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How not to creep

John Scalzi has a good post on how not to be creepy, especially (I take it) if you’re a geek.

There are ten rules.

4. Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use. Yes, I know. You know that. But oddly enough, there’s a difference between knowing it, and actually believing it — or understanding what it means in a larger social context. People go to conventions and social gatherings to meet other people, but not necessarily (or even remotely likely) for the purpose of meeting you.

It’s funny, in a way, reading the rules, because I think I must be the inside out of the kind of person who needs to be told all those things. I always simply assume people are not wherever it is for the purpose of meeting me, and that meeting me won’t change that, so I kind of do the opposite of rules 5-10, which are about not touching and not crowding and not boxing in and not trying to be funny and not following and not staying around when people want you to leave. I avoid, and stand far away, and say nothing, and leave.

I exaggerate, but that is my instinct, and my default mode.

 

 

Comments

  1. Samantha Vimes says

    Overall, I’ve had better experiences with geeks– many of whom have the default of “keep back”– as opposed to the non-geeks. In fact, it was at science fiction convention that I first experienced the explicit request for permission to hug. Rather than nonverbal signalling, a lad who I’d had intermittent visits with (he was a volunteer for one of the rooms, so was usually on duty when I came by), asked if a hug would be okay even before standing up. I am a hugger, but I thought it was a considerate thing. It was among geeks I first became comfortable being sexy. I get very tired of the small number of creeps who try to harass and objectify women at cons trying to make it seem like it’s a geek thing, rather than a Patriarchy thing they choose.

  2. says

    My default mode is to assume that I will be an interruption and unwanted intrusion into other people’s lives and fun, so not only do I not go places, I don’t call people.
    And if I have to I end up apologizing until they’re sick of hearing it.

    At which point my original concerns have become justified.

  3. fly44d says

    Yeah, that default mode. Been working on that for 50 years. I am ok with work people, most airport people, friends and most family. The skeptic world is still work in progress. Mainly I think because I feel inadequate to the obviously smarter and more eloquent crowd they are. Harder for me to get comfortable. Of course this irrational and I can’t think of a conversation where it actually went too badly. The nightmare is an elevator ride with Richard Dawkins.

    Liked Scalzi’s article, I think I’m good on most of them. One sounds a bit close, got to watch that!

  4. Kilane says

    > I avoid, and stand far away, and say nothing, and leave.

    I realize you say this is an exaggeration for you but it’s also the way I live my life. We’re not advocating this as the best way, or even a very good way, to live, are we?

    We know that one of the big draws of religion is that it gives people a place congregate and socialize. We need to learn to properly socialize, not avoid socializing.

    It’s like that part in church where you stand up and greet everyone around you. You touch and converse with everyone in your immediate vicinity as part of a sanctioned event. It’s the difference between pews and individual chairs. Sunday morning worship isn’t 100 individuals coming in, listening to a sermon, assuming their unwelcome and leaving. It’s a congregation coming together.

    I’m, of course, only addressing the social aspect of weekly church sessions that atheists have yet to capture. And I don’t believe religion will, or can, be vanquished until we capture that human need to feel like you belong and are wanted.

  5. Albert Bakker says

    Don’t stare.
    Perhaps staring is another one. Looking away quickly when they happen to swing their head in your direction. Can be much harder to avoid or suppress – if conscious of it at all – if certain people are quite captivating, but you are aware you’re not. > From the other side this looks quite possibly rather intimidating after not even that long a while.

    First Impression
    Another one, possibly after exploring the staring thing from every angle until it bores you, is trying to come up in your head with the most original opening line ever said and think of every possible response and then your witty response to that and then how all the rest will just flow from that, how radical you life is going to change and how you are going to make clear in the nicest possible way you want to still buy your own clothes and leave your hair the way it is.
    Now in order to set the plan in motion first busy some ethanol to gather the courage to jump the first hurdle. A bit later after some clearheaded consideration the whole intro thing seems a bit superfluous and besides there is this minuscule chance it might go wrong anyway, you know what? Let’s skip that, avoid that danger, and get right to business. > Now you can go and volunteer for that mission to Mars.

  6. Pen says

    I may tend to fall into the same default mode, but I will say that it’s possible to take it to an extreme of reserve and non-participation as well. There should also be ‘an incomplete guide to not acting like you’re invisible’ for people who have that tendency. They don’t really need the non-creeping guide.

  7. says

    I get the staring thing a lot too, because I’m hearing impaired and need to read lips in crowded noisy places, and my borked hearing always makes me wonder if someone is addressing me, sometimes make me think my name was called by someone.

