Sisters Under the Skin

by Maria on March 14, 2012

Here at ICANN Costa Rica, a debate has erupted about the casual sexism women experience at technology conferences. The Czech hosts of our next meeting ran a booth asking people what they’re most looking forward to in Prague; seeing the sights, drinking beer, or ‘girls’. A complaint was made and the offending “light-hearted promotion” was withdrawn. So far, so humdrum.

What’s interesting, and heartening, about this episode is that the complaint was made by a man, John Berryhill, and he’s taken to blog comments to make this a more broadly teachable moment:

“Guys, you might do something which, after a few drinks and alone in some exotic place with one of the women of the ICANN community, may seem to you to be a “misunderstanding” or simple social faux pas. You may find that, well, obviously it wasn’t all that bad because the next day she had the discretion not to make a big deal out of it, or otherwise call you out and embarrass you.

Please do not make the mistake of believing that what you did was okay, understandable, or that you were just having an unlucky evening. The reason you are not called out at the microphone for exactly what you are is that she has to continue to be a cooperative member of the community of which you are unfortunately a part. It’s part of what she has to put up with here.”

John puts his finger on exactly what can happen at these gatherings, and why it continues. Of course there’s a continuum of risk when a woman manouevres herself out of the power of a sexual predator, going all the way from a clumsy pass to attempted rape. I’m not the only woman to placate and flatter her way out of a ‘date rape’ situation and, once safe, be livid that the tactic I used to escape allows the predator to keep thinking he’s a nice guy who just didn’t get lucky.

What’s striking to me about John’s intervention is how happy I was to see it. I asked myself why it’s such a big deal when a man calls out the daily sexism women deal with simply as a cost of doing business.

Partly, it’s tactical. Just as John says, most women put up with this nonsense because they don’t want to be branded a whiner. We don’t call this stuff out publicly because it harms our reputations. And I know a lot of guys in our community will be given pause and listen this time, simply because another man is speaking. But, more than anything else, it’s good just to know someone else is noticing.

It reminds me of a light bulb moment I experienced as an exchange student at McGill, in Montreal, when male classmates made it their business to help women get home safely at night. It had honestly never occurred to me that men would feel our struggles were their problem, too. (In fairness, it was 1993.) Here on CT, I always feel irrationally grateful when fellow bloggers or apparently male commenters call out the sexism of some comments. Dan Davies has long been a true gentleman in this regard.

But it’s also troubling that my genuine gratitude implicitly accepts that casual sexism or sexual predation in the workplace aren’t really serious until a man notices. And also that women should navigate patriarchy on the protective arm of a sympathetic man. Once we’ve accepted that, it’s a short hop, skip and jump back to letting them vote for us so we don’t have to bother our pretty little heads.

The position of male feminists is an awkward one, and most of them are both perceptive and gracious enough to realize it. I’m troubled by my own perhaps overly grateful response, but I try to accept the help in the spirit in which it is given.

{ 277 comments }

1

slacker 03.14.12 at 4:44 pm

This is the reason that I got out of the dating pool completely.

I used to be, and still am, one of those guys who would make sure that women got home safely (I was raised by an aggressively feminist mother) but also at various times I’ve mistaken a women being engaged and pleasant with someone who is interested in me depending on how much I’ve had to drink. Conversely, I’ve been on dates and heard later that the woman “wished I was more aggressive”.

I realized that I lack any kind of social radar and fault lay with me. I never felt good about myself after an “unlucky evening” experience of mistaking the intentions of women even though I never put my hands on a woman in that situation.

I realized that it is easier to just assume that when a woman smiles talks to me she is just being pleasant and if she was interested in me then I’d just let her assume I’m gay.

This isn’t supposed to be a ‘woe is me” comment, just to say that sometimes good people do cringe inducing behaviour, make mistakes, etc. Not to say that there aren’t bad people with fell intent, just that things get complicated when you aren’t that socially adept which I imagine ICANN people are.

2

Sus. 03.14.12 at 4:59 pm

“But it’s also troubling that my genuine gratitude implicitly accepts that casual sexism or sexual predation in the workplace aren’t really serious until a man notices. “

My take on this is just a little different – I’d say instead that one’s gratitude simply acknowledges that casual sexism or predation in the workplace aren’t taken seriously until a man notices and speaks up. It’s unfortunate but generally true that it takes someone from without one’s own group to point out bad behavior before it can be acknowledged as a real issue.

I’m most impressed that Berryhill so precisely put into words the heart of the issue. Too often women are not in a position to act (or are not willing to bear the consequences – personal and professional – of acting). Few women in a male-dominated profession haven’t experienced at least some form of predation. The most egregious example that I’ve faced came from someone who was in a position to affect my professional life for better or worse. While I was able to extract myself from the situation with my dignity and career in tact, years later I still replay the interaction and wish I’d responded more directly, and in a way that might have caused him to think twice before trying again with someone else.

Personally, I’m grateful to those who do so, regardless of gender. This applies in this situation to Berryhill for his comments, and to you for your post on the topic.

3

J. Otto Pohl 03.14.12 at 5:35 pm

I was under the impression from reading CT that all forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia had been eliminated by the enlightened Social Democrats in Europe and that such things only happened in backward countries like the US. It appears there is some dissent here.

4

Patrick 03.14.12 at 5:51 pm

Oh, please, J. Otto Pohl. Don’t trivialize what’s important.

As awkward as it may be, men calling out other men is absolutely necessary. I’m glad you have positive feelings about it, that’s cool. But men shouldn’t be advocating for good behavior because women will be grateful, we should be doing so because it’s the right thing to do.

It seems so obvious, yet…

5

mpowell 03.14.12 at 5:53 pm

I would propose a different take on this problem. As women were not granted the franchise until men voted on laws that granted it to them, a similar requirement holds in other social institutions and practices where men hold the preponderance of power and influence. Until men acknowledge the problem, there is only so much that can be done about it by women acting on their own. This doesn’t apply to every concern feminists have with sexism in society, but it applies to many of them, especially since there are still not very many social arenas where women hold even a balanced amount of formal or informal influence.

6

rf 03.14.12 at 6:01 pm

“As awkward as it may be, men calling out other men is absolutely necessary”

From my experience ‘men call out men’ constantly, despite caricature, though perhaps often in private. Its never struck me as awkward. Maybe you meant publicly….

7

Justin N 03.14.12 at 6:06 pm

As a male feminist, thanks for this. It’s long troubled me whether sharing in the struggle of women (or LGBT folks, or oppressed racial ethnic/groups- since I’m a white, straight, cisgendered male) was its own form of oppression. I’m sorry on behalf of my social strata that you ladies have to put up with this BS, and I’m glad to hear that assistance of this sort is valued, despite its troubling connotations.

8

Barb Roseman 03.14.12 at 7:03 pm

Maria, Thanks for calling this out. John has earned more than the token “cookie” precisely because he took the time to explain what’s at the heart of such casual sexism and why women don’t always make it a primary issue in a meeting.

I think there’s a difference between the giddy happiness one feels from seeing someone who’s not directly affected actually use a teaching moment around an “ism”, and the grateful feeling one has when someone stands as a comrade in a potentially hostile setting. In the first case, it’s great to see that you are not the only one to bear the work of education and that men calling out men on sexism is a very powerful tool. Not so much because men only listen to men, but because it shows men who do this that not all males act that way or think that way, and there’s a strong correlation between public expressions of sexism and the men who express those ideas thinking that every man thinks that way. This is only overcome by men standing up and saying, quite publicly, that such expressions are inappropriate.

In the second case, it’s more a feeling of comradery and not having to stand alone. In those cases I do think it would be inappropriate to valorize a man’s support of your view, but I would understand it anyway.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s fun to see others take up the cudgel from time to time.

9

Jaimie 03.14.12 at 8:11 pm

Feminism is female and male. We as a group will not move forward until a father teaches his son, an uncle his nephew, a friend his friend, that sex is not a male right.
We can’t get rid of sex, but we can take away the belief that a man has a right to it and a woman must be protected from it. This is why I loudly appluad any person, male or female, that can stand up to a group of people and call them out on something that until that moment was not openly discussed. Do I believe that now his job is done? No, because neither is mine, neither is my husband’s, neither is my son’s. I do believe that evey man who learns that he has no right over a woman’s body just like she has no right over his AND then says that out loud to another man deserves a high five and me telling him “good job, do it again”.

10

JM 03.14.12 at 8:36 pm

@3

I was under the impression from reading CT …

I’m sorry, are we to understand that you’re proud of being stupid or that you think that the subject of date rape is an opportunity for comedy?

11

Patrick 03.14.12 at 8:49 pm

@ #6 I meant publicly. But I’m also 58, so there may be generational issues in play.

12

Nate 03.14.12 at 9:23 pm

Jaimie: “We can’t get rid of sex”

I’d rather not try, honestly.

13

JM 03.14.12 at 9:53 pm

From the domainincite post in question:

UPDATE: For all the pervs demanding photographic evidence in the comments, prepare to be disappointed.

Excuse me … “pervs”?

14

Curmudgeon 03.15.12 at 2:41 am

@JM, #10:

May I suggest a corollary to Godwin’s Law:

“As an online discussion about sexism grows longer, the probability of intellectually dubious allegations of rape apologetics approaches 1.”

Don’t trivialize rape by using accusations of rape apologetics as a verbal club to beat down trollish posts.

I now await the inevitable and predictable accusation of tone trolling.

15

Curmudgeon 03.15.12 at 3:03 am

I think a large part of the sexism problem in tech is that tech fields attract a lot of males on the autism spectrum who have a sex drive, but due to biology or inadequate treatment are unable to interact appropriately with human beings. I suspect some percentage of the casual sexism in tech, on the scale of clumsy passes and inappropriate leering, stems from inadequate social skills rather than sexual predation.

Solutions to inadvertent sexism from the autistic and malicious sexism from predators will differ.

At a societal level, males on the autism spectrum need to provided better social skills training when young or strongly encouraged to take Slacker’s (post #1) lead and leave sexual society entirely. I doubt these people can be reached as adults.

Ironically, calling out overtly sexist behavior may have more of an impact on predators because it would deny them the cover of a permissive environment that is necessary for them to function.

I now await the inevitable and predictable accusations of missing the point or of being a misogynist, moron, etc., etc.

16

Watson Ladd 03.15.12 at 3:35 am

Curmudgeon, there is a big distance between poor social skills and saying that one of the attractions of the coming conference is the possibility of casual sex.

17

abracadabra 03.15.12 at 3:47 am

@Curmudgeon, I am not sure there is a bright line to draw between “inadequate social skills” and “sexual predation.” Just because they aren’t successful at getting someone in bed doesn’t mean their comments are intentionally objectifying/offensive/etc. In fact, if they (1) spend a lot of time on the computer and (2) have limited interaction with the opposite sex, chances are they spend a lot of time looking at porn, which is correlated with literally thinking of women as things.

18

felwith 03.15.12 at 4:02 am

I’m sure there are many men in the tech fields who *claim* to be on the autism spectrum in order to excuse their social ineptness. “It’s not that I never put in the effort to learn how to interact with different kinds of people, it’s just my biology. Nothing to be done (by me, anyway), so you’ll just have to cope.” I remember when you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting three self-diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers.

I am now going to walk down the subway tunnel and await the inevitable and predictable shouts of “GET OFF THE TRACKS YOU IDIOT!”

19

Benquo 03.15.12 at 4:13 am

I’m here to whine about this wording:

Of course there’s a continuum of risk when a woman manouevres herself out of the power of a <b predator, going all the way from a clumsy pass to attempted rape.

I’m going to try very hard to phrase this as descriptions of my response, and not assume that I know what you really meant.

I got sad and worried when I read this, because:

I am sure that I’ve made “passes at” women in clumsy ways.

“Sexual predator” sounds to me like a description of behavior that one might reasonably demand never happen. Behavior that is never OK or excusable.

I want it to be OK for people like me to initiate contact with women.

It’s almost certain that if people initiate contact, they will sometimes be clumsy about it.

20

Benquo 03.15.12 at 4:13 am

I’m here to whine about this wording:

Of course there’s a continuum of risk when a woman manouevres herself out of the power of a <b predator, going all the way from a clumsy pass to attempted rape.

I’m going to try very hard to phrase this as descriptions of my response, and not assume that I know what you really meant.

I got sad and worried when I read this, because:

I am sure that I’ve made “passes at” women in clumsy ways.

“Sexual predator” sounds to me like a description of behavior that one might reasonably demand never happen. Behavior that is never OK or excusable.

I want it to be OK for people like me to initiate contact with women.

It’s almost certain that if people initiate contact, they will sometimes be clumsy about it.

21

Salient 03.15.12 at 4:41 am

…weird to see some imagined right to make clumsy passes at your fellow conference-goers defended. How is this not red-line inappropriate?

“I want it to be OK for people like me to initiate contact with women.” Why women specifically? Are you not so worried about it being okay for people like you to initiate contact with men?

For the love of God, there’s a pretty huge problem with conflating ‘initiate contact’ (being social) and ‘indicate one’s sexual interest’ (predation). It’s like conflating nodding hello with catcalling.

22

Benquo 03.15.12 at 4:52 am

21: Yes. I meant indicating that I’m interested in someone sexually. (Which in my case happens to be women, and also that’s the case that’s directly relevant to the OP.)

It sounds like you’re saying that these conferences in particular have higher standards of decorum than ordinary life; Am I reading you right? Is it because it’s a professional event?

23

stubydoo 03.15.12 at 4:54 am

When is it OK and when is it not OK to make clumsy passes?

24

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 5:04 am

15: I don’t think you’re a moron. I do think the “autism spectrum” is far too often pressed into service as a convenient excuse for nerdy men who are just flat-out being rude to women. That this is out of “lack of social skills” tells us relatively little, because by and large people tend to develop the social skills they think they need to develop to get ahead. (Many of the supposedly-“autistic” men who use this excuse show relatively little such discomfort or inability when interacting with male geeks.) That such social skills are not valued in a field is, IMO, a lot likelier to tell us how prevalent male chauvinism remains therein than it is to tell us how many of the constituents are actually on the autism spectrum.

I also think that useful social solutions to “inadvertent sexism” as opposed to “sexual predation” may not actually differ that much. Those behaviours, too, are after all on a continuum; it’s recognizably the case (at least from where I’m sitting) that much of the most ardent market for the recently-birthed “Pick-Up Artist” self-help paradigm is socially challenged, nerdy males, for instance.

25

Benquo 03.15.12 at 5:06 am

To make this a little more explicit, when you call things like clumsy passes sexual predation, presumably you have some examples in mind. Perhaps they are examples where I would agree with you. But I don’t and can’t know, since no examples (not even fictional ones) were given in the OP.

Now, being a man, I’ve almost certainly not sampled the full range of “clumsy passes” that presumably many women have witnessed. The main ones I’m aware of are the ones that I myself have made, or friends of mine have made in my presence. This is quite likely to be a biased, unrepresentative sample, and I suspect quite different from what you’re thinking of. But quite naturally it’s what will come to mind when you use the phrase.

26

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 5:25 am

25: The line is a grey one. Clumsy passes that would cross the line of what most men would put up with in a similar situation* — including attempted groping, rude intrusion into personal space, persisting in unwanted and suggestive remarks or attempted conversation, assuming the woman is a hooker and proposing to pay her for sex** — are disturbingly “normal” male behaviours in lots of places. (I’d say probably, but conjecturally, most places.) There are clumsy passes that are more merely annoying, but add up to a kind of socially-aggregated harassment on account of their sheer frequency (my favourite example is complete strangers walking up to women and telling them to “smile” — I don’t understand why anybody does this, but they do, often). There are also clumsy passes that are more just awkwardness: trying desperately and failing to make innocuous conversation, for example, like poor Ralph Wiggum and “So, do you like… stuff?”

If you fall toward the latter end of the spectrum, you likely needn’t worry as much about being accused of sexual predation, although overreaction in the opposite direction are possible and do happen (I’ve seen a guy kicked out of a bar for supposedly looking at a woman the wrong way, which I’d say is excessive and wrong). But in context — when the jumping-off point is conference organizers essentially saying “so, maybe we could all go out and chase some tail [after we’ve pretended to listen to our female colleagues]?” in a “joke” survey — I would say it’s really not what’s being discussed.

* I hate to say this, but unfortunately it does illuminate the example: if you’re a hard-up straight male and honestly can’t think of any advance being unwelcome from a woman, try mentally substituting a gay man into the example instead. Granted even saying this is fucking horrible and offensive, like the “now imagine she’s white” scene from A Time to Kill, but it genuinely does help to make obvious what needs to be obvious but which certain perspectives find difficult to focus on.

** Yes, that happens… most often reported by black women in my own anecdotal experience, which doesn’t surprise me admittedly, but it’s a category of behaviour whose extent I don’t remotely pretend to fully know.

27

Arwen 03.15.12 at 5:43 am

As a feminist, I no longer worry that I highly value loud male feminist voices and get ridiculously excited when I hear ‘em speaking up.

That “Stop Rape” poster – that suggests what we can do to prevent ourselves from raping others – and the discussion I saw around it between men made it clear to me men who aren’t rapists have a huge, huge part to play in challenging rape culture. Men need to own it with other men because women’s experiences are different than the experiences of cisgendered men, and I think this means our cultural reactions in patriarchy are different. We each challenge from a different context.

