Rules for Gentlemen


Actually, the Rules for Gentlemen are the same as they’ve always been, but unfortunately, there has been one major change: all the get-out-of-jail-free cards have been cancelled. Rendered null and void. Deleted. They aren’t making any more. If you try waving one, it’ll just make you look more corrupt — what made you ever think you deserved an exemption?

So I’m going to be specific. We don’t get to make these excuses ever again.

  • The autistic/mentally ill exemption. Ugh. Gross. Do not ever pull a James Damore and blame your bad behavior and ignorance on autism. Autism doesn’t turn you into an asshole. Neither does mental illness. You don’t get to drag down a lot of innocent people with you and increase their stigma to save your butt.

  • We men are such lovable klutzes. Wrong. Pretending to be ignorant of the rules of normal human behavior isn’t lovable at all. Especially since 5 minutes after you beg unawareness of how to do laundry and complain about the impossibility of navigating the complex social mores of interacting with feeemales, you’re going to hop on the internet and brag about how your sex includes Alexander the Great, Gutenberg, and the guy who invented http among its members.

  • It’s our Man Genes. Nope. There are no such things as Man Genes that dictate your behavior. From the raw material of our genetics, society constructed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, and Nelson Mandela. People are complicated and your naive reductionism is noted and dismissed as stupid.

  • The she-was-a-slut excuse. The grossest. It doesn’t matter if she posed for Playboy, had sex with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was standing naked in front of you coated in lube — if she says no, if she doesn’t give consent, you don’t have an invitation to demand so much as a kiss. Her sexual history does not give you liberty to take liberties. I don’t understand why, but this seems to be extraordinarily hard for some people to grasp.

  • But it was only once! It’s never only once. But even if it was that miraculously solitary, incredibly rare, unusual exception of an event, it doesn’t matter. The harm was done. We don’t get permission to run a stop light just once, or to commit murder just once — you don’t get a crime punchcard that lets you off the hook once for each error of judgment.

  • The punishment is too severe. All right, I sort of sympathize with this one — we seem to find ourselves in a world where the only choices are “look the other way” or “nuke it from orbit”, with no gradations in between. But the problem is…we built that world. We looked the other way for everything shy of cannibal baby rape, and our failure to respond to constant escalation of harassment means we haven’t created an appropriate social response to all those intermediate offenses. We put off paying the prices for millennia, and it’s all finally coming due.

  • OK, but I’ll get to pick my penance. Sneaky. You’ll request an ethics review of your actions. By your peers. Who are almost all men. Who include a majority of Republicans. It is very brave to be willing to abide by their judgment, when you know the outcome will be a pat on the back, apologies for dragging you through this process, and uninterrupted resumption of your privilege. Christ, we saw Jeff Sessions glide through his pro forma hearing, suffering only a little finger wagging and ending up…still the attorney general of the whole goddamned United States.

Got it, gentlemen? Pull out your wallet and dump out all those cards granting you exemptions, splash them with a wee bit of your whisky, and set them on fire. You can sit back and sip the remainder of the bottle while weeping — that’s fine. You probably feel naked and vulnerable now, just like everyone else. It’s extremely uncomfortable.

Maybe we can start from scratch and build more equitable principles for dealing with others that gives all of us some protection.

Comments

  1. Desert Son, OM says

    Thank you for this one, PZ.

    I tried to post similar in a different forum I visit and was met with mockery, as well as intimations that I’m somehow dropping the ball and allowing the GOP and the “administration” (quotes intentional) to get away with all sorts of terrible stuff because I’ve been duped by Russian disinformation, as if people can only focus on one thing.

    So, I’ve fled those particular digital reaches for the week, and stopped by to say thanks for this post.

    Hope this finds you and yours well and delightfully surprised by something beautiful.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  2. screechymonkey says

    After reading that Guardian article on Damore, I would add to your list:
    “But my feminist girlfriend approves of me!”

