#331: Creepy-by-association?

Feminist Cookie: Meets Minimum Standards of a Decent Human
Feminist Cookie from this set on Flickr.

The shoot went really well today, thanks for all the good wishes. And thanks to Nate & Meredith at Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville for so graciously letting us use your great space.  We’ll be releasing the completed project on the web, so Awkwardeers will be the first to know when we’ve finished the cut.

And now a question. How novel!

Hello Captain.

I’m having a very hard time getting to know women, and I think that my geeky hobbies are partly to blame. Wait, hear me out, this isn’t going to be yet another rehash of the old discredited “women aren’t attracted to geeks” trope!

The roleplaying and anime communities in the city where I live are crawling with toxic misogynists, entitled Nice Guy ™ types, sexual predators, and other kinds of creeps. Because of that, women who discover through their interaction with me that I’m into roleplaying (the tabletop gaming kind, not the sexual kind), or that I watch anime, often assume that I, too, must be some kind of habitual boundary violator, and limit their contact with me.

A conversation might go like this: (exaggerated for comic effect) 

HER: “Your face looks familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
ME: “I think we might have seen each other around at [a local RPG
convention] a few years ago.”
HER: “Yes, you’re right! I stopped going there after I got tired of
constantly getting hugged from behind by strangers and getting
randomly hit on by men who were at least 10 years older than me. Oops,
I just remembered that I have to extract myself from this conversation
and never speak to you again. Bye!”

And I can’t really fault her reasoning in that interaction. People have groped me without asking for permission in this kind of events, and I seriously considered not going there anymore because of that. If
that happened to me, I imagine that women have it much worse.

But it really sucks for me. I’d like to have female friends in my life, and maybe even develop a romantic relationship someday. And I don’t think I can do that if I’m being followed around by the shadow
of all the terrible creepy people who I happen to have a hobby in common with. So my question is, how do I get women to see me as an individual person rather than yet another specimen of notoriously toxic group X?

– Same Hobbies, Different Morality

Dear Same Hobbies:

Here is your cookie for not groping people and being gross. Is it tasty?

I don’t think you are going to like what I have to say, not least because there is something ironic in asking how to make women, plural see you as an individual.

It is extremely unlikely that the nerdy women in your geographic area have banded together in a Lysistrata-style boycott of nerdy dudes to send a strong message about personal space and safety. Though, if they have, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THERE? Also, can you put me in touch? I’d like to meet them and write about that.

Sadly, if the women in your (comically exaggerated) conversations liked you and wanted to get to know you better (either as a potential friend or romantic partner), your interest in a hobby shared by various creeps and gropers would not enough by itself to make them withdraw from your company.

So something else is going on. You’re not connecting. They don’t like you, specifically, not You, Unfairly Tarnished Avatar of Creepicus Complainicus or You, Lover of Anime and Role-Playing Games. I’m not there with you during these interactions, so I can’t tell you if you’re doing something weird or off-putting. And neither of us can read the minds of these women. Probability suggests that they each have a completely different reason for taking a powder on getting to know you better. The reasons could be:

  • Some of it might absolutely be due to your hypothesis: “Ugh, entitled geeky dudes.” + flashbacks to being groped at that convention that one time. Or simply “He’s fine, but I’m taking a break from dating within this scene.”
  • He’s handsome. Too bad he looks weirdly like my ex/boss/brother.”
  • “He seems okay. I need to pick up tampons, milk, toilet paper, and hot sauce at the store on the way home. And also….what did I need to buy? Oh, right. Dish soap.” 
  • Not my type.” “Meh.” “Don’t like him.” “Have enough friends already, too busy to see the ones I do have.” “He didn’t do anything wrong but I’d rather talk to the people I came in with.” “Ugh, this migraine is killing me. I need to go somewhere dark and quiet.” “He’s nice, maybe I’ll see him around another time.” “Vaguely irritating in a way that I can’t put my finger on.”
  • Etcetera multiplied by infinity, by which I mean, who the hell knows?

You can’t know the reasons, because women are people and people are different and you can’t see inside of their heads. And they get to unfairly and subjectively choose who they want to hang out with for bizarre unfathomable reasons and there is nothing you can really do about it. There is nothing you SHOULD try to do about this because it is a FEATURE and not a BUG of being a human with free will. I can’t give out merit badges that say “Captain Awkward says this dude is basically okay, give him a chaaaaaance!” and if I could I wouldn’t want to.

I know that feels crappy, but if you can’t control whether people like you, sometimes it helps to chalk it up to their subjective experience – “Not everyone will like me and that’s ok” –  than to try to look for what might have done wrong and put effort into sucking up and appeasing. You can’t make people like you, so be kind and do the best you can and don’t worry too much about the ones who don’t like you.

Most of my dating advice is compiled concentrated here, and the comments are an amazing compendium of advice for meeting people (friends and romantic partners) and making social interactions less fraught.

I’ll give you a few pieces of advice. I don’t know that they’ll “work” or if they even should work, but they are just good things to do and keep in mind.

1) Make it  a project for yourself to seek out out creative work by women. Books, movies, comics, essays, music, etc. Maybe you already do this. Do more. Why? Because it will be fun and you will come across great stuff (the comment thread here is a giant list of recs for work by women).

2) As a corollary, when you are around geeky women, make it a project to ask them for recommendations for pop culture stuff they like and that you might like. Go read or watch the stuff. Take yourself out of the role of the authority who recommends stuff, and if your conversations about fandom tend toward passionate arguments and proving your deep knowledge about things, mellow it out for a little bit.

I’m a geeky lady who hangs out with pretty great, egalitarian, feminist geeky men, and yet it still stands out to me as memorable and awesome when a man follows up on my recommendation for a book or a show he might like. It also stands out as memorable (in a bad way) when I’m discussing something I love with someone who also loves it and it becomes competitive and fansplainy. Sometimes there is a temptation among nerds to turn a shared love of something into verbal warfare. I can’t say that I’ve always been immune to the temptation to use intelligence as if it’s the one thing I’ve got going for me and make charisma my dump stat. But, “You like Dr. Who, too? Cool, let me drown you in everything I know about it and explain why the episodes I like are superior in every way to the episodes that you like, and if you make a small factual error about an episode title or name of a fictional planet, I will use that as more evidence that the things you like are wrong. Also I will talk louder and longer than you, so everyone can see that I won the conversation. Say, you’re cute when you’re mad. Want to go out sometime?” … doesn’t necessarily “impress women” or, really, anyone.

3) Take a break from looking for friends and women to date in geek spaces for a while. Say, 6 months? Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because a) it’s not working out, which is why you wrote me and b) maybe you’re being too goal-oriented and putting too much pressure on the interactions when you do find someone you like talking to. Make your goals smaller and more focused on enjoying the present interaction than on making a deeper connection.

For example, if you’re going to a party or event, these are some good goals:

-Talk to 2 people you didn’t know. Ask them some questions and to maybe recommend something they love reading or watching right now.

-Since you seem to have an issue where other people end their conversations with you before you are ready, make it a goal to end the conversations first. Try to make yourself be the one who says “Thanks, awesome talking to you. I’m going to go get some water, see you later!”  Make no noises about seeing them again. Do not latch. If you see them again, that will be a good surprise, and you’ll be able to talk about the great thing they recommended last time. Initially this will help you feel less needy about these interactions. You’re not being rejected, you’re choosing when to disengage from a conversation. Over time this will show others that you are a safe person who is chill and who doesn’t become overly invested or clingy. People will relax around you and it will be easier to get to know them.

I’m borrowing heavily from frequent commenter PomperaFirpa, who has some of the greatest instructions on basic social interactions here. An excerpt:

“3) Is casual conversation with strangers something that only happens when you are attempting to approach women, or are you one of those people who can go to a party where they only know the host, and walk away hours later with the life story of everyone in the room? I ask because I have historically been TERRIBLE at talking to strangers and the only thing that has improved that is practice. If, like me, you have a history of going to parties, discovering that you know nobody, and ending up lurking in the back pretending you’re social by petting the host’s cat, then you need more practice talking to other humans for general social purposes before you get into DATE ME PLZ mode.

4) Right now you’re not getting any reward out of talking to women, since the only reward you’re after is GET DATE GET DATE GET DATE. Shift the reward: give yourself three points apiece (based on how you think you did) for each of the following:

a) Analyze for Commonality. Figure out what you have in common with this other person.
b) Commonality Question.* Ask the other person a question related to the thing you appear to have in common.
c) Compliment. This often goes hand in hand with the Commonality Question; either one can go first. You get bonus points for adding in an indication that you are interested in this topic.
d) Follow-Up Question. This demonstrates your listening comprehension.
e) GRACEFUL/CASUAL EXIT. By which I mean that if at any point before this, you get the OH CHRIST GET AWAY FROM ME vibe, smile, say “thanks”, and mosey off. Alternately, if you discover very quickly that this person is screamingly bad company, ABORT MISSION and still give yourself full points for extricating yourself.

(Of course, the first four can be lather/rinse/repeated if things are going well, but only then.

Example from real life:

a) This woman has a Doctor Who t-shirt. I like Doctor Who!
c) “Love the t-shirt!”
b) “Where’d you get it? I’ve only seen them at WisCon.”
d) I’ve never been there, did you like it?”
e) “Cool! Thanks for the tip, great talking to you!”

I will generously award myself full points for each, a total of 15 points. Once I get to 100 points, I am totally going to go get ice cream, because while points are their own reward to me, ice cream is a TANGIBLE reward and I like it.

So just play that game for a while, at best while you’re in your happy venue. You will become used to speaking to strangers– maybe even strange women!– in a no-stress venue and a no-stress situation, and at worst you will still get a few points toward your tangible reward and another bit of practice. At a party you could pick up enough points to get, like, FIVE tangible goals. Your end-goal here is to get so used to talking to people that it ain’t no thang, and to reward yourself along the way because that shit is nerve-wracking and internal encouragement is necessary.

Note: this is good even if you are actually totally Captain Suave. It’s not just practice, it’s making it so that you have no pressure re: talking to people…

…6) Just CHILL on this whole thing for a while, and work on your awesome, on finding your venue, and on getting as many points in your conversation game as possible. If you’re not getting dates anyway, you may as well stop, improve what you can, enjoy everything you can, and start again later.”

4) Okay. I have to ask this, and you don’t have to answer because it’s a process kind of thing. Since you brought up the horribleness of the spaces you and other nerds frequent, what are you doing to make those spaces safer and better for yourself and for women? Not in a “look at me, I’m Captain Feminism here to save you” kind of way where you ask for credit for your work, but in a way where you actually do some of that work?

A lot of that work is not really tangible – it’s in the details and a million small interactions. But you complain about the community where you are. What if you started a RPG Meetup that had a harassment policy that was spelled out in advance and the group actually enforced it? And what if you invited people you knew to be Not Creepy and barred known creepers? Or what if you helped evict known problem people from the social spaces you already frequent? And what if you did this not in the hopes of getting a girlfriend, but in the hopes of playing games you love with cool people you could trust and feel safe around yourself?

For example, in your hypothetical conversations with women about the harassment they’ve experienced in geek spaces, did you:

  • Say “I’m so sorry, that sucks” and then listen for a while?
  • In the spirit of solidarity, relate the stories you have about creepy behavior you have suffered?
  • Or, did you explain as sincerely as possible that not all men are like that and there are some good dudes around who can be trusted to act right?

There is a hierarchy of responses there. Can you see it? The third tactic is almost guaranteed to be off-putting and make people not respond well to you.

Finally, you may like Dr. Nerdlove’s advice. His whole thing is “helping the nerd get the girl” where I skew more toward “Helping the nerd (who may or may not be a girl) get whatever they want from life (which may or may not be a nerd or a girl) by speaking frankly about their desires and enforcing their boundaries.” The good Doctor breaks down a lot of social interactions around flirtation, dating, asking people out in great detail and I think you are his target audience.

Whatever’s going on with your self-confidence and approach in meeting people didn’t happen overnight and probably isn’t going to be solved overnight. The best thing anyone can do is put your best foot forward, try not to take rejection too personally, be nice to yourself, and practice your basic social skills. Somewhere out there are cool people who will like you and be into some of the stuff you’re into (though having congruent interests is not a requirement for friendship or love). Some of those people will be women. Some of the women will maybe like you That Way.

190 thoughts on “#331: Creepy-by-association?

  1. Great, well-thought-out response.

    As a longtime reader, one section of this problem that really resonated with me (and that has always resonated when it has been brought up in the past) is the thing about being okay with people not liking you.

    I have this problem liek woa, and though INTELLECTUALLY I know that not everyone who I like will like me, I have an INCREDIBLY hard time accepting that this is an normal and okay thing. Since I was small I have struggled with the overwhelming and irrational urge to FIX it. It is probably what drove me into a career in the performing arts. (Along with everyone else in the profession.)

    Do you or the Awkward Army have recommendations of books or things to do that have helped them let go of this mindset?

    1. For me it was getting older. I’ve always been socially awkward and had a hard time figuring out things like when to end a conversation or what topics are appropriate for certain audiences. But getting older made me more secure in the friendships that are important to me (friends, family, artistic collaborators) and less worried about people outside a close circle.

      Also, there’s work. I make movies, and you can’t rewind the film and show it again while explaining what you intended to an audience -they get what they get and they feel what they feel.

      I teach college, and you need a thick skin for that. And I teach art-making, and part of my job is to help students develop some critical distance from their own work so they can see the good and bad and learn to improve. There are things that make me the perfect teacher for a certain kind of student, but another kind of student won’t respond to those things at all. My evals are mostly very positive, but they can be a real mixed bag some semesters, and I only see them after-the-fact when there’s no chance to explain or change course. I have to take the criticism, look at it honestly to see what is valid and what I can improve, and let the rest go. There’s no chasing that student down after the fact and persuading them to have had a different perception of me, and there’s also no profit in feeling terrible about myself and living in a cycle of blame and shame.

      Between friends, family, students, art, etc., I’ve figured out that there are people who like me or get me (and my work) for whatever reason, and people who don’t. That doesn’t mean “never try to improve,” but do I spend my energy chasing the people who aren’t into my thing, or do I put my time into the places I’m wanted?

      A thought exercise for you: Quick: Think of 5 people from your life who you don’t like. Doesn’t matter why you don’t like them. Don’t over-think it. List 5 people who make your shoulders go up around your ears or whom you’d prefer to avoid.

      Okay, got your list?

      Great. Somebody in your life – a coworker, a barista, a friend of a friend, someone from your childhood – would put you on that list. It’s not fair. But they get to do that. Are you going to put your energy into your relationship with that person to try to change “No way” into “Meh”? Or will you pour your love into the people who appreciate you?

      This really turned into a question within a question. I hope that helps.

      1. I have had certain people hate me ON SIGHT since I was five years old. Hell, it happened with some of my relatives as well. There’s just something about me that made them go “NOT ONE OF US,” I am too weird for them, whatever. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s been ugly for me at times (i.e. bullying), but eventually you just… well, that’s life. There’s some people that bring that reaction out in me too, you know? All you can do is just avoid those people. Nobody is universally beloved by all, there’s always gotta be haters.

        1. I hear ya jenfullmoon, for me it started around the age of about 11. I managed to make 3 whole friends in secondary school – with a maximum of 2 at the same time. There was plenty of bullying and I was miserable for the majority of it; in hindsight though I am glad I learned that lesson early because it shaped who I am now, that teenage isolation and peer rejection left me free to keep marching to the beat of my own drum because the *worst* had already happened.

          1. I learned how to endure being disliked in when I was a kid (quiet/weird/timid/bullied kid) but I still hated it. I didn’t learn how to completely not care until I was working Quality Assurance in a call centre.

            I was the one who listened to call recordings and read email threads to make sure customers were being helped. I wrote a lot of “this is how we were great, this is how we can do better” evaluations. I am an incredibly curious (read:nosy) person, so it was a neat fit for a while. It was like being Harriet the Spy.

            However, my role wasn’t a popular one. Some people respected me (I was knowledgable, helpful, and had high standards) and other people resented the hell out of me (again, I had inconveniently high standards). Meh. I learned to ignore it pretty quickly. I worked with some terrifyingly awesome people around whom I was able to be vocal, openly weird, and valued. Also I eventually got promoted into my current gig, which I kind of love.

          2. oh man. once when i was working QA I got to write a review of a person who turned out to be married (different last names!) to the person who my reports went to. FUN TIMES.

            Sometimes, there’s no way in hell people are going to like you and it has nothing to do with you.

      2. Oh, student evals! So stressful!

        For me, it took a long time to really “get” that not everyone had to like me, but I learned it from my birth family, who just did. Not. Like. Me. It took a long time and I finally ran up against a complete wall of “nothing I say is actually going to be listened to, nothing I do will make them change their minds, nothing will make them change how they feel about me.” It hurt, but actually realizing it was kind of liberating. I’m not actually responsible for it! If they’re hurt because I’m me/not pretending to be someone else, that is their problem.

        Once you deal with this with family or a former close friend or a partner, you get kind of used to being a villain. There is, alas, no way to change people’s minds. If you act like you, you are Maleficent or Ursula. If you don’t act like you, you are the same Disney villain, just in her transformed disguise, and they “find you out” eventually.

