“let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context”

JT Eberhard decided that his contribution to the discussion about sexual harassment at atheist conferences was going to be to talk about how to make sex happen anyway, especially for socially clueless guys like himself. And the list that came out of that might even be decent advice to guys. But the post itself? And the comments?

*shudder*

For one, this is crap:

But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints. Seriously, I’m awful. Men like me need you to communicate with them. If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all. If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.

You know why women give “subtle” hints? It’s because 1)they’re actually not that subtle at all, certain people just prefer not to listen when it’s about sex, and 2)rejections that are more-blunt-than-socially-accceptable are socialized out of women because they regularly and rather thoroughly get punished for employing them.*
So yeah. Women are going to be “subtle”, which really just means they’re going to behave averagely, because that’s usually enough (when it’s not about sex) and because even a bit more will usually get a woman punished.

Oh, but of course we’re not supposed to talk about this:

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking only about these two very fun things, flirting and physicality, that are ultimately a very small aspect of getting to know somebody. I say that because I’m trying to avoid the conversation of, “but women don’t want to feel like sex objects whose primary purpose is to be flirted with.”
[...]
Now there are guys who do view women as a means to sex and have no interest in respecting a woman’s boundaries if it means they can’t push for sex. Those guys are a liability. They don’t want help and I’m not writing this post to help them. I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.

Well, sorry JT, but you can’t just exclude the context from the conversation. Because women can’t exclude that context from their life into which you’re barging when you flirt with them!
You can’t exclude the existence of the creeps, because after being creeped on by 5 guys, it simply no longer matters that you’re not a creep, you’re still Yet Another Dude Who Wants Sex. And at that point, a woman might simply no longer care why you want it or whether you’d flirt correctly and respect her boundaries; because at that point, she’s too sick of all the unwanted attention to still want any sexual attention at all.
You also can’t exclude the existence of creeps, because in order to give you an unsubtle answer, a woman will by definition have to give an unsubtle answer to every man who may or may not be flirting with her. Which not only goes against past socialization, but is also most likely going to result in her being punished for it, both by the man she was just “unnecessarily harsh” to (or maybe she interpreted the signals wrong and he wasn’t even flirting with intent; then she’ll be an altogether “presumptuous bitch” for thinking a guy would even want to fuck her. pffft.), and likely by others in the social circle as well. I mean, shit, Rebecca Watson loosened an internet-wide shitstorm for just saying “guys, don’t do that” about cold-propositioning in elevators late at night!** And you want women to go against socialization and risk social punishment every time they talk to a flirty dude, just because you’re socially awkward?

Yeeeeaaahh, no. You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

And nevermind that this whole scenario ignores the existence of socially inept women, since it puts the burden of clear communication on them (notice how it’s the women who have to say “no” as bluntly as possible, socialization and possible punishment be damned, but the socially awkward dudes are still allowed to operate within the subtleties of basic human interaction).

And then, the fucking comments. The entire fucking comment section there needs to read “Yes Means Yes” instead of bleating shit like this:

While I have many times found myself in similar situations, I have to say this: it is absolutely vital that you find a way to communicate effectively, as there is absolutely no way that JT or anyone else can create a functioning environment that is safe for people who won’t/don’t say “no” when they mean “no.”
I totally agree that social leveraging is a dick move. That doesn’t change the fact that your refusal to say “no” makes every social situation more dangerous for everyone involved.

or complain how a “ask first, hug later” culture would somehow be a logistical nightmare.

And of course, the stupid-ass “why don’t women just wear buttons” idea came up. I’ve dealt with that crap before, and some of the less dense posters also pointed out that degrees of consent are every-changing, context-specific and person-specific, so such buttons are fucking worthless. But hey, here’s an idea for you lot: since desire for intimacy is shifting, but social ineptness isn’t, why don’t you guys who want to flirt and get laid but are afraid of missing signals wear a giant red button saying “socially inept; speak bluntly to me”? That way, women would know when they can safely be more assertive (or, if they don’t think they can bring up the energy to go against socialization, just void you) and also remind you that you wanted bluntness when your sexist conditioning kicks in and you (or one of your friends) feels like punishing the woman for being blunt. And at the same time they’ll know that those who aren’t getting their messages and aren’t wearing the button can be safely reported as harassers.