    I had to stop hanging out in this one little diner where all the servers were young women from the local high school, because I never knew when someone was asking if I wanted more water, or trying to get my attention, etc… so I always glanced toward where the voice was coming from – frequently meeting the eyes of the server and finding that they were NOT addressing me (but they sometimes WERE).

    The glances back at me grew colder and colder until finally I realized that regardless of what *I* was thinking, to them I had become “that creepy staring guy.”

    Stopped going in after that. I tend to avoid most places now unless I’m either known or with someone else.

  8. athyco says

    I spent hours on the CaptainAwkward link in the first comment on that post. It was amazingly good.

  9. Dave says

    Ah, how many times have I been the only person in a crowded room not actively engaged in a conversation…?

    Still, I always remind myself, Britain needs loofs.

  10. Lyanna says

    Samantha Vimes (awesome pseud by the way!): I agree, and I think your comment highlights something important.

    Apologists for creeps and Nice Guys always whine about how “socially awkward” people end up being “creep-shamed” and it’s NO FAIR because how ELSE are they supposed to learn how to interact with women if we’re not willing to be their mommies and guinea pigs, and women who complain about harassment need to be more tolerant of the “socially awkward”…

    …well, women are often “socially awkward,” too. And harassment can be particularly hard to deal with for shy, reserved or socially maladroit women. It was for me. My instinct is to be shy and/or reserved. My instinct is like Ophelia’s.

    Harassment freaked me the hell out, for all the obvious reasons, but also because I felt like I had no right to be freaked out, like if I were a more extraverted person I would be okay with this behavior. And then, once I came to the realization that the behavior was just unacceptable, I still blamed myself for not being able to handle it smoothly, the way the charming witty confident woman in my head handled it.

  11. says

    @ 7 –

    It’s like that part in church where you stand up and greet everyone around you. You touch and converse with everyone in your immediate vicinity as part of a sanctioned event. It’s the difference between pews and individual chairs. Sunday morning worship isn’t 100 individuals coming in, listening to a sermon, assuming their unwelcome and leaving. It’s a congregation coming together.

    Yeah see that doesn’t appeal to me. At all. (Unless they’re all already friends.) I wouldn’t want to do that at an airport (for instance), so why would I want to do it in church? Well because the church gives us something in common. But does it? And even if it does, is that scenario really appealing? Not to me.

  12. Default Modest says

    Hmmm. “Default mode” has always been my “fault mode” it seems, and shyness certainly played a part. After many years I ran into an old school acquaintance who let on that this had mostly been interpreted as standoffish arrogance….

  13. John the Drunkard says

    Of course, rigid ‘gaze avoidance’ is pretty creepy also. Geeks, whether ‘nice guys’ or not, are still teachable even if socially feral.

    Sociopaths and wet drunks are not teachable. Indeed they are often indistinguishable. It isn’t a ‘privilege’ to NOT be Ted Bundy or …hmm Charles Bukowski? Still, those who aren’t operating on those terms need to recognise the existence of those who do.

  14. jimmy60 says

    I would add to the list – avoid alcohol.

    Seriously, if you struggle with this stuff having a clear, sober brain will be a big help.

    Alcohol frequently turns normal people into creepy assholes. Don’t be that person.

  15. says

    @Lyanna, I’m trying to imagine how I can engage your comment at #14 without falling into the trap of being an apologist for creeps.

    I can only say from experience that geek culture has a history of being a safe place for a lot of very damaged, and very lonely people. People who were heavily bullied merely for their awkwardness and then further bullied for their chosen means of escape. A lot of the people there are going to end up on the creep scale thru absolutely no fault of their own. They will have trouble relating to others because historically their attempts to do so have been met with mockery, derision and betrayal. And the surrounding culture has until very recently been remarkably ok with that.

    You are absolutely right, there is an undercurrent of privileged sexism coming from the folks you talk about. I don’t want to be those guys. But at the same time it feels like we have decided it ok to deploy geek shaming as a defensive weapon in this fight and a lot of these folks are victims enough already.

  16. says

    Samantha Vimes:

    I get very tired of the small number of creeps who try to harass and objectify women at cons trying to make it seem like it’s a geek thing, rather than a Patriarchy thing they choose.

    This is No True Geek™.

    Geeks collectively aren’t any better than the rest of society. That was true long before “the mundanes” started joining. Google “Walter Breen” (TW child molestation). It wasn’t just Breen and Bradley, either; it was their friends who made excuses for them.

