My Sexual Harassment Policy
As many of you saw, Readercon posted a statement about their handling of sexual harassment. The convention committee has voted to overturn the board’s decision and issue a lifetime ban to Mister Walling, in accordance with the convention’s policies. They also offered an unreserved apology for the con’s handling of the situation.
As a part of the larger conversation, I’d like to offer the following pledge. Feedback is welcome, and anyone is invited to co-sign.
My Policy on Sexual Harassment
My goal in convention/fandom spaces, online, and in general, is to interact with others in such a way that all parties feel safe and respected. Therefore…
- I will be accountable for my actions. If I mess up, I will not make excuses or blame others for my behaviors or the consequences of those behaviors. (Nor will I make or accept excuses about other people’s inappropriate behaviors, even if they’re friends or Big Important People in the community.)[1. I would love it if I NEVER saw another ‘Oh, but what if he’s a socially clueless Aspie’ remark…]
- I will try not to make assumptions about physical interactions, or statements/behaviors that could be construed as sexual. For example, if I don’t know whether or not you’re comfortable being hugged, I’ll ask you.[2. I don’t know why asking is such a difficult concept for people.]
- I will listen to and respect your boundaries. Period.
- If I see a situation where it looks like you are being harassed, I will ask if you’re okay and/or attempt to offer you a way out of the situation. Depending on the situation, I will confront the harasser and/or offer to back you up in confronting/reporting the harasser yourself if you choose to do so.
- If someone I know is harassing others, I will pull them aside and confront them on their behavior.
- If they refuse to change their behavior, I will “ban” them from my life (both in the real-world and in my online spaces).
- I will continue to speak out, and to try to encourage discussion and action to reduce sexual harassment.
- My friend group has a case of the creepy dude. How do we clear that up? -Captain Awkward
- Why it’s important to cut that creeper guy from your social group. -The Angry Black Woman
- An Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping -John Scalzi
August 10, 2012 @ 11:01 am
“I would love it if I NEVER saw another ‘Oh, but what if he’s a socially clueless Aspie’ remark…”
Quite. I have Asperger’s. I am socially clueless. This means that I have, in the past, almost certainly behaved in an inappropriate manner.
The important phrase there being “in the past”. Because while I have difficulty picking up on social cues, I don’t have any difficulty picking up on “please don’t do that” or “that’s not funny, just upsetting”.
It’s almost certain that anyone behaving in a creepy way, if they’re much over the age of 16 or so, has been told at least once, in plain, straightforward English (or their language of choice), that that behaviour is wrong. If they have, then Asperger’s is *not* an excuse.
Having Asperger’s is *not* a “get out of behaving like a decent human being free” card, and using it to excuse abhorrent behaviour is a huge insult to everyone who has it who *doesn’t* go around deliberately making life difficult for other people.
August 10, 2012 @ 11:06 am
Co-signed. Police my own behavior, and not be silent when I witness it.
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 11:07 am
And if you look at the people who are getting protected by this excuse, most of the time they’re people who are actually very aware of social cues, because they’re selectively targeting people when they think they can get away with it, choosing situations where they’ll be at an advantage, and very carefully defending or excusing or justifying their behavior.
That’s not social cluelessness. That’s advanced and very aware creeping.
August 10, 2012 @ 11:26 am
Right on. I posted something similar as well.
August 10, 2012 @ 11:35 am
Co-signed. Thank you for this.
August 10, 2012 @ 11:55 am
Co-signed. With an addendum to #4. If, when I ask you if you’re okay, you say “yes I am, thanks for asking” I’ll back off and not insist that you must be under harrassment because I think so.
This is an issue close to me, because of my mild case of agoraphobia. I really appreciate it when people ask if they can hug/smooch me, and I do the same to others.
August 10, 2012 @ 12:06 pm
I don’t know why asking is such a difficult concept for people.
I know you mean well by this comment, but be aware that for those of us who would say “no, please don’t hug me”, being asked straight-out can be extremely awkward and make me feel like now the awkwardness is my fault for saying no (particularly if I’ve just hugged one of the handful of people I’m comfortable hugging or in front of people). I’ve pretty much mastered the art of stepping back and smiling politely when hugging is happening, and calling attention to it makes me feel more uncomfortable; once the question is asked, there is enormous social pressure to just say yes and be friendly and not risk hurting your feelings, and I just don’t like being put on the spot in that way.