Everybody’s problems solved (that’s fucking sarcasm in case you didn’t notice; but don’t tempt me with more demanding posts like that, or else I’ll decide I’m serious about this buttons-for-the-clueless thing)

- – - – - -
*yeah, I am quite aware that both links talk about rape. The concepts discussed therein are still applicable to flirting and similar interactions. Rape, after all, doesn’t just happen out of the blue; it is simply the nasty pinnacle of rape culture, and rape culture reinforces itself in all these much smaller, much more innocuous-seeming interactions in which boundaries are pushed and assertive rejection punished.
**and then there was also the woman who said “no” to the obviously not-previously-discussed super-public proposal of her boyfriend, and everyone came down on her like a ton of bricks for being “cruel” for rejecting him publicly.

43 comments on ““let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context”

  1. Beatrice says:

    Hello! Commenting here for the first time.

    One more point where JT didn’t even realize he was being sexist : assuming that all women are good at recognizing flirting and generally much better than men in social situations.

    For all his defense of socially awkward men, socially awkward women apparently don’t even exist for him. We women are apparently these magical creatures who can read men’s minds and intentions, who communicate in our own subtle language understandable only to those of female persuasion and should in our great wisdom know that the best we can do with ourselves is help poor little menz get laid. Because that’s good for us too *nudge nudge wink wink*.

    And if we don’t use our incredible powers for good (that is, getting Nice But Awkward Guys laid), then it’s our own fault if drama happens. And I don’t mean rape or sexual harassment. No, that’s what those Creeps do. Drama is what happens when it comes to Nice But Awkward Guys.

  2. You didn’t even get to the part about how a certain percentage of men WILL become violently hostile in the face of a direct rejection… Not to say that it’s a huge omission, just more of a point about how large the problem is.

  3. Jadehawk says:

    there’s a lot that I could have gone into greater detail on, but didn’t because I wanted to finish writing this post in one go (because in my experience, taking a break results in never-finished posts). There are sooooo many reasons why that post was ill-thought out

    *sigh*

    P.S.: Sally, I’ve no idea why you keep on getting stuck in moderation, sorry for that.

  4. On top of all of that, it was his final (edited into the post) statement that really killed all respect I may have had for him:

    For the rest who took, “give us your insight” as defending skeezy men, you’re part of the reason men like me scarcely ever touch this issue even though we realize there are problems that need to be fixed. If you want the help of men who want to help make this an accommodating environment for women, you may want to re-think some things.

    Translated JT: If women aren’t going to just axiomatically accept how awesome an ally I am, I guess I won’t be bothered to be an awesome ally.

    Zing.

  5. Jadehawk says:

    holy fuck, I didn’t even see that addendum! Really? “you may want to rethink some things”? way to petulantly take your ball and go home just because what you’ve got was having the problems with your post pointed out instead of back-patting and advice on how to make life in the Patriarchy easier for dudes. and since when is fighting for social justice a quid-pro-quo?!

    spoiled brat

  6. Jadehawk says:

    tigtog, the image of the button is awesome :-D

  7. skepticalmath says:

    Reblogged this on skeptical math and commented:
    Pretty much what Jadehawk said. I won’t be reading WWJTD anymore.

  8. And this isn’t the only strike against JT; his intervention (or lack of it) in the horrible ‘I have “Die Cis Scum” questions’ thread, and the disastrous follow-up with the ‘Want to keep commenting here?’ thread, makes three in quick succession. The DCS thread wasn’t a fun experience for the trans folk who participated in it so I won’t be racing back to comment there. The post’s title only made the answer easy for me:
    JT: “Want to keep commenting here?”
    Xanthë: “No, not really! Buh-bye!” (which was what SC said)

  9. surskitty says:

    I don’t see why “SOCIALLY INEPT; BE BLUNT WITH ME” buttons are a joke. :|a Makes perfect sense to me as a solution.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    **and then there was also the woman who said “no” to the obviously not-previously-discussed super-public proposal of her boyfriend, and everyone came down on her like a ton of bricks for being “cruel” for rejecting him publicly.

    Bluntly speaking, he was an asshole. In her situation, even if I’d know beforehand I’d agree with such a proposal, I’d consider it an attempt at emotional blackmail. “Marry me or embarrass me in front of a huge audience!” WTF was he thinking!?!

