5 Tips For Preventing Sexual Harassment We Apparently Need
Recently, a male friend of mine found out that females had been fleeing his gaming group because someone whom he thought was a harmless goof had been pulling some really creepy shit. This male friend, who we'll call "Clark," seemed blindsided by this. After all, he had a non-harassment policy in place (for what I'm going to say was a Candyland League to protect real people's privacy) and would've swiftly punted any creepers had he known.
"Why didn't I know?" he asked. "What could I have done differently?"
Well, Clark, for starters ...
Never Give Out A Friend's Phone Number Or Address
While I'd personally suspected McCreepy was a giant sleaze, I didn't know for sure until I got a late-night dick pic which he claimed he'd sent "by mistake." Like, maybe he'd found a urologist who'd do exams via text message, and my name was right next to theirs on his contacts list? He apologized profusely when I didn't immediately offer to dash over to play with his sad little piccolo, but I wasn't exactly surprised to later find out that he'd sent so many unsolicited crotch snaps to various women that he seemed to own a dick-mounted selfie stick.
"Yeah, I gave him your number," Clark told me later, "but in my defense, he said it was for a totally legitimate, non-penis-related matter. Am I supposed to just assume every guy I meet is a pervert?" Well, no, because some women are creepy perverts too, and most guys don't even know what iPhone filter goes best with a half-chub. But no matter how nice a person seems, never ever give them someone else's cell number, email, home address, children's names, or tragic backstory without permission.
Try using the $5,000 rule. As in, would you lend this same person $5,000? You know, because they gave you a ride home once and sometimes bring donuts to game night? Of course you wouldn't, because having cleared the bar for everyday common courtesy a few times doesn't suddenly qualify them for a loan. Well, now imagine a world in which your friends' personal safety is more valuable to you than $5,000.
Don't Ever Leave Someone Alone With Somebody Who Makes Them Uncomfortable
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Don't ever make someone spend time alone with someone -- male or female -- who creeps them out. But this weird miscommunication thing kept happening around the Candyland circuit. Women would say things like, "McCreepy makes me uncomfortable. Please don't ever partner me with him or leave me alone with him." Clark would hear women saying that, but the message would get passed through this "It Can't Be That Bad" filter that even well-meaning men seem to have. He figured that all the women really needed him to do was have a quiet man-to-man with McCreepy (OK ...), remind him of the non-harassment policy (good ...), believe him when he said it was all a big misunderstanding (uh, no ...), and then figure it would be then fine to forget the whole "not alone" part of what the women had said. (Oh dear god, no!)
Sure, he'd pay a bit of extra attention to the guy for a few days to make sure he had gotten the message. But then he'd consider the matter sorted and totally forget not to send McCreepy to pick one of those women up for him when he was running late, or he'd suddenly leave her to lock up alone without even realizing the slimeball might be waiting by her car.
This was not a conspiracy between predators. One flaw in good people is that they can't fully grasp that other people are bad. Clark probably did think a stern talking-to solved the problem, because if the roles were reversed, it totally would have! Clark would have been mortified to be on the other end of that talk. The only way Clark would do what McCreepy did is by accident, so to him, that explanation makes perfect sense. The idea that a true creep knows to repress his grabby tendencies for a few weeks before going full tentacles again would never have crossed the mind of an honorable guy like Clark.
But here's the end result of Clark's well-meaning attempt to manage the situation: Women learned not to even try talking to him the next time McCreepster went full grabby, figuring their only options were to suffer in silence or leave. Clark would surely be repulsed at getting lumped in as part of the problem and would swear he hates that the women feel that way, but none of those feelings change the outcome.
The thing is, it actually takes a huge amount of effort to protect people, because predators plan their whole lives around these opportunities. There are creeps who literally chose their careers based on who it'd let them be alone with. I've known people -- both guys and girls -- who've carefully arranged a night out and everyone's transportation in just such a way so that they'd wind up alone with the (drunk) person they wanted to make a move on.
So what the women needed was for Clark to not neglect that basic level of protective shit. Save her a seat before he can slide his slimy ass beside her. Offer to walk her to the bus. Show up where and when he said he would. Have her back while she figures out what she wants to do about it, and don't make a hard situation any harder for her than it already is. If she told you she was allergic to shellfish, you wouldn't hand her a Delights from Under the Sea sandwich and expect her to pick all the prawns out of the mayonnaise, no matter how stern a conversation you'd already had with it.
Notice How Others React To His "Jokes"
This particular sleaze loved joking about just how funny it would be to toss certain people in the trunk of his car, beat them unconscious, and rape their comatose bodies. If/when Clark laughed at those jokes, it wasn't because he thinks rape is funny; it's because he assumes the speaker is, like him, the furthest thing from a rapist imaginable. That's the joke, right?