I’m willing to accept that I’m not in the majority in preferring to not be put on the spot like that, and that the very question “can I hug you” is itself an expression of friendship and affection without an actual hug being necessary, but I do feel it’s a just a tad belittling to assume that this is just The Right Way to have this social interaction.
(Commenting anonymously to avoid making our mutual friends feel like they might have made me feel weird in this way, which is not the intent of my comment)
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 12:10 pm
Is it more awkward for you to say “No” than it is to deal with someone simply missing your body language and hugging you when you don’t want them to?
August 10, 2012 @ 12:14 pm
I have to agree with Occasionally-hugged person. What’s wrong with a handshake, or pat on the (upper) back? I hate it when people hug me – male or female (I’m female).
Aside from that, well-stated and how does one co-sign?
August 10, 2012 @ 12:20 pm
(hugs) & (non-hugs) as appropriate
August 10, 2012 @ 12:26 pm
TMSO, I totally believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with disliking hugs or physical contact – it’s your body, you have every right to decide what you want to do with it, no judgement.
That being true, there’s also nothing wrong with people who enjoy that contact – so long as they respect the desires of others. I find pats on the back can feel condescending or feel like part of some dominance routine (chalk it up to middle-school BS), but I understand other people feel differently.
“Good faith” in one’s physical contact intentions and respect for someone else’s personal space and desires are the thing (IMO).
August 10, 2012 @ 12:33 pm
For Anonymous. You’re right, it is awkward to say “please don’t hug me”, though I’m here to tell you, it gets easier. As you also note, by remaining anonymous you’re trying to save others from embarrassment, from realizing “oh gosh, I hugged “anon” once, crap!”. The whole thing is difficult, isn’t it? Either you feel awkward, or you’re worried you’ve made others feel so. If you’d rather feel awkward yourself, than to make others feel so, you must and should do as you see fit. I will absolutely defend your preference for putting up with an unwanted hug, so long as, at the same time, you feel safe.
August 10, 2012 @ 12:36 pm
This is a fair question. Speaking only for myself, I think it is more awkward to call attention to it, yeah. I mean, I’ve got two dueling phobias here: I don’t really like casual physical contact, but I also dread being a cause of social awkwardness or conflict (hi, I’m a New Englander). The body language I fall back on does include the possibility that someone just won’t pick up on it, and I’m mentally prepared for that. When asked outright, the latter phobia wins, I feel pressured to say ‘sure’ and then both have the uncomfortable interaction, and feel like I’ve been a coward for not wanting to publicly discuss my feelings about physical contact. I see it as a lose-lose.
Keep in mind that I’m talking (as I assume you are) about that narrow subset of people with whom I’m good enough friends that they would consider a hug as a greeting, but not spent so much time around me as to notice that I don’t tend to touch people much. I’m probably overthinking it, but I worry in those cases about turning off a potential friend who honestly would learn better over time. I grew up a geek in a small town: In the case of people who I don’t know at all, or who I suspect would never quite pick up on it… on balance I guess I would prefer the opportunity to say no, but I would still feel very uncomfortable.
August 10, 2012 @ 12:38 pm
(oops, “I grew up a geek in a small town:” was supposed to come before “I’m probably overthinking it”. Speaking of overthinking…)
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 12:39 pm
Thanks for responding. My brain is running on empty after this week, so it’s going to take me some time to think about this. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences here!
August 10, 2012 @ 12:41 pm
It is difficult! I like my friends and I really don’t want them to feel awkward around me. This isn’t my only issue of this type, either; it’s taken me a while to find a good way to say, “Don’t smoke around me”. (I am so glad the “Mind if I smoke?” question has largely gone away with the presumption that yes people mind)
And thank you 🙂
August 10, 2012 @ 12:49 pm
Given the entirely valid things above, and the potential (perceived) social inequity in your position (namely, that to some people you are going to totally be a BNA) I think it might almost be better to phrase it as “Unless I know you’re okay with being hugged, I’ll let you choose to initiate one.”
Baring that, and with regards to your ‘what’s wrong with asking?’ with some groups of my friends as we all remember Antioch’s anti-harassement policy from when we were looking at colleges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antioch_College#The_Sexual_Offense_Prevention_Policy )we’ll often joke about operating under Antioch Rules.
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 12:51 pm
Huh. I hadn’t considered the BNA angle. (My brain still boggles at the idea of me being a BNA.) I don’t think I’ve ever initiated a hug with a fan before, but I think you’re right. Given the potential perceived inequity in power/status/something there, that’s a good point. Thanks!
