#477: I have anxiety that women will have anxiety about me approaching them.

Comments are now closed on this discussion.

<b>Edited To Add</b>: By request, there is a GIANT CONTENT WARNING on this post and the comments. It is not recommended that anyone suffering from anxiety read this post or the comments. Or, really anyone at all. It represents a major, major mistake and unkindness and able-ism on my part. Don’t read it.

I am leaving this answer (& discussion) here – don’t believe in erasing mistakes or pretending they didn’t happen. But putting it behind a cut-tag for sure.  For a better answer to this question, and follow-up from the Letter Writer, go here. For a thread where people with anxiety discuss anxiety, go here. We as a community are trying very hard to come back from this and rectify this mistake, but the scars still exist.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m quite an anxious person, and may have an anxiety disorder. I’ve been diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder). Mostly these worries are about my work, but I also used to be quite socially anxious. I mostly conquered that while at university. However, I’m finding that learning about feminism is making some of this social anxiety rear its head again.

As an example, I’m now petrified of talking to any women I don’t know, unless they talk to me first. Reading about things like Schrodinger’s Rapist makes me worry a lot about how I appear, in case I’m freaking someone out. I’ve read so many accounts of how women felt threatened or uncomfortable when men spoke to them in public.

I used to think that it was up to other people to make me aware of any problems. That was a big part of getting over my social anxiety – I told myself that people had no right to be upset about my behaviour if they weren’t going to call me on it. But I don’t think what I understand about social justice supports that view any more. So the worrying resumes. I’ve basically stopped talking to women in public. I was just at an art exhibition and was about to talk to the woman next to me when I start thinking “what if she thinks I’m hitting on her, and gets upset because she just wanted to look at art and not get creeped on”. So I say nothing and move on. This is ridiculous behaviour and I want to stop, I was so much happier, outgoing and nicer to be around when I didn’t have this on my mind..

It’s possible to be an anti-sexist, pro-feminist, actually nice person without constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women, right? I also think that women aren’t really helped by my worrying. So any advice on this issue would be great.


Dear XY:

Keep treating your anxiety disorder.

And maybe, if approaching women in public gives you that much anxiety, don’t do it. There is no law that you have to approach women in public, or talk to them first, or that if you do that you ever have to feel okay about it. Maybe it would be okay if women who wanted to talk to you made the choice to talk to you. Then you could feel 100% ok about talking to them. Maybe you are one of the people for whom this will always be fraught. You have your counterparts on the other side, for whom being approached will always be fraught.

I mean, funny you should specifically mention the Schrödinger’s Rapist post , which was designed to convince men to be more thoughtful about how or whether they should approach women in public. It seems like it is making you question how or whether you should approach strange women in public. Your second-guessing of how the world should work, while almost certainly exacerbated by your anxiety disorder, is not a bug, it’s a feature.

So the rest of what you are asking? Where I try to make you feel good about the world and reassure that you’ll never accidentally bother someone because you are one of the good ones who tries to learn about feminism and be aware?

Even if I wanted to alleviate that discomfort for you (I don’t), I couldn’t. Gaining awareness about where you fit into an oppressive system is just painful and hard to deal with. Like, as a white lady who tries really hard not to perpetuate racism, when I accidentally do something racist, or see something racist happen in front of me that isn’t my fault but makes me aware of the degree that I benefit unfairly from having white skin in a racist time and place, it is seriously uncomfortable. If it’s not uncomfortable, something is wrong. That discomfort is mine to carry and to deal with and hopefully repurpose into making shit less racist. To pretend that it compares with the discomfort of actually living in an actually racist society as a person of color is gross and rude and wrong. I do not ask victims of racism to comfort me because injustice makes me feel icky inside sometimes.

Women’s fear of violence from men is not the same as your fear that you might say the wrong thing to a lady and she may not like you. Keep treating your anxiety disorder. Also, get a fucking grip and do not come to feminist blogs for comfort about this issue. THAT is my advice for you.



  1. pseudony mousie said:

    I would have expected this one to be #477 since the last one was a “double feature” of 475 / 476, but if it’s in the URL I’m not sure what you can do about it. 476b?

    • JenniferP said:

      476idontreallycare or 477itdoesn’tmatterifitmatchesurl?

      • roramich said:


      • pseudony mousie said:

        haha, yes. 476-your-human-numbering-system-is-irrelevant-to-space-cthulhu

        • H.Regalis said:

          pseudony mousie, if you were wondering, yes, you can manually change post URLs in WordPress.

      • anon said:

        So hi, I’m XY, the guy who sent in this question. It’s really disheartening to see all these posts attacking me. Can we chat about this on irc/skype etc?

        • Just letting you know your question had been caught up in the regular-old spamfilter; you are not specifically being screened. The filter snags a ton of stuff, and how often it clears depends on how busy Jennifer and I are (Jennifer is the site administrator/moderator, I pitch in to try to lessen comment-languishing time). I’m sure she’ll respond to this post as soon as she can.

  2. veryslowwriter said:

    Thank you so much. Thanks for not going all “poor guy” and trying to reassure where no assurance is possible. I completely identify with the white-lady-trying-to-be-a-decent-human. This———->”I do not ask victims of racism to comfort me because injustice makes me feel icky inside sometimes.”
    I’m 71 years old and just came to understand that.

  3. roramich said:

    Dear LW: when I read this “when I start thinking “what if she thinks I’m hitting on her, and gets upset because she just wanted to look at art and not get creeped on”. I thought, right on! He’s getting it! Women don’t want to be creeped on in general and this particular woman gave no indication that she was there for anything but art, so good job!
    Then I read:
    “So I say nothing and move on. This is ridiculous behaviour and I want to stop” and that you were so much happier before you had a fucking social conscience and I just threw up in my mouth a little. No, a lot.
    Good job Captain.

    • JenniferP said:

      Shorter version:

      Q: “Life was so much better before I had to consider other people’s feelings. How can I go back to being oblivious and happier?”


      • roramich said:


      • meh said:

        Srsly? That’s what you got from that? He was asking for help navigating social situations involving women. He’s scared of offending people, that’s what social anxiety is. He wasn’t hitting on the girl at the art thing, he was terrified she’d take it that way.

        • JenniferP said:

          How the fuck am I supposed to know how the woman at the art show will take his comment? I don’t. So if it makes him feel anxious to talk to her, don’t talk to her. I assume that this encounter was in the past tense, and lo, the world did not end because some guy felt weird and *didn’t* talk to a girl.

          • DFTBAwkward said:


          • This is the worst response to a request for advice you've ever given said:


            Guy with anxiety disorder realizes he’s been socialized to assume a position of superiority over women and wants to make sure he’s treating them like fellow human beings. Your response? “Don’t ask a feminist for advice on navigating new feminist waters.”

            A+ advice.

          • sonamib said:

            Shorter “This is the worst”:
            “Won’t anyone think of the MENZ?”

          • sonamib said:

            @”This is the worst”
            The LW came into a feminist space asking for feminism cookies and reassurance that he can revert to his old oblivious ways while remaining a nice guy. If you can’t see what’s wrong with THAT, maybe you shouldn’t comment and read more about feminism instead.

          • I’m not even sure he was asking for our blessing to revert. But still, would it be appropriate for a white person to seek support from people of color about his/her guilt and anxiety about his/her role in perpetuating (and benefiting from) racism? Not to my mind. They have enough to deal with with the racism and all, without being supposed to take on the role of comforter of white folks’ anxiety about saying the wrong thing. So sometimes you feel stupid and awkward and you put your foot in your mouth despite being a good person who means well. That’s your burden to bear, and compared to the racism itself its a pretty light one.

        • He’s also implicitly asking us to accept his premise that him not feeling comfortable taking to that woman was a bad thing, and that it was ridiculous that he was held back by Shroedinger’s Rapist-esque concerns. He uses that word: ridiculous. When no, it is a fine thing that since he wasn’t sure he could do it without making her uncomfortable, he didn’t. The problem isn’t that he left her be, it’s that he’s asking us to join him in second-guessing that decision.

          Nope. When in doubt, leave her be. God, we should put that on a T-shirt.

        • neverjaunty said:

          No, he wasn’t. If he’d actually read and absorbed the “Schroedinger’s Rapist” essay, he wouldn’t be talking like this, because the ENTIRE POINT of that piece is: Hey, Decent Dude, we understand that you would like to avoid being creepy, so here are behaviors that you probably had no idea are warning signals creeps throw off, and you now know how to avoid inadvertently doing them.

          Someone who reads that essay and comes away with nothing other than “OH NOES” either didn’t read it carefully at all, or took it as “blah blah blah chicks are paranoid about tape, amirite?”

          In other words, LW does not come across as a Decent Dude. He comes across as a concern troll.

          • Yeah I was going to say, keep treating your anxiety disorder and read those posts and comments again, because most of them give pretty explicit examples of how you can avoid freaking (most) women out, but apparently a lot of men can’t see that. Whether it’s because of an anxiety disorder or defensiveness doesn’t really change much. Work on the problem, and read them again.

        • Elikit said:

          Also? He doesn’t mention anything about talking to men in public. So if he only feels compelled to talk to strange women in public, maybe they’d be right to take it in the “he’s hitting on me” way.

          Maybe the LW should investigate what he’s looking for from these interactions and be a bit more honest with self about his motivations.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            The one exception to this I could see is if he’s moving in work/academic/hobby circles that are majority-female. I’ve had a couple of men in my academic cohort express similar concerns about conversation-starting, which makes sense in THAT context, because most students in my social work school are female AND we’re always talking about privilege and oppression. Sometimes the men who are newer to this wild-swing between talking too much in that “talking over people” way and not saying anything because they’re Trying So HARD not to.

            But that’s a pretty darn specific context, really, so I’m guessing this is not that.

          • TO_Ont said:

            “He doesn’t mention anything about talking to men in public.”

            Surely that’s because it’s not relevant to the subject? He assumes it will not occur to men to think he’s a rapist, so he’s more able to make normal smalltalk with them?

        • Emily said:

          Way to jump down this dude’s throat. After reading the letter I was expecting “here’s how to talk to a strange girl in public (without exhibiting creepster signs) because you both like art and that’s cool” and instead read “you’re a dick for asking a feminist for advice on how to talk to women.” Because feminists hate men who talk to women? Er, no?

          The funny thing is, the solution is reasonably simple. Step 1) comment on [subject]. If she comments back enthusiastically, great! Keep going because [subject] is awesome! If she comments politely but coldly or lets your comment drop then Step 2) Leave it be and move on with life.

          I’m really not reading the Privilege-Ur Doin It Wrong signs the Captain is reading.

          • The LW is bemoaning the fact that concern for women’s anxiety is making him anxious about approaching strange women in public! When, as Jennifer says, that’s not an unfortunate side effect of his newfound appreciation of women’s perspective in that situation, it’s the whole fucking point!

            BE concerned, LW! Fret about whether indulging your desire to speak to the woman is going to make her uncomfortable! Don’t act like it’s unfortunate (much less ridiculous) that your newfound enlightenment is messing with your comfort level and even causing you to leave some woman be (depriving her of your commentary on the art, and you of the chance to share your insight with a woman)!

            The privilege aspect is acting like the man’s comfort level speaking with random women without having to consider their comfort level is some sacred thing that we should mourn the loss of.

          • JenniferP said:

            Yes, SRSLY.

            Gaining awareness of the unfairness and violence of the world and losing your ability to move carefree through certain spaces that once felt like you owned them does feel like a loss, and it is uncomfortable. The LW is grieving the way that educating himself about what women go through in walking around in public with female bodies has made him feel less comfortable about interacting with them because he might be part of the problem.

            This is part of the process of growing up. The pain and shame are necessary, and even useful. I said in the OP, don’t come to feminist blogs for comfort about this.

            Maybe an example people will understand:

            I read a lot of African American bloggers & Tweeters, and sometimes their feeds become a conversation about the failings of white feminists – things we’ve appropriated without attribution & things we’ve ignored, and the way so much of the Feminist movement is focused on the Caitlin Morans and Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, as if everyone wants to be like them and should want to be like them, and not about economic and reproductive justice for everyone.

            And sometimes when I read those conversations, I get really, really uncomfortable. Do they mean me? But I try so hard!

            And sometimes they do mean me. And sometimes they mean people who are very close to and admired and appreciated by me.

            And that realization is painful.

            But I realize that their pain, and yes, hostility, is fairly earned, and I don’t try to silence those discussions or make them about me.

            I do not Tweet back at them and say “Your ongoing conversations about your oppression made me feel really anxious and upset. I’m trying really hard not to be racist, any tips?

            Because women cannot comfort men about the history of violence toward and ownership of women, which, despite much progress, is not in the past. It is still happening all around us, now.

            And people of color cannot comfort white people about the history of violence and white supremacy, which despite much progress, is not in the past. Savage inequalities and perpetuation of those inequalities by very well-meaning people is still happening, all around us, now.

            It’s like the post we linked the other day about “how not to say the wrong thing.” While everyone is closer to the center of some ‘crisis’ or ‘trauma’ circles and further from others, and while they intersect in all these different ways and it can get very complex, this theory applies here. If sexism is making you uncomfortable, men shouldn’t complain to women and seek their comfort. If racism is making you uncomfortable, white people shouldn’t complain to people of color and look for comfort there.

            The LW has a therapist for treating his anxiety disorder, so there’s nothing I can add to that – keep going. But I do have pretty strong feelings about the question “Woman, this whole sexism thing is freaking me out. Any tips for feeling better about that (and also, getting better at ‘approaching women’).” I think he made a serious faux pas in how he framed some of his questions and the examples he used. It is not my job to make him feel awesome about that.

          • Your second paragraph is quite true, which is why it’s covered in literally every post about men approaching women written by a feminist, including those he specifically mentions having read.

      • xy said:

        Hi, so I’m the guy who wrote the question. Someone brought it to my attention that it’s been answered already, and er answered again. There’s a lot here to process, can we talk?

        • JenniferP said:

          Hi. Depends on what you mean by talk?

          Like, you posting comments here? Sure. I got a do-over, you talk all you want.
          Like, on the phone? No. 🙂





    (Or, just don’t approach women in public. Meet them at your table-top gaming nights or your knitting circle or your brass band practice.)

    • Once you’ve been using the handshake for six months, we’ll give you a ticket to Misandry Island, where all those ‘real women’ are!

      LW, you’re about to get a lot of flak. Why? Because go you, you did some reading, but you’re not there yet. Continue to read feminist stuff, and I have hope that in a bit you’ll look back at this letter and wince along with us.

    • roramich said:

      LOLOLOLOLOL forever.

    • sonamib said:

      And when does he get the medal that says : “Not like those other guys”?

  5. CL said:

    My guide for talking to me in public: It’s okay to strike up a conversation with me about what’s going on around us, the book I’m holding, my awesome shoes, or anything else. But pay attention to my response. If I follow up with lots of chatty talking and ask you questions, great! Keep talking to me. If I respond politely to your comment without trying to further engage you, smile and go back to leaving me alone. This means our interaction, while it might have been a perfectly pleasant moment between strangers, is finished.

    I don’t think most people are 100% closed off to the idea of meeting a nice guy (or woman) in public. But most women don’t like when you see them in a non-dating situation (the street, public transit) and immediately hit on them. If I end up having an amazing conversation with someone, lots of positive signals from both sides, I might be open to the possibility of keeping in touch. But it would be fine with me if nobody ever said to me, “You have beautiful eyes, do you have a boyfriend?” ever again.

    LW doesn’t make it clear whether he’s hoping to date some of these women, or whether he thinks feminists don’t want him talk to women for any reason ever. But I’m guessing he’s upset because he wants to date women, or wants positive attention from these women. If he just wanted friendly conversation, he just could talk to other men. So my advice on that front: The art gallery is not a singles bar. If you want to meet women for dating and/or sex, set up an online dating profile. When you’re in public, treat women and men the same way — like people who might or might not want to have a casual conversation with you. If you’re treating random women differently than you would treat a random man, they will notice your intentions, and they will probably feel like you’re creeping on them.

    • Ystir said:

      Also, LW, please note that this is the guide for talking to *CL* in public. If you happen to run into Ystir, then nine times out of ten, I would rather be left the fuck alone. Not even because I’m worried about being creeped on (I’m one of the apparently nonexistent women who pretty much never gets hit on in public) but because I just don’t have the energy to deal with having to be polite to strangers. I don’t want the old dear at the bus stop to start talking to me about her grandkids (although I’ll usually go along with it because for all I know I’m the only person she’s been able to talk to this week) and I don’t want some random person on the bus to ask me whether my book’s any good because then I have to formulate an opinion when usually I’m just trying to concentrate enough to remember what’s going on. I might conceivably wish the super-cute guy/girl at the next table in the café would strike up a conversation about my boots having roses embroidered on them, but a lot of the time even that’s more than I can manage. (Although also, I don’t want to be fucking creeped on.)