There are the simple things I don’t share. I didn’t have to hide erections in high school, didn’t have a context of listening to locker room talk while learning my sexuality, never read John Updike and identified with his (painfully cramped seeming) sexuality, wasn’t required to be the initiator of dating relationships, didn’t have my female friends making jokes about my male friends in degradingly sexual ways as part of what it was to be cool. But it seems to me ( as disturbing as this sounds ) the biggest difference I simply didn’t have the *potential* of raping those I thought attractive. My friends and I were as sex-obsessed and onanistic in high school as anyone. Only I was terribly cautious about the objects of my interest because I was smaller, impregnable, and easy to beat up by the very dudes I wanted to have orgasms with. And my shared orgasms require teamwork – which means Being Picky. (Who knows if Johnny Depp would actually share the job of getting me off? I ask you.)

In my context, that meant being Pretty Enough To Be Picky, because the (false) promise was that if you were pretty enough, you could compel love – which in high school roughly meant “would use a condom, find and investigate my clit, never physically overwhelm me sexually or otherwise, and prefer sex where I was a participant.”

I can only imagine, but not embody, who I’d be if I were the physical threat and almost guaranteed orgasm through sexual contact with my crushes. I would dislike that feeling, I’m pretty sure. When I was in high school I was ravenous for experience, and if I were bounded by fear of myself rather than fear of my partner, it would have changed the whole culture of my expression, and what I had to learn to get over.

I have listened to guys who feel like beasts, guys who hate women for making them feel like beasts, guys who deny imbalance because they also cannot compel love… And so I sometimes feel overwhelmed at what is being talked about when “girls” are talked about in an assumed male group context.

My suspicion having seen geek dudes sharing porn in a particularly non-sexual manner – I suspect sometimes it means “we’re all similar monsters here, so you can be relaxed that we know that of you and accept you anyway.” That’s the defining centre of so many of our power social groups; you’re a freak, I’m a freak. It’s what women do with one another, too. But if that’s what’s sometimes being said, then it takes a man to say “Actually, how about none of us are monsters? It’s possible. I’m not a monster and you don’t have to be.”

If a woman does that, she’s got to switch contexts. It’s a bone tired caretaking pattern that we need to be rid of. If a man does it, it’s actually a challenge towards change.

Of course, we have to say what we need to say on the other side of the dynamic, even if it sometimes trips men out. Feminists need to say “stop. challenge this things. you have power here, too.” even when it makes people uncomfortable, because it’s one thing to have to be careful of pregnancy and rape in dating, but it’s entirely something else when it messes up your *career*.

So. I say three cheers to feminist men speaking up and making culture that deals with these issues more intelligently, in a way that hopefully frees us all.

28

Emma in Sydney 03.15.12 at 5:47 am

There’s also the situation of a woman politely and respectfully refusing an advance, and being treated to a tirade of abuse along the lines of ‘Fncking frigid lesbian bltch, been wasting my time talking to you then, etc etc’, making it crystal clear that the preceding conversation was utterly fraudulent. That’s a fun one.

29

js. 03.15.12 at 5:49 am

I want it to be OK for people like me to initiate contact with women.

Oh, come on. If you don’t know the difference between okay ways to “initiate contact with women” (also known as: getting to know them) and not okay ways, then start fuckin’ learnin’ rather than wasting time on here.

30

Emma in Sydney 03.15.12 at 5:50 am

And Arwen? Awesome comment.

31

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 5:58 am

27: men who aren’t rapists have a huge, huge part to play in challenging rape culture. Men need to own it with other men because women’s experiences are different than the experiences of cisgendered men, and I think this means our cultural reactions in patriarchy are different.

I think this is right, and that it gets at why I’m reserved about identifying as a “feminist” man. I think men very obviously can and should learn from feminism — and should be forthright about the fact that “rapists” aren’t some alien monsters out there in the shadows (as many of us with chivalry complexes would like to pretend) but are potentially any of us if we aren’t on guard against the common rationalization strategies of rape — but men cannot be feminist in the same sense that women can, because the basic experiential fuel is too different. The task is really about developing a definition of the masculine that actually engages constructively (instead of just defensively or dismissively) with the lessons of feminism, and that constructs a positive masculinity that can actually inhabit the world we live in, and that doesn’t require attacking or shaming or belittling the agency of women.

It’s easy to appear to side with what looks to be the “feminist side” in an argument on the internet, and yet still occlude the need for or simply refuse to engage in this kind of mental work. Happens all the time.

32

Salient 03.15.12 at 6:07 am

I hate to say this, but unfortunately it does illuminate the example: if you’re a hard-up straight male and honestly can’t think of any advance being unwelcome from a woman, try mentally substituting a gay man into the example instead.

Thanks. My attempts to use “look, try imagining a woman who you find really unattractive” inevitably into brick walls of empty-set claims often enough for this to be a useful backup suggestion. (What seems to be the case is that such men will claim they would accept any offer of sex from any female, but would put far less effort into treating the unattractive person as a person, not just a sextoy machine to use/abuse/discard. Somewhat distressing.)

Yes. I meant indicating that I’m interested in someone sexually.

…are you not aware how inappropriate it is to do this?

Also, you’re not interested in someone sexually. They’re a stranger. You don’t know who that someone is, you know hardly anything about them. You’re interested in borrowing someone’s body because it appeals to you sexually. Very different thing, that. It’s also different from finding someone intriguing, and wanting to go talk to them and get to know them better. That is infinitely much more appropriate, and it certainly might lead to a friendship, a sexual relationship or encounter, etc.

It sounds like you’re saying that these conferences in particular have higher standards of decorum than ordinary life; Am I reading you right?

…but do you really go around indicating sexual interest in strangers in ordinary life? Like, at a grocery store? At an insta-care clinic? In an elevator? Walking along the sidewalk? Waiting for the bus? Do you spend a good deal of your time in public spaces looking at every female primarily as a potential sex partner, and trying to angle for ways to proposition them? If someone does that, that is a huge and horrible problem. At the very least, try doing a mental self-check, Is it reasonable to assume this person that I am about to talk to came here to this location primarily in order to meet casual sex partners?

Is it because it’s a professional event?

Maybe it is correct to say, propositions are even more inappropriate because it’s a professional event. But the idea that it’s generally appropriate to make a pass on a stranger is a huge problem. That’s what we mean when we use the word ‘predation’ — treating or thinking of social encounters as antagonisms or trials that stand in the way of the body you want to use.

33

Arwen 03.15.12 at 6:29 am

Dr. Slack, that’s fair. But I think that the big step in feminism is identifying that women’s real-world lived experience gets affected to the worse in contexts OTHER than sex and dating, in a dynamic created by sex and dating.

Case in point – we’re talking about a conference. And almost immediately, Benquo and Curmudgeon are focused on the experience that I keep hearing as “the beast” men are confronting in their cultures withing this socio-sexual dynamic.

And hey; even if this sounds extreme, I think it’s true. I think if tables are turned, in high school the thought would have passed through my mind that I could rape Johnny Depp & have an orgasm. Even having a thought like that would have really fucked my shit up. I hear men talking on all parts of that spectrum, I’m just being nice and clear that I likely would have thought the worst and it would have terrified me.

And I see that does seem to happen a lot when men hear “you ARE a threat” – suddenly the talk changes, and we’re discussing what it is to be burdened with threat-sexuality. Positive masculinity: TOTALLY NECESSARY.

But feminism says, “Whatever context we’re coming from, when we’re at work and in the law courts and in the banks, women are PEOPLE first, and all that other stuff about how we scare each other and turn each other on and freak each other out when we’re straight and interested in one another has to be put down, so that we can be equals elsewhere.”

I personally think anyone is feminist who understands that ‘bonding-through-male-sexuality-at-work’ is actually a very *different* problem than ‘I’m-freaked-out-with-my-interactions-with-people-I-want-to-sleep-with’. There are men who simply don’t quite get that women’s careers are harmed and that, economically, it’s not fair that the second and the first get mixed together.

Keeping ‘em nice and unmuddied is feminism, to me. It’s why feminism, and not just humanism. It’s why, to me, men who get that and stay on target are indeed feminists.

34

Substance McGravitas 03.15.12 at 6:32 am

I do think the “autism spectrum” is far too often pressed into service as a convenient excuse for nerdy men who are just flat-out being rude to women.

Yes. It is also unkind to those on the autism spectrum, who get the “spectrum” part because the range of behaviours is so goddamned wide, not because there’s some handy single characteristic to fall back on.

35

Arwen 03.15.12 at 6:40 am

(Emma in Sydney – Thank you. )

36

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 6:48 am

Arwen: I think that the big step in feminism is identifying that women’s real-world lived experience gets affected to the worse in contexts OTHER than sex and dating, in a dynamic created by sex and dating.

Oh, I would agree. But conceding it theoretically and actually implementing and living it practically are extremely different things. While the original impetus to this thinking inarguably comes through feminism, I don’t think men are liable to be able to really internalize that as a problem until that same kind of insight is built into their masculinism. I think the root difference in experience inherently infects the whole process, thinking about professional and business settings, about statistics and the feminization of poverty, the implications of birth control and divorce statistics: the whole, as it were, shebang. If I could contend otherwise with a clear conscience, I’d be much more comfortable describing myself as a feminist instead of as, say, feminist-positive. But I can’t get there.

I don’t think it’s just a semantic point, either. Many men suspect self-declared “feminist” men of performing an identification with ulterior motives. One of the vexed questions is the extent to which this is merely a silencing tactic, and the extent to which it’s actually true, a description of a kind of doublethink. Undoubtedly there are plentiful instances of both, but there are enough real instances of the latter to give pause. (Hugo Schwyzer is an example, exposed in part — arguably — because he just wasn’t good enough at the duplicity.)

37

bad Jim 03.15.12 at 6:57 am

This particular issue has been thrashed over in great detail in the atheist movement, following a minor incident in Dublin. Someone, perhaps Greg Laden, used the phrase Schrödinger's Rapist to describe the ambiguous status of an unknown male making unprovoked advances or even a stranger overtaking someone on a dark street. It’s a problem of which men are all too often unaware.

The problem is much broader than the etiquette of flirting. Women are simply not being treated as colleagues when they are being contemplated as potential playmates. Contending that this is inevitable or trivial only reveals the privilege that blinds one to its costs.

38

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 7:00 am

37 is well put.

39

Arwen 03.15.12 at 7:21 am

Ah, Dr. Slack, yes. I know a bit, I think, of what you’re speaking about, and have in fact been yelled at for not having sex with a guy – because he was feminist, doncha know.

Yay! Vagina cookies for everyone!

I suppose, when it gets down to it, it doesn’t really matter to my personal world-identification-system what anyone calls themselves because I like people generally, but I’m choosier with trust. Plus, I am really not Every-Woman, and so like to negotiate my feminisms personally. This is why I’m not a theorist, I suppose.

So rock on with your feminist-positive positive-masculine self.

40

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 7:28 am

and have in fact been yelled at for not having sex with a guy – because he was feminist, doncha know.

Sigh.

41

dsquared 03.15.12 at 7:30 am

I want it to be OK for people like me to initiate contact with women.

Actually, as Maria makes clear in the post, women in general are already making huge allowances and doing loads of unpaid and unthanked work in smoothing over your difficult situations for you. So it seems a bit .. ungrateful … to whine about the wording on one of the few occasions when they mention how much of an inconvenience it is for them. Thanks might be more appropriate.

btw, do you know where’s a great place to meet women and flirt with them? A place called Not The ICANN Conference. Or any other professional conference where people have come to do work, not to be unwilling guests to the party in someone’s pants.

42

Arwen 03.15.12 at 7:42 am

(Although, with less goofy nighttime silliness, I can say that I’m anti-racist and pro-social-justice, but I also get your point in that I’m clearly white and the understanding of my whiteness as being an ethnicity and not just the default is pretty important to me being a good ally. So right. Any term that appeared to suggest I could support another lived experience from that same vantage point would almost be at fundamental odds with the work I need to do to get myself clear – I have met those white folks who’ve gone to a potlatch and now are cringing examples of co-opting experience, and being a real ally means NOT going there, because it can’t be done.)

43

bad Jim 03.15.12 at 7:43 am

Thank you, Doctor Slack. I think Arwen made my point more clearly, though.

I’d like to claim, on behalf of other shy guys, that we are about the least likely people in the world to make an unwanted proposition to a new acquaintance, let alone a random stranger. The atheist threads included similar declarations from people who actually did have Asperger’s. The social ineptitude defense is no more than an excuse.

44

Arwen 03.15.12 at 7:43 am

(that aside was to Dr. Slack.)

45

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 7:47 am

42: I have met those white folks who’ve gone to a potlatch and now are cringing examples of co-opting experience, and being a real ally means NOT going there, because it can’t be done

Admirably sums up what I was getting at, thanks.

46

bad Jim 03.15.12 at 8:12 am

It should also be clear that the issue isn’t just flirting, it’s about taking other people seriously. If somebody else is talking to you about issues of general importance and you’re wondering how she’d be in the sack, you’re not giving her the same attention you’d give to someone of your own gender. Although there’s a conceptual possibility of sexual symmetry, that’s not the society we inherited, and only a clod could fail to acknowledge that we’re still struggling and mostly failing to get women into a position of rough parity.

I think it would help if our dress clothing wasn’t so rigidly gendered. Guys wear suits & ties and they’re nearly indistinguishable, and gals wear … whatever, but whatever it is will be closely examined. How is this defensible?

(I’d say t-shirts and jeans or shorts for everyone, but in my old company, which issued t-shirts regularly, the women clamored for more feminine shirts, and some people ignored the dress code and wore respectable things instead. Chacun à son goût said Katy as she kissed the cow.)

47

Sapna 03.15.12 at 8:21 am

As human beings we all have a fundamental need to be seen, heard and recognized. When someone clearly outside our experience makes an effort to truly understand, we should not underestimate the power of healing and validation that can come from that. It’s not ridiculous at all to feel grateful, nor does it diminish your own feminism…

48

Harald Korneliussen 03.15.12 at 9:40 am

Doctor Slack: “That such social skills are not valued in a field is, IMO, a lot likelier to tell us how prevalent male chauvinism remains therein than it is to tell us how many of the constituents are actually on the autism spectrum.”

How many autistic truck drivers do you know, Dr. Slack?

The gender balance of a field is the best predictor of chauvinism, and not just male chauvinism (go ask a male nurse, or even a male primary school teacher these days). Aspies don’t make raunchy jokes about women in Prague.

If it was the social norm for women to initiate romantic contact and risk rejection, you bet there would be stands like that asking the question with the genders reversed. It’s a bit rich to speak about gender equality, when Curmudgeon demands that men who fail to pick up difficult social skills which for women are strictly optional, should just give up any attempts to find companionship in life.

My experience in IT was that the more seriously introverted – of which I don’t consider myself one – were in rather awe of women, and ideologically feminists. People with mild Apergers’ (or what you want to call it) are acutely aware of their lack of understanding of social relationships and the problems it causes for them, so they often eargerly accept a feminist interpretation – even when that interpretation comes with a strong negative attitude to people like them.

Sometimes this even causes them to reject the autistic/aspergers designation for themselves – preferring, in essence, to see themselves as bad people rather than face the accusation of retreating behind a label. Even when they haven’t brushed their teeth for three years (that’s an actual example I know of).

49

Sus. 03.15.12 at 9:49 am

Wow – lots of action here overnight. I agree it’s not about flirting, and I don’t think it’s even about sexual symmetry (a pipe-dream anyway) or unwanted sexual advances (which men and women have to put up with as a normal part of going through life). I’ve heard my share of off-color remarks, including discussions of where one might find women and casual sex, and while I agree they’re inappropriate I’m not personally offended. I’ve can give as good as I get, and casual banter is not a hot-button issue for me.

But it is about respect and power asymmetry and abuse of that power. It was NOT okay for one of my professors to make a reference to my naked body when I was in his office talking about an assignment. And it was most certainly NOT okay for a senior colleague to use the occasion of a discussion about my professional career to make an overt sexual pass. And I’ve come to realize years later that it was also not okay for me to casually extricate myself from these situations and not directly confront the inappropriate behavior.

50

Katherine 03.15.12 at 10:31 am

I think it says a lot too that I am irrationally happy and grateful that this thread has not devolved into accusations of feminist over-sensitivity and defences of “it was just lighthearted!”. Given the Elevatorgate furore, I (rationally) fear to tread in comment threads about stuff like this.

51

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 12:52 pm

It should also be clear that the issue isn’t just flirting, it’s about taking other people seriously.

That sentence ought to be on plaques, T-shirts, etc. Maybe some people would finally get it after a while. For example, perhaps they would get that propositioning (whether smoothly or clumsily is irrelevant) someone you hardly know is the opposite of taking that person seriously. And they might even get that making asinine excuses for such behavior is also not a way of taking other people seriously.

52

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 1:01 pm

re: “pervs”

Uh, probably[1] yes. I don’t know if you read through the comments to see the demands for “pics” in a post about blatant sexism, but perverted is a pretty good definition. Kinda like hearing a story about sexual harrassment and having your first response be “but was teh victim hawt?”