To be clear, rape jokes can be really funny if done right. I'm not about to say that anyone who makes those jokes is secretly pro-rape. I am saying that people who are pro-rape sure do like their rape jokes. The fact that it makes the target uncomfortable is part of the thrill -- it's a power play.
Some people use humor to target and isolate people, like a scraggly hyena that knows the only way it's going to get a gazelle is if it manages to separate it from the herd. In cases like these, nobody wants to be the humorless buzzkill -- the jokester can actually play victim because the offended ruined the mood. ("Oh, that's not funny? Then maybe you could explain to me why other people were laughing.") Maybe he can even talk her into meeting up later so he can "apologize."
So if a friend tells you that some guy's humor makes her feel uncomfortable, no matter how funny you think he is, maybe don't laugh at his jokes about raping and killing her. Even if she doesn't actually tell you that, maybe take notice if she's the only one in the room not laughing at the joke, and don't just interpret that as her being outvoted.
Don't Judge Victims For "Leading Him On"
There's an amazing video about how assaulting people with hot tea is wrong. As in, just because you're totally down for drinking tea doesn't give someone the right to pour it down your throat if you change your mind. The point is that sex is like tea -- it's either too damn hot or too lukewarm and milky, and the British have a watered-down version every morning while thinking about Benedict Cumberbatch. Look, I can already feel everyone's attention wandering, because if "No means no" hasn't sunk in by this point in your life, what possible combination of words here are going to result in a breakthrough?
That said, it would be very easy for someone on the outside to say that women in the group sent McCreepy mixed signals. Did some of us lead McCreepy on by laughing at his jokes and acting like we were OK with his weirdness? Yeah, probably. Not because we were intentionally leading him on, but because -- like our male friends did -- we figured he was just socially awkward and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. A couple of the girls even went out on a few dates with him before realizing that underneath all that weirdness was a budding little sadist waiting to come out.
If you're the well-meaning Clark in your group, all of that tends to cast doubt on victim complaints later, and makes the creep's "I guess I misunderstood, because she seemed cool with it" defenses seem plausible. What you have to understand is that sometimes a McCreepy's true nature takes time to manifest. People can be married for decades before one of them snaps and murders the other, but your friend was supposed to see how this thing was going from the first joke? Especially when the rest of the group's reaction kept reinforcing the idea that it was all harmless fun?
You even feel like the complaints are also an attack on you, especially if you're the one who previously told her to give the guy a second chance. In fact, if your friend is a kind-hearted and decent person, she probably gave the guy a third, fourth, fifth chance before she realized it's gone on too long and she's just been humoring a scary fucker. Hey, you both made judgment mistakes about the guy, right? Yours just didn't lead to a slimy hand between your legs.
Throughout, I've conspicuously avoided what some of you think was the obvious solution all along: Why not just kick McCreepy out of the group? I've avoided it for a reason, and not just to keep trolls from saying I advocate beating up guys and dragging them down the street just because we heard a rumor that he's terrible at flirting.
The truth is that it's not easy to know how to act on all secondhand scenarios. Speaking as a woman, sometimes all we really want is for the guy to apologize, smarten up, and knock it the hell off. Like I said before, most guys would be absolutely horrified to know they'd ever frightened or hurt someone. They don't want to ever think they could be seen as one of those guys. Realizing they were hits them as hard as getting slapped with a DUI and never drinking and driving again.
Multiple people reading this right now have in fact sent an accidental nude to somebody. Some non-rapist out there has initially mistaken a "no" for a coy joke because it was accompanied by a nervous giggle, and then felt sick to realize they almost pushed themselves on someone. Some people have no sense of when their jokes are going too far, or when their compulsive texting becomes harassment. Sometimes there's a lot of gray area, and you can't just purge every man and woman from society forever for their first offense. But creepers know this and take advantage of it.
It is very possible to tell the difference, if you pay close attention. It can be subtle! But this is how gaming communities, religious groups, sports teams, and workplaces change for the better -- people notice the low level creepy shit and stop it before it escalates. If your friends start complaining that the new guy in the group is making them uncomfortable, watch him. Is he constantly making violent and demeaning rape jokes? Does he follow the girls around like a glue monster, making weird excuses for touching them or being alone with them?
If so, you can say stuff like "Haha, funny rape joke, bro, but if you actually dared lay a hand on an actual human being, I'd yank your sad piccolo off and shove it down your throat," or "What are you doing hanging out by her car? Please tell me you're not some creep, because I have my friends' backs and won't stand for that shit." Or even "Hey, you know that non-harassment policy we got you to sign when you joined? We actually mean it."
Seeing is power. When you see, you can call him out, stop laughing at his jokes until he gets some better material, and double-check that your female friends are okay being left alone with him. You can give him the choice between stepping up and proving he's a decent human being or scattering like a slimy cockroach that's just had the light shone on him. Either way, you'll have actually helped save the day.
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For more check out 5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women and 7 Reasons So Many Guys Don't Understand Sexual Consent.
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