    On the autism thing, Damore seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it, too. The author claims he isn’t using autism as an excuse, but the article is still replete with quotes such as “[h]e believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people.”

    Huh. Seems like that might be an important skill for a senior engineer who leads a team. If I employed Damore-logic, I would say that since “high-functioning” autism is often undiagnosed and/or undisclosed to employers as in Damore’s case, and is more common in men, we should expect to see fewer men in positions of management, or really anything where communication is an important skill. Hey, I’m just talking about statistical tendencies here, not particular cases, I’m sure some men are perfectly capable of being CEOs.

  3. zibble says

    You’ll request an ethics review of your actions. By your peers. Who are almost all men. Who include a majority of Republicans.

    Is this regarding Al Franken?

    Are you suggesting that Republicans wouldn’t try to end a Democrat’s career over immoral behavior they themselves are guilty of?

  4. silverfeather says

    Actually, the Rules for Gentlemen are the same as they’ve always been, but unfortunately, there has been one major change: all the get-out-of-jail-free cards have been cancelled. Rendered null and void. Deleted. They aren’t making any more.

    I so much wish that this was true…
    Unfortunately I’m watching the people who should have been allies in this #metoo moment throw principle away for party and what they think is political expediency. It seems all the “gentlemen” might want to just hold on tight to their get-out-of-jail-free cards for a while – their regularly scheduled disgusting status quo should fully resume shortly.

  5. says

    I agree with all of this, and have a few things to add.

    Mental illness and developmental disorders can and do affect behavior. Thing is, most people with such conditions, even if they can’t get it quite right, they try to behave appropriately and don’t use it as an excuse to harm others.

    Ignorance of the… okay, you know what? I don’t get humans. I don’t get the social nuances and weird rules about what is and isn’t socially acceptable. But even I can understand basic concepts like “respect people’s boundaries” and “don’t be creepy”.

    The idea that fairly well-socialized people who should damn well know better are “ignorant” is just laughable.

  6. gijoel says

    80s Ur-hipster Morrissey has defended Weinstein and Spacey, claiming rape claims are too broad these days

  7. says

    screechymonkey@#2:
    “[h]e believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people.”

    Well, you know men don’t communicate as well as women; that’s pretty clear.

  8. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    You’ll request an ethics review of your actions. By your peers. Who are almost all men. Who include a majority of Republicans.

    Is this regarding Al Franken?
    Are you suggesting that Republicans wouldn’t try to end a Democrat’s career over immoral behavior they themselves are guilty of?

    I’d say its a virtual certainty that a whole bunch of them have similar skellingtons in their closets, and they are far more likely to close rank and defend the old boys club. The familiar old frenemy across the aisle is preferable to the angry hordes of hurt women who are starting to realize they don’t have to keep silent anymore.

  9. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Unfortunately I’m watching the people who should have been allies in this #metoo moment throw principle away for party and what they think is political expediency.

    I’m sorry to hear that.

    Where might it have happened?

  10. Crudely Wrott says

    Entirely proper and way overdue. One could be forgiven for thinking that “you’d think we’d have learned by now” but there’s a reason that we have come to say that old habits are mighty tough to break. Specifically, old habits that become normalized and worse, that very normalization concentrates power in the hands of some while stealing power from the rest.
    And now, dogdammit, Charlie Rose! Shit! I had always regarded him so positively.
    *shakes head, sighs deeply*

  11. latsot says

    Autism doesn’t turn you into an asshole.

    No it does not and autism should never be used as an excuse. Having said that, I want to share an anecdote which has a point (honestly) at the end (in fact two of them! Helpfully labeled as such in case the post is too long to read!) The anecdote is based only on my observation of one person and without any medical or autism-specific expertise. It might appear toward the end that I’m advocating autism as an excuse, but I’m not.

    I know a young man with autism who turned 18 this year. His particular variety of autism doesn’t prevent him from social interaction but it is clear that he often misses context in conversation. It would seem a little to strange to people who don’t know him (I’ve known him all his life so it’s easier for me). I try to help him out by supplying bits of context without (hopefully) being patronising, but of course that doesn’t happen most of the time.