        At least you get all the really good musical numbers.

      3. I love the idea of thinking about a list of Disliked People. I’m sure I’m on someone’s list! I may even be able to think of one or two people whose list I might be on! It’s a good way to think about it and make the idea of being disliked not just about ME but about dislike as a natural response that some people have to other people. Being a jerk about it isn’t ok, but disliking someone else is.

        Something that’s helped me deal with it has been building up things in my life that are, in my opinion, Objectively Fabulous. I’m sorry, you don’t like my politics? You don’t like my nail polish? You think I get too excited over potential queer themes in human/alien relationships in Mass Effect? Well fuck you, I’m over here making beer and talking about feminism & gender with my friends and going to roller derby matches and not crying about your disapproval of me. My twenties have been all about figuring out what makes me fantastic and latching onto/developing those things, and now as I’m about to turn thirty I have a much better sense of who I am and why I deserve respect. If someone doesn’t get that, that’s fine – I’m not for everyone. But feeling more confident about myself means it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

        I still sometimes think “OH NO they see past these things into my inner Terrible Person!!!” but that voice has gotten quieter over the years and usually only comes out when I’m in a pretty bad depressive downswing.

        1. I think you’ve hit on my problem right here – this rings a lot of bells for me. It also made me realize that my marriage is causing a lot of the need to please and the feeling shitty about myself, and I’m panicking a little.

          1. That sounds like another letter for another thread, then, but I’m glad you got something valuable here.

          2. Yeah, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing you about this, but I haven’t because every time I’ve tried to compose the letter I end up telling my life story, so I think that first I need to distill the problem. Sorry for the mini thread-hijack, and thank you and the Awkward Army for the rest of the advice. (My therapist actually recommended Disease to Please and I read it and got some useful stuff there.)

    2. For me, too, it has been getting older. But along with that getting older came realizing how many different kinds of people there are, and that I don’t like all of them and they don’t all like each other. There is no one kind of person who would be universally liked. To please everyone, you would have to change for everyone. When with person A, to be gregarious and outgoing, and politically conservative. With person B, be softspoken, a better listener than talker, and not political at all, etc. etc. Taking it to an absurd extent, you’d even have to change your look! Conformist and super-groomed for one, all natural for another. It’d be like being in a play, where you have to play all the roles, constantly running off stage for a costume change — and some of the costumes (and roles) would fit really badly, and you’d get confused sometimes and forget who the heck you were supposed to be being at the moment, and actually instead of everyone liking you no one would because they would sense that there was something off about you because none of those roles were real.

      So much better to be you, intensely and honestly you, and accept the fallout. At least that way, when people like you it means something — and not that you’re a great actor/actress or that they’re easily duped.

      1. I know a few people who try to live as you describe in your first paragraph, and they are all deeply unhappy.

      2. Role stress is a real thing, and exhausting. I used to get it a lot when I was younger. I eventually outgrew it. And it isn’t that I stopped changing – it’s that I stopped trying to be the old me, to please the people who liked the old me while moving forward to become the new me. Leaving home helped immensely.

    3. I became much more comfortable with the people not liking me when I became comfortable with myself not liking other people. When I realized that I didn’t have to invite people to my birthday parties (or whatever) if I didn’t actually enjoy their company, and that I didn’t have to go to parties/hangouts/events/whatever if I wouldn’t really like most of the people there, even if they liked me, I also realized that other people were allowed to not hang out with me if they didn’t want to, even if I wanted to hang out with them.

      Also, at some point I decided that spending time with people socially should be fun, and I found that even if I thought someone was really cool and really wanted to be their friend, if they didn’t seem to actually want to spend time with me, hanging out with them wasn’t fun. I was too busy trying to make them like me and see how awesome I was to actually enjoy myself. So eventually I started hanging out just with people who acted like they liked me, and found myself a lot happier because of it.

    4. I think part of that problem – especially with women – is that we are conditioned by our culture to be pleasing. To be nice. To be giving. That everything will be OK in your life as long as you are pleasing to everyone. But you never will be.

      I used to not care. At all. I was independent, confident, strong, and opinionated. I stood up for what I believed in. I got so tired of being called insolent, selfish, trouble and a bitch that I tried to be pleasing. What did I get for my effort? A few years of really learning how it feels to be a doormat.

      I tried to find some books as I’m also interested in the topic, but didn’t find anything specific. You might want to check out: The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome. It might be relevant.

    5. Make the list that the Captain suggested. Spend a little time really wallowing in your dislike of these people.

      Now pick the one you dislike the most, the one you have the most visceral negative reaction to. Imagine that this person has decided to make it their Goal In Life to FIX the fact that you do not like them. How does that feel? Hold on to that feeling and memorize it. Whenever you get the urge to FIX someone not liking you, pull it out, experience it for a moment, and let that feeling be your guide as to whether you take any actions in pursuit of your goal to FIX it.

      I have been using this technique for years, and while it has not done much to make me stop wanting to FIX it, it has almost entirely made me stop doing anything about it. At this point, the urge to FIX it lasts about a microsecond, and I can live with that.

      1. Oh, gosh. I’ve HAD the person who tops my Dislike List try and fix the dislike. It is one of the single most uncomfortable feelings I’ve ever had. You’re caught, and pressured, and can’t just say “Please just let me hate you in peace!”. Also, I was 12 and she was 50. Seriously: so many bad feelings.

    6. A couple of things that have helped me:

      1) Setting better boundaries with people I do like, and becoming more comfortable with saying no. Even if you like somebody on a basic level, you can’t spend all your time trying to make others happy, or it will drive you and everybody else nuts. I am a better friend for being better at saying no. This is something you can do one boundary at a time. (I kind of had a watershed moment with my husband in which I started enforcing a big boundary that he’d been pushing for years, but I don’t think it needs to be that dramatic. You can practice with things like “roomie, please leave your muddy boots outside instead of in the hall” or “waiter, this soup is cold”.)

      2) Weird as this sounds: being assertive with other people about aesthetic disagreements. You don’t have to get into a big argument here; you can just pipe up with “I’m glad you liked it, but it didn’t do much for me”. Or “Yes, I see your point about the weak plot, but I still enjoyed the costuming and lighting a lot.” This is good practice for liking/not liking things without making it into a big argument.

      3) As the Captain points out, it’s useful to put your creative work out for others to evaluate, and allowing it to get heavily criticized. Since you’re in a creative profession, you’re pretty much going to have to do this eventually anyway. This was really helpful in making me quit thinking “OMG, people don’t love my deepest inner self!” and start thinking “What useful thing can I take away from these comments that will make my art better?”

      4) The writing book I swear by: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Has a lot of good stuff about dealing with creative rejection. Once you’ve got the skills, you can translate them to other kinds of rejection. The book has the extra bonus feature of being hilarious; there are bits that still make me giggle every time I look at them.

    7. Eckhart Tolle’s book the Power of Now helped me be more relaxed, and less creepy and obsessed with how other people view me. It’s sort of New Age-y, but also has an awful lot of practical techniques on relaxing yourself and calming your mind when you start getting into an pattern like your brain is preparing itself to enter the Anxiety Olympics.

      I suspect that some of what he advocates may be standard cognitive psychology, but I’ve never been through that type of therapy.

      Also, for what it’s worth, it’s easier for me to let things go when I’m not huffing down caffeinated beverages a gallon at a time. Being overstimulated doesn’t seem to jive well with my desire to be a reasonable human being.

      It’s a process. I came to realize in my late 20s that my internal narrative wasn’t doing me any favors in getting along with the rest of the world. It’s still there, whispering at me when a lovely woman doesn’t want to go out with me telling me, “Noonewilleverloveyouaagaaaaaaain” but with some practice, I’m learning to ignore it.

      1. LOVE TOLLE. A while ago I was devouring “A New Earth” and scribbling quotes. I should go back to that well, and check out “Power of Now.” Thank you.

      2. That’s a really great point, about the internal narrative. For me, what helped was learning to create a pause after The Voice started compulsively spitting out its vitriol. In that pause, I could sort of step back and go “Really? Because what you’re saying sounds suspiciously like bullshit, Voice”, which even if it didn’t always help me feel better at least helped me be aware that I was in fact okay.

    8. This may not help you, but it’s an incident that really helped me “get over” people not liking me. Once upon a time, I had a job that I loved but one that often made people not like me much because I was the representative of a hated power (we are the government, and we’re here to help you).

      I set up a meeting with a VERY angry group of people to help them understand what was happening in their community and how they could be part of the process. I brought in the actual decision makers and the scientists. We answered questions for over three hours. Bear in mind, this was not mandatory, this was not something my agency had to do, it was something that I’d set up specifically and only to help the community understand what was going on.

      At the end of the meeting a woman, who’d been hostile the whole meeting, came up to me and grabbed my hand. And did not let go. And said “When you walked into this room, I hated you on sight. Now, after listening to you, I’d like to tell you that I merely pity you, since you’re a small little person in a small little box.” And then she walked away.

      After that, I learned to let the dislike go. There was literally nothing that I could have done to make that woman like me (OK, except re-write a couple of laws), and what she didn’t like had literally NOTHING to do with me as a person. Some people just hate you because of what you represent to them, and it truly is not personal. Sure, hate and anger FEEL personal, but often they’re not. I had people at other meetings do their darndest to tear me to shreds in the open meeting, then shake my hand, tell me what a wonderful job I did, and ask me out for a beer afterwards.

      My grandmother often told me “the only person you can control is yourself.” The advice has stood me in good stead. You can’t control anyone else, you can’t make them like you, they might not even dislike “you,” and instead might dislike what you represent to them. Since you can’t control this, you need to just let it go for your own peace of mind.

  2. And LW, I don’t know if you already are or not, but could you please do us all a favor and be a little loud when you see something not-okay going down in your hobby groups? I promise, girls notice a guy who is willing to say, “That’s not cool, man./Really?/Dude, she’s clearly not interested, so back off.” Plus if even one person speaks up about not-okay behavior, the people who were afraid to say anything will chime in and eventually the culture shifts – and the anime/role-playing groups in your area manage to shake the creepy reputation.

    1. I would like to second this. Brief overview of calling out for when you are not the individual being personally harassed or oppressed:

      1. Do not make accusations on a person’s character. Say what they’re doing isn’t okay rather than that they themselves are not okay as a person. You aren’t looking for a fight; that’s safe for no one. You’re calling out.
      2. Approach with compassion. Try to make it a learning experience for the harasser. You’re most likely in their rank group. It’s easier for you to change the culture because you have privilege and you aren’t personally being attacked. Use that.
      3. Follow up. By making them accountable and offering support as a member of their rank group, you make it easier for them to change and that will hopefully change the culture.
      4. Recognize that the harasser’s actions are ultimately not your responsibility. You do not have to call them out; it’s just a good idea. Sometimes, however, it may be a better idea to help the person being harassed get away. Try to use your energy wisely. Each situation is unique, but remember to always take action, even if that action is simply asking the person that was harassed if they’re alright afterward.

      1. Apropos of your very last sentence, I know we are big fans of the Pervocracy blog here and this post is one of the coolest things I ever read. It basically shows, if a situation is effed up, even a tiny step can lead to changing it. Even something safe and comfy like saying to a friend “that’s effed up, hey?” I recommend reading it.

      2. As far as ways of calling someone out that aren’t going to feel like an attack, I first ran across this one at Shapely Prose (wish I could remember who said it): do it as if he just put his elbow in the butter. You’re not condemning him; you’re embarrassed for him that he’s done something so gauche.

        The follow-through matters too: don’t make excuses for him to the woman he’s been harassing, don’t have expectations of her, and don’t approach her for conversation (at least not right then). Something along the lines of “Hey, I’m really sorry he did that. Hope the rest of your $_time_period is better,” followed by leaving her alone. If it was particularly egregious, you might add in a “Do you want to call a friend/con security/the police?” or “Do you need directions or help getting to somewhere safe?” If she says no, or seems uncomfortable, respect that and leave.

        1. I have to recommend my favorite line we passed around in SP comments (also can’t remember who originated it) for when people are outright hostile (rather than slipping on their privilege): “Oh, that was very rude! You must be so embarrassed!”

          1. SM – I think that might have been me! I can’t claim that I invented it as I got it from somewhere else, but I think I *might* have introduced it to the ‘Prose.

      3. Excellent point Sarah
        “calling out for when you are not the individual being personally harassed or oppressed”
        It’s not only easier (because you’re ever so slightly detached from the situation) but it’s a lot more effective – everyone sees that asshole behavior is just that, and not intrinsic to being a — oppressor group.
        It can lead to some cool exchanges, say where colleagues trade off calling out –ism aimed at another group, and everyone benefits from a more open environment. If nothing else, the less-hateful jerks who indulge in -ist jokes as a misguided method of bonding with their buddies realize that they’re actually alienating some of their own as well as the target group. It may not deeply change them, but shutting them up is beneficial for all.

  3. LW, the Captain covered the fact that it isn’t all about you being a geek beautifully, so I’m going to focus on the fact that you choose not to hang out in safe spaces (the Captain’s fourth point). Every time you go to a con or meet-up with a known problem with harassment towards women, it becomes more probable that one of the women you meet is going to judge you on that fact. Look for geek events that are safe spaces for women (and hopefully for people in general). They exist. Locally for me, it’s the Friday night Magic meet-ups at the comic book shopped owned by one of the most kickass people I know (and who happens to be a women).

    I also have to wonder why you specifically want more female friends. I understand the desire to eventually find someone to date, but if you’re interested in that, there are other options than randomly meeting women (speed dating, other such group events because mixed group events are awesome for making people feel safe). If you want friends, make friends. You know, people who you like and who like you. There’s no gender on that. If the majority of people you meet happen to be cismen and that’s the problem, again, consider changing up where you hang out and who you hang out with. It will always come back to that idea: if you aren’t meeting women in spaces where they have any reason to trust you, you need to change your spaces. You have to make that change.

    1. LW #331 here. Yes, there’s no problem with the geekiness per-se, the problem is the community’s bad reputation. The *entirely justified* bad reputation. I guess it basically boils down to the question of whether the more effective course of action would be to try and make those spaces better, or ditch them altogether and find something else.

      I regret that mention of dating in the original letter. It really distracts from the main point. I’m not interested in dating right now, and haven’t been for quite a while now, so that “someday” isn’t about me trying to get pity points for not having a date, it’s about dating only becoming a concern someday, when (actually “if”) I’d want to do that again.

      1. I tried to treat dating very loosely in the response. So much of the advice on making friends and dating overlaps that it doen’t really matter.

      2. I feel like I have to ask: Why are you so certain that the community’s bad rep is the problem here? Have all of these women said that? How many women are we actually talking about, here? Why are you so certain that your behavior is not any part of the problem?

      3. “I guess it basically boils down to the question of whether the more effective course of action would be to try and make those spaces better, or ditch them altogether and find something else.”

        There really isn’t anything else. Right now you’re hitting on women in geekspace and dealing with “oh, another guy hitting on me in geekspace.” Go to a bar, and you’ll get “oh, another guy hitting on me in a bar.” Go to a concert and you get “oh, another guy hitting on me at a concert.”

        My guess is that the main reason you wrote this letter is that you’re in a slump and you’re starting to worry it’s permanent. It’s not. Do all the cliche’ stuff people always say. Be yourself. Relax. Smile. Ask questions. Don’t talk about yourself too much. Wear clothes that make you feel confident and interesting. Etc. etc.

        I like the suggestion that you should practice meeting people in contexts other than “I’d really like to see this one without clothes on.” Practice being nice to people who don’t have anything you want, and take note of how your attempts to be nice for niceness’ sake differ from your attempts to be nice for… other reasons.

      4. Hey LW? Just wanted to say that I thought your “exaggerated for humorous effect” conversation was, in fact, pretty humorous.

        But yeah to what folks are saying: find other places to hang out. Those places that are toxic-to-women are actually toxic-to-you too. Because they’re toxic.

    2. People do judge you by your friends (a.k.a. people you voluntarily spend a lot of time around by choice), and IMO it’s actually a pretty rational thing to do most of the time. Who someone likes to hang out with, who they admire, who likes them — those things usually DO tell you a lot about a person. It tells you something about what they value in other people, and about what kinds of other people value them. Also that they care enough to try to surround themself with people they like and respect, which is a healthy positive thing to do.

      So I don’t actually think people who think a little less of you for voluntarily spending a lot of time around creepy people and in environments where creepiness is tolerated are being so unreasonable or unfair; they’re interpreting what information they have available in front of them as well as they can.

      IMO, spend more time in nicer environments, whether doing the same kinds of stuff, or different things entirely. Then if the ‘I occasionally hang out in places full of creeps for fun’ thing comes up in conversation, it’s more likely to be balanced out by all the other stuff you do and other people you spend time with. (And it’s more likely just naturally to come up a little later in conversation since you’ll have so many other things to talk about).

      1. This is very true. As an example, I tend to be automatically suspicious of anyone who makes it apparent they frequent 4chan. Whether it’s a meme t-shirt (if in-person) or an anon-style avatar (online).