August 10, 2012 @ 12:52 pm
How timely the day before I attend my first con in (far too many) years. Co-signed!
August 10, 2012 @ 1:04 pm
well, it depends. i am socially clueless as well, and was made aware of missteps in the past. the nature of the whole social dimension flying way over my head means that this does not necessarily make me immune against future missteps. i may be more proficient at making a guess, but no way could i, with my almost 30 years, state that missteps are a thing of the past because i have been made aware of a few.
the big – and decisive, imho – difference is that i am aware of this shortcoming. its not like i am oblivious to this, and consequently butthurt by “unfairness” when its pointed out that i creeped someone out, or bored them, or whatever.
saying “im sorry, picking up clues is not my strong suit” is not a justification of bad behaviour, or an attempt at protecting myself and forcing the offended party into accepting my bad behaviour, it is an explanation. nothing more. it is what i can do to say “whelp, the way it came across was not the way i intended it.” and in most cases also “thanks for telling me, i probably wouldnt have known otherwise.”
awareness of my problems means i am not defending a wrongdoing, and dont feel the slightest need to play hurt. au contraire, i am grateful for being told, and genuinely sorry for the miscommunication. thats what makes the difference: aspergers as an excuse versus aspergers as an explanation.
as for excuses: no-one is forced to forgive an offense and accept an excuse. no-one ever is. what “i am sorry” really means is a plea at the offended party to forgive – i.e. action of the offended party, not of the offending party, is called upon to resolve.
however, in the context of general decency and making everyone feel safe and respected, i object to an automatic right to hurt someones feelings regardless of whether it was actual, intentional creeping or a miscommunication. (some comments at scalzis blog went in that direction – “better to hurt their feelings than be raped”, apparently resulting in the right to a preemptive strike when a simple “would you back up a bit, you standing this close makes me uncomfortable.” would do.)
if respect and decency are to be protected, there can be no justified circumstance where someone is stripped of his right to respectful and decent treatment. banning someone from ones life: a-ok, even in the most trivial matter. feeling entitled to being disrespectful to someone for being treated disrespectfully oneself: never ok, not even in the most severe matter. (this only works when you support capital punishment, in which case i am quite sure in asserting that your mental problems far outweigh mine)
August 10, 2012 @ 1:12 pm
So perhaps I shouldn’t add to such freighted discussions, but a pat on the upper back for me is incredibly condescending/triggering because I grew up in an inner city area – it’s got someone’s hands in my peripheral vision, it’s contact is brusque and physically feels like an attack.
But it’s not sexual harassment. Nor is it really an attack in the majority of society.
I have to remind myself that people who grew up in other places don’t feel the need to grab someone’s hand and put it back in view. They think a shoulder is a “safe body spot”. I never mention it. If I get the creeper vibe I do actually grab their hand and put it firmly back in view, while smiling.
The other version of pat on the back ( non threatening) is one of two things to me – either startling ( i actually scream and jump – bad in cubicle land) because they’re just trying to get my attention but approached me from behind, or it’s a kind of “there, there” or possessiveness feeling ( ie- viewable and gentle) that makes me feel patronized. I work with a lot of older gen males, they mean it “friendly like”.
Here’s the thing except, for “Please don’t tap my back for attention, if I didn’t hear you it startles me” I never say anything. Because I’m not interested in making other people feel bad. If they ask I’d tell them please don’t.
Handshakes if you’re not sure, hugs are for asking or if you already know someone. It’s my difference/damage that makes some contact feel aggressive, but it’s also my responsibility to say something if it bothers me that much.
Don’t put hands on people without making eye-contact, the larger the planned contact – the more you need permission ( whole hand on my back vs. handshake infront of me). Also you can sort of control a handshake as the recipient only the initiator has control over putting their hand on someone’s back.
The person who is shamed for saying ” Thanks for the offer but I’m not always comfortable being hugged” is being harassed. That would be a time step in and back up the person who said no. The correct way to approach someone who looks like they need a hug or you would like to hug is this, “Would you like a hug?” which allows a simple “No thank you”.
It’s still our job as the person being asked to be honest. They treated us with enough respect to ask, we should respect them enough to answer, instead of trying to create another round of silent “gotta guess rules.” We can’t ask for safer spaces and then refuse to help or meet people halfway when they’re trying.