[1] “probably” because I don’t know anything about domainincite or it’s commentariat. It’s possible that this kind of humour is acceptable there – a kind of sick and twisted, gallows-type, ironic sort of humour. Actually, in this case, the term “pervs” still applies and probably has it’s own contextual meaning there (i.e. not an insult).

re: clumsy passes

As has been pointed out, context has a lot to do with it. I don’t know what industry you (Benquo) are in, but generally a professional conference is not an appropriate setting to attempt even a non-clumsy pass. And it’s not that conferences have a higher standard of behaviour – just a different one. The second quoted paragraph in the original post explains it quite well.

Maybe this is one of the problems with conferences. You get to assume everyone attending shares a specific interest. This makes it a lot easier to talk to strangers. It’s a lot more acceptable to introduce yourself to a fellow conference attendee than to anyone else you’ve never met before. But this particular nuance does not carry through to any aspects not directly related to the conference.

And there are in fact, plenty of contexts where making passes at strangers is acceptable. The term “meet market” didn’t spring out of nowhere. Heck, even some professional conferences have singles mixer type events. Sometimes even sanctioned.

re: pretend it’s an ugly chick or a gay dude

Here’s an alternate suggestion for Doctor Slack and Salient. You don’t need to play into looksist misogyny or homophobia to get them to understand. Tell them instead to imagine the unwanted advances coming from their moms. This can be especially effective because a lot of those guys have moms that will hit on everyone.

53

Cian 03.15.12 at 1:10 pm

If you’re social signals are really that bad (and aren’t you lucky to be in a privileged position where you can get away with it), try this simple test.

Would you be able to get away with your actions if the power relations were reversed. Because at the end of the day this isn’t really about sex/gender. Its about power. And people who are not male, middle class and white have to put up with a lot of crap from people like you, because you have power, and they don’t.

And if you really can’t manage that simple thought exercise, you’re probably best assuming that all your interactions with the opposite sex are unwelcome. Seriously.

54

JM 03.15.12 at 1:22 pm

@Curmudgeon 14

I didn’t raise the issue. Please read the original post and try again.

55

Benquo 03.15.12 at 1:39 pm

26: Thanks, that’s helpful. The behaviors in the first half of your first paragraph don’t even enter my mind as available actions; so they didn’t come to mind as likely “common behaviors” that were being criticized. I’m horrified (though no longer surprised) that they are so common.

56

Benquo 03.15.12 at 1:40 pm

29: There’s no real way to learn without being clumsy and awkward sometimes.

57

Benquo 03.15.12 at 1:57 pm

41: I already know that it’s bad to make people feel uncomfortable, and very bad to make them feel unsafe. I don’t want to do either of those things, so I care about understanding posts like this one.

But a phrase like “clumsy passes” is not very helpful to people who don’t already know exactly what it means. Since there were no specific examples given, I substituted in the closest thing I could think of from my life. But this is always guaranteed to be something that I or my friends do, no matter how well- or poorly-behaved we are. So it doesn’t really help me separate OK actions from not-OK actions.

Now obviously Maria has no obligation to me to write in a way that is easy for me to understand. If it sounded like I though more was owed me, then I failed to communicate what I meant. And perhaps I’m not even the intended audience. (I don’t go to ICANN, and perhaps have never been at a similar conference – but I don’t know.) But I thought that she might think it’s worth knowing how one of her readers read what she wrote.

And if no one cares, you can just ignore me.

58

JM 03.15.12 at 2:04 pm

@ Dragon-King Wangchuck 52

I still don’t get the idea of “perversion” in the context of wanting to see someone attractive. Maybe it’s because it’s such a loaded and archaic term. Or maybe this is some internet slang that’s new to me, referring to desire for visual gratification as somehow diseased or wrong in an ironic way?

You kids and your fashionable hangups!

59

Benquo 03.15.12 at 2:06 pm

OK, rereading my comments, it’s clear that I was too tired last night to be coherent. What I should have said was:

Thanks for bringing up this issue.

If you felt like saying more, it would be helpful to me to have more specific examples of OK vs. not-OK behavior, and what kinds of interventions by third parties are helpful vs. unhelpful, so that I can behave better in the future and help others behave better as well.

60

Benquo 03.15.12 at 2:14 pm

52: In my industry professional conferences generally mean professional stuff by day, and parties at night. Mostly they are opportunities to network or make friends with colleagues, very few people go to learn or get work done.

Perhaps ICANN is much more work, less play, in which case I can see why passes of any kind might be less welcome. Certainly I wouldn’t ever have considered making passes of any kind in a normal work environment.

61

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:15 pm

If you felt like saying more, it would be helpful to me to have more specific examples of OK vs. not-OK behavior

OK is making sure you have some level of real acquaintance with a person as a human being who is congenial to you and vice versa, and not just as an attractive body that has happened to come into your sight, before propositioning them. OK is making sure you are not exploiting a significant power / privilege differential in your favor before propositioning someone. (Reading Cian @53 will help with that one. Also bad Jim @46.) Are these really difficult concepts?

62

JM 03.15.12 at 2:20 pm

@ Salient 21

For the love of God, there’s a pretty huge problem with conflating ‘initiate contact’ (being social) and ‘indicate one’s sexual interest’ (predation). It’s like conflating nodding hello with catcalling.

And here I thought that conflating “indicat[ing] one’s sexual interest” with “predation” was pretty weird.

Professional conferences often include social events, not to mention lots of alcohol. The main north American medievalists’ conference, for instance, includes a notorious dance. When did exploring sexual opportunities at these affairs become “red-line inappropriate”?

63

Benquo 03.15.12 at 2:22 pm

61 is helpful and reassuring. It’s not news to me, but I was worried that I was doing something else that was bad.

Though power/privilege differential is still general. I don’t know how to reliably apply that test.

64

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:24 pm

When did exploring sexual opportunities at these affairs become “red-line inappropriate”?

When it violates the conditions I outlined @61- especially the second one. When no thought whatsoever has been taken regarding the issues outlined by bad Jim @46.

65

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:27 pm

I don’t know how to reliably apply that test.

I think Cian @53 had a very good suggestion. For instance, imagine you, to take an all too common common academic example, are a graduate student and the person making the advances is your adviser. Then apply the inverse form of the Golden Rule.

66

Benquo 03.15.12 at 2:28 pm

I mean, obviously if I’m someone’s boss they’re 100% don’t-even-think-about it off limits. Or if they are asking for my help with something, that is NOT the right time.

But I can’t help being a man, and white, and being a member of other assorted privileged classes. How do I know when those may be relevant enough to make an interaction an exploitation of privilege?

67

Benquo 03.15.12 at 2:34 pm

Is the example in 65 chosen because it’s one that’s especially easy to understand? Because I do (and already did) understand how in that case a power differential exists and is relevant.

But I’m worried about cases that I might not already recognize. For which some examples closer to the line of OK/not-OK might be helpful.

68

JM 03.15.12 at 2:34 pm

@ LaBonne 64

Yes, I think that “as a human being” is a difficult concept for anyone who doesn’t think that sex is icky.

As to 46 I’m glad you reminded me of that one, because I found this part pretty loaded:

If somebody else is talking to you about issues of general importance and you’re wondering how she’d be in the sack, you’re not giving her the same attention you’d give to someone of your own gender.

First, it assumes that thinking about someone sexually detracts from thinking about them professionally. So, again with the sex=icky? Really? But I can’t be the only person on the planet who thinks that brilliance is attractive. Second, I’m bisexual, so the assumption in the second half of the sentence was laughably heterocentric. The last time I was hit on at a conference was by another male (from a very conservative Southern, Christian institution, I might add).

But, since he’d sat through my paper, we can be pretty sure he didn’t think I was something other than “a human being.”

69

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:34 pm

But I can’t help being a man, and white, and being a member of other assorted privileged classes. How do I know when those may be relevant enough to make an interaction an exploitation of privilege?

That’s a very good question. But just as in the bright-line cases like being somebody’s boss (and those are the easy ones), you can develop enough awareness to realize that women in male-dominated professional fields get constant signals that they are not taken seriously as people and professionals, but only as bodies, by all too many of their male colleagues. And you can then begin to understand that advances from males they barely know are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And hopefully, begin not to want to be part of the problem.

IOW as a member of a privileged class you need to accept the burden of going the extra mile to make sure you are not unduly exploiting that privilege and contributing to its maintenance. Is that fair? In some senses, perhaps not. But who said life is fair?

70

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:37 pm

Yes, I think that “as a human being” is a difficult concept for anyone who doesn’t think that sex is icky.

I think you win the Missing the Point Award for today. Try re-reading the OP and a large number of the responses, only with comprehension this time.

71

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 2:42 pm

JM,

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that this is Teh Intarboobs. Salacious pics accompany even the most bland and boring of articles. BUT the actual domainincite article itself was about sexual harrassment. About the totally inappropriate and offensive objectification of women. In that context – clamouring for pics is at least a little bit perverted. As a very wise and shockingly handsome man once said “Context is king.”

72

JM 03.15.12 at 2:44 pm

Well, Steve, you were perfectly happy to be specific previously, but now you’ve gone all wobbly. I find similarly loaded but incoherent language and unsupported generalizations from Salient at 32, and you at 51, and nothing in the OP.

73

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:45 pm

Well, Steve, you were perfectly happy to be specific previously, but now you’ve gone all wobbly.

Your inability to read previously posted material with comprehension is duly noted.

74

JM 03.15.12 at 2:51 pm

@ Dragon-King Wangchuck 71

The pics were of a postcard, according to the post, that included a line-drawing of a supposedly Czech woman. But as pornography goes, that’s pretty tame. Or maybe I’ve been on the internet too long?

For more than one reason, I wish there really had been an ‘equivalent “boys” option’. Since the rules of the conference are ‘Treat all members of the ICANN community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation‘ I can imagine many a gay attendee felt left out.

75

rea 03.15.12 at 2:51 pm

There’s no real way to learn without being clumsy and awkward sometimes.

That may be true, but then you have to accept someone’s indignant reaction to your clumsiness and awkwardness as a learning experience.

76

JM 03.15.12 at 2:52 pm

Oh, dear. Steve is somehow ‘noting’ my inability to view his spectral evidence.

I am undone.

77

Manta1976 03.15.12 at 2:52 pm

I am a bit confused: what is the relationship between a postcard advertising Prague for its prostitutes, and the stuff commenters are talking about (unwanted advances)?

78

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 2:54 pm

I am a bit confused: what is the relationship between a postcard advertising Prague for its prostitutes, and the stuff commenters are talking about (unwanted advances)?

Perhaps a look at the very first sentence of the OP might just provide a clue: “Here at ICANN Costa Rica, a debate has erupted about the casual sexism women experience at technology conferences. “

79

JM 03.15.12 at 2:55 pm

Here’s the postcard in question:

http://domainincite.com/images/IMG_20120313_120536.jpg

Perhaps we are supposed to object to a call for pics because the actual, you know, pics rather undercut the hype?

80

Manta1976 03.15.12 at 2:59 pm

So, let me reformulate: what is the relationship between the postcard and the OP, then?
Is it that assuming that a few of the (male) people going to Prague for work might want go with prostitutes in the free time is sexist?

81

JM 03.15.12 at 3:01 pm

@ Manta1976 80:

Please submit any and all queries to Steve LaBonne’s Committee of Legitimate Sexual Relations, and allow 30 business days for a response. In the meantime, refrain from sexual advances, as they may reduce actual human beings to inanimate objects, as has clearly happened to this poor girl in the postcard.

82

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:03 pm

75: I agree. I wish more women felt safe enough to give immediate, clear feedback when something makes them feel uncomfortable.

What upset me was the idea that being awkward and clumsy at times made me a predator. But if Maria agrees with Steve & others, then she meant to apply the word “predator” to something a bit worse than mere awkwardness.

83

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:05 pm

79: The point is not that the picture, in isolation, was offensive. The problem was that “girls” (the implication being, sexually available women) were regarded as an attribute of the city that would appeal to the ordinary attendee. But that assumes that the ordinary attendee is a man.

This can make women feel like they’re unwelcome.

84

dsquared 03.15.12 at 3:06 pm

JM, Manta1976: please knock it off. Nobody, including you, is confused about any issue of importance. This is getting close to thread derailing, which I know you would hate to be accused of.

85

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:06 pm

Followup to 82: I don’t want to dismiss this as a mere feeling either; I also wish that more women were, in fact, safe enough to &c.

86

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 3:08 pm

JM,

The postcard didn’t need to have any pics. The issue is that when presented with a situation where clearly offensive sexist behaviour was being reported, the immediate replies were basically “but where are teh b00bies!” That’s kinda perverted.

Look, I am definitely pro-b00bies. I am a big fan. But there are situations where even I can recognize that “show us the tits” is kinda offensive. Say, when talking about how suggestions for combining sex tourism with a conference for a group of technical professionals where women are a small minority.

That said, the very inappropriateness of it lends itself to humour. I don’t know if domainincite regularly participates in that kind of humour. And if they do, I don’t know if it’s done with the enlightened self-deprecating attitude where it’s recognized that yes – objectifying women is clearly wrong. The whole pretending to be an ignorant chauvinist to highlight how pathetic they are.

87

Katherine 03.15.12 at 3:08 pm

Clearly I spoke to soon.

88

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 3:09 pm

So, let me reformulate: what is the relationship between the postcard and the OP, then? Is it that assuming that a few of the (male) people going to Prague for work might want go with prostitutes in the free time is sexist?

Do you have sufficient empathy to put yourself in the place of a female attendee already struggling with the casual sexism rife in male-dominated tech fields? If you are capable of performing this thought experiment, how do you suppose it would make her feel? How do you suppose such an atmosphere affects attempts to move such fields in the direction of gender equality? Do you care about that, and if not, why not?

89

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 3:10 pm

Clearly I spoke to soon.

I knew your comment was a jinx as soon as you made it. ;) These things are all too predictable.

90

JM 03.15.12 at 3:10 pm

@ Benquo 83

I’ve never disagreed with that part of it, and have already indicated another way (@ 74) that the display was discriminatory. There was simply no excuse for not including ‘boys’ (or ‘guys’ or something).

Instead, it’s the unexamined, 1970’s-style heterophobia in this discussion that I could do without.

91

Derek 03.15.12 at 3:12 pm

Re: Doctor Slack and others on appropriate analogies to offer men who can’t imagine the inappropriateness of being hit on:

A couple of incidents I experienced during my undergraduate days a might be relevant. I casually ran into a fellow student I had previously known through a high-school summer program, and we agreed to meet for lunch. I was looking forward to catching up with an old acquaintance, finding out whether she was in touch with other mutual acquaintances, etc. My heart sank when it quickly became clear her motive was to invite me to her Christian student group. Perhaps she also had what I originally thought were our shared interest in meeting, but even if so, they were clearly swamped the ‘witnessing’ motive. I immediately lost all interest in reconnecting with this person, but I continued with the lunch conversation as politely as possible while firmly refusing the religious invitation.

In a related incident – the one time I thought a man was hitting on me, by persistently trying to start a small-talk conversation on the university bus, it turned out he was trying to invite me to his church. Here I politely declined, and declined to explain my reasons for being an atheist, and got off the bus one stop early (it was a nice day out).

Though there are many important differences between this and being the subject of unwanted sexual advances, it gives me some idea of what it feels like to have a conversation with someone on what you think are mutual terms, only to find your conversational partner is more driven by an ulterior motive that you don’t share. Now imagine being frequently subject to these sorts of religious advances in a professional context, especially by those (clients, supervisors, potential employers) who are in positions of power over you. Indeed, in some regions and some industries people do face unwanted religious advances in the workplace.

These interactions can be uncomfortable, self-undermining, and hostile even without the extra physical and psychological elements that unwanted sexual advances can possess. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to invite people to your church (or on a date), but respect requires recognizing limits to the time, place, and manner in which you do it.

92

dsquared 03.15.12 at 3:13 pm

DKW, Steve: please stop contributing your half of JM’s project to derail this thread.

93

Katherine 03.15.12 at 3:15 pm

It would be nice too if a post and comment thread about casual sexual harrasment and the discomfort, disadvantage and danger to women when dealing with such, didn’t turn into a question and answer session from clueless dude(s) as to how to successfully get their end away.

Benquo and JM – start with the shocking and radical proposition that women are people too and go from there.

94

JM 03.15.12 at 3:19 pm

@ dsquared 84

Please note that the following concerns something specifically cited (and linked to) in the OP, i.e., the comments on the relevant thread.

@ Dragon-King Wangchuck 86

As much as I’m inclined to agree with you, you’re still using that word, “perverted.”

Also, perhaps we disagree on how seriously to take the first comment and its reply, as well as some of the sequels. The headline of the article is “Hot girls land CZ.nic in hot water,” but the article goes on to decry sexism. I thought some of the ‘pervs’ were actually poking fun at the tension between headline and tone (i.e., “where are the hot girls your headline promised”), which are intended to point up either an oversight or a hypocrisy, depending on your perspective.

95

Alex 03.15.12 at 3:19 pm

Relatedly, I was rather pleased when this happened.

96

soullite 03.15.12 at 3:21 pm

People who want a serious debate ask these questions in a forum that is open to all, and where all are allowed to participate without fear of being banned.

