“Sexual harassment”.

I remember back when I was eighteen, I was at a campus party.  It was a crowded room, and I saw a young woman…

(I’ve noticed, by the way, that several feminists these days – Jaclyn Friedman, Hugo Schwyzer, etc. – have taken to calling young women “girls”.  I wonder why that is, because I remember a friend of mine, attending a heavily feminist liberal arts college in the early 90s, saying that referring to young women as a girls was, as he put it, “a good way to get slapped.”)

… I saw a young woman near me.  She had an auburn complexion.  It was loud enough that to speak to her I had to lean in.  (The pick up artists say “don’t lean in.”)  I’d wanted to get to know her, but wasn’t sure what to say.  I leaned in.

“Do you want to go make out?”

She didn’t say anything, but shook her head no and wrinkled her nose (cute).  It turned out she had a boyfriend, but, the next day we did end up walking to a park together, and then back to her dorm, where we hung out with some friends of hers, one of whom, à propos nothing, handed me a condom.  (Pick up artists train men to pick up subtle behavior cues they refer to as “indicators of interest”, and in retrospect this may have been one.)

And that was that.  Nothing happened.  I don’t remember why nothing happened.  I don’t remember everything.

A few years later, when I was twenty or twenty-one, I was sitting in an ice cream parlor with another young woman, a co-worker.  We weren’t dating, it was more of an after work ice cream stop.  Somehow (I don’t remember the context), I told her about the time when I’d leaned in and asked the woman if she “wanted to make out.”  I was sharing an amusing, mildly self-denigrating anecdote, or so I thought.

But the young woman I was with, a year or two younger, became very serious and earnest.  “Ohhh,” she said, “You’re lucky she didn’t do anything!  That’s harassment!”

Surprised by her reaction, I said some kind of feeble, stammering defense of myself. I don’t remember what.  I felt as though I wanted to cry.

“Well, maybe you didn’t deserve it,” she said (talking of some sort of punishment for harassment), “but other guys might deserve it.”

So, my artless “pick-up line”, why did I do that?  Although I didn’t realize it at the time – as an eighteen year old I thought I was “liberated” – I think I’d picked up a great number of negative ideas about male sexuality.  The idea that a young man interested in sex is “on the prowl.”  The idea that a man’s “goodness” is inversely proportional to the degree to which he is sexual.  And I also think there was – for lack of a better term – a kind of “learned helplessness.”  I felt as though I were locked out and that a sexual connection with a woman wasn’t possible.  I thought failure was inevitable, and so decided to fail with a bit of comic panache.  But – on a positive note, such as it is – there was absolutely no feeling of hostility motivating what I said, and I really was trying to connect with her, albeit in a blindingly ineffective way.

In hindsight, the feeling I had, that a sexual connection wasn’t possible, seems like a classic case of “creating a problem where there doesn’t need to be one.”  To the sexually competent twenty-something, that must sound analogous to agoraphobia:  “Just walk out of the house, dude.”

What I’d like to see – to get everyone outside the house, so to speak – is for youthful sexuality to come to be seen as an everyday thing.

*                                *

Here’s a video that was on feministing a few weeks back.  It’s cheesy and psa-ish, but what I like about it is that it demystifies sex – it’s the first time that I’ve actually seen people say directly that they have sex:

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to “Sexual harassment”.

  1. John E. says:

    Surprised by her reaction, I said some kind of feeble, stammering defense of myself. I don’t remember what. I felt as though I wanted to cry.

    Oh dude…seriously?

    Grow some thicker skin, or something…

    I’d like to see – to get everyone outside the house, so to speak – is for youthful sexuality to come to be seen as an everyday thing.

    Again…seriously?

    Get out more, Miguel.

    It already is – has been for a long time.

  2. Brian says:

    For whatever reason, a lot of people seem really invested in the idea that we have a monolithic culture. (Or they assume it without question?) I understand why someone who’s not thought about it might think that, but I would expect people who do think about it would realise we have nothing like a monolithic culture.

    It’s the mistake I think John is making, and so many others too. I got cultural instruction on my attraction to women that sounds pretty similar to yours. As did a lot of other people. But not nearly everybody did; and trying to keep that in mind is hard for me too.