    One more point where JT didn’t even realize he was being sexist : assuming that all women are good at recognizing flirting and generally much better than men in social situations.

    Privilege all the way!

    tigtog, the image of the button is awesome :-D

    Seconded.

    I don’t see why “SOCIALLY INEPT; BE BLUNT WITH ME” buttons are a joke. :|a Makes perfect sense to me as a solution.

    Seconded, and by no means just in the context of flirting.

    Can we just discuss the color? If the button is giant enough, red would clash rather loudly with my hair.

  11. MatthewL says:

    This is my first time here. I hope I’m not out of place being a privileged white male and all.

    Great stuff. Kind of a relief after too much time spent on FTB over the weekend.

    The button comment is spot on. The idea that women should wear buttons to assist guys in hitting on them is strange beyond words. If someone likes buttons they can wear their own. (I found one i like that says, “Men are from earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.”)

    The other thing you said that really hit me was how after the fifth, or tenth, or… jackass hitting on all the women in the room there’s no social space left for decent flirting. Creepy white knight scenarios not withstanding. Arrrgghh!

    Anyway. Thanks again.

  12. Jadehawk says:

    I hope I’m not out of place being a privileged white male and all.

    definitely not out of place, and I’m glad the post was informative etc.

  13. Jadehawk says:

    I don’t see why “SOCIALLY INEPT; BE BLUNT WITH ME” buttons are a joke. :|a Makes perfect sense to me as a solution.

    Seconded, and by no means just in the context of flirting.

    voluntary buttons like that probably wouldn’t be a problem. The comment I made though was a mirror of the “why don’t women wear buttons if they don’t want to be hit on”, which implies a certain… mandatoriness (it’s a word now, shuddup) since it implies that not wearing the button means you have agreed to be hit on.

    so I flipped it around and said that you should wear a button, and if you don’t that means you’re admitting to not being socially inept and are “missing” the signals on purpose and are thus committing sexual harassment. it’s the implied mandatoriness that was meant sarcastically.

    hope that explanation helps!

  14. surskitty says:

    Yeah, I get that (thanks, though), but voluntary I AM SOCIALLY AWKWARD buttons still seem like an actually good idea. :D

  15. David Marjanović says:

    so I flipped it around and said that you should wear a button, and if you don’t that means you’re admitting to not being socially inept and are “missing” the signals on purpose and are thus committing sexual harassment.

    I don’t really have a problem with that either. :-)

  16. David Marjanović says:

    mandatoriness (it’s a word now, shuddup)

    It seems to be generally allowed in English to make such words up on the spot whenever needed. See storminess here.

  17. Godless Heathen says:

    Was the public proposal at an atheist/skeptic event? Or was that a more general comment on those situations (which often happen at sporting events – lots of ‘em on YouTube).

  18. Jadehawk says:

    Was the public proposal at an atheist/skeptic event? Or was that a more general comment on those situations (which often happen at sporting events – lots of ‘em on YouTube).

    it was a general one, involving the jumbotron at a sporting event. There was a TYT video about it (and that’s where part of the handwringing about her meanness for publicly refusing came from), but I couldn’t find it while looking for the links to add to this post.

  19. [...] Via Hoyden about Town: Another week, another dork in skeptic and / or atheist blogosphere who doesn’t understand why he can’t get laid. So in that context, take a look at an oldie but a goodie: Mythcommunication: it’s not that they don’t understand, they just don’t like the answer. It’s relevant to the context of this post: Let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context. [...]

  20. Meg says:

    Why don’t men who want to get laid just wear a button saying, “lonely, straight, ask me for a date” or something (I think rhyming is non-optional.) They expect women to do all the work but it’s not like they are actually willing to give up any of the power in doing so.

    We should tell men we’ve all decided to wear buttons if we are interested in being hit on at conferences and that the absence of a button means “no thanks; I’m here for the ideas.” It would at least be educational to show them exactly how many respected the lack thereof.

  21. Andrew Hickey says:

    I would also wear a ‘socially inept’ button. It would come in very useful for me.
    But the thing is, despite being totally clueless about these things, I have never (as far as I am aware) accidentally sexually harassed anyone. Not sexually harassing people is actually really, really easy to do. All you have to do is not treat people to whom you are attracted any differently from people with whom you would never have sex, unless and until you get clear, unambiguous statements from them that they’re attracted to you too.

