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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter movies

I’m sure she put smiley-faces on all of her o-mails.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My younger sister, let’s call her Bee, works as an executive assistant in a large, urban, corporate environment. Bee’s manager has recently mentioned, twice, that she is “coaching” my sister on developing better professional communication skills. In particular, she has expressed concerns that Bee is not “nice” enough in her emails to co-workers. She has mentioned that my sister does not use “smileys” and doesn’t start emails out with praising statements before doing something like asking for information. There has been no actual professional coaching, only these hints that my sister should be “sweeter” in her emails.

Here’s where I come in. When I say my sister is “nice,” that doesn’t quite get at the root of the matter. She is really, really nice. Doormat sweet. Works like a dog. Seriously. Rave performance reviews. Hours of overtime. Her superiors notice this–she is often singled out for extra projects, work, trips, etc. For example, she recently has been given some account management tasks and was also recently asked to attend a conference in Europe (where she literally worked so many hours a day she didn’t even go outside, but hey). I am 99.999999% sure there is no professionalism issue with my sister’s email communications.

Can you give us some scripts or ideas on how to talk about this with her manager?

My sister is not comfortable with direct confrontation and doesn’t always have a lot of self-confidence when talking about herself, but she is an amazing and hard-working woman. The thing is, I feel like this is a feminist issue. Strike that. This is a humanist issue. I believe that my sister is being penalized because she appears to be striving “above” her “place.” The suggestions her manager has made are not ones that will make my sister appear more professional–they are items that will make her seem more subservient, sweet/cute, passive, etc. I do not believe that these “suggestions” are being made in earnest, or with the intent to actually help my sister move forward in her career.

My sister doesn’t know much about Captain Awkward, but I’m a faithful reader. We would love some advice!

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I wrote this to maybe read at last night’s (EPIC!) Story Club, but the name-draw for open mic slots did not go my way. Still, I didn’t want it to go to waste. So here, without ado (and without comments enabled , b/c it’s a performance piece, not a discussion piece) you go.

Notes From A Boner

They pop up from time to time on Facebook. Time-stamp 3 AM, from an old friend I used to mess around with in college. “Hey, what’s new? I was just thinking about you.”

I bet you were, buddy!

Sometimes they show up in the film class that I teach. I play a clip from Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, to show how color temperature isn’t just a technical thing and you can manipulate it to create mood. “What did you see? What do you think?,” I ask the students.

Every time I do this, a freshman boy says something like “She’s sooooo hot” or better yet, “She used to be so hot,” referring to Jennifer Lopez, who frankly kills it in this role. The girls and gay boys don’t say anything about The Clooney, and I quickly change the topic to “What did you think ABOUT THE LIGHTING” while delivering my best over-the glasses disapproving mom look. The one that says “It is I, Queen Femicunt¹, First of her Name, Khaleesi of the Bitchrealms and the Isles of No Funnington.” I want that boner to slink away and think about what it did. But its presence still lingers. Every clip I show, I now have to think about from the point of view of a taunting, persistent boner.“You’re teaching cinema, I see. Did you know that nearly everything ever created in this medium was designed to make ME happy on some level? Muahahahahaha!

Sometimes the notes from boners get delivered on the street, or on the eL. “Smile!” “You should smile more!” “Hey baby, where’s that smile?” and if I don’t smile, or I smile like this (using two middle fingers to hold up the corners of my mouth),“Bitch!” “Fat bitch” “Ugly bitch” Here I was, walking around, grocery shopping, registering to vote, minding my business. I didn’t know I was making the boners sad. Fortunately The Committee for Boner Rescue and Repair was on the case to educate me. I imagine their letterhead, with Notes from a Boner! Stamped! at the top, ready to deliver humbling memos to grateful citizens everywhere.

Sometimes I write back back to the boners. Like, when I tried to sell my bike on Craigslist, and a guy sent me a dick pic from hisrealname@wherehereallyworks.com. Not wanting that boner to go to waste, I shared it with humanresources@wherehereallyworks.com. Boners are spontaneous. They live in the moment. They don’t always think things through.