Occasionally Hugged and tmso – it’s perfectly OK to NOT WANT to be hugged, it’s just not OK not to share that with huggy people if they ask. People come in infinite varieties and different cultures
(Or health issues. Some people avoid handshakes because hand-to-hand contact is pretty much the biggest germ/bacteria exposure and they are immuno-compromised)
Communication is the only way to bridge these differences in perception/desire/interaction.
Please don’t pat me on the back unless you know me. Please never physically initiate contact other than a finger tap if I don’t know you and we haven’t at least made eye contact . Cause really, all other things aside it’s just rude regardless of gender.
August 10, 2012 @ 1:18 pm
A one-time offense is not going to be the issue. If you do something that creeps me out, i say back off, and you do, there will be no immediate offense taken. You now know my boundries, which were not explicit before, and so long as you respect them going forward, that’s the important bit. If you continue to be inappropriate towards me, or if i find a pattern in your behavior echoed in the stories of others, that’s when it becomes a problem.
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 1:18 pm
I appreciate you adding to the discussion, thank you!
I think in many cases, it comes back to that kindergarten-level rule to just keep your hands to yourself.
August 10, 2012 @ 1:18 pm
I should say, too, that I’ve picked a small nit in an otherwise excellent post describing a generally sensible attitude toward dealing with people. (And really, I responded more to the phrasing of the aside than anything else) We’re a complicated, diverse people with complicated, diverse likes and dislikes! Physical interactions are important and powerful, and I commend you for being sensible about them while allowing room for joy and friendship. But we are social creatures too, and sometimes the values and fears in that area conflict.
I guess mostly I’m just echoing Oliver Cromwell: “Please always be willing to consider that you may be wrong.”
August 10, 2012 @ 1:21 pm
Raphael, I agree with most of this, and of course none of us — Aspie or otherwise — are immune to making mistakes. However, we probably know to avoid the *really* big ones. There’s a big difference between, say, standing a little too close to someone, or keeping talking when they’re bored but too polite to say so, and, for example, blatantly staring at a woman’s breasts (or even grabbing them).
I’ve found that a good way to tell if someone actually has Asperger’s, or some similar condition that makes them socially inept, or is just an arsehole, is to see what their response to their misbehaviour being pointed out is. If it’s “Oh my god… I’m so sorry… I didn’t realise that that was upsetting…”, possibly followed by an explanation, their behaviour may be caused by a condition like Asperger’s. If their reaction is “Well, how could I know? I have Asperger’s” followed by a repeat of the offending behaviour, they’re an arsehole.
But I disagree with you about the right to hurt someone’s feelings. We *all* have a right to hurt others’ feelings, and while decent people try not to exercise that right unless they have to, I would much rather suffer the occasional bit of rudeness myself than have (as we do now) a culture where that kind of rudeness isn’t tolerated and a staggering proportion of women get raped. I’d *rather* no-one was rude to me *and* my friends didn’t feel unsafe in unfamiliar environments because of horrible things that have happened to them in the past, but it seems like we probably can’t have both…
August 10, 2012 @ 1:22 pm
Well, I added the pat on the back because obviously some folks feel the need to touch other people (I don’t), and, for me, I would tolerate that. But, I agree with you Annie – why all the touching? Hug/kiss family – yes. Hug friends – yes. But strangers? Or folks you just met? (shudder) Why are they even asking? As you said, to me, that just seems rude. In our western society, the handshake is the norm, and you know, if that doesn’t fly, there’s eye contact, a smile and maybe a little hand wave that will do just nicely. 🙂
With all that said, the fact that Mr. Hines is trying to make everyone aware that touching is an issue at these conventions is helpful and will at least make some folks aware that they should be…aware. For that, I am grateful.
August 10, 2012 @ 1:25 pm
A friend of mine found this, the best recap i have seen yet:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/31/readercon-harassment-etc/#comment-346433
August 10, 2012 @ 1:28 pm
exactly, thats how i see it.
i guess i just got a bit agitated by the whole “no more aspie excuses” thing. it has a place. that place is indeed not as an excuse. that place is in conversation between people, to point out what could have been the cause of a misstep or miscommunication. 🙂 one mouth, two ears – i always found that a good measure to go by. and if in doubt, ask.
Jim C. Hines
August 10, 2012 @ 1:28 pm
That is an awesome comment! Thanks for the link!