  22. Cara says:

    They wouldn’t. The ones who hide behind social cluelessness would suddenly gain a PhD in anthropology and explain that the women who aren’t wearing buttons are just afraid of being regarded as sluts. But they REALLY DO want to be hit on.

  23. [...] let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context : Another discussion of harassment turned into a conversation on how to help social awkward men learn how to flirt. This is a rebuttal. [...]

  24. ERose says:

    The thing that kills me about stuff like this is – if you’re approaching me as a total stranger with the sole goal of hitting on me, I don’t think you’re a nice guy. In fact, buying into the underlying assumption that by being female and present I am fair game for a potential sexual interaction gives you a higher-than-average chance of being exactly the opposite.
    In fact, I don’t know that I owe you any assistance at all. You don’t actually have the right to any specific response when you approach someone out of the blue, especially when you’re taking the risk that your approach might be unwelcome. And when a woman feels creeped on, she is sure as shit entitled to get out of a situation where she isn’t comfortable in any way she wants. It’s not only not nice, but plain dickish to think otherwise.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Not sexually harassing people is actually really, really easy to do. All you have to do is not treat people to whom you are attracted any differently from people with whom you would never have sex, unless and until you get clear, unambiguous statements from them that they’re attracted to you too.

    + 1

    They wouldn’t. The ones who hide behind social cluelessness would suddenly gain a PhD in anthropology and explain that the women who aren’t wearing buttons are just afraid of being regarded as sluts. But they REALLY DO want to be hit on.

    I fear you’re right.

  26. I liked the socially inept button idea so I went ahead and made them. I linked back to this post as credit.

  27. the Siliconopolitan says:

    Why don’t men who want to get laid just wear a button saying, “lonely, straight, ask me for a date” or something (I think rhyming is non-optional.)

    Because then we can’t say no to the fat, ugly ones.

    [Jadehawk's Note: this is extremely dry sarcasm. A poe, if you will]
    [2nd Jadehawk's Note: damn you sili for making me feel like I have to insert poe-warnings into my comment section :-p]

  28. smhlle says:

    I agree with you in principle. I support your position. May I quibble on the details?

    I read JT’s suggestions on educating the educable men at conferences. I think, in a portion that you quoted about subtle signals, he likely meant that he and men like him are afraid they are going to miss subtle positive signals, not subtle negative signals. (My husband and my stepfather have both told me they were clueless in their youth when women seemed to desire contact with them and they just chatted back w/o asking for a date. I believe their stories.) Added thought: some of these guys would hate to miss an opportunity that may not return before the next Transit of Venus.

    So, at first I thought it was an awesome idea for het women to be more direct in pursing het (?) men at conferences. (My interpretation of the comment on subtlety.) But, I suppose if I encourage that too much, I bear some responsibility for the toothsome but shy men who get aggressively hit on by women on the prowl. I would hate for anyone to be startled and distressed, even male persons. I have to acknowledge that not all men would welcome that.

    I absolutely agree that the default status for all people at the conference should be “don’t touch me” (without consent) rather than “touch me”. People who want to hookup should be wearing the signals. People who just want to attend convention events should be able to be signal free.

    I would also foresee ugly consequences if I, a fat married older woman wore a “don’t touch” type of sign. I know there are people so immature they couldn’t stroll by without snickering and muttering “as if”. I also realize that an “I’m looking to hookup” button would not solve the problem. Any person who approached a person with a hookup positive button could still get rejected, no duh, because almost all the time the message “I’d like to fuck tonight” does not translate to “I’ll fuck anyone who approaches to within a five foot radius”,

  29. Jadehawk says:

    I read JT’s suggestions on educating the educable men at conferences. I think, in a portion that you quoted about subtle signals, he likely meant that he and men like him are afraid they are going to miss subtle positive signals, not subtle negative signals.

    given that he was suggesting at the same time that it should be ok to push past boundaries “a little bit”, it’s pretty obvious that it was about missing negative signals. Though I’m sure you’re right that a lot of dudes are far more worried about missing out on a positive signal and not getting laid than missing out on a negative signal and “accidentally” sexually harass someone.