    The whole “We are Geekdom, we’re so special” attitude needs to die already.

    Kilane:

    We need to learn to properly socialize, not avoid socializing.

    Speak for yourself. I don’t enjoy being around most people in general, I don’t want strangers or acquaintances touching me without my permission, and I don’t like it when extroverts assume that I should or I’m somehow “broken.”

    Jimmy60, let’s not do the puritanical thing of blaming alcohol, okay? It doesn’t “turn normal people into creepy assholes.” It lifts inhibitions, so that “normal” people who were hiding their creepitude stop hiding it.

    Lou Doensch: “Geek-shaming”?! No. Really, no. The persecution complex of geeks absolutely drives me up the wall.

    Also:

    It takes a lot of social skill to develop a set of behaviours which are both threatening to the recipients and innocuous to disinterested bystanders. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to perform these behaviours in a public setting on a regular basis without drawing attention to oneself. Choosing your victim is a skill which takes practice and social awareness. So does choosing your friends in order to be believed when you tell people you’re very, very sorry and it won’t happen again (or at least, not until your friends have forgotten the last time).

    Serial harassers aren’t socially awkward. If they were socially awkward, they wouldn’t be the menace they are. On the contrary, they’re socially skilled, socially competent, and well practiced in what they’re doing. They know where the lines are, and they’re adept at walking them. They have enough empathy to figure out what’s going to upset their victim, and enough callous self-interest not to care.

  17. Lyanna says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter is absolutely right.

    Lou:

    A lot of the people there are going to end up on the creep scale thru absolutely no fault of their own.

    No. Sorry. I don’t care how bullied you were for liking Dungeons and Dragons–if you can’t listen to a verbal “No,” or if you don’t notice when someone repeatedly makes attempts to get way from you, that’s on you. You need to learn.

  18. says

    Daisy, I think I was up front in saying that this is an emotional issue for me. I barely made it out of the bullied phase of my life alive, I had friends who didn’t. Thanks for the link.

  19. says

    Yeah, Lou, and girls are nevar bullied. Because the only girls that geeks notice (and, of course, all geeks are boys) are the haaawwwt popular ones. Never the awkward, fat, homely, disabled, etc. etc. ones.

    I dealt with plenty of bullying and I’ve lost friends to suicide. You have my sympathies on those issues. You do not get to use them to excuse sexist behavior.

  20. says

    Lyanna, I absolutely agree with you. I’m not trying to minimize that at all. I after all eventually did learn, mostly because I met a lot of people in the geek community who helped me. I also notice that “i don’t care how bullied you were” is a common thread here and I think that’s part of the problem and that’s why I bring up.

  21. Happiestsadist says

    Wow, I was raised a girl, still am a geek and also nearly killed myself because of the bullying. Then I grew the fuck up, and realized all the things about being a geek are actually massive, massive privileges. I also somehow don’t use it to sexually harass or assault people.

  22. says

    @Daisy, I’m not trying to excuse sexist behavior. If that is the way it sounds I apologize. My bad communicating. I’m just trying to relate to this issue through the “there but for the grace of god go I” lens, which is really the only one available to me.

  23. says

    I’m sorry folks. You guys are right, I’m reacting emotionally and defensively when I should be listening. I’m letting my own experience cloud my judgement. Long day of chasing the Hellions around not exactly helping my mood.

  24. Lyanna says

    Thanks for acknowledging it, Lou, and I do understand–geeks are bullied.

    I think what you might not be understanding, though, is that “I don’t care how much you’re bullied” just means “it’s not an excuse.” It doesn’t mean “bullying isn’t a problem.” It is indeed a problem; in fact, it’s THE problem, because sexual harassment is bullying.

  25. Kilane says

    Yeah see that doesn’t appeal to me. At all. (Unless they’re all already friends.) I wouldn’t want to do that at an airport (for instance), so why would I want to do it in church? Well because the church gives us something in common. But does it? And even if it does, is that scenario really appealing? Not to me.

    Ya, and I felt awkward when it happened too. We have to realize that people, as a group, like it. Shaking the hands of people around you, saying hi to strangers, greeting strangers warmly etc.

    I don’t believe we should codify anti-social behavior. I am anti-social. You are anti-social. The atheist movement is anti-social. I think we should recognize that this turns off a large segment of the population and try to be more social instead of trying to force anti-social behavior on everyone else.