        1. One concern I have on that is how many memes escape from 4chan into the wider online space. Some meme t-shirt wearers might just really enjoy the popularised meme without realising that it originated on 4chan, because they never go there even for observation purposes. e.g. how many readers here would know that without Caturday social threads on 4chan there probably would never have been I Can Haz Cheezburger? or LOLcat memes in general?

          I also know people who frequent 4chan for work scuttlebutt (internet security types) and who report that non-toxic channels exist and are often fun to play around in. This is also true for parts of Anonymous: some affiliates are social justice/anti-tyranny activists as well as transparency/free-speech advocates, and they get tips on keeping themselves safe from infiltration by security forces from the hacker channels. It’s not all a sewer.

          Obviously, *some* 4chan-originating memes are out-and-proud sewer-chan clan membership statements, which I would also beware. But not all of them are, and if you are a critical/wary observer of 4chan then you may well be much more aware of the meme’s origin than the person wearing the t-shirt might be.

  4. LW, your need to “exaggerate for comic effect” when describing interactions with women reminded me of a LOT of creeper guys I know who use a veneer of humor as preemptive protection against getting called on condescending, creepy, shitty behavior. They use it to make unwanted advances and physical contact (pats on the head, hugs that go on too long, grind-type dance moves) under the guise of “ha ha, isn’t it funny that I’m paying you sexual attention, I’m clearly joking/exaggerating/would never REALLY do that”.

    When they’re given a weird look or brushed off or told to stop, they’ll say “I’m just kidding!” like it is the lady’s fault for not getting the joke. Even if they stop, that is a sign that “I don’t respect you!” or “I think that jokes are more important than your sense of safety!” That is some bullshit.

    This could also be a case of exaggerating your lack of dates as a way to garner pity points. That isn’t as creepy, but I’ve found that it often leads into the “haha, aren’t you cute, let me touch your hair, I’m totally kidding, don’t get upset, jeez” type of humor described above. And in any case, the compliment-fishing exaggerating humor isn’t attractive in general.

    I don’t know if you’re doing this, LW. I may be totally off-base. But if you find yourself frequently exaggerating yourself for comic effect in conversations with women, that could well be part of the problem. Especially if the behavior you’re exaggerating in any way involves physical contact or flirtation. That can come off very untrustworthy and weird and generally pound some alarms.

    Follow the excellent suggestions from the Captain. When you do meet women you’re interested in, try to be earnest. Stay away from using humor as a way to skip ahead several friendship levels prematurely. PomperaFirpa’s guidelines are REALLY good and practical models for sincere behavior. When you crack a joke, keep it to the subject material that you’ve already broken in that conversation, or build on her jokes. Keep the humor non-sexual and hands-off (obviously). If she makes flirty jokes first, follow with caution and let her lead.

    LW, it seems like you’re trying not to be a jerk. I’m assuming good faith here. But I’ve met a lot of well-intentioned dudes who make exaggerating jokes to flirt with women who aren’t interested, and it’s made my life less fun on a number of occasions. Many of those guys have gone on to be okay dudes who behave like adults, and I hope you get to that point.

    (I am sorry if this double post? The comment didn’t appear when I first tried to post it. Please delete if it is a double).

    1. Oy, I can see why you can read the “comic exaggaretion” like that. My bad. What I meant by exaggaration was this: in actual conversation, my partner only says “Ah, [convention]. I stopped going there.” without listing the reasons. She might be thinking “unwanted hugging and skeevy older men” (And that wouldn’t be an exaggeration. That’s a typical experience in those spaces. They really are *that toxic*), but she doesn’t say it out loud.

      1. And if you just stop there, it’s not unreasonable for someone to get the impression that a) you are still going to the events, and b) you think the events are Just Fine Actually, and that would be … off-putting.

        It sounds like (from this and other things you’ve said in the comments) you’re also not comfortable with these events, to the point of considering not going or trying to change them from the inside. If you decide to stop going, you might respond with “Yeah, they were toxic; I stopped going, too.” And leave it at that.

        Note that this seems like a good idea to me, but it may set off Nice Guy ™ alarms for some people.

      2. That would’ve been an awesome time to ask why she stopped going! If this happens again, you should take the opportunity to be a person who is genuinely interested in finding out more about another person. Her reason could be something more benign, like, “My ex-boyfriend organizes it,” or “I got in a huge fight with a friend who’s always there and I just don’t want to see her,” or “I don’t have a car anymore and I can’t get there on public transit.”

        Opportunity’s knocking! Don’t assume she’s been put off of all guys forever and wander away. Be a listener who cares!

      3. LW, it sounds to me like you are doing a lot of assuming – and I have to admit it gets my hackles up a little, because in your example you had the PERFECT opportunity to show this woman that you were interested in her and her experiences.

        Next time something like this happens, say, “Oh, how come?” or “Do you mind if I ask why?”

        If she says “I don’t want to talk about it,” drop it. If she looks uncomfortable or skirts around it, drop it. “Sorry, none of my business. What kind of [anime or game or scifi show] do you like?”

        If these geek spaces are as unsafe as you say, she could have been ogled, groped, or assaulted in the parking lot. She could have just gotten fed up with sexist jokes or with being seen as a sex object or a potential girlfriend instead of someone who went to an event to do something she enjoyed. Or maybe it was too expensive or she didn’t have fun the last time or she drifted away from her gaming group.

        I don’t know, and neither do you. So try asking. (But of course she doesn’t owe you an explanation. And on that same note, if you ask and get a bad reaction, you might need to reassess how you’re interacting with these women.)

        If she mentions unwanted attention from men or that the space felt uncomfortable, your answer should be something sincere, sympathetic, and not overbearing. Something simple like, “I’m sorry. That sucks.” MAYBE “Yeah, some of these guys can be [jerks/creepy/handsy/disrespectful. Sorry you had to experience that.”

        You probably shouldn’t dwell on it, either. That sounds awkward for everyone involved, and besides, at this point she doesn’t know you well enough to tell you about something that might be personal. I know *I* wouldn’t want to tell a stranger (even – or especially – a nice stranger who could be a new friend) all the details about being touched inappropriately.

        You probably want to aim for a conversation more like this:

        HER: Your face looks familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?
        YOU: I think we might have seen each other around at [a local RPG
        convention] a few years ago.
        HER: Yes, you’re right! I stopped going there.
        YOU: Oh. Why?
        HER: I kept getting hit on, and I wasn’t interested.
        YOU: That sucks. Do you go to any other cons?
        HER: Sometimes I go to [other con/gaming store/my friend’s house].
        YOU: Cool. What’s it like?

        1. Bear in mind OP also that to some people “how come?” might sound aggressively clueless, and that’s okay. You can’t always know how things will come across to people – obviously there are things which ring as warning bells to a *lot* of people (especially women), but things like asking “how come?” or “why not?” isn’t really one of those. It probably is the best thing to respond with because most people will just take it as a legitimate question, but there may be a few who see it as a reflection of your privilege in not (as far as they know, I know you mentioned in the original letter that you have been groped etc) having to deal with the shit that is so obviously toxic to them, and if you pick up on that resentment, don’t take it personally. As a general rule guys are simply not as aware of endemic sexual harassment and they have no way to know that you, personally, do suspect that it’s why they left.

          1. I think a lot depends on tone there. If you’re not careful, “how come” can sound like a challenge; I can easily see someone hearing “how come” as “prove to me that your reasons for avoiding it measure up.”

            (But I’ve been spending a lot of time in FTB lately and may be primed to see dismissal and JAQassery where it isn’t)

      4. Hang on, LW, I’m confused. In your “comic exaggeration” you imply that least one women (and strongly imply more than that, since you frame it is a standard example) has actually told you that they no longer go to conventions because the atmosphere was gross and sexist. Now you seem to be saying that in actual conversation, women don’t actually “say it out loud.”

        If I’m reading this correctly (and I really hope I’m not), you’ve independently observed that conventions are shitty spaces for women and then decided that’s the reason that Example Woman a) no longer goes to said convention and b) doesn’t want to continue a conversation with you.

        That’s a baffling amount of assumption and inference. Also, I echo everyone else who’s replied to this when I say, did it not occur to you ASK at that point in the conversation? Or did you just silently think, “Oh right, because of misogyny and creepers! I know all about that stuff! Good thing I’m not like that! Wait, why are you leaving?”

        I think it would be helpful if you completely decouple “Nerd culture is a shitty space for women” from “Why won’t women talk to me?” in your head. It’s very cool that you’re aware that most women do have to put up with a fairly toxic atmosphere just to participate in nerdy activities they enjoy. Work hard to make those women feel safer. Not because you feel they might be more likely to talk to you once they feel safe, but because it’s the right thing to do.

        Then, separately, work on your social skills in general. The Captain’s writing on this stuff is top-notch, as are most of the external links she provides, so you literally could not be in better hands! Stop worrying about making friends with women and start working on making more friends in general. Thinking about making Female Friends as a separate challenge from making friends in general will only make it more daunting, and also is kind of weirdly Othering for the women in question. It’s a bit like the prevalent idea that women who write books are never just authors, they are Female Authors defined by their femaleness. Women don’t want to be your female friend, they want to be your friend. Work on presenting the best possible version of you and friends will come. There’s a high chance some of them will be women.

  5. Mm, yes, good advice. It’s comforting to have a narrative about “this is why I don’t have a boy/girlfriend, and it’s not my fault.” Lots of us do it. I was once tempted by “I am just too clever and intimidating, it’s not my fault I don’t have a boyfriend…” and hey, maybe sometimes that was the reason a particular person didn’t want to date me, but I’m guessing it wasn’t any sort of universal explanation. The way I eventually got better at interacting with boys had a lot more to do with developing my social skills than with trying to hide my mind!

  6. LW, I know the feeling you have, I spent a long time feeling like the people in my social circle had some sort of social conspiracy against me. As the good Captain pointed out, this is highly unlikely to be the case.

    What helped me most was stepping away from my usual social space and taking an extended period of time to practice how to meet people and get to know them. This sort of practice, for me, involved finding people who I would have no reasonable expectation of encountering again and introducing myself and trying to start a conversation.

    Now obviously you have to find the sort of space conducive to this. I first practiced this in the common rooms of youth hostels while traveling alone. Obviously these circumstances will not be available to everyone but there are plenty of places to try this. You get social practice in a low pressure situation and as a bonus you have the chance to meet really interesting people.

    It was really hard at first, but that first trip traveling alone did wonders for me I feel.

  7. Okay, hi LW.

    I get that you’re a gamer and trying to find someone whose interests mirror your own. Good move on your part BUT maybe gamer conventions are not the best place to meet women whose minds are incredibly open to conversation. I say this as a female gamer who has attended EIGHT annual conventions as a player and a vendor. As a player I learned a couple things about convention spaces. Perhaps twenty percent of the attendees will be female. Less than that are gamers. I can NOT go to a game alone without being hit on, and usually I am the only woman there. It is not the best time to chat me up, as usually I’m too occupied with being some variant of my deepwood assassin. As a vendor I learned to tell people to back off a lot earlier than I used to.

    So I feel like maybe these women that you’ve been approaching are viewing you through a filter of a weekend of awkward conversations and actually unable to seperate your awesomeness from the experiences they had while trying to have fun and slay some orcs. It took me YEARS to build friendships with male gamers that I didn’t know before walking in. YEARS.

    I’m hoping that you’re aware enough to not really need a lot of the Captain’s advice regarding women not being a monolith or sex vending machines that you just need to friend really aggressively. Because it sometimes really alarms me how many people will pay this advice lip service and then not really follow through. I totally agree that the human race in general needs more people who are willing to speak out against harassment when they see it, without basking in deserved praise.

    So, I thought of some advice for you all on my own, and it is very nerdy.
    1) Consider playing a tabletop game as a female character. The more your GM and other players are willing to go along with this, the better. Feel free to judge the hell out of the people who will judge you for trying this.
    2) Try LARPing. The Live-Action players I know are serious badasses, and GREAT at social interaction. Maybe it’s because they fake being social, but doing some acting together as a group can really help people get to a place where they feel like they know each other better. Many cons have one-off LARP games. If you haven’t, try it.
    3) If objectification bothers you, don’t consume it. Don’t pick up Dollhouse and pass over Firefly. Don’t watch Gantz and neglect Ghost in the Shell. This also extends to friends telling shitty jokes and expecting you to go along with it. If it’s sexist, racist annoying bullshit, tell them so. I’m presuming that it does bother you, here, because you’ve sorta made a point to show how different and awesome you are.

    Okay I am going to end it here, because I’ve typed a novel on my goddamn smartphone.

    1. … I’m going to object to the “don’t consume things that are objectifying” advice, because as a woman who objects to objectification and the male gaze I still enjoy plenty of media that objectifies women like me for the benefit of straight men, and I find that a lot of the time the avoidance of media that seems like it could be problematic turns into cookie-seeking behavior. “Oh, no, I don’t like Serenity, it’s got that whole Whedon creepy girl-ninja thing going on” can sound like “NOW YOU MUST LOVE ME FOR MY FEMINISM” from the wrong people.

      What I would suggest is a) double your efforts to consume media by women (seriously, that recs thread has tons), b) do the thing where you ask for recommendations, and c) if someone calls out something you’re excitedly fannish about for being problematic in some way, own it. I mean, don’t get defensive and start talking about how the rest of it is great or they just don’t understand the vision. Agree or say “I didn’t see that but if I watch it again I’ll make sure to look for what you’ve said.”

      But yeah, call out people in real life for saying bullshit things. http://yoisthisracist.com/ can inspire you.

      1. I told myself I was going to stop commenting up a storm, but . . . also helpful: http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2011/09/how-to-be-a-fan-of-problematic-things/

        Example time: I enjoy Sherlock, but sometimes it’s racist and oftentimes it’s sexist. I enjoy Doctor Who, but it’s usually sexist (and now has my official award for worst pregnancy plot in a scifi show, which I know is saying something, but I think it’s deserved). I am not going to stop watching them because I enjoy both and find both engaging, but I am not going to act like they are perfect – which is, sadly, what a lot of people do. Consume media. All media. Then discuss it. Dialogue about it. Highlighting problems does far more than shoving them away.

        1. Oh, and I’m leery about number one. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a male player who genuinely has an idea for a female character they want to play, but it shouldn’t simply be a test for your GM and fellow players. Yes, it might offer insight into how women are treated, but the LW has to realize there needs to be effort on their part if they want to do that right and that they might be getting themselves into a fight that it isn’t our place to make them fight. I’d more advise finding a game with a female GM. Or apply the Bechdel test to your D&D game. If you don’t have two female party members that discuss something of note each session (i.e. not their boobs or sex; with movies, they aren’t supposed to discuss men, but personal experience says boobs will be the more likely tell because, damn, do creepy geek dudes like to mention those), find a cooler game because yours is pathetic.

          That’s right, I said it. Games without good female representation are pathetic.

          1. Agreed on #1. Every time a guy played a female character in my old D&D group, her clothes would find ways to come off at every opportunity and/or the player would find a way to make her powers sex-based somehow. And YES, the constant boob talk. *facepalm*

          2. On a similar note, I find it super disturbing that there’s such a big market for fetish mods in games like the Elder Scrolls, so you can dress up your female character (or other female characters) in tiny leather things or whatever you’re into. It’s like “Really? Really guys? You have this huge epic detailed fantasy world with a bajillion quest lines and complex skill building system, and all you really want is to watch a pixelated woman run around in a studded thong?”

        2. I was about to try and find that exact essay. I love the points that it makes, where there is a difference between being a fan of something problematic, and being a fan who refuses to admit things that they like are problematic.

          I think that advice to avoid problematic things also rather glosses over the fact that, right now, a huge chunk of popular media (as in almost all of it) has problematic elements. I think that convincing yourself that nothing you like has issues means you are almost certainly ignoring something, and if you then have to immediately stop liking it the moment that someone points out those issues, that really sucks!

          I really like the new Star Trek movie. Watching the directors commentary were they were So. Damn. Smug. about the best friend getting the girl instead of a the lead in a huge upset of expected tropes made me want to reach through and strangle them since it was so obvious that they were using Uhura entirely as a vehicle to make some point that had absolutely nothing to do with women being human beings who could choose things. I still really irrationally like the movie. I still even like the fandom, even though the Kirk/Spock slashers are generally pretty awful in how they get Uhura out of the picture when writing about how to get Kirk and Spock together. I would be extremely annoyed if I got informed I was Bad At Feminism because of what I like.

        3. Thank you for that link, that’s basically everything I’m trying to say about liking things in our current (saturated with kyriarchy) media environment!

          1. You’re welcome! And it’s definitely great for Orson Scott Card! I am currently looking forward to the Ender’s Game movie myself though.

        4. Urgh, I used to love Stephen Moffat when he did those awesome episodes every so often, but then he took over and suddenly all the women in the show are getting kept in boxes. Often literal boxes. Prison cells, the Pandorica, virtual realities, stasis chambers, pregnancy pod thingies… And then men get to take them out and play with them and put them back when they’re done. So, so creepy. (And yes, I agree about the pregnancy plot, it was actually legitimately horrifying, but they didn’t really seem to acknowledge just how much.) I still quite love the show but I will *totally* talk about how seriously disturbing this trend is getting, especially when people go on about how Stephen Moffat is, like, super awesome, guys.

