Friday, January 29, 2016

Just Like Run DMC said...

The line isn't blurred. Sex and really, all intimate physical contact requires consent. And sure, much of this consent can often take a non-verbal form. But I am not really qualified to expound the details of this consent, I would simply say - if in doubt, don't. And if you've ever been accused of sexual harassment, try doubting.

Now, beyond the line, there is a hazy terrain called flirtation, and I would argue is problematic. At the very least, tricky like Run DMC said.

A friend of mine tagged me on facebook soliciting my comment on a news article from some tech news site type thing. fb no longer seems to have an easy way to navigate through old posts so I couldn't really trawl it up for yall. But the article wasn't that interesting, just another iteration of what Chris Rock called 'dumb guys trying to get laid' I think in the same bit Chris Rock defined sexual harassment as 'sleep with me or I'll fire you' and the rest just dumb guys trying to get laid. I'm sure the law and most of society would at this stage of the game reject Rock's definition, and furthermore. Being no longer a business person, I can now say with luxurious ease, is that I would fire an employee for being a dumb guy trying to get laid.

Which is what happened in the article, a dumb guy commented on a lady's linked in profile pick when she solicited an 'endorsement' or whatever it is and he was like 'sweet cakes' and worse. She went to the press, guy got fired.

That ain't interesting, nor may I ad, incorrect in any way. As my old Director used to say to his sales reps on the issue of accepting gifts 'think how it would look in the papers' which I actually think in the absence of a robust moral compass and sense of professionalism, is a good test for us mortals to question our own judgement - how would this look in the public sphere?

Same same if you accidently cc'd all on a steamy email you wrote to a colleague.

What I do want to comment on is a comment that was made by my fb friends' fb friend who wasn't solicited for a comment. He said, and I paraphrase 'it's because this dumb guy was an old dumb guy, if he was a young handsome guy there'd be no issue.'

For the record, I submitted to the record, the observation that commenting on somebodies reproductive value is never professional (unless you work in the adult industries I guess, but it's not like that industry isn't riddled with a lot of problems beyond professionalism).

What I did have to concede, is that the same behaviors can illicit different responses depending who they are coming from. But because some people can get away with murder, and others don't doesn't make it okay for those who can to do it. Know what I'm saying.

Enter flirtation, a largish smallish part of the spectrum of interaction between people's of all gender identities and orientations. From the conscious and calculated to the subconscious and involuntary. It's both enjoyable, but can lead to trouble and it is tricky even when you are a natural at it.

I flirt with far more people than I ever intend or even desire to be physically intimate with to any degree. I imagine I am not alone, part of this is that walk or sit long enough in any public place, I hear people trying to decipher the meanings of behaviors of somebody they probably flirt with.

I don't wish to delve at all into the impact of technology, text based communications and constant access to communication channels has done. I have listened to Aziz Ansari's book 'Modern Romance' and it gives a good coverage of much of that shit.

But I don't think these conversations between people about whether other people are into them or not is new. At the very least not as new as the adoption of the internet. Getting fired for sexual harassment is perhaps newer, and actually choosing a partner is probably the new thing that started to spark these conversations.

Maybe contraception? When the Marriage market and Sex Market divided, empowering men in the marriage market to a far greater extent than the gains women made in the Sex Market.

Anyway, I've sidetracked quite a bit. There's a simple solution to sexual harassment in the workplace, and that is a zero-tolerance policy. A hard, sharp, distinct line. Which makes things like somebody writing in electronic form their harassment to you - an easy problem to dispense with. Conceivably even with IM services it's as simple as grabbing a screen print. I don't use LinkedIn but with the cost of data storage way down, I don't know too many IM platforms that don't archive conversations anyway.

Slightly trickier when you are cornered in the break room or copy room with no body around, for a he-said-she-said debate over 'serious allegations' but I've heard enough stories now to be assured that the future promises more managers of moral courage to actually take a complainants word and dismiss an employee for their unacceptable behavior. I doubt though this is the norm yet.

This is an ideal solution to the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and this would also have I believe an actual powerful effect on the culture of sexual harassment outside of the office. The culture would bring the message home, it'd get taught in schools and so on.

This then though, creates problems for desirable flirtation, which I will simply describe as the flirtation that occurs in the presence of reciprocal (though not necessarily exclusive) attraction.

Though I won't be ageist, here that random fb friend of a fb friend made a in part valid observation. We tolerate or even welcome a set of behaviors from people we find attractive that we don't from anyone else. I would assume it follows a spectrum, and if you consider the very idea of a 'relationship' this observation becomes obvious - albeit formalised.

A relationship between two or more consenting adults consists entirely of privileged behavior towards one another. That's what a relationship is.

I'm not an expert, I'm not sure what the actual expertise is - social anthropology, evolutionary psychology...? But I will assert here that flirtation is at least in part, preamble to physical intimacy. A fact finding, data gathering phase for two people to gain the confidence to actually overtly approach each other.