      • CL said:

        Definitely — and before someone whines, “But how am I supposed to tell the difference between CL and Ystir,” I bet we give off different signals if anyone is actually paying attention to our preferences. I’m probably more likely to catch someone’s eye on the train when something strange is happening around us, and you might be more likely to be quite obviously keeping to yourself, looking at your book or your phone, not making eye contact. And I do think people should err on the side of leaving others alone when they’re not sure.

        • Ystir said:


        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          It’s, it’s almost… like…. women aren’t a monolith, or something.

      • Leaper said:

        Are your boots Doc Martens? (I have Docs with embroidered roses and I get SO MANY COMMENTS everyone loves them. A girl at the airport jokingly threatened to steal them. They make me happy.)

      • My rule for talking to me in public: go for it! I talk to strangers. Unless I’m clearly busy (i.e. typing madly on my laptop, walking fast to get somewhere, etc.), I will talk to you. What the hell is wrong with the occasional conversation with a stranger?

        I think that American society has become way too disconnected from each other, and I believe in building community. The way to build community is to be part of it – and yes, to talk to people sometimes. Male or female. If I’m at an art gallery and some stranger wants to talk to me about the art, hell yes – I’ll talk to him or her. I may learn something. I may just pass a few moments being entertained by something other than my smartphone. I may meet a cool person whom I’d like to get to know better.

        My advice to the OP would be just to be sensitive to people’s signals – does the woman actually want to talk to you? If she doesn’t, she will let you know with verbal or nonverbal signals. But don’t be scared off from all contact with 51% of the population. Not all of us will bite your head off.

        • The last paragraph (and similar comments from others) seem to not be listening to the LW. His whole point is that all that “reading women’s cues” stuff is what gives him debilitating anxiety.

        • Ystir said:

          “What the hell is wrong with the occasional conversation with a stranger?”
          Nothing, if that’s what you want/are comfortable with. I didn’t explicitly state this in my comment, but when I say “I don’t have the energy” for this, I mean literally. I barely have the energy to *be* in public, much less at a museum or other interesting thing these days, because I have fibromyalgia. Amazingly enough, when you’re that sick, even a pleasant chat costs energy that you just don’t have. When I was well I was much happier to engage in chit-chat with strangers. Now, it may actually lead to my collapsing on the floor.

        • theamander said:

          LW, if you approached me in public I wouldn’t bite your head off either. I like talking to strangers of whatever gender because I like talking to people in general and I assume there are some cool ones I haven’t met yet in spaces where I like to be, doing things I too enjoy.

          I don’t see this letter as a whiny request for feminist cookies. First, there’s a gulf between the level of expected privacy at an art exhibition versus the places mentioned in Shroedinger’s Rapist. Yes LW, you should probably not try to talk to strange women in alleys or subways or broken elevators, ever. But an art show? If I were at a quiet museum and a dude beelined over to me to bloviate, I would exit his company pretty clearly. If it was a gallery opening and people were chatting with plastic wine flutes and little plates of snacks, I would be happy to talk.

          Anxiety sucks and I have plenty of cookies to go around this morning, so here, LW: it is totally fine to approach people in social spaces, and many will welcome the interaction. Those that don’t will let you know verbally or nonverbally. Feminism doesn’t mean speaking only to men for the rest of your life out of concern for our possible discomfort, and frankly I find that gallantry slightly patronizing. We are just people like you, and trust me, ‘dude-said-hi-at-the-art-show’ is not even a blip on the Richter Creep-scale.

    • I’m with you for paragraphs 2 & 3. But as far as I’m concerned, random conversation with a stranger only feels ok when it’s about shared experience. Like, shared reaction to someone’s behavior in line at the coffee shop, reaction to something happening outside. Make it about the person, instead, and especially about appearance, and it immediately feels goal-oriented and intrusive.

      Basically, it should be a comment that wanted to be spoken to a fellow human being, that you would have said regardless of age, gender, race, or attractiveness of the person who happened to be standing there.

      And there should be no expectation of any return.

      • Ve said:

        Well said. Strangers make quick small talk with me quite often, but pretty much always about shared experiences. These people are from all walks of life as well, not just people who may want a date.

        • Similarly, when the LW calls it ridiculous that he second-guessed himself out of making a comment to the woman at the art show, I find myself wondering: was he actually so struck by his reaction to something he saw that he needed to share that with whoever happened to be by, then held back when he saw it was a woman?

          Or was he using the art as a basis to strike up conversation with this woman, thinking that the comment was necessarily was non-intrusive because it was about art (thereby making it not so much about art, as about his desire to connect with her)(which she would have recognized in a heartbeat)(thereby making her feel like for being in public while female she has been found to be fair game)? And his suspicion (correct, in my opinion) that he still didn’t have it right stopped him from speaking?

          • datdamwuf said:

            You nailed it Alphakitty, if I see some amazing thing and feel the need to share, it doesn’t matter what gender the person is that I’m sharing it with. I’m not striking up a conversation with a goal in mind, I simply am sharing the experience/sight/delight.

      • canomia said:

        Totaly agree

    • This is a great comment.

    • Elaine Moore said:

      I can’t figure out how to reply to XY so i apologize if i am doing this wrong. XY, i see nothing wrong with speaking to women while at an art gallery. if you are both sitting next to each other admiring the same piece of art saying something like “i love the artist’s use of blue in this painting.” is fine. if she doesn’t respond, don’t freak out, and enjoy the art.

      • Rebecca M said:

        I like this.

    • Horizon said:

      Yeah, my rule for talking to me in public: just don’t do it. 😐

      If I’m reading a book, I wanna read my book. Don’t ask me about it, that’s fucking intrusive and will just make me annoyed as shit because I want to read my book and I can’t when some random dude I don’t even care about is talking to me about things I don’t care about. “What are you reading?” Oh, how about the same sentence like five times because you won’t shut up?

      That goes double if I have earbuds in.

      Yet people still persist. And I get creeped on pretty much every time I’m out in public even when all signals point to “do not engage”. Argh.

      So yeah. Basically, pay attention to peoples’ signals? A person interested in talking to you will generally turn toward you and make some attempt at engaging conversation in return. If they’re not looking at you and giving curt, one-word responses and keep glancing desperately back at whatever held their attention before you got all up in their space? Back off.

    • iiii said:

      My guide for talking to me in public: If we have been introduced on a prior occasion, say hello. (But if getting my attention seems difficult, give up and move on with your day.) If we have not been introduced on a prior occasion, go annoy someone else.

      No, seriously, move along.

      The guys who intrude on my day may conceive of what they’re doing as “just trying to be nice” or “just liking people.” But I’m 45 years old, here, and I’ve been living in cities and taking public transit for a lot of that time, and have had a whole lot of people “just try to be nice.” Funny (scary) things happen when I ignore a “nice” stranger’s overtures. I’ve known them to shout after me, turn threatening, follow me down the street, put their hands on me, do whatever it takes to menace a “nice” response out of me. When a guy won’t let me be until he gets the reaction he wants, he wasn’t “being nice.” He was making a dominance display.

      Maybe you’re not that guy. OK. Good. Keep that up. But you’re still not entitled to my time and my approving attention. If I don’t already know you, don’t talk to me in public.

    • If he just wanted friendly conversation, he just could talk to other men.

      I just…this assumption bothers me. Maybe he wants friendly conversations with people, and realizes that women are people too. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to leave 50% of the population out of your random friendly conversations. I don’t think it necessarily means he has ulterior motives every time he talks to a woman.

    • I want to add something to your guide:

      Just because a lady responds at first with good body language doesn’t mean you get to bulldoze on through there.

      I am from a small town, and we all smile at each other. Once I was in a large city, heading down the steps to a subway platform as a bunch of people were streaming out from the train that had just left. A man smiled at me, so I smiled back. He then turned around, followed me down onto the now deserted platform and started asking for my number, where I lived, if he could marry me, etc. I was terrified. I kept talking, but it was only because I was scared for my life (I don’t associate marriage proposals to a stranger with Stable Person). My body language was screaming “go away” though – I angled my body away from him, didn’t make eye contact, kept my answers to his questions very short and laughed awkwardly.

      So, if a lady smiles at you, don’t take it as carte blanche – keep looking for feedback, and back off if you see some negative symbols crop up after some positive ones.

  6. Jake said:

    So, first of all, yes yes yes to everything the captain said. Treat your anxiety, get a grip, don’t whine to feminists about how hard misogyny makes shit for men.

    Second of all, for christ sakes, dude. Women are not all the same. We are not a monolith. I get so fed up with dudes who are all “I don’t know how to talk to women” as if women weren’t just people. You know, people who have language-language and body language and participate in the same social norms and signal-making as men. It’s great that you understand that women face certain fears as a result of how we’re treated, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we’re JUST. FUCKING. PEOPLE. Your job, when you approach a stranger for conversation, is to pay attention and give a shit about whether they want to be having that conversation. If you can do it effectively with men, then you can do it effectively with women. Unless you think women are somehow not regular people.

    • The LW doesn’t say one way or another whether he’s able to strike up conversations with men he doesn’t know in public. If his social anxiety is as bad as he says it is, I am guessing not. I am not very good at even making small talk with coworkers or other people I know when I am preoccupied with something else (like a work project or relationship problem) and I very rarely speak to people I don’t know in public, because I am not that comfortable doing it.

      And for me, that is OK.

      I’ve worked on this a lot. I’m a freelance journalist, so I’ve learned to pick up the phone and call people I don’t know to ask them questions (never been my favorite thing, and it is still hard for me), to schmooze and talk shop with people at networking events and to walk up to people at events I am covering and ask them followup questions. All of these things are really hard for me sometimes, even when the person I am talking to wants and expects to hear from me and is absolutely happy to talk (not always the case). But it has been worth it to me to work on it, because I want to be good at my job. Still, sometimes I’m feeling shy enough or overwhelmed enough that sometimes it takes me a little more time to get all the information I need to write a story. But it’s OK. I don’t do my job exactly the way less-shy reporters might, but I still get my work done. I may not network as aggressively as the next person, but I still have a solid professional network.

      And in unfamiliar social situations, I am still, often, pretty shy. But that is OK too. If I go to a party where there are a lot of people I don’t know, and maybe the person who invited me is not there yet or is out buying ice or too busy hosting other people, it is hard. Sometimes I just say hello to the folks I do know and duck out. Sometimes I ask to be introduced to the other guests. Sometimes I take a few deep breaths and a drink, and just introduce myself to people around me. And despite the fact that I sometimes wish it were easier for me to adjust to being in big groups of people I don’t know? I still have a lot of really great friends and remain very busy and engaged socially.

      When you have an anxiety disorder, in general, it is hard to know if you’re being sensible or ridiculous when your brain tells you, “Don’t talk to that person, leave them alone.” Some people want to be left alone when they are out in public and some people don’t mind a stranger saying, “Hey, that is a cool painting, isn’t it?” Sometimes when I am riding the bus, I really want to be left to my own devices and sometimes I don’t mind a bit if someone asks a question about the book I am reading and strikes up a conversation. I met a really interesting woman at the bus stop a few weeks ago precisely because she asked a question about the book I was carrying and, that day, I felt OK with talking to her about my book rather than just reading it. But if you never get to a point where you feel comfortable making chitchat with a stranger, or if you don’t trust that you’ll be able to read the stranger’s responses well enough to understand whether or not she is truly interested in interacting with you? It will be OK. You’ll have to rely on other ways of meeting people, but there are plenty of those available.

      • I have social anxiety too and I totally understand everything you said about that. I still have problems when I can’t tell if I am being awkward or the other person just hates me. I have scripts for social situations that I have to practice constantly which is why I try to say hi to strangers and things.

        I think LW just needs to realize that it is okay to be personable and friendly to anyone but you need to respect people’s boundaries.

        Even though I have SA I still don’t mind if anyone random comes up and talks to me or asks me a question etc. What bothers me is when people don’t take signals of my body language or keep pushing my boundaries and ultimately disrespecting me in some way.

        Also another thing that might help along with addressing others body language is addressing your own, LW. Some people carry themselves in ways that make others immediately uncomfortable.

      • Jake said:

        I hear you on the general social awkwardness and the anxiety in general. But the letter didn’t say “I’m bad at talking to people” it said “I used to be okay at talking to people, but then I learned FEMINISM and now I’m bad at talking to women.” The LW explicitly said that his problem is specifically with talking to women. And in that is an undercurrent of the idea that women are some magically different class of people, and aren’t really like people all that much at all. Which is the problem.

        Because, yes, statistically more women than men face some specific fears because safety and Schödinger’s Rapist and all that jazz, but that’s statistics. Some women will be perfectly happy to have the LW strike up a conversation, and some men will feel threatened if he does. His job when talking to strangers is to try to guage how they feel and be respectful of their responses, and that’s always true, whether he’s talking to women or men. Schrödinger’s rapist and so on are good for understanding that MORE women will feel threatened, and it’s good for empathising with WHY those women feel threatened, but the day-to-day mechanics of deciding whether to talk to strangers is not different whether those strangers are men or women. It’s based on respect, attention, and understanding that no one is required to be okay with you talking to them.

  7. Jake said:

    *distant, echo-y voice* HALP! I’M STUCK IN THE SPAM CATCHING MACHINE!

    • Jake said:

      Okay, this was way funnier in my head. Walking away now.

      • unlurking said:

        [For what it’s worth, I giggled at it:) As I’m sure you’ve discovered, the spam catching machine is aggressive, and inconsistently so, so it can also help to cultivate one’s sense of comment-leaving-zen. You know, more: ooommm I am one with the universe and all its spam…]

      • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

        Hey, it made me laugh! 🙂

  8. Y’know, it really wouldn’t upset me if I never had a strange man talk to me in public ever again. Like, not to say that I’ve NEVER had a fun chat with a stranger. It happens. It can be nice. But…the amount of times it’s made me uncomfortable exceeds the times I’ve had fun nice chats. I’d rather men just didn’t do it, and that’s not the same for every woman, nor does it have to be. But also, I really really don’t care about men’s manly feelings about it.

    • Badger Rose said:

      Ha, yes.

      Whenever someone says, “So do you mean I can NEVER approach women I don’t know in public AGAIN?????” I think, well, actually, yes, that would be lovely. I would be totally fine with that.

      Not all women agree with me, of course, and that’s fine. But I actually do rather like it when no strangers talk to me in public spaces at all. (Beyond, oh, “excuse me,” “hey, you dropped this,” or “is this seat taken?”)

      • roramich said:


      • Ava said:

        I’m a woman who actually quite likes talking to strangers and I would be totally fine if none ever approached me again. It’s not a major component of my social life, and it’s not like I expect any specific stranger I see to speak to me and think they’re rude if they don’t.

        • Sometimes I get annoyed at strangers who talk to me, but if it never happened again? I’d be sad. I know everyone feels differently about this, but for me, those little moments of making meaningful connections in unexpected places are important.

    • liyyspoon said:

      +1 ! ME TOO. So very rarely does it end well/improve my experience

    • Kindlekat said:

      YES YES YES. Like evaluating toxic friendships, I have a strict rule of “If you bring more negative things (emotions, experiences, etc.) into my life than positive ones, you are no longer in my life”

      It has become the same with street harassment. I have had WAY MORE negative experiences on the street with men than I ever have or probably ever will positive ones. Is this unfair to the sweet man who I’m waiting next to at the bus stop who REALLY WANTS to say hi to me and is totally a non-creep? Sure. It means I will NEVER respond well and/or at all to his advances, regardless of time/location/appearance. Sorry dude, should have met me at an actual social occasion like happy hour/party/kickball game/opening night performance and I would have probably struck up a conversation with you if I had felt so inclined.

      However. It’s also fucking unfair that I can’t walk down the street without getting catcalled and hit on and called “bitch” and “whore” for the small offense of thinking my time/body is my own. That my daily commute or “yoga pants” wearing is supposedly a damn invitation to all men everywhere that I am supposedly signaling with the simple fact that I EXIST.

      • roramich said:

        Thank you; this is a great comment.

      • I feel like the art exhibition that the LW was using as an example is in sort of a gray area as far as “actual social occasions”. I mean, if some dude started up a conversation with me that was about art at an art exhibition that we were both attending, and in a non-creepy manner, I would be much more open to responding than if we were at a bus stop or the grocery store or whatever.

        Personally, I think ‘art exhibition’ at least sort of falls into the category of places where people go to socialize, and it would be fine for him to start up a conversation with a woman or a man as long as he then pays attention to whether that person appears interested in continuing a conversation. I mean, that is how a person goes about making new friends and meeting people. Just go about it with the goal of meeting this person and connecting about your shared interest in art… if the LW’s actual goal is getting in her pants, maybe remove himself to a bar or dating site.