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Dear Captain Awkward

I have been with my partner for over 5 years now, and I love him to pieces, I can’t imagine my life without him, but I am scared that if I propose to him he’s going to say no, from what I know we are very happy, and I know that he loves lots of ‘girly’ things as well as ‘male’ things, wearing dresses, cosplay, ribbons, romantic comedies, video games, and shoujo manga.

I thought it would be a great Idea to propose to him later this year by taking him to the largest convention we have in the UK for a romantic weekend away, wine-ing and dining him, I’ve booked the hotel room, saved up nearly all the money I need and bought a ring and a Tardis ring box to put it in.

But I keep second guessing myself now, thinking what if he wouldn’t want me to propose to him, or at the least having no idea what I would say, would he feel weird about his girlfriend proposing to him, I mean I’ve asked him in the past and he always said he hasn’t had a problem with it, but since I’ve started researching how to propose as a woman, I’ve found so many posts saying just not to do it, that it takes something away that is solely for the man to do, that I’d be robbing him basically of him being able to do it and that I would emasculate him by proposing to him, that he would become a laughing stock amongst other men. Despite reassurances from his and my male friends that if their own girlfriends proposed to them they’d be ecstatic, and they think he would be too, since he is not a traditional male.

I want to propose to him so much, but in doing so would I just humiliate him?

Yours sincerely

Dearly befuddled

Dear Befuddled,

How exciting for both of you! Two thoughts:

1) After happy five years with someone, surely a discussion of “do you want to keep doing this”/”should we formalize this thing we’ve got going on in one of the ways open to us under the law” is not a completely foreign one. The saying of the question in so many words, the presentation of symbolic gifts, etc. might have an element of surprise involved, but the prospect of the decision is surely not a surprise, right? If it is, then maybe a “Hey do you ever think about wanting to get married someday? How do you want us to go about making that decision” conversation before the whirlwind weekend is probably in order. If he has strong feelings about where and how and when this should all go down you’ll find out about them.

2) Someone who would not want to marry you or who would be humiliated because you were the one who asked the question, someone who would poop all over the awesome thing you’ve planned because: Traditional gender roles! is probably not right for you on a number of levels.

It sounds like the worst thing that could happen here is that he is like “Yes of course, let’s get married. Though I had this awesome surprise planned for you” and you say “we’ve got the rest of our lives to surprise and delight each other, you silly gorgeous man” and then you kiss a lot and get married some day.

Go live your awesome love story without fear or apology!

Edited To Add:

While we’re on the subject of lasting commitment, an Awkwardeer is seeking help with their wedding vows.

Hi Captain!

I love your blog, and the direct approach you have with words and creating good space for oneself in a relationship. My question is of the happy problem variety … I’m getting married at the end of May to a fantastic guy, and am looking for advice on building a strong marriage (and some inspiration as I start to write my vows).

We’re in our late thirties and have pretty similar romantic histories (very few relationships, none of which lasted very long), which means that we don’t have a lot of personal experience with the ins and outs of long term relationships. Our approach has been to “use our words” as much as possible, and while we don’t always agree, I can’t think of anything that has turned into an actual fight. (We’ve both wondered if this will create a problem at some point, but haven’t been able to imagine it.)

So. We’re getting married (hooray!). And I’m really interested in your (and the awkwardeers) thoughts on maintaining and keeping a strong partnership over the next (hopefully) 50+ years.

Thanks!

What makes love stay? Got any favorite poems or quotes or readings? LET’S CYRANO THE DE BERGERAC OUT OF THIS.

 

Thanks (?) to the nice Twitter friends who clued me into this horrible WikiHow on How To Stop A Wedding, or, as @KristinMuH put it, “a manual to help stalkers ruin their target’s special occasions.”

While I once joked that I would like to see this happen someday, it was, in fact, a joke. And the instructions to basically kidnap the person make my hair stand on end:

Take charge if things go your way. If he or she decides not to go through with the wedding, it is your duty to immediately escort the bride/groom away from the pressure of their family and friends. There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.

EEK!

So, if you find yourself searching for instructions on how to stop a wedding, ask yourself:

Has the affianced person been kidnapped? Is it a child? Then stop the wedding by alerting the appropriate authorities.