          1. Word. I love Matt Smith & Karen Gillan and some of the things in his reboot, and I think they hired a new design/cinematography team and got more $ – the show has LOOKED fantastic. But if you’re stealing story lines from MOTHERFUCKING TWILIGHT about newborn babies being your one true soulmate and stuff, it’s time to check yourself as a writer. Also, what is it with steampunky things and horrible toothy MOUTHS?

      2. I strongly agree. I’m very into horror and grindhouse/exploitation films, and even though a lot of the better work in the genre is very tongue-in-cheek, I would be stupid to argue that the ubiquity of violence against women in many of them isn’t problematic (particularly as reimagined by the likes of Tarantino et al., but I’ll refrain from my own geeky derail). Those kinds of conversations are interesting, and they elevate fandom into actual geekdom (like being able to have an almost academic perspective on the thing you love that doesn’t diminish how much you love it).

        And of course, real life behavior is ultimately very different from what’s portrayed in media in that you can actually call out real life behavior. I was enjoying the hell out of a Russ Meyer film at a screening once, but then this guy I’d just met made some revolting comment about how he was glad he was sitting next to me for this movie, and I tore him about seven new assholes.

      3. Regarding the liking of media that are objectifying and otherwise problematic, I strongly recommend the essay “How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things,” found on SocialJusticeLeague.net.

        The ability to separate one’s personal liking for a movie/series/franchise/whatever from one’s understanding of its issues is a valuable thing, and the ability to have a conversation about its flaws, or to push its creators for improvement, or to try to mitigate the social effects of its problems on the fans who play around with it at conventions, is all valuable work to diminish those problems’ negative effects on fans, potential fans, and bystanders.

        A fan of something problematic who can sympathize with people who feel hurt, excluded, or disappointed by some aspect of it, and who can join them in condemning those aspects rather than shutting down their complaints because It’s So Awesome Otherwise That It Deserves Immunity From Criticism, will be viewed much more positively by the whole population of people who didn’t like that part of it—which often includes some of its fans.

        A fan of something problematic who is a voice to the creators to “please fix this in future episodes,” “stop having X character do Y and Z,” “can the reboot be less dependent on Unpleasant Trope P?” or “Can you cast a woman of color when you make this movie about this book where the heroine has black hair and olive skin?” is an active voice in making it less problematic.

        Most of what’s out there has varying levels of Problematic attached to it. A lot of us get screwed over by our own favorite media devaluing us as fans, throwing sexist bones to the sexist fanbase, or just being written by careless, privileged writers. Sometimes a thoughtful and sympathetic fandom community, and a safe space, and some leeway to distance the stuff we love from the stuff we hate, makes all the difference in the world not only to the people around fans of [insert media here], but also to many of the fans thereof.

  8. The phrase “I’d like to have female friends in my life” really jumped out at me. LW, if you currently have no women friends, despite hanging out in geeky spaces that already have women in them, you — individually — are probably doing something wrong. Yes, you. Geeky women, whether or not we want to date geeky men, tend to want to be friends with other geeks of whatever gender, if only so we have someone to game with or watch our favorite shows with. I know no woman who has friends, including lesbians (and I’m queer, and I know a lot of lesbians), who has no men friends, and no geek women who have no geek men friends. If you don’t have any friends who are geeky women, there’s probably a reason for that. And given that geeky women tend to be pretty aware that not all geeky men are creepy, even if there are enough creeps at the local con that they don’t feel safe going, that reason probably has to do with your own behavior, rather than a stereotype. If you can make new friends who are men but not new friends who are women, then it probably has something to do with the things you do, instead of the things you don’t do (like strike up interesting conversations at parties).

    Also, dude, your letter is straying dangerously close to the dreaded Nice Guy ™ territory.

  9. I love the advice about asking for recommendations instead of giving them; in my whole time in geek subcultures at uni I don’t think a single male geek ever did that, and not because I didn’t talk to them or we didn’t talk about favourite things.

    LW, I think what I’d add to all these suggestions is pretty close to what lydirae already said: work on making yourself obviously not misogynist, because that means 1) your geek spaces as a whole are less misogynist, score! and also 2) you’re setting yourself apart from Those Other Geeks Whose Fault It Is Women Stay Away – saying ‘but I’m not like that’ only goes so far if you’re passive when other people are harrassed.

    Most women want to not date harrassers, yeah, but they also like to not date people who invest loads of time and enthusiasm into an environment where they can’t be comfortable. Here’s a comparison: I spent a while going to my uni’s anime society, and lots of the dudes there were creepy or just steamrolled me with Their Important Opinions, and after a guy in the group spent half an hour trying to tell the women in the group how that rape joke in a show wasn’t really problematic I left and now just watch anime with housemates and friends outside there. Sigh.

    On the other hand, I started going to a martial arts club where I’m often the only woman. Even though I’m new and that’s is a fuckton more obvious here than it’d be at geek stuff, and the gender disparity is way bigger, hanging out with the folk there hasn’t involved any harrassment or misogyny, a bunch of people there went out of their way to say stuff that made it clear they knew the gender disparity must be threatening and do stuff to minimise that. And that made me really like the dudes and feel like getting to spend more time with them would be good and not stressful and not involve having to be loud and feminist about boundaries. So, yeah: when I feel much safer in the space that involves let strangers pin me to the floor, there’s a problem, and the consequence of that is that I’m not going to look for male dates unless they’re speaking up about it.

    In terms of seeing what exactly it is that’s a problem in geek spaces, I’d suggest reading some geeky women writing about them: http://geekfeminism.org has a lot of specific, useful information that could help you set yourself apart from the creeps.

    1. This is a really good point — even if it’s totally obvious that you’re not one of the creeps in your social scene, you’re still in that social scene. Even if the people you meet who don’t feel comfortable in that scene are thinking “Hey, this guy doesn’t seem as creepy as those other anime fans I know,” they may be thinking, “Can I [be friends with/date] this guy without going to any of his social scene’s events? Will we be able to spend any time together if he wants to go to cons and game nights and obscure anime screenings, and I don’t?”

      There are geeky events I avoid, even though they line up pretty well with my interests, because the creep factor would prevent me from feeling comfortable at them. If you’re meeting people who have had previous bad experiences at the geeky-interest events you like, or people who aren’t especially interested in them but would maybe try them with you if they didn’t have such a bad reputation, it may be that one of the problems you’re having is that they just don’t see how your interests and social calendar will ever line up with theirs.

      1. It can even be that the slang, buzzwords, inside-jokes etc, that are themselves innocuous are reminders/indicators of Those Creepy Guys and are therefore offputting-by-association.

    2. Weird! I had the exact same experience with martial arts, when I practiced. Me and a bunch of dudes who were all 100% respectful and polite. Really, I could be the only woman in a room (which I always notice) and still feel totally comfortable. And yeah, we did full contact sparing.

      Guys can create feminist space

  10. On the offhand chance you are 100% correct in your assessment and women are moments away from flinging themselves into your arms, and then you mention you’re a geek and they scream and run like you’ve just announced the most horrible thing they can think of, why do you do it? I get that geeky things can be very important to you, but why bring it up first?

    Maybe try taking it out of the picture. Go to a neutral setting, does your local library have events? And make a point of not saying anything about your geekyness. Only discuss geek topics if the other person brings it up, and then follow their lead.

    Right: You see a girl with a WoW Hord messenger bag.
    You: “Hi, I love your bag”
    Her: “Thanks, do you play?”
    You: Yes, I’m a *blah*, what about you?”

    Also Right:
    You: “Hi, I love your bag”
    Her: “Thanks”
    You: “Do you attend these events often?”

    “You have a Hord bag! I hate Hord. Alliance rules. I have a level 80 Ranger with an epic mount and I fart missiles because I’m the most awesome player ever. Video games are my life and I go to all the conventions and hey! Why are you backing away from me with a horrified look? It’s because other geek guys are jerks, isn’t it?”

    If you’re right, then the person gets to know you first, and when they find out you’re a geek too then they already know you’re a great guy and aren’t going to be scared off. If you don’t mention your geek cred and they still run screaming? You can’t blame the Other Guys In Fandom anymore. At some point the common denominator in all these equations is you.

    1. Wanted to add in something else. If you’re truly looking for more female friends without wanting to date, do you have any male friends with wives that are also geeky? Is there the possibility of doing more group activities with married/committed couples? I’ve found that those tend to be much safer spaces than groups that are single-guy dominated or even heavily married guys who have ‘slipped the leash’ to be with their buddies. (Obviously every group is different, but…) So you have a chance to interact with people without as much looming fear of “is he going to suddenly go for my boobs?” And once you’re making female friends in a safe group context, it will make it easier to make friends one on one.

      Also, depending on your travel budget, stop going to local toxic places and save up for conventions with a better reputation? By continuing to attend, if you’re not working to change, you’re supporting them by default.

  11. LW, you’ve got a lot of good advice, here. I’d also point out that it takes me a while to get to know people whom I’ve met at events, parties or get togethers–or any other occasion where I had time to talk. I’m friendly with some people now who I’d chat with briefly at events two years ago–and it took about two years for us to get to the point where we hang out. It wasn’t anything personal, we were all just busy, some of us had to drive longer distances than others afterwards, some of us had less free time than the others, etc. So we’d chat briefly and then one of us would excuse ourselves.

    It’s very rare to have an initial conversation with someone and then start making plans to hang out right off the bat. (At least for me, it is.) It takes some time, and the thing is, I often end up hanging with people I didn’t really take much note of at first and don’t hang with the people who I thought I’d get on really well with when I first met them. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself/others in the latter interactions, I don’t know, but I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to assume “nice people, pleasant small talk, move on” and let the process unfold slowly, over time.

  12. This is interesting, because it looks like you’re trying (or it looks like you want it to look like you’re trying, who knows), but a nerd boy who may or may not be creepy and entitled + a veneer of feminism =/= appealing.

    Here’s my advice, a lot of which is covered upthread:
    1. Bathe.
    2. Don’t treat women like a hive mind.
    3. Don’t be desperate. We can tell.
    4. Do read all the books other people are recommending, but a) don’t then turn around and decide you know more about what it’s like to be a woman than women because you’ve read about it, and b) don’t decide that’s your license to call women you don’t like irrational bitches (yes, I know people who’ve done that).
    5. If your D&D or video game or whatever buddies are harassing and groping women, they are creating an unsafe space for women to be in. Like physically unsafe. You’ve got to get them to stop that, and if you can’t you’ve got to kick them out or leave. Don’t expect women to stay in unsafe spaces just to talk to you.

    Good luck.

  13. “But it really sucks for me. I’d like to have female friends in my life, and maybe even develop a romantic relationship someday.”

    This quote from the LW kind of stuck out to me. I know it probably wasn’t intentional that I read it the way I did, but I’ve had numerous issues in the past where geek male friends see me as an eventual romantic relationship if they only persevere, instead of friends for the sake of just being friends. And as is probably obvious, those friendships have suffered or been lost as a result.

    Effectively, don’t just want people to be your friends because they are female, and don’t pin longterm romantic goals on them from the outset. While having a gender-balanced roster of friends can be nice for the sheer diversity it can bring to the table, you shouldn’t really aim towards a gender quota for your group/s of friends, and you shouldn’t treat the female segment of your social group as a harem of potential dates. Befriend them and respect them because they are people, not because they are female, and don’t let their gender be the most significant thing about them.

    Some of the most solid couples I know have barely any shared interests or subcultures at all. There’s simply more to a romantic attraction than shared interests, so don’t let that be the be-all and end-all of your goals in meeting female geeks. You’ll be missing out on a lot of good, genuine friends that way.

    1. Geeks and gamers may be particularly prone to forgetting that friendship and partnerdom are different (though by no means mutually exclusive) kinds of relationship, not different levels.

  14. The underlying premise of your letter is that people have met you before in the gaming context, and when they remember where they met you before they go “ugh, nevermind.” But because you’re a great guy, it must be guilt by association.

    You need to consider the possibility that it is not just association… that they have seen you going along to get along, laughing at an icky jokes, tolerating the misogynistic behavior, treating guys like they went there to game and women like they went there to get hit on/meet you, and it made them make an informed decision that they weren’t interested in knowing you better.

    The thing is, being aware of toxic misogynists, entitled Nice Guy ™ types, sexual predators, and other kinds of creeps and chronic boundary violators is not like an inoculation — and creeps don’t always think of themselves as creepy (some do and revel in their power to make women uncomfortable, others just totally don’t “get it”, others get it intellectually but have trouble putting their theory into practice). To really know, you’d need to get an audit from a cool woman you know in that context.

    Which isn’t say you should get that audit (i.e., shift the burden onto some woman to polish you up for market) — just that instead of considering yourself a finished, unblemished product on this issue, consider yourself a work in progress, and do the things the captain and others have suggested in terms of improving those environments (becoming a low-tolerance-for-the-bullshit kind of guy). If your issue really is the environments these women are associating you with, getting a rep as a standout, stand-up guy would eventually change that.

    But I suspect the real issue, as the captain says, is just the difficulty many of us have with social skills, and going out to “meet women” as opposed to going out to “meet interesting people some of whom will be women and one of whom I might find the mutual zing with.” I do NOT judge you for the former — it’s pretty normal when one would really like a romantic girlfriend/guyfriend to get a little goal-oriented about it. It just doesn’t work very well.

    1. The other thing is that creeperdom is not all-or-nothing, it’s a continuum. And in the context of a seriously toxic environment, even a modest amount of go-along-to-get-along would be enough basis for someone to say “nevermind,” especially for someone whose life is already full and interesting enough that she’s not actively looking for a new pal.

      On a related point, even if you are totally, unmitigatedly wonderful, making new pals as an adult is always hard, because people who are interesting and fun and approachable do tend to be busy. When I first moved to my town, the vibe I got a lot when I tried to get to know people was kind of “thanks, I’m all set.” Not “I don’t like you,” just “I already have more friends than time to spend with them, so the last thing I’m looking for is more.” (Not that I’m unmitigatedly wonderful… you know what I mean).

      People’s less-than-enthusiastic response to you may not be because there is anything wrong with you or what you’re putting out there, so much as a function of over-full modern lives. Which sucks, but there you go.

    2. I like this advice, not because I think the LW is actually secretly creepy or a Nice Guy or anything like that, but because it really shifts the burden of dealing with creepy people off of the people who are most targeted by creeps, much like #4 of the Captain’s advice.

      LW, you seem to have a pretty solid awareness of the problems in your community, but I think you’re still a little blinded by your privilege. You say that you get why these women would want to keep their distance from you if they associate you with other men in your community, but then you turn the focus onto how much that sucks for you. I mean, I understand that you probably have more going on in your brain than you included in your letter to an advice column, but since you didn’t mention anything you’ve done to make your community safer, I feel like probably you haven’t done very much. I suggest changing your efforts and your focus slightly. Rather than thinking about how you can communicate to women that they should feel safe around you in a mostly unsafe community, think about how you can make that community a place where women would actually BE safe. This will take a lot of work and time and will probably feel very discouraging, but you will be doing a good thing and you’ll probably find allies who want to help. Also, having a project might take your mind off of whether or not people want to be friends with you, and you might even make some new friends (like the allies who want to help). You also might not find new friends, and that’s okay too, but if the end result is that you make creepy people less welcome in your community, the result is kind of a win for everyone (except maybe the creepers).

  15. I do get where everyone is coming from with the ‘Maybe you really are a creeper’ advice; but I’m not getting any creepy vibes from the letter. (I’m probably less sensitive to that sort of thing, so that could just be me.) So I have an experiment to propose: Avoid telling the women you are talking to about your nerdy hobbies for the first few times you talk to them. DO NOT outright lie to them – because that really is creepy. Outright lying would be if they asked you if they know you from a convention and saying no. But if they say “Oh you look familiar, do I know you from somewhere?” just say “Yeah, you look familiar too, but I can’t think of it right now.” A good example would be my work self – I’m still me at work, but I don’t discuss all the nerdy things I’m into because 99% of my coworkers would just look at me with goggle eyes. I do have not nerdy interests, and I talk about those things instead. So be how you would be if were not talking to a fellow geek.Got it?

    Now with those guidelines in mind, talk to some women. If they still exit stage left pretty quickly, then it is specifically you that is putting them off.

    If not, and things seem to be going well, then after a few separate conversations ease into the nerdy subjects. Hopefully by that point they will know you well enough to view you as an individual.

    I really like the suggestions to go about making safe spaces for geeky women. If your area is genuinely that bad, then it’s up to you and your NOTcreepy friends to change it. (Or you know, just have women geeks migrate away from your area and never have a chance to meet the lady geek of your dreams again.)

    1. I don’t know, I don’t think lying at all is a good idea. Besides, in your example, what if she’s only talking to him because she thinks she remembers him from some event? Then if she appears to go off him it could be because of that.