    I’ve also specifically sought out rejection; I think for a pretty similar reason. More or less, if I didn’t try, then I was able to blame myself. Which made me feel like absolute shit, of course. If I did try, and women weren’t interested, nobody was to blame, which made it a lot easier to make peace with the situation. ‘course, the second time I asked someone ought for the express purpose of getting rejected she was interested, which I was totally unprepared for, kind of drove me out of that. I felt like a right dick there, too.

  3. John E. says:

    Yeah, I understand that some people got some initial instruction that would very well be likely to hold them back in the ‘real world’ of social interaction – but the thing is that we don’t have to be locked into our initial instruction.

    On a practical level – between asking culture to change so as to make it easier for shy guys to form relationships – or – for shy guys to work on their own presentation and social skills in order to successfully form relationships, the latter is going to be a more successful strategy.

  4. Lynet says:

    To be fair, if you do it once, listen when she says ‘no’, and don’t bother her again afterwards, you’re unlikely to do any serious damage. In purely social situations (i.e. not at a place of employment, etc) I wouldn’t call it harassment until she starts trying to set boundaries and you ignore them, which isn’t what happened here.

    I can understand why your co-worker might feel awkward, listening to that story, though. You thought you were saying “Ha, ha, I guess I’m not very successful at dating,” but she heard you as saying “I’m the kind of guy who asks a girl if she wants to go make out, with no preamble, when I’ve never even met her before and she’s given no indication of interest.” Which can make a girl worry about what you might come out with, sans preamble, to a girl that you do know, and thus what kind of ‘no’ she might constantly need to have prepared.

    In short, I think your co-worker was a lot more bothered than the girl with the auburn hair was — indeed, I think she was afraid of being genuinely harassed, herself — and was shutting you down with the strongest version of “please don’t do that to me” that she had available.

    We do this. We remember the last guy who didn’t listen to a small ‘no’ and hand out the biggest ‘no’ that we think we can get away with (without sounding ‘angry’, because people look down on anger in women so it might be counterproductive, etc, etc; you know this story, right?).

    What you need to know is that this doesn’t make you a horrible person. Because, in fact, you are the guy who listens to a small ‘no’. You are, I’m guessing, not always the guy who listens to nonverbal ‘no’ (unless it’s really obvious), but that’s out of ignorance, not malice, so don’t beat yourself up. A lot of girls would love to have a version of ‘no’ that was completely non-hurtful and at the same time perfectly effective, so consider yourself to have received the closest approximation to that ‘no’ that you can imagine, and move on.

    This is an incomplete answer, of course — in theory you also need to learn better ways of possibly getting a ‘yes’. But for now, seriously, don’t beat yourself up about this.

  5. Jim says:

    “To be fair, if you do it once, listen when she says ‘no’, and don’t bother her again afterwards, you’re unlikely to do any serious damage.”

    Well that would be the common-sense assesment. Also, I think “harrassment”
    refers to a series of actions, both in the legal sense and in the semantics of the word generally.

    “In short, I think your co-worker was a lot more bothered than the girl with the auburn hair was — indeed, I think she was afraid of being genuinely harassed, herself — and was shutting you down with the strongest version of “please don’t do that to me” that she had available.’

    I think this is really insightful and almost certianly true in this case. We all keep reacting to old incidents and future worries. It’s a naturla defense and a huge problem, both in relationships and in casual encounters.

  6. humbition says:

    John, I am not sure Miguel is blogging about an ongoing problem. I think he is revisiting his past as a way of trying to explore the social and cultural influences that made it what it was. As a member of the public and participant in the culture like all of us, this is his right. Personally, I think he’s brave and it’s a worthwhile enterprise to try to do — even though a fair amount of the time I think he’s full of shit.

    (A nontrivial amount of the time I’m full of shit too.)

  7. humbition says:

    I’m not sure that even the original try wasn’t at some level “seeking out rejection” — except that’s too strong. But, yes, I’ve been in periods of “learned helplessness” where I felt somehow shut out for no reason I could put my finger on. And, it’s hard to put this, but — when one feels that one has no chance and would never have a chance, one does not always act as responsibly as when one actively feels that one could be a real player in the game. This is also the case when one is denying to oneself that one is being sexual, at all.

    Though I do not mean to blame anyone who finds themself in that position, particularly because the social messages — and this includes some of the social messages from some feminisms — reinforce a negative self-view of male sexuality, and this only feeds back into the problems themselves, rather than helping them.

  8. humbition says:

    Just to be clear. The not-responsible I was just talking about is not in any way predatory — it’s a step away from naive, in fact — and in the event, nearly always harmless, if (given the real situation) clueless.

