Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Sexual Harassment

Consider this

In Conjunction with this

and admit that sorting out sexual harassment is going to be tricky. Perhaps impossible. Let's hope not, however any optimistic belief that avoiding sexual harassment is 'simple' and that people are being stupid and obstinate in the face of obvious answers like 'just don't do it.' is counterproductive.

Last night I attended two social functions. At the first, some douche turned up. Within a 30 minute period he demonstrated no capacity to 'read a room' just to be clear there was no sexual harassment perpetrated. The guy was simply inept at knowing when to just fucking shut up, when his jokes, suggestions or comments were falling flat. When he left the room, discussion actually turned to how to get rid of him, and failing that, how it might be possible to ditch the party and reconvene elsewhere.

At my second engagement, a friend of mine hugged me too hard and too long. This is not a problem for me, because I am physically larger than my friend so they can hug away I'm not going to get creeped out or feel insecure. But it happens, and I don't think I was being sexually harassed. A social norm was being transgressed as to how long a hug should last.

I bring up these two examples just because they came up within 2 hours of each other as examples of quite ordinary and commonplace behavior.

And thus, even though it's done the rounds, videos like the first one annoy me, and it's always a popular message: 'it's simple stupid!' whenever there's an issue that prompts sufficient self-righteousness. However this popular message annoys me.

Here's what the 'it's simple stupid!' camp is assuming away:

1. that people communicate indirectly.
2. that some people are not competent at reading social signals.
3. that there is a large overlap between acceptable behavior, and harassment based on the desirability of the individual to another individual.
4. that people are incompetent at expressing themselves in manners that are always acceptable.
5. that there are people in the world with a fear of rejection, that behave in incongruous ways both encouraging and discouraging potential suitors.
6. that there is mental illness in the world.
7. that there are people who are socially awkward.

I could probably go on, given time. But I can't be bothered spending it. The first video is using levity to address a phenomena that we should really quite reasonable expect.

Whenever there is a huge public outcry about sexual harassment, there are going to be a middleband of men that are horrified at the prospect of creeping out or disturbing or making any woman feel unsafe and yet are worried that they have done just that through plain old incompetence, perhaps by holding a hug too long, or perhaps trying to win over strangers through attempting an ill-advised joke.

The too-long hug, could be creepy, could be a creep getting trying to get their kicks by pressing a woman into them so they can feel their erection. I would guess somebody socially awkward would likely do the old 'asses-out' hug for feer of their genitals making their presence known to the other party, but I suspect in most cases the too-long hug is a form of indirect communication that is attempting to say 'I like you' while immediately gauging the likely response of the other by trying to hold that hug.

Or consider the term 'Love Triangle' if you've heard of it, then I guess you need to reconcile whether love triangles are a myth or whether it may allude to a real social phenomena. I guess formally it would have to refer to some kind of situation where Brad likes Jenny, who likes Greg, who like Brad. But I would guesstimate it commonly occurs without any sexual orientation obstacles where Brad likes Jenny, Jenny likes Greg, Greg isn't interested in Jenny, but all three of them work in the same office, perhaps even the same department. Jenny may groom herself with attracting Greg in mind, she applies makeup and selects outfits and perfumes that she feels enhances her appeal. And they do, just to Brad, not Greg. Brad similarly grooms in order to impress Jenny, but Jenny while polite and professionally friendly to Brad, considers him a sexual non-entity. The trouble for Jenny is, while she is ostensibly trying to narrow-cast to Greg, she is broadcasting much of her message about sexual availability.

Firstly, nothing in the love-triangle scenario would absolve Brad of sexually harassing Jenny. Particularly in a professional work environment. Equally, nothing would absolve Jenny of sexually harassing a not-interested Greg, but thanks to sexual dimorphism in our species and the statistical realities of sexual harassment, Greg is less likely to be bothered by Jenny than Jenny by Brad. Understanding that, Brad in theory could discern that Jenny dresses not for his benefit but Greg's. He could for example read body language that is narrow cast, establish a baseline and notice Jenny only teases her hair when talking to Greg, not himself etc.

But while he could I personally can't argue that he should or every other man on the planet. For one thing, most of my friends don't appreciate it when they catch me reading their body language. The second is that it is a costly solution in terms of time and energy to address failures in what is quite normal human interaction. What Brad needs to understand is the difference between flagrantly unacceptable behavior, and when quasi-acceptable behavior becomes unacceptable through repetition.

The working material, being the general population of the world are going to, like me, have probably fucked up making ice-cubes in a tray at some point. We are talking about people who, like me, have locked themselves out of their house, or their online banking account. Let us give ourselves credit that we will probably fuck up navigating social dynamics at some point, let alone the much higher risk and less practiced sexual dynamics.

I have no problem with the pursuit of an ideal or even improved world for women to live in, I am frustrated by people thinking that it hasn't thus far been accomplished for lack of the simplest efforts of self restraint.

Try, out of curiosity, this thought experiment: Go to some social media account, if necessary a directory of phone contacts or some such. Find the 14th person on the list you know, and I guess gender doesn't matter but if it might to you, select the first friend from the 14th that is compatible with your orientation. Now imagine that tomorrow they approached you face to face and said 'Hey, I am in love with you, I want to spend lots of time with you, all the time I can get, have regular sex with you and plan a future together, how do you feel about me?'

Would it freak you out if you received such a proposal from them? I looked at my account, and I'd have to say while I wouldn't be freaked out, I would be quite uncomfortable to try and devise the best way to reject her.

Yet that is direct communication delivered verbally. It isn't an arm thrown around my shoulder in an act of presumed familiarity, it isn't groping my arse on a dancefloor at a party. It isn't sending me photos of genitals to my phone without solicitation. But I suspect, a lot of people would be really uncomfortable with this direct communication, they would perhaps not like being burdened with the information of someone confessing they are in love with you. I also suspect, you like me don't want to live in a world where that level of directness is what is required to engage someone in a possible romantic relationship.

There is a desirable level of ambiguity to be navigated as two people feel eachother out. Miscommunication is bound to happen along the way. Sometimes it may have unfortunate outcomes in terms of some guy or girl feeling heartbroken and disappointed, and sometimes it may have unfortunate outcomes in terms of someone getting harassed or assaulted.

To be clear though, as a guy, I don't have much experience of what it is like to be routinely sexually harassed. I know the fact is that it is pretty bad out there for women. But nobody, nobody is helped by denying there is some ambiguous middle ground where some harassment will likely have to be endured, and some transgressions forgiven. And guys are going to have to accept that it's likely to be a judgement call made by individuals within the situation. This means some guys that had no intention of ever hurting, assaulting, harassing or even making a woman uncomfortable are going to go down for sexual harassment - because in the end intentions don't matter so much as the effects.

The reason I take that stance is because even if you say 'look hugging a woman because she's your friend is fine, that's not sexual harassment.' A bunch of sexual predators are going to take any inch offered by definitions of behavior that is acceptable and run a mile with it, until they feel it's okay to masturbate into a restaurant pot-plant in front of someone because she's your 'friend'.

I am pessimistic that sexual harassment can be eradicated, that it could just be solved with straightforward education and checking your privilege. That the line can be drawn on any surface that isn't running water. That we'll ever live in a world where Greg can wink and it's not harassment but Brad can't wink without creeping someone out.

My point is not that women are responsible for their own harassment, though take it that way if you must. My point is that the material we have to work with in solving this problem, is very low quality stuff. We can only go backwards by pretending that minds are carved in marble, not squishy grey matter that forgets where it parked the car.

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