People who want a circle jerk ask a question like this in a place like this one.

97

js. 03.15.12 at 3:23 pm

Benquo,

You’re not going to learn the difference from reading an internet comment board. Do you have good friends who are women? Because something somehow is telling me maybe you don’t. But if you do, then talk to them, listen to them, you know, get to know them. If you don’t have good friends that are women, then that should probably be your first step.

98

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:27 pm

92: That feels condescending to me, and does not help me become better. To be better means to be better in some actual, specific situation.

I have tried treating women just as I’d like to be treated and the results were not good. In fact, for me this has been a poor strategy in figuring out how to treat anyone.

So instead I try to listen to what actual existing people say they want and do not want.

The OP suggests that there are lots of cases where this is an inadequate heuristic, because women in particular are often subjected to situations where they feel uncomfortable/exploited/unsafe and don’t feel like they can tell the person who’s put them in that situation.

I think it’s reasonable to ask for some specific examples and guidelines, when the whole point is that these are situations where women are not clearly expressing their preferences on an individual basis.

99

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 3:34 pm

I have tried treating women just as I’d like to be treated and the results were not good. In fact, for me this has been a poor strategy in figuring out how to treat anyone.

With genuine respect, I will say that I think you need to try it again with the crucial difference that you think about how you’d like to be treated if you were a woman in the same situation. And #96 is a first-class suggestion for developing the ability to do this.

(And also, the negative form of the Golden Rule- do nottreat others in a way you would not wish to be treated- may be a better general guide than the usual formulation, because people tend to have more in common in the things they object to having done to them than in their positive likes. Few people like to be treated as though they were not “real” people.)

100

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:34 pm

96: I have been fortunate to have women who are good friends. Generally they have been kind enough to tell me if I ever did something that made them feel uncomfortable.

But interacting with women who are my friends is different from interacting with women who are strangers, which is – I now have learned – what the OP seems to be about.

You’re right that this is probably not the best place for me to learn, though.

101

Substance McGravitas 03.15.12 at 3:35 pm

People who want a serious debate ask these questions in a forum that is open to all, and where all are allowed to participate without fear of being banned.

Like soullite’s blog! Follow the link in his name, people!

102

JM 03.15.12 at 3:38 pm

@ Benquo 97

With reference to Maria’s third para, a quick search on ‘elevatorgate’ will give you plenty of material, although I’m not sure that a consensus ever emerged. I’d give you my own summary, but I’m not sure it’s sufficiently on-topic.

103

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:38 pm

98: Neither the negative nor positive version has worked that well for me, because, in my experience, people are different.

Maybe you, personally, have had great success trying to guess how people would like to be treated by imagining yourself in their shoes. That’s great! If it works for you, keep doing it. And if you know people whom you improved by giving them that advice, that’s great too!

But it doesn’t work for me. Not for women. And not for men. If it doesn’t work when I try it on men, then why should imagining I’m a woman make it work when I try it on women?

104

Benquo 03.15.12 at 3:39 pm

101: I did find the ‘elevatorgate’ discussions helpful.

105

dsquared 03.15.12 at 4:19 pm

People who want a serious debate ask these questions in a forum that is open to all, and where all are allowed to participate without fear of being banned.

it is Maria’s choice as to whether or not she wants a “serious debate” on the side-issue of whether the postcard was really all that explicit, or whether we are being heterophobic. But I think she might not.

106

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 4:22 pm

DKW: “You don’t need to play into looksist misogyny or homophobia to get them to understand. Tell them instead to imagine the unwanted advances coming from their moms.”

Love this.

107

Manta1976 03.15.12 at 4:26 pm

About Maria’s experience in Montreal: since when “escorting the lady home” is something particularly feminist, and not simply one of the standard fares of male chivalry (the one appearing, say, in Pride and Prejudice)?

108

rf 03.15.12 at 4:27 pm

I mean Benquo, with respect, its really very difficult to buy this ‘earnestly trying to find true love’ shtick. I think a good starting point would be to live by the maxim that if I have to ask myself if my ‘game’ could be described as sexual predation, then its probably time to put it away.
Reductionist and simplistic as a premise, sure, and people make mistakes, overstep the mark so on so forth, such is life etc but your enquiries strike me more as post hoc justifications than an open mind on how to treat people. Of course all of this is subjective and context is important, but you wont have people here to walk you through it, so perhaps a conservative approach would be the best option

109

Maria 03.15.12 at 4:29 pm

Wow, quite the comment-stream over night.

Arwen – huge thanks for your inputs. I honestly never thought of it like that before.

110

Maria 03.15.12 at 4:30 pm

Thanks, Dan re. thread-jack.

Katherine – agreed… spoke too soon.

111

Maria 03.15.12 at 4:37 pm

If I didn’t want to trigger debates, I wouldn’t be blogging. But while I’m somewhat sympathetic to Benquo’s plight & take at face value that he wants to learn, I am kind of tired of it being considered my job as a woman to teach men not to be jerks.

Of course there’s a continuum between clumsy passes and attempted rape, but it’s a continuum, folks. What makes a pass ‘clumsy’? When it happens in an inappropriate setting such as a professional one or when it’s clearly unwelcome. Yes, we all have to learn to spot the signs when it’s unwelcome – in either direction – but associating incompetence in this regard with the tiny minority of people who have a genuine disability is just plain stupid.

Plenty of commenters have pointed out better than I can that passes in work settings to people you don’t know well merit a red card because they undermine women as professionals – both in the assumptions and outcomes.

So yes, it is distressing that the thread degenerated overnight. Hey ho.

112

BelgianObserver 03.15.12 at 4:43 pm

“Clumsy pass” = getting hit on by a beta male. Passes from alpha are welcome at professional events. I know because I pick-up at such events without getting complaints.

113

rf 03.15.12 at 4:49 pm

You should take Benquo under your wing, would be a shame to not to pass on all that knowledge

114

BelgianObserver 03.15.12 at 4:52 pm

Benquo sounds like more of an “omega”–I can probably only help a beta become a lesser alpha.

115

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 4:53 pm

rf, no doubt BO’s actual, as opposed to fantasized, encounters go something like this. Benquo may not wish to duplicate this kind of success.

116

Antoine 03.15.12 at 4:54 pm

One of the worst aspects of political correctness is the superior moral posturing that it assumes and that it indiscriminately inflicts upon others. In fact, its really a sublimated form of puritanism , which is why it is found mainly , at the private level in the anglo-saxon world (in France , we have a public form of puritanism called “droit de l’hommisme”, but that’s another matter). When confronted to intimidation when political correctness is invoked , the only attitude, to avoid being outcast, as our czechs have realized, is retreat. Note that in the original post “Dan” is anointed a “gentleman” , in recognition of his docility. The master/slave transaction is complete.

117

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 4:55 pm

I picture Antoine as the sap in that xkcd strip, as well.

118

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 4:56 pm

Note that in the original post “Dan” is anointed a “gentleman” , in recognition of his docility

Hee hee.

119

Benquo 03.15.12 at 5:06 pm

111: Of course it’s not your job. I didn’t mean to imply that it was. It seemed like you had an interest in doing so.

It sounds like you’re using “clumsy” to mean a much narrower set of actions than I’d thought, and probably doesn’t apply to me. If you want fewer misunderstandings with people like me, more specificity might help.

112: I’ve actually gotten much better at social interaction once I stopped worrying about being clumsy, and realized that in most cases, if someone wants to be my friend/lover/acquaintance/whatever, they will be happy I expressed interest. And if they don’t, why waste my time?

120

BelgianObserver 03.15.12 at 5:09 pm

Benquo, you sound hopelessly naive. Look at “Chateau Heartiste”‘s blog to learn some dark truths.

121

Geoffrey 03.15.12 at 5:35 pm

Re 111 and 119:

Yes, “clumsy” I associate (and the dictionary I just checked backs me up) with “awkward”, which could easily be used to describe every pass or flirtation I ever made, and a good deal of my other daily actions as well. Perhaps “inappropriate” or “aggressive” gets more to Maria’s meaning here?

122

Jane 03.15.12 at 5:36 pm

Thank you, to both you and John, for writing about this. The things we put up with range from irritating to outrageous. I’ve been lucky not to receive some of the violent treatment several of my friends have, but we’ve all been treated as “potential playmates” rather than as colleagues.

I wrote about my experiences with this a few months ago. I hope you don’t mind me sharing the link here: http://janecopland.co.uk/2011/12/women-as-entertainment-in-the-seo-industry/. The “do you go to Prague for the girls” bit is also relevant to what I wrote. I realise the SEO community doesn’t have the best reputation in some circles, but I’d also expect to be able to go to one of their events and maintain a decent level of safety and dignity.

This post of course leaves out all the “clumsy passes” that go on. They’re unnecessary and tiring. I don’t go to marketing or tech events to find dates.

People don’t seem to realise the number of times women have to wiggle their way out of being hit on or otherwise pestered at these kinds of events. Some women like it; the majority don’t. Err on the side of general appropriateness and don’t go looking for hook-ups at professional events.

What disturbed me the most in recent months was the number of men and women who came to me with horror stories of things that had happened to them, their colleagues and partners, at tech gatherings and conferences. Most of these things went unreported. Most of the time, they were unreported because the victim was scared they’d ruin their reputation by getting involved in a “sex scandal.”

That horrifies me. A culture of silence is what lets these things continue, as John has said.

I made myself a few enemies by writing what I wrote, but I’m really glad I did it. I’m glad all of these posts get written, even if some may say we’re now beating the topic to death. Good – the reason the topic exists needs to die.

Thanks again for the great post.

123

geo 03.15.12 at 5:38 pm

Way upthread, Steve made a very cogent comment: “OK is making sure you have some level of real acquaintance with a person as a human being who is congenial to you and vice versa, and not just as an attractive body that has happened to come into your sight, before propositioning them.”

As we all know, not-OK behavior of the sort Steve is implicitly deploring is widespread, even epidemic. The reasons are: advertising and mass entertainment. Attractive bodies as objects of casual consumption — this feature of everyday (everyminute) life is at the same time an essential motor of consumer capitalism and an unmistakable source of profound social pathology. What should we do about it?

124

dsquared 03.15.12 at 5:44 pm

Show me an alpha male and I’ll show you a monkey.

“Belgian Observer”, wind your neck in. I do not accept that there is any good-faith chain of reasoning that could lead someone to believe that it was on topic for this thread to boast about how much tail you get.

125

Manta1976 03.15.12 at 5:44 pm

geo, I really don’t get what is wrong with what essentially amount to casual sex with strangers (well, as long as you use protection).

126

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 5:51 pm

geo, I really don’t get what is wrong with what essentially amount to casual sex with strangers (well, as long as you use protection).

Nothing at all is wrong with it. What’s wrong is treating women, not as fully human beings (and in a professional context, colleagues), but as largely a parade of walking opportunities for sex. How many ways does this need to be said before it begins to sink in? Surely it’s not a terribly abstruse concept?

I mean, are some of you guys so lacking in empathy that you can’t grasp the effect that it has on female professionals in a male-dominated field to be regarded by many of their male peers as primarily the latter rather than the former? And to have this fact rubbed in constantly?

127

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 5:54 pm

And so, in other words, wait for women you don’t know well to indicate an unmistakable interest (there are of course women who are into casual sex) before you raise the subject, and err strongly on the side of caution because your unexamined privilege may make it difficult to distinguish genuine interest from your wishful thinking.

128

Manta1976 03.15.12 at 5:58 pm

Steve, first, that is NOT what geo said (but of course I might have misread him).

Second, I think you (and the OP) are conflating 2 very different things: how women (and people in general, for that matter) should treated in a professional context, and how they should be treated in a non-professional context.

In particular, I think that advertisement for prostitutes for extra-work entertainment should not be considered sexist, only because women are not interested in it (in the same way, say, as advertisement for beer should not be considered anti-Muslim). I hope that my objection is a bit clearer now.

129

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 6:04 pm

Steve just a quick question. You seem to be arguing that it is always sexist to want to have casual sex with someone? Am I misinterpreting?

130

Maria 03.15.12 at 6:07 pm

Belgian Observer, we’ve heard enough from you.

131

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:08 pm

In particular, I think that advertisement for prostitutes for extra-work entertainment should not be considered sexist, only because women are not interested in it

I just don’t see why women at a professional conference would be bothered at all by ads that treat other women as sperm receptacles (and by the sight of male colleagues approving this way of regarding women), can you?

(in the same way, say, as advertisement for beer should not be considered anti-Muslim)

Analysis of this analogy fail is left as an exercise for the reader.

132

dsquared 03.15.12 at 6:09 pm

I hope that my objection is a bit clearer now

It is, but unfortunately it is only “a bit clearer” in the sense that it is now crystal clear that you are either being a fool for the sake of it, or are genuinely unable to see completely obvious things. Please find a different line of conversation to pursue as this one has led you to a dead end.

133

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:10 pm

You seem to be arguing that it is always sexist to want to have casual sex with someone? Am I misinterpreting?

You are; I thought 125-126 were pretty clear, if perhaps not quite so enthusiastically pro-casual-sex as you would have liked. (One thing people might want to think about is that if gender privilege were greatly reduced, casual sex would be a much less fraught topic.)

134

Maria 03.15.12 at 6:13 pm

Benquo, sorry, that sounded mean. I’ll give you an illustration, though I’m not sure how helpful it is. Whatever you do, do NOT take advice from “Belgian Obsverver”…

135

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 6:14 pm

“if perhaps not quite so enthusiastically pro-casual-sex as you would have liked.”

You going to call me a slut next Steve?

136

Doctor Slack 03.15.12 at 6:14 pm

Wow, when I referenced “PUA” creeps earlier on, I have to admit I didn’t actually expect one to show up in the thread. CT never ceases to amaze.

137

geo 03.15.12 at 6:18 pm

Manta, I’m not against consensual casual sex, and neither is Steve. What I’m unhappy about (I shouldn’t say “against,” since that implies that I have some kind of prohibition in the back of my mind) is commercially-motivated hyperstimulation of any kind, in this case the merchandising of sex. I think it makes people compulsive consumers, in this case of one another’s bodies, though principally of women’s bodies by men.

God knows we guys are all hungry, especially when young. But they’re people too, and it can be hard to keep that in mind when the testosterone is pumping, often stoked by Vanity Fair ads or gross lyrics or that incessant insistent beat (what is it insisting on, after all?). As someone said: “The strongest oaths are straw to the fire i’ the blood.” Do we really need multi-billion dollar industries adding fuel to the fire?

138

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:20 pm

You going to call me a slut next Steve?

Heh. Seriously though, in what is still a very sexist society, casual sex is, inescapably, a lot less politically problematic (outside braindead conservative / misogynist circles, and who cares about them) when actively sought by women than by men. I would hope that men would take this as a good incentive to fight sexism.

139

Benquo 03.15.12 at 6:25 pm

133: Thanks.

I think many people are like me and can only really learn how to be more kind and considerate and respectful of others, from stories and examples. I became much better at being kind and considerate by reading Austen and Frost.

Don’t worry, I’m no longer in any danger of thinking that just because someone says they have unusual insight, means they do. I wish I were able to go back in time 10 years and warn myself not to imitate certain things – I would have become better faster, and done and said fewer hurtful things.

140

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 6:25 pm

“Heh. Seriously though, in what is still a very sexist society, casual sex is, inescapably, a lot less politically problematic (outside braindead conservative / misogynist circles, and who cares about them) when actively sought by women than by men. I would hope that men would take this as a good incentive to fight sexism.”

Can’t we let those “braindead conservative / misogynist circles” be the anti sex ones? Nothing wrong with casual sex as long as both parties are willing. I agree that it is good practice to be respectful and careful of boundaries, however I do not see it, casual sex, as problematic in and of itself. Even at professional conferences.

141

hix 03.15.12 at 6:30 pm

“When it happens in an inappropriate setting such as a professional one or when it’s clearly unwelcome. “

Rather doubtfull if Czech social norms consider it inapropiate in a professional setting. Neither is it obvious what is clearly unwelcome when different cultures are involved.

Someone else mentioned “intrusion of private space” which is obviously a cultural issue too. Americans have the most extreme concept of private space in the world. In some countries its just normal to touch people youre talking with. Wir sind Helden wrote a great song about German/French cultural differences with regards to showing affection:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xg18vw_wir-sind-helden-aurelie-video_music

142

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:32 pm

I agree that it is good practice to be respectful and careful of boundaries, however I do not see it, casual sex, as problematic in and of itself. Even at professional conferences.

It is NOT problematic in and of itself. As we’ve been discussing for 140 comments now (feel free to review as needed), it can be problematic in the context of the way our society treats women. And particularly so in professional contexts where women are still struggling to establish themselves as equals. Tread cautiously and with due regard for possibly unexamined privilege, is all I’m saying. Is that so hard?

143

JM 03.15.12 at 6:34 pm

I thought 126 was pretty clear. Women may initiate casual sex. Men may not.

In this way, sexism is defeated.

144

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:36 pm

I thought 126 was pretty clear.

What’s pretty clear is that thinking is rather difficult for you, so try not to trouble your pretty little alpha-male head.