August 10, 2012 @ 2:02 pm
i agree about the reaction thing 100%. sometimes, people mess up, and it should not be a big deal. (i always see the inability to admit a blunder as way more hurtful to oneself than admitting a blunder if there was one) and of course, i dont randomly grab breasts. 😉
regarding the right to hurt others feelings: i was speaking strictly under the pretext of making rules to protect feelings from being hurt – i.e. decency, treating people respectfully, etcetera.
not: everyone who hurts someone elses feelings is always, inevitably doing wrong.
but rather: in the name of making sure no feelings get hurt and people get treated well, we can not make up circumstances where it is okay to do so. that would mean relativizing the values we want to ensure as something we want to have for everyone at a con or similar gathering. to me, that is like killing people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong. thats inconsequent. (or the more general “intolerance must not be tolerated” – most people assume this to be like fighting for tolerance, but it is, at its core, an intolerant point of view, not a tolerant one. or think if the christian 5th commandmend was “thou shalt not kill except when they should die.” ;))
August 10, 2012 @ 2:08 pm
Re: The “No more aspie excuses” thing:
It is possible that someone has no idea that their social interaction style is making someone uncomfortable. However, such a person often appreciates a direct “Hey, what you are doing is making me uncomfortable, so stop it”. Most Aspies are aware that they sometimes miss stuff, and appreciate clarity.
If they keep it up after being requested to stop, they aren’t an aspie – they’re an asshole.
August 10, 2012 @ 2:09 pm
I love hugs, unreservedly, despite being shy. I am more comfortable with touch than with talking. That said, I never hug anyone who doesn’t already have their arms out in an obvious “Let’s hug” pose, unless it is a good friend whom I’ve hugged before.
The least awkward way to ask for a hug is with body language! Just hold out your arms, palms up, and if the person doesn’t come hug you just turn it into a sort of Fonzie-like “Eyyyyy!” gesture or the like. 😉
August 10, 2012 @ 2:12 pm
This is adorable, and I will totally give extra points to someone who turns and unreciprocated hug into a Fonzi impression : )
It shows an amazing an happy approach to life and people.
August 10, 2012 @ 2:17 pm
Of course the funny thing for me about this is that I’m a hugger – I hate handshakes but to refuse to touch other people in business settings or upon greeting is bad business etiquette.
We are actually trained as part of executive training how to handle various forms of business and cross cultural contact, but frankly as soon as you’re in my circle of friends, if you try to shake my hand to thank me for dinner or something on the way out the door, I simply say “handshakes make me uncomfortable for a bunch of reasons, I’d really prefer a hug or a just a big smile if you’re not OK with that much contact.”
It’s important to me to leave the choice up to my friend. That conversation doesn’t usually happen unless they’ve been over a couple of times.
I guess I’m in favor of less physical contact from strangers and more between people who are friends. I think I might not enjoy “social handshakes” because they have so much intensity and signaling in the business world. Maybe I also like hugging friends “hello” and “goodbye” better because it so clearly is diffuse contact and pre-agreed upon so it’s part of an established relationship not an assumed one : )
I appreciate Mr. Hines giving us such a nice safe, clear space to have this conversation and I think his personal contract between himself and the world is awesome.
Carrie Nilles (@wvredreads)
August 10, 2012 @ 3:05 pm
This is one of the reasons I keep coming back here. You are one of the finest examples of human being-ness ever. And should I ever get to meet you, I would love to hug you. Only with your permission freely given and a no completely respected. (I would be fine with a handshake too.)
August 10, 2012 @ 3:47 pm
This x1000. The thing about gaslighting someone is that you need to understand social cues to do it. Even if someone really is mentally ill in such away that they can’t not harass and assault people, how is it compassionate–to them or anyone else–to defend them when they do it?
I was the subject of a years-long campaign of harassment by someone who used their perceived social ineptitude to excuse their behavior. While our friends were busy telling me that I had to be patient because he didn’t know any better, he was busy trying to figure out the best time and place to rape me. It is painfully obvious, looking back, that his harassment was targeted to test how much he could get away with, around which of our friends. It was also targeted to draw out seemingly-disproportionate reactions from me, so that no one would believe what I said about him and no one would come to help me when he assaulted me.
And no one did.
Geekdom’s harassment problem is not the person with Asperger’s who accidentally crosses a line because they don’t realize it’s there. Geekdom’s harassment problem is all the people who know damn well where the line is, but feel such a sense of entitlement to other people’s bodies that they just don’t care.
August 10, 2012 @ 11:45 pm
“I’ve got two dueling phobias here: I don’t really like casual physical contact, but I also dread being a cause of social awkwardness or conflict (hi, I’m a New Englander).”