      1. It could be, but I think (assuming what the LW wrote is true) that associating himself with Cons is starting to be a red flag for the women he’s talking to. At least this way he acknowledges that he remembers her face from somewhere and leaves it open to be remembered either by her or by him later on. Unless they met at the con and talked for hours, I don’t think this is really lying, it’s choosing not to list the 50 thousand cons they may have met at. Not volunteering information is a bit dishonest, but everyone has a right to protect themselves by keeping some information to themselves when they first meet someone.

    2. “Avoid telling the women you are talking to about your nerdy hobbies for the first few times you talk to them”. This is actually advice I live by. One of my major hobbies is geeky and the members can act odd. Sometimes it feels like we are a social club for people with no social skills, myself included of course.
      As a matter of course, I don’t share my membership in this group with casual acquaintances. I’ve found that if I share too early, people judge me by how odd they find my hobby, despite never having heard of it before, or they judge me by the handful of socially awkward people they’ve met who are also in my hobby. I avoid all this by letting them get to know other facets of me first. Then when I and if (I have never told some people, like work acquaintances, as it isn’t relevant to my work) I tell them about this specific hobby, I tend get more positive, interested responses. I think it’s because, at this later point in our relationship, the other person knows that I am not a one dimensional caricature and views the information through that knowledge.
      I’m sorry if this sounds wordy and awkward. Referring to my hobby as “my hobby” instead of by name is strangely disturbing to me. However, I didn’t want to hurt anyones feelings if they are in my hobby and felt I characterized it unfairly nor add to the odd reputation of my hobby.

        1. I understand, I felt the same way when an earlier LW wrote in about their new hobby. Was it rock collecting, spelunking, Nascar? The possibilities are endless 🙂

    3. Liennae and delbelcoure, your advice is sound. Looking back on how I met the few women-friends I do have, the one thing common to all of them is that I met them in a non-gaming context, and the subject of gaming only came up after we got to know each other pretty well.

      I’ve talked with my non-creepy (as far as I know) gamer friends and they, too, gave basically the same advice: “Gaming and anime are things you should be in-the-closet about. That’s what we all do.”

      I was hoping that there was some way around the issue that doesn’t involve closets, but I guess I have to make do with what’s available.

      And thanks for not assuming that I was looking for cookies. I really appreciate that.

      1. “In the closet?” Really?

        I mean, maybe holding off on talking about those hobbies right off the bat when you meet someone might work, either because of guilt-by-association or how you come across when you talk about them, and it’s worth shaking up your approach since what you have going on now is not working for you.

        Also, I want to echo what Sheelzebub said: You might have to meet people several to many times before they turn into friends, so keep your expectations low and keep it light.

        But treating gaming, etc. as shameful things that must be hidden in order to get to know people? Really? REALLY? I can’t wrap my mind around that. I play Are You A Werewolf twice a month and met many friends through that gaming group. Half that group is at Gencon right now playing Werewolf while also dressed as zombies. They are friendly, really co-ed, chill, welcoming to newcomers, kind to introverts and shy people, forgiving of quirks. I can think of three distinct-from-each-other friend circles who have D&D, Dark Conspiracy, and other long-term RPG things going, and all of those have women heavily involved in the games or outright running, designing & planning them.

        A lot of those people are really into board games, as well, especially the kind of board games that have a role-playing element, and maybe you’ll have better luck finding friends if you seek out the board gamers for a while. A social night of playing BSG is a different kind of commitment than joining a long-term D&D campaign.

        I realize I’m geographically blessed to be in a large city. If the geek circles in your area are small and sparse, the “terrible reputation” will obviously have more of an impact. Hopefully you can help clean that up.

      2. Nah, I didn’t think you were looking for cookies. As a girl geek I would love love LOVE to meet guy geeks. There aren’t a lot of girl geeks that I know, (or we’re not geeky about the same things) and outside the geek world, I just tend to connect with men better than I do women. So to me, a guy geek is like my holy grail of friendship. And before I had a boyfriend, of course there was the possibility that I’d befriend a guy geek and we’d fall in geek love. (Which is pretty much what happened.) Not that I automatically had pants feelings for all my geek friends, in fact, quite a few I decidedly didn’t have pants feelings for. I don’t see why you couldn’t be allowed to want girl geek friends and the possibility of a geek girlfriend without me assuming that you wanted in all their pants too.

        I don’t think we should live in a world where you have to keep who you are to yourself, but it’s sadly true, especially in a work environment. Geeking will (usually) just get you branded as being kind of weird, but being into fetish groups etc can even get you fired if it becomes public knowledge. So DelBelCoure, I don’t think you’re being insensitive for not revealing your hobby, or the way you spoke about some of it’s less socially graceful members.

        Personally, when I find out that someone has geek interests or other less socially acceptable tastes that are in accord with my own, it’s like Christmas morning. I don’t feel lied to because they didn’t tell me right away, I feel like I’m special enough to be allowed in on this part their life.

        1. Thanks for speaking up for the geek girls, Linnae! Most of my tabletop rpg group is composed of women, but we do have two guys who do drop-in characters, and they are two very cool fellows.

          I think that most people who have some exposure to geek culture have run into a few creepers, but here’s the secret: I’ve run into more creepers riding the bus than I have at my local game shop. Which is to say, there are creepy people in every walk of life, and it might be endemic in geek culture at the moment, but there’s also a strong counter push (see the red/yellow card idea and the discussion of sexism at defcon) and plenty of room for feminists of all stripes.

          So you don’t have to be in the closet, but maybe you do have to think about the way you present. And be critical of the things you consume. Because some anime is sexist (and some anime has strong female characters who aren’t eventually raped/humiliated, etc.) and some gaming groups flaunt their intolerance. BUT it’s easy to say, “I’m not like them, and I don’t approve of that.”

          Some people might not believe you, but those people are just uncritically following their biases. Would you want to be friends with folks who can’t separate gamer/anime fan [category] from gamer/anime fan [individual standing in front of them]? Probably not a fun or tolerant person, actually, and maybe not good friend material.

          Also, I talk about my hobbies all time. Why have hobbies I wasn’t excited to talk about? Why have friends I couldn’t geek out with sometimes? We r dweebs. We love what we do.

        2. I think it’s definitely good that the LW is wanting to make his friendships more diverse and not hang out in Dude-Only spaces, and I definitely don’t think he’s trying to sleep with everyone. I really tried to keep it light and loose about the dating stuff – he mentioned it as a possibility, so I left it in there as a possibility. It’s a great first step to look around at the world and decide that things should be different.

          BUT I think the letter focused more on trying to prove his own exceptionality than was strictly comfortable.

          For example, how fucking gross and awkward would it be if I, a white woman, were trying to connect with people of color with the premise of “I know, Racism. But hey, I swear I’m not like that, and I’m really, really trying, and other people’s racism isn’t my fault. How do I get them* to give me a chance both as a friend and so maybe I can have a nonwhite boyfriend someday?”

          Wouldn’t the advice be:

          1. Don’t seek the cookies.

          2. Hey, not everyone will like you. Don’t assume it’s just because you’re white, people get to not like you for whatever reason, don’t try too hard. Friendship is fiercely subjective and individual and not about fairness. If you feel like someone is not picking up what you’re putting out there, disengage. Do not whine and make it a question of fairness.

          3. Seek out and consume more works by non-white creators. (How could that possibly be a bad idea?)

          4. When you go into spaces that are hosted by POC, listen more than you talk. Don’t act like an authority on everything because you’ve read a few books, it’s universally off-putting. Don’t try to prove your exceptionality, just be a person and treat other people well. Don’t turn discussions of other people’s experiences and oppressions into discussions about your own.

          5. Look around at the spaces and subcultures you inhabit. Are they overwhelmingly white? Do non-white people get treated badly there? Do they have a reason to distrust you? Ok, what are you doing to make the world you live in better, realizing that it may not pay off for you specifically in any kind of observable way?

          6. Do your best, be kind, don’t take things too personally, try to get along with people in general, don’t be weirdly goal-oriented about things (“I’m going to make new FRIENDS today!”), give it a lot of time, don’t act entitled.

          It’s the same. It’s the same. The LW doesn’t have to be a bad person or a creep to be setting off mild feminist ickiness alarms, and I wouldn’t have to be a bad person to set off racism ickiness alarms in the above example. Good intentions aren’t magic, privilege is fucking awkward and it’s on the person with the privilege to do a little more work to not be a shithead about things.

          *Them. As a group. The Other. See how that’s already Not Cool?

          1. Yes! So much this! “How do I show Them that I am not oppressive like the many others of my privileged class?” is probably the wrong question. Checking your privilege takes a lot of work. Focus on that, instead of on how to best demonstrate how your privilege has been checked.

          2. Thanks. Forgot to say – You can’t ask people from the less-privileged group to absolve you from that ickiness or take it away from you (unless you want to swiftly create a LOT more ickiness). That awkward feeling is yours to live with.

          3. As a non-white person (and a woman, whee!) gamer I think this is spot on advice, especially #5. I guess the way I phrased my earlier comment, it might’ve seemed like I was suggesting he actually walk up to people and say, “I’m not like them (stereotypical harassing geeks), please befriend me” and then letting people believe him or not, which would still have an incredible amount of privilege associated with it, just like “hello, I’m not a racist” would be a terrible introduction. Because what does that tell me? What do I say next? Um, congratulations?

            So maybe I should have been more clear that that statement should be implicit and evidenced by a pattern of behavior (lack of harassing, for example) rather than made as part of an introduction. ‘Cause that’s really presumptuous as Captain Awkward makes clear.

            On the other hand, I think it’s important not to be too apologetic about who you are (unless you are a harasser or are on that step in AA) because that can be really annoying as well. So I was trying to say: “Don’t keep your hobby in a closet. Don’t be ashamed of who you are white/male/privileged in whatever way. You’re a good person, with good intentions, doing interesting stuff. Please, talk to me about that stuff.”

            There’s an assumption in the comments above that to make woman friends you have to put your interest of geeky things in the closet, but what about all the geeky women? We befriend each other all the time by talking about geeky stuff. I just made a new friend who complimented my fanart and sent me some of her own fanfic, and now we are fast friends. Neither of us pretended not to like anime: that would’ve been counterproductive. What would we have talked about instead?

      3. All respect, but seriously, borrowing “the closet” as a trope for “girls will think you’re weird” really rubs this queer lady the wrong way.

        1. Dude. Correct. “Not monologuing about your geeky gaming habits in the first conversation” does not and will never equal any form of oppression.

        2. Thanks for pointing that out, Sweet Machine! I didn’t even think about how problematic it was to appropriate that trope, because I was responding to something else that struck a chord for me about that comment. But yes, please replace “don’t keep your hobby in a closet” with “don’t hide you hobby under a bushel” or some similar, but less charged phrase. I’m sorry to have been insensitive about that.

          1. No, your comment was great! I just think the closet analogy really, really doesn’t fit here, because of the privilege issues. It falls in with the “absolve me of my privilege” thing that you and others have been discussing.

        3. Thank you, I needed to add this and am glad somebody else already mentioned it. As an almost-out bi woman, I made this face [http://clean.alltheragefaces.com/img/faces/large/misc-are-you-fucking-kidding-me-l.png] when I read that this straight white dude equates being thought he’s weird for liking anime and gaming to actually being oppressed. No.

          1. This very much non-white dude would like to point out that not everyone that says or has said things that you consider problematic is automatically straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, male, and, of course, white.

          2. Hannah Solo made a racist assumption. Good on you for calling her on that and I hope they apologize.

            However, now might be a great time to work on both your calling out skills and your allyship skills. When calling out, don’t go for unrelated stuff. It isn’t helpful. You are allowed to express your feelings if someone says something oppressive to you. Tell them if what they say is hurtful or if you’re angry or give yourself space if you need it, but when someone says something racist, don’t go on about things that don’t at the present moment intersect. Why? Because it makes queer, disabled, ciswomen such as myself massage their faces with their desks when you yourself are a straight cisman. It’s the opposite of an allyship move, because it means you manage to be offensive while trying to call another person out.

            Additionally, an apology for the above comment might be the hell in order before you call out. You can make your choices about calling out, yes, and emotions get in the way, yes, but this is not a good way to make friends given that you’ve had two days to apologize for that damn comment and earn your damn cookies. And yes, I am angry at you. I am going to tell you that straight up, because I am calling you out.

            It’s also cisgender, not cisgendered, same as it’s transgender, not transgendered.

      4. I don’t think you need to hide your hobbies, and certainly not to the extent that a phrase like “in the closet” implies. But there’s a wide middle ground between “My hobbies are so secret I might be Batman” and “Hi, new friend! Let me tell you all about the time my adventuring party slew a dragon!”, and if you’re finding that people stop talking to you around the time you first mention your geeky interests, I wonder if you’re tending toward the “We had just reached level 8, and it was a dark and stormy night, when…” end of that spectrum. It’s a very, very common bad habit among geeks.

        I don’t know if you do have that habit, or if coming on too strong with the geeky interests is part of your problem at all. But either way, holding back a little on talking about some of your interests isn’t really an issue of hiding anything. And you seem to be finding that some people get turned off of conversation with you around the first time you bring up your geek interests, so why not hold off a little and wait until you see a sign that they might be interested?

        1. As a corollary, I love my hobby so much, I was determined to only marry someone who shared it. Even so, it’s super important to me that my friends have interests outside the hobby. They can enjoy their job, read books/watch movies on other topics, have a side hobby – anything that shows me that the hobby is not their whole world. I’ve found that people who immerse themselves in the hobby are not my people. Some of the women you meet may feel the same way.

      5. And thanks for not assuming that I was looking for cookies. I really appreciate that.

        Another thing that pings my radar. Part of being a good ally to any group is to listen to them when they give criticism, and that includes the criticism that you sound like you’re looking for cookies. This kind of passive-aggressive insistence that you’re not looking for them, instead of going, “Yeah, ok, I’ll work on that,” especially when you didn’t address the criticism elsewhere, is not being genuinely feminist and not being an ally to women.

        In fact, I haven’t seen you address any criticism of you or any suggestion that your behavior might be problematic, and this makes me extremely suspicious. If you’re not willing to consider the possibility that you might be doing something wrong when a bunch of women have suggested you might be, that’s a bad sign.

        1. Yeah even if you’re thinking about it for a while, which would be reasonable, say so. “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll do some thinking on that.”

    4. Yes. This solution seems so obvious to me that I was surprised LW 331 didn’t address it. If it really is membership in this toxic scene that’s so off-putting, then hold off on bringing up the scene with people you’ve just met. Once they’ve gotten to know you, personally, a little bit, that should easily overcome any guilt-by-association.

      I get that it seems hard to avoid talking about the things you’re most into, but it’s not impossible. I spend 40-60% of my free time on nerdy hobbies, but at social events where I’m interacting with casual acquaintances or people I just met (work events, family weddings, volunteering), I don’t have any trouble keeping the conversation focused on more mainstream topics. One easy way to do that is to ask your conversational partner what s/he’s into, and then listen for a while.

      1. Eh, I’m going to say . . . no. If I genuinely came to like the LW before I learned that he hung out in toxic spaces, I /MIGHT/ take the time to tell him that he needs to stop the fuck hanging out in those places (and those would probably be my exact words). He gets offended? He so much as tries to defend those spaces the tiniest amount? I would kick him to the curb. Most people will not be as aggressive as me. They will simply choose to drop him and spend less time with him. Or if they don’t, they’re still most likely going to feel betrayed or hurt or potentially in danger. Now yes, if they aren’t into geek stuff as much as you, fine, don’t bring it up. If it doesn’t make sense in the conversation, don’t bring it, but don’t hide things from people, especially when the thing you are hiding is that you hang out in a terrible place that isn’t safe for me as an individual. You should not have to make a conscious effort to hide the fact you hang out in places that suck.

        1. I think the point is that not all geek spaces are toxic spaces, but from the outside it can be very hard to differentiate. I run a very feminist gaming group. The dudes who join us are on point and empathetic or they are not welcome in my house (same for the ladies). We do our very best to be respectful of everyone at all times. We talk about feminism a lot. Some of us write for feminist blogs and publications. So not a toxic space. But how do I convey that to someone I’ve just met? It can be hard to make that point without sounding like you’re over-compensating or cookie-seeking. But it’s true. Some gamers are hardcore feminists.

          I agree that it’s not a good policy to actively withhold information at the start of a friendship, because really talking about geek stuff can be a great way to get to know somebody. I especially don’t think it’s a good idea to hide gaming because you’re ashamed. Do it right, do it respectfully, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

          1. I definitely understand that there are good spaces; I have some myself, but the LW mentioned that the places he hangs out at aren’t good spaces and MJ mentioned the scene being toxic (which is quite fair in my mind, sadly), so I thought it was a good thing to bring up that hiding that you are a part of a toxic space is a full-on douchebag move. Plus in terms of the LW, if he has no female friends, I’m guessing he doesn’t hang out at a cool feminist gaming group (because it wouldn’t be a cool feminist gaming group if it didn’t have ladies).

          2. Good point. The LW could probably use a reboot in his social circles before he looks to add new friends. Evaluating the toxicity of current groups could be good practice for being critical in the future.