Is this someone you think should marry you instead? And they know how you feel? And yet they are still obstinately not marrying you, to the point where they have planned an entire wedding with someone else? Okay, here’s what you do:

  • Find out when & where the wedding will be.
  • Book yourself a vacation to “anywhere but there.”
  • Block this person in all social media spaces so you’re not seeing photos and updates.
  • Try for someplace with very limited internet access so you reduce temptation to watch it unfold on real time at the wedding hashtag or whatever.
  • If you can, get a trusted friend to go along with you so that you are not alone and there is someone who can comfort and distract you.
  • Remind yourself that soulmates aren’t real, and that other people get to choose who they want to be with.
  • Or, if it’s more comforting, say to yourself “They are making a mistake, but it’s their mistake to make.
  • Wait it the fuck out and move on with your life.

And if someone pulls this whole shebang on you at your wedding, here is a script:

“This is inappropriate and I’d like you to leave now.”

Hopefully your friends and family and security will form a nice barrier between you and this person and make sure they are escorted from the premises.

Now it’s time for the monthly(ish) feature where we find out what search terms bring people to this site! Except for adding punctuation, these are unchanged. Enjoy!

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Dear Captain,

I have a dilemma. I’ve been having a terrible year in 2014 (and 2013 was pretty shit also!) My husband and I have been having a rocky year in our marriage, I have just started an antidepressant to deal with my ongoing and dangerous depression, we have a $25,000 fee to pay to our condo I still don’t know how we’ll finance, and I have been balancing full-time work and full-time school schedule for nine months. Basically, I’m tired to the bone physically and emotionally.

My husband, Jack*, and I are currently in the process of going through some counseling and things on that front seem positive and hopeful. The problem is, he recently asked me if his brother can come stay with us from June to August to work in our town. Jack’s brother, Bill*, along with the rest of his family members, live in a faraway province with little economic action. We live in a booming economy with many jobs, especially in Bill’s area of interest.

I had not been planning to take any courses over the summer and was looking forward to some rare downtime and the chance to recover and feel like myself again. With an air mattress in the basement serving as a “spare room” and only one shower, living area and kitchen, it’s inevitable that Bill would end up encroaching on our space. Although he’s in college now he’s still a teenager, so I’m also concerned about his cleaning ability or lack thereof. Plus, frankly, I just don’t want to deal with a houseguest for the whole summer!

Jack misses his family a great deal. This would be a great chance for him to catch up with his brother and bond, to say nothing of the opportunity for Bill to build work experience in his field. I can’t help but feel like the bad guy if I say no, but I’m already mourning my lost, private summer full of reconnecting with Jack and having plenty of alone time. Should I kibosh the trip and live with the guilt? Say yes and quietly resent every moment? PLEASE SEND HELP.

Yours,
Houseguest versus Hag

*all names changed

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Hey Cap’n & Crew,

Fairly straightforward question here. Sometimes my face can be a traitor…it turns bright red and gets really hot at any extreme emotion, particularly embarrassment. I am sure many people can relate!

So here’s the question: What would you suggest for scripts for when someone (99.9% of the time it’s an older man, at least old enough to be my father if not grandfather) gives a weird, flirty, unwanted compliment (for example, how beautiful I am or some such nonsense), triggering a red-face explosion, and then they comment on how they made me blush. Now I am not only red-faced with embarrassment but also with anger and helplessness. You just KNOW that they’re pleased as punch with themselves and see nothing wrong with flirting at an unwilling participant because hey, they’re old and married and male! No harm done, right?

If these were random men on the street, I’d have no problem ignoring them or coming back with a scathing retort. However, this most often happens when it’s a client, a family friend, a friend’s family member, or fellow hobbyists. Particularly with the clients, I can’t give them a death-glare like I really want to.

Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance!
Red (Wishing I Was) Dead Revolver

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These are edited slightly for punctuation, but otherwise unchanged. Find out how people find this blog!

1. “Do I tell my son’s teacher he has a crush on her?”

No. What possible good could come of this?

2. “How to react when your cousin brother loses his mom.”