    I’m not saying people should be creeps. I merely think it is a worthwhile goal to help people be okay with shaking a strangers hand instead of forcing people to ask permission to move within arm length of someone.

    3 short examples from the linked article:

    That is, let them initiate any physical contact and let them set the pace of that contact when or if they do — and accept that that there’s a very excellent chance no touch is forthcoming.

    So 2 people are okay with touching. The first should wait for the 2nd to initiate to make sure it’s okay. But the 2nd can’t initiate because they need to wait for the first to initiate. In other words, any touching is banned no matter your personal feelings on the matter, if you don’t want to be a creeper that is.

    Hold your arm straight out in front of your body. Where your fingertips are? That’s a nice minimum distance for someone you’re meeting or don’t know particularly well

    in other words: If you’re within 3 feet of another, you’re a creeper. That’s the message we’re sending. Literally every conversation I have with people I could reach out and touch them if I desired.

    Before you reply “that’s only if you don’t really know the person”, we’re talking about conventions here. No one knows anyone well within a weekend. Conventions are about strangers gathering and connecting, that’s the entire point.

    If you interject in the conversation people avoid following up on what you’ve said. […] You’re not wanted. When that happens, here’s what you do: Go away.

    Really?
    Maybe it was a badly timed comment, maybe it was overly complex and people don’t want to discuss that right now, or a million other perfectly normal reasons 1 off comments are ignored when 5 people are holding a conversation amongst themselves. Instead we make everyone self conscious any time there isn’t immediate followup on their contribution to a conversation.

    These examples is so far over the top I don’t know how people come up with them. I’m not advocating group orgies here, just a little recognition that stuff like this turns off a lot of people of the atheist movement. It’s stuff like this that keeps us from penetrating many social circles.

  26. says

    I work in a retail store, in sales, and what I’ve noticed about personal space is that some – usually aggressive or occasionally creepy – people refuse to take the hint when you are literally backing up from them and they keep moving into your space again. I would say the reasonable amount of space to give a new acquaintance is such that you could shake hands easily but would have to move closer to initiate a hug – it’s reasonable unless they are backing up to be close enough to put a hand out and reach them at arm’s length in some situations (depending on the environment and surroundings) but not to be close enough to put an arm across a shoulder without moving.

  27. Kilane says

    I wholeheartedly agree, Deborah. The person walking up to someone for a conversation moves to what they think is reasonable and person 2 then adjusts if person 1 is too close. Person 1 does not readjust.

    Proper distance has been achieved.

  28. says

    Kilane #32:

    I don’t believe we should codify anti-social behavior. I am anti-social. You are anti-social. The atheist movement is anti-social. I think we should recognize that this turns off a large segment of the population and try to be more social instead of trying to force anti-social behavior on everyone else.

    Hey, asshole, learn what terms mean before you throw them around. You’ve just claimed that atheists are all or mostly sociopaths.

  29. says

    Kilane #32, part two:

    I’m not saying people should be creeps. I merely think it is a worthwhile goal to help people be okay with shaking a strangers hand instead of forcing people to ask permission to move within arm length of someone.

    Hey, asshole, not everyone is you and not everyone has the same comfort level as you. That doesn’t mean you need to have consent forms signed in triplicate and handed to the local Socialization Overlord in order to say hello to someone.

    You’re hyperbolically creepsplaining, to the same lengths as Thunderf00l. Knock it off.

  30. Kilane says

    You felt the need to call someone an asshole twice within 7 minutes because of a simple disagreement.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say you need to work on your social skills.

  31. Kilane says

    That doesn’t mean you need to have consent forms signed in triplicate and handed to the local Socialization Overlord in order to say hello to someone.

    I didn’t say that. I quoted a portion of the linked article which says you’re a creeper if you don’t stay within arms length of a new acquaintance. I quoted it, you can go to the article yourself to see it.

    That doesn’t mean you need to have consent forms signed in triplicate and handed to the local Socialization Overlord in order to say hello to someone.

    Pot, meet kettle.

  32. says

    And yes, I had the same thoughts about the same points in the article. Excessive. Arms’ length? No; excessive.

    And the advice about not trying to join discussions was downright bad, I thought. I should have said so in the post.

    Surely joining discussions is usually the point? Unless you really are a known harasser? In which case joining discussions is the least of your problems…

    I think joining discussions is usually the point, and it’s not always instantly easy, especially in the early stages when lots of people don’t know lots of people. You have to be a little bit persistent and awkward if you’re going to do it at all, and if you’re not going to do it at all why go?

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