Not Being a Creeper: Two Examples

John Scalzi has posted An Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping, i.e. how not to be that guy women avoid at cons. He’s got a number of good points — but I wanted to follow up by giving two examples, of situations I’ve been in where it could have been creepy and wasn’t.

See, sometimes you get guys responding to this kind of thing by wailing that they’ll never be able to compliment a woman again, or whatever. And that just isn’t the case. You can say nice things to a woman, or even touch her — or even try to hit on her! — without weirding her out. Here’s how.

A year or two ago, teleidoplex and I were at a Shpongle/Infected Mushroom concert. The music was great, but also loud enough that she and I ended up hanging out in the upstairs lobby, sitting on a bench and chatting. (We could still hear the music just fine.) At one point during this, a guy came over and told us he really liked the skirts we were wearing.

He was totally not sketchy. In fact, he was really sweet and cute about it. In fairness, I will note that I got the impression he might be gay, which does indeed help the “I’m not here to skeeve on you” vibe. But there are a number of things he did right, that are totally within the reach of any human regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

1) When he approached us, he stopped outside of conversational range — maybe half again or twice as far from me as teleidoplex was. This avoided boxing us in where we sat, and didn’t make it seem like he was trying to join us uninvited.

2) I believe (though I may be misremembering) that he bent or crouched down, so that he wasn’t looming, either. Given that we were sitting, this was also nice.

3) He complimented our clothing, not how we looked in it. Like, “I just wanted to say that your skirts are really cute” — not “you look great in those skirts.” Major non-skeeve points! (And this can apply even in situations that are less about “cute.” Telling somebody her dress is gorgeous is waaaaaay different from telling her it makes her look hot.)

4) Having delivered his compliment, and us having thanked him, he said “have fun!” and bopped off back to his friends.

Result: teleidoplex and I were entirely delighted, and spent a moment marveling at how well he’d done that without ever once seeming sketchy.

But, I hear you say, that’s just a passing compliment for your skirts. What if a guy is hoping to strike up an actual conversation? How does he do that without weirding you out?

Let’s look at two hypothetical success modes for that, where “success” is defined as “being not creepy.” Both start with the guy approaching as described, delivering his compliment, being thanked, and then saying, “What do you think of the concert?”

Hypothetical #1: I say, “It’s fantastic! Kind of loud, though — that’s why were out here. But I’ve never heard either of these groups live before. How about you?”

I am, in this scenario, looking at the guy, responding to his question with information about myself, and asking him a question in return. This sends the signal that I am interested in talking to somebody new, not just my friend on the bench with me. Success! He can move closer (into normal conversational range), and so on from there.

Hypothetical #2: I say, “It’s pretty cool.”

In this scenario, I’m not really looking at the guy, and I probably glance at teleidoplex, advertising that I’d like to get back to the conversation I was having. I don’t really engage with the guy, and I don’t give him an open invitation to talk more. This is his cue to say “Cool, have fun!” and bop off back to his friends, with no harm done.

No, he hasn’t gotten the conversation he was hoping for — but pushing wouldn’t get him what he wants, either. His path to success is to accept that and go look for some other woman to chat with. There are many girls, and many concerts, and the world will not end if I don’t want to talk to him. Acting like it will . . . that is a fast train to creepiness.

Given that a lot of the creeper-vs-noncreeper discussion has revolved around geek conventions, and that backrubs are a thing that come up a lot at such events, let’s talk about how to offer one of those without skeeving the recipient.

I often have tension in my shoulders, and have been known to need a backrub. I do not, however, accept them from just anybody. Mostly I accept them only from people (male or female) I already know pretty well, because it’s an interaction with a high risk of creep factor. But I’ve gotten enough offers that I can tell you pretty clearly how to do it without weirding me out. (Other people’s mileage, of course, may vary. What I say here is general advice, but if you really want to be safe, confine your offers to good personal friends only. Or don’t give backrubs at all.)