    I would also foresee ugly consequences if I, a fat married older woman wore a “don’t touch” type of sign. I know there are people so immature they couldn’t stroll by without snickering and muttering “as if”. I also realize that an “I’m looking to hookup” button would not solve the problem. Any person who approached a person with a hookup positive button could still get rejected, no duh, because almost all the time the message “I’d like to fuck tonight” does not translate to “I’ll fuck anyone who approaches to within a five foot radius”,

    which is exactly why buttons for sexual interest won’t work, ever. Consent to anything sexual (and non-sexual, too, but d00dz have fewer “problems” understanding a “no” then) is 100% context dependent and is never the same for the duration of an entire conference, and never includes all people potentially interested. d’uh.

    Which, in turn, is why the “socially inept” buttons are better, since social ineptitude is a permanent feature

  30. smhlle says:

    I think last July when everyone was talking about pleasant and unpleasant interactions between the sexes at conferences, the Mensa system of colored dots on the badges for people that want hugs and people that emphatically don’t want hugs was mentioned. That may be the idea that mutated horribly into the scarier concepts of Bang Me and Don’t Even Think About it buttons (or whatever they would say).

  31. Jadehawk says:

    I bet that idea of labeling women according to levels of supposedly pre-given consent is ancient (see also: madonna/whore dichotomy), but the specific button-version of it could have been started with the mensa thing, at least in atheist circles. At least, that’s when I remember seeing it first.

  32. Emptyell says:

    I think the “socially inept” button works because it is funny, self effacing and not strictly sexual (as well as suitably brief).

    On the other hand “I may or may not be interested in flirting with intent depending on whether we find ourselves mutually attracted” is a little long to put on a button.

  33. the Siliconopolitan says:

    Sorry.

    Take it as evidence of my social ineptitude.

  34. Rinus says:

    He’s a self-absorbed idiot with the social skills of a turnip.

    Is he seriously suggesting that the desire of him and those like him to get laid (which, apparently, is so overwhelmingly strong as to exclude all other desires, such as not making people feel uncomfortable) overrule every other desire other people might have?

    I don’t care about him wanting to get laid. It’s a convention, not a brothel. You can’t honestly expect everyone to go out of their way, to the point where they change the very way they communicate with others, just so you have an easier time getting your rocks off, you selfish ass. What about my desire to have normal conversations with people? The fact I enjoy the subtleties of human interaction and find your suggested behaviour crass and unsophisticated? That’s all irrelevant because your’re looking for sex and are to fucking creepy to do so without scaring the shit out of people?

    I find so absolutely stunning that on the highest levels, by the ‘leaders’ of this community, ideas like those stupid buttons are being seriously discussed. I don’t like the stereotypes people have about ‘mouthbreathing aspies’, but it’s shit like this that makes it almost impossible to argue against that.

  35. smhlle says:

    On the other hand “I may or may not be interested in flirting with intent depending on whether we find ourselves mutually attracted” is a little long to put on a button.

    If it was an acronym, it would start IMOMNBIIFWI… which sort of delights me. I’m pronouncing in “im-om-nibby-fwee, etc.” (Not a serious suggestion on my part, either.)

  36. emptyell says:

    “IMOMNBIIFWI”

    I like it. Would we include the “DOWWFOMA” or not? It works both ways. Or perhaps it’s like a secret handshake. If one says “I’m om nibby fwee.” and the other replies “Doww, foma.” then it may be the start of something.

  37. Megan says:

    Like Xanthë, I wrote him off after his post on “Die Cis Scum.” I’m totally not surprised to find him being willfully obtuse on the sexual harassment of women in the atheist community, too.

  38. the Siliconopolitan says:

    Even after realising my mistake, I still can’t help but read “Die Cis Scum” as Sideshow Bob German.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    That’s because of the lack of a comma.

  40. [...] “let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context” (tags: ) [...]

  41. [...] desiring of sex being encouraged to remain silent, women who are objects of such desire are also encouraged to be dishonest about their refusals. The (true) observation that rapists ignore refusals is used to suggest that [...]

  42. Godless Heathen says:

    So, I know I’m way late to this, but wanted to add that this is all based on the general belief of most men that women give blanket consent. No we fucking don’t! How is that so hard to understand? Just because I’m generally open to hooking up doesn’t mean I want to specifically hook up with you!

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