turn sexual assault survivors away, coincidentally. We need MORE assaulters brought up on chargers, not fewer, and this "system" is basically what we have - the woman and those around her get to be like, "he got thrown out/told to leave/cut it out, what's the big deal?"

I'm getting tired of these thought experiments about how things should go. The way they should go is assaulters should be arrested and charges brought.
posted by agregoli at 9:00 AM on November 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. It's a great piece.

The whole "well he has Asperger's"/"he didn't know what he was doing" line of defense is insulting and repugnant,

Just this week I was walking down the street of my liberal, gay-friendly, regularly touted as progressive town, and some dude walking past called me, and the woman in front of me, a bitch and a whore. And we didn't do anything, because aggro white dudes quite possibly have guns. But anyway, then *I* felt guilty because quite likely this guy had some mental health problems.... but it's still not okay for women to bear that burden for existing in public.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:06 AM on November 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


This piece is not, it is NOT, about men's unconsummated sexual urges. That has absolutely nothing to do with the issue. It is incredibly insulting that anyone would expect people to take that argument seriously. As has been stated over and over again, predators and criminals are not doing these things publicly or in front of people who could and would act to hold them accountable. They do so when they think they can get away with it, and when they don't get away with it, "being a bumbler" is one of the ways they try to avoid consequences.

That's why so many of the people talked about in it are not discussed in terms of sexual acts they have committed. Jeff Sessions' "Russia who? I do not recall" routine is just that - a ROUTINE. It is not an honest accounting. If by some bizarre chance it were an honest accounting, the fact that he can't remember major events like a foreign power trying to influence an American election would make him unfit for his job and for almost any job with any responsibility. Everyone knows it is a pack of lies, because if it weren't they would be helping him seek treatment after resigning due to his clear and accelerating memory loss. No one believes his act, but people pretend to because it provides cover in the face of the awful truth.

The recent revelations about Al Franken try this as well. He thought it would be funny to grope her! Obviously he DIDN'T think his victim would find it funny, or he would have done it while she was awake and could join in the joke. The fact that he did it when she couldn't say no demonstrates that he knew it was wrong.

I would guess that most of the people defending Roy Moore do not believe his schtick of how regular and normal everything was and how he never thought there was a problem. It's just that having a Republican in that seat is more important to them than the lives of his past and potentially future victims. The only way out is to pretend to believe him.

These people are not poorly socialized and confused. They are acting purposefully and pretending otherwise when they are called out.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:07 AM on November 16, 2017 [27 favorites]


And by the way, people who are not cis men are sexual beings as well. The fact is that we are not committing rape and sexual assault at epidemic rates.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:10 AM on November 16, 2017 [13 favorites]


If he patted her tits, and she said don't touch me, and he groped her ass... "thrown out of that club and banned" might be all the penalty that's appropriate, if she's not traumatized by it.

I'm instinctively not wild about a formulation that takes into account how "traumatized" a victim is. That opens the rabbit hole to "well, someone who was really traumatized would do x, y, and z," even people react to trauma very differently — both in the moment, and over time.

Most people wouldn't look at how I behave in those moments and say, "She's traumatized." In the immediate moment, mostly, I say nicely "no" and move the person's hands; sometimes, I snap and say it coldly; occasionally, I call for the bouncer if there is an aggressive vibe to it. And then I go into the dressing room, freshen up, brush my hair, check my makeup, rub some Purell on myself, and head back out onto the main floor to make some more money. In the rest of the week, I have the checkmarks for a happy, functioning life.

But there are moments of trauma nevertheless. I have sometimes memories (flashbacks) after the fact that I can’t shake off. I feel angry at society for employing a double standard: If I consented in that circumstance, I could be arrested for solicitation (and in some cases, my club could be shut down); but if I withhold my consent, society just shrugs off my sexual assault as an occupational hazard for which the consequence is being told by the bouncer to leave.

Certainly, when the country elected a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, I reacted in a way that my significant other described as "traumatized." Aside from anxiety and sleep issues and general paranoia that society will champion abusers, I nearly burned a bridge with a customer who spends $$$ and treats me very well overall, because of a couple comments he had made in many months earlier that did not condemn Trump in terms that I considered strong enough. I reacted that way because I know that it's not locker room talk and it's not a euphemism. It is literal and it has happened to me many times and I did not like it.

I don't go to the police because I know that society as a whole does not think that those sexual assaults matter very much. Nice people sexually assault strippers all the damn time. And that ties into the problem with how we treat "bumblers" once we realize that the bumbler is someone we love.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2017 [18 favorites]


I'm getting tired of these thought experiments about how things should go. The way they should go is assaulters should be arrested and charges brought.