Tell him you are very sorry for his loss. While it’s tempting to ask “Is there anything I can do?” grieving people are often too overwhelmed to think of anything they need. It’s emotional “work” they on top of everything else. But they still need the love & support of family and friends. So see if you can bring dinner over/take him to the movies/spend time with him/otherwise let him know that you care.

3. “Why doesn’t my husband like for me to masturbate?”

We covered this, so I hope you found it, but the short version is: Learning to love yourself is the Greatest Love of All. It’s none of his business.

4. “Someone called me “girlie” in not a nice way..is it condescending?”

Fuck yes it is.

5. “Feeling sad and lonely inside a relationship.”

This sounds like a relationship that is profoundly Not Working, and I’m so sorry.

Maybe it’s time for a little journaling. What’s going on in your life, overall? Are you generally feeling a little down? Do you need to call in Team You (could be a therapist, friends, family, partner, mentors) and take some steps around self-care and feeling good? Is there something you wish your partner was doing that s/he’s not that you could ask for specifically? Is it time to end this thing and focus on taking care of yourself and being around people who don’t make you feel “sad and lonely”?

6. “Why does my my girlfriend keep inviting a guy with us to hang out?”

This is one of those “ask her” questions, and if it bothers you, then also “tell her.” Don’t torture yourself with possible reasons. Script: “I’ve noticed that ‘Steve’ has been coming on a lot of our dates, what’s up with that?” Who knows, maybe Steve is lonely and she’s trying to do him a solid. Whatever the reason, you are allowed to say “Could we have some one-on-one time next time we go out?

7. “Advice for one who has been abandon by the man coz of his family and yet she is pregnant.”

That’s a heavy one, my friend. My advice for you is to sit with the idea that he is never, ever coming back. Make your plans for the future knowing that he will never be a part of your life the way you want him to. In that world, what do you want?

8. “How to control your girlfriend that’s too sensitive.”

Wow. Scratch a situation where a person is “too sensitive” and you’ll usually find someone who makes mean, belittling comments and jokes that aren’t really jokes and violates boundaries nearby.

Is that person you? Because as soon as you are asking “how do I control this other person who is separate from me” you have gone far, far, far over to the Dark Side. Maybe it’s time to break up with this fragile soul and find someone who can take what you’re dishing out.

9. “My boyfriend doesn’t come to watch me perform.”

Oof. My ex-boyfriend didn’t like to come watch me perform at storytelling events, and while I was mostly okay with it (I’d rather have someone not come than come grudgingly and not enjoy whatever it is), it was such a good feeling when The Gentleman Caller’s attitude to such things was “Of COURSE I will be there!” Like, oh, this is what I need and deserve. Oh.

There are limits, of course – a working performer is going to perform way more than even the most dedicated partner wants to sit at the table with the band-spouses until Last Call, and nobody wants to be in the “fan” position all the time. But wanting someone to like your work and be there for you at least some of the time is not wrong, pushy, needy, diva-like, etc. If you’ve been playing it off like it doesn’t matter, it’s time for a serious talk about this. Tell him how important it is to you that he support you in this, and see what his attitudes are.

10. “My friend is cheating on me.” 

Like in this short film?

Content notes: Made by a former student for my class! Has some non-realistic parody violence & references to popular horror movies that may not be your jam.

“I didn’t know you didn’t want me seeing other friends.” 

Your friend gets to see other friends, Friend! So if you talk about this, I would stay away from accusations of “cheating” or mentioning the other friends and keep it to wanting to spend more time together. More on rebuilding fractured friendships here.

11. “how 2 tell my new gf that i want 2 hav sex with her.”

“Girlfriend, would you like to come back to my place and have some sex?”

Or “I would really like to have sex with you, what do you think about that?”

And then really listen to her answer.

Also, talk about this when you have your clothes on long before the intended moment. You’ve got logistical things to work out. What are your safer sex protocols? Is this the kind of sex where contraception is needed? When was the last time y’all got tested for STDs?

Taking care of yourself and the other person around sex IS romantic and sexy.

12.” after two dates do you still keep online date options open?”

It sounds like YOU do, so do!

And if you’re really into the two-dates person and not so into meeting other people, then don’t.