1) Don’t offer to a total stranger. If she doesn’t know your name, or hasn’t been talking to you for the last hour, she probably isn’t going to accept. So why waste your time and risk creepiness by offering?

2) Wait for a sign that she wants a backrub. If she’s stretching her neck, or rubbing her own shoulders, or saying “god, my back is killing me,” then this is a sign that she might be glad for some assistance. Don’t offer out of the blue to a woman who doesn’t seem to need one.

3) Phrase it in a way that makes it clear it’s totally up to her. “Would you like a backrub?” or “I could give you a backrub, if you like.” NOT “Let me give you a backrub!” Grammatically speaking, the first two are conditional, and the condition is the woman saying “yes.” The third one is a command. Which do you think is going to make her feel more comfortable?

4) Do not, repeat, DO NOT touch her while offering. Don’t even hold your hands out. Keep your hands to yourself unless and until you’re invited to use them.

5) If she accepts, then stick to safe zones — basically, the non-neck bits of the trapezius. If you want to do anything more, ask. Don’t feel up her neck, go into her lower back, move her arms around, or reach further forward than the tops of her shoulders without saying “do you mind if I . . .” I have accepted things like a guy putting his arm across my collarbone to brace me, but only when asked first, and when I’ve been sure he’s really just trying to work the knots out.

6) There’s tension in the “knotted muscle” sense, and there’s tension in the “I’m not comfortable with this” sense. A woman who wants the massage you’re giving her will do her best to relax into it. If her whole body is stiff, she’s not okay, and you should ask if she’d prefer if you stop — or just cut the massage short.

7) If she says “thanks, but I’m okay,” then accept it and move on with the conversation. DON’T PUSH. Pushing signals “I think I know better than you what you need” and/or “I don’t respect your boundaries” and/or “I’m really eager to get my hands on you.” In other words: creepiness.

So: guys! You are allowed to say nice things, to indicate interest, to offer touch! The key is not to push. Give the woman her space (which includes not approaching her at all if the circumstances aren’t right), pay attention to the signals she gives in return, and if you’re rebuffed, don’t take it personally. She doesn’t owe you anything. Speaking for myself, I can’t recall a single instance where I’ve been offended by a guy who accepted my lack of interest. The offensive ones are the ones who ignore those cues and keep trying.

But remember, too, that I am speaking for myself here. I do not speak for All Women, and there may well be comments on this post expressing different views. This is why the #1 key to not being a creeper is to actually get to know the woman in question — to learn what she’s interested in, where her boundaries are, and so on — before you venture anything that might come across as forward. Until you know that, play it safe.

0 Responses to “Not Being a Creeper: Two Examples”

  1. rhinemouse

    Plus, if you do offend or creep out someone, it is possible to rectify the situation. Once upon a time, a friendly male acquaintance did something that upset and offended me. I said, “Don’t do that again, it upsets and offends me.” And he said, “I am so sorry. Thank you for pointing that out, and please let me know if I make you uncomfortable in the future.” And he never did it again.

    That was when I decided he wasn’t just a friendly acquaintance, he was an actual friend.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, that’s an extension of the “offer and refusal” dynamic. Basically, if you show that you actually care about what I think and feel and want, you have taken several good steps in the direction of non-creepiness. It’s when you try to prioritize your own wishes (to talk, to “help,” to get laid, whatever) over my own that I mark you as somebody to avoid.

    • ckd

      Something I said elsewhere as a comment on one of the many Readercon-related posts:

      “Nice Guys™ worry about their actions toward women resulting in harm to themselves (like, say, banning from conventions if they’re sufficiently egregious about it). Truly nice guys worry about their actions toward women resulting in harm to the women.”

      Sounds like he is a truly nice guy rather than a Nice Guy™.

      • Marie Brennan

        This is a very good distinction, and goes well with the difference between a Nice Guy wanting a reward for his friendly behavior, and a nice guy being friendly because that is its own reward.

    • mrissa

      I’ve had this too. I have a friend who started out much more in my personal space than I would generally like–but when I told him to stop, he was great about stopping and has been great every since, and this can happen, and it’s awesome when it does.