        I totally understand where CW was coming from in the OP, and as a lady I would be more than happy to never again be approached on the street/bus/at the farmer’s market/while I’m otherwise just trying to do errands and go about my life, ever again. But it seems like the LW is looking for advice on how not to be creepy *in social situations*, which sounds to me like a legit concern. How is it productive to be as hostile towards this question as some of the responses have been?

        • I agree. I think an art gallery opening is a social situation, not really comparable to talking to strangers on the street, and most of the comments I’ve read so far are treating him like he’s doing the latter.

    • Kate said:

      This is where I jump up and down (scaring the cats) and holler THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS ALSO THIS.

    • Zillah said:

      For serious. I’m sorry, but it is very, very rare that a stranger saying something to me even registers at the end of the day unless it was negative. So, in general, someone saying something to me in public is *at the very best* not an intrusion. I am okay not having those interactions. I would be quite happy if random men that I have no real connection to never talked to me in public ever again.

    • Serin said:

      Yes! Me too!

      The thing I never understand in these questions about “approaching women in public” is: What is a guy hoping will be the outcome of that approach?

      Is he thinking that one day he’ll stand up at his wedding and tell the story of the time when he went to an art exhibit, saw a woman he didn’t know, liked the way she looked, spoke to her … and now here he is, marrying her?

      Because I meet my friends and dates at work or in classes or in clubs or through friends — by methods where we get to know each other before anyone begins pursuit. Even if 100% of my interactions with strange men in public places had been lovely and nice, 99% of them would have been two lovely, nice minutes of conversation followed by never seeing each other again, and the other 1% might have wound up with a brief follow-up exchange of e-mails to give me the title of that book he was talking about.

      Maybe it’s different for extroverts?

      • As an extrovert (who also deals with social anxiety on and off!), I can say that making connections with random strangers, when I’m in the mood for it, can be a really positive thing. It might not necessarily lead to a friendship, but it can be a bright spot in my day.

        I guess, I feel like I don’t need an end goal in sight (date, friendship, etc) for a social interaction to be meaningful for enjoyable. Sometimes I just want to connect with people. And sometimes even a fairly shallow, short connection can be enjoyable.

        • theamander said:

          Ditto!! I think of these little random social moments as glue that holds together the larger community. Also, the small positive interactions in public spaces weigh against weirdo creepy interactions and to public spaces feel safe for me. I like to think that the men who said good morning or complimented my garden and meant my actual garden not my backside would help me out if my grocery bag ripped and all my groceries fell in the street.

      • bearcatbanana said:

        I met one of my best friends in my new city because she was sitting at my favorite bar with a Lambchop doll keychain laid on the bar. I said, “oooo, Lambchop” and the rest was history. It was kinda perfect.

        But still, those kind of random meetups that form meaningful relationships seem rare and serendipidous. I think it depends on one’s tolerance for conversation with strangers, which from reading all these comments is clearly different for different people.

  9. Chameleon Panic said:

    Dear LW, while I largely agree with Jennifer, I think there’s still something the population at a feminist blog can offer you.

    I don’t think you JUST wanted comfort–I think you wanted some kind of math to know how to tell when you’re being unreasonably anxious, and how to know when you’re being the right kind of anxious. You want a measuring stick since a doctor has told you that you can’t trust your own, right?

    It’s true that men can’t trust their measuring stick ever, and that no matter what we do, sometimes we’re just going to mess up. But messing up is part of being human, and something a person with an anxiety disorder has to learn to deal with so you aren’t tempted to agoraphobia. So if you like, borrow my ruler: in public, I do not say something to someone of one sex that I wouldn’t say to the creepiest looking person in the room, whatever sex they are. And if I say something to someone who doesn’t give me signals that they enjoyed my speaking, I leave their space immediately.

    If you wanted to ask the woman next to you where the bathroom is or if she knows where you can find the Mondrian you came to see, that is as okay as you can probably get. If you wanted to ask her what she thought of the painting, maybe think about whether you’d also ask the toothless bearded sailor with the nearly-visible penis under his thin lime green spandex pants.

    This is only a guide, and I know there are problems with it, but I also have a high level of social anxiety, and I had to come up with some kind of system so that I could be a normal human being in public, even if it sometimes makes others uncomfortable (just as they are sometimes making me uncomfortable–as humans we do this, it’s just good to be informed about it so we’re not making the same type of people uncomfortable all the time).

    For the record, this comment is coming from someone who was born female and spent more years getting creeped on than I have since I transitioned, but because I am transsexual, I enjoy (most) male privilege now. I cannot be sure this is the same advice I would have given while I was still presenting as female.

    • floridagal said:

      This was the impression that I got from the LW too.

    • Beth said:

      I really like this advice. For what it’s worth I am female-identified and would still give this advice. Also, as someone else with an anxiety disorder and a broken measuring stick, I find it very useful.

    • This is LITERALLY what the Shrodinger’s Rapist post is about. THAT IS LITERALLY THE POINT OF THE WHOLE POST – HOW TO DO THE MATH.

      If he didn’t take if from Starling, he’s not going to take it from us.

      • roramich said:

        exactly. Forcing feminists to keep reinventing the wheel over and over again is part of silencing the message.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          You are both of you so damn good.

        • crazysoph said:

          “Forcing feminists to keep reinventing the wheel over and over again is part of silencing the message.”

          quoted for truth. Thank you.

          Crazy(first time commenter)Soph

        • Megay said:

          Need this on a t-shirt.

        • Grumpy Cat said:

          THIS IS SO TRUE.

      • Emmers said:

        I don’t know that LW is *guaranteed* to not “get it” from Chameleon; I thought that post was really, really well-put. Sometimes people *do* need to read rephrasings before something really clicks in their head.

        Now, it’s not The Internet’s (or The Feminist Blogosphere’s) Responsibility to provide endless rephrasings in the hopes of finally getting through to every last person; but I thought this comment was good, and might well help the LW to finally understand what’s going on.

    • staranise said:

      This really is the root of it. The measuring stick for “Is this creepily gendered?” is “What would happen if the genders would change?”

      I know some people who are super-chatty and strike up conversations with everyone they meet, regardless of gender or attractiveness. I find them charming or annoying as circumstances dictate, but at the very least they’re not sexist about it.

      • goldenpeanut said:

        Just reversing the genders and deciding, “well it’s not ok for gender A, so it’s also not ok for gender M” isn’t an accurate test. If you are going to reverse the genders, you have to keep in mind that the playing field is not level, and the yardsticks are actually different lengths.
        This is true any time one compares behaviors from privileged groups vs marginalized groups.

        • I was actually thinking, maybe “would I say it to a homophobic man who assumed I was gay?” still not perfect but at least it allows people to think about what would happen if your sexuality is assumed to be a threat

          • The problem is that in a lot of places homophobes are “allowed” to beat up men they think are hitting on them, and that’s totes for realsies normal and shouldn’t be punished harshly, whereas if a woman reacted harshly to being hit on? Fuuuuuuuck she must be some crazy bitch, right? (/obvs not my actual opinion)

    • Rocketpants said:

      This, though I might change it to say ‘Don’t say something you wouldn’t say to one stranger, that you wouldn’t *also* feel comfortable saying to a stranger of your non-preferred sex – as long your respect the signals when they don’t want to talk.’ That might be influenced by the fact I live somewhere where talking to random strangers is a pretty normal day to day thing.

    • thepaintedlady said:

      This is a very useful measuring stick. “Creepiest” could also be changed out for “biggest, most stereotypically alpha-male beefcake in this room.” Because even if LW is not interested in how to get womenz to respond by throwing their panties at him and is just simply interested in making conversation, chances are he would be more comfortable (pre-Schroedinger’s Rapist) chatting with a woman because she cannot pound his head if he says the wrong thing.

      • Shadow said:

        Actually, I think the beefcake/creepiest guy measuring stick is flawed. As a tall, dark-skinned MOC, I’m used to strangers being scared of me for legitimate (tall man) and illegitimate (tall darkie) reasons. I’m much less worried about the beefcake being scared of me than I am of the 5’2″ old, white lady. The power dynamic he should be worrying about is not of whether or not HE would be scared/uncomfortable, but whether or not SHE would be scared/uncomfortable when he interacts with her (which is what I think goldenpeanut and cheshbitten are getting at). A better measuring stick would be if LW would be comfortable having the beefcake stalk over to him, loom over him and say what he wanted to say although, even that is only useful if you yourself are prone to feeling uncomfortable by people bigger than you. The best measuring stick would be if LW can think “How would she feel if the creepiest guy I know went up to her and said what I’m about to say?”, but not everyone is able to put themselves in other people’s shoes successfully, so it depends on how well that has worked for LW in the past

        • Zillah said:

          Hmm. I could be misinterpreting, of course, but I think the purpose of that measuring stick isn’t so much to put him in her shoes, but to get to the core of whether or not there are ulterior motives in his trying to talk to this woman. If it’s something he would say to someone he had no attraction to who was kind of big and intimidating, at the very least that eliminates a lot of the sleazy sexual component, which for me personally is what makes the vast majority of encounters with random men in public so uncomfortable.

          • That was my interpretation. Who is LW going to be most uncomfortable talking to. My very tall and scowly boyfriend rarely has randos approach him. Even when we’re together and people approach us, they talk to me. I’m female, slightly smaller, and less scary because I don’t look like I will beat them senseless if they piss me off, but my boyfriend looks like he might be capable of doing so. And therefore LW being willing to approach a woman but not a scary-looking man is a measuring stick because it aids in interpreting, “Am I talking to this person because they are a person or because this person is a woman and therefore the least intimidating person in my vicinity?” It’s not perfect, but if you’re talking to someone because they seem less likely to be able to hurt you if you say the wrong thing, maybe it’s best you continue to work on your anxiety issues before engaging others?

          • Shadow said:


            While I take your point, I do have to point out that the LW has not mentioned being attracted to women in his letter. If he is though, then he should definitely use both sticks in conjunction.

        • panda flannel said:

          Thanks for putting this perspective on that.

    • Decent advice – my yardstick would be “would I say this to someone I have no particular interest in sleeping with?” If you wouldn’t say it to someone you’re not interested in having sex with, it doesn’t need to be said.

      • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

        We have a winner! You’ve distilled the whole thing there.

    • Chameleon Panic said:

      I really appreciated the responses to my comment. Most of you seemed to understand what I meant, and those of you that didn’t still had really good points to make. I’m glad I spoke up (which I was terrified of doing). xoxo

      • datdamwuf said:

        I liked your comment Chameleon Panic, you might have gone a bit over board with the toothless sailor penis flashing though. I mean, I would worry that penis would be whipped all the way out if I spoke to that guy 🙂

    • theamander said:

      I really like this comment a lot. At first I thought the toothless penised sailor was what LW might be commenting about in the painting, and I was all ‘EHHHH ACTUALLY MAYBE DON’T SAY THAT…’ but lol.

      One thing… as a female person, part of my safety checklist includes NEVER speaking to creepy-looking people in public. But I wouldn’t mind chatting art with Nonthreatening Art Dude.

      And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with chatting someone in public because you’re attracted to them, as long as you gage their reaction closely and don’t come right out the gate with some lewd line. I met my first significant boyfriend on the street when he offered me a cookie.

  10. Dear LW:

    In case you didn’t pick it up — and you might not have, not out of malice or stupidity, but because this is the kind of thing an anxiety disorder really fuxx0rz up — the unwise part was writing *to a feminist blog* about a problem with *talking to women*. It is not a problem to find yourself considering the feelings of other people. That’s good.

    It is a problem if you find yourself considering the feelings of other people to the point where you deny you have any need for social connection because the idea of screwing it up even a little is absolutely paralyzing. That’s an anxiety disorder. Keep, as the good Captain said, treating that. It’s uncomfortable to realize that you might have inadvertently been creeping out half of the local population, but if you get the anxiety under control, it’s a lot easier to deal with it in a constructive manner, instead of sitting there and weighing the pros and cons of becoming agoraphobic.

    If what you actually want is advice about interacting with people without getting lost in overwhelming terror, and you happened to come at your point from a really unfortunate direction, then ask that. I personally don’t see the harm in making a genuinely non-threatening, non-presumptuous comment about the art exhibit to someone who is there for the art exhibit, but you shouldn’t do it unless you can trust yourself to distinguish between a humanoid who wants to continue this conversation with you and a humanoid who wants you to go away, which you can’t right now. If you have a therapist (for talking to) in addition to a psychiatrist (for keeping track of your medication), this would be a very good thing to bring up the next time you have an appointment.

    If it gives you any sense of perspective, I’m writing this from the outskirts of Boston on 4/20/2013. If the people around here didn’t talk to each other, yesterday may have ended far worse than it did. It’s not a bad thing to want to interact with other humans, but you’re probably in need of a better viewpoint from which to do so.

    • “If what you actually want is advice about interacting with people without getting lost in overwhelming terror, and you happened to come at your point from a really unfortunate direction, then ask that.”

      I seem to be reading his letter differently than a lot of other people (maybe because I’ve also struggled with social anxiety, so I can relate a little too much), but I thought that’s what he *was* asking.

      • I did too, but it’s the Captain’s blog, and I don’t know how much she edits — there may have been bits she cut (inadvertently or to save space) that have info we don’t.

        • JenniferP said:

          I didn’t cut anything from the letter, it is published exactly as submitted.

          • Thank you. These things are good to know. I know Dan Savage occasionally gets caught by having to edit calls for time, and accidentally responding to something the listeners don’t get to hear; I didn’t know if you had to do the same.

    • theamander said:

      CHEERS FOR BOSTON, the most beautiful city in the world!!!!!

  11. sasha said:

    Umm, I hope you’re not writing to seek permission to stop being a pro-feminist, i.e., stop treating women as full people? You know, like you and your male friends are? Because I kind of got that impression from your letter. But I’m going to act on good faith here and hope (pretend?) that this was an honest and well-intended question, and offer some additional advice here. If not for you, for someone else who happens across this.

    I would second the Captain’s advice to keep working on your anxiety. It’s hard, I know – I’ve struggled with anxiety, too. But the anxiety is your problem here, not the feminism. You didn’t specifically ask for advice about handling your anxiety, so disregard if it’s not welcome. But as a tangent, I’ve found the book “The Mindful Way Through Anxiety” (mentioned in a previous Captain Awkward thread, which I can’t seem to find now) a great resource for handling my anxiety.

    You mentioned worrying about avoiding being creepy. The good news is there’s TONS of good advice out there on how not to creep, including this, and this, this, and – last but not least! – this, from the Captain herself. Ultimately, being considerate goes a long ways towards being a not-creep, and – bonus! – considering others’ feelings and wishes takes you out of your own head for a while, which helps ease anxiety.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:


  12. arkadyrose said:

    So, the LW basically wants his cookie for learning to behave like a decent human being – yet also wants to go back to the shitty clueless way he behaved before, AND have us pat him on the head and comfort him as well?

    Uh-uh. No dice. Go bake your own effing cookies, keep on with the therapy, and quit expecting an easy ride.

    • TO_Ont said:

      I’m not getting this from the letter. What part is it that makes it sound to some readers like he used to behave in a disrespectful or inappropriate way? Or that he wanted to hit on women in public?

      It sounded to me like he used to totally avoid other humans in public to an unhealthy degree, then he gradually started interacting with people in a very limited way, then his anxiety started to come back when it came to women while still being improved with men.

      I don’t really disagree with the advice, I just don’t think it was a stupid question for him to ask — if you’re not confident in your ability to tell if you’re freaking someone out by making innocuous smalltalk in public, it’s perfectly OK to just not make smalltalk with woman in public. For ME, if the circumstances are right (e.g., it’s a safe-feeling place with other people around, like a grocery store, the talk is about some benign and public shared circumstance like the weather or the length of the lineup or something, the conversation is only a few sentences, and it’s clear they’re not trying to ‘make friends’ or develop any further relationship) I PERSONALLY find brief smalltalk with strangers in public to be a quite nice thing that makes my day a bit brighter when I’ve been alone all day, but even so it’s not really a necessity and I’m afraid it’s true that you very easily MIGHT misjudge a situation or just happen to talk to someone who’s got their own reasons for being more than averagely anxious about strange men speaking to them at all. And, unfortunately, your anxiety might even lead to your being more likely to seem tense or in some way ‘odd’, or to misjudge the situation and be more likely to accidentally make someone feel unsafe.

      Basically in the art gallery — some women would have been happy enough to exchange a few comments with you about a piece of art and then move on, but others would have much preferred that you not speak to them. So in your particular example, walking away WASN’T ridiculous. It might not have been necessary in that particular case with that particular women (can’t tell you that), but it certainly wasn’t ridiculous or a big mistake. Actually, maybe the example you chose is the reason many people are responding in a more negative way — because they actually think you made a GOOD decision in this case, and are bothered by the fact that you want to change it or see it as an extreme paranoia when they think it’s a perfectly reasonable and even desirable reaction.