Why hello there fellow socially phobic hug disliking New Englander! You’ve expressed perfectly my own feelings on the topic. While I’m aware that the gesture would be meant to make me feel more at ease, someone point blank asking if it’s okay to hug is in a way equally awkward to me as hugging as a greeting without asking. Actually, I think my dislike of calling attention to myself (and my oddities) outshines my dislike of hugging and I would much rather just quickly awkward through a hug than have a discussion or pointing out my hug preferences.
Like I said, I understand the gesture behind the question and that no ill will is meant, but asking about my comfort levels for physical social interaction would make me terribly uncomfortable.
Things You’ll Find Interesting August 10, 2012 | Chuq Von Rospach, Photographer and Author
August 11, 2012 @ 1:31 am
[…] Jim C. Hines » My Sexual Harassment Policy […]
August 11, 2012 @ 4:33 am
Yayy on the overturning of the ban! That’s the right way to do things. =]
Now, more thoughts:
“I would love it if I NEVER saw another ‘Oh, but what if he’s a socially clueless Aspie’ remark… ↩”
I am afraid that I am only half with you on this one. Not in that I’d be wondering if “Oh, is he…” way, but in the “this person genuinely has some sort of disorder that severely effects his boundaries” way.
As said in an earlier comment, someone with Asperger’s can learn just fine how to handle social situations. I have two Aspie brothers, and I love them to bits. They have learned just fine; the younger of the two has a very active social life. The Big Bang Theory as actually helped him be understood quite a bit… his best friend says he reminds her of Sheldon. But my boyfriend works in a classroom with “moderate-severe” special needs.
These students will likely never live on their own, but some will be capable of low-level jobs (such as cart-retrieval or shirt folding at a store). Unfortunately, these students are very likely to never learn that there are times that it is NOT OKAY to touch other people. My boyfriend is a one-on-one aide to one of the students who on top of other things has incredibly severe OCD. His relevant compulsions? To touch feet, faces, occasionally other parts of the body. Of course he has other obsessions and compulsions, but in his case, some sort of exception would have to be made.
The student is still a human being, even though he is physically and emotionally incapable of controlling himself in public. Does that mean we should ban him from public? That’s where we begin to walk a very fine line. Is it okay to ban someone if they can’t control themself? Even requiring an aide with them can seem demeaning (though most people like this student will have full-time aiding for the rest of their life). How do we handle that situation? Unfortunately, _I_ don’t know what I really believe on the issue. _THAT_ is why I can’t agree with you completely, because I haven’t been able to form an educated decision on my own. What do you think, Jim?
August 11, 2012 @ 8:17 am
I’m not Jim, but if it were me, I’d think that if a person with those compulsions really wanted to attend a convention, they and the con committee could work out some arrangement. One privately-run convention != all public space, and convention organizers need to be able to see to the safety of all their guests, so requiring people who don’t have an internal control mechanism to bring an external one with them does not seem highly unreasonable.
It’s really frustrating, though, that on the rare occasions when a highly socially-competent serial harasser actually gets caught and punished, people use hypothetical situations about people with severe social limitations and/or mental illnesses to suggest that policies designed to punish highly socially-competent serial harassers are unfair.
The person you’re proposing, with OCD so severe he can’t not touch people, is not the kind of guy who’s going to serially harass women and socially-engineer his way out of consequences for it. Someone with that disability is never going to have the social power necessary to get away with that kind of behavior. Because as much as geeks cling to the social fallacy that “ostracizers are evil,” they really mean “ostracizing people who are like me is evil.” Geek communities are just as viciously racist, ableist, and sexist as the rest of society, and serial harassers–the highly socially competent people who get away with bad behavior again and again–rely on the empathy that other geeks geeks will feel for them.
August 11, 2012 @ 3:21 pm
Reminds me of an event years ago… A group of people from online gathered for dinner; I knew all somewhat from previous gatherings. I was first to leave. A creepy guy hugged me; then a guy I liked but didn’t want to hug hugged me, it seemed like “if HE can so can I!” I pushed both back a bit. Then two guys I was fine with hugging hugged me – no sense of desperation, both happily partnered, good guys. Guy #5 very firmly held his hand out for a shake, which amused me because I didn’t initiate *any* of the hugs.
Made me realize how much goes into the question of whether to hug.
I agree with some above – being asked just adds guilt if you say no or kicking yourself for being a wimp if you wanted to say no and didn’t. I like the idea of holding arms out just a little, could be interpreted as Hug? or as Hey, look at you! No further action required.