When I met the Gentleman Caller, after two dates I had no time for anyone else and cancelled any other plans I’d made. He had also been dating around a bit and had some things scheduled with people who he’d met before meeting me and it took a few weeks for that all to wind down. Which we mutually learned when we had a conversation about being exclusive.

Sometimes keeping options eternally open is a habit, sometimes it’s a sign you’re “meh” about someone, sometimes it’s about wanting to feel like you have options in case the other person isn’t as into you as you are into them…but it’s not hugely meaningful on its own and if something is really working it will find a way to work.

13. “Not wanting to be burden on therapist.”

Oh, sweetheart,  make your appointments, keep your appointments, pay for your appointments in the agreed-upon manner, and freely unload your troubles = being a good patient. Your therapist is there to listen to ALL of your worries, and does not think you are a burden.

14. “How to say no to a second date nicely.”

“No, but thanks!”

Edited to Add: Relevant to our interests, here is the great Mikki Kendall, who recently co-launched a blog at Hood Feminism, writing at The Toast about the problem of abusers & enablers in progressive spaces.  /Edit

There is a lot of violence and rape culture stuff discussed at these links, so if that’s not stuff you can read about, be warned and do not click the links!

Did anyone else read this piece by Jay Roberts, I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, and He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life?  

As a young Marine, Roberts met Randy Kraft, who is now believed to have murdered as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983. Roberts survived the encounter, and actually had no idea at the time that he was in any danger, realizing only much later when Kraft was caught that he was the extremely charismatic stranger he’d spent a day with long ago.

Serial murder is darker stuff than we usually deal with at CaptainAwkwardDotCom enterprises, and don’t worry, it’s not a place I want to dwell. However, the piece is really well-written, and it also fascinated me because here was a violent predator using all of the tactics that predators use: alcohol, isolation (both in selecting a target and in getting the target on his own), testing boundaries and then systematically escalating behaviors, choosing someone who will be unlikely to tell, or, if they do, unlikely to be believed. It was like a textbook case of what predators do. Kraft also did what many predators do, which is to groom their victims with attention and flattery.  He got Roberts, a straight, strapping male Marine to pose for sexy photos and even consider a sexual encounter, and he did it by making the guy feel, in his own words, *loved.* Such was Kraft’s charisma that years later, despite evidence that AN EXTREMELY BIG NUMBER OF OTHER TIMES this guy murdered people exactly like the writer in situations exactly like that one, even recognizing that the guy was manipulating him, had likely stalked & selected him as a good victim, he *still* questions whether that “really” would have happened to him and still has complicated feelings about the guy.

Predators & abusers fuck with our heads. They do it on purpose and according to a predictable pattern. The pattern is designed to disorient you and confuse you. It’s often designed to mimic what “love” or “caring” or “passion” or “intense connection” feels like, at least in the beginning. It leaves you confused and doubting your own feelings or right to protest. When it goes bad, by the predator’s design, it leaves you ashamed, like you “let” something happen to you. It doesn’t matter who you are. It is not your fault. They do it on purpose.

Another great piece I read last week touches on some of the same themes. Thomas at Yes Means Yes wrote “Cockblocking Rapists is a Moral Obligation, or, How To Stop Rape*** Right Now.

***Thomas qualifies it in the post, but it’s worth doing here: He is talking about a certain kind of acquaintance-rape, the type where perpetrator and victim are known to each other and part of the same social scene. He is also talking specifically about what friends/bystanders can do, NOT about how victims can stop their own attacks (by the way, fuck you forever, Emily Yoffe) and NOT putting responsibility on survivors (in fact, the last section of the piece is called “It Can’t All Be On The Survivors”) to make the social circle safer.***

Our post here on creepy dudes in friend circles is by far the most-viewed thing on the site, with over 322,000 views. Next top post? Also about creepy dudes, with 44,000 views. Followed by The Art of No When You’ve Already Said Yes, with roughly the same number. You could say that banishing predatory behavior has been on our minds a little bit. Which is why I love Thomas’s post so much, because he goes step-by-step through what you can do when you know about/see/witness creepy behavior and translates a lot of the discussions we’ve had here into action. First order of business:

“Spot The Boundary Testing

…What the rapists do is target selection. They are looking for someone whose boundaries they can violate, and who won’t or can’t stand up for themselves.  The best targets, the ones who offer the rapists the best chance of getting away with it, are those who won’t report — or who will never even admit to themselves that what happened was rape.  The way the rapist finds those people is to cross their boundaries again and again, progressively testing and looking for resistance.