      If you’re finding your social anxiety is keeping you isolated, how about joining some kind of club where you can meet people and where people there are more likely to be comfortable talking to others? People are far far more likely to be comfortable talking to you in this situation than when a random stranger speaks to them in public.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Another thing, practically speaking — if you’re anxious or awkward about speaking to people in public and don’t have much practice doing it or reading people’s signs of whether they’re happy to talk to you or distinguishing between your reasonable hesitation and your paranoia — it’s probably better to learn first on other men anyway, who are comparatively relatively less likely to find you threatening or think you’re hitting on them.

  13. cd said:

    “Schrodinger’s Rapist” is actually full of the kind of advice you are looking for. Here it is:

    Don’t approach women in an enclosed area or somewhere they can’t easily leave. Don’t approach women in a dark alley. Don’t approach women who are reading a book/have headphones on/are studiously ignoring you. Don’t initiate conversation with a compliment on her appearance. Don’t tell her to smile (not in the article but it’s one of my pet peeves. Stranger who tells me to smile, for all you know I look sad because my mother is dying of cancer!). If you initiate conversation with a woman and she doesn’t reply, or tells you to fuck off, then fuck off without getting aggressive. Don’t touch people who don’t want to be touched.

    Get your anxiety treated, and you’ll see that not scaring people is a solvable problem and really not all that hard.

    • Indigo said:

      A note on the “Smile!” thing – recently someone sat down next to me on the bus and said, “What’s a pretty girl like you got to be so sad about?”
      I looked him dead in the eye and said, “This morning I woke up from a dream in which I saw an old friend and hugged him. Then I remembered that he died six weeks ago. Excuse me, this is my stop.”

      • smoketree said:

        Venting time. Yesterday, I dragged myself to the walk-in clinic and waited two hours to see the doctor. After I had told the doctor in detail how shitty I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks, he told a bad joke and I smiled weakly out of politeness/embarrassment. Then he told me I should smile more.

        • General Expression said:

          Wow that sucks. So sorry to hear it. It’s so much harder to deal with that kind of thing when they are your caretaker and you just opened yourself up to be totally vulnerable!

        • I swear some doctors hand over whatever social skills they had when they enter med school.

      • Merry said:

        I wish I had your guts and wits. I hate that too. I got the news my granpa died when I was out in public and I pretty much cried all the way home. Incredibly, some guys took it as an invitation to sit next to me on a bus and make cheap jokes, telling me to chear up. It sounds nice, but it really wasn’t. They didn’t ask if I needed help. I still don’t really get what they wanted.
        Yeah and then there was the guy who called after me from the other side of the road “I know what’d chear you up! (Cue explicit details)
        That was when I was 13 btw. So yeah, to make this relevant to LW, I would not be heartbroken if men just didn’t approach me in public, ever.

        • MK said:

          I am so sorry, that really sucks. It sounds terrifying, not comforting in any way. It doesn’t even sound like the two different sets of guys were trying to be comforting or friendly even in their own messed up minds. It sounds like pure cruelty. Awful.

          If LW can see how this example is plain cruel and awful, then there’s hope.

    • theamander said:

      Really, though, do other women even go down dark alleys? I remember a lightbulb moment when wandering around the city as a teenager with my tall, broad-shouldered male friend, when I realized “Hey wow, men can walk down whatever street they want!” Kind of the opposite of LW’s harsh feminist awakening.


  14. Defectivesealion said:

    I guess I’m reading this differently than most people, but I really didn’t get the same sense of whining. I read it as the confusion of “I want to talk to people, but apparently this isn’t allowed?” He never indicates he’s trying to hit on women, just talk to them. I feel like this response is really putting words in his mouth. The fact is, it’s very lonely going to events alone and not being able to talk to anyone at all.

    Do we really want to go about our lives without any interaction with people around us? That sounds very limited and sad to me.

    My advice is make your comment, keep your physical distance, then see what her response is. If she replies back in a friendly manor then feel free to make it a conversation for as long as you both are comfortable.

    • JenniferP said:

      Read more carefully next time.

      Directly from the letter:

      “I’m now petrified of talking to any women I don’t know, unless they talk to me first. Reading about things like Schrodinger’s Rapist makes me worry a lot about how I appear, in case I’m freaking someone out. I’ve read so many accounts of how women felt threatened or uncomfortable when men spoke to them in public.”

      Also, read Shrodinger’s Rapist post, linked in the OP. It seems like you are missing the larger context that this discussion is happening in and that link will help you catch up!

    • athenastory said:

      Even when someone is not hitting on women, there are all sorts of social constructions about women (women as kind, women as maternal/caretakers, women as passive or open or non-threatening, and so on) that create expectations of women as there to be talked to, making many women tired of being talked to all the time. I understand the reading of “I want to talk to people”, but there are people who are not women who can be talked to, too.

      • staranise said:

        With these cases, it’s always fascinating to wonder: how does the person feel about men? Is this someone who does make friends with other men with relative ease, and just feels weird around women? Or is it someone whose relationships with other guys are always tinged with insecurity and oneupmanship, and therefore feels like women are his only possible source of emotional closeness?

        I feel like it matters. If women are your only potential source of human connection ever, you’re way more likely to run into problems.

    • FWIW, your interpretation is one of the classic male-privilege objections: “Ok, so now you mean we can’t talk to anybody ever?! [insert list of bad things like babies need socialization and civilization will fall or whatever]”

      I’m not going to explain. I am too tired. Go read more. But nobody’s saying we should “go about our lives without any interaction with people around us”.

      The fact that anyone time anyone brings up Schroedinger’s Rapist, someone comes out with this idea that it means nobody ever talks to each other… it’s just, “Well, if you won’t let me harass you, I just won’t ever talk to you again! See if you like it when everyone is lonely and sad! So there!”

      I just… I’m so tired of that.

      • JenniferP said:

        Ha, “If you won’t let me harass you, I just won’t ever talk to you again” = GOOD, YES, KEEP GOING WITH THAT TRAIN OF THOUGHT.

  15. heinsby said:

    Super happy that I wasn’t the only one all like, “Oh, poor baby! Did you just realize that all the terrible side effects of rape culture also negatively affect men?”

    Guess what? When women are raised to see any violence that happens to them as something they are responsible for, they’re less inclined to be friendly towards random men they don’t know talking at them. Because in the event that a stranger assaults or harasses them, the world rolls its collective eyes and says shit like, “Well, why were you talking to a man you don’t know? What did you think was going to happen?”

    So if we’re going to keep living in this world, we need decent dudes to realize that a woman standing by herself is not an invitation or social contract.

    I don’t know, I’d rather we didn’t live in a world where that shit happens but guess what part two? We do. This is what we have to do to make it less awful.

  16. DP said:

    Well, I disagree with the animosity in the advice. Yes, I’m a woman and a feminist and I don’t like the way CA handled this one.
    I don’t have anything to offer except “talk to your therapist about it”, because he or she (she? that’d be good) can probably give you some pointers. But I’m a women and I don’t want men to feel terrified that by talking to me they are also oppressing me. That’s bullshit, and I don’t like the fact that this LW will come here and hear “yeah, as a man you’re a pariah, so stay afraid.” Bullshit.
    Good luck with your anxiety, LW. I really think that, with some effort, you can find a way to feel comfortable talking to women (again, find good therapist/psychologist if you don’t have one already), and that would be a good thing.

    • DP said:

      And Defectivesealion’s suggestion seems apt.

    • I don’t think that “Yes, you may be making people uncomfortable by talking to them when you don’t know them in public places” = “being a pariah”. And the fact that you read it that way makes me kinda sad. I can not want to talk to random strangers in public places without it being some big UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN thing.

      I am not oppressing men when I don’t want them to talk to me. I am not making pariahs out of them. I am setting personal boundaries, and we get to do that. It’s actually okay to do that. Becoming aware of other people’s boundaries, and respecting them, is a good and adult thing, not a tragic result of Too Much Feminism.

      • roramich said:

        Thank you!

    • JenniferP said:

      1,000 thank yous. Your kindness and compassion has finally built the bridge we needed between men and women on this important issue. It’s like a lightbulb has come on in my head, and I see what I’ve been missing all this time. If only we were nicer to men, and made them feel better about how hard it is to approach us, this whole ugly thing could have been avoided all this time?

      Tell me about this world where because one person who identifies as a feminist is cool with being approached in public, it means everyone should be. I want to go to there!

      • I love this blog.

      • Kindlekat said:

        Never change, Capt. A, never change ❤

      • roramich said:

        Rock on.

      • DP said:

        Some people like being approached in public (depending on the stranger), regardless of the gender of the one doing the approaching. I can express this fact without attempting to invalidate your experience as someone who’d prefer to be left alone.
        I really don’t think the LW was (just) looking for reassurance that talking to women is okay. I think he asked a real- important, even!- question and you refused to take it seriously.

        • JenniferP said:

          Dear Black People:

          LL Cool J is black, and he said it’s ok if I am “accidentally racist” sometimes, as long as I don’t mean to be a bad guy. Now that one of you has vouched for my good intentions, everyone will know that I mean well, right? I shouldn’t ever feel anxious about possibly being seen as racist by individual black people, because by trying really hard not to be racist I am like, preforgiven for all racism and can sort of tune it out when I interact with people. Phew. It was really rough on me for a while there, and kinda unfair to be misjudged like that, but I feel better now that I can go back to not worrying about it. It will be like the good old days again!

          Brad Paisley

          Dear Brad Paisley:

          That’s not actually how any of that works.


          • DP said:

            I think you’re unfairly presupposing that LW is an idiot. On what basis do you think that he would be incapable of understanding that there’s a diversity of experiences and preferences, here? I’m sure he understands that these two things are simultaneously true: 1) some women would welcome his conversation, 2) some women really don’t want him to approach.
            You’re the one who’s universalizing/oversimplifying, not LW or me.
            You’re really, really misanthropic today. LW’s question- the fact that he cares enough to ask it- is evidence that he’s not inclined toward the kind of lazy attitude you accuse him of.

          • DP, hon? Jennifer’s comment wasn’t directed at the LW. It was directed at you. For deciding that because you describe yourself as a feminist woman, if X behavior wouldn’t bother you then it is objectively ok and shouldn’t bother other women.

          • JenniferP said:

            Ha ha, yes, I was making fun of DP. “I’m a feminist, and I think it’s ok, so don’t worry” doesn’t actually erase problematic history.

          • DP said:

            @alphakitty: I realize the ‘letters’ were directed at me. My point is that I don’t think the LW- or anyone else who reads my comment- would think that because I’m a woman/feminist I speak for all women/feminists unless they’re absolutely stupid. I was writing it with the presupposition that we’re all reasonable people here, and reasonable people don’t assume that what’s agreeable to one member of X is agreeable to all members of X. I think Jennifer’s advice (less in the initial post than in the comments) assumes (incorrectly) that all women generally want men to leave them alone in public, and that men who don’t realize this are being bad.

          • JenniferP said:

            I don’t assume that all women want to be left alone in public. But I do think that it is okay for men to feel anxiety and uncertainty about approaching women in public, and maybe just decide to hang back if they are unsure. I am not interested in reducing that anxiety in general or in this case specifically. I don’t think running yourself through a brief “Does this person seem like they want to talk to me? Maybe they don’t” decision-making process is particularly mean or onerous.

          • Grumpy Cat said:

            Captain, you are brilliant and your commentariat makes me less grumpy.

            I am a little grumpy that I cannot post gifs because at this point my responses have been reduced to them. However, I will be just fine. After all, the motto here is “use your words,” not “use your snarky cat pictures.”

          • Badger Rose said:

            FYI, as a WOC, I find your comparison to be problematic in the extreme.

            “Accidentally Racist” is not about a mentally ill person, as far as I know.

            I find your speaking for POC… I think the word “problematic” is overused. “Distasteful” is maybe better.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            @Badger Rose: I don’t see the Captain trying to speak for POC? Also, it was pointed out upthread, but her satirical “letter” comment was directed at DP, not at the original post.

          • Badger Rose said:

            “Dear Black People” etc., isn’t meant as speaking regarding POC? She phrases her response as from “everyone”, but the punch is clearly from the racial element.

            Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am being, ahem, oversensitive.

            If so, I guess I apologize. It just seemed–as I said–distastefully appropriative in context.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Well, she’s definitely addressing a racial element to the song’s bullshit. And I guess that the letter back from “everyone” would obviously include POC as being part of the everyone who rejects that. But I don’t know that that would be a mischaracterization? I mean obviously there are a wide range of responses to the song but I have definitely seen a lot of “nope!” articles coming from POC.
            I definitely don’t want to jump down your throat for being ‘oversensitive’ – I don’t even think that’s a thing! But I’ve been finding the Captain’s writing on this thread about dealing with race, and the requirement, as a WP to “sit with” the discomfort that anti-racist thought requires, pretty illuminating and definitely respectful. Anyway, mileage variable, as always. Thanks for your reply.

          • Badger Rose said:

            I’m not addressing the song itself, which I too think is bullshit.

            I’m addressing the use of the song as an analogy with this letter. I think is that analogy is inappropriate and, as I said, distasteful.

            But, as you say, mileage varies, and I’ve done enough mileage on this topic that I’m tired of it, frankly.

          • It’s really too bad that Badger Rose has gone mostly unanswered here. I am a white woman, but I agree with her that Jennifer seemed to feel very comfortable reaching for a “race analogy”–more comfortable than is wise for a white person who purports to be aware of white supremacy and “white privilege.”

            Jennifer, I also noticed at least two other comments, besides this one, in this thread where you used the analogy of racism to explain sexism. In my opinion, that’s an analogy for a white person to make, not flippantly, nor in brief, but seriously and situated in context, and only with good reason. Otherwise you risk being, as BadgerRose says, appropriative–and I think you were here. It was particularly cringeworthy to see you take a bell hooks quote about racism out of context, for your own purposes. Sexism and racism are not exactly the same and white people should definitely not just swap out words to make it seem that non-white people were arguing their points for them.

            I feel really bad for BadgerRose and the inadequate response she received here, so I felt I had to speak up although this is my first comment.

          • JenniferP said:


            I do not think that racism is the same as sexism, or that they are interchangeable at all. I think that hooks, particularly, perfectly describes a dynamic that happens when people come to social justice conversations with good intentions and a little reading under their belt and are shocked when people are not necessarily welcoming and happy to congratulate them. After all, they are doing their best, right? As if good intentions and a pure heart were enough. Like, right here, right now, with you and me they are not, and with Badger Rose they are not, and with the LW, they were not. I can see how that comes across as lazy and appropriative, and I am sorry.

      • JetGirl said:

        It is a wondrous place, Captain, with chocolate waterfalls and marshmallow pillows, and everyone smiles, even without being told!

        • General Expression said:

          I just had a great idea. We get a big giant squadron of female feminists together in some major city. And for 3 hours we all take over some portion of public transportation and smile ALL THE TIME. And make eye contact. SMILING EYE CONTACT. ISN’T THIS WHAT YOU ALL WANTED???

          • JenniferP said:

            I love it.

          • JetGirl said:

            Sounds awesome. But I will only participate if get a pillow-sized marshmallow at the end.

          • Jake said:

            If you just don’t cut this up a the end it will be pillow-sized…

          • I will happily donate my now-dusty skills in the “Aggressively Making Strange Conversation” department, as well.

          • roramich said:

            LOVE IT!!!

          • I nominate Boston, because I want to do this and I don’t want to travel, and because this is a fine time for some smiles and eye contact. But then I am also thinking of it as a genuinely awesome LOVE BOMB kind of moment rather than a snark — or maybe in addition to the snark.

            ….fuck I need a better word, I am triggering myself with my own posts.

          • unlurking said:

            *marshmallows of love*

          • theamander said:

            A love mob. Can this thing happen today? And can we make it happen again on my birthday? And maybe any day that someone has to put their dog down?

            Just because the patriarchy says it’s women’s work doesn’t make it dirty work… I want SMILES on my commute tomorrow morning! and I want Elodie to come and talk about cells! or send some grad students at least, but they must SMILE even while speaking! I want to see teeth!

          • I just called one for this Friday on the Red Line in Boston. Just sent mail to Jennifer!

      • Elle said:

        I have literally never loved you more than I do right now.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        Oh, Captain, my Captain.

    • liyyspoon said:

      Lolwut. The point is not ‘you’re a man and therefore a pariah’ it’s that HE SHOULD FEEL UMCOMFORTABLE APPROACHING WOMEN IN PUBLIC BECAUSE HELLO MAYBE THEY DON’T WANT HIM TO TALK TO THEM.

    • Actually, no one here is saying he should feel “terrified” that by approaching women in public he is oppressing them. The terror part is the anxiety component, and Jennifer said straight up that the LW should keep getting treatment for that.