August 11, 2012 @ 6:54 pm
A quick thought on the whole hug/not-hug thing: if you genuinely think a hug would be helpful to the person, asking them, “Would a hug help?” is a good way to give them an out – there are plenty of things a hug won’t help with, and sometimes someone just doesn’t want one. But if they do, it’s there. And a way to refuse hugs that I’ve found fun/helpful is, “No, but I wouldn’t mind if you’d do my taxes.” (referencing this: http://www.shakesville.com/2009/03/feminism-101-on-language-and.html towards the end – a hopeful grin can soften this one, by ymmv)
But I totally and completely 100% support and co-sign this.
August 12, 2012 @ 2:32 pm
I’d like to emphasize something that has been mentioned earlier. While there are always explanations for all kinds of behaviors, there are not always excuses. There is a distinct, and I believe, moral difference between the two.
As someone who has wrestled for decades with social appropriateness of all kinds, not just actions of hetero-normativity, it fortunately horrifes me when I discover I have misstepped. And believe me when I say that I have plenty of reasons for being so broken.
However, I have never viewed being broken as more than an explanation, never as an excuse.
August 12, 2012 @ 2:43 pm
@Ell some days I feel like a complete lout as I tend to take a Victorian approach to so many of these situations. I so want to be the loving, happy go lucky huggy hippy. There is much in that lifestyle to reccomend it. However, I am far more comfortable offering you my hand, if that, when meeting someone new, or even acquaintances.
I will admit to my moments of exuberance overflowing in the warmth of human affection and contact. But overall I try to err on the side appropriateness.
Just Do It | Backup Ribbon Project
August 13, 2012 @ 3:33 am
[…] you take a ribbon from us. Maybe you sign on board with Jim Hines’ sexual harassment policy. Maybe you hand out red/yellow anti-creeper cards. Maybe you take Captain Awkward’s advice […]
Tansy Rayner Roberts (@tansyrr)
August 13, 2012 @ 7:05 pm
I’d like to add a comment about the “I would love it if I NEVER saw another ‘Oh, but what if he’s a socially clueless Aspie’ remark…” because I am COMPLETELY on board with this.
I understand the concerns of readers who have discussed this and its possible ramifications in the comments thus far, but I personally have no problem with someone who actually is on the Aspie/Autistic spectrum referencing that in explanation for misunderstandings, social awkwardness etc. That seems perfectly reasonable.
What drives me up the wall is people using that as an excuse for the behaviour of other people whom they have NEVER MET. It’s not helpful to anyone, and is insulting to all those people with Aspergers who are aware of their limitations and work super hard to manage social interactions.
This goes for assumptions of mental illness/disorders too. Basically if the entire internet could stop making any form of lazy remote medical diagnosis at all, that would be nice. As has been pointed out in many, many places over the last few weeks, actual harassers and rapists tend to be incredible socially aware, so those complete strangers making casual excuses for them are adding not only to the problem of harassment/rape culture, but ALSO to the problem of (perceived) brain chemistry issues being continually and unfairly associated with creepiness and harassment.
This does not make the world a better place.
August 13, 2012 @ 7:23 pm
and again, i agree wholeheartedly wit these responses concerning the socially incompetent or the mentally disabled. these are certainly *reasons* for the behavior, however, they are by no means *excuses* for it. and therein seems to lie the trouble. as @tansyrr has pointed out, folks need to quite being sidewalk physicians and psychotherapists.
if the person you are defending ever needs such a defense they will most certainly be given a lawyer and more than likely a psych evaluation when they appear in court. otherwise, hands off others can also mean hands off diagnosing them.
August 17, 2012 @ 9:59 am
I have to admit that your comment makes me extremely uncomfortable. I do understand social pressure, I just think that everyone needs to be comfortable setting their own boundaries. Part of the social contract is believing people when they respond to direct questions asking if they consent to things, and you’ve just stated that you can’t do this.
The comment that simply being asked to give consent makes you feel pressured to give consent to the point where you are unable to refuse is extremely alarming. Asking people to not ask seems to open the door to exactly the sort of behavior that creepy people engage in; attempting unwelcome contact based on subjective interpretation of non-verbal indicators.
As one of the people who asks because other indicators are unreliable, please, please, please say no if that’s what you want or need. No is always acceptable; you don’t need to justify your no, and anyone who pressures you for a reason is exactly the person you should be saying no to. If you still can’t say no, please arrange to have a trusted friend or partner intercept for you or something; saying yes when you mean no is exactly the wrong way to go.