145

JM 03.15.12 at 6:43 pm

@ Steve Etc. 143:

Yes, Steve, because I have been so very alpha-male and because really masculine people can’t think straight. More sexist tripe and question begging, please.

In the meantime, anyone can read the comment. Here it is again:

And so, in other words, wait for women you don’t know well to indicate an unmistakable interest (there are of course women who are into casual sex) before you raise the subject, and err strongly on the side of caution because your unexamined privilege may make it difficult to distinguish genuine interest from your wishful thinking.

Emphasis unneeded.

146

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 6:43 pm

“It is NOT problematic in and of itself. As we’ve been discussing for 140 comments now (feel free to review as needed), it can be problematic in the context of the way our society treats women. And particularly so in professional contexts where women are still struggling to establish themselves as equals. Tread cautiously and with due regard for possibly unexamined privilege, is all I’m saying. Is that so hard?”

I understand that is what you are saying now (I agree with you by the way) however it is not the same thing as what you were saying earlier. You wrote:

“OK is making sure you have some level of real acquaintance with a person as a human being who is congenial to you and vice versa, and not just as an attractive body that has happened to come into your sight, before propositioning them”

147

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 6:46 pm

I understand that is what you are saying now (I agree with you by the way) however it is not the same thing as what you were saying earlier.

In that comment I was addressing somebody who reported significant issues with his interactions with women and asked for guidance in improving them. In such a case, I don’t think looking for casual sex is a good starting point. Do you?

148

JM 03.15.12 at 6:46 pm

I guess MPAVictoria is also too alpha-male to grasp your divine truths, Steve?

149

mds 03.15.12 at 6:47 pm

Dragon-King Wangchuck @ 118:

Hee hee.

Yes, I scrolled frantically back up to the original post to double-check. Then I diagrammed the sentence, just to be extra sure. dsquared is now dcubed, once the “docile” is included. I laughed through my tears.

Meanwhile, I confess that things like this only reinforce my bafflement as to the functioning of the internet’s series of tubes. Previously, I thought, “Well, maybe they just keep one eye on the RSS feed, and when a female CTer’s post pops up, they say, ‘Hey ho, time to go be a complete shit.'” But the drive-by cobaggery suggests something else. Do they carefully monitor misogyneorandum.com? Is there a special web-scraping automated Twit account they follow? Or is the internet sea merely that stuffed with misogynist sesquiculi, and the Ideal Gasbag Law means that they will inevitably diffuse in here?

150

rf 03.15.12 at 6:50 pm

JM in fairness “Women may initiate casual sex. Men may not. In this way, sexism is defeated.” wasnt really a fair minded summation of what was said at 126. (whether I agree ot not, and Im not sure I do)
Why do you think your entitled to be taken seriously when you wont respond to the point reasonably?

151

Colin Danby 03.15.12 at 6:58 pm

JM, Steve is saying sensible things and writing with considerable care and patience, despite provocation. You’re being a jerk.

152

JM 03.15.12 at 6:58 pm

@ rf 150

Comments have shifted, perhaps because something came out of moderation.

@ 133, Steve referred to his comments at 125 and 126. They are now at 126 and 127 (125 is now Manta1976).

I cited the passage in question at 145.

153

JM 03.15.12 at 7:00 pm

@ Colin 151

Is it possible that you’re making the same mistake as rf @ 150?

Compare my 68 to his 70 and you’ll see how we didn’t get on.

154

Substance McGravitas 03.15.12 at 7:02 pm

But the drive-by cobaggery suggests something else.

It would be interesting to know if this is really drive-by behaviour. Could they be the secret superhero identities of regulars?

155

rf 03.15.12 at 7:05 pm

JM Okay, fair enough, my apologees. That seems a reasonable enough interpretation (polemical maybe, but still reasonable)

156

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 7:11 pm

“In that comment I was addressing somebody who reported significant issues with his interactions with women and asked for guidance in improving them. In such a case, I don’t think looking for casual sex is a good starting point. Do you?”

Ah so it was intended as specific rather than general advice? Okay fair enough. I do not actually think we are too far apart on our views about this. Though I am much less willing to tell people to forget about finding love/companionship/sex just because they are at a conference. Lots of people hook up at conferences, it is part of the fun. I agree that people need to be respectful of power inbalances though.

157

JM 03.15.12 at 7:14 pm

No apologies necessary, rf, these things happen on a moderated blog and this discussion has seen far fewer shifts than many past ones. It can be very confusing.

158

JM 03.15.12 at 7:19 pm

@ MPAVictoria 156:

If anyone has mentioned the following, I haven’t come across it: regardless of the degree (or nature) of the professionalism that is expected from participants at a professional conference, they are also the place one would most expect to meet like-minded people. For those looking to hook up, a lot of the usual preliminaries aren’t necessary. It’s like band camp for grownups.

Conferences aren’t unique, however. Lots of hooking up goes on at archeological digs.

159

Colin Danby 03.15.12 at 7:19 pm

JM: Nope.

This is not a question of whether you get on with Steve. Who cares? (Steve has a sharp tongue but I gotta say, by his or any standards he’s being impressively patient and restrained on this thread.)

It is a question of whether people write sensible things or not. Comments on a thread want to be read in reference to the OP, and getting into a tussle with another commenter is no justification for writing silly things.

On the issues at hand: The first defense of sleazy behavior is to conflate situations in which pass-making is acceptable with situations where it’s not. Once you’re made that conflation, that over-generalization, you then accuse your accusers of being prudes. This opens up several well-worn rhetorical avenues, some of which you have taken.

This is a particularly shabby argumentative move when the whole point of the OP and overall argument is to *distinguish* situations in which pass-making is acceptable from situations where it’s not.

160

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 7:26 pm

“This is a particularly shabby argumentative move when the whole point of the OP and overall argument is to distinguish situations in which pass-making is acceptable from situations where it’s not.”

Yes but not everyone is going to agree which situations are acceptable and which aren’t.

161

JM 03.15.12 at 7:26 pm

Colin, I have repeatedly referred back to the OP. If you still think Steve is the soul of civility, please see his comment at 144 for a bizarre bit of misandry. And finally, I would refer you to the way I’ve treated everyone except J. Otto Pohl (who is beneath contempt). Dragon and I seem to get along fine, and we can’t even agree on words. Did I flame rf? You? No? Am I flaming you now? No?

If you think I’m defending sleazy behavior, then I guess we have nothing more to talk about.

162

JM 03.15.12 at 7:31 pm

@ MPAVictoria 160

Yes but not everyone is going to agree which situations are acceptable and which aren’t.

The debate, such as it is on this thread, does not appear to be about which situations are or aren’t acceptable, but between those who wish to define which situations are acceptable for everyone else and those of us who think the issue is a bit more complicated than that.

163

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 7:34 pm

“If anyone has mentioned the following, I haven’t come across it: regardless of the degree (or nature) of the professionalism that is expected from participants at a professional conference, they are also the place one would most expect to meet like-minded people. For those looking to hook up, a lot of the usual preliminaries aren’t necessary. It’s like band camp for grownups.”

I actually would agree with this post, with the provisions I have already mentioned.

164

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 7:39 pm

between those who wish to define which situations are acceptable for everyone elsethat men would pay attention to what lots of women are constantly trying to explain to you about this topic.

FTFY. HTH. HAND.

If you still think Steve is the soul of civility, please see his comment at 144 for a bizarre bit of misandry.

Oh yeah, I’m one of those self-hating men. [rolls eyes] Strangely enough, I don’t perceive that it’s guys like me who have issues around masculinity…

165

JM 03.15.12 at 7:43 pm

Steve, if you really think I’m acting like an alpha male, please get your saliva checked.

166

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 7:44 pm

Dragon and I seem to get along fine, and we can’t even agree on words.

Well that might be perverting the nature of our disagreement a little bit.

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that no man should be able to proposition a woman EVAR, anywhere, especially at conferences. Just that individuals with a history of making women feel creeped out should probably do less propositioning. And that perhaps on the trade show floor might be a suboptimal location. And that connecting your professional conference to sex tourism is a bit over the line. Unless your profession is related to the sex tourism industry that is. These seem relatively non-controversial.

I suspect that you don’t think it’s unreasonable that some women would respond to unwanted advances by feeling very threatened. Not that it matters if you think it’s reasonable or not. The fact is that some women so feel that way. And being in a situation were there is pressure to go along to get along for the sake of your professional reputation and career – kinda makes it really crappy.

I suppose the question then comes down to – what about the guys who don’t know that they are creeps? Well that’s where the third party calling-out comes into play.

167

js. 03.15.12 at 7:45 pm

“If anyone has mentioned the following, I haven’t come across it: regardless of the degree (or nature) of the professionalism that is expected from participants at a professional conference, they are also the place one would most expect to meet like-minded people. For those looking to hook up, a lot of the usual preliminaries aren’t necessary. It’s like band camp for grownups.”

I actually would agree with this post, with the provisions I have already mentioned.

Well, sure. But a lot of people, umm, men, seem to use the “like-minded people” business to actively ignore the necessary provisions—and then again as a rhetorical strategy when they’re called out on it. Isn’t this really the problem that Steve was gesturing at? And, appropriately, I thought, advising caution.

168

JM 03.15.12 at 7:45 pm

Just that individuals with a history of making women feel creeped out should probably do less propositioning.

Sorry, “individuals” or “individuals belonging to a group with a history …”?

169

js. 03.15.12 at 7:46 pm

Total block-quote fail, there. Second para should be part of the quote.

170

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 7:52 pm

Individuals. We were speaking to someone who self-admitted this problem.

Here’s the thing though – it’s women who get final say on whether you are in this group or not. By definition.

171

JM 03.15.12 at 7:57 pm

@ Dragon 170

Only women? Really? I have some pretty definite opinions about the guy who tried to rape me 20 years ago, all because he thought (or at least said) that I’d given some kind of signal.

Can I put him in that group? Pretty please?

172

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 7:57 pm

“it’s women who get final say on whether you are in this group or not”

Competely agree. If you have a history of making women feel uncomfortable unintentionally with your advances it behooves you to tread EXTRA carefully.

173

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 7:58 pm

“Only women? Really? I have some pretty definite opinions about the guy who tried to rape me 20 years ago, all because he thought (or at least said) that I’d given some kind of signal.

Can I put him in that group? Pretty please?”

Maybe the term “people” would be better than any gendered term?

174

Tim Wilkinson 03.15.12 at 8:01 pm

I think I should report that I have a longish comment for this thread which I put off posting for day, further updated, and still don’t think I will submit. Partly because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted, partly because it’s embarrassingly autobiographical and I’m not sure I want to share such matters with the internet. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

175

Dragon-King Wangchuck 03.15.12 at 8:02 pm

Can I put him in that group? Pretty please?

Sure. That seems reasonable. Guys who “misread” signals into potential rape scenarios should not be trying to engage any warm-blooded being that catches their attention. Fully agreed.

176

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 8:03 pm

Maybe the term “people” would be better than any gendered term?

No, it wouldn’t, because it would obscure- and would be (and is) used deliberately to obscure- the actual state of gender relations, and gender-related power disparities, in our society.

177

Steve LaBonne 03.15.12 at 8:04 pm

Which is not to disagree in any way with D-K W @175.

178

Maria 03.15.12 at 8:04 pm

You’re not alone, Tim @174. I’m struggling to pick a ‘teachable moment’ to share with Benquo.

179

Kevin Donoghue 03.15.12 at 8:32 pm

I’ve kept quiet for reasons somewhat like those mentioned by Tim Wilkinson. To those seeking guidance on appropriate behaviour, the best advice I can give is: try to remain sober. It’s easy to mistake polite interest for raging lust after a few too many drinks. To the women I accosted while learning this lesson I offer belated apologies.

Vaguely related, from the Irish Times:

#beingirishmeans going to Mass just to check out the talent – Charlotte Ryan

180

Watson Ladd 03.15.12 at 8:38 pm

Girls absolutely can engage in the sort of behavior that we’re treating as characteristically male, and it is very possible to make signals by accident. (dancing with someone twice at a large contra dance is a pretty notable one: I didn’t know what it actually ment, and was quite shocked to find out) The social signals around sex are ambiguous.

But there is a huge difference between people being occasionally bluntly propositioned when they didn’t realize that that was a possibility, and a constant stream of comments and behaviors aimed entirely at viewing women as solely sexual beings, whose expressions of thoughts are only of interest insofar as feigned interest is required to obtain sex. That’s something that never happens to men, but that women have to put up with constantly, and it renders their participation in things like ICANN tenuous. (cis) Men, would you want to go to meetings where comments were exchanged about the dimensions of the members’ members?

181

Hidden Heart 03.15.12 at 8:45 pm

I propose a simple standard:

First, make sure that the gathering can work for its declared, intended purpose for all willing participants. Then consider dating opportunities.

Right now, we’ve got a lot of women who don’t feel at all comfortable at professional gatherings, which are there for them to just the same things as men with the same professional – learn about developments, present interesting developments of their own, socialize with colleagues, take part in the formal discussions of their profession’s direction and methods and in the informal discussions all around those. Guys who want to combine all that with being horn dogs are stealing the money and resources women have invested in the gathering.

Hmm, I wonder what rules it would take to allow a professional association to fine the troublemakers for the costs incurred by the objects of their harassment.

Whoever brought up the experience of unwanted religious prostelyzation, that was a stroke of genius. It’s not the same, of course. (I’ve had both.) But the sense of being forced to tolerate something very unwanted from authority figure you can’t blow off without also firing yourself does have a shared vibe. Likewise with having to pretend not to be offended and annoyed, and having to smile and treat it all as perfectly sensible, perhaps with the smiling admission that you realize the difference of view may very well indicate a weakness of some sort in yourself. It’s an experience a lot of guys have had, and many of those who haven’t know someone who has or at least can kind of imagine it. And it has the big merit of being not about se, but about power imbalance and the presumption of those on top.

182

rf 03.15.12 at 8:48 pm

“#beingirishmeans going to Mass just to check out the talent – Charlotte Ryan”

Also the definition of joining the clergy?

183

Benquo 03.15.12 at 8:49 pm

178: Thanks so much for making the effort.

I know it’s much more work to pick examples than to talk in terms of principles. But (at least for me) it helps a lot. For example, before the elevator controversy, it simply hadn’t occurred to me that the power differential shifted when two people are in an enclosed space. Obvious once I heard it, though. And now that I know it, it makes sense and I can be more careful in that kind of situation.

If either of these things are easier to think of, they might be helpful too:

Fictional examples, IF they are sufficiently representative of actual things that happened.

Examples of situations where someone seemed likely to act wrongly, but swum against the tide and chose not to.

184

Benquo 03.15.12 at 8:54 pm

122: That sounds like it was very unpleasant. I’m sorry that happened to you. Thanks for sharing an example of “what not to do.”

185

parse 03.15.12 at 9:09 pm

OK is making sure you have some level of real acquaintance with a person as a human being who is congenial to you and vice versa, and not just as an attractive body that has happened to come into your sight, before propositioning them.

By this standard, significant areas of gay male behavior are “not OK.”

186

Tim Wilkinson 03.15.12 at 9:18 pm

{OK then, my third amendment has been to make all of the below hypothetical, thus being free to change some or all details. Sorry if this makes it read rather – very – oddly. I’m not sure that there’s much left that’s new either at this point.}

(The below written when the comments stood at 14, and left lying around among the tabs of my browser for the best part of a day, as I wasn’t sure I wanted the hassle of answering responses or fending off denunciations.

Maybe I should add that medical diagnoses like autism don’t come into it, and also that men who aren’t really the kind of person women want spontaneous recreational sex with should be able to realise this fact and accept that this particular pleasure is not for them. Also, I’m not (or more to the point was not in the relevant time period) in the habit of going out in search of sex, nor constantly on the look out for it – though I should think that neither of those is necessarily either sexist or otherwise unacceptable, if it’s done in a respectful, power-symmetric, sensitive, good-humoured way.

Oh yeah, and one might well ‘call out’ other men for being sexist or disrespectful of women, one obvious example being use of terms like ‘slag’ or ‘slut’ which one may consider intolerable – it might even be necessary sometimes to ‘call out’ women on that, too. And a person may also not be interested in the competition to be near the beginning of the greek alphabet or any of that shit, I certainly agree with dsquared there.)

Here goes, anyway:)

I don’t usually comment on sexual politics threads since I normally have nothing clearly useful to add and it would be very easy to make a really bad impression to no purpose, but I think if there is debate to be had on this among those who are (or aspire to be) non-sexist, it is in the region of the comment of slacker @ 1.

Let’s suppose that a man and a woman (neither, as a matter of fact, being exclusively homosexual or celibate) are colleagues of some kind and are having a drink in the evening, on a social basis rather than as part of an official work function: perhaps they have just moved on from such a work function, or there is some overarching work event like a conference. We further specify that the two parties are of equal/incommensurable status.

Presumably they are relaxed, chatting and getting on well, having a few drinks perhaps. He has the hots for her and would like to get it on with her, and is certain she reciprocates. Can he (a) suggest going back to his place for some coffee, (b) invade her personal space (e.g. by unnecessarily sitting very close to her) enough to manoeuvre into position for a kiss, (c – I may as well add) grab her?