      The LW is saying that his social anxiety is bad enough with respect to people in general, and that with women his additional worry about whether he’s inflicting anxiety on them because of Schroedinger’s Rapist-type considerations rachets his anxiety up to a debilitating level. And he’d like to get rid of that extra layer of anxiety.

      What Jennifer and the rest of us ARE saying is “Sorry, can’t fix this for you by telling you it’s not an issue. Yes, you really DO need to be concerned (not terrified, concerned) that your attentions might be making her feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. So please DO run through your Schroedinger’s Rapist analysis, and DON’T act like by being in public spaces women are asking to have their physical and mental space invaded. Keep on being circumspect, and when in doubt leave that woman the heck alone.”

      The impatience comes from the fact that the Schroedinger’s Rapist analysis is out there, and has been discussed at length (and expanded upon) in several previous Captain Awkward posts… so there’s really no excuse for saying you don’t get what the issue is, like it’s some mysterious woman-code guys can’t be expected to decipher or apply. So saying “but this stresses me out!!” does come across as whining “but it’s haaaard!” or complaining about the necessity of being considerate. And as to that, what CAN we say, except “gee, sorry it stresses you out, do get help with the anxiety disorder component of your problem, but no, it doesn’t mean we can give you a waiver”?

      • I love this description of two layers of anxiety alphakitty. LP, you are trying to get rid of the wrong layer. That extra layer is helpful, its telling you useful things. You need to focus on treating the other everyone-related anxiety so you can learn from the more useful kind.

    • Solitude said:

      I completely agree with DP. As the very, very shy and solitary guy I am, I sometimes find it very difficult to interact with people I already know, let alone strangers, regardless of their gender. I almost never initiate a conversation with someone I don’t already know.
      However, I find it absolutely ridiculous that almost every comment here attacks LW for no reason. If he seems concerned about whether the women he talks to are anxious about him approaching them, he’s obviously not going to do anything to harm them. Pretty much every comment paints a picture of him as this horrible, horrible human being that doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, when he clearly does.

      • JenniferP said:

        Hello, Solitude.

        If you feel shy and anxious, go work on that. Good news: Most people you talk to won’t think you are horrible. However, some might. And there is some history around gender relations and power differentials that might negatively influence that. And when you find out about that history and see where you fit in, it might make you feel bad. And I am okay with you feeling bad. Now go forth and comment here no more.

        • Heffalumps said:

          I want to +1 this comment forever and ever, until it’s a meme that is spread all over the internets and beyond.

          • BitterAlmonds said:

            I’m now imagining aliens in the Andromeda Galaxy discovering Captain Awkward and being delighted that there are such sensible sapient life forms in other galaxies.

            (This is my only remotely good contribution to this conversation aside from: Jesus Christ, what is it with commenters assuming that anyone who suggests that maybe men should maybe be a little considerate of women’s feelings sometimes is saying that because they believe that men are super creepy and evil and can never be trusted ever? The breadth and depth of male privilege never fails to boggle the mind.)

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        DP, I think the fact that this dude agrees with you should be enough all on its own to rethink some of what you’re saying here.

      • Ystir said:

        Look. Nobody here said anything that suggests that LW is *actually going to harm* anyone. The point is that LW doesn’t have to be a threat to be perceived as a threat by women who have LITERALLY NO IDEA WHO HE IS and no reason to assume he’s not a threat other than because what about teh menz. And, while his having social anxiety is very sad and difficult to deal with and whatever, that is not the fucking problem of the women he wants to approach. I have social anxiety and it sucks. It’s also *my* problem to deal with, which I do, because I’m an adult. I don’t go writing to advice websites asking them to tell me everything’s okay really and actually everyone totally thinks I’m awesome and everyone I ever meet’s going to think I’m awesome.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          But I… do think you’re awesome =D

          • Ystir said:

            Hee! Thank you! And likewise!

      • “If he seems concerned about whether the women he talks to are anxious about him approaching them, he’s obviously not going to do anything to harm them. ”

        Solitude, how are women supposed to know if the LW won’t harm them?

        This is exactly what the Schrodinger’s Rapist thread is about. We don’t know if someone’s going to harass or harm us until they do.

        Even if a woman’s not afraid of that, what gives LW, or any man, the right to suppose we want to be talked to, to have a man demanding our attention? We’re not here to be your (generic your) audience, or your entertainment, or your art show to be stared at and commented on. I don’t see men assuming other men have a default setting of “Why yes, I am just waiting for a man to bestow his attention on me, please talk about whatever you want!” – and that’s without the sexual aspect. So why should men assume that’s the case with women? Because that’s what so many of you do.

        Is it really so damn hard to just leave us alone?

  17. charcoalhibiscus said:

    Hm. So, I think the question you’re trying to ask the Captain is, “how much of my anxiety about approaching women is good anxiety because it’s making me think more about my place in an oppressive system and other people’s feelings, and how much is bad anxiety because it’s part of an unhealthy anxiety disorder?”
    And the answer is, good question. Keep addressing that in therapy.
    The longer answer (coming from someone who also has an anxiety disorder) is that sometimes our anxieties are based in actual things, and those things are often the hardest anxieties to work through. For instance, on a sliding scale it’s easier for me to logic through an anxiety about getting struck by lightning when it’s not raining, because that is very unlikely, than it is to logic through an anxiety about being harassed by a man on the street, because that is a weekly reality of my life.
    This situation, therefore, is not unique. It falls under the larger umbrella of, “anxiety is, at its core, a natural and healthy response to a fraught situation. When we conquer our anxiety disorders, this will not mean we will never ever experience anxiety. It is part of our treatment process to learn how to deal with excessive anxiety over a legitimately worrisome thing.” This is something you should be addressing with your therapist.
    In the meantime, CL gave a fairly good metric, which I might even amend to, “talk to strangers, men or women, when there is an overwhelmingly obvious (to any reasonable observer, not just you) thing to be talked about.” This has some interpretation necessary, but generally covers situations ranging from “ordering a burger” to “missing child” to “that was a ridiculous lightning bolt” to “I can’t believe I’m standing in front of a real Picasso.” and if no response is offered, or the response is “heh, yeah…” *moves away*, then drop it and go do something else.

    • unlurking said:

      Yes! Good anxiety (or shall we say concern, or thoughtfulness?), vs excessive unhealthy anxiety. The idea that treating the anxiety will not result in /no/ anxiety. It will result in reducing the excessive and inappropriate anxiety.

      It sounds like LW had some rules that worked for him for a while (“The anxiety I feel in social situations is excessive, and therefore I know now so I need to get over myself & it’s okay for me to talk with people.”) And then he learned some new information, and it upset the rules by making it more complicated (“Sometimes – but not all times – it’s not okay for me to talk with people.”) And believe me, I /very/ much understand, having gone through something similar, though on a different topic. When the rules & coping mechanisms we’ve learned become non-functional due to new information, it hurts like f*** and is confusing and makes one feel really adrift, because these are core issues that have to do with values and the self; with who we fundamentally are. But having the rule challenged doesn’t mean the entire rule is useless, or that you should just give up trying, or that “if only” it could go back to how it was then everything would be fine – because the LW /knows/, clearly, there is no going back – that new information is true, and it must be incorporated.

      When one’s coping rules are challenged, it feels so threatening. Like, “Oh, no – this exact rule was the /only/ thing that was keeping me from the deep-end of utter paralysis, and if it’s wrong, then all is hopeless.” But that is not true! You successfully shifted your thinking already at least once before, when you incorporated the idea that it was okay to talk with people. And based on that, I believe in you (#CheesinessAlert), and I believe you can do it again to incorporate this new information.

      And sometimes it’s not easy to incorporate the new information on your own – and thankfully that’s exactly what a therapist can be great at.

      Another topic that has helped me (with my own counselor) is considering when* my thinking is all-or-nothing thinking.
      *usually all the time**, haha.
      **omg as soon as I typed that, the irony was not lost on me. So, shall we say, my tendency/habit is toward all-or-nothing thinking, and it is something I’m working on.

      • thepaintedlady said:

        I love this explanation so much. I have a fair amount of social anxiety, particularly around attending events with people I know and like but aren’t yet friends. I had almost conquered that fear as an unreasonable one in the last year, and then the derby practices happened, and the hardest part for me is not the learning to do something physically dangerous but rather that these women don’t consider me a friend yet. They like me, some of them a lot, but not well enough to hang out or text or even stand and chat after practice. And it’s taken a lot for me to tell myself, that’s okay, it’ll happen, it’s okay that you aren’t there yet, it’s okay, it’s okay, so that I can keep coming back every practice. And sometimes I want to scream at the less awesome ones, “You have NO IDEA what it takes for me to get here each time!” I also know that they won’t care…and it’s not their job to care. And your comment made that much clearer to me. It’s an unrelated ramble, but thank you!

    • TO_Ont said:

      “Hm. So, I think the question you’re trying to ask the Captain is, “how much of my anxiety about approaching women is good anxiety because it’s making me think more about my place in an oppressive system and other people’s feelings, and how much is bad anxiety because it’s part of an unhealthy anxiety disorder?”
      And the answer is, good question. Keep addressing that in therapy.”

      Perfect comment! I feel like it totally sums up the situation, in a way that addresses the LW’s question directly and clearly and honestly.

    • redgirl said:

      This is the best response I’ve seen so far.

    • griffykate said:

      This is a very direct and compassionate answer and I like it a lot.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is very kind and helpful, thank you.

  18. charcoalhibiscus said:

    I would also add that, “it’s up to other people to let me know if they’re made uncomfortable by me” may not be the healthiest or best way to rationalize away social anxiety, for exactly these reasons- it’s not right in 100% of situations. Your therapist will be able to help you come up with better anti-irrational worry-thoughts.

    • panda flannel said:

      seconding this, particularly because does “letting LW know they’re uncomfortable” mean saying those words out loud? because i feel like 99% of people will probably not be that explicit.

      • Particularly women, given our socialisation not to reject men or make them uncomfortable, and the all-too-frequent experience of having men react angrily – whether that’s verbally or physically – when they are rejected.

  19. Yeah, how about NOT approaching women you don’t know? I promise your social life will not die. Because you will probably meet plenty of women by being introduced to them.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      & if not, your social life has more problems than any blog anywhere can solve.

      • staranise said:

        Eh, as a former shut-in, I think that zinger’s pretty harsh. It’s actually fairly easy to fix that one.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          It was more “if you are somehow ending up in space with only men in them” than “if you are a shut-in”, but point taken.

    • It sounds like he didn’t have much of a social life due to the anxiety disorder. Having been a shut-in myself, I assure you it’s no fun, and you do not actually just automatically “meet people” by having social contacts appear out of thin air as you are cowering in your apartment, terrified of setting foot outside the door.

      • Yes, this is true, and I have that problem myself. However, I believe the solution is to work on going to social events either with people you know or with people who share a common interest (such as on Meetup), not to try to make friends by talking to strangers in public places.

  20. TheJackdaw said:

    I’ve been reading a lot of feminist and social justice writing over the last few months and I’ve really had my eyes opened to different patterns of oppression and privilege that as straight, cis-gendered, white, able-bodied person, I hadn’t been aware of before.

    I got really caught up in it. I would read about Steubenville or Trayvon Martin or Victoria da Silva Costa and spend the rest of the day angry and upset at injustices that I could do nothing about. I would read articles about the awful cuts that are being made to our welfare system here in the UK and then dive into light or non moderated comments where people would say the most awful things about the most vulnerable members of our society and it would wind me up beyond belief.

    I even became suspicious of my own (wonderful, caring) husband’s motives – analysing everything he did through a lens of radical feminism. Anything he (or anyone else) did that I interpreted as oppressive behaviour would cause me to fly into a rage (silent or out loud).

    All of these emotions were paralysing. I wasn’t using the anger or upset to do anything useful – to fuel myself to campaign for change, to become an activist, to write amazing blogs (like this one), that change peoples lives. I just put myself at the centre of it all.

    And then for this and some other reasons, I went to my doctor and it turns out my mental health problems have been rearing their ugly heads and I had to get some treatment. Quite suddenly, all the stuff above became a lot easier to cope with. Not easy, obviously, because it’s still dreadful and unjust, but not panic and rage inducing. I wasn’t putting my feelings about things people were talking about at the centre of my reaction or actions.

    Quite suddenly, it became easier to do positive things, to support people while they talked about things that affected them, rather than make the whole conversation about how upset these injustices were making me. It became easier to be quiet, to let others talk, to give that space up to people who need it.

    What this is, is a very long-winded way of saying, the good Captain is right. Continue getting your treatment. And hopefully you can find a way to take yourself out of the equation when thinking about approaching women. That way, it might get easier.

  21. staranise said:

    When you know that you’re worried a lot for bullshit reasons about other people being repelled by you and how you should act accordingly, the first way out is to give up caring and do what you want (“It’s their job to tell me if they have a problem”).

    This is a good step. Learning that you’re allowed to feel okay being out in public and behaving normally is the first essential skill you’ve got to learn.

    Then there’s the secondary concern, the fact that sometimes you doing things you like doing and are okay with makes people feel uncomfortable. Maybe you’d love to make snarky comments to a friend during a movie, but you know people hate talking in the theatre. Your phone rings when you’re on the bus, but you know it’s obnoxious to talk on public transit. You see an attractive woman at an art gallery, but you know that many women have said they hate being approached by strange men in public places.

    So it is conceivably possible to do any of these things and still be okay. People talk at movies and shout into their cellphones on the bus and ask strange women how they like the art. It happens. People do it without bursting into flames. You don’t need to live in mortal terror of doing it.

    However. If the person you want to be involves being, not terrified, but considerate and gracious to other people? Then you can feel okay being out in public and behaving normally… and choose not to make that remark, answer that cellphone, or talk to that lady, because this is something you value.

    (Then, you ask yourself, “If I can’t approach strange women cold, what are social situations where it’s okay to talk to and get to know people?” Then go do one of those.)

    • Indigo said:

      Answering your cellphone on the bus is now rude? Since when? (And yes, shouting into your phone is, but shouting on the bus/in public without cause generally is.)

      • staranise said:

        Oh right, that one’s a regionalism. Where I live it is, partly from the general ethos that one just doesn’t carry on private conversations (especially phone conversations, vs. in person) on public transit. You’ll fairly often hear people say into their cellphones, “I can’t talk now, I’m on a bus” or “The bus just came, got to go,” and friends travelling together say things like, “I’ll tell you about it when we get to our stop.” But when I travel, the protocols are different and it isn’t seen as such a faux pas.

        • staranise said:

          That is, when I travel to other regions and use public transit there.

        • People here can have phone conversations on the bus or the train without broadcasting news of their assorted digestive difficulties at top volume. They don’t always, but most of them can. The signs in the T encourage you to keep it reasonable, but not to turn off phones or ignore them when they ring. I find it charming.

      • Remy said:

        In my opinion (but not everyone’s, as has been made obvious), talking on public transit in a voice that can be heard more than one seat away is obnoxious. It makes the other people on the train/bus unwilling participants in your conversation. That goes for people discussing medical issues and relationship problem at top volume into their cell phones, drunken groups cheering the sports team’s win, or friends sitting a few rows apart from each other who apparently HAVE to carry on their conversation. If you have to answer your phone or make a quick call, consideration for others indicates that you keep it brief and not too loud. “Sorry, I’m on the train right now. Can I call you back in 10?” is a beautiful thing to hear.

        • Indigo said:

          I just don’t see the physical presence or absence of the other person I’m talking to as relevant. There are some things you don’t talk about in public and you always maintain a reasonable volume, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s into a phone or to your seatmate.
          I have heard an explanation for why we see people talking on the phone as being more annoying, and I’m not sure I buy it – specifically, that if you can hear both sides of the conversation, it’s easier for your brain to file it under “stuff that doesn’t matter to me” and ignore it, while hearing only one side makes it into a sort of puzzle where your brain has to spend energy trying to figure out whether it’s important or not.

          • staranise said:

            Whether or not you understand why some people consider it more rude does not take away the fact that they do. It’s not like you’re going to logic away a social norm, and in more than a few places I’ve been, it is indeed a social norm.

          • Remy said:

            The way I see it is that if the other person is physically present, there’s more of a legitimate reason to interact with them. A quiet conversation with your mum on the train seems normal when you’re both there and already interacting; if your mum calls you up while you are on the train, it seems reasonable that she doesn’t know whether this is a convenient moment and that — barring some situation of urgency like “I need you to meet me on the west side of the station” or “Come home immediately!” — you can ask to continue to conversation another time. There’s also more of a voluntary nature to phone conversations — you don’t have to answer the call, but doing so while you’re packed into a rush-hour bus says to me that either it’s very important (overriding the preferred state or social convention) or you don’t care about keeping a pleasant neutral social space. That’s probably keyed to my own personal preferences, of course.