Please, help us blunt-direct people to not engage in behavior you find creepy!
August 17, 2012 @ 1:22 pm
“Asking people to not ask seems to open the door to exactly the sort of behavior that creepy people engage in; attempting unwelcome contact based on subjective interpretation of non-verbal indicators.”
This is a false dichotomy. Among the other options is asking you to keep your hands to yourself on principle. If you don’t know that someone wants you to hug them, and you have reasonable suspicion that someone worries that declining a hug would hurt your feelings, then perhaps you ought to examine whether you are merely shifting the onus for the discomfort of a hug onto the other person (going so far as to suggest the other person plan ahead and enlist help) so that you can remain firmly within your comfort zone and continue to hug people and still say to yourself “I’m not a creeper.” Frankly, this willingness to blame me for the social discomfort your touchy-feelyness causes sounds a great deal like creeping. “Everyone ought to be willing to truthfully state their preferences about physical contact on demand” is not really all that far from “everyone ought to be as comfortable with social directness or physical contact as I am.”
You wish to be blunt-direct (itself a social preference that not everyone shares), fine: the best way I can help you blunt-direct people to never be creepy in hugging people is to just say, stop hugging people. Not everyone is comfortable being hugged. Not everyone is comfortable with being forced to make snap decisions about whether their discomfort with being hugged rises to the level of being willing to potentially hurt your feelings or make things weird around their friends. Conversely, not everyone who asks “can I hug you?” is as willing to accept a “no” without taking it personally (sometimes it IS personal, anyway) and if we knew each other well enough to know THAT, we’d know each other well enough to know if a hug is appropriate or not. Just as people will lie in saying “yes, it’s OK to hug me” people will also lie in saying, “That’s cool, I accept your ‘no’, no hard feelings” and therein lies (heh) the problem.
If you wish to continue hugging people without complete certainty, fine! Objectively, the world is probably a better place for all that affection and warmth. But please just accept that this behavior will occasionally cause discomfort, and OWN that discomfort instead of blaming the other person for having different social priorities than you and not doing enough to save you from yourself. That’s all I’m really asking.
August 17, 2012 @ 2:20 pm
Everyone should be capable of saying No – in fact, it should be your default setting. When in doubt, say no. If you can’t say no in a relatively nonthreatening social interaction, where else can you not say no; this scares the expletive-deleted out of me.
I’m not worried about you finding me creepy. (You’d almost certainly find me too blunt to be enjoyable and leave long before we get to the “do you hug” question, and I think we’d both be happier with that outcome.) I’m worried about you accepting a ride home from the wrong suddenly-creepy person. I’m worried about you getting backed into an elevator corner with someone-creepy with wandering hands. I’m worried about you getting into situations that cause me-and-people-like-me to come out swinging because you’re too shy or self conscious to stop an aggressor before they get you alone.
Me? I’m direct. I prefer to interact with people who can both accept that and find it more amusing than annoying. I also intervene for less direct people when asked, but your comment comes across as specifically-not-asking.
And I certainly don’t mean to indicate that you need to be as direct as me – most people aren’t. I do think that everyone should be capable of saying no when something or someone makes them uncomfortable. Even avoidance and swift retreat is preferable to saying “yes” instead of “no”.
August 17, 2012 @ 3:36 pm
I feel like this thread is drifting a bit into the hypothetical. I agree with you that everyone *should* feel comfortable freely and confidently saying “no”; but I’m also telling you that this is not the case. If that scares expletives out of you, then I’m sorry.
I think you are wrong in assuming that it’s easier to say not in relatively nonthreatening social interactions. Just the opposite: it is harder because 1) the other person is not necessarily being unreasonable in the eyes of the people around me, and 2) I often care about the feelings of that other person, and simply have no desire to hug them. In the other cases you suggest, “no” is (at least for me) much easier. Social anxiety is not the same thing as being a passive doormat.
L. Cecilie Wian
September 14, 2012 @ 8:05 am
Haven’t heard about you before i found the link from geekfeminism webpage. But since i totaly love SF, love to read, and particculary: hate beeing harrassed i’m buying and reading your book.
Have a great day!
(and i don’t know why asking is such a hard concept to get, eigther.)
L. Cecilie Wian
September 14, 2012 @ 8:07 am
…and fantasy fiction.