That’s the pattern to look for.  If somebody seems to be testing to see if one of your friends can be pushed off of “no,” has a limited ability to stand up for themselves, that’s the red flag.

The most important thing you can do if you see this pattern is tell the target you see it.  Forewarned is forearmed.  In fact, somebody who is being targeted and pushed and tested may think they see the pattern, but may not trust their own instincts.  If they know you see it, too, then they may trust a bad feeling that they are already feeling.”

Boundaries are your friends. Defend them and help your friends defend theirs. It can be as simple as “It looked like you were not enjoying that backrub/seventh beer/tickling/hug. Do you want to come sit by me for a while?” or signal-boosting your friend’s no. “She doesn’t want any, thanks.” It doesn’t have to be a big scene or an accusation.

There’s more at the link, including offering options (a ride home, a place to stay, cab fare, “Here, you can use my phone!”) and watching over drunk and high friends. If you’d take away a friend’s keys to drive home, isn’t it okay to say “You seem too fucked up to really consent well to sex right now, and your new makeout partner DEFINITELY does. How about you get their number for later, and we call a cab now?” That probably seems weird and like overstepping, except, 30 years or so ago people revived the concept of the designated driver and made a media campaign and conscious effort to make that into a thing that we know about and do.

Could we make a similar push around sex? Not a stupid judgy “don’t drink, ladies” one (Emily Yoffe, if you’re reading, this, fuck you), but a Too Drunk to Drive is Probably Too Drunk To Fuck one. Prince is really making a push for the beauty of morning sex lately, maybe he can be our spokesman for “Let’s sober up and do it properly, and then go to brunch” campaign for horny party people.

Some of the boldest advice in the piece is to make sure people know who the rapists & suspected rapists are and openly take sides against them. It’s the advice that is probably going to get the most pushback from MRA- types obsessed with “false accusations.” Watch for lots of appeals to fairness and privacy and “innocent until proven guilty.” Hell, I fell more than halfway into this trap myself when answering this question. Not cool, me.

In a court of law, if you are the judge or the jury, a defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s it. No one else is held to that standard. To even investigate the crime & make charges, the cops and DA have made some presumptions that so and so is guilty. As Thomas says:

Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process.  Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property.  You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them.  You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party.  And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.  We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction.

So if you want to do something, take the label, plant it on the missing stair in your social circle, and make it stick.

You don’t need a jury trial to kick Handsy Bob out of board games night. You really don’t. Handsy Bob makes people uncomfortable. He doesn’t have to actually rape someone to prove that you were right to kick him out of the group for making y’all uncomfortable.

The last section, called It Can’t All Be On The Survivors, builds on this responsibility.  Thomas calls out the total pointlessness and complete shittiness of the idea of neutrality and trying to remain friends with both abusers and their victims, another topic that has come up here  more than once.

It Can’t All Be On The Survivors

I’ve seen the following two things happen:

(1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something!  If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?”

(2) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and the survivor yells and shouts for people to deal with it, and the people who are friendly with both the survivor and the violator shrug their shoulders and try to stay “neutral.”

What these two things have in common is that in each case, the people around the situation place all the responsibility on the person who most needs help and can least be expected to go it alone.

…Confronting people is emotionally taxing, and it often irreparably ends the friendship.  In fact, about something as serious as rape, it invariably irreparably alters the friendship.  If you believe that your friend raped your other friend, and you say, “hey, you raped my friend,” then the old friendship is gone forever as soon as the words leave your mouth.  What remains is either enmity, or a relationship of holding someone accountable, just as tough and taxing as staying friends with a substance abuser who is trying to get clean and sober.  That’s not easy.  That’s a lot of work, and most people are not up for it.