            As for only hearing one side of the conversation… well, the theory is intriguing, but I can often hear both sides of the telephone conversation (either intelligibly or as incomprehensible staticky murmur) because it’s turned up so high. Whether people speak loudly into the phone to be heard over background noise or because of a poor connection, it’s my observation that cell calls are more obvious and more aggravating than face-to-face conversations on transit. Also, the “things you don’t talk about in public?” People do. (I fervently wish they didn’t.) And they do so frequently on the phone, which makes me wonder if an attitude of “they’re not physically present, so the same rules don’t apply” is coming into play. I’m inclined to agree with you, Indigo, that the rules should be the same… but I don’t see that being practiced.

          • Remy said:

            Cool, General Expression. I wasn’t doubting Indigo’s relay of the concept, but having something to refer to is helpful.

            “Because it is next to impossible to tune out a nearby cellphone conversation, people subjected to them often believe — incorrectly — that the talker is being abnormally loud, according to findings from a 2004 study from the University of York, England. Sixty-four commuters were exposed to the same conversation at different volume levels, half as a cellphone call and half as a face-to-face talk. On average, the commuters thought the mobile phone talkers were louder, even when they were not.” Interesting! Maybe not all of those conversations were as loud as I thought. Except the ones where I CAN hear the other side. Like when I can hear music someone else is listening to through headphones. :/

            The article goes on to list public cell phone conversation among top peeves, though, so it’s not just a couple of us who find it oddly annoying (whatever the psychology behind it).

          • Indigo said:

            “It’s a social norm” is an argument I have personally seen applied in these forms: “Ugh, I can’t stand it when same-sex couples hold hands in public!”; “This is North America, not India – I’m so sick of seeing women in saris!”; “Breastfeeding is just not appropriate when there are other people around.” And so on.
            Saying “because that’s how it is!” is a sword that cuts both ways. A better approach, in my opinion, is “is what I am doing something that other people will reasonably find unpleasant and cannot choose to ignore?” I don’t think that talking quietly on a cell phone is necessarily unpleasant, nor is it any more difficult to ignore than an in-the-flesh conversation, and therefore I will feel free to do it in public whether or not it’s someone’s pet peeve.

          • General Expression said:

            This last comment is hilarious. Here are some true facts:
            1.) Homophobia, sexism, and racism suck! Also, they have totally nothing to do with talking on cell phones in public places!
            2.) I, personally, think talking on cell phones for a fairly extended period on public transportation is rude. It is not, however, a moral issue like homophobia, sexism, and racism!

            With that said, I am going to bow out of this thread. Peace.

          • Indigo said:

            I’m equally bowing out. I really don’t have time to deal with people who think that their disliking of a particular habit means other people have a social obligation not to engage in it.

          • hummingbear said:

            Yeah. Like, I have the habit of going up to everyone else on the bus and shouting in their faces. I really don’t see how other people disliking this habit creates a social obligation for me not to engage in it.

        • redgirl said:

          “I really don’t have time to deal with people who think that their disliking of a particular habit means other people have a social obligation not to engage in it.”

          You mean like the habit of men striking up conversations with unknown women in public?

          • griffykate said:

            BOOM! *chuckle*

          • Combray said:

            I know this subthread is OT, so I hope it’s not out of line to comment on it.

            There’s a difference between behaviour that’s directed at you or another commuter (e.g. striking up a conversation with you, shouting in your face (hummingbear’s example from above)) and behaviour that isn’t (e.g. talking on your cell phone, talking to your friend seated next you, talking/humming to yourself). People aren’t talking on their cell phones AT you. It may annoy you personally, but it’s not threatening or intrusive behaviour. In a public space, you’re not entitled to be shielded from sounds that irritate you just because they do.

          • JenniferP said:

            It is off-topic. Everyone, enough with the “cell phones in public” subthread. Stop. It. Everyone.

      • EB said:

        True story: my first ever conversation on a cell phone was the ICU doc calling about my Mom while I was bussing it home from the hospital. This was the reason I bought the phone. They wouldn’t call me since I was in NJ, and they would only call NYC area codes, and no doc was available to speak with the hours I was there. Visibly anxious and very upset, I asked the doc if she had stabilized and what her prognosis was. Some ninny six feet away grimaced, rolled his eyes and shook his head trying as hard as he could to shame me for that.
        I have to confess I muttered “Oh fuck you” and never felt guilty again. But I have never been a chatty Cathy.

    • This is very good, compassionate advice, and I’d like to add onto it.

      I feel bad for LW — I, too, have paralyzing social anxiety, and worry irrationally about things. And I, too, know how terrible it is to be unreasonably afraid of something that could potentially be a reasonable worry. The whole thing with anxiety is it removes your ability to objectively look at a situation and determine whether or not your response is earned, so you spend a lot of time looking to other people to ask, “Is this ok?”

      I wish we knew more about LW’s situation — like whether he has problems talking to men in public, whether he has problems talking to women he already knows, whether he has any relationships with people who can maybe help be his “objective thought wingmen.” That makes a big difference. Whenever I’m worried about whether I’m being reasonable about something, I have certain people I know I can call who will listen to me and tell me objectively, “Dude, no, you have a right to be freaked out about that” or “Yeah, no, that’s kind of a non-problem.”

      I imagine it might be helpful to have others around you who can do the same thing.

      So, since there’s so little practical advice for LW in this discussion, let me propose this: How about, as an experiment, you try to avoid attending public functions by yourself for a while. Instead, bring someone you trust — preferably a female someone — to help you objectively assess interactions. Don’t use this time to hit on women or whatever…just be your natural self, as much as possible. Other-person will help deflect some of the weirdness of this social experiment, and can help you identify signs and signals in interactions that maybe you can’t pick up for yourself because the anxiety-brain is clouding them. Once you have some good, hard data about how you’re coming across from someone outside of you — and about specific signals you can notice in other people — you’ll have a personalized checklist that can guide you in the future.

      Just a thought. I don’t know if it’d help, but that’s maybe an idea you can float by your therapist.

  22. liyyspoon said:

    Dude, as the Capatian rightfully points out, becoming aware of priviledge SUCKS and hurts and is difficult. As a white person like the Captain describes, or as a middle-class able-bodied one watching what my (yuck) government is doing to benefits and the NHS, I feel anxious about it ALL THE TIME. It preys on my mind, just like this stuff is preying on yours, and guess what? That’s the price we pay for priviledge, or for being in unequal, opressive societies. It is actaully GOOD that you are feeling this – these are the seeds of emapthy and compassion that will actually make you a good person.

  23. I agree with everything everyone said about this post and what CA said originally.

    The only thing I can add to is about what Jake said. Women are people, men are people, you should be allowed to attempt to strike up a conversation with any person you please provided it is a legitimate conversation. Just be careful to watch for signals like CL and Ystir mentioned. Some people just do not want to engage with other people they don’t know or they are busy or they are having a not good day and don’t have time to be friendly.

    I say “hi” to strangers all the time, provided I am in a happy mood. Sometimes it goes farther than that but rarely. Usually we get up to sometimes introducing ourselves and we happen to never run into each other again. Sometimes it is just a wave and a smile.

    If I see someone who has cool hair or a shirt I like. I might stop them if they don’t look super rushed just to tell them they have “nice hair,” or “hi, I like your shirt.”

    I never had anyone ever get pissed or upset. Mostly just politely smile and walk away.

    Next time you’re at an art exhibit and you and another person are looking at the same painting it is okay to go, “I really like this, what do you think so far of these paintings?”

    They don’t need to answer, they will probably answer, and if they don’t keep talking to you then it isn’t that you did anything wrong. You just asked a question. If you don’t attempt to talk to people sometimes you won’t meet anyone new.

    • You has an incorrect! I have literally NEVER harassed anyone on the street and I meet new people all the time!

      If you are struggling to meet new people without pestering them in public places, join a club, take a class, sign up to OkCupid… Do any one of the literally hundreds of suggestions the Captain has given in other posts to meet new people. You will never again feel the fear of “is this person here just to enjoy the art? Will they think I am harassing them in a public place?” because you will know that that person is there to meet people and make friends!

      • I think equating “talking to people” with “harassing people on the street” is a grave mistake, and also rather rude to anadelis.

      • Join a club? But there will be strangers there, and how are you supposed to talk to female strangers? You’re not, right? So, you go to a club and you stay quiet? Take a class? Same idea – surely the female strangers in that class are there to take the class, not to chat with you?

        Aren’t art galleries places where people do, in fact, go to socialize?

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          No? Absolutely never. Is this a thing? I go to art galleries to, uh, look at art…

          • Yeah, it’s a thing, especially if it’s the opening of the exhibit–where there tends to be wine and cheese, and people mingle and socialize. I’ve definitely gone to events like this. The LW didn’t give enough detail to know whether he was talking about that kind of event or just a regular quite day at the gallery, but it’s not unheard of.

          • Same here, BoyorHedgehog. Art exhibition = expensive way to see artwork. Art exhibition =/= expensive way to talk to people (strangers or friends), for me.

        • liyyspoon said:

          Yeah, no. NOT AT ALL. Art galleries = look at the art.

        • VA said:

          @biglawlife, there’s been advice on this blog before about meeting new people, and the phrase that’s often used is “the roof is the introduction”: you can feel reasonably confident that most people who signed up to participate in a non-mandatory social activity (a class, a club, a volunteer session) are open to meeting new people who share that interest at that activity.

          An exhibition or art gallery opening is, perhaps, a gray area. Some people are there strictly to look at art and have a private experience, some people are there for the social aspect and would be open to an unsolicited comment. You use body language and read their cues to estimate which category a person falls into before you strike up a conversation with a stranger in that setting. For advice on those cues, the Schrodinger’s Rapist link in the original post is full of wisdom.

        • Do you really not get the difference between “stranger” and “fellow member of fencing club”????

          Let me spell it out to you. When you join a club, you meet the membership team/committee/person to.. You know, join. They introduce themselves and a few others! BEHOLD, you have met new people! It really was that easy!

          And your knitting/fencing/puppy-school teacher will say things like “let’s go round the room and introduce ourselves and say what we hope to gain from this class”. BEHOLD, YOU NOW KNOW WHO EVERYONE IS AND WHO WANTS TO LEARN TO SPEAK FRENCH AND WHO IS HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS. THAT. FUCKING. EASY.

          (And then you get to continue to use discretion and consideration in your future interactions with these people as to whether the people you now know want to talk to you or not! This is the hard part!)

      • There is a BIG difference in saying “hello,” to someone and waving and being a friendly person and harassing them.

        • Erm, I just reread this comment I posted and I meant *big difference between” not “in.” Sorry, I just woke up from a “nap/sleep” and wrote it half lucid sooooo sorry. 🙂

        • When I am pestered for my attention every time I step out of my front door I am being harassed. Your contribution to this may simply be a friendly “nice weather this morning!” but you are nonetheless a part of the pattern repeated, small-scale attacks on my ability to wander the earth unaccosted and unmolested.

    • Marie said:

      I love paying people compliments on their clothes/accessories/make up on public transportation. The trick is that I always wait until I’m about to get off the train/bus/subway. If they get off before I do, I say nothing (and of course if they’re busy with something like a book, or if they wear headphones, I leave them alone). That way I’m sure that the other person knows that the compliment was absolutely free. I’ve always had good reactions that way.

  24. It’s great that you’ve conquered much of your anxiety but the skills you’ve learned don’t seem all that great to me. Pushing people enough to make them call you out is the only way to make you aware of your problem? Please go back to therapy. And read up on soft no’s and body language.

  25. Mishigas said:

    Dear LW:

    Ask yourself this question — “Do I want to talk to this PERSON because they are a woman?” If the answer is no, then I see no reason you shouldn’t speak up.

    Aside from that, seek professional treatment for your disorder where you can have a conversation about your behavior and concerns.

  26. Tired Caregiver said:

    Thank you so much for your response. I was reading the letter with my lip literally curling higher and higher, but not quite sure WHY. You put perfectly into words what my emotions were doing (which was a combination of REALLY??? and HELL NO!)

    Short story…earlier this year I attended a video gaming convention. It’s basically the one time of year where I’m very open to speaking to strangers. It’s a combination of the friendly atmosphere and knowing I have at least one shared interest with everyone in the room.

    But even then, I have the right to choose who I talk to and who I don’t. So when one particular guy started talking to me about the cross-stitch project I was working on, I decided I didn’t want to talk to him. I was very tired, and yes, he was giving off an unpleasant vibe. So I closed off my body language, didn’t give response to leading questions, and politely said “Sorry, I need to focus on this or I’ll lose track of my pattern.”

    His response? “You make this so haaaard! I’m doing everything right here, and you won’t even talk to meeeee? What’s WRONG with you?”

    LW, there is no magical RIGHT way to speak to strangers, but there are a lot of WRONG ways to do it. And the number one wrong way is to think they owe you their attention. I get to decide I don’t want to speak to ANYONE for ANY REASON. If Mr. Cross Stitch has backed off right away when I was making abundantly clear I wasn’t interested, I wouldn’t even remember that conversation. Instead he made me feel shitty and guilty because he thought I owed him something for ‘doing it right’

    ‘Doing it right’ does not mean a woman MUST talk to you. That’s what your letter seems to imply…that surely there must be something you can do, some magic passcode, that will make woman respond to you because they know you aren’t a creep. But they get to decide not to talk to you EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A CREEP.

    • Ystir said:

      “… Dude, with that response, you’ve just confirmed that I was right not to want to talk to you.”

    • Ystir said:

      And also: “But they get to decide not to talk to you EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A CREEP.” YES.

    • “LW, there is no magical RIGHT way to speak to strangers, ”

      Not only that – there’s no magical right to speak to strangers at all.

  27. Mr. Toes said:

    A man asks: I feel anxious about chatting up women.

    Wow, sign me up for feminism, I want to help the cause!

    • JenniferP said:

      “I’m okay with you feeling anxious about talking to women and then not talking to them” does not equal “YOU ARE HORRIBLE”, but your straw man is adorable. And oh so flammable. :warms hands by light of pretty fire:

    • fadeaccompli said:

      Gosh, if only we feminists were nicer and more supportive of men not wanting to be hassled with women’s boundaries! That’s always worked for convincing people to be more supportive of feminism.

    • roramich said:

      Wow. Sign me up for whatever anti-feminist crusade you rode in on, because your logic and reading comprehension skills make me want to help the cause!

    • What I love is that you see this as about a request for encouragement in “chatting up women,” and even then you can’t imagine why the response would be “just don’t already.”

      You are a tragic loss to the ranks of feminism, truly you are. Though I get that you’d sign right up if we wouldn’t be so damned pro-woman all the time.

    • Kat said:

      The stars be thanked, a manly man came in to tell the womenfolk our feelings are wrong. What would we do without you, Great Man of Everything Manly? PS: I think you missed the point by about 42,000 miles.

    • neverjaunty said:


  28. I’ve been thinking about this one.

    Dear LW, if you are still reading and haven’t been frightened off by the comments so far… I get that you meant well. Honestly, I do. Nonetheless, I’m afraid I’m not surprised that you’ve managed to rub our good Captain and a number of other people up the wrong way. You didn’t mean to, and, ironically, you’re probably now feeling you’ve got a bad case of exactly the problem you wrote in about. Yes, I get that too.

    Now let me see if I can be of some assistance. First of all – and I realise this is not an easy thing to ask, because I sometimes suffer from anxiety myself and so I understand what it’s like – I think you could gain a lot from working out exactly *why* people here are getting ticked off, rather than retreating into your shell, which is the classic anxiety response. Once you know that, you’ll be in a much better position to avoid unintentionally annoying other people in future. You may not be able to cope with doing that just yet, and that’s OK, but at least bookmark the page and come back to it when the anxiety has subsided enough for you to be able to do so.

    Secondly, I’d strongly advise you not to get hung up on gender. People are people, and in any case not everyone who looks like a woman identifies as one (and vice versa). Let’s face it, gender doesn’t make a hoot of difference unless you’re thinking of getting into a romantic relationship (and not always even then, depending on your joint personal tastes), and you don’t decide whether or not you’re going to go for that one on the basis of a casual conversation with a complete stranger. At least, I hope you don’t. So my advice is that you just treat everyone you meet as an individual human being whose gender is not, at this point, even relevant to you. Some of them will be happy to chat, depending on individual preference, what they’re already doing, and also to some extent the area they live in. Some of them won’t. Some of them will at some times but not others. I think you’re looking for some kind of formula, but sadly there isn’t one; you just have to try striking up a conversation and then pay close attention to the signals the other person is giving, as many people here have already said.

    All the best with the therapy.

    • I think that’s exactly the point, though — due to the combination of anxiety-brain signals and sudden social awareness, there *is* a huge difference for LW between talking to women and talking to men. That difference is: “Anything I say to a woman will make me seem like a rapist.” Which is where the anxiety is coming in.