  9. John E. says:

    Wait – so is Miguel getting laid these days or not?

    But my general point still stands – convincing individual shy guys to try to be more outgoing and to take some risks is very likely going to be a better strategy for getting them into the relationships they want than is trying to convince the female population at large to be more open to drawing out shy guys.

  10. humbition says:

    I agree on the last point. But helping the shy guys may involve a lot of examination, and reconsideration, of their experiences with certain ideas, ideologies, reactions, emotions, situations — and that is also what is happening here.

  11. David says:

    Judge the reaction.

    If she shows dislike, drop it.

    If you’re getting a mixed reaction or something positive, go for it. Life’s short and you’re not a mind reader.

    It would be nice if the lesson that society taught us was not to worry so much. So teach yourself – and fuck society.

  12. Sungold says:

    Calling this incident “sexual harassment” is silly. There are two kinds of harassment. One is quid pro quo, where one party has to possess some sort of power over the other – some ability to bestow favors or inflict revenge. The other is hostile environment, which – as Lynn correctly notes – requires more than a single incident, even in the workplace. It has to be significant enough to make it hard for someone to do their job. Sexual harassment does not exist in purely social situations; there, persistent unwanted advances fall under the strictly non-legal banner of “being an asshole.” But you didn’t do that, either, Miguel. You acted like a dork, for sure, and you recognize that. In no way was it harassment.

  13. Brett K says:

    I agree 100%. Miguel, what you did at that party was not harassment. If she had said no and you had persisted, or if it had been at work/in a situation where you had authority over her, that would have been a different situation. As it stands, though, it was just awkward, as youthful sexuality tends to be pretty much all the time.

    Your coworker probably responded the way she did because she didn’t have the whole story, and she was afraid that you might approach her in the same way. Which would have been TOTALLY inappropriate, obviously, and which you wouldn’t have done.

    Love that video, BTW.

  14. La Lubu says:

    What Lynet said. No harrassment took place.

    PUA advice says “don’t lean in” because leaning in can be an indicator of interest (it can also be an “it’s crowded and I can’t hear you”), and PUAs don’t believe that men should indicate interest before the woman does. They’re wrong on this count. Indicating interest to a woman who isn’t interested in you is just going to cause her to back off—no harm, no foul. If you indicate interest in someone who is equally interested in you, it opens the way for her to show more interest (that’s a good thing, no?). Sexism still exists, there is still negativity attached to “forward” women, and there are still a lot of women who keep their interest in check because of this—they wait for the man to show interest first. If you lean in, or stand closer, or use mirroring body language and she drops her guard rather than puts up more physical and verbal barriers (which is what I think the ice-cream co-worker was doing—awkwardly trying to send the message “I’m not interested”)—she’s interested.

  15. AlekNovy says:

    Lubu, most PUA advice is centered around geeky guys who are naturally of low social calibration.

    This means that when they show interest, the likelihood is that they end up being seen as creepy. You say “no harm no foul”, but you have no idea what its like to be publically humiliated and called a creep… for merely showing interest in an akward way.

    In fact, when you study a lot of PUA advice, you see a lot of the assumptions are based around geeky guys. If you’re a cool, charming, socially charismatic guy, you can break a lot of the “rules” of PUA, and get the results they say are impossible.

  16. April says:

    (I’ve noticed, by the way, that several feminists these days – Jaclyn Friedman, Hugo Schwyzer, etc. – have taken to calling young women “girls”. I wonder why that is, because I remember a friend of mine, attending a heavily feminist liberal arts college in the early 90s, saying that referring to young women as a girls was, as he put it, “a good way to get slapped.”)

    I think it has to do with being consistent with the use of the term. A “girl” or a “boy” is a female or male under 18, generally, since both terms refer to male and female children. Since we rarely, as a culture, use the term “boy” to describe a male over 18, it is understandably irritating and often offensive to many women to be called “girls” when it’s only us that are being infantalized in this way.

  17. Hugo is pretty creepy….

    Him and Robert Jensen will talk about how bad porno is but you can kind of pick up on the tone he secretly loves it….kinda like if I talked about alcohol…..

    Oh, man I drank 7 Stone IPA’s and 6 Green Flashes–I was SOOOOOO buzzed….

    Then I puked all over and was sick the next day…. I’ll never doooo that again 😉

Comments are closed.