How much confidence? Depends on the context, a platform like tinder or a singles bar in the physical world require a lower threshold of confidence because there's a tacit assumption that there's a reason to be in these consequences. At work, particularly with a zero tolerance of sexual harassment in place, you'd need to be extremely confident.

Here though, it gets tricky and cruel. I can only testify to heteronormative relationships, and unforch, most data and research on sexual interaction and behavior is heteronormative too. Making it hard for me to find out 2nd hand with any confidence.

But I was progressive, but after learning a bunch about body language, actually conceded to old-fashioned thinking. It falls to men to take the risk of asking outright for a date (or whatever) simply because the subconscious cues are skewed to make an attuned male much more confident than an attuned woman to the reverse.

It is oft reported women's body language gives some 50 cues that they are attracted. Men are reported to have 10. A few I can vouch for is the torso orientation (or honest feet) they will be oriented towards the woman they like even from a distance and even while engaged in conversation with others. Jealousy also, but I would have to say is a perilous one to test. Jealousy can drive a guy really stupid and is really not the most flattering way a guy can betray his affection.

Whereas women provide a wealth of data with which you can build a constellation of confidence. You really only have to discount contexts where it might be somebodies job to butter you up a little - like a retail assistant.

Even so, asking someone out is never not a risk. Someone may betray that they find you attractive, this does not mean their conscious mind is on board, and doesn't have any pull. People for example are pretty resilient (despite angry rants on the internet) to cheat on their partners. And they can be quite pragmatic too about getting involved with certain people, much as they want to because of complications or conflicts that may arise.

But while I do think it at the very least natural, that men assume the risk of approaching women (risk of rejection) this starts to clash with the statistic that men (I assume) are the primary instigators of sexual harassment.

Drop in a zero-tolerance policy that is effective in stamping out sexual harassment, you will reduce approaches by men to only those emotionally competent enough to know and intuit when the attraction is reciprocated, and reciprocated in that way - and that is I suspect, a minority.

I would expect that the men who do best, simply in this domain are the most risk seeking ie. they don't feel the hurt of rejection to any extent they really care about. I would suspect those men good at reading the emotions on another persons face do next as well but for different reasons, and I would speculate that they may not even correlate.

(My speculation is thus, that the men/women who feel the least aversion to the risk of rejection do so not in most cases by higher order thinking and rationalization, but because they do not invest much of themselves in each solicitation. It is not important what that person thinks of them, they just think it would be fun to go on a date or have sex. Conversely people who are good at reading the emotions on other people's faces are for reasons I can't really justify the same kind of people who discriminate to a higher degree the people they want in their lives, and also form attachments easier, ratcheting up their investment in their potential partners.)

What's cruel is that the adoption of a zero-tolerance sexual harassment approach (society wide, and an actual functional one - as in practiced, not just preached) to me necessitates that women start approaching men, as in initiating the formal recognition of a relationship, not just being more overt in their flirtations.

And that is cruel, because though women are I'm told, proven to be better at reading the emotions on other people's faces, men simply give off less signs that they are attracted to somebody. As in to a greater degree, when women ask out men, they may be not just uncertain, but blind. The fallback may be observing that men are much more up for sex (even with a stranger) than women are, so they are likely to say yes even in the absence of a previously felt attraction.

But women that have asked me out have reported that the act is terrifying, and that having to do so, sucks. Most of us I feel would naturally prefer to recieve an offer that we are free to accept or reject, even if this preference left us culturally deciders rather than choosers.

Currently though, all of us can choose who to flirt with. Personally, I do think that men should remove the dimension of touch from their flirtation. I feel that is the hotbed of sexual harassment. But even bawdy talk etc. Not everyone has the tact to not make this a potential powderkeg, it is not really safe to experiment with.

I personally have been sexually harrassed, and I'm sad to say, that as a man my earnest reaction was vicarious embarrassment. For me though, being sexually harassed by a woman does not come with it, a sense of loss of control, nor physical danger. It is for me, really, a non-issue. Only women with histrionic personality disorders scare me, and I try to distance myself from crazy. Fortunately, I've met only one that I know of.

That to me, says that part of the solution to sexual harassment demands a redefining of gender roles. Demand is a strong assertion, and I'm not confident I can back it up. But can you imagine how long sexual harassment induction videos would have to be to preserve office romance as a possibility when initiated by men. "If you make eye contact and she looks down and then back up, consider talking to her. If she sustains eye contact for longer than normal durations, you may experiment with flirtatious banter, if she..." (more important than that long list is the extra long list of tacit do-not-approach signals).

So, to me if you want to keep office romance possible in society, rather than depending entirely on online match making services (and maybe you do) it would mean women have to overtly initiate the romance. Assume the risk of rejection.

Perhaps what makes that trickiest of all, are that we are living in the age of anxiety, and I believe some 60% of women suffer from it (beyond the anxiety that is normal to the spectrum of human emotion). The most anxious thing I do, is ask women out. And I do it. 

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