      • Elsajeni said:

        Well, yes, but like you say, that difference is derived in large part from his anxiety. And the only way to solve that kind of issue is to re-train your brain to believe the actual facts (“There is not that big of a difference between talking to a woman and talking to a man”) rather than the non-rational, anxiety-spiral thoughts it’s currently focused on. (I am thinking of my own process of dealing with a fear of flying — I had to consciously catch thoughts like “PLANES ARE ILLOGICAL, METAL CAN’T FLY, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” and replace them with thoughts like, “The actual probability of any given flight crashing is [ludicrously small number].”) There’s really nothing we can say to the LW that will make that anxiety go away; he has to keep doing that work himself, perhaps in the company of a therapist.

        • misspiggy said:

          It’s not just the anxiety brain signals; this is the whole point. Anything a strange man says to me does make me think he could be a rapist. Any man who talks to me will get a polite but negative reaction. Anyone with social anxiety will have to take on board that the woman they wish to talk to may be someone like me. Result: men with social anxiety may wish not to talk to strange women in public. Or they may wish to judge whether a woman is giving negative signals to their attempt at conversation. Either way, it is sad but not that sad, and there is no other answer.

    • panda flannel said:

      “So my advice is that you just treat everyone you meet as an individual human being whose gender is not, at this point, even relevant to you.”

      I disagree with this because it seems like the gender equivalent of “colorblindness” and ignores structural inequities that influence people’s experiences of being approached by strangers. To quote the glorious Imogen Binnie: “Eventually you can’t help but figure out that, while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.”

  29. Quisty said:

    As a point of potential interest, in the country/city I come from it is generally frowned upon to speak to strangers in public spaces and unless you’re asking a direct, practical question (such as “where can I find [tourist attraction]?”, “what time is it?” etc.) people will quickly and quietly assume that you’re drunk/mentally ill/a tourist.

    I’m not saying this to amp up your anxiety about how people are secretly judging you LW but to provide a (probably) different cultural perspective. If you generally don’t speak to people in public? It’ll be fine. You will be fine. The world will be fine. They will be fine. There are literally millions of people for whom this is the norm. And they manage in general to live a life, have friends and significant others etc.

    If you are writing from the USA (my assumption) it might feel like there’s some sort of imperative that you OUGHT for some reason to be able to talk to people in public spaces. That’s just culture. There is no imperative. As so many people have stated above it’d be just fine not to speak to people and to women in particular in public.


      • Quisty said:

        Sweden – come for the subway cars where people do not speak! Stay for the uhm, terrible terrible racial profiling? (Clearly not in for a profitable career in marketing).

        • I want to move to Sweden for so many reasons and this is one more. *genuinely Googling how easy it is to get a visa to go live in Sweden where working hours are flexible and the pronouns gender-neutral*

      • Kaija24 said:

        I am of Finnish heritage, raised in North America but in a very Finnish/Nordic populated and accultured place. I still cannot get used to the North American proclivity for constant chit-chat and social interaction, even amongst strangers. I now have a much better appreciation for the concept of “comfortable silence” as practiced in some other regions 🙂

    • Louise said:

      I’m from Boston, which is chilly in terms of weather and social mannerisms, and I love the unspoken agreement that we have with strangers: eyes down, no chit chat, let’s all keep going about our days without bothering each other. One of the main reasons I didn’t go to college in Ohio was that everyone was too gol-durn chatty.

      The only place I’ve been more comfortable than Boston, in terms of not having to talk to people, is Germany. Even the salespeople don’t hassle you!

      • staranise said:

        …Really? Every time I visit Boston I am like OH GOD PEOPLE ARE TALKING AT MEEE THERE IS NOWHERE TO HIDE. It has for many years been my personal reference point for “a place where it isn’t rude to talk to people on transit.”

        -A Canadian

        • Xenophile said:

          I grew up in Austria and went to college in Boston. Everyone I met, coming from all over the US, kept complaining about how unfriendly Bostonians are. Meanwhile, I was used to Viennese, and was amazed at how friendly and outgoing these alleged massholes are!

        • sasha said:

          Ha ha, it’s cracking me up that you signed that “A Canadian,” staranise. Because I just moved to Canada from the States a couple months ago, and I’ve been amazed by how talkative and friendly everyone is here! I grew up in Portland, OR (cold weather, standoffish people) and lived in the South (warm weather, outgoing people) and, between these and other travels, had developed a hypothesis that the colder the weather, the less outgoing the people. Then I moved to central Canada, and my hypothesis got ripped to shreds. It’s COLD here (think 6 months of winter – we still have snow on the ground), but people smile and chat with total strangers on the street, in grocery lines, wherever. I personally enjoy it, but that’s just me. I’m old enough now that I’m invisible to the pick-up-artist type, so my interactions are rarely tinged with creepiness anymore. My younger female friends here have a totally different experience.

          • Epiphyta said:

            You know, I didn’t think the PNW could sound any more appealing, but you’re doing it. I’m in the Intermountain West and O HOLY FUCK PEOPLE LEAVE ME ALONE

          • Jake said:

            I don’t so much think it’s a Canada/US thing as a big city/smaller city thing. I grew up in Toronto and lived for a long time in Montreal, and the norms there were very clear that strangers don’t make on the street. Now I live in a smaller city (still in Canada) and people keep trying to chat with me on the street and it creeps me right the fuck out. Shut up and leave me alone.

        • As far as I can tell, Yankees are willing to engage people in public, but not willing to immediately make friends. In sociology, sometimes you speak of “Gemeinschaft” and “Geselleschaft” relationships — the words mean “personal caring-based relationships” and “functional transaction-based relationships”, roughly. People in Boston don’t immediately get all over me like we’re besties, which I appreciate. But there is an implicit sense that you are allowed to stop randoms on the street and ask impersonal things, like, “Hi. Where am I and how do I get back to the subway?” (Which I, having grown up in grid-based Phoenix, did almost constantly for my first month here.) After they help and you say thanks, you both go on your way with no further obligation.

          • There are certain things around Boston that are Commonalities, and people talk about them all the time. Number One is the Red Sox. I get very different reactions from people when I wear my Sox cap. Nor’easters are another one. I mean, it’s the obvious Local Sports Team and Weather, but it seems like it’s more than just the default conversation but that it’s actual social bonding. (With the snowstorms, it’s the Annual Bitter Fighting Over Parking Spaces.)

            What is surprising to me is that you can pass through the public without any connections at all — but if you pause and make a connection here, it’s pretty warm and welcoming. And it doesn’t even seem to be very hard, you just have to be near a Locals Conversation, ask a question, get explained to, and now suddenly you’re good people.

            But it also depends on the specific town you’re in, and it is harder for an outsider to know the rules for that.

      • Heffalumps said:

        My experience of Seattle has been the same–chilly weather, and people tend to be standoffish with strangers in public. There are exceptions (that person who *will* talk to you at the bus stop, etc), but for the most part people leave each other alone in public. On the other hand, people tend to be really polite and kind of friendly in their standoffishness; they often smile, let other people take the turn at the intersection, hold doors, all while avoiding talking. Hard to explain, but I really like it.

      • miss_chevious said:

        This is hilarious to me because I moved BACK to the midwest (specifically Ohio) because strangers (men and women) in the southwest were talking to me ALL THE TIME and waving at me from cars as they drove past. I DON’T KNOW YOU, DRIVER!

        (To be clear, people were doing this not in a “I’m hitting on you” way, but in a “hey, person, what a nice day” way. And I still hated it and still moved to get away from it.)

  30. GaG said:

    People have a right to be upset about your behavior for absolutely any reason at all. Sorry, the mechanism you used in the past to deal with your social anxiety was flawed. Instead, maybe confront your thinking and see what kinds of patterns it falls into, and work on these with your therapist. If you do something that upsets someone, this does not automatically make you the worst human being who ever existed who must now spend the rest of his life self-flaggelating and hating himself. (That is the type of black-and-white thinking I myself am prone to, for example.) It makes you a human being who upset someone. What you can do is listen to other people (this includes reading feminist blog posts like Schrodinger’s Rapist!) about what things upset them, then don’t do those things. In other words, instead of “constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women,” take active steps to treat other human beings respectfully. Not “having it on your mind” by avoiding responsibility for your own behavior is not the solution.

  31. ldubs said:

    LW, everyone else has covered why complaining to women about how not scaring them is so hard for you is a not so great thing to do. But I am feeling generous, so I am going to give you a couple of concrete examples (that happened to me, recently!) of a good way a strange dude approached me recently, and a bad way a strange dude approached me recently. If you can understand why one was ok and one was not, you can probably figure out how to talk to ladies (and dudes! These rules work for all people!) in public.

    Example 1: I was running late for work and got caught behind a car in my parking garage that was going SO SLOW. I finally got parked and ran to catch the elevator, with another dude who was behind Lady Slowpants as well. So, we were in an elevator, in the morning, and I was now in a bad mood. That normally would have made for a TERRIBLE time to talk to me, but the dude turned to me and went “Did you get stuck behind that slow car too, isn’t that the worst?” and I responded “I know!! I HATE THAT” And we bonded over our shared aggravating experience! It was nice!

    Example 2: I was picking up my food at a local restaurant and a man approached me and said “Excuse me, but your scarf is really pretty. It draws attention to your lovely face”. I said “Uh, thanks.” and probably gave a tight smile because: socialization, then checked my phone and avoided eye contact.

    So in example one, the fact that I normally wouldn’t want to talk to someone was overridden by the fact that we had this shared thing to talk about. That obviously depends on the person, but once spoke to me I responded enthusiastically and we had a nice little conversation. Had we had a little more time to chat (outside of an enclosed elevator!!) and then that dude asked me out for coffee or something after, I would have turned him down because I am married and also was not attracted to him, but that would have been an ok thing to do. I would not have felt creeped out or unsafe.

    In example 2, the guy approached me out of nowhere with an observation about my appearance and it was creepy and intrusive. I said thanks and smiled a little, but I turned my body and avoided eye contact. He didn’t say anything else at that point, because my body language was really fucking clear. I was creeped out, and annoyed but I personally didn’t feel unsafe. Had he kept bothering me, I definitely would have felt unsafe and maybe even left without my food depending on if he got name-calley or violated my personal space.

    If you can keep it well within example one, you should be ok. If you’re within speaking distance of a person for a natural reason (you’re viewing the same work of art, you are next to each other in line, you are in the same section of a bookstore) and you have a non-intrusive, natural thing to say (I really like this painting, there’s a zombie pirate over there!, that book is really great) AND you are able to tell the difference between when someone wants to talk to you and when they don’t you should be fine. It doesn’t mean you won’t still end up annoying someone sometimes! If your anxiety makes the prospect of annoying someone seem like the WORST THING EVER (and it might!), you should work on that before talking to people in public.

    • CL said:

      Example number 2 would have made me uncomfortable too. My general rule is that if the person seems open, a compliment about something they’re wearing can be okay (but use your judgment about whether it could be taken as a comment about their body, and if so, refrain) — but I never compliment strangers on their actual bodies or appearances.

      For me, “Excuse me, but your scarf is really pretty” is an okay comment, as long as the tone and body language indicate that the person is genuinely just noticing the scarf, not trying to hit on me, or further engage me.

      “Excuse me, but your scarf is really pretty. It draws attention to your lovely face.” makes me feel, UGH, GO AWAY, NO. Random comments about how I look — not something I chose to wear — set off creeper alarm bells, and even when the person seems earnest, it makes me really uncomfortable.

      • I’m with you there. I would — and do — say things like “I love your scarf!” I am always content to leave it there; I am not owed a response by anyone, ever, and I don’t compliment people who don’t seem open to hearing from a stranger.

        If the conversation goes back and forth a few times, I might get to “And the color is *fantastic* with your eyes” but that’s only after we are into the conversation about this awesome scarf and how her grandmother brought it from Russia in 1912 and it’s her favorite thing to remember her by, or whatever.

        • CL said:

          I sometimes give those compliments too, if it seems like the person won’t mind. And honestly, it’s just different when it’s a conversation between two women. Women compliment each others’ clothes and accessories all the time, in the tone of “oh that’s cute, where did you get it?” — and we know it’s not creepy. It’s not even the absence of potential sexual interest. I’m a lesbian, and (I think) my interest is correctly interpreted as a shared appreciation of accessories, because I’m a prissy woman too. With men, it’s different, especially if the comment strays into “and it compliments your awesome face / body / eyes” territory.

      • ldubs said:

        Oh yeah, it was the “I think you’re hot, just wanted you to know” weirdness. Had the guy been like “nice scarf”, I wouldn’t have found it weird. I probably wouldn’t have been interested in continuing the conversation, but it would have been fine.

      • Suzy said:

        I love hats, and I have quite a few really nice ones, so I have no problem at all with people (regardless of their gender) saying “wow, I love your hat.” I will often reply with a bright “thank you,” and maybe say where I got it, and that’s totally okay. I’m chatty by nature but sometimes I’m damn moody, and I have the right to say “I’m not interested in talking to you.” If you believe otherwise, you are probably someone I would consider a creep.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      I absolutely LOVE the clarity of these examples. This is really helpful, thanks!

  32. Hallom said:

    LW, a commenter on a previous post a few months ago framed this in a way that was helpful to me, so maybe it will be to you too. (I am a straight white male, by the way, who has had his eyes opened to feminism largely by this blog in the last two years, and I obviously still have a lot to learn — even with this post, I didn’t understand why the original response was so harsh, but then I read the comments and started to get it. So this was a good eye-opener for me for which I thank all of you.)

    That person said, there is a difference between on the one hand, expecting “yes” but being prepared to immediately respect “no”, and on the other hand, expecting “no” until you hear “yes.”

    The former makes you a not-bad person — it’s certainly better than not respecting the “no” — but it still carries a host of problems with it, such as the unfairness of putting the other person in the position of having to constantly define and enforce boundaries against you. Which will, of course, make them feel less comfortable around you. I think this is what you were doing when you decided that what other people think of you isn’t your responsibility until they call you out on it, and I think you realized the problems with it when you wrote “But I don’t think what I understand about social justice supports that view any more.”

    So the question you are really asking today is “What next?” I hope you will look at this as an opportunity to move yourself to the next stage, to be an even better, more respectful person. The person who expects “no.” Not because you are a bad person and of course he/she/they would say “no,” but because the mindset of expecting “no” is what makes you a good person.

    In my experience it’s about changing the messages you tell yourself. Instead of “I didn’t approach that woman because I’m a loser and don’t have the guts to do it,” it becomes “I didn’t approach that woman because I know she can be expected not to want me to, and I respect that.” Therapy may be able to help with this.

    I find this formulation can really help when you are in the types of social settings (parties, activity groups, etc.) where approaching other people is more acceptable/expected, as opposed to the public places we’ve been talking about. There it’s appropriate to strike up a conversation, but decide in advance that you will only continue it past the first line or two if you’ve seen a clear “yes” (clear interest/engagement). And if you don’t see it, the message (to help with the anxiety) is not “she didn’t want to talk because I’m a loser,” it is “I did the right thing by smiling and walking away at that point.”

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      You are awesome and seem like you are really getting it. And I am a scary laydee feminist since my username doesn’t make that clear.

      • VA said:

        I just finished “Wolf Hall” and love your username!

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          Ah! You get it! Love you forever. (HOW GOOD, SRSLY, HOW GOOD!!?)

  33. General Expression said:

    Dear dudes of the world. Why don’t you all just talk to each other in public? Problem solved!

    Seriously, LW, what if the next 10, or 20, or 1,000 people you approached in public were dudes? 16-year old dudes. 82-year-old-dudes. Dudes in suits. Dudes in flip-flops. Dudes with fros. Dudes who are bald. Dudes with crazy-awesome facial hair. Dudes with dogs. Dudes in uniform. They are (somewhat, perhaps) less likely to have baggage about being harassed or approached in public. And if you don’t want to do that b/c women are “nicer,” or “easier to approach,” or “less scary,” then yes, there is something wrong with your thinking.

    P.S. I was totally dying to make a fake-o comment about “BUT TONE!” but the Sarcasm Fairy is not inspiring me today.

    • General Expression said:

      P.S. I have heard that once in a very great while, dudes are also able to comment intelligently upon art. I have heard rumors that some dudes have even MADE their own art. Maybe you’ll get lucky!

      • What heresy is this? I must report you to the hivemind immediately!

    • JenniferP said:

      Sorry to monopolize the Sarcasm Fairy, I’ll send her back presently!

      And yes. Even if approaching strange women in public didn’t carry a risk of causing them anxiety, if talking to women in public is causing you anxiety, maybe hang back. There’s no quota about this, so maybe talk to men until you get more practice talking to strangers in general.

