Dear Captain Awkward,
This one might be a little long, and I am frankly afraid there might not be any good solution for it.
My senior year in college, I shared a house with wonderful friends and an additional guy, A., who most of us didn’t know, but he was a friend of one of my roommates and we needed another person on our lease, so we welcomed him aboard. While him and I were never the best of friends, we got along okay for the most part, and developed an inside joke about how much we hated each other. Unfortunately, my “joke” hatred for him has since evolved into actual repulsion.
We graduated two years ago, and I moved out to another city, but I would occasionally see A. whenever I came back to visit other friends still in town, because we are part of the same social circle. It used to be fine until a year ago, when his girlfriend and him split up. Ever since, he has been making me and other women I know extremely uncomfortable.
He is constantly making comments about our asses or tits, or how we should fuck him–as in asking literally every two minutes “wanna have sex? how about now? and now?” This would be extremely annoying and offensive, but harmless on its own; however, he is also innapropriately physical. Past incidents have included: jumping on top of me when I am lying on the couch, flipping my dress in public so everyone can see my underwear ALL AFTERNOON LONG, letting his hands slide down my friend’s back, grabbing her crotch … You get the picture. I have had to knee him in the balls on multiple occasions to get him off of me, yet somehow that doesn’t stop him the next time around. My girlfriends and I have all talked about this and we all acknowledged to each other that we are constantly on alert and uncomfortable whenever he is around. Even a friendly hug from him feels threatening at this point.
I have tried to address the situation and make him stop. A. is usually drunk we he does this, and when I tell him how predatory he is, his answer is either flipping me off or a variant of “but it’s a joke, it’s not serious, blablabla.” This makes me so unspeakably angry because he is so cloaked in male privilege that he can’t even fathom what it’s like to live in constant fear of being preyed upon. I wish I could make him understand, but I feel that my credibility with him is shot, because I am (of course) the nagging, humorless bitch with a stick up my ass who can’t take a joke. My friend who is the another main recipient of his unwanted groping does not feel as comfortable as me confronting him. She has done so once in my defense (I was very intoxicated and terrified of passing out in the same room as A. for fear of him trying to take advantage of it), but she phrased it as me being uncomfortable with him as opposed to his behavior being unacceptable to everyone subjected to it.
I am terrified that if I can’t make him understand that not taking “no” for an answer and knowingly infringing on people’s boundaries after they have repeatedly told you to stop is unacceptable, he will end up taking his “sense of humor” further and eventually rape someone (assuming he hasn’t gone this far yet). Like I have said, I only see him very occasionally when we travel, so I do not have this issue regularly with him. I will be moving out of the country soon and probably will never have to see him again (if I have anything to do with it). Some of my friends, however, will still have to see him on a regular basis.
I know that technically his attitude is no longer my problem, but I can’t exactly live with myself knowing that he is acting this way and that I haven’t done anything to change him. So my question is: should I try to confront him one more time and try to get through to him (maybe soberly this time around)? Or should I just focus on my own life and pray he never does anything truly horrific?
I’m Not Humorless, You’re Just Not Funny
(As additional information: I don’t remember him having been this way prior to his breakup, but to be honest, maybe I used to gloss over it before because he was in a committed relationship. His breakup also happened just as I was becoming better-versed in feminism and women’s issues, so I think it definitely bothers me for more precise reasons than it would have before then.)
Dear Not Humorless,
So I took it offline and turned it over to Feministe’s Jill for a measured, helpful response, since she was itching to tell someone to DTMFA. What I like about it is that she gives you a safe way to confront this guy that does not let him off the hook, and also a way to address his behavior within the larger social group. (SHUN!). Here’s Jill:
Dear Not Humorless:
But also, you never have to see him again if you don’t want to and you say you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t confront him, so I kind of think that you are the ideal candidate to confront him. You totally don’t have to, and are under no moral, ethical or Good Feminist obligation to do this. But if you want to, you can, and it might help (or it might not, but it might make you feel better).
