Sunday, 4 August 2013

The creeps. 17.07.2013

I had an unpleasant experience a few weeks back.  In a nutshell, I got really creeped out in a social setting.  It’s hard to explain what actually happened without sounding like an idiot, but basically this guy just kept being too into me and ignoring all the subtle hints that I really wasn’t at all into him.  There was no actual danger whatsoever in the situation, but it felt deeply unpleasant. 

Quite uncharacteristically, it got me tied up in knots.  I normally have the diplomacy and patience of a bull in a China shop, but the guy (we shall name him Creepo henceforth) had not done enough for me to feel justified in taking any action.  All I had to go by was a creepy feeling and a few out-of-place looks and words.  I couldn’t even tell him straight that I was not interested, because he had not expressed his interest as such.  I actually ended up consulting a few friends over this, because I really didn’t know what to do.  I was finding myself regressing to my passive-aggressive teenage persona, which makes me want to smack myself.  I kept berating myself for not being able to deal with the situation properly, which is also rather uncharacteristic.  All in all, I was getting nowhere.

This could have gone on for a while, Creepo pushing it ever so slightly too far and me acting like a poorly-socialised cretin.  Luckily, after a few days he messed up.  He said something entirely socially unacceptable and repulsive to a friend of mine.  In a couple of sentences, he waltzed straight across the border into “sex pest” country.  This reduced my friend into a panicky mess and made me happier than a kid at Christmas.  No, I didn’t mistype that.  I was genuinely happy that he’d come out, for two main reasons.

Firstly, and I know it’s petty, I was happy that I was right.  He is a creep and I’ve identified him correctly with very little evidence.  Now, I’m not clever and I’m not good at much.  Spotting sex pests is one of my few skills, honed through much hitch-hiking and being in the wrong places at the wrong times.  It made me feel good about myself to know I’d not lost the knack.

The main reason, however, is that the uncertainty is over.  There is no possible social awkwardness to the situation anymore.  I can actually deal with this!  Essentially, I have license to be clear to and beyond the point of rudeness.  If things ever go too far, as far as I am concerned I have the right to treat him as I would a cockroach.  He puts a finger out of place, it’s bye-bye finger.[1]

Admitting my extreme relief and realising its causes made me think that I was messed up in the head.  Surely the knowledge that there is a sex pest in my social group should make me feel worse, not better.  Isn’t it wrong that I’m more comfortable dealing with a perv than with someone who is just perhaps seriously socially awkward but harmless?  I reviewed my upbringing (messed up), my life experiences (screwy) and my social skills (patchy).  Much head scratching took place.  Then I found this blog, which is going viral on Facebook and with good reason:
“(…) the narrative of how men hit on women in public places.  A tired old story if ever there were one.  A story where consent is not a character we actually ever meet, and where the real antagonist is not a person, but rather the way she has been socialized to be polite, to be civil, to not be "such a bitch" matter how much of a Douchasauras Rex HE is being about not picking up the subtle clues. Yes, a human being might fill the role of the immediate obstacle--and in doing so personify the larger issue, but the careful reader of this tropetastic narrative knows the real villain is the culture that discourages her from rebuking him in no uncertain terms lest she be castigated.”[2]

And just like that, a weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Ok, so I have been socially conditioned into paralysis when confronted with low-level creeps.  It’s not just me!  Girls are actually TRAINED not to react to creepiness!  I have lost count of the times I heard sentences such as “I’m sure he did not mean it”, “he must have just been joking”, “he always says stuff like that”, or “he seemed to be saying such-and-such, but that can’t be right”.  We are thought to deny the bloody obvious, smile and carry on as if nothing was off, even though every fibre of our being wants to fight or take flight.  Instead, we are socially conditioned into a freeze, and a smiling freeze to boot.

To put it mildly, this is stupid, wrong and dangerous.  We are taught to disregard our own feelings in order to protect someone else’s.  We are taught that it’s ok for people to make us feel uncomfortable, repulsed or even threatened.  We are taught to ignore the subtle signals and let wrong things progress far too far.  We are taught to play by the social script in situations which are ultimately asocial.  I bet the sexual predators love it, to watch us squirm trying to navigate around them.  It must give them a huge feeling of power, like children burning ants with a magnifying glass.

They hide amongst us, using our social restrictions to play their little games.  A friend of mine once told me that “all paedophiles have a mother”.  I can’t disagree with that.  I have personally known three paedos[3], and they all have a birth family, a social circle and partners.  Two have children too.  Now, I don’t believe for a second that nobody ever spotted something slightly off with them.  In fact, I told my own mother that two of the guys made me feel “icky”, and she told me to just behave myself.  This is an extreme, but it is true that we let sexual predators get away with mountains of little slips.  When the shit hits the fan it is normally because something really dreadful has happened.

Maybe, just maybe, if we didn’t gag our women and children by teaching them that ours social ideal of politeness is more important than their instincts, their feelings, and ultimately their safety, some situations would be stomped on before life-changing tragedies happened.

[1] No, I don’t have delusions of grandeur.  I’m not a ninja.  I’m a teeny tiny woman.  However, now that I know the game he’s playing I feel perfectly entitled to play MY way, and that does not include fighting fair.
[3] Highly statistically significant, not.  But still relevant, don’t you think?  This shit goes on.

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