  2. misslynx

    I can offer another example from my own experience, of a non-creepy way of actually hitting on someone. And this is from a time when I was fairly young (around 19, I think), a bit socially awkward, only just sorting out my sexual orientation, and tended to react to any sign of romantic/sexual interest from anyone with panic, so achieving non-creepiness in that context was quite a coup.

    What happened was this: a male friend of mine was giving me a ride home from an event we’d both been at. We chatted about various things en route and then, once we’d gotten to my building, he said, in a perfectly conversational tone, “By the way, I was wondering if you’d sorted out yet whether you were interested in men, women or both.” (I should add that he already knew that was something I had been wrestling with – I’d been pretty open about that with most of my friends.)

    I was a little startled by the question, but not too much, because he’d said it about the same way as someone might ask if you like a particular band or ice cream flavour or something. “Er… why?” I asked.

    In the same perfectly casual tone, he said “Well, it’s just that while I used to just think of you as one of the gang, lately I’ve noticed I’m kind of attracted to you, so I was just wondering if there was any chance you might be interested, or if I should just forget it.”

    I had only a small trace of my usual rabbit-in-the-headlights reaction to that sort of topic, and was able to say without too much stumbling that I was flattered, but I was kind of leaning more toward being interested in women. “Oh, OK, no worries,” he replied. “See you at gaming on Friday!”

    And that was that. We went on being friends, and the topic never came up again.

    I think what what made it a pretty much perfect way of handling an interaction like that had a lot to do with tone and body language. The same words could have come across very differently if either of those had been different. But the whole way through, his tone was very casual, friendly, zero-pressure – as if we were discussing something totally ordinary and not at all emotionally fraught. Similarly, his body language didn’t change from what it had been when we were in fact talking about ordinary subjects – if he’d leaned in closer to me or looked at me more intently than usual when talking or something, I’d probably have felt a lot more nervous, but he didn’t. Basically, nothing in the way he approached the topic suggested that he was either assuming success, or determined to have it – or assuming failure either, for that matter. So I felt like I could just answer honestly, with no pressure. I think it also helped that he waited until we were at my building, so I didn’t feel trapped. And of course, being able to graciously accept no as an answer is also pretty much essential to non-creepiness.

    All in all, it was incredibly refreshing – and still stands out to me, nearly 30 years later, as a great example of how to express interest in someone in a totally non-creepy way.

    • Marie Brennan

      That is impressive; it could have so very easily been a situation that made you uncomfortable.

      I’m curious: had you gotten out of the car yet? I could see that being another way to avoid the impression of a threat: a woman in a car may not be literally trapped, but she’s definitely more boxed in than one who’s gotten out and is free to walk away. (Also, it could matter whether or not he’s gotten out of the car.)

      But in general, your anecdote really makes me think that so much of “don’t be a creeper” is (or should be) less about learning to perform physical cues and more about the mental state. If the goal a guy is focusing on is “get into her pants as fast as possible,” he’s probably going to send off signals to that effect — unless he’s a very good predator. When those signals are unwanted, that’s creepy. If, on the other hand, his goal is “make normal conversation,” or even “lay groundwork for relationship that may eventually lead to nookie,” his body language is more likely to remain casual and non-problematic. Your friend was probably not assuming that he’d get laid that night, even if you had said you were open to the guy thing. It makes a big difference.

      • timprov

        I’ve found that many women tend to anticipate “get into her pants as fast as possible” in situations where it doesn’t exist. Getting really good at physical cues can mitigate that somewhat.

        There’s been a lot of negative talk about convention-space lately, but one of the great things about the conventions I go to is that I can actually have interesting conversations with women without nearly as often getting that “he’s only doing this to take advantage of me” assumption that’s so common elsewhere. (And very emotionally painful, for me.)