We specify also that the man in question remains highly alert for the slightest sign of reluctance or discomfort on the woman’s part, and is disposed to be highly embarrassed and genuinely apologetic and do everything he can to make amends should his advances prove unwelcome.

A person might do any or all of these, but only given utter certainty (cautiously attained, and always subsequently vindicated) that the woman in question was up for it. And TBH, I can’t really imagine that I (or indeed my present self transplanted into the same circumstances) would heed any advice that says one shouldn’t do these, since (though I would not conceptualised it in these terms because that would not be tremendously romantic/erotic) I would have sufficent faith in my ability to tell the difference and leave sufficient margin of error. Which is not to say that the ‘being alert for signs of discomfort or reluntance’ bit has no role – far from it. For one thing, it’s always possible one’s made a terrible mistake; for another, people can – gasp! – change their minds! Especially about this kind of thing. At any time, and without having to give any explanation.

(I should perhaps also add that I’m talking about this possibly happening only on a small number of occasions, and note that one might expect to far more often refrained from attempting to take things down that gently inclining path at all – instead either keeping things either entirely platonic or allowing them to be somewhat ambiguous/non-committal and perhaps asking for a phone number on parting – even though though one might have been fairly sure that one’s feelings were reciprocated. After all, it’s not as if there is some right to or overriding need for -casual- spontaneous sex, as opposed to taking things at a more leisurely pace – and most cases of initially potentially ‘casual’ sex might well tend not to end up being just ‘one-night-stands’ in any case: utterly anonymous, impersonal couplings might not be someone’s cup of tea at all. Having said that, I’m now talking in general rather than just about work colleagues: I imagine one might well avoid attempting to start an ongoing romantic attachment to a work colleague.

And of course it is possible to fancy someone and still treat – and regard – them as a human being, to allow the possibility of a romantic and/or erotic relationship to be present in the background without subordinating normal interpersonal relations to that end.)

(update: I don’ really agree with Steve LaBonne that making sure you have some level of real acquaintance with a person as a human being who is congenial to you and vice versa, and not just as an attractive body that has happened to come into your sight, before propositioning them. is a necessary for behaviour to be ‘OK’. While I would certainly generally expect and probably want to have some such ‘real acquaintance’ I don’t think it’s a requirement. The expression ‘propositioning them’ is rather prejudicial; makes me think of the cinema scene in Taxi Driver. The requirement is really just mutual respect and mutual desire. Mutuality.)

(another update: Benquo – I think you’re being entirely honest and bona fide, and you’ve perhaps been treated a touch dismissively by some, but this is surely the key point – that picking up strangers or near-strangers is not the standard way of finding a sexual partner and not something you should just assume you will or should be able to attempt without causing some serious upset.

If you really want advice, without pretending I’m particularly well-qualified to give it, I’d have thought it’s pretty simple – you can talk, have a laugh, try and connect, ask for a phone number, arrange a date, take it slowly, get to know her, you know. Among many other advantages of this normal way of doing things, you don’t have to make any sudden moves or do anything that isn’t acceptable in the context. With any luck, if you actually like each other, things will just progress, almost without you having to do too much in the way of worrying or calculating. See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDoQFcQEpOQ#t=3m8s
)

And of course ‘utter certainty’ that a woman is either coming onto one or waiting for one to make a move is not something plucked out of thin air or an overactive ego (one might be rather reserved where these matters are concerned actually, and even if one had say been something of a massive pisshead in the past and thus decidedly unreserved, it is still possible that sexual aggression could be one of the very few forms of bad behaviour one didn’t perpetrate.) – it’s based on unambiguous signals that arise in the advanced stages of the (possibly highly accelerated) process of flirtation – well I suppose it would be the stage after flirtation, which is of its nature non-committal.

A couple of issues, relating to the evaluative and the practical functions of morality respectively.

1. Is it sexist? Even a failed attempt at ‘making a pass’ (I think this expression has failure written into it, actually, especially the clumsy kind) under these circumstances need not be actually sexist, it seems to me. But of course it could be (perhaps even normally is, I have no way of knowing).

The kind of pillock who seems to think he is more attractive/charming/etc to women than he is (possibly by a grossly enormous margin) seems to betray a certain disrespect for women in general. The one who is largely indifferent to the feelings of his companion and is just trying his luck is a more straightforward case, especially if he is relying on the woman being reluctant to ’cause a fuss’ about it. Then there is presumably a range of characters who don’t satisfy the ‘disposed to be highly embarassed, etc’ condition, about whom comment is unnecessary (update – the foulmouthed tirade triggered by rejection, as described by Emma in Sidney is a particularly vile example).

(Since I’m finding this pretty uncomfortable, a break for some apposite comedy)

2. What are the rules? It could certainly be argued that a man never really knows until he has made improper advances. I don’t think this is plausible – when the conversation takes an increasingly flirtatious turn and all kinds of signals are obviously being given off, at some point it becomes about as clear as anything ever gets. But evidently some people (for reasons that may or may not involve sexism) are not reliably able to determine whether they have a ‘green light’ (and who am I to say I’m not one of them, perhaps one who’s just been lucky, you may ask). It’s not really enough just to say ‘do it at your own risk’ since another person is involved, who may be irritated, creeped out, or traumatised. So I dunno. I suppose in a sense that’s all one can do – lay down stringent rules to cover everyone, while being aware that some people will be in a position to break them, not only with impunity but blamelessly, harmlessly and to the satisfaction of all concerned.

This is part of a more general phenomenon: ‘you’ll recognise it when you see it’ (in this case reciprocated desire) is not useful advice, since it leaves open the possibility that you’ll think you recognise it when in fact you don’t see it. (Hadn’t really expected to be discussing Type I/Type II errors here. Has something gone awry?)

(I’m trying to be constructive and thoughtful here, but I have a nasty feeling that this will not read well. My prose ‘style’ isn’t really suited to this kind of thing so I probably sound creepy, sexist or otherwise repellent. I at least know I’m neither inclined nor capable of treating people with the kind of contempt that’s being discussed here, and I can only hope that comes across. Ho hum. Thanks to slacker anyway, for, er, making the first move.)

BTW it strikes me that it would be interesting, and might be illuminating, to hear peoples’ opinions or observations about this kind of issue as it relates to same-sex pairs, male or female.

{Update – parse @184 is coincidental}

187

Tim Wilkinson 03.15.12 at 9:26 pm

+ meant to add this has been an impressively constructive, balanced and good-natured thread so far given the volatility of the topic.

188

Veblen 03.15.12 at 9:27 pm

The debate, such as it is on this thread, does not appear to be about which situations are or aren’t acceptable, but between those who wish to define which situations are acceptable for everyone else and those of us who think the issue is a bit more complicated than that.

Seconded.

I found the example about recruitment for Church groups etc to be the best on the thread. It actually makes an attempt to explain the issues for people who are new to it (such as me). I found it persuasive, too.

I find OP’s commene risible – here’s a chap (Benquo) who upon reading this starts wondering exactly what OP thinks of as appropriate and inapproriate – and all she does is condescendingly declare that it’s not her job to tell him. I notice that she intends to provide an “illustration” rather than actually laying out the rules.

That’s because there aren’t any rules. Notice that throughout the thread, the test of whether a man is doing it right or wrong is simply how he makes the woman “feel”. JM is saying that perhaps more slack ought be cut given that no one knows what’s right and wrong – untill after the fact. I’ll go further – it’s not WHAT you say but how you say. An adequately “creepy” guy can make the most innocent looking words seem inappropriate. I’ve gotten away with obnoxious behavior with little in terms of long term results because I do it in very good humour.

189

Salient 03.15.12 at 9:34 pm

I find similarly loaded but incoherent language and unsupported generalizations from Salient at 32

Not my finest or clearest moment commenting, that’s for sure. Fortunately / coincidentally, Jane Copland was kind enough to provide pretty much the perfect description of the phenomenon in a nutshell: we’ve all been treated as “potential playmates” rather than as colleagues.

I’ll just note that I’m at a two-week conference currently and haven’t attended a single nighttime gathering, and the reasons for that (setting aside purely individual complications/disability) are pretty much summed up by a number of fellow conference-goers taking on the assumption raised upthread:

Professional conferences often include social events, not to mention lots of alcohol. The main north American medievalists’ conference, for instance, includes a notorious dance. When did exploring sexual opportunities at these affairs become “red-line inappropriate”?

FFS. It’s so mystifying how there’s a whole group of us–both sexes, FWIW–who have been heading back to the hotel, feigning ‘tiredness’ in response to any invitations to scheduled evening ‘informal’ ‘social’ events. We’re not here to ‘hook up’ with each other.

Do I really need to point out that Maria’s description of ICANN focused on what you could just-as-euphemistically call notorious signage asking whether your interest in the conference is predicated on alcohol, [something I forget], or ‘girls’? I suppose you think that kind of thing is perfectly alright, so long as it’s keeping up a tradition!

190

Veblen 03.15.12 at 9:46 pm

I’ll add this: I’ve read the PUA stuff (although I don’t practice it – I’ve been in a comfortable relationship for two years now). One standard piece of advice given is in fact “don’t make women uncomfortable” – the standard being touted here. The difference between here and those texts is interesting – they actually contain advice on how to go about not doing this rather than random, boundary examples. Don’t telegraph your sexual interest too blatantly, don’t make her feel like a slut (by inviting a woman to your room for coffee at 4 am, for example) etc. And they recognise the limits of such advice – it’s hard to tell when is too early (and too late) – it’s a matter of practice and calibration and context. Credit where it’s due.

191

Maria 03.15.12 at 10:06 pm

Tim at 186 is talking a lot of practical sense in advising Benquo to avoid even being in a situation where you have to make an all or nothing pass : – you can talk, have a laugh, try and connect, ask for a phone number, arrange a date, take it slowly, get to know her, you know. Among many other advantages of this normal way of doing things, you don’t have to make any sudden moves or do anything that isn’t acceptable in the context.

192

Benquo 03.15.12 at 10:06 pm

188: I did specifically ask for examples, not rules. So if someone’s to blame for that, it’s me, not Maria.

I did so because I don’t think it’s feasible to draw bright-line rules that prohibit all truly not-OK behavior and also permit a reasonable freedom of action. And because general statements – no matter how detailed – get filled in by different listeners with different imagined specific situations.

193

Maria 03.15.12 at 10:12 pm

Veblen, you may find me risible and condescending to your heart’s content. But I wrote a post about male feminists and how I feel about them.

The fact that the comment thread was subsequently de-railed into, among other things, requests for a tutorial on how not to make women think you may rape them is beside the point, and doesn’t oblige me to provide a tutorial.

Truth is, I’m not a man and am finding it impossible to give them instruction. Tim Wilkinson has done a rather generous job on instructing Benquo, so I think I will leave it at that.

194

Benquo 03.15.12 at 10:13 pm

191 makes a great deal of sense to me. Were the problem cases you were thinking about mostly examples of someone trying to jump several steps at once?

If so, then I am no longer that worried; it seems like there’s a lot of distance between the mild, awkward flirting I’ve done and the clumsy passes you were talking about.

195

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 10:16 pm

“FFS. It’s so mystifying how there’s a whole group of us—both sexes, FWIW—who have been heading back to the hotel, feigning ‘tiredness’ in response to any invitations to scheduled evening ‘informal’ ‘social’ events. We’re not here to ‘hook up’ with each other.”

But not everyone is going to share your feelings. I can’t help but feel like there should be some middle ground here.

196

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.15.12 at 10:16 pm

Feminism is about equal rights.

I don’t think men or women have the right to not be propositioned or flirted with, so this is not really feminism, but some sort of puritanism, as Antoine 116 said. Sometimes beggars ask me for money on the streets. They are almost always polite, but it still makes me uncomfortable. Hey, that’s life, it’s full of discomfort.

197

Maria 03.15.12 at 10:24 pm

Still, a thread derail is nothing compared to the anonymous troll on the original blog post: http://domainincite.com/hot-girls-land-cz-nic-in-hot-water/comment-page-1/#comment-14221

Kevin Murphy kindly checked with me on whether to delete in line with his comments policy. On reflection, I thought it should stay up as a shining example of exactly the sort of thing John Berryhill was talking about.

198

dsquared 03.15.12 at 10:26 pm

I can probably confess this low down in the thread that I am a massive hypocrite here – I did once make a clumsy pass at a woman at a Bank of England offsite training course and it was unforgiveable and unprofessional and my only hint of an excuse is that at least I had the decency to be married to her for 18 years, so far.

Since I am a massive sceptic about the possibility of widespread social change, and also about the possibility of someone discovering a foolproof method to meet sexual partners without embarrassment or awkwardness, I think that the only real solution is to a) accept that the current rather unsatisfactory situation of women having to do all the work of smoothing over social awkwardness in these events is probably going to persist, b) crack down like a ton of fucking bricks on men who abuse that social convention in the way described, c) crack down like a half-ton of bricks on people who produce stupid and sexist marketing material or casual remarks that have the effect of marginalising or discouraging professional women from contexts that are usually abysmally male-dominated anyway (more than one junior banker has felt the rough side of my usually docile personality for offending on this score). And d) making a constant affirmative effort to try and do all you can to promote the interests of professional women, on the base that this is probably an appropriate use of all the free time and energy you have going spare due to women taking on all the burden of facilitating and negotiating the delicate dance of courtship.

199

dsquared 03.15.12 at 10:28 pm

(I should also confess that I stole the joke in 198 from JK Galbraith, who used it as his defence against retrospective prosecution when Harvard implemented a policy forbidding relationships between professors and students)

200

MPAVictoria 03.15.12 at 10:30 pm

“Since I am a massive sceptic about the possibility of widespread social change”

This line stood out to me dsquared. There are so many examples of widespread social change, particularly in the last 50 years, that I cannot agree with you at all. Think about homosexuals living together openly as just one of many examples.

201

Caroline 03.15.12 at 10:30 pm

Oh Henri, don’t.

Being accosted by street people is not the same as being refused the professional courtesy of being treated as a fellow member of your profession, which is what the OP is about.

As a woman at professional (academic) conferences, I don’t assume that everyone’s agenda is the same as mine, and I’m certainly not expecting some kind of right to the absence of discomfort. But the occasional dude (and it is always a dude) who asks me about my work and then uses my careful explanation of what I do to make a double-meaning proposition is wasting my time, and being actively disrespectful. Life is short, so I move on without comment, but that doesn’t make this behavior OK.

202

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.15.12 at 10:37 pm

but that doesn’t make this behavior OK

Yeah, I’m sure it’s unpleasant, although I personally wouldn’t mind if reasonably attractive women did it to me. Often.

Hey, look on the bright side: it could be worse, no one could be hitting on you at all; wouldn’t that be depressing.

203

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.15.12 at 10:44 pm

…they just want my expertise, dammit. As if I’m nothing but a brain in a jar.

204

Maria 03.15.12 at 10:44 pm

UGH! Henri Vieuxtemps, no more comments from you on this thread.

205

Kevin Donoghue 03.15.12 at 11:03 pm

dsquared, excuse my curiosity, but did your wife actually write a railway guide, the historical section of which got completely out of hand? I always assumed you were making that up (it sounded too improbable for words) but I recently noticed that a book actually exists which seemed to fit your description.

206

Turkle 03.15.12 at 11:17 pm

Just wanted to weigh in on the issue of male feminism, which was briefly addressed in the post and a few comments way earlier in the thread (before it derailed).

I’m male and I’ve considered myself a feminist for a long time, and I understand how some can perceive that as an awkward stance to take. Myself, I prefer to think of Feminism as a set of practices that have the conscious aim of eliminating patriarchy, respecting women, and all the rest of it. Espousing a feminist identity (“I am a feminist”) is but one of many feminist practices and, like all practices, will be appropriate in some situations and not in others. I totally agree that identity-wise, men will never be feminists in the same way as women because they have a totally different set of experiences that may in fact be incommensurable, and the same goes for issues such as race, class, and all the rest of it. Plus there’s the whole problem at issue here of speaking for women rather than letting women do the speaking. But feminist identity and feminist beliefs are, in my opinion, much less salient than feminist practices.

So, to sum up: I think that when you think of feminism as a set of practices, instead of an identity or even a coherent ethos as such, it becomes much less problematic to be a male feminist. Sometimes proper male feminist practice will involve speaking out, and other times it will involve shutting the heck up and letting women do the speaking. The less worried one is about one’s identity as a male feminist, and the more concerned one is with proper feminist practice in the situation you’re in, the easier the whole thing becomes. I’m not worried at all whether someone thinks I’m a proper feminist or not (one too quickly gets into No True Scotsman territory with that one), but I do try my fumbling best to make sure that I behave in a feminist way.

Or is that a cop-out?

207

David 03.16.12 at 12:07 am

@146MPAVictoria: nailed it in one. Steve is rather disingenuous in claiming that you misinterpreted him. Up until his comment @126 it was virtually impossible to interpret him as maintaining anything other than it is wrong under any circumstances at a conference — and frankly, I had the impression of anytime — to indicate sexual interest in another person. Such an attitude does as much to derail a thread as anything else.

208

Maria 03.16.12 at 12:17 am

dsquared – thanks for the gag / story. So sweet! Your a) to d) of instruction wins the prize, as far as I’m concerned.

209

dsquared 03.16.12 at 12:30 am

Kevin – no it’s true. It probably is the one you saw as I’m not aware of any other guidebooks to the railways of Vietnam.