        2. That was about my feeling too. I’d drop a bloke immediately if I found he was into stuff or places or groups that were misogynistic. It would make me think my initial good impression of him had been wrong. Yep, guilt by association would take precedence. It would feel like, “Okay, you’re going to those places, so either you agree with the way women are treated there, or you’re blind to it, or don’t care, or value your acceptance by your mates over the safety of the women involved … whichever it is, it says you’re not a bloke I want to be around.” Might be totally unjust but that’s how it would be.

    5. My response to “Do I know you from someplace?” is usually, “Very possibly. I’m around various places,” and then dropping it, because most likely they know me from the restaurant I used to own, and I don’t want to talk about it and why it closed yet again.

      1. That sounds frustrating and awful, and as someone who worked at a business that went under, can I just say “ugh omg stfu” on your behalf?

        But this reminds me, speaking of “where do I know you from?” Nobody who works in a service type job likes it when customers think they are entitled to be remembered. We see LOTS of people. I get the serious heebie-jeebies when someone comes into my store and goes “oh you don’t remember me” with fake surprise. That fake surprise is exactly what RMJ was talking about above, with the “jokes” that are always laced through with threats and creepiness. If you think you know me from where I work, just say that, if it seems appropriate. If you come into my work and you’re mad you’re not a “regular” yet? Ugh, fuck off.

        1. Oh, ugh, yes! I hated that! So many people expected me to remember them because they’d been in a month (or several) ago and stopped to talk to them, either when they came back to the restaurant or if they ran into me someplace else. I hated it! “Sorry, you know, I meet so many people, and I’m just terrible at names and faces,” out loud, but “STFU and fuck off, why the hell would I remember you” in my head.

        2. Also, as someone who worked retail for a while, being one of those customers I remember really well is… usually not good. It’s been more than ten years, but I still remember:

          1. The woman who would come in empty-handed and then try to “return” a really expensive book (usually the hardback DSM-IV)

          2. The man who would grab a New York Times from the newspaper rack, find a comfortable chair, read the entire thing with his feet propped up on a table, and then leave the paper behind in a huge unsellable mess (since he never left the store with it, he never paid)

          3. The woman who kept insisting that Crown of Swords (or whatever was the latest book in her current series) had been out for much too long to be the book she was looking for. (She never knew the book title, the author’s name, the title of the series, or the title of any of the previous books. The plot was “too complicated” to summarize, and she often got the main character’s name wrong.)

          4. The man who let his 13-year-old daughter come in unsupervised whenever she wanted and then came in to complain about our selling inappropriate books to children. One was a book about Wicca, one was Our Bodies, Ourselves, and I forget what the others were.

          5. The woman who, I swear, seemed to be completely unaware that there was a parrot on her shoulder crapping on her shirt

          6. The seriously creepy guy who was banned from the store because he kept lurking around the children’s section

          In the other column, I remember the man who was so grateful that I tracked down a copy of the book his wife wanted for Christmas at a rival bookstore that he tried to give me five dollars, and the man who would call up and order books about overcoming social anxiety to be shipped to his home. The day he came into the store to pick one up, and stayed in the cafe for a cup of tea, there was actual cheering in the breakroom.

          1. ‘the man who would call up and order books about overcoming social anxiety to be shipped to his home. The day he came into the store to pick one up, and stayed in the cafe for a cup of tea, there was actual cheering in the breakroom.’

            That story has totally made my day.

          2. “and the man who would call up and order books about overcoming social anxiety to be shipped to his home. The day he came into the store to pick one up, and stayed in the cafe for a cup of tea, there was actual cheering in the breakroom.”

            oh my gosh I just teared up a little bit.

          3. I lolled completely at #5 and then went all ^_^ about social anxiety guy. Personally most of the people I remember from work are the ones who have, like, the most seriously freaking tragic stories, or who call very frequently to constantly check on their grant status. Oh and the one recent migrant family who I’d talked to the father on the phone and he thought I was so nice that when they came to the office he asked for me to come down and help them and they had the cutest wee baby (and I don’t even like babies).

  16. I think LW needs to be more patient. If he’s fairly positive he is not himself being creepy, then maybe the scenario he described isn’t really what’s happening, and it’s more like CA’s suggestions. I’m certainly wary of nerdy guys, but I wouldn’t run off straight away after learning the bloke I was talking to had similar interests to me. You don’t hit it off with everyone you meet, that’s just life. If LW has had this bad luck with more than a few dozen women I’d be surprised, but less than that is par for the course, if bad luck. You can’t expect to meet your soulmate straight away (though people do, of course). I would guess that meeting about a dozen people before you meet one who will end up being a casual kind of friend is about average. Having interests in common doesn’t make it very much more likely, as you still need complementary personalities.

    Something else that occurred to me is, are you only approaching women? I assume you are talking to them in public or at least populated places. If I saw a guy moving from woman to woman in the room, I wouldn’t assume he was a feminist looking for female friends. Having a mix of friends is great, but more male friends would still be fine, as long as they aren’t misogynists, right?

  17. So, I agree that there is very likely something else going on besides what’s in the letter. But I’m going to talk about it from the perspective of a geeky girl in a city where the geeky scene is a bit creeper-oriented.

    I game, but I don’t go to conventions and I don’t game with people I don’t know. I don’t go to anime meetups; I watch anime with my friends. This is because I don’t want to play RPGs and have people making rape jokes, and I don’t want to get hit on by a stranger while trying to watch a movie. I do, however, have a bunch of lovely male geek friends (mostly partnered).

    If it’s hard to make friends with women, make friends with men. Feminist men or men who at least have an awareness of what kinds of things are offputting in conversation to women; men who have mixed-gender roleplaying groups, men who will invite both men and women to their Dr. Who premiere parties. (Do you already have friends like these? If you do, they should be introducing you to their female friends, not to set you up on dates, but in the context of parties and group movie outings. If they’re not doing so, ask them why.) Because, yes, truthfully, my yellow warning lights will go on if I know nothing about a guy except that he likes RPGs or whatnot. But if I know he’s so-and-so’s friend, then the “Any friend of so-and-so’s is presumed to be a friendly acquaintance of mine unless creepy behavior shows up” rule applies.

  18. Who and where are these women you are meeting who are turned off by you due to your interest in geeky activities? Your post reads as though there are tons of women you meet who *used* to do geeky things, but don’t anymore. Or are they still geeks, but just don’t like any guys who are..? This seems confusing, most geeks are friends with at least some other people who enjoy the same activities as them. And again, where are you meeting them?

    This situation seems so odd that I have to say ‘*something* else is going on’. And I don’t mean “something” to stand in for “you are actually terrible” or anything like that. Are there any women at all in geek spaces?

  19. LW, it struck me very strongly that you deliberately distance yourself from Nice Guy™ at the start of your letter, then go on to complain about how it sucks for you that women don’t want to talk to you for their own perfectly valid reasons. Nice Guy™ is about entitlement. It’s the idea that women owe something to men who meet basic standards of human decency. At its creepiest heights, it’s about sex and emotional validation. But it can also be about feeling owed a conversation or friendship. Nice Guy™ also (obviously) comes with a healthy dose of “I’m not like those other assholes! I’m NICE!” and a tendency to blame everyone but himself for his lack of success with women. Most Nice Guy™ types blame those awful bitchy women who only date assholes, so congratulations for not doing that. Instead, you’re blaming the assholes.

    I’m not saying you are Nice Guy™, but since you brought him up, I have to ask, have you actually considered the possibility that you might be? Have you analysed your own feelings around your interactions with women? Or is “I’m not Nice Guy™!” one of the internal mantras you use to explain to yourself why the problem couldn’t possibly be you? It’s totally okay if it is. We all do this. We all have narratives we tell ourselves to make sure we continue being the hero of our own stories. It’s really difficult to confront the fact that you might be holding on to some damaging assumptions about how life works. Nobody likes to think “Oh crap, I’ve been behaving like one of those douchebags that I hate!” But I would recommend having a long sit-down with your own behavior and attitudes and pick apart any internal mantras of this type you might have going on.

    Also, a few questions to ask yourself in terms of your interactions with women.
    a) What’s your talking/listening ratio like? Is it significantly skewed towards talking? Is it more skewed towards talking than it would be if you were talking to a man of a similar demographic on the same subject?
    b) Are you more comfortable telling a woman she’s wrong or correcting her on fan trivia than you would be with a guy?
    c)Do you often find yourself explaining things to women more than you would to men?
    d) Do you feel surprised when women display in-depth or detailed knowledge of nerdy things?
    e) How do you react when a woman brings up problematic portrayals of women in Nerd Medium of Choice? Do you change the subject? Do you explain all the other reasons why that show is great? Do you make a joke about feminism? Do you get defensive? Do you feel attacked? Do you listen? Do you respond sincerely and thoughtfully?
    f) When was the last time you honestly asked a woman for a recommendation, or followed up on a random recommendation from a woman? And don’t just tell yourself, “Oh, I’m sure I definitely have at some point because I would never discriminate based on gender!” If you can’t remember the specific situation, recommendation and whether you followed up on it or not, it’s definitely time to start paying more attention to things women like and why they like them.

    It’s great that you seem to be aware that geek culture, by and large, is not a safe space for women. Use that knowledge. If you are the guy actively making spaces safer, no one is going to get you confused with a creep and also BONUS, geek spaces are now safer for women! This doesn’t just mean calling out the gropers and creepers. It means engaging in conversations about why geek culture has such a strong misogynistic strain. It means analysing your own attitudes and acknowledging the fact that you participate in this culture will have had an effect on them,

    It also means acknowledging that even if you do all those things, some women still may not want to talk to you. But maybe other women will. Because women, like you, would really like to be viewed as individuals and that means there’s no One Size Fits All approach.

    1. This is brilliant and kind.

      I also want to note that I think the entire Awkward Army is being extremely kind, because my reaction upon reading this letter was: The Letter Writer has just written about the terrible sexual harassment at conventions and geek spaces around him and most of the letter is about how this makes it hard for him to make female friends. What is WRONG with this picture?

  20. (I tried to comment, and it didn’t work, and I don’t see it being held for moderation, so forgive me if I try to post again…)

    LW, as a geeky woman, I don’t really do any conventions or meetups or large-group-of-strangers geek activities. Because the creeper odds are too high. When I do fannish stuff, I do it in small groups, with friends. (I’m also an introvert. So that’s a thing.)

    Do you have feminist-ish male friends? The kind of male friends who have mixed-gender roleplaying groups (they exist — I had two run multi-year campaigns) or who invite a bunch of men *and* women over to watch the new Dr. Who episode? If you don’t, you should try and see if you can make some. I’ll be honest; my yellow warning lights go on if I meet a stranger and know nothing about them except their geek hobby. But if they’re a friend of so-and-so’s, they’re assumed to be a friendly acquaintance up until the point where they try to lecture me about why my opinions about Terry Goodkind are wrong.

  21. I love this answer, especially the observation about “How do I make Women(TM) see me as the individual I am?”

    Also the bit about “so your scene is awful. What are you doing about it?”

  22. The first thing that occurred to me while reading the letter was the Captain’s 4th point: when you spend recreational time in spaces that are usually unsafe for women, your first thought should be, “How can I make these spaces more safe?” not, “How can I make women understand that I’M not unsafe?”

    My partner used to play D&D very frequently and is interested in starting a new game (not necessarily D&D, but something very similar). I avoid games like D&D because (besides the fact that none of my friends play it) I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take games very seriously. I mean, when I play games, I lose focus about halfway through and start getting really goofy. It bothers serious gamers, and often makes me look like “the girl who is not really a gamer,” which is irritating and sexist.

    However, I’m not concerned about my partner getting back into D&D, and it never bothered me that he used to play regularly, because on our first date, he was initiating conversations about male gaze, and he’s a proud feminist. And he recognizes when the media and games he really loves are sexist or racist or ableist, etc. And he doesn’t tolerate hateful language when he does play D&D.

    It’s hard to give you a ton of spot-on, relevant advice, LW, because we’d probably need to observe your behavior for a while, and I’m reasonably sure that you don’t want us to do that, and we don’t really want to either (day jobs, etc). But a good rule of thumb is to be a better ally (make your spaces safer for women, ask people about their favorite media).

    Finally, don’t stress too much about having lots of female friends. I know some men who have only one or two close female friends, and tons of male friends, and I know a lot of women (myself included) who have almost exclusively female friends with only a couple of male friends. Being a man without a lot of female friends doesn’t mean you are a repulsive loser, as long as the reason isn’t because you’re missing out on making female friends because you’re engaging in creepy behavior.

  23. Take yourself out of the role of the authority who recommends stuff, and if your conversations about fandom tend toward passionate arguments and proving your deep knowledge about things, mellow it out for a little bit.

    This is useful advice for every male geek I’ve ever known. Seriously. Regardless of romantic relationship potential or even friendship, the Male Expert Default is one of my biggest pet peeves about geeky things. There’s a reason I stay online and talk to other women most of the time, and this is it. Gah.

    Sorry, slightly O/T

  24. I spent a few years on that lovely river in Egypt too. I was a woman in a geeky profession and spent a long time navigating the twin rocks of “I don’t want to turn into one of them” and “it won’t change unless women infiltrate it from the inside”. Ignoring the fact that I got into this profession because my geeky Dad gave me lessons in it, ignoring the fact that there were all kinds of other skills I wasn’t picking up, ignoring the fact that I do not need to be a martyr to the cause of Change the World. For me there was years of investment, plus the weight of grandkids whose lives I could better by riding out the grossness. If you’re just talking about a hobby, to which you can return after a few years of trying other things, why restrict yourself? Find a way to do something radically different, even if you’re bad at it at first, and then with new skills and perspective look back at table-gaming and see if you still respect what it brings you, aside from contact with creepy guys; do you continue to grow as a person?

  25. In my personal experience, one good thing to do is to pursue other, non-geeky hobbies. And do it just for the sake of expanding your horizons, you know? It will help illuminate how the world works outside the bubble, and really, I swear, it’s not full of bullies and haters.

    Take up a social exercise. Get involved in a charity. Learn an art or a craft. Get active in politics. Anything. Nerds like you and me, we tend to embrace the isolation that gets shoved on us at an early age a bit much. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that we’re “geeks” and that’s all. You don’t have to be. You can be a geek and other things too. There’s really really more to life than your favorite, geeky intellectual properties.

    1. Yes! Maybe you already do, but if you don’t, start.

      Another reason to get other hobbies with different groups of people is that you learn a bigger variety of ways of talking with and interacting with others. If you spend most of your time in one social milieu, your way of acting/talking/mannerisms/dress/humour etc can all be very affected by that ‘culture’, sometimes making it a little harder to easily connect with people outside that specific culture. Wider experience helps you develop more adaptable social skills.

      Or you might even be saying or doing things that strike people as slightly ‘creepy’, even if the underlying lack of respect isn’t there, simply because you’re so immersed in one particular environment that maybe you’ve picked up some habits (or worse, a few thought patterns) that make people uncomfortable or remind them of creeps they’ve known, even if you don’t _wish_ to be making anyone uncomfortable and are bothered by disrespectful behaviour when you notice it. Just spending time immersing yourself in healthier cultures can help you figure out if that’s true, and fix it if it is.

      And if not, no harm, you maybe made some nice new friends and found something new you enjoy :).

  26. This letter has been percolating in my brain all day. And rather belatedly, it reminded me of a post I made in the C-word thread, where I was listing reasons object-of-your-attraction might be not-interested that had nothing to do with your creepiness, and I listed the fact that one or more of your friends had creeped on her. After I hit post, I realized that it really did not belong in that list — because the fact that even one of your friends is a creeper does bear on your creepiness. It says something about your tolerance for that kind of behavior, or at best your obliviousness.

    I didn’t think that applied here at first, where the association wasn’t so much with your intimate friend circle but with a whole community, and the woman in question had been at whatever event you were at, too, so it would be hypocritical to say “he must be a creep or he wouldn’t even have been there.”

    But if she maybe went once or twice to check it out, and bailed out because she found it such an uncomfortable environment (or had a specific bad experience or two), while you gave every appearance of being at ease, of belonging, of not having issues with the prevailing culture as it affected women? She *is* going to read that as you not being a great, cool, exceptional-for-geekdom guy. Kind of like a Latina going to a dance club that plays great music only to discover it is filled with racist people… if she later recognizes you from that club, and remembers you seemed to be fitting in just dandy, she’s going to conclude you’re okay with that shit, even if you were there for the music just like she was.

    There’s a price for saying “yeah, the social atmosphere here sucks for people in X category, but I’m not one of them and it’s worth it to me because of Y attraction.”

    On the other hand, when I met my husband at a T-stop in Boston (we’d actually met at the office where I was temping, but I hadn’t registered his existence — oops) and he asked me for a drink, we went at first to a total meat-market of a bar. (Blizzard in February, closest bar to the T-stop where we were both getting off). When we walked in, my first thought was “if he belongs here, I don’t belong with him.” And one of the best harbingers of our future happiness together was when he said “This may sound crazy [remember, Boston in a blizzard??] but do you want to go somewhere else?” And with great relief I said, “yeah!” So we schlepped through the snowstorm back to the T, rode a few stops, and went somewhere that was much more his style and mine… and then another place… and then a third, picking up with what my plans for the evening had been before I bumped into him. Which is to say, stay true to the real you, and you’re more likely to connect with someone who likes the real you.