    This means that even though he’s quite confident in talking to people, he can come across – especially among people around his own age – as being ‘a bit weird’. He has friends but not many.

    But while his autism isn’t (comparatively) severe in that area, it is in others. In particular, he becomes very frustrated, often very quickly at what he sees as his own failings (such as conversations that went wrong) and what he sees as betrayal or unfairness. He often acts violently when this happens and although as far as he knows he has never carried out any of these acts, he has threatened (very credibly) to kill the family dog, himself, or to physically attack his mother.

    He has been absolutely desperate for a girlfriend for several years but this hasn’t happened yet, likely because of his apparent slight strangeness in conversation with people who don’t know him well. He has a tendency to consider women who treat him nicely as practically his girlfriend almost immediately, as he seems to have no reliable way of making that judgement. If she subsequently becomes romantically involved with someone else, he sees that as a huge betrayal by her and her love interest. It has often been on occasions like these that he’s had violent incidents. As far as I know, these have never been directed toward the woman or the other party, usually to himself, the dog or his mother.

    Clearly, this is a combination that could potentially end badly for all concerned, perhaps resulting in inappropriate, obsessive, harassing behaviour or even violence, but he finds it incredibly difficult to not set himself up for the fall or to greatly overreact when it happens. And that’s the part that might make you think I’m defending autism as an excuse.

    It is not, even in his case. A key reason that it is not is his mother. Since he first became interested in girls she has been drilling him on trying to refine his sense of socially acceptable behaviour and impulse control in that particular area. In particular, she has drilled him to stop and think about what a statement might actually mean, that he might have missed or misinterpreted some of the context, that he might be misleading himself. She’s also taught him to question his own words and actions with particular care in those sorts of interactions. Is this an appropriate thing to say? Was her reaction different to what I ought to expect? That kind of thing.

    None of this is perfect and while I think he’ll find it easier over time, he’s always going to find it much more difficult than most of us. He’s always going to have to work much harder and thanks to the toolkit his mother has given him, he knows which areas he needs to work on and can hopefully achieve his goal without hurting himself or anyone else.

    So this is the first point: he knows he can’t excuse bad – and especially abusive – behaviour by invoking his autism because he has been taught so exhaustively by his mother. What she’s taught him might not always prevent inappropriate behaviour but he knows he can’t use it as an excuse. He knows that if he does ever act inappropriately, the correct course of action is a careful and sincere apology, no matter how much it costs him personally.

    This is the second point: I dread to think what would happen to someone with a similar variety of autism if they were brought up by someone who is themself an abuser or harasser or even someone just exhibiting the common-or-garden kind of entitled masculinity we see around us every day in every direction.

    We do have to make concessions to a degree for people who find stuff like this so much harder than the rest of us do. But we also need to make sure they have the tools they need to protect themselves and the people around them.

  12. lumipuna says

    Damore is apparently suing Google because they fired him without warning. If that’s true, it seems odd that either nobody reported him to the HR or the HR didn’t warn him.

    I mean, HR not responding to sexism complaints is a cliche, but these tech giants are also said to be generally fire-happy with sexual harassers. If they fire people without warning over hostile workplace issues, is that normal or legal?

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Re Franken @3 and @8
    At this point it really looks like “distraction” technique. Getting the “Libs” to chew up their own champion rather than have them focus on the Rethuglican slimes. Franken stepped forward, saying essentially, “ take your best shot, all creeps need consequences even myself for incidental transgression. Here I am”. Completely the opposite of what the Thuglicans are saying about Mooreslime, who has a long list, pattern of behavior and not an isolated singular instance of creeping.
    Franken is being used as a deflection technique

  14. says

    You probably feel naked and vulnerable now…

    Based on what we know now of many of these men, feeling naked is far from feeling vulnerable. Yes, I’m deliberately trying not to look directly at Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Charlie Rose.