210

Hidden Heart 03.16.12 at 12:30 am

Tim Wilkinson: Other women will no doubt have their own takes, but here’s mine. Your situations to consider aren’t very interesting. They seem like the kind of thing that reasonable people can work out and decide where their comfort boundaries are. Meanwhile, we’ve got the situation in the original post, and the various bits of brutishness on display in the comments, and the fact is that a lot of women aren’t going to be be comfortably relaxing, secure that our choices will be respected and therefore free to to engage on the terms that suit us.

As a thought experiment, it’s perfectly fine. And there are women who get the liberty of dealing with it, it’s not as unreal as a lot of classic thought experiments. But it is a wished-for luxury for a lot of us, and if I were tireder and grumpier I’d probably rant about it. Fortunately for someone, possibly me, since I like myself better when I’m not ranting a lot, I can write this out calmly. If we were both standing at the scene of a terrible flood, I wouldn’t want to talk to you just then about drought issues.

211

chris 03.16.12 at 12:31 am

That’s because there aren’t any rules.

Well, there is one. A stop signal must be respected. You might be mistaken about whether or not someone is open to you making advances toward them — it can be hard to subliminally signal these sorts of things, and easy to misinterpret a subliminal signal — but not if they’ve actually told you they’re not. Continuing after that point is 100% inappropriate in all circumstances (because the circumstance that matters most is the stop signal itself).

If that means some potential relationship is missed out on because someone gave a stop signal when they didn’t really mean it, too fucking bad. Everyone needs the right to tell the other person to back off and have them actually back off.

Sometimes trying to guess what other people are feeling fails and there’s no substitute for explicit (no, not *that* kind of explicit) communication, but when someone makes an explicit communication, you have to take them at their word.

212

Hidden Heart 03.16.12 at 1:01 am

I was talking about this topic with a colleague, who reminded me of a point that a lot of guys get as soon as it’s pointed out but aren’t so likely to think of when trying to imagine power reversals or whatever. It’s not true in every profession, but in many professional gatherings, there are a lot more men than women.

Starting with some totally bogus numbers…say that women are 10% of the attendees, and that 1 man in 10 will make a threatening or harassing advance (intentionally or obliviously, doesn’t matter for this purpose). That’s a bit of harassment for every single woman there.

In practice it’s much more complicated than that. A lot of the abuse comes from relatively few men, each of whom imposes on several women. What makes it so much of a grind for so many women isn’t just the actual incidents but the surrounding atmosphere, full of men who think that our complaints aren’t really all that significant, who don’t see any connection between their objectifying humor and stuff that’s shading from intrusion toward sexual assault, and otherwise just not getting it.

But even if men and women were precisely as likely to make unwanted intrusive advances, the distribution of sexes in so many professional gatherings means that each woman is likely to get a lot more of it than any of the men around her.

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Salient 03.16.12 at 1:20 am

Well, there is one. A stop signal must be respected.

I propose a second: if you would categorically avoid a ‘move’ given basic information that is not yet known about the person, avoid the move. Instead, get to know the person on a general platonic level, respecting reasonably professional and polite conduct, and get to know them well enough to at least discover whether or not they are an eligible candidate for what you want to do to their body by your own definition of eligible.

Basically, if

* you wouldn’t ‘make a move’ on someone provided it turns out they are, say, life-partnered (married), or gay/otherwise oriented, or transgendered, or etc, and

* you haven’t gotten to know the person well enough in conversation to confirm for sure that they don’t fall into those red-line categories of yours

then do NOT “make a move,” possibly unless

* context unambiguously dictates that the move would be well-received (even if declined) by pretty much anyone in the environment, AND

* you will not be hurt or offended by receiving the news that the person you have approached is life-partnered or transgendered, AND

* you aren’t going to accuse such a person of engaging in socially inappropriate behavior because they didn’t “signal” broadcast their status to you.

(The ‘you’ all throughout is meant to be some generalized ‘you’ not directed at anyone here. No accusations intended.)

Conferences (as well as grocery stores, elevators, bus stops…) are sometimes attended by… married people! If you look at the conference as a hookup joint, you might sometimes accidentally preposition… a married or life-partnered person who GAASP doesn’t wear a ring! If you are thinking of the situation as a hookup joint, you might feel… misled by the person’s presence, since everyone who’s there is there to hook up, amirite???

In which case, if you can’t handle the fact that people attend social occasions and visit public places for reasons other than hooking up, and if you can’t handle the fact that such people sometimes get totally exasperated at the sheer number of people who preposition them and then act hurt when you decline as if you owed them something for them deigning to introduce themselves to you, then… FOAD, basically. (Again, not directed at anyone here.)

214

Derek 03.16.12 at 2:45 am

@Turkle:
I totally agree that identity-wise, men will never be feminists in the same way as women because they have a totally different set of experiences that may in fact be incommensurable

Someone else made a similar point upthread, but I don’t really find it persuasive. Doesn’t it rest on the assumption that there is some one ‘way’ for women to be feminists that rests on some “set of experiences” that all women have in common? But surely professional women have different sets of experience than working class women, American women have different experiences than European women who have different experiences from South American women, transgendered women have different experiences from cisgendered women, etc. And that’s to say nothing of the different experiences of individual women who fall into the same general demographic categories. We shouldn’t be in the business of identifying an essential set of experiences that all and only women share, so, a fortiori, we shouldn’t be defining feminism in terms of such experiences.

On the topic of the original post: Maria, you’re right to feel conflicted about the feeling of gratitude. Just as no one should have to feel grateful not to be assaulted, no one should have to feel grateful for hearing someone else announce that they shouldn’t be assaulted. It reminds me of a quote I’ve seen attributed to Susan B. Anthony:

“Our Job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. ”

I don’t think gratitude for resistance is quite as tightly connected to normalization of the status quo as this quote (and the OP) suggest, but it seems they’re also not entirely separable.

215

MPAVictoria 03.16.12 at 3:07 am

chris I REALLY like that rule.

216

Kaveh 03.16.12 at 3:07 am

I’m kind of surprised that anyone finds the “male feminist” self- designation strange. On the other hand, I’ve hesitated to declare myself one in a lot of situations because I felt like it would come off almost as bragging, because really, “male feminist” is something you have to show with your behavior, not just by applying a label to yourself. Maybe I should reconsider that.

Also, count me in as somebody who doesn’t think it’s at all strange to specially recognize men who take public stands against stuff like sexist professional environments. I mean, there could be such thing as overdoing it, but this isn’t it. I think a lot of men don’t speak out on sexual harassment in a lot of contexts because we feel like we’d be speaking for somebody else/appropriating somebody else’s voice. In general, issues confronted by a subset of society in their interactions with the rest of society should be seen as issues that concern the whole society (or to put it another way, the population as a whole shouldn’t be seen as, by default, white and male, or lacking ethnicity and gender, which in practice amounts to white and male…), and not the proprietary domain of the subset of society directly ‘called out’ by that issue. (I would say “directly affected”, as in “directly affected by sexism”, but men are directly, if less dramatically, affected by sexism too, so…)

This is a more general paradigm shift that needs to happen in how we conceive of social issues. Feminism is definitely something men should be concerned about (not that men are equally entitled to define it, but it’s very much our concern, too). Just like we talk about white privilege, and I think that is a reasonable thing for white people to discuss this without being specially authorized in every instance by some person of color, we should talk freely about male privilege.

Veblen @188 I’ll go further – it’s not WHAT you say but how you say. An adequately “creepy” guy can make the most innocent looking words seem inappropriate. I’ve gotten away with obnoxious behavior with little in terms of long term results because I do it in very good humour.

Which is to say, it’s not just how you say it but who you are. There’s a long history of non-white men being less entitled to bend the rules of what counts as socially-acceptable flirtatious behavior. This is less a matter of men of color being deprived/excluded than white men being able to bend/break certain rules with impunity. BUT the ‘rule bending’ seems to be enough of an accepted part of the culture, including being accepted by many women. In that vein, “de-sexing” (heaven forbid) professional events really isn’t such a bad idea. At least to whatever extent professional culture is likely to be de-sexed.

re the old issue of “awkward passes”, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for commenters way up top to have conflated what that meant in the OP with how the phrase is used elsewhere. I just don’t see how it’s helpful to automatically assume somebody who does this, esp. early in the conversation, is aggressively missing the point.

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geo 03.16.12 at 3:10 am

Salient: if you would categorically avoid a ‘move’ given basic information that is not yet known about the person, avoid the move

This seems entirely wise, like the rest of Salient’s comment, and I wholeheartedly second it. Still, it’s much easier for me to do so at my advanced age and far remove from the singles scene than it would have been for, say, my desperately horny 28-year-old self — and I wasn’t even subjected continuously during my socialization to a virtual bath of flagrantly sexualized advertising and mass entertainment, as nearly all 28-year-olds today have been. Bad behavior has a social/cultural context, which even the best advice is often powerless to counteract.

218

MPAVictoria 03.16.12 at 3:23 am

“Still, it’s much easier for me to do so at my advanced age and far remove from the singles scene than it would have been for, say, my desperately horny 28-year-old self”

I actually would be really interested in knowing the respective ages of the “anti” and “pro” sex posters. My bet is the “anti” sex posters would skew much older.

219

ChrisTS 03.16.12 at 4:09 am

I sympathize with morally-aware men who worry about being offensively aggressive. Ok. But context is everything in most of our relationships.

At a conference, one should not assume that every other conferee is a potential sexual partner. Might someone turn out to be such? Sure. But it is the expectation that colleagues at a conference are there to provide sexual encounters that is the most fundamentally problematic aspect of the context under discussion. And, to feign interest in a colleague’s work in order to make a pass? Ick.

So, too, a woman alone at a bar, or two women together, should just be regarded as humans out for some (1) quiet time or (2) time with a friend. A fortiori, a woman walking down the street or shopping at the grocery is most likely not there to be hit on.

That said, I am always astonished by the men (Henri) who claim they would just love to be hit on by any and all women. Of course, they are imagining being hit on by women they actually would find attractive, and they imagine the pass as being sexy and wonderful – not grotesque. I know lots of men who have been very uncomfortable, even made angry, by unwanted advances from women. Now, multiply that by 100 or so.

220

js. 03.16.12 at 4:10 am

because really, “male feminist” is something you have to show with your behavior, not just by applying a label to yourself.

This. (Out of context, I know.)

221

ChrisTS 03.16.12 at 4:10 am

Sorry: dropped the ‘ close bold.’

222

js. 03.16.12 at 4:21 am

Plus there’s the whole problem at issue here of speaking for women rather than letting women do the speaking.

True. But, here’s one thing to do. Say less; ask questions; let women say more; let them answer your questions; listen to them. Generally works. (And I’m not making light—I agree that solidarity from a male position poses real problems, as it does in other cases.)

223

js. 03.16.12 at 4:28 am

Just to point out: my last comment wasn’t really directed at Turkle, whom I was quoting. Turkle’s comment was entirely sensible; it just seemed like a good possible segue to something that bore repeating.

224

Kaveh 03.16.12 at 5:06 am

related thing that might be of interest: http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/nerd_culture_still_white_male/

It’s about the SXSW conference. This paragraph struck me:
At my first experience of the conference last year, it became clear to me how even nerd culture’s recent mainstream dominance — and these guys’ privileged place within it, in attending or presenting at the conference — hadn’t rid them of their feeling of social marginalization. How could they be oppressors, the thinking seemed to be, if they felt like such outsiders?

This phenomenon of the mainstreaming of nerd culture may be a fad, might play itself out without reaching more than superficial consequences, but I’m willing to bet that the more general phenomenon of groups who could reasonably have called themselves outsiders attaining real power is something we will see continued and repeated. It will make less and less sense to think of social problems in terms of a ‘majority’ (white, male) and decisively marginalized outsider groups/minorities who wield minimal, tenuous power (at most). And the minorities/majority paradigm of social structure (deeply concerned with the hermeneutics of representation, with questions of when/how it’s appropriate to represent Others) becomes increasingly inappropriate.

Instead, what we really have (though maybe not what we admit we have) is a congeries of subgroups with their own types of privilege, forms of social control, experiences of exclusion and marginalization, &c. This really should be seen as, above all else, an opportunity for feminism and related movements.

225

Salient 03.16.12 at 6:19 am

I actually would be really interested in knowing the respective ages of the “anti” and “pro” sex posters. My bet is the “anti” sex posters would skew much older.

{…putting quite a lot of effort into not being offended at the characterization of anti-predation as anti-sex, WTF…} I’m curious why you’d bet that, my own intuition is that younger women would be more likely to be presumed single, hence more likely to have been hit on recently, hence less likely to be anti-{uh, let’s leave the category unnamed, I feel completely confident you’re not pro-predation so there’s a serious unresolved nomenclature issue here}.

Up until his comment @126 it was virtually impossible to interpret [Steve] as maintaining anything other than it is wrong under any circumstances at a conference — and frankly, I had the impression of anytime — to indicate sexual interest in another person.

…can I adopt the position that it is wrong under any circumstances at a conference — and frankly, you can have the impression of anytime — to indicate sexual interest in another person’s body?

Obviously this doesn’t apply to people you already know, but mostly my goal is to draw a red-line distinction between general attraction to a person you’ve met, and predatory attraction to the body of a person you haven’t met.

Also, language might be failing me here. Finding someone’s body attractive is not predatory. Wanting to fuck some body without knowing anything about the person inhabiting that body is, noseriouslyitreallyis justhearmeoutforasecond, predatory. It’s certainly no less predatory than wanting some particular object, regardless of who happens to own that object. (‘Objectifying’ a person is almost too literal to be an incisive characterization.) The personhood of the body’s owner is at best hardly relevant or coincidentally unproblematic, and at worst their personhood is an inconvenience or obstacle potentially in the way of you getting to use the body you are desiring to use in the way you want to use it. (This doesn’t apply to fantasies which imagine the person as a human being enthusiastically participating in the act. Basically, a fantasy is predatory if nothing important to the fantasy would be lost by adding the supposition that you have mind-control powers and the other person is under your mind control.)

Note that feeling predatory desire for a body belonging to an unfamiliar person isn’t necessarily a problem. The problem is acting on that desire by approaching the body and attempting to coerce the person who owns it, rather than… uh… indulging the fantasy on your own time.)

226

Doctor Slack 03.16.12 at 6:22 am

Kaveh: The mainstreaming of the nerd, and the phenomenon of nerds who become insiders but never cease to regard themselves as insurgents fighting an establishment, has arguably been going on for a very long time. The North American conservative movement has thrived on it for decades: it’s what people like Nixon and Kissinger and Spiro Agnew were. It’s what current wannabe-Republican Canadian PM Stephen Harper is. (One can see it in other contexts, too, like the career of Andreotti in Italy.) Heck, go back a bit further and you have Germany under the sway of a failed art student turned propagandist. The major difference is that there is a set of shared reference points called “nerd culture” now as opposed to the more disparate and variegated miseries inhabited by the nerds of yesteryear, but it’s still a late instance of a long-term trend.

And one of its most important lessons should be that the nerd, either as outsider or as insider, does not always (or even very often) function in the aggregate to break down the “majority” vs. “minority” structure of whatever society they are in. A common sense of grievance and alienation, and simultaneous yearning for belonging, can and does easily allow the constituents of “nerd culture” to simply refuse to think about themselves as having any kind of privilege even when they plainly do — and instead to experience the social narrative as being about how they are hard done by and insufficiently accommodated — and will at the same time desperately want to participate in and even push the boundaries of what they think is the language of the powerful. This is why the online forums of “nerd culture” are very often swamps of unreflective racism and misogyny (a more likely outcome the less carefully they’re managed), challenged intermittently by a minority of voices who often find themselves drowned out in the general noise. It’s why so many chairbound male geeks worship war and violence from afar, become easy cheerleaders for militarism and machismo, function as the soil from which people like Frank Miller sprout, or dream of becoming the slick, misogynistically manipulative “Pick-Up Artists” that they frequently imagine more sexually successful men to be.

If there is to be a story of how the minorities/majority paradigm of social structure loses potency, “nerd culture” is not likely to be a big part of it. Indeed experience shows that “nerd culture” is just as likely, or even likelier, to fight tooth and nail against the deterioration of that paradigm.

227

bad Jim 03.16.12 at 7:39 am

It’s perhaps symptomatic of the underlying problem that so much of this thread has concerned the propriety of unwanted advances, when the point was they tend to make roughly HALF OF EVERYBODY VERY UNCOMFORTABLE.

Picture yourself in a professional environment, but wondering anxiously whether the next encounter with one of your peers will be an earnest discussion of a matter of common interest or another awkward attempt at flirtation. If you’re a guy, like me, this would be a rather unusual situation. If you’re not, it’s not, and that’s the problem.

My attitude towards these issues is certainly a function of my age, having being an owner of a company, and having such long relationships with female colleagues that I’m friends with their kids. It gives me a certain perspective. It also emboldens me to offer the following advice:

If you’re socializing with a friend, and enjoying the experience, it’s a really bad idea to do anything that would keep you from doing it again.

228

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 10:29 am

Hey, look on the bright side: it could be worse, no one could be hitting on you at all; wouldn’t that be depressing.