I have conflicted thoughts here. On the one hand, our courts have limited resources; they cannot prosecute every crime they run across. (See: how many cars breaking the speed limit don't get pulled over on the freeway.) On the other, absolutely, not enough sexual crimes get serious attention, much less prosecutions. On the other other hand, I want communities that can sort out small breaches among themselves with formal legal proceedings. (Not every bar fight results in arrests, and I don't think it would be better if they all did.)

I'm instinctively not wild about a formulation that takes into account how "traumatized" a victim is. That opens the rabbit hole to "well, someone who was really traumatized would do x, y, and z," even people react to trauma very differently — both in the moment, and over time.

I wouldn't want an official policy based on how traumatized the victim is, and especially not based on how traumatized she appears to other people. I do want some consideration of "did he actually cause any harm" along with "is he likely to cause harm in the future."

And I really really don't want him to be able to say, "I didn't mean anything by it! I guess I just didn't understand the rules; she was so pretty; I just kinda accidentally touched her; my hand must've slipped; I'm a nice guy; I don't normally go to this kind of place at all and I didn't know what was expected here" and other "oops I made a mistake" BS.

No consideration on whether he says he "made a mistake."
Some consideration given to whether she was scared, angry, or just annoyed. (Not, "if she was scared that gets more consideration." Just, "her reaction is one of the factors to be considered." And that includes giving her some time to get past the initial "I can't let this matter to me" safety mechanism.)
More consideration given to whether he's likely to do it again - and unless his reaction to being shown the door was white-faced trauma, this is likely the deciding factor and he should be prosecuted.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:33 PM on November 16, 2017


I do want some consideration of "did he actually cause any harm" along with "is he likely to cause harm in the future."

All assault causes harm. What the hell are you talking about?
posted by agregoli at 12:39 PM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


But anyway, then *I* felt guilty because quite likely this guy had some mental health problems.... but it's still not okay for women to bear that burden for existing in public.

Unless you have other indication that he was mentally ill, there's no reason to assume so. There is way, way too much street harassment for it all to be being perpetrated by people with mental illness. It's insulting to the people who live with mental illness without harassing others to assume that harassing somebody is any kind of mental health indicator.
posted by Lexica at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


All assault causes harm. What the hell are you talking about?

I'm trying to think of a hypothetical that covers what I mean, and I'm having real trouble with it, so I'm reconsidering my initial ideas.

I know that I don't want police intervention for every interpersonal conflict, not even for every one that gets physical. (Two friends argue over a football game; they both punch each other; two days later, they've cooled off - I don't think anybody would be better off if formal assault charges were filed there.) But yeah, I'm having trouble thinking of a scenario in which "guy has paid money for a woman's attention, and assaults her claiming he has the right to more than her attention" isn't police-worthy, rather than something that should be fixed by social dynamics.

The only reason I can come up with that it wouldn't be, is that cops are already stretched thin, and groping and more harsh assaults are so common that we'd have no way to prosecute them all. But there's a big difference between "we don't have the resources for this kind of solution" and "this kind of solution isn't what we should be doing."

We may be stuck looking for social fixes like "get bouncers to actually throw the creeps out, and owners to ban them," and blacklists across similar businesses because we're not going to get police support against guys who grope. But you're right - we should. (And thanks, MeFites, for hitting this from enough directions that I could figure that out.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:08 PM on November 16, 2017


This thread is about men pretending they don't know what they are doing when they assault women, or pretending it was an accident/misunderstanding. Your comments are muddying that water by talking about club situations where this kind of thing is very likely to occur. Oh it was a misunderstanding! And boom, the man is given the benefit of the doubt. We don't need to put that any more on women than it already is.

Talking about figuring out degrees of harm is offensive and frankly, I find it bizarre in any discussion of this nature. Assault is harm to society at large, besides individuals. Which is why it is illegal. And should be dealt with as such. Your suggestions read like a way to dismiss sexual assault, and I don't think you mean to come off that way.

And the police and courts are stretched thin? Well of course they are but its not up to us to not report assault because we feel it might be a burden to the system. Like, what?
posted by agregoli at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


Unless you have other indication that he was mentally ill, there's no reason to assume so. There is way, way too much street harassment for it all to be being perpetrated by people with mental illness. It's insulting to the people who live with mental illness without harassing others to assume that harassing somebody is any kind of mental health indicator.