        • Marie Brennan

          I don’t mean to rule out the value of learning the physical cues, no. There can be a lot of value in knowing how to advertise distinct non-sketchiness, as well as not advertising sketchiness. But I guess I’m a bit Zen about it: having the correct spirit will, if not make the correct form follow, at least make a big contribution to it.

        • chinders

          This, so much this. I find myself guarding against guys more than I sometimes need to, because of the ‘is he trying to get into my pants’ question. In general, I am much more comfortable with folks who are able to make it clear to me that that is not their goal. It also, incidentally, makes it a lot more likely that getting into my pants is an option in the future.

          I find that I have encountered a number of people who want to do the complimenty/I am interested in you/general flirtiness things early on, and that kind of just turns me off, not because I would never be interested, but because it feels like a decision of some kind is expected from me.

          • Marie Brennan

            I honestly pretty much never assume anybody’s trying to get into my pants . . . possibly even in cases where they are. It’s just something I am very, very blind to. (Case in point: I pretty much convinced myself in college that was just being friendly, nothing more than that. We’re married now. <g>)

          • chinders

            Yah, I think a lot of geeks are kind of oblivious to flirting, hence the geek flirt of “HI I LIKE YOU.” On the other hand, at least for me, I prefer that you only do it once we have a pretty established relationship, and if I don’t respond particularly, _only do it once_. The “Hi! Just a reminder, I still like you!” (or the body language equivalent) is so not necessary.

            I’m still working out exactly what my thoughts are on this, because I think I probably have a finer trigger on the “I like you/I want to get into your pants” body language than is entirely accurate. One the other hand, I kind of think I prefer having false positives than false negatives, given some of the potential consequences.

  3. la_marquise_de_

    Very sane. That young man at the concert is a great example of how to treat women as people.
    Personally, I am never comfortable with back rubs, except from the marquis, and I am not much for being hugged except by people I know well. I do not like it at all when someone I don’t know or barely know decides thatq because their friend — who I *do* know well — has hugged or kissed me, they can to. The marquis doesn’t like to be hugged by anyone except me.
    The amount of hugging may be a difference between the US and the UK, I think — US fans are more tactile than we are. Defensive body language — stepping or leaning back, crossing arms and so on, is a great signal to look for. If the woman displays one of these, back off.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I’m not much of a hugger myself, though I’ve tolerated it more when around a huggy group whose members I know.

      Does it bother you if somebody offers a backrub in a manner like the one I described? I’m genuinely curious whether my threshold for “here’s how to offer, and to accept a refusal, without me labeling you ‘sketchy'” is similar to other people’s or not.

      • la_marquise_de_

        I find strangers offering me back rubs creepy, and tend to step away and say ‘No thank you,’ very fast. To me, it feels very intrusive, as they are wrapping a wish to touch me in an offer of help. I realise that that may not be what they’re actually thinking, but that’s what it sounds like. It’s not helped by the fact that my right shoulder is a problem and people rubbing it can easily make it worse.

        • Marie Brennan

          Those are both very good reasons not to want “help.”

          For my own part, there have been many occasions (helped along by unpleasant flights and/or bad hotel beds) where I actually needed a massage. But I don’t want to petition the con at large for help, any more than I want the con at large to offer it to me, so I’m actually quite grateful when somebody I know well enough mentions that they’d be willing.

      • maladaptive

        I’ve never been offered a back rub in a non-creepy manner. I’m sure it’s possible! But the most innocuous back rub actually cost me a friend. “Oh, no, thank you, I don’t really like to be touched.” “My massages are really good!” “Haha, I bet! It’s just not really my bag.” “wtf is your problem?”

        And he was the least creepy guy to offer one….

        So at this point, to me, an offer for a back rub is a one way ticket to Creeperville.

        I’m not sure how I’d respond to someone offering one the way you did. I can imagine my eyes would still go wide and I’d be all “back! Stay back!” I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to not be (to me) a little… overstepping one’s bounds. But I’m short, so people don’t respect my personal space to begin with and I’m really sensitive about it.