  15. dhabecker says

    So what is the punishment? One size fits all? Fire every man from his job if a woman accuses him of grabbing her butt; or merely brushes against her? Or leers? Which of the actions being reported is an actual crime? Inappropriate touching of a 14 year old by an adult? Probably. Touching a breast a bit too early in a consensual relationship of same aged people? (J-Lo (?) turning her back to the audience, bending over, and shaking her absolutely lovely ass for the whole world to see would have been a crime not so long ago, and probably still is in some countries. (And is it distasteful to describe her bottom in such a way? Could I say it to her face?))
    Having Franken removed from the senate for latest disclosures seems too much.
    I give credit to most men that once is is probably true. One slap or lecture has the ability to straightened up a lot of guys. Limits are not always intuitive, but learned.
    Universal condemnation of every incident is not the answer.

  16. Curious Digressions says

    Hey, thanks @latsot. I’m parenting a boy with autism and similar issues around developing inappropriately close immediate attachments. He doesn’t get violent when “rejected”, but is absolutely crushed. It’s reassuring to hear that another person has navigated and continues to successfully navigate the problem. My expectation of him and, as far as I can tell, his expectations of himself are to respect other people’s boundaries. He often needs to be directly taught social cues that other kids pick up by osmosis. However, I think that a lot of kids, boys in particular, could use the same direct instruction. It absolutely stinks that he’ll always have to work harder than someone without his challenges to meet social expectations, but that doesn’t excuse hurtful or unsafe behavior.

    Providing latitude for disabilities, mental illness, autism, etc, is reasonable for things that don’t hurt other people. If the kid needs to stim, flap his hands, or do something that’s generally weird to stay present, that doesn’t hurt anyone. It should get some accommodation and not be held against him. If the behavior harasses or hurts someone, that’s not acceptable.

  17. screechymonkey says

    lumipuni @12,

    Damore is apparently suing Google because they fired him without warning.

    Technically, he’s filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, not a suit in state or federal court. Unless something has changed since his original filing, the legal theory Damore is relying on is not the lack of a warning, but rather a provision of the National Labor Relations Act that protects speech about “workplace conditions.” This article explains some of it.

    I mean, HR not responding to sexism complaints is a cliche, but these tech giants are also said to be generally fire-happy with sexual harassers.

    They are? That would be news to me. I mean, bigger companies are more likely to take action than start-ups (among other reasons, they’re more likely to have a professional HR department), but in general the tech industry is not renowned for leading on these issues.

    If they fire people without warning over hostile workplace issues, is that normal or legal?

    Hard to say what is normal, because these things are really case-specific. Yeah, I suspect that overall, being fired for a “first offense” is rare, but then, most first offenses aren’t lengthy written manifestos transmitted to the entire company.

    Legal? Well, putting aside the NLRA issue that Damore is pursuing, remember that generally speaking, employment at a private company is at-will in California, and you aren’t entitled to any “due process” or warnings unless you have an individual contract or a collective bargaining agreement that says otherwise. It’s generally legal to fire someone for any reason — or no reason at all — other than certain proscribed reasons (i.e. because of their race, gender, or other protected characteristic).

    Of course, as a practical matter, companies will often issue warnings and other forms of progressive disciplinary action before termination, because of some combination of (1) they prefer not to fire people if they can avoid it (it’s costly to have to hire and train a replacement, bad for morale of other employees, and just plain unpleasant on a personal level); and (2) it makes for a better record if the (eventually) fired person sues claiming that your stated reason was pretextual and the real reason for termination was unlawful — then it’s really helpful to be able to show a documented history of violations of policy that less drastic measures were unable to stop.

  18. lumipuna says

    Thanks for clarification, screechymonkey.

    I should have noted that the Guardian article mentions that Damore did get some harsh feedback from colleagues. If he ignored that, it’s very possible he’d have ignored a formal warning anyway.

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