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Seeing Is Understanding

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

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

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

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

So I pushed the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now they are able to see it.

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

See also:

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

It’s the Same Advice



Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books

Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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livejournal
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
"That Guy" and personal space
User sartorias referenced to your post from "That Guy" and personal space saying: [...] I found this post [...]
sartorias
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.
blairmacg
Aug. 10th, 2013 02:23 am (UTC)
Thank you for supporting me in doing so. :)
mrissa
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:24 pm (UTC)
Here from sartorias:

I have gotten to the point where I have an arsenal for that. I start with a quite-audible, "Please stop touching me," followed by, "I asked you to stop touching me," followed by escalating in volume, "stop touching me Stop Touching Me STOP TOUCHING ME" until the person stops.

I have had to use this on women as well as on men (although more on men). It tells me a lot about the room I'm in, whether bystanders actively join the unwanted-toucher in their justifications. If there are no looks of concern while I escalate in volume, that's a room I need to leave by any means necessary. (I have vertigo, so my mobility varies significantly, which is why the "wrench away, standing up, confronting body language" is not always physically possible for me.)

But this is not always possible for people who have been socialized to be polite and "nice." It took me until I was almost 30 to develop this mode, and I had various factors encouraging it, not like some people who are less fortunate in their families, jobs, and circumstances.
3rdragon
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:42 pm (UTC)
Also here from sartorias.

I had a friend in college who would talk about the "Three levels of no," which align pretty closely to what you're talking about. So often women are taught to only use the first two, or the first one, or to state their preferences so obliquely that it's not even really "no" at all.
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 9th, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrissa - Aug. 9th, 2013 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - harvey_rrit - Aug. 9th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrissa - Aug. 9th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 9th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 9th, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - harvey_rrit - Aug. 9th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 10th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - harvey_rrit - Aug. 10th, 2013 02:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 10th, 2013 03:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 10th, 2013 03:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - harvey_rrit - Aug. 10th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC) - Expand
joycemocha
Aug. 9th, 2013 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.

Moi? Unless I know them and they fit in my personal list of People I'm Okay With Touching me, I'll do my damnedest to whip around with a fist and pull it back just before connecting if someone tries this on me. I may make it playful, if the situation calls for it, but I'm not kidding. It's not always a conscious reaction.
blairmacg
Aug. 9th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC)
That reminds me of a friend who, while at a party, was on the receiving end of a man's persistent "I'll just rest my hand on your shoulder" attention. She very calmly and deliberately reached up, cupped her hand over his, then twisted it into a rather uncomfortable joint lock.

When he protested, she said, "Oh, I thought you *wanted* to give me this hand."

He stopped touching.
(no subject) - thnidu - Aug. 10th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
queenoftheskies
Aug. 9th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of difficulty getting out of those situations. I think it's vulnerability left over from abuse. I freeze, which doesn't really allow me the brains to respond.

It's very heartening to read your post and see that, once they're made aware of the type of thing that's happening, the men are just as creeped out over it as the women. Gives one hope that everyone (male and female both) can learn to recognize those situations in the future and respond to aid a "trapped" person before anything worse can happen.
roadnotes
Aug. 9th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
I often freeze, too, which surprises people. I spend a lot of my social time these days in a community where touch is explicitly negotiated ("Are you huggable?" is my default greeting, even to people who have given me unlimited hugging privileges), and I am often at a loss when someone else violates those boundaries.
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 9th, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
"Are you huggable?" - apostle_of_eris - Aug. 11th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 9th, 2013 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
roadnotes
Aug. 9th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC)
Here via sartorias -- thank you for posting this, and for explaining that behavior so clearly and eloquently.
blairmacg
Aug. 9th, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC)
You've very welcome, and I thank you for the support. :)
(Deleted comment)
blairmacg
Aug. 9th, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
Yep.

Most decent men can easily recognize the overt slimeballs. It's tougher--for both men and women, I think--to recognize the subtle manipulations of seemingly "nice" guys.
livejournal
Aug. 9th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
Compare and contrast
User nancylebov referenced to your post from Compare and contrast saying: [...] Stealth abuse [...]
green_knight
Aug. 9th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
Excellent article, thank you for sharing.

Women forget - because both men and women are socialised in this pattern - that men are, when push comes to shove, just as vulnerable as men: sure, *some* men can physically overcome more potential assailants than most women - but much of the time there's social constraints and surprise and individual reactions and disadvantaged positions, which level the field.
blairmacg
Aug. 9th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
but much of the time there's social constraints and surprise and individual reactions and disadvantaged positions, which level the field.

YES. Exactly.

(Deleted comment)
blairmacg
Aug. 9th, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
And also interesting to me to note men having the same hesitation to respond that I see in women.

Very much so. As Green_Knight said above, many of the factors that go into a woman's hesitation enter into a man's hesitation. It is, I think, a common reaction when one isn't certain of what is actually happening or what the "accepted" response should be.

It might have been even more confusing for the men because I wasn't being confrontational. Had I shouted in their faces or been overtly threatening, they would have responded more quickly and with confidence. But the touch was "nice." He had no reference point for how to stop "nice."

elenbarathi
Aug. 9th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
This is utterly brilliant; thank you so much.

Hi, I'm Jess, and I've put you on my Friends List, if that's okay. ^^
blairmacg
Aug. 10th, 2013 02:29 am (UTC)
You're welcome, and thank you for saying so. :)
danceswithwaves
Aug. 11th, 2013 02:30 am (UTC)
Here via sartorias. Great post, it was very articulate on a problem I feel like few people know how to describe.
danceswithwaves
Aug. 11th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC)
Also, I've friended you, if you don't mind.
(no subject) - blairmacg - Aug. 11th, 2013 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
sarekofvulcan
Aug. 11th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
Seen and reblogged on Tumblr. Very well explained, and will be kept in mind.
blairmacg
Aug. 13th, 2013 04:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
packbat
Aug. 12th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
Was emailed a link to this today.

The phrase "long-fingered shoulder rub" is almost poetic in its vividness. Unwanted verbal interactions I was (intellectually) aware of, but I hadn't thought about people sliming their way into physical contact with other people. That's really scary, even if you ignore the things you mentioned in some of the linked posts about self-defense.

Thank you for writing these posts. It's definitely something I'll try to watch for in the future.
blairmacg
Aug. 13th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome, and thank you for the feedback!
livejournal
Sep. 1st, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
Yet more depressing and uplifting things - 18 August - 31 August 02013
User silveradept referenced to your post from Yet more depressing and uplifting things - 18 August - 31 August 02013 saying: [...] used by creepy people, to pressure someone without appearing to trip any warning flags to observers [...]
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