    1. “After I hit post, I realized that it really did not belong in that list — because the fact that even one of your friends is a creeper does bear on your creepiness. It says something about your tolerance for that kind of behavior, or at best your obliviousness.”

      Holy shit. That is a really good point. Reminds me of the geek social fallacies.

      1. Again belatedly, I realized that if I went to a social space with a markedly racist, sexist, or homophobic culture, I really would leave and not go back. Not to make a statement, or with the expectation that my departure would somehow benefit anyone, but because I would be really uncomfortable hearing/watching that crap and would not be having fun. I can’t think what would be enticing enough to make me stay/return. I would seek other places where I could do whatever was fun about that place without the price of dealing with a nasty culture. (As other commenters have said they do).

        So yeah — the fact that he recognizes what the culture is, yet stays/returns makes it seem more like he knows intellectually that it’s not cool and that hanging out there has become a social liability… but his personal aversion is not as great as he makes it out to be. Which is consistent with others’ comments to the effect that “he sees the social space is toxic/unsafe for women, and his main concern is how having been seen there affects his social reputation???”

  27. It kind of bothers me that the overwhelming assumption, made even by CA, is that the problem is that the guy’s not connecting because of things about him.

    Guess what? Sometimes I meet geeky men and they seem interested in pursuing friendship, but I am not interested. This is usually because we didn’t connect. Often, this isn’t at all because they themselves were off-putting. Rather, it’s because the creeper experiences that I have had are associated with men of a specific type and I am therefore (unfairly) averse to interactions with men of that type where I feel vulnerable.

    In other words, precisely the type of scenario that the LW is presenting: it’s the scene, not the guys.

    There are exceptions to this rule. Where did those exceptions come from?

    I met these men I now consider my friends and feel totally safe around, who I would have been uncomfortable meeting one-on-one, through:
    1) an RPG run by a friend
    2) a gaming group where I felt safe
    3) a mutual acquaintance

    So see if you can find, or create, a scene where women feel safe.

    1. Even if it is about the scene, and not the LW, specifically, I think what a lot of people have been saying is that he is willingly a part of a scene that is not safe or comfortable for women, and is also (it seems) not doing anything to make it safer. This is, in my opinion, something about the LW. Something that is (relatively) easily changeable, and the fact that he hasn’t made the effort to do so would not be a good sign.

  28. I am currently three for three on dating nerdy guys. If I have a “type,” it’s “nerdy.” This is great because I am also an enormous nerd. And there’s something I’ve noticed about nerdy people in general, at least those I’ve interacted with:

    1. A sense of desperation. A lot of nerdy people have poor self-esteem. Nerds tend to date later than the people around them and first relationships are a Big Deal. I’ve also noticed that nerds tend to stay in one relationship for longer because they’re afraid that they won’t get another. I stayed with my first boyfriend for nine months (about four or five months longer than it needed to be, and DEFINITELY three months too long) for precisely this reason.
    –> How this translates to you: unless your lady friends have low standards and/or a similar desperation (hey, fifteen-and-a-half-year-old me), it’s not appealing. Treating a relationship with respect and seriousness can often warp into “YOU NOTICED ME. NO ONE ELSE HAS EVER NOTICED ME. THIS MEANS WE ARE MEANT TO BE. LET’S GET MARRIED AND HAVE BABIES.” This is extremely off-putting.

    2. Nerd hierarchy. A lot of nerds play the “who’s geekier” game. I love playing this game because instant respect and nerd cred. A lot of nerd cred comes from being The Perfect Girlfriend Who Never Wants Anything and being “one of the dudes.” Girls get put down a lot in nerd world because of how much of it is male-centric, and you get a lot more nerd cred if you’re not a “whiny bitch” who moans about feminism and whatnot. I’ve definitely cut back on nerdy stuff because I couldn’t handle that anymore, and so do a lot of other girls.
    –> How this translates to you: One of the reasons I’m dating Current Boyfriend is because, in a group of dudes I hung out with, he was literally the only one who never made or laughed at a PMS joke, a kitchen joke, or a “let’s make Ella angry about the patriarchy” joke, even if I was enabling them by joining in. Dudes who play into the culture are part of it, even if they know it’s wrong. People who play into it are indeed assholes by association, because they aren’t speaking up or at the very least signaling their disapproval.

    3. A weird sort of self-centeredness. To be a geek, you kind of have to eschew social conventions, at least some of them. There’s a certain “well, fine, I’ll just take my ball and go home if you don’t like who I am” attitude that you need to have. It’s a coping mechanism against bullying. This means that in some respects, nerds end up having an us-vs.-society thing with “society” being everything not geeky. A lot of nerds take it even farther and say that their fandom/community/whatever is better than mainstream stuff, or even other geeky stuff.
    –> How this translates to you: poor communication and boundary respecting, for one thing. My two exes both had no idea how to use their words, and so just did what they wanted to do in the relationship with little thought for what I wanted. Also, to go back to nerd hierarchy: mocking other people’s interests because yours are cooler? Not. Appealing.

    All this is on top of nerd culture being incredibly male-centric and misogynistic and creepy. You are absolutely being judged for being part of geek culture, which is completely understandable from a female perspective. Remember, this is a culture where gropage at cons is a common occurrence and “rape” is a joke. This is a culture where a dude can walk up to another dude while I’m sleeping and suggest that I get molested in my sleep (true story), and feel it’s perfectly justified because it’s just a joke. I’m a nerd whose type is nerds and I still feel uncomfortable being a full part of geek culture precisely because of people like that. And if you are standing by and letting it happen, I’m not going to trust you.

    But all is not lost. Some things you can do (besides what other people have told you):

    * Don’t put up with anyone’s shit. Don’t expect ladies to offer themselves up in gratitude if you tell someone to back off, but make it clear that things that make people uncomfortable are not OK.
    * Don’t put people down for liking different things, liking things in a different degree or way than you, or not liking the things you like. This is going to happen a lot, because a lot of classically geeky things? Really dude-centric and kind of boring to people who want to see more than one woman onscreen at the same time.
    * Relationships take work. Mutual desperation doesn’t hold a relationship together. Neither do shared hobbies or fandoms. You don’t level up in a relationship at any set speed or after however many achievements: you’re working in tandem here.

    1. I am very late, but YES YES this nerd hierarchy stuff. As a literary/gaming nerd who is terrible with and rather dislikes basically everything STEM that isn’t running my gaming computer, I get smacked by that a lot and it really puts me off people. I kinda want to tell all the geeks/nerds I know that if it has to be “them” and “us” then we have to all pull together and not fracture over this stuff.

      It’s really hard to have exactly the same basic bullied/awkward background as every other nerd you meet and then when you think you’ve finally found Your People, they turn on you and act just like the stereotypical Popular Pack because you prefer fantasy to sci-fi, would rather write Warcraft fanfic than crunch DPS numbers, and have the trad-Aspergers knowledge encyclopedia… of etymology.

      (This is why I am wary of all the rabid Scott Pilgrim fans I know – it’s right there in the first book, the whole “Well, I’m nerdy and stalky but at least I’m not a SCRAPBOOKER…” conversation. This obsessive need for people to place themselves in a hierarchy with someone – anyone – below them at all times or it’s impossible to feel good… that crap has to stop. Selfishly – take it from someone who’s been at the Very Bottom many times (I think I have an invisible Scapegoat tattoo sometimes) – we, for any value of We, will never be able to all get along and accept one another until that tendency is squashed.

      /OT /derail /TMPersonalI :S

  29. After reading through most of the comments on the thread and your responses, LW, I’m going to suggest that you go to the trouble of finding or creating spaces/events that are less creepy. Ask for suggestions! Especially if you do find yourself in one of those conversations.

    “Yeah, I used to go to $Event.”

    “Oh… I stopped going to $Event.”

    “Why did you stop going? Was it the atmosphere?”

    “Yeah, it just wasn’t for me.”

    “I’m trying to find other events like $Event that have fewer assholes so I can stop going to $Event. Do you know any?” or “Yeah, the tolerance for assholes is way too high at $Event, so I started a $SecondaryEvent that’s got a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of groping or harassment. I wish people at $Event would take that stuff more seriously.”

    … and now “event” doesn’t look like a real word any more, so I’m going to leave it at that.

  30. I see a lot of good comments from a geek perspective, which I know little about. What I do know a lot about is being an agitator for change within an insular community (for me, slam poetry) on large and small scales. My impression is that your root problem is that you are not communicating/living up to your pro-woman, anti-misogyny ideals inside or outside of your Scene. There is plenty of advice on being non-creepy towards women who aren’t connected to your scene. This is a list of strategies that takes your scenario as given. Some are easier/require less courage than others. Feel free to start small, but don’t get too comfy with the small levels of resistance.

    1. Don’t make, laugh at, or agree with any misogynist, sexualizing, or otherwise problematic comments, EVEN IF there are women participating.

    2. If a woman is being ragged on, sexualized, infantilized, or having her own fandom explained to her, EVEN IF YOU AGREE WITH THE PERSON DOING THIS, defuse the situation. Say things like “I don’t know about that,” or “I really don’t think it’s a big deal,” or “Wow, Bob, you’re getting kind of weird about this.”
    2.a. Even better, shift the focus to her and her point of view. Say things like, “Is that how you see it, Alice?” or “What do you like about Fandom, Alice?” or “Wow, Alice, Bob won’t let you get a word in edgewise! What do you think about what he’s saying?”

    3. If you see a woman being creeped on, touched, or clung to, EVEN IF YOU THINK SHE MIGHT BE OKAY WITH IT, check in with her. As a woman, I usually approach her directly and ask if she’s okay, and/or if she wants to take a walk with me. This shifts the focus onto her and her experience. However, as a man this might make you seem equally creepy. Try saying something like, “Hey dude, could I talk to her privately for just one second? … [after he is gone] Sorry if I was interrupting, he just seemed a little creepy and I wanted to give you an out. Or were you having a good time?” Then she can either brush you off and return to him, or leave. DO NOT FOLLOW HER.

    4. If you are in a conversation and someone is being slightly creepy, say things that do not require Alice’s cosign, like “Okay, give her some space,” or “Wow, you’re being really intense about Alice’s cool costume.” It is exhausting for women to address every tiny intrusion; don’t make her do it.

    5. If you are in a conversation and someone does something REALLY creepy, instead of looking away, put an obviously upset expression on your face and make eye contact with Alice. This communicates “I saw that too, and your discomfort and personhood are my first priority.” When you look away and don’t mention it, it communicates “I saw that, and maintaining the status quo is my first priority.” After the eye contact, say something like “OK, Bob, time to let go of her,” or “Bob, maybe you should ask Alice if she wants to be hugged right now,” or “Hey Alice, want to come stand over here? I promise I won’t hug you without asking.”

    6. If you want to touch someone’s costume, say something like “Wow, your wings are awesome, can I touch them? If you want to hug someone, say, “Oh my gosh, that makes me want to hug you.” And if they want to hug you, they will. Saying “Oh my gosh, can I hug you?” gives you half credit: Better than nothing, but it is a hard question to say no to.
    6.a. Extra credit: If someone is touching or hugging a woman, say something like “Hey, did you ask if you could touch her costume/hug her?” If he says yes, say “Okay, cool.” If he says no, say “Oh, well, maybe you should.”
    6.b. Extra EXTRA credit: If he says no, say “Why not?” and keep asking until you force him into a corner.

    7. Never describe a woman’s costume, fandom, opinion, or presence at a con as hot, sexy, or cute. Always use words like cool, awesome, epic, etc.

    8. Find a woman who consistently attends your Scene. Say something like, “Hi, my name is LW. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I’ve noticed a lot of misogyny and creepiness in Scene, and if you’re comfortable, I would love to hear from you about how I can try and change that.” Then LISTEN. Ask a lot of questions like “In that situation, does Thing X or Thing Y bother you more?” and “Is there a concrete thing I can do to change Environment?” If she doesn’t want to talk about it, say something like “Fair enough. So what do you think about the Moffat Era of NuWho?” The key is that asking about Environment is just another way to start a conversation. It is not the Only Thing Alice Is Good For.

    9. If you have lots of friends from Scene on Facebook, post a status like “Just got back from Con! Had a great time, but all the creepiness and misogyny really wore me down.” This makes your position very public.
    9.a. If a Big Debate happens in comments, which is likely, be prepared for a lot of wounded creepsters. Fight back against specific arguments as much as you have energy for. Have a prepared sentence along the lines of “I know a lot of people are well intentioned. The problem is we have a culture of hugging and touching without asking, which understandably makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s really scary to realize our community is out of the habit of asking for consent. I think it’s also really important to remember that having your boundaries violated is a worse experience than being told you violated someone’s boundaries.” and “If any women or other people who have been creeped out are willing to enter this conversation, I for one would really value their input.”

    10. Contact the organizers of Con and ask if you can organize either a town hall meeting to discuss creepiness in the scene, or a panel of woman geeks/geek content producers.

    BONUS NUMBER 11: If you implement all that, you will likely become known as someone trying to change the scene, and women will be more likely to approach you for friendship organically. If you are talking to a woman you would like to be friends with and she says she left the scene, you can say something like, “I don’t know if it was because of all the creepiness, but that aspect is slowly changing.” Don’t make it all about you as the Man Savior. Just mention it so she knows you know about it, and if she wants to know more she will ask.

    PROTIP: These strategies all work for almost any situation.

    1. I really like a lot of the tips (not prioritising the status quo over women’s comfort, not laughing at sexist jokes, asking before touching, and standing up to other men instead of expecting women to do all the heavy lifting), but I had a “god, no!” reaction to ‘Try saying something like, “Hey dude, could I talk to her privately for just one second?’ That makes me feel like Bob “owns” Alice and you’re asking his permission to talk to her. In Alice’s shoes, I would prefer “Alice, do you mind if I talk to you privately for just one second?” And take no for an answer if Alice tells you she DOES mind.

      I also have a negative reaction to being asked about my experience of creepiness or misogyny by men I don’t know. I don’t know whether I can trust them enough to be truthful, and I would find it suspicious if someone jumped straight in by asking me if I left a scene because of creepiness. You have to earn that level of trust. At best I’d feel patronised (oh, you suddenly realised some places are creepy/misogynist, did you? Welcome to my world!) or annoyed/guilt-tripped (Dude, this is my one night out this week – can I have five minutes off from fighting the patriarchy?), and at worst I’d feel worried about why someone was asking me these things (to use against me? Because they are Creepy Pseudo-Feminist Dude?). I think it would be very easy to get this wrong. Just goes to show that women are not all the same!

      1. Good call on asking Alice, not Bob.

        I think asking women about it is way harder when it’s a “cold call,” so to speak, but I was trying to imagine a situation where LW is ONLY interacting with men and women who are new to the scene and more into appeasement. I am also someone who is comfortable functioning as Spokesperson For Feminism in my own life, which colors my suggestions. I think with more direct questions about creepiness with women he doesn’t know, the key is leaving a big wide door open to disengage with that, and moving gracefully to another conversation topic rather than awkwardly walking away.

        1. One suggestion I saw once and really liked — although I haven’t had call to use it, nor had it used on me — was providing an escape route of something neutral. “Hey, sorry, can you tell me where the bathroom is?” “Hey, do you know where the hotel restaurant is from here?”

          If Alice wants an escape route, she can go “Sure, let me show you! GREAT TALKING TO YOU, BOB, BYE,” and then you can tell her that you don’t really need directions but just thought she looked uncomfortable, once Bob’s not in earshot. If you were wrong and she’s just super-friendly about showing people directions, she can then go “Oh, no, I was fine, but thank you!” and go back to Bob. If you were right, then you’ve done a solid good deed, and you can let Alice decide whether she wants to carry on the directions charade or just part ways there.

          And if Alice isn’t actually uncomfortable and doesn’t need an escape route, she can go “Oh, sure, it’s over that way!” and point it out to you, and then go back to her conversation with Bob.

          Of course, the downside to this is that it doesn’t call out Bob on his behavior. (Unless you go back and call him out, but… I wouldn’t do that unless you’re good friends with him, personally. I’d be wary of making him feel a grudge against Alice, but this is a case-by-case judgment, I guess.) But sometimes, getting someone out of an uncomfortable situation is a higher priority than having a Teaching Moment.

    2. Most of this is so excellent that I kind of don’t want to take issue with any of it! However, on a personal level:

      2a. I’m all for being conscious that women tend to have things fansplained (mansplained? fanmansplained?) to them at length, but I don’t think “And would you like to speak now, Lady Person?” from a guy would go down well. It certainly wouldn’t with me. I do think, “Whoa Bob, you’re being super-intense about this” or “Okay Bob, maybe let someone else have a say!” are good techniques, but singling out a woman for her opinion is kind of patronising. In fact, it’s almost the infantilising stuff we would like to avoid.