        • ckd

          I’ve never been offered a back rub in a non-creepy manner. I’m sure it’s possible!

          I try to consistently say “let me know if you’d like a back rub” rather than anything more direct. That makes the offer, and then leaves it completely up to the other person.

          In particular, it’s not a question that has to be responded to with a “yes” or “no”, so the social pressure to not say no doesn’t have the same sort of effect.

          This may still not work for you, and if I ever meet you and make that offer I hope it won’t be uncomfortable — but if it is, I am very sorry.

          • maladaptive

            This may still not work for you, and if I ever meet you and make that offer I hope it won’t be uncomfortable — but if it is, I am very sorry.

            Honestly? I’m sure it’s fine. I’ve just never been asked by someone who knew how to back off, or they’d give me a hurt “y u no love me :(” face. If it did make me uncomfortable (which it might since a lot of these things are based on context, but given that you’re asking and you know how to word the question I’m gonna guess the context is okay) it’d be that fleeting sort of uncomfortable that’s like “that was an odd interaction” versus “I am never letting that guy out of my sight and certainly not letting him get between me and an exit.”

            And, being a geek, “that was an odd interaction” is pretty inevitable.

            But it’s always been a prelude to super skeevy behavior, IME, so it automatically raises a red flag.

          • ckd

            But it’s always been a prelude to super skeevy behavior, IME, so it automatically raises a red flag.

            Yeah, I completely understand that. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that kind of behavior, and I wish the world were such that it were the rare exception rather than the all too common case.

          • Marie Brennan

            That is one of the huge things people need to learn: how to back off.

          • Marie Brennan

            That’s a good phrasing, too — still (grammatically) a command, but it doesn’t actually impose your intentions on the other person in the same way. They can say “I’ll keep that in mind,” which is neither refusal nor acceptance, and therefore is less confrontational.

        • Marie Brennan

          That dude failed at innocuousness the moment he said “My massages are really good!” You said no, which should have been enough; you said you don’t like to be touched, which really really should have been enough. Anybody who decides that means there’s a problem with you . . . well, I don’t know the guy in question or the rest of the context, but based on that alone, I’m not sure you lost much when you lost him as a friend.

          I can totally see, though, that after too many experiences with creepy offers, there is no good way to offer without it being a problem.

  4. findabair


    Are backrubs common at cons in the US? I haven’t been to that many cons, and those I have been to only in Norway, but I’ve never experienced that. Possibly because Norwegians in general are not into casual touching or hugging, so I would be *seriously* creeped out if anyone other than my partner or a very close girlfriend offered a backrub, no matter how it was done. A point of cultural difference to remember I guess, should I ever go to a con in the States 🙂

    • mrissa

      Re: Backrubs

      Backrubs are pretty common at cons in a lot of regions, and so is casual touching and hugging. Even in Minnesota, which is infamous for being more of a personal space zone/less “huggy” than the rest of the US (probably because we have more Americans of Norwegian descent making things sensible! 🙂 I am not entirely kidding here). Your personal space should still be safe, but you will see a lot of other people doing the backrub/hug/arm around shoulders thing with their friends if you come to a US con.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Backrubs

      There’s kind of a subset in fandom that is much more touchy-feely, which includes things like hugs and backrubs and so on. And I think — though this is me opining about things I never experienced firsthand — that a few decades ago, such behavior was considered “what fandom is like,” i.e. a normal part of the culture. But a lot of people weren’t actually comfortable with it even at the time, and now they feel secure enough to speak up and say so, which is creating a collision between “old-school fandom culture” (some of which fails to see that the problem was always there, just swept under the rug) and new, more considerate standards of behavior.

  5. mrissa

    I have a Bay Area friend who is a certified massage therapist and gave me an amazing shoulder-rub once. Knowing that he was a massage therapist, I went into massage-therapist mode and was like, yeah, whatever, he’s touching my neck. He also went into massage therapist mode: “There are knots that are going up into your upper neck. Is it okay if I work higher?” “Is it okay if I work the top of your shoulders, or is that too far?” And I was like, “What? Yes, fine, knots, go.” Because Zed is my trusted friend, and I had every indication that Zed would not try to get sneaky with me. But his massage therapist training was all about continuing to demonstrate to clients that he wasn’t getting sneaky–continuing to establish that trust over and over again. And I think most amateurs are not in a better position to have that trust assumed than professionals, and should maybe learn from that.

