In the comments to my entry of last night, kest reminded me of an anecdote I wanted to share.
Some of y'all have already heard this. Some of y'all were present when it happened and I know I blogged about it shortly after the incident, but I think it bears re-telling.
I was at a convention in 2008 - a small event of not more than 500 people or so. As is per usual at this sort of thing, folks would hang out in the lobby of the hotel after programming was done for the night and shoot the shit, knock back a few beverages, etc. Much conversation, some flirtation and, I'm sure, some hooking-up occurred.
There was a guy there, whom we shall call Asshat for reasons that are about to become obvious.
Asshat was trying, oh was he trying to make it with the ladies. But instead of succeeding, he was checking off every box on the How to be a Creep bingo card. He wouldn't respect personal space. He touched women without asking. He offered (and offered, and offered) to give women back rubs and foot rubs and would persist with the offer, even when turned down. And, as the night progressed, he got extremely drunk (even by my standards, it was pretty epic) and increasingly pushy.
At one point, I was having a great conversation with a fantastic costumer I had just met. Let's call her V.. V is extremely talented and I was dying to pick her brains. She was also very pretty and apparently unaccompanied. About ten minutes into the conversation, Asshat comes barreling towards as V looks panicked and disgusted and says "Oh my god, this guy. I can't stand him. Excuse me." and she fled for the elevators.
Me? I ended up talking to the guy for I don't know how long. Over an hour, trying to get it through his head that he was on a hiding to nowhere. Furthermore, I deliberately decided to throw myself on the grenade for the team. If I was occupying his attention - and I was one of his targets for the evening - that meant he wouldn't be harassing anyone else. It was not the most fun I've ever had at LobbyCon.
Finally, I convince the guy that he needs to go to bed - no, thank you, I'm not coming with you - and he goes.
Me? I was pissed at having to spend a chunk of my evening like that, furious at Asshat for being an ass and bloody annoyed that the only solution that I thought was tenable was to throw myself on that grenade and talk and talk and talk to him instead of saying "Dude.You're a creep. You've managed to alienate pretty much every woman in the room. Fuck off." Any why didn't I say that? Because I had no way of telling if this guy would retreat with his tail between his legs and/or physically assault me either then-and-there, or at a later point in the weekend. But I've gone over that, already...
The next day. several people - male and female - approach me and say "Wow, Johanna. That guy was a real ass. If he bugs you again tonight, you just let me know and I'll step in."
My reaction to these declarations wasn't simple. Several thoughts ran through my head simultaneously:
1) You noticed that I was being bothered by Asshat, last night, but you didn't step up at the time. Thanks a heap. And I'm sure all the other women you saw him bothering are pleased, too.
2) Since when do you get to decide that I need rescuing?
3) Oh, thank god, I won't have to handle Asshat alone, tonight.
And then I felt ashamed for getting angry about #2.
There have been times when I've sought rescue, and there have been times when people have appointed themselves my shining knight - even when I didn't need one. But I got over feeling bad about feeling angry. And the whole who decides who needs rescuing in an uncertain social situation is a thorny problem and merits discussion all by itself. It'll come, believe me. But I'm digressing...
In the end, Asshat was so badly hungover after that night, he remained invisible for the rest of the convention. I heard rumor that he realized he had fucked up and was, in fact, hiding out. But I don't believe that rumor was true.
Why? Because the next year, Asshat emails me a couple of weeks before the next instance of the event (I let him have my email address because I have trouble enforcing my boundaries, remember?) and he told me that he was, indeed, just too hungover to socialize at the convention the next night and, by the way, he was so looking forward to meeting up with those lovely ladies of the event again and did I have any tips for how he could avoid getting shot down so hard this time around?
There was also some babbling about having been on medication that aggravated the effects of alcohol and oopsie and but I'm a nice guy!, too.
So I let him have it. Politely, to be sure, but I told him that he had been a creep at LobbyCon and the best thing he could do was not try flirting with the "lovely ladies". Indeed, don't even talk to them. Wait for them to come to him, if they were going to which, to be honest, was rather unlikely...
Cue: approximately half a dozen rounds of email in which he defends himself with "But I'm a nice guy!" and "I'm just trying to pay these pretty gals a compliment, I don't get what the fuss is?" and "How am I supposed to make new friends (translated: hook up) if I don't talk to anyone?" and I keep repeating the same don't-be-a-creep points over and over.
I hoped some of it sunk in, but I think what really got to him was the rumor that reached me - and him - that if one person, one person complained about his behavior at the next LobbyCon, he was going to get thrown out so fast and so hard, his ass would bounce on the sidewalk. As I recall, he was there when the con rolled around a few weeks later, but generally kept to himself. To be honest, this time I did line up a few would-be rescuers in advance and, whenever I saw him floating around the edges of the heaving mass of LobbyCon I - and many other women, I'm sure - turned my back on him and threw myself into whatever conversation I was having with even more gusto. Anyone who had been there the year before immediately picked up on the situation - there's those non verbal cues again - and we all pulled together to exclude Asshat.
Was Asshat clueless? Based on the email conversations we had, I think so. Was Asshat also malicious? Yes. I don't believe that the terms clueless and malicious are mutually exclusive. Some folks talk like that's the case, but they're wrong.
The sad and horrible thing is that guys like Asshat are everywhere. They're at conventions, they're on the bus, they're at the workplace. And so we end up with situations like Shrodinger's Rapist.
A quick postscript on non-verbal communication and deciding whether or not to step into an encounter to break it up because you think someone is being harassed. I apologize for the awkward structure, but I'm trying to keep it gender neutral, for obvious reasons.
ETA: I'm assuming a situation like a SF/F convention, not a random encounter on the street. Different rules apply. But some principles are universal.
Watch the encounter.
Is one person physically backing off from the other - and the other keeps trying to close that space? Is the person who's backing off trying to turn their back on the encounter?
Does the aggressor keep reaching out to touch the other person, despite being shrugged off?
Is the possible-victim looking around the space, trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone?
They are? Then make that eye-contact and pay attention to what happens next. I have managed to summon more help with a quick eye-roll - or a widening of my eyes - and a momentary downturn of the mouth (hate to say it, but the aggressor is often looking at my tits, so a change of expression isn't noticed) than a whole set of semaphore flags.
Contraiwise, I have managed to convey no, really, I'm okay with a bit of a wink and a half-smile.
Actually, body language is the set of semaphore flags. So, yeah, assess that when deciding what to do.
If in doubt, barge on in. Me? Me in particular? I might mutter something about #2, above, but it's far more likely that I'll thank you for getting involved.