23 August 2012

...but I'm a creep... maybe?

CreepThere's been a lot about creepers lately in fandom - the most recent ones I linked to from my twitter account being Jim Hines' sexual harassment policy, John Scalzi's Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping, and Captain Awkward's post about clearing up a case of "Creepy Dude". And perhaps most importantly for me, was Scalzi's tangental personal note.

Because when you read some of the accounts of creepers, it's easy to point and say that's not me, that's some other guy.  Telling women to expose themselves?  Snuggling up to someone else's girlfriend while they're drunk?  Oh, hell no.  Much to my girlfriend's amused annoyance after-the-fact, I spent a few hours at a recent convention basically keeping two of that kind of creeper away from a drunk young woman.

But after reading Scalzi's tangental personal note, I went back and re-read, and suddenly it doesn't seem so other anymore.  I'm now kinda paranoid about times that others might have seen me as a creeper.1 

The links above give a great starting point.  Extrapolating from them pretty much fills in most of the gaps, yet I'm left with three questions... and I'm guessing that if I have these questions, other guys will as well.2
  1. What is a good way to let someone know they're free to call me on my own crap without making it seem like I'm making them responsible for my bad behavior (see Scalzi #3)?
  2. If I suspect or know that I came off as a creeper, should I apologize, or just stop bothering the person?  Does that change if we're friends now, but I came across as a creeper in the past?
  3. What are some good cognitive strategies to overcome Potential Creeper Moments?  Is simply deferring and minimizing intial contact the best strategy, or are there other things that can work?

I'm really not sure how to answer these myself, but at Jim's urging, I'll take a stab at it. (So it's rambling a bit - but there's a concrete bit at the end.)

I spent some time talking about this at GenCon with Barbara Webb and Desiree Garcia. Interestingly, simply talking about the Readercon issues was a good way to broach the topic with others, so that helped with #1. There was a ready-made segue by talking about the problem (and the draft version of this post!) in a kind of meta-discussion that provided some distance that otherwise wouldn't be there. But that isn't going to be a solution for that much longer.

The (half-joking) idea of using "red flags" and "green flags" came up - clear, unambiguous signals of "I'm interested" or "Back off". It was funny - especially when the idea of developing "flirting semaphore" was floated... :)

Later in the discussion, when Ms. Garcia and myself talked about how each of us had difficulties both reading signals and managing what signals we were sending.3 And as we talked about other things, each of us provided feedback to the other about what it looked like. "Hey, that thing you did? It totally looked like you were flirting with me." And she'd say "RED FLAG! RED FLAG!" and we'd laugh. Because we'd started the conversation with very clear expectations (that there were none and we were simply providing mutual feedback), it made the whole experience a lot less threatening to anyone's ego or sense of self-esteem. Again, this was a near-unique situation for me, so I'm not sure how this can be generalized out to help other people... because asking if someone is flirting with you pretty much guarantees that if they were, they're not going to be after you ask that question. (Am I wrong with that assumption? Women, please weigh in here!)

_ Creep _That discussion also gave me some clues to #2. Even with all the meta-discussion, clear expectations, and other safeguards, women in USAian culture are trained to show appeasement strategies when they feel threatened. A forceful or aggressive response might escalate the behavior (for an academic example, see this thesis paper).

With that in mind, it's a safe bet that simply apologizing immediately after you think you came across as a creeper is at best going to get you a skewed response: "Oh, no, no, you weren't being creepy." With "not being creepy" as the highest priority here, apologize once, and then go. If necessary, tell the other person that you feel uncomfortable about how you behaved, and need time to recalibrate. Offer to let them decide when and where to connect with you again (or not) - business or calling cards are great for that.

Number three is the trickiest, especially at conventions. I do have quite a few "con-friends" - people that I see and connect deeply with at conventions, but not frequently outside of that setting. Especially if you're "interested interested" in someone, the idea of waiting a day or two between interactions may be effectively the same as saying "I'm not interested".

But I think the idea of business or calling cards might help there as well, just as they do when making business connections.

When you're first meeting someone who you're interested in doing business with, you introduce yourself, say one or two things nice, ask if you may give them your card, and then say something like, "I don't want to take up too much of your time right now" and exit stage left. That gives the other person the information needed to contact you (via the card) to continue the interaction later and provides them with the opportunity to lengthen the interaction at that time if they wish.

The whole thing should look like this:

M: "Hi, I'm sorry if I'm interrupting."
F: "Yes? Hello..."
M: "Hi, my name is _____________. I just wanted to say that I really [liked your book | love your movies | think your shirt is cool | etc]."
F: "Oh, thanks!"
M: "Yeah, [follow-up statement about item above]. Anyway, I'm sure you're busy now, but may I give you my card if you're free and maybe want to chat later?"
F [option one]: "Yeah, I'm meeting some friends, but thanks!" [M exits]
F [option two]: "I'm not busy now, or you could come along to dinner with us." [M goes to dinner]

Yeah, it's a bit socially unusual and a bit formal. But that's not a bad thing - I know a guy who attracts far more attention than you'd expect by being a bit more formal (and old-fashioned) than you'd expect. You stand out. And more to the point, it helps keep you from being a creeper.

Again, I'm wrestling with these ideas and trying to figure out solutions. Your comments, critiques, and questions are ENCOURAGED here.

What do you think?


1 Doesn't matter if their perception of me was accurate or not; I'm concerned that I made other people uncomfortable. Period.
2 "I" is used instead of the pronoun "one" in these questions.
3 My girlfriend has informed me after-the-fact both that I was being flirted with and that I was flirting... and I was clueless about both.

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