December 14, 2010

Do These Social Skills Make My Ass Look Creepy?

A while ago, over at Skepchick, Elyse asked for suggestions for dealing with the "creepy dude factor" as a barrier to women's participation in skeptic and atheist events. A (thankfully small) number of guys asked whether their geeky lack of social skills or someone else's would be classed as part of that problem. I would love to be able to say that if you think to ask, then no, you're not part of the problem. But...

Yes, guys, sometimes your social skills are part of the problem. However, it isn't in the way that you think it is. It isn't because you're awkward or not sure how to manage your body language. It isn't because you don't say the same things everyone else is saying.

It's because you can't set aside being self-conscious long enough to notice that someone just asked for your help with something really damned important.

Still don't know what behavior I'm talking about, or Elyse was talking about? All you have to do is wait.

yeah… people I’ve never met before falling all over me trying to lay the charm and flattery on thick is CREEPY as hell. Far more creepy than some WoW geek. HOWEVER, if that WoW geek is making a lot of rape jokes, or describes his character’s latest exploits as “raping the shit out of other character” whatever, that is ALSO creepy as hell (apparently this may be common in many games?? I don’t play, I don’t know, but it’s not appropriate in a social meeting). Being condescending is also a super turn off and mostly just annoying, not necessarily creepy, but still likely to make me want to stay home next time.

Not that hard to understand. Neither is this.

The last time I played D&D, two male players spent the whole game having their characters attempt to rape my character, saying it was “in character” for them to do so.

And if the women explaining it isn't enough for you to understand creepy, just wait for the guys to show up and demonstrate.

i have no interest in learning about your likes and dislikes, i’d rather talk about the last speaker or an issue brought about by that weirdo woman who talked about female porn at TAM london, romanticizing sex at a public venue is sorta lame.

i mean honestly, what percentage of your sexual encounters, are filled with bouquet of flowers, rose pedals leading to the bedroom, champagne and caviar, cheesy music, constant wind to blow back each persons’ hair, and it going on for an hour?

this creepy guy comment brought to you by the committee for more relaxed attitude toward strangers and sponsored by the get over yourself foundation.

Once you stop looking at yourself for a few minutes, it becomes kinda obvious. But to get back to you, since that's your main concern, what's so creepy about the way you're behaving?

How do I put this? Well, think of it this way. When was the last time you had to tell the world that you didn't feel safe, that you were dealing with people who thought it was funny that you were scared, that you were dealing with people who thought they had a right to whatever they wanted from you?

Okay, there's a good chance you've never been in that position, but try to imagine it. Imagine that kind of insecurity, that kind of fear. Now imagine the risk involved in telling someone else how vulnerable you know you are.

Now imagine that person's response is "Huh. You don't think I'll have trouble making friends or getting a date because I don't know how to make small talk, do you?"

That's where you get creepy.

Look, guys. You don't need to know how to make small talk. You don't need to know how to make someone laugh. You do need to figure out how to listen to what someone says and understand that sometimes it's time to put aside your own concerns. It's really that simple.


D. C. said...

Step one: put on your company manners. If you don't know what that means, I think we have identified part of the problem.

Seriously -- I'm probably off on a "back in my day" rant, but I do vaguely recall growing up under a very strict code of how kids spoke and acted. Not that that's the only way to behave, but until you get some judgment [1] it's at least a good default.

Alas, I suspect that twenty-plus is not the best time to learn such things.

[1] Variable developmental milestone. I'm working on it and may pull it off before I qualify for Social Security.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Well, I am generally a fan of flexible social standards. However, your point about judgment is a good one. So is understanding that social standards are generally intended to allow people to know ahead of time more or less what to expect from an interaction. That requires a fair amount of thinking from those who want to bend the standards more to their liking. This situation certainly doesn't fit that model either.

D. C. said...

"Company manners" are by definition a least-common-denominator set of behaviors which are widely accepted as non-offensive, and thus safe when you don't really know what is offensive.

Example: you might or might not be comfortable with me calling you "Stephanie" or "Steph [1]" but are quite unlikely to object to being addressed as "Ms. Zvan." Thus, when in doubt, I default to the latter. Forty years ago, it would have been "Mrs. Zvan" but times (and conventions) changed.

In general I'm biased to the rule that it's better to avoid potentially-offensive behavior rather than to demand that people accept behavior that is offensive to them. This flies in the face of 1960s convention, but I think that our experience since then with sexism, racism, etc. have proven the wisdom of the older system.

If the price of this is that I rarely utter a "fuck" or a "shit," I consider the price modest for the benefit of avoiding social land mines. Likewise, I'm quite grateful that I was taught (in the 50s) to always look people in the face; the training made it much easier over decades to avoid staring down women's necklines etc. You would never describe my mother as any kind of modern feminist, but the general rules of politeness she taught me have done a pretty decent job by modern standards anyway.

Who knows? Maybe we'll get back around to recognizing the value of formal manners with strangers. One hopes.

None of this applies (I would hope obviously) once people know each other well enough to negotiate other ground rules.

[1] At least one "Stephanie" I know well hates that nickname.