Great point. Every time I leave the house and I return home with nobody having hit on me, I become horribly depressed.

Every woman all the time is constantly looking for validation from men. Again, GREAT POINT.

229

Manta1976 03.16.12 at 10:30 am

Salient @225, that you are exposing is bigotry, for the following reason: you think that a certain set of sexual preferences should be socially opposed per se. To be fair, you do specify that “The problem is acting on that desire by approaching the body and attempting to coerce the person who owns it”, but I have the strong impression that either you have a notion of “coercion” that is too extensive (essentially, asking would be coercion), or that you would still maintain that the preferences you are describing should be sanctioned even when no coercion was involved. However, my apologies if I am misrepresenting your point.

230

krippendorf 03.16.12 at 10:57 am

Much of this thread has a flavor of “put yourself in her shoes” or “but I can’t put myself in her shoes, because I’m male.” May I offer a modest, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, proposal that might help those in the latter group? The next time you go to a conference, wear your name tag dangling around your waist, with the tag positioned at the bulge. (Or, if you are brave, pin the tag to one side of the bulge.) Count how many times someone stares at your name tag twice as long as it should take any literate person to read your name and affiliation. Register how this makes you feel, as a person and as a professional.

(Yes, I realize that this exercise would work best if all the men at the conference wore their nametags around their waists. Maybe at the next ICANN meeting…)

231

Veblen 03.16.12 at 10:59 am

@OP

Fair enough; complaint withdrawn.

232

J. Otto Pohl 03.16.12 at 11:14 am

Guys for what it is worth I think romantic or sexual relationships with women who you come into contact professionally is a big mistake. It is particularly a mistake if you are an academic. The old saying that you do not “sh*t where you eat” exists for a reason. It is asking for trouble. My personal advice and feel free to ignore it is to find a woman with no university education. More often than not if you let it known you are single they will make the pass at you and avoid all the messy problems listed above.

233

FCC 03.16.12 at 11:21 am

Might do something? Like have sex? The new Victorians -no sex.

234

dsquared 03.16.12 at 11:32 am

The old saying that you do not “sh*t where you eat” exists for a reason

And yet, I do actually do most of my eating in the same house in which I do most of my shitting and I bet you do too.

235

J. Otto Pohl 03.16.12 at 11:41 am

The same house, but not the same room. There is a big difference between the wash room and the kitchen.

236

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 11:52 am

My personal advice and feel free to ignore it

Guys, I would advise this.

More often than not if you let it known you are single they will make the pass at you and avoid all the messy problems listed above.

You women and your messy problems!

237

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 11:56 am

Feminism is about equal rights.

I don’t think men or women have the right to not be propositioned or flirted with, so this is not really feminism, but some sort of puritanism, as Antoine 116 said.

It is about equal rights. It’s about equality. And obviously men are not hit on and ogled as much as women. Sometimes women don’t want to be hit on or ogled (although I certainly do not mean to say that a appreciative glance is some big offense). Sometimes when a woman is talking, she doesn’t want the person opposite her thinking “Yeah, yeah, when do we get to the sex?”

Until men get to experience what women experience, I’m not sure you have a right to define feminism for us. But THANKS!

238

Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 12:24 pm

By this standard, significant areas of gay male behavior are “not OK.”

Again, please review the specific context in which the quoted statement was made. It was not intended to apply universally.

239

tax 03.16.12 at 12:27 pm

“Picture yourself in a professional environment….”

Is it possible – just possible – that there are different cultural approaches to the divide between professional and personal environments? It seems to me that Anglo-Saxons (Americans, Brits, …) tend to a much stricter on the divide, and continental Europeans are much easier. The Anglo-Saxons characterize the continentals as anti-feminist and unprofessional and the continentals characterize the Anglo-Saxons as prudes. Since this is primarily an Anglo-Saxon forum, and the OP is Anglo-Saxon, it’s the Anglo-Saxon view which carries the day (e.g. Maria bans Henri).

240

chris 03.16.12 at 12:30 pm

Upon further reflection, I’d like to propose a second rule: you (no matter who “you” are) never have a right to be offended by the fact of rejection. If the rejection is made in a particularly malicious, designed-to-be-humiliating, etc., way, then you might be offended by *that*, but never by the rejection itself. People have a right to not be interested and that right must be respected, by everyone, all the time.

If you think that this rule is perfectly reasonable in general but doesn’t apply to *you*, you might be an asshole. If you express your offense at rejection by retaliating in practically any way, you are almost certainly an asshole.

241

tax 03.16.12 at 12:39 pm

“you (no matter who “you” are) never have a right to be offended by the fact of rejection.”

I don’t know which side you are arguing, but surely this is a strawman. Who would claim to have a right to be offended? Your rule is vacuous.

242

rf 03.16.12 at 12:43 pm

MPAVictoria
Well I’m 27, (so this posts lack of insight should represent that) and am closer to the views you’ve expressed than Steve, though I’ll take on board what’s being said. I have to admit I wouldn’t have noticed, (good bad or indifferent), the situation mentioned in the OP. I’m not saying that’s right, and realise now that I should probably be more aware of these things, but it’s the truth.
Our group of friends growing up was packed with women, which appears to be common for my generation, that partook in everything the men did; days in the pub, walks up the mountains weeklong speed binges etc (there wasn’t much to do in my hometown). Pretty much all have gone on to ‘better’ jobs than the men I know.
In other words they’re friends, and friends girlfriends became friends independent of the relationship. So, honestly, before I started reading Crooked Timber I thought feminism was largely a con, and workplace sexual harassment a myth until it happened to a friend (And, she said, the men of her own age were the ones most adamant that she report it. Makes you think?) I have little doubt now I was wrong.
But I couldn’t lend any support to this campaign against casual sex, there really is no alternative! Trying to get laid at the checkout at Tesco? No of course not. But what’s wrong with two people coming to a decision they want to sleep together and never see each-other again? (Apart from the long term affects’ of leaving you without a soul)
Feel free to abuse or ignore this nonsense. I live to learn

243

Manta1976 03.16.12 at 12:43 pm

I mostly agree with tax @239, except that instead of “prude” I would say “bigot”: the problem is not that some people (e.g., quite a few commenters here) have certain standards about what constitutes acceptable (personal) behavior (paradoxically, I do share those standards), but that they want those standards enforced by society.

244

Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 12:57 pm

But I couldn’t lend any support to this campaign against casual sex

Good thing none has been proposed, then.

245

Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 12:59 pm

As to what we HAVE been trying to talk about, I can’t say it any better than bad Jim does @227, particularly the second paragraph.

246

Katherine 03.16.12 at 1:10 pm

Who would claim to have a right to be offended? Your rule is vacuous.

Oh please, certain subgroups of men act like that all the time. The mere act of rejection is followed by anger and ridicule. You’re ugly, they didn’t want you anyway, why are you such an uppity bitch.

You haven’t followed the “input – pleasant (in their mind) overture – into slot B – woman – payout – vagina” dialogue like all good women/sexbots are supposed to, therefore you are malfunctioning in some way and must be “fixed”.

247

Manta1976 03.16.12 at 1:13 pm

Steve@244, someone *might* see Salient@225
“it is wrong under any circumstances at a conference — and frankly, you can have the impression of anytime — to indicate sexual interest in another person’s body”
(and the rest of his and other posts) as a “campaign against casual sex”, at conferences in particular, and everywhere in general.

However, if you skipped it I cannot blame you…

248

MPAVictoria 03.16.12 at 1:19 pm

Steve I would point you out to Salient’s comment at 225 as an example of why some here are interpreting others as being against casual sex.

Salient, sorry about the term “anti” sex. I was trying to use short hand and a really should have explained it better. No offence intended. I do think that rf’s comments at 242 demonstrate why this is more of a problem for the older posters.

249

dsquared 03.16.12 at 1:19 pm

The Anglo-Saxons characterize the continentals as anti-feminist and unprofessional and the continentals characterize the Anglo-Saxons as prudes.

… while the Saudi Arabians take a different point of view altogether?

Some “cultural differences” are just reflections of the fact that it’s easier to get away with being an arsehole in particular ways in some cultures.

250

MPAVictoria 03.16.12 at 1:20 pm

chris at 240:

I like that rule as well.

251

Manta1976 03.16.12 at 1:35 pm

dsquared: the “problem” with Saudi Arabia is not that there are many “arseholes”, but that the laws of the country (and the customs of the society) reflect their view.

252

hix 03.16.12 at 1:35 pm

@tax, that cant be generaliced quite that way. Work/private life seperation in general is a lot stricter in some European countries – my homecountry Germany being the most extreme example. Americans just have this extra layer of puritan social norms that exceed even German standards regarding that particular subject. The Czech Republic however has a very low degree of private/professional life seperation and those who attend a conference dominated by Czech culture without attending the informal part in the evening will miss everything important.

In general, this is definitly a cultural and not an opression of woman issue. A Brasilian, a French or a Russian women would most likely get offended if she where not threated in some way that would be considered very offensive if not sexual harrasment by most Americans, including very conservative man. The fact that something makes most Americans feal very uncomfortable does not mean the behaviour is universally wrong by some god given standard or has any evil/sexual intention (both apperently the same…).

253

Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 1:36 pm

It’s very telling that some people are still going though comments with a fine-toothed comb looking for evidence of supposed puritanism, rather than owning the very real problem that was already very clearly explained in the OP.

254

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 1:41 pm

In general, this is definitly a cultural and not an opression of woman issue.

Well, yes. It’s true that in many countries disrespectful treatment of women is more acceptable.

255

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 1:46 pm

Exactly, Steve.

256

Manta1976 03.16.12 at 1:47 pm

Steve@253, why don’t you simply own that you made the (quite understandable!) mistake of not having read/noticed the posts other people were referring to, and let it drop, instead of making insinuations?
It would make a much better impression, and it might even make people more sympathetic to your point of view.

257

MPAVictoria 03.16.12 at 1:50 pm

Steve at 244:
“Look guys no one is claiming casual sex is bad.”

Steve at 253 after it has been pointed out to him that people are in fact claiming this:
“The fact that I was wrong at 244 says more about you than it does about me.”

Well done!

258

tax 03.16.12 at 1:50 pm

“… while the Saudi Arabians take a different point of view altogether?” I have no idea how Saudia Arabians treat the different between the professional and private spheres.

“Some “cultural differences” are just reflections of the fact that it’s easier to get away with being an arsehole in particular ways in some cultures.”

Okay, I’ll fix it for you. The Anglo-Saxons consider the continentals arseholds, and the continentals consider the Anglo-Saxons to be prudes. Happy now?

259

vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 1:57 pm

Okay, I’ll fix it for you. The Anglo-Saxons consider the continentals arseholds, and the continentals consider the Anglo-Saxons to be prudes. Happy now?

Better err on the side of prudery then, huh?

260

Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 2:02 pm

manta and MPA, 253.

261

Hidden Heart 03.16.12 at 2:04 pm

Steve LaBonne: It’s very telling that some people are still going though comments with a fine-toothed comb looking for evidence of supposed puritanism, rather than owning the very real problem that was already very clearly explained in the OP. Too true. There’s clearly a contingent for whom the comfort and safety of women trying to make productive use of a professional gathering doesn’t matter at all. We simply aren’t subjects in their moral universe.

262

dsquared 03.16.12 at 2:06 pm

The Czech Republic however has a very low degree of private/professional life seperation and those who attend a conference dominated by Czech culture without attending the informal part in the evening will miss everything important.

In general, this is definitly a cultural and not an opression of woman issue

What? In Czech culture it is impossible to benefit from a conference without also doing a load of socialising in a male-dominated environment, and this is not an oppression of women issue?

A Brasilian, a French or a Russian women would most likely get offended if she where not threated in some way that would be considered very offensive if not sexual harrasment by most Americans, including very conservative man

Please don’t comment any more on this thread (unless specifically asked to by Maria). Henri can tell you why.

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vacuumslayer 03.16.12 at 2:09 pm

@261

In short, they see us a threat to their ALL IMPORTANT BONERZ.

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Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 2:15 pm

On the topic of age: yeah, I’m older (56) than many of the commenters- old enough, in fact, to have a 19 year old daughter. She is studying chemical engineering- another male-dominated technical field. I would be a pretty crap parent if I weren’t concerned with the sort of thing discussed in the OP. Having a daughter does wonders for one’s consciousness of gender privilege, if one is paying any attention at all.

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Neville Morley 03.16.12 at 2:28 pm

I was originally going to comment, about this time yesterday, that not only was Katherine absolutely right at 87 about having spoken too soon, but the act of pointing this out had apparently caused the discussion to find a further cliff to fall off. But then it improved again, so I didn’t. And now the rollercoaster is on the downward slope again…

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M 03.16.12 at 2:48 pm

I don’t think people have a choice in whether they’re offended or not.

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rf 03.16.12 at 2:50 pm

Steve
Okay, perhaps I misinterpreted what you were saying. I just read a number of the posts as not dealing practically with the reality that there are a whole lot of people, male and female, normally for very conventional reasons, that don’t want to involve themselves in long term relationships at this point in their lives or ruin friendships by acting out a Justin Timberlake film. So their options are limited, and expecting men to not take the initiative in any situation is entirely unrealistic. But reading back on your posts as a whole, that probably wasn’t your point. I’m also not trying to suggest we’ve struck gold with the generation following yours, just that male/female friendships have (maybe?) become more complex and intimate. (Although I don’t know where pick up artistry and the more sinister aspects of contemporary culture fit into this badly thought through theory)
Anyway Ill bow out grace (fully/lessly?) here as I don’t want to derail the thread and really have nothing more to add. (And yes I do agree with a whole lot of what you have said, but I don’t see many people arguing in favour of workplace sexual harassment apart from a few continental misogynists straight out of central casting)

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Steve LaBonne 03.16.12 at 2:54 pm

I’m also not trying to suggest we’ve struck gold with the generation following yours, just that male/female friendships have (maybe?) become more complex and intimate.

The numerous and primarily youthful hate contingent in the Elevatorgate flap suggests that this is wishful thinking, at least among the geeks. And anyway, you shouldn’t even listen so much to me, but to all the women trying to tell you about the everyday sexism professional women have to deal with. To ignore them and continue posting what sound like excuses and evasions is… questionable.

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Kevin Donoghue 03.16.12 at 2:59 pm

em>And now the rollercoaster is on the downward slope again…

But aren’t the typos fascinating? Women threated by arseholds!

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Cian 03.16.12 at 3:10 pm

The Anglo-Saxons consider the continentals arseholds, and the continentals consider the Anglo-Saxons to be prudes.

The recent flap about the attempted rape by a certain French technocrat in New York demonstrated that French women have a very different take on this than men. VERY DIFFERENT.

This isn’t about different attitudes on affairs, or fidelity. Its about women having to exist in a culture where they routinely have to fight off seduction-rapes, where men stare openly at their tits and make sexual comments in professional environments. French women don’t seem to like this any more than American, or British, women do.

And as for Italy…

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Manta1976 03.16.12 at 3:20 pm

Cian, I kind of remember that the charges about the technocrat in question were dropped, for risible reasons like (and let me quote) “the complainant’s credibility cannot withstand the most basic evaluation”.

Of course, being a continental asshole, I still abide to the “innocent until proven guilty”, no, scrap that, “innocent until a trial has started” rule.

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Cian 03.16.12 at 3:20 pm

[sarcasm]Hey the Southern states just had a different culture in the 1950s. Blacks were offended if they weren’t treated like stupid children, or slaves.[/sarcasm]

I have no idea if I’m a feminist male, or not – nor do I really care. I do care about whether I’m a decent human being who isn’t completely self-obsessed and selfish, and I’m depressed by how many of the male commentators on this thread apparently don’t.

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Cian 03.16.12 at 3:22 pm

You kind of deliberately missed the point there didn’t you Manta1976. Well done.

And I think you can drop the ‘Continental’ part. Asshole who happens to be from the continent is a more accurate description – there’s nothing cultural specific about what ails you.

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Manta1976 03.16.12 at 3:33 pm

I don’t think I missed the point, Cian: I quite remember how the American newspapers and blogs (including, I think, CT, but commenters here can correct me ) reviled the French press and society for defending SK.

It turned out that the American press was (mostly) wrong about the actual facts, and the French were (mostly) right, but we wouldn’t want to let small things like that get in the way of self-righteous indignation…

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tax 03.16.12 at 3:37 pm

I think people should give it a rest if their only argument is, “You’re an axhole” (where x = ss or = rse). And perhaps, with a certain modesty, question a bit their position if that’s all they can do to defend it? dsquared introduced this incredibly powerful argument, but I guess he won’t ban himself. Anyway, I’m outta here.

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Maria 03.16.12 at 3:42 pm

With thanks to Cian for his valiant efforts to seal off the new front that’s just opened up in the war to prove women really like this stuff / it’s cultural / it doesn’t really happen, I’m going to close comments on this thread.

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Salient 03.16.12 at 3:50 pm

…interesting that “sex for which you feel you would benefit by having mind control over the other person” is getting interpreted as “casual sex” here, and that “do some minimal amount of work to make sure the person you’re talking to is at least eligible for the kind of casual sex you want to have, and won’t be hurt and offended by your preposition” is interpreted as “anti-casual sex” here. Wow.

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