    One of the worse experiences I’ve had with the backrub thing (though sadly not the worst) was a Minneapolis-area Baby Boomer-age fan who has put a lot of effort into learning massage skills so that he can have more touch in his life, because he appears to be touch-starved, and I think there used to be more of a social taboo on saying no to that sort of thing in fannish groups (I could be reading this wrong). He was telling me that he would rub the knots in my arms and neck, and I said no, don’t touch me please, and he said he would “show me something” anyway and grabbed my wrist. At that point I was not independently mobile due to bad vertigo, so I pulled away as hard as I could while still seated and started repeating with escalating volume, “I said don’t touch me don’t touch me DON’T TOUCH ME–” Several friends looked over to see what was up and one came over immediately and this guy started to protest that all he wanted was to help me with my obvious tension blah blah whatever.

    And here is the thing. I said no, and I told him not to touch me, so that it was clear that it was not just no to one kind of thing. And he thought that if he could only convince the world that he was not trying to have sex with me in the middle of this random convention party, that was the only thing I could possibly object to. Like, invasion of personal space when there has been explicit no: fine, whatever as long as it is not The Sexing.

    That’s one of the things I hope people are getting in all this conversation about creepiness/being a creeper/whatever: that harassment does not have to be explicitly sexual. That other people need to be treated with respect regardless of whether the context is sexual/romantic or just interpersonal. I feel like one of the major Creeper Defenses is, “Jeez, I wasn’t interested in you.” I don’t care if someone was interested in me if they were boxing me in, getting in my personal space, touching me when I indicated I didn’t want to be touched, etc. In many cases they clearly were and are trying to go for totally implausible deniability if they have not actually said something overt in someone else’s hearing. But I don’t care. Straight women or gay men who want to come up behind me and pet my hair without knowing my name are not okay with me even though they don’t want to get into my pants. Sexual harassment really sucks, but removing the word “sexual” does not fix everything and make everybody happy again.

    • wshaffer

      That’s one of the things I hope people are getting in all this conversation about creepiness/being a creeper/whatever: that harassment does not have to be explicitly sexual. That other people need to be treated with respect regardless of whether the context is sexual/romantic or just interpersonal.

      This. People are comfortable or uncomfortable with all sorts of things for various reasons, and I think it’s important that people be able to say, “Please don’t do that; it’s making me uncomfortable,” without having to go into an extended analysis of everyone’s motives.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I had a massage therapist friend in Indiana who put his hands in all kinds of places I wouldn’t normally allow to a friend of that level. But it was because, as you say, it was in massage-therapist mode. He made suggestive jokes about it sometimes (one time called while he was trying to help me work out a serious problem with my lower back, and my friend answered the phone with “hey, I’m pounding your girlfriend in the ass”), but never in a manner that was other than facetious and non-threatening. And that was because he knew how to be professional.

      Good point about boundary violations not having to be sexual in order to be upsetting. We focus on the sexual harassment because it’s the most threatening kind (can’t and shouldn’t have to distinguish between “harmless” harassers and “potential rapists”), but the rules for being non-skeevy should apply across the board.

  6. timprov

    If she accepts, then stick to safe zones — basically, the non-neck bits of the trapezius.

    As someone with serious trap problems, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that in the vast majority of cases, a massage limited to the meat of the trapezius will do no good and might make things worse. You really need to be able to get out to the borders of the muscle to get any benefit at all, especially the bit at the base of the neck. If someone isn’t comfortable with that I would prefer that they decline the backrub.

    (People who find backrubs sexy may feel otherwise. I am so very much not that person that I’ve been known to be oblivious to an attitude conflict.)