But I don’t think you should go at this alone. It sounds like your girlfriends mostly agree that this guy is a Grade-A Dickface, but they haven’t been so willing to back you up because, I don’t know, women are socialized to be nicey-nice people-pleasers who don’t call dudes out on their gross behavior? Go through the girlfriends list and get in touch with the ones you think agree A has a problem, and start talking strategy. If you’re all in the same city, or if you’re visiting the city where most of them live, I find brunch (with many mimosas) is a good opportunity to hash things like this out. Be like, “Yo, girls, is anyone else totally creeped out by A? I think we have talked about this before, but I am totally creeped out by him.” Exchange stories about how you are all totally creeped out by him, and how he is wildly inappropriate and makes you all feel threatened. Then be like, “So I know I’m leaving the country and I will never have to deal with him again, BUT I don’t want it on my conscience that I knew he was so terrible and did nothing. So I’d like to confront him, and it would make it a lot easier if I had some back-up.” Suggest that you and one other lady sit down with A, sober, and lay out why he’s making you all uncomfortable. Also suggest that if A doesn’t change his behavior, you all agree that a good old-fashioned social shunning is in order. And really agree to that one. Say it a bunch of times: If A doesn’t change, we’re not hanging out with him anymore.
Hopefully your girls will be on board. It’s hard to collectively lay out all the ways that A is awful and predatory and a potential rapist and then be like, “But eh, I don’t think we should do anything,” so definitely do that part first. Then decide who is actually going to talk to A. You sound like you would like to be in the room, so you should be in the room. The second lady in the room should maybe be someone who A perceives as more neutral — he has no doubt caught on that you don’t like him and he’s probably tagged you as the local Feminazi Bitch, so it’ll help to show up with someone he trusts.
Then see if A wants to grab coffee, or talk in some non-alcohol-related venue. Sit down with him, make five minutes of small talk, and then be like, “So look, A, we wanted to talk to you because you’re our friend and we’ve known you for a long time, but you are doing some things that are making us really uncomfortable, and it’s making it hard for us to keep up this friendship. I know everyone gets a little rowdy when they drink, but when we’re out drinking you end up touching us in ways that make us feel pretty violated. And since we’re friends, we want to give you the benefit of the doubt here, because maybe you don’t realize how much we really really dislike being touched in sexual ways, and how much we also really really dislike being asked repeatedly if we want to have sex. So we wanted to bring it to your attention, because we know that you also value our friendship and we assume you don’t want to be doing things that make us feel bad.”
This is obviously way more politeness and consideration than he deserves, but if you approach it very gently and frame it as “We want to continue this friendship and your actions are getting in the way of that,” any decent human being will respond with an apology and changed behavior. Hopefully A does that! Hopefully he is totally mortified and apologetic, and doesn’t get defensive or brush off your concerns, and then hopefully he acts like a big boy and quits grabbing your boobs.
I suspect, though, that he will get defensive or dismissive; in that case, keep your tone even and try to keep the higher ground as The Rational One. Because here’s what some dudes do when they’re confronted: They dismiss you, or they laugh at you, or they needle you in ways that are intended to get a rise out of you, so before you know it your voice is squeaking and you’re stuttering and you’re all pink in the face because you’re so frustrated and then, BAM, you’re an irrational bitch. It ain’t fair, but try to avoid that trap. That might mean, at some point in the conversation, saying, “A, I think we’ve explained our concerns. I understand that you don’t agree, but I hope you’ll think about what we’ve said, because this has really gotten in the way of our friendship and I’m generally just concerned about how you treat women. I hope you’ll make some changes,” and then walking away before you get too heated.
And if he doesn’t respond well and his behavior doesn’t change? Fuck him. And not in the fun way. Don’t see him when you go to visit. Support the girlfriends who do live in his town when they avoid social functions that he attends. Feel free to talk some shit. Shun away.
Also, are there male friends or boyfriends involved here? Because the actions of other dudes in a group can be pretty powerful influencers on the most terrible dude among them. If you have mutual male friends, maybe bring up your issues with A to them. A lot of decent guys don’t want to go all White Knight unsolicited, but if they know you’re uncomfortable, they might be more likely in the moment to be like, “Hey A, grabbing that girl is assault, brotha, knock it off.” And if your girlfriends do get on board with the “no more hanging out with A until he stops being such a proto-rapist,” their partners and male friends should really be on board too. Again, it ain’t fair, but sometimes dude-pressure is the best pressure. Guys like A can write off female complaints because (duh) guys like A are misogynists. It’s harder for them to defend themselves to their bros.
And look, maybe none of this will work. This guy might not change, or your girlfriends might really disappoint you by not wanting to go along with this. If that’s the case, you did your part — you did way more than your part — and you should feel very brave and good about yourself and you should not hold onto even a droplet of guilt, because doing this is hard. Good luck.