      3. I’m a little bit unclear on this one. Is our theoretical guy friends with Alice? Is Bob friends with Alice? If I was being creeped on by a strange guy, and another strange guy came up and was like “Can I talk to you privately?” my reaction would be WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON I WANT TO GO HOME. Basically I think this only works if you’re already friends with Alice. You might even end up in a situation where Bob is actually friends with Alice and then you look really creepy by being all “Hi, can I, male stranger, take you somewhere private away from your friend?” So yeah, a lot of variables at play here.

      6. This seems weird to me, but this is possibly because I really don’t like being hugged by anyone who isn’t family or close friends. I understand random hugging is part of the culture at big cons, but even someone saying “I’d really like to hug you” would freak me out. Also, as with the above point, breaking up hugging is highly dependent on who knows who and how well, and you could potentially come off looking like a complete weirdo if you misread the situation.

      9. A guy posting a status like that would get some serious side-eye from me. It’s kind of the equivalent of me, Extremely White Girl, posting a status that says, “I really liked X Event, but all the racism really got me down!” It sounds disingenuous, like I’m appropriating someone else’s experience so I can get on a soapbox. I also think facebook is a generally horrible venue for these kinds of debates. A good variation of this might be: If the guy has a blog, it would be cool for him to write a post with his detailed guy’s perspective on these things. If he is not blogging inclined, perhaps linking to an article about the misogyny problem in nerd culture with some supportive “I agree with this!” commentary? Both of those things would show that he’s actually given time, energy and thought to these issues, not just spewing buzzwords to score feminist brownie points.

      Apart from that, this is all super solid and specific advice!

      1. Re #9: I think it comes down to being specific. An fb-status like “All this misogyny really gets me down!” is likely to be (justly) perceived as blatant and transparent cookie-seeking.

        But what if you speak out against a specific thing that happened? I see no fault in something like: “To kids hanging at $Con with a <> sign: adding the words <> at the bottom of the sign is Not Cool. Hugs should be voluntary.”

        1. Ugh, I botched the formatting. 2nd fb-status example should read:
          To kids hanging at $Con with a “Free Hugs” sign: adding the words “You have no choice” at the bottom of the sign is Not Cool. Hugs should be voluntary.

        2. Call it as you see it I guess. I am still wary. Facebook is a highly performative medium and facebook activism rarely inspires productive conversation. (I wrote a dissertation on performativity in online spaces, so if I sound super-invested in this point, it’s because I am.) From my perspective, talking to those kids directly at the con when you see them would be a more useful course of action: “Hey, your sign is kind of creepy, forcing hugs on people is not okay!” Posting on facebook is certainly going to help people perceive you as a feminist-friendly dude, but it’s ultimately not a particularly helpful technique for changing things.

          One of the biggest parts of being a good ally is not expecting any credit or recognition for any of your positive actions. As other commenters have mentioned, it’s about being constantly and keenly aware that it is not about you. I think this is what jarred with a lot of people in your initial letter. You may not get friendship, you may not get respect, you might not even get trust. If you want to make your views known in online spaces, I would recommend seeking out groups and blogs where people are talking about these kind of things (as you are doing now, hooray!) Facilitate conversation, participate in it, but don’t dominate it. Providing links on facebook is great, because it invites people into these discussions without shoving it in their faces.

          1. One of the reasons I like facebook-centered options is that it’s a baby step for LW towards confronting people more directly. It also functions as prep work for the next con, because it will already be in people’s minds that creepiness/misogyny MIGHT be going on, so they will be less defensive and reactionary about it. I don’t think it’s a full solution on its own, but it is a good first step, and better than nothing. But it sounds like consensus is that providing links is a good show of good faith.

          2. Can you give a link to your dissertation, or recommend any other good texts on the subject of performativity in online spaces? This sounds very much worth reading about.

      2. Thank you for the detailed response!

        2a. In the situation I was imagining, Alice was already being singled out for mockery. So it was more like, “OK, Alice, How do you respond?” to help her get a word in edgewise. But point well taken about the danger of this getting patronizing.

        3. Yeah, I was trying to give a script for when LW sees something that looks wrong, but knows neither party. For me as a woman, I ignore Bob and talk only to Alice, but that seems very easy to become creepville coming from a man. Perhaps a better solution is to say “Hey Bob, can I talk to you for a minute?” and then asking him about almost anything, thus giving Alice a chance to escape if she wants to.

        6. Is there something that someone could say to communicate a desire to hug that would not freak you out? If so, that would be super helpful.

        1. For both 2 and 3, I think the general idea that inserting yourself, a Feminist-Friendly Dude, into a situation where a woman is potentially uncomfortable and giving her an out should she want it is generally a good course of action, I guess it just comes with degrees of subtlety that vary with the situation! I also feel like both these things are Advanced Being A Good Ally, for guys who are fairly socially astute and know the dynamics of what they are dealing with. Women tend to be very sensitive to these things, because we have to be, but I’d say most guys do not have finely-tuned creep radars, for obvious reasons! All your other points are Being A Good Ally 101, which pretty much anyone can apply immediately!

          Re: 6, Haha, no, probably not. I stress that this is totally subjective on my part though. I have a weird duality where I’m a very tactile person with close friends, but hate being touched by anyone I don’t know. But of course, people see me being huggy with my friends and think “Oh, she likes hugs, HUG ATTACK ENGAGE!” I’m also a tiny person, and my guy friends do a lot of leaning elbows on my head/picking me up, etc. which I don’t mind, but then tall guys in general see this as a communal license for Tall/Short physical comedy and I am NOT okay with that.

          So far, we have Surprise Hug Guy, Guy Who Asks For A Hug, and Guy Who Indirectly Implies He Would Like A Hug. I would really like to meet Guy Who Is Totally Okay With The Idea That You Don’t Get To Hug People You Don’t Really Know, No Matter How Cute Or Awesome Or Huggable You Think They Are.

          That said, I really like the sound of the technique your friend uses, mentioned below! Giving a list of options is a great way to defuse any awkwardness, and allows people like me to be all “Yeah man, FIST BUMP!” without feeling like a total bitch!

        2. I agree that pulling Bob aside rather than Alice is appropriate. It’s the “come get your people” model of being an ally, where you exert your influence on other members of your own privileged group rather than on people who are already being marginalized

    3. Awesome. This advice is extremely concrete and actionable. And some of the items are things I can do right now, without waiting for the next Con. I have made contact with one of the Con’s boardmembers and voiced my concerns, and they agreed to draft an anti-harassment code of conduct and link to it in a prominent location on Con’s website, and make it clear that if anyone gets harassed they want to hear about that. They’ve also promised that if they get multiple complaints against the same person they’ll send someone to sit him down and tell him what he’s doing wrong.

      As for the objections raised by thegirlfrommarz re: asking people about their harassment-related experiences, I agree fully. I get why y’all think it’s a bad sign that I’m basing my assessment of women’s experience in this situation mostly on guesswork (Supplemented by reading blog posts about being harassed from people who actually did share their stories (Harassment in general, that is. I didn’t find any such blogs by people in the (very small) community)), but I can’t just go around asking women to tell me about something very personal and very unpleasant like that. That would be extremely intrusive of me. Creepy, even.

      High-quality data about harassment is valuable, but only worth gathering if the act of collecting data isn’t in itself a form of harassment.

      1. Some quick words of advice! It’s awesome that you’re already working to make changes, but make sure that they’re actually speaking to individuals who face harassment before they draft their policy. Or at least call in individuals with actual experience working to positively respond to harassment. I don’t know the demographic of your con’s board, but the overwhelming majority are almost entirely straight white cismen. They need to have a community meeting about it and you need to be there to tell the other cismen to shut the fuck up and roll back and listen.

        Additionally, it doesn’t sound like they’re going to be firm enough. Wanting to hear about harassment isn’t enough. A harassment policy should have limited warnings. It should not be about sitting down people to talk things out after there have been multiple reports against them. It should be about kicking harassers out or at least making it clear that’s what will happen. Any else isn’t good enough, because the harassers have already been getting the right of way for years.

      2. In terms of data gathering– perhaps you could make it known publicly that you are looking for testimony with the express purpose of drafting better anti-harassment codes, and create a way for people to tell you stories anonymously. That way you’re not personally targeting anyone, and people understand that you have a direct productive intent for the information.

        It might also be worth considering having an anonymous disclosure system at the con, so people can disclose harassment without necessarily being on the spot themselves.

        Also, glad I could help. 🙂

      3. “I have made contact with one of the Con’s boardmembers and voiced my concerns, and they agreed to draft an anti-harassment code of conduct and link to it in a prominent location on Con’s website, and make it clear that if anyone gets harassed they want to hear about that. They’ve also promised that if they get multiple complaints against the same person they’ll send someone to sit him down and tell him what he’s doing wrong.”

        Oh, very well done, LW.

    4. #6: the wording I usually use with people I don’t know well is “are you a huggy person?” This allows people to say yes or no without it seeming like they have to make a personal rejection in order to not hug me.

      1. But I can be a huggy person without wanting to hug you, or without wanting to hug you at this time.

        1. Of course. But Agnes is offering the Acceptable Social Lie, which is one of my favorite lies. And you can even be sort of truthful by saying, “Not today!”

  31. Really good advice! I was driven to comment on the Lysistrata reference as I love that play and really want to do a modern re-imagining ala 10 Things I Hate About You.

    1. I used to see ads for a high school-themed “Lysistrata Jones” play (musical?) in the NY subway. So someone may have beaten you to the punch.

      1. And Meg Wolitzer’s recent novel The Uncoupling, which I thought was quite good. But all these reimaginings don’t mean you can’t do your own; they just mean you’ll want to explore a slightly different angle.

  32. there is something ironic in asking how to make women, plural see you as an individual
    So true.

    LW – are you treating the women you meet as individuals who happen to be female? Or are you seeing them all as Woman first and Person second? I wonder if some idea of What Women Are Like (which is “Different To Me And Other Men”) is holding you back from seeing What Katy Is Like and What Susan Is Like and What Alesha Is Like and treating them as people with their own thoughts, opinions, flaws and good points in the way you’d treat your male friends. A lot of people go through that “the opposite sex is different and special and alluring and unknowable” stage, but the thing to remember above anything else is that women are individual people just like men are individual people.

    I think it might help to ask yourself why you want women friends in the first place. Do you feel a bit squicked about only having male friends and want to explore why that is? Are you secretly hoping that having more women as friends will lead to eventual pantsfeelings and a OMG RELATIONSHIP? Or is there another reason?

    I raise this because whenever I’ve been in a place where I’ve been trying to form friendships, I’ve never thought, “I need to find some male/gay/black/[other random criterion] friends”. I’ve always just been looking for people I connect with and have fun with. Their gender/race/sexual orientation is not the main thing I’m looking for. The only reason I can think of for why I’d specifically look for someone male would be if I were looking for a potential date (even if I were in denial about that reason to myself).

    However, as a white straight person, if I didn’t have any friends of different ethnicities or sexual orientations, then I might well start asking myself some questions about why that was. They would be questions about my own privilege and how I might be displaying it, because generally people want to like you, so if I’m only able to build relationships with people who are just like me, then I’m going to have to think through some uncomfortable possible explanations for why that is. Also, I don’t stop asking myself these questions ever, because god knows privilege is insidious and having friends with less privilege than you doesn’t mean you have won the Not Being A Privileged Dickhead awards and can stop trying – it means that if you cock up you run the risk of hurting your friends (as well as being a Privileged Dickhead).

    There are great tips in this thread for being a good ally. Work on that – don’t try to change the culture of your social spaces because women might like you. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because you want women to feel welcome in those spaces. I also feel uncomfortable about how you’ve framed your question (about you and your need for female friendship, not about how to help to change the fact that your social space is (perceived as) not safe for women), but I’m assuming that you are asking in good faith and the wording isn’t conveying it adequately. However, talking about things that aren’t about you in a way that focuses on your feelings/perceptions above anything else is one way that you may be coming across badly to the women you’re meeting.

    1. This last point is really great– that if your issue is one part Systematic Oppression and one part My Feelings, the pure syntactic question of what you lead with has a HUGE effect on how you are perceived– and, I would argue, on how you think and act. So training yourself to lead with the not-about-you thing pays off immediately in perception and long-term in personal growth.

  33. Ohmygosh, Captain, you are amazing. I nearly spat out the cookie I was eating (promise!) when you offered the Cookie of Basic Human Decency to LW. And your response is thoughtful, honest, and clearly should be taken by LW and all others in a similar situation. You have a new ardent blog fan here in me.

    LW, it sounds like you are coming from a well-intentioned place and already doing some deep thinking, so kudos on responding well to the comments here. I hope you take Captain’s advice (and the other comments) to heart. To me it seems that your disappointment about not connecting might actually be running parallel to your sense of disappointment in the geek culture and the scene you’re part of. One and the other may be related and there’s definite interplay, but I feel like there are actually two separate issues for you to resolve. You have to work out how your methods of connecting, communication and attempting to build relationships aren’t working, and you have to work out your place and what you’re willing to put up with in the geek community, as it sounds like you want to be an ally. I won’t go into great length about the communication attempts and reevaluating your MO as far as meeting women because there are some fantastic comments here about that. I do want to talk about point #2.

    You are dissatisfied with the misogynistic culture that seems to lead to women reacting unfavorably to you, or making assumptions about you. Hear this never-ending echo of agreement from me that the best way to shatter the need for the protective mechanisms you seem to encounter is by becoming a strong, involved, vocal opponent of all that is wrong with creeps, sexism, misogyny, rape culture and general institutionalized, unsafe, uncool attitudes towards women in these fan spaces. CHANGE that culture. And don’t do it because you hope someone will notice how great you are. Change it because that environment just really flippin SUCKS for all humanity. It’s a poison that affects us all and interferes with us being able to connect on a joyful, enthusiastic level about the things we love and have in common. If you are serious, take on the effort to educate yourself about social justice, feminism, intersectionality, critical thinking, etc. in geekdom and fan culture, spread the word about what isn’t cool, and you will feel good about yourself, you’ll make a great impact on your community. It won’t matter in the long run if people will notice or not how involved you are – you will be doing something really important, full stop.

  34. The social venues the LW describes remind me a lot of the bigger gaming store in our smallish town. My wife and I used to go there quite a bit to look at comics and other gaming stuff, and we were excited to have found another place to look around and possibly meet other people. Now, for background, she’s much more of a geek in the comic area than I am. Yet people invariably ignore her and talk to me when we’re out at a place like that, which pisses both of us off to no end.

    Then, the third time we were there it was busier and there was a pretty big group of guys there making totally inappropriate/sexist comments, and nobody did *anything* about it (neither the owners/employees or anyone else in the store). It made my wife feel really unwelcome, and I don’t want to be around people like that either, so we never went back there. Which is a shame, because it’s the only place around here that organizes gaming nights and stuff like that.

    But related to this topic: if I recognized someone I saw there that day I’d be quite hesitant to interact with them as well, just because nobody spoke up that day and said: “Hey guys, that’s really not cool to say stuff like that.” Guilt by association is not always entirely unjustified…

  35. “For example, in your hypothetical conversations with women about the harassment they’ve experienced in geek spaces, did you:

    Say “I’m so sorry, that sucks” and then listen for a while?
    In the spirit of solidarity, relate the stories you have about creepy behavior you have suffered?
    Or, did you explain as sincerely as possible that not all men are like that and there are some good dudes around who can be trusted to act right?

    There is a hierarchy of responses there. Can you see it? The third tactic is almost guaranteed to be off-putting and make people not respond well to you.”

    The difference in the responses is how much you’re paying attention to the other person. The other person can pick up on that – and through it, will judge how much you care about them and/or what they have to say. If they feel like you’re not listening to them, they will walk away.

    As an example…
    I was in a fairly new relationship. We had sex that I initiated but didn’t really want – an effect of the sexual abuse from previous relationships. halfway through, I broke down crying – another effect of the sexual abuse. what I needed to hear was “OMG, are you ok? what’s wrong? we can stop here, if you’d like. no pressure.” the response I got instead was something along the lines, “hey, we can try this again later” -and that was the end of the discussion. my anger burned inside of me, screaming “what the hell makes you think I want to try again later, you dumbass?” at that very moment, I knew our relationship was over. it took some time to make it happen, but I need someone that will ask me what’s wrong when I’m crying, not blow it off and essentially tell me that we should do something again that obviously made me very unhappy. by the end of our relationship, he never even heard that I had been sexually abused. I gave him plenty of opportunity to ask me what was going on, he never gave me the opportunity to tell him. he didn’t care.

    the point: that hierarchy of responses is a BIG DEAL. in Captain Awkward’s example, if someone responded to me like that, I’d be thinking, “yeah, whatever: you obviously don’t care about what else I have to say, so I don’t care about what you have to say anymore either.” aaaand the conversation’s over.

    so yeah. watch that hierarchy of responses. most guys that I’ve found off-putting were doing this wrong…and if I gave them the benefit of the doubt, there were other things they’d do that told me they wouldn’t listen – such as do things I had asked them repeatedly not to do, as if my “no” was a challenge for them to get around. -sigh- it’s as if that initial responding poorly is a symptom of a larger problem…

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