The option most people choose, because it gets them out of that, is to choose to not make up their minds about what happened…

…Just think about that.  ”Hey, you’re still friends with Boris.  But X said Boris raped her.”  ”Well yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”Well, but you know what Y said, and Y’s account was a lot like X’s.”  ”Yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”But Z said Boris violated consent, too, and that’s three people …” “Well, I’ve been friends with Boris a long time, so I kind of don’t know what to think …”  (Trust me when I tell you, folks, I’m not making that up.)

What can you do tomorrow?  Don’t let your communities do that shit.  Hold your friends to a higher standard.

If the current status quo is that survivors end up ceding social space and fleeing bad situations because they feel shame for “creating drama,” I would accept “rapists & creepy, boundary-violating people are shamed and shunned on the word of survivors” as an alternative.

In the comments,  in the aftermath of all the creepy dude posts here and “safe space at cons” discussions I’ve seen around the Internet, I’d be interested to know:

  • Have your social groups taken steps to isolate Missing Stair-people? How did that go?
  • Do you have stories of people intervening successfully in potentially creepy situations?
  • Do you have a creeper who needs a good banishment and need moral support or advice on how to accomplish such?
  • Those of you who go to cons or other events in geek-identified spaces, have you noticed changes in attitudes of organizers or changes in behavior?
  • Do you have suggestions for other things we can do to make our social scenes safer from predators?

Ooh, one final link that I got from Twitter (Thanks, Twitter!), about cutting toxic people out of your life and the relief that can come from not having to deal them by errlix might be good to read today. S/he lays it out very clearly and beautifully.

Hello Captain Awkward & Team!

A couple of years ago my mother met a new partner, A. He has many fine qualities such as being handy with building things, generous with his time and always willing to lend a hand. He makes my mother very happy and I am happy for her. He is also the biggest mansplainer ever.

If we talk about something and I make an assertion he disagrees with he questions me, he always demands sources (as in right now at the dinner table I should cite article, author and page number). When he cannot argue his case successfully he’ll just cop to his extensive business travel experience or other business/age-related experience. He does not respect the fact that I am more knowledgeable about my subject of study (I am a grad student in history) and will disagree with me or treat me like I’m ignorant.

If we have a discussion about something and he does not believe me and my boyfriend steps in and says The. Exact. Same. Thing. he will immediately fold. Every single time (my boyfriend has noticed this, too). And then I want to throw my hands into the air and scream, “I’M SORRY, I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT A BAG OF DICKS WAS A PREREQUISITE TO BE ELIGIBLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS CONVERSATION.” (I don’t scream that.)

He is insecure and must always have what other people have when it comes to food, candy & similar. He needs constant, repeated validation from all people present for things like setting the table, barbecuing something for dinner etc. (As in, everyone must explicitly say to him, “Well done A, for barbecuing those steaks” or he will fish for it. Forever.) And I feel like everyone just accept this way of things. My mom will do some version of “boys will be boys”. His (adult) children just quietly roll their eyes. Everyone says “That’s just what A is like. It’s stupid but whatever, don’t let it get to you.”

I am an assertive person and I do not as a general rule let people trample all over me. I am not interested in enabling his inner man-child and just writing about this has me angry. But I also want to keep the peace and have a functional relationship with A for my mother’s sake. But I can’t always shut up, never engage in a discussion, tolerate being condescended to and bottle everything up for the sake of “peace”.

How can I deal with all of this in a mature, assertive manner?

Sincerely,

Hysterical Historian

Dear Historian:

We talked about dealing with the unpleasant partners of people we otherwise love a little while back (and way, way back and some in the middle), but your question is making me think about this in a slightly different way that I think will apply to many situations.

Let’s talk about what “keeping the peace” means in a family situation like this. A nice person has somehow brought a jerk into the family/social group and exposed everyone to this person’s bad behavior. They feel guilty and awkward, because they love Jerkface but can also see that this person is not treating others well, so their loyalties are torn. They are realistic about the likelihood that Jerkface will ever change (It is unlikely), so they try to prevail upon the more reasonable folks around to be the adults. “That’s just how he is…” “Just ignore him….” “Don’t sink to his level…” “He’s just insecure. You’re so much more together, can’t you just let it go?” etc.  They win if they get to keep Jerkface in their lives without too much friction from the people who Jerkface hurts and tramples all over.

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