    • Marie Brennan

      I guess I include “base of the neck” in the safe zone, for my own personal boundaries; it’s when they migrate up toward the hairline that it can be a problem. But my own problems are usually planted firmly either in the slope of my shoulder or in between my shoulder blades, and for those, even a massage that’s very limited in scope can be useful to me.

      It definitely helps to have a clear sense of what does and doesn’t work for you, though — and that applies to professional massages you schedule and pay for, as well as casual ones. It took me a while to find a therapist out here who fit what I needed, and now that I have one, she’s worth her weight in gold.

  7. wshaffer

    Yeah, I can’t think of a single instance where I’ve been creeped out by anyone who made it perfectly clear that they would take ‘no’ for an answer.

    My weirdest con backrub experience was when I was giving someone else a backrub, and a guy approached me and said, “When you’re done with him, come to my room.” (He might even have given a room number – I don’t quite remember.) I laughed uncomfortably, and he left, so it was more a case of “guy who probably didn’t think through how that would sound” than serious creeper. Still, file that under, “How not to ask me for a backrub.”

    • Marie Brennan

      Uh, yeah. Since it sounds like the guy in question was a total stranger . . . no. One should also not solicit massages from people they don’t know, as well as not offering to same.

    • mrissa

      Yah, one of the really bad things I’ve run into is people who assume that backrubs at a con are public services rather than one friend doing a favor for another friend, or one sweetheart for another sweetheart. This is another one that tends to run along weird generational lines, and it baffles me. Why on earth would everything anyone could see be generally available to all comers? I…I don’t even…that’s just dumb.

  8. sandmantv

    I have a lot of thoughts on this overall issue, and am tempted to write my own post. Mostly about these rules being contextual, and establishing clear communication is important.

    What I’d like to add here specifically, though, is agreement with many of the commenters that I just don’t think backrub culture works with your goals. If your goal is maximum avoidance of risk of sexual harassment, a culture where people casually offer intimate contact just isn’t going to work. It’s sad that something is lost, but this is just too high-risk a zone for both to co-exist. The number of rules is too many and too complicated (keep in mind how few rules some social maladepts can follow), and the lines too blurry. The same applies to very cuddly groups.

    I don’t think this means physically affectionate cultures are bad. I just think they necessitate a level of universal trust. If you don’t have that trust, it’s much safer to not make backrubs or cuddling or whatnot not part of your social menu.

    • Marie Brennan

      My goal here isn’t really to say “here’s the formula for making backrubs okay!” — it’s to provide examples illustrating what behaviors help the other person feel safer. The individual points are fairly universally applicable: know the person you’re talking to; don’t impose your wishes or intentions on her; keep your hands to yourself; pay attention to body language; when in doubt, ask; when asked to back off, back off.

      In the case of that specific kind of situation, I actually do want a world in which “con friends” (which are so not the same thing as strangers) feel okay making that kind of offer, because I’ve needed it on many an occasion. And I do not want to say “can anybody here give me a massage?” because . . . yeah, NO. Personally, I don’t think we have to lose that in order to deal with harassment; the problem is much more complex than a simple “no-touch” rule, and has a great deal to do with things like how much women trust they’ll be listened to if they object, believed if they complain, etc. Caution is definitely called for, but I think discussing the nuances is good.

  9. diatryma

    Do you get hair braiders? A couple years ago, I kept running into a guy at a con and having to say again and again that yes, his braids were very nice, while looking at a photo album. He never actually asked, but he was very clearly leaving a huge empty conversational space. That happened the year before, too, actually.

  10. livejournal

    N-Things meme: Flirtation, Sexual Harassment, and Everything In Between

    User referenced to your post from N-Things meme: Flirtation, Sexual Harassment, and Everything In Between saying: […] example is the post our friend swan_tower just wrote: […]

  11. mrissa

    Actually I’ve seen them do this to men too. The assumption that any and all contact is for everyone is disturbing for everyone.

Comments are closed.