Yeah, sorry, I realize that anecdote was unclear. He had some other behaviors that struck me as possible illness. I am not a psychiatrist. I didn't mean to imply that he was harassing us because he was ill, but rather that harasser + possible illness creates a difficult space when you have empathy but you also just got harassed.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2017


re: addictions, control

A major theme of Why Does He Do That is the myths/excuses we use for abusive men, and one is that abuse is an addiction. It's not. It's a set of beliefs, and it is one which it is beneficial to the man to not change, so he doesn't. Addicts hit rock bottom, abusive men don't. People in their life rearrange themselves to protect them and get them everything they want.

Another myth about abuse is that they "just lose control". He describes how every abusive man he's spoken to has described very clearly the specific moment when they "give themselves permission" to "lose control". He also describes a wife saying her husband "lost control and destroyed things", and then he asked her if he ever destroyed his objects or only hers, when he's supposedly lost control. He also asked about what happened after this supposed loss of control-- did he help clean up? Did he repair what was damaged? Or did his loss of control also free him from taking responsibility?

It is a book that everyone should read. The more I read it, the more I understood how this isn't just domestic violence, this is something built into the fabric of society. And when I say everyone should read it, I mean because reading it actually make a difference, to how you think about these things, to how you react to media, to what you do if someone comes to you with an issue related to this.
posted by Cozybee at 10:08 PM on November 16, 2017 [22 favorites]


Sometimes I spend time with a little boy of 6 years who is finding school hard. I was talking to him the other day about when the teacher "shouts at him", and I asked when it happened. This little boy of six said "when I can't control myself". Those are not words little boys of six find in their own experience, those are learned words. I became very angry, but controlled myself, and set out to tell him there is no such thing, and that he is always, but always responsible for what he does. At six, at sixteen and at sixty. It's a struggle, because all other family and friends surrounding this little guy are always telling themselves, each other and the boy how cute he is. In spite of the fact that he is often violent towards schoolmates and his sister.
Men don't turn into bumbling abusers by themselves, they are raised that way.
posted by mumimor at 5:56 AM on November 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


This is absolutely learned/taught early on, to the point that it's a cliche. And others are fully prepared to offer it as an out, with scripted prompts at the ready, especially if it's going to be uncomfortable or involve work for them to actually confront someone on their unacceptable behavior:

"Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
"He's a little . . . socially awkward."
"Had you told him specifically not to touch you there? Maybe he just didn't know."

The author gets at a bunch more of this in detail. What was so alarming for me is that I'm positive I've lapsed into the "whoops, I had no idea what I was doing" approach in situations where I knew I was in the wrong, and this essay prompted some serious self-examination.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


Even if they ("they") do have Asperger's, that doesnt' inoculate them from harsh and immediate criticism and feedback. Even if they do have general vague "mental health" issues doesn't mean they cannot be told to cut their bullshit. I have run into this once or twice in larger boardgaming groups I used to attend, where some dude is acting inappropriately towards a woman. You call them on it immediately and forcibly - if they can understand Terra Mystica, they can understand not to be a fucking skeezeball. Their Asperger's (or whatever) is nobody else's problem but their own.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:31 PM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


Part of the reasons the Asperger’s excuse makes me so furious is because it is so transparently false. I have a relative with Asperger’s, and one way that we know that is because he sometimes says awkward things to all people, of all genders, regardless of whether or not he finds them attractive! His lack of filter or trouble reading the room doesn’t magically crop up only around people who turn him on.

If the broken stair in your nerd community only ever manages to be inappropriate with women he finds sexy, and he magically manages to only ever do it when no one else is around, and especially never when other men are present, then spoiler alert: he’s a predator, and it isn’t an accident.

Dudes saying “we’ll I’VE never seen [dude I’m currently defending] act this way!! She must have been confused!!!” don’t understand that the fact that they have never seen it makes it less likely to be a mistake.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:16 AM on November 20, 2017 [18 favorites]


Good point, a fiendish thingy. Yes, it seems that the handful Asperger's people I've encountered in that specific context only ever "activate" when there is a charming woman around. Weird.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:02 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of the surprisingly common experiences of people who didn't discover they were autistic until adulthood appears to be "wait, you also read etiquette books voraciously while growing up?" I mean, I thought I was reading Miss Manners for fun, but looking at how many of us did this kind of thing, I think it's that we were desperately trying to figure out social rules so we could follow them and not make others uncomfortable. Much better to seem a painfully-proper stick-in-the-mud than accidentally breach a social guideline we didn't recognize was there!

It makes me viscerally angry when people try to use autism as an excuse for why somebody (usually male) is making others uncomfortable via inappropriate behavior. What about all of us who've studied overtime to avoid making others uncomfortable? What about all of us who have been the targets of harassing or creepy behavior and had an even harder time dealing with it because we're autistic?

Stop blaming our neurology for other people's willful bad behavior.
posted by Lexica at 4:28 PM on November 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


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