      I don’t think the LW is an evil scary person, or intentionally going to cause anyone harm. I also think that he is the one who brought up both Schrodinger’s Rapist and who made it about gender. Gender dynamics around “who owns public spaces?” are fucked up, and using a knowledge of that history to evaluate and modulate behavior is not a bad thing that I need to rescue him from. Dear Lady, can you make me feel better about the way the fucked up history of gender relations is getting in the way of me talking to ladies? reads to me like “Dear Native Americans, I didn’t personally steal your land, so when you write things about standing up for justice or changing the way the world works or being angry about your treatment at the hands of “white people”, it makes me wicked uncomfortable about knowing how to interact with you because you might mean me. Could you advise me on how to feel better about that? That would be neat, thanks.”

      Privileged people are affected poorly by racism and sexism, because racism and sexism are incredibly illogical, incredibly bad, incredibly destructive forces that poison everything they touch. But it’s not the job of the less-privileged group to hand out “U R THE XCEPTION!” lollies.

      • General Expression said:

        Agreed. I have to say I just love this whole question and answer and all the comments.

        I think one of the many ways to sum this whole thing up is that everyone needs to put themselves in context in the world. It’s part of growing up, and becoming an adult, and ceasing to be self-centered. You have to put yourself in context at your job; in your social group; out in public; etc. And that can help dictate what the correct behavior is. I have to know that my actions are in the context of a racist, abelist, cissexist, etc. etc. society and act accordingly.

        A man in public is in the context of years of sexism and the patriarchy, and many of the women he comes across have suffered very gendered aggression or violence. Men have to realize that is the context they are moving in. The web constricts us all.

        It is, of course, super-too-bad that our actions are never taken out of social and historical context, but so it goes.

        • JenniferP said:

          I’m gonna go back to bel hooks:

          “While today’s youth are eager to live in a world where racism does not exist, they do not want to do the political work of changing themselves or society. That world entails confronting pain and hostility. And they are the generations who are constantly told via mass media that only losers feel pain, that the good life is a life without difficulties. They are constantly told that the only peace and happiness they can have will come to them through rugged individualism, through a focus on meeting self-centered needs. In a world where pathological narcissism is the order of the day, it is difficult to arouse collective concern for challenging racism or any form of domination.”

          bell hooks | Where We Stand: Class Matters (via http://ethiopienne.tumblr.com/)

          The LW wants to live in a world where sexism does not exist. Admirable!
          But some women’s pain and hostility – around the possibility of violence at the hands of men, around the history of being harassed and interrupted in public spaces and expected to smile and be grateful and to take care of the feelings of men who approach them, around the history of having to deal with the anger of men when it’s suggested that they should hang back a little bit and not assume that everyone wants to talk to them – can’t be erased or fixed by me. Or by therapy. Even if the LW gets all the treatment for his anxiety, those situations might always be fraught and not make him feel great.

          When there has been injustice, maybe it’s enough to not perpetrate the injustice. Maybe you don’t also have to feel great about it. Maybe you will miss out on things you feel you deserve, like a nice moment with a stranger in an art gallery, because you are trying to do the right thing and don’t know what to do. Maybe that feels unfair. Maybe now that you’ve worked to become more educated about the history of oppression and injustice, you feel like you can’t just walk willy-nilly through spaces that used to feel like they were undisputedly yours, and you are grieving that loss. Maybe in that case, your grief and discomfort is actually working to make the world a better place and isn’t actually something that should be alleviated. Maybe you just live with it and keep trying to do your best to do the right thing, and don’t ask people to give you credit or comfort for it.

          • General Expression said:

            Word. Neon starbursts around this whole comment. Also, I need to go read me some bell hooks.

          • Aunt Beast said:

            This is great; I really wish you’d stuck it in the original response.

          • griffykate said:

            Yes. This is the plain truth I was looking for beneath your previous scathing fury. I’m really, really having my mind bent around by the conversations coming out of this post, and this comment helped clarify a lot of my thoughts, thank you!

  34. ona555 said:

    LW, the above commenters and CA have already covered the problematic points of your letter, and it is my hope that you will take their advice to heart.

    So. I am a cis woman, just an individual and not a monolith or representative of my whole 50% of the human population, but a woman I am and I have to say– I, as a woman, can make other women uncomfortable when trying to talk to them in public. I *have* made other women uncomfortable, and recently, and what I do is realize my mistake, smile apologetically, and stop trying to talk to them. Some people (note: people) do not like talking to strangers for a wide variety of reasons which most likely have nothing to do with you, personally. Some people are having a bad day but had to go outside of their home or other safe space anyway and are hoping to accomplish what they need to accomplish with a minimum of interference from others. I have social anxiety which manifests as extreme chattiness or total silence with very little middle ground. What I do when I am feeling chatty is look for people whose body language says, “open to others right now” and make a casual polite comment. If that person does the bare minimum of polite response but gives not much else back, I leave them alone. If they reply with more than a handful of mumbled words, if they smile and look at me, if they reply with leading statements rather than bland, non-committal ones, it’s a safer bet than not that they are open to conversing. Briefly! It is rare that you will find a total stranger who’s down for My Whole Life Story Time or wants to be your therapist– especially amongst women who are so often expected to be the Solvers/Understanders Of All Personal Problems. Keep it short, keep it light, and break off then move away. This is key, the breaking off and moving away part. It lets a person who took the risk of talking to you know that this really was just friendly banter and not part of some nefarious ultimate plan to have pantsfeelings at them.

    Mostly, if you do sense that someone with whom you are attempting to speak is or has become uncomfortable, do not fall over yourself apologizing or turn it back onto them. Just move along. Unless you are behaving like a total ass, it’s not personal.

    • datdamwuf said:

      Glad I’m not alone, I too have that extreme chattiness thing, I’ll suddenly stop and apologize for babbling. Sometimes I just *think* I’m doing it and the other person will say it’s OK, no you really weren’t. And that makes it worse because now I can’t even tell if I’m doing it wrong.

  35. charlottecat said:

    One thing that might be helpful is to separate this “talking to women in public” thing. There’s a difference between saying hello to people at the beginning of a group tour and starting a conversation with a woman on a bus who is reading a book with headphones in her ears. Err on the side of being too cautious. There are also certain situations where it is almost expected to talk to other people- for instance, if you pass a woman on the sidewalk, it’s usually fine to sort of smile briefly to indicate you recognize their presence. Maybe try to do things to make yourself seem more approachable. I would also advise you to keep reading feminist blogs. Listening to women might actually be the best way to figure out what to do in these situations.

  36. FlyBy said:

    If you’re anxious about interacting with people in general, or with women in specific, talking to strangers in public is not a good arena for working it out. Activity groups and your counselor’s office are. Level up your small talk abilities a few times. Eventually the whole ‘how can I appropriately interact with people in public?’ thing will become clear to you.

    If you’re looking for someone to give you a safe set of rules to follow, sorry, they don’t exist. There are no shortcuts to human interaction. You’ve got to go figure this stuff out on your own, in an appropriate place and time. Your morning bus ride is not it.

    • staranise said:

      THISSSS. Thank you.

      I’ve had crippling social anxiety. Really deeply awful anxiety. And I empathize with the LW that this whole process (talking to people, figuring out rules, getting a brisk response from the Captain) is scary and hard and sucktastic. If this were me (and I were unmedicated) I would be crying until Tuesday. When I read the response at first, my eyebrows went up because I knew this wasn’t going to go over well–but the thing is, there are limits, and it’s not the end of the world. If no one ever approaches a stranger in public again, people will still be able to find new friends.

      If the LW wants to socialize with more people, there are a ton of ways to join groups where people have implicitly agreed to socialize with each other. Classes, clubs, meetups, you name it. It’s scarier to get into, but more comfortable in the long run.

      • FlyBy said:

        I’m told that we have a mutual friend named P – glad to meet you, at a distance!

        I agree that social anxiety is a separate thing from the feminist issues of talking to unknown women in public. It’s not fair to conflate the two, either on the Captain’s part or the LW’s. (I’m not accusing either of doing so – I really won’t try to judge from here, even if I had any business doing so in the first place.) And they require two different approaches. I think it’s very important to tease the two apart, and handle them separately. The one gets my sympathy and the best advice I can offer, the other gets a big too bad; so sad.

        • griffykate said:

          *like* 🙂

  37. twomoogles said:

    Another context issue is that if there’s a situation, like a library or a bookstore or an art gallery, where people are gathering by themselves but it’s possible to approach them, women are by *far* more likely to be approached, even innocently. And, that goes up significantly when the woman is young and anything close to conventionally attractive. And when any social thing seems to happen a *lot* more to women than men I become suspect. Like the hugging issue. I know way too many guys who say things like, oh, well, I wasn’t hugging her to hit on her! Ok, and how many dudes did you hug? (Some people are just super friendly huggers, but it’s not as common.)

    For me personally, I don’t fear the guy who starts talking to me is going to be a rapist, or even scary. It’s just annoying. And uncomfortable. And I’m stuck trying to figure out whether to put up with being annoyed, or make him go away and feel guilty about it, because after all, he wasn’t doing anything *wrong*. And then wonder why that guy never seems to get chatty with other men on the bus (or where ever).

    Realistically, no, most of the time if you say ‘hi’ to a woman in public she’s not going to think you are hugely creepy or awful. But, she might not want to talk to you and have a really hard time conveying that to you. LW, I’m with you in that I think people should speak up when they have a problem but that is *far* easier said than done when we’re talking about interactions with strangers, particularly as a woman who’s been socialized to be ‘nice’.

    So, yeah, sorry, but on the whole I have to go with ‘don’t approach women in public’. Find other ways of meeting people. If your anxiety is such that you have a hard time talking to women *ever*, say at parties or in class, for fear you’ll accidentally say the wrong thing, then that sounds like your anxiety has taken over, which is no fun (take it from me, I know from anxiety). But, that’s not feminism’s ‘fault’, nor is it the fault of the women involved.

  38. thwartedneedle said:

    This guy needs Dr. Nerdlove, and badly. LW, get thee pronto to his website. He has a lot of fantastic articles that are both feminist-friendly AND teach you how to approach women without seeming creepy. I recommend this to all of my male nerd friends.

    It really is okay to hit on women-even to ask for their phone numbers!-so long as you are paying attention and respectful of their reactions. If they do not seem enthusiastic or encouraging, back off, no harm, no foul. (Also, avoid all compliments on their physical features. If you must compliment them on their appearance, choose an interesting item of clothing they have on…. a fun scarf, colorful shoes, etc.)

    You can also choose places that are public, but are not in public. Approaching girls at conventions (anime, sci-fi) or book/comic stores can be a place where you have something in common with the women, and there is more of a mingling atmosphere. (My apologies for my continuing assumption you are a nerd.)
    So choose a place where people with your similar interests convene. Generally girls there will be a lot more willing to talk than girls at a bus stop.

    • Sorry but this:
      “Generally girls there will be a lot more willing to talk than girls at a bus stop.”
      *annoyed* me.

      If you’re hitting on ‘girls’, get thee to a police station because it’s entirely possible that you’re schrodinger’s-statutory-rapist.

      Otherwise, ‘women’ is a great word.

      • Plenty of readers of both Captain Awkward and Dr. Nerdlove are teenagers. In which case, hitting on “girls” is completely normal.

        I mean, I’m not the biggest fan of using “girls” in place of “women” either, but sometimes the people in question are literally girls.

    • goldenpeanut said:

      Just don’t read the comments. Ever.

  39. I was recently at a photographic art exhibition. I went because it was free, and it was a specific event organised for Tweeters local to the gallery. I spent most of my time looking at the pictures thinking, “This is art???” And “Why do American’s think New York City is the be-all-and-end-all of human civilisation?”

    My point is, just because somebody is in the same space / at the same event / looking at the same painting as you, does not mean you actually have anything in common. Not everybody in an art gallery is an art enthusiast.

    If you *do* want to meet people with common interests (rather than just people who boobs and vaginas) then it’s best to join social groups with said interest as a specific focus.

    • Last time I was at an art opening, I spent the entire time thinking “OH MY GOD, SOME OF THIS ‘ART’ IS SO RACIST, I CAN’T EVEN.”

      Naturally, I was approached four times by different dudes wanting to chat about the ‘raw sexuality’ of the extremely racist painting. Because white dudes.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. (That’s a laugh that begins with an AAAA)

      • haha. maybe that’s why I spent like half an hour in this one room of the art exhibition that was just Pacific protest art and it was all amazing. (In a lot of ways, Māori art = protest art anyway. It had fewer visitors than the other rooms and none of them seemed to wait to talk about sexeh dusky maidens.

    • Gods yes. I sure as hell don’t want someone to start waffling about the artist or technique or whatever when I’m looking at a portrait of someone who means a lot to me. It’s not about the painter, go away!

      (Unless it’s Holbein. Because nobody ever painted texture you can feel like Holbein. 🙂 )

  40. Lindsay said:

    LW, let me just say that as a woman, when a strange guy starts talking to me in public my automatic first (mental) response is “Why are you talking to me?” As in, “What is your ulterior motive?” Because in my experience, men don’t just randomly strike up a conversation with me to be friendly, or because we have an actual shared interest that they genuinely want to talk to me about. It’s not because they’re excited they found another Person Who Likes The Same Thing They Like. They see me, a woman, and start looking me over for a conversation opener they can use. And I can see straight through it. And it makes me uncomfortable, and annoyed, and sometimes angry. The behavior that you’re calling “ridiculous” (thinking “maybe this woman just wants to look at art and not talk to a strange man”) is not ridiculous at all. It’s a good first step.

    • General Expression said:

      Yep! Like x100. This is also how my thought process goes when a guy (or often anyone) approaches me in public.

  41. Honestly, I don’t think that the response to this question should have even been published. If it were me, I would email the dude back and say, “sorry, this is not appropriate for my blog, please get professional help.”

    But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I would say if I were seriously to answer the OP’s question.

    1) Talking to most random people about anything beyond first tier things (what’s the time, the closest bus station, etc) is creepy to most women. Most of the time this is because anyone who you don’t know who immediately comes up to you and starts asking questions that a more familiar friend-type person would say, it indicates that you’re either the sort of person who wants something else than what you’re asking about (ie: sex, romantic interest, etc), or you’re possibly dangerous.

    2) Read “The Gift of Fear.” Learn a bit about body language (and where she’s coming from) and how to realize when your friendly question is taken badly so you don’t go on and on at length trying more and more desperately to get her to like you. You have no control over how people react, but you CAN do something about how you react after. You can immediately back off, move on, and NEVER BOTHER HER AGAIN. It’s really that simple. You can’t always control if you offend someone, but you can control how you behave after. The question is- are you going to act like a self-righteous jerk and act like they have no right to feel that way or are you going to respect it, apologize for making them feel bad, and then move on?

    3) Social justice is an ever-evolving thing and there are many schools of thought surrounding it. A lot of it seems to consist of people simply being offended because they’re making up the rules about how they want to identify to the world at large but beyond the internet, not many people even know some of these identities even exist and not really knowing where to put that energy so they lash out. If someone identifies as a queer, chess-loving, vegan, Republican Otherkin, and gets mad because I don’t magically know this, that anger is THEIR problem. But I can choose to react with respect and not act like a jerk. I may have privilege because I’m not nearly as complicated in my identity, and I may even be annoyed or feel attacked for being treated poorly, but acting like an entitled jerk in return is optional.

    4) In the end, the golden rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated. If someone looks like they need space, then it’s your job to do it. There have been times when strangers have approached me and said inappropriately familiar things to me and it made me uncomfortable. However, seeing my discomfort, (and unlike certain creepy jerks out there) said people backed off and respected my space, and I was totally fine. ACCEPT that sometimes people are awkward or they feel uncomfortable or sometimes even get scared. But if you are the source of these feelings, you have the ability to disengage and stop it.

    Be kind to yourself. But also be RESPONSIBLE for yourself. There is no law that says you have to logic people into liking you. There is no rule that if you make it awkward, you have to keep pushing until things are made right by some arbitrary standard. Most PEOPLE in generally prefer the “engage, whoops they didn’t like that, apologize briefly, retreat, respect space” tactic because it means that you realized they didn’t like what you did and you fixed it without being a jerk or trying to act like you are entitled to a conversation. If they feel compelled to talk to you or to do anything further as far as interaction goes, that’s up to them.

    Ostensibly, this is my two cents because some people honestly think it’s either “be a doormat to anyone around you and never talk to anyone” or “be an oblivious entitled jerk who thinks that stomping on people’s comfort bubbles and then acting offended when people don’t like that” and I’m really not ok with that false dichotomy.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      I’m sure the captain really appreciates your helpful advice on how to run her blog.

      And ‘Liss at Shakesville has some great stuff to say about the “treat others as you would like to be treated” thing. http://www.shakesville.com/2013/04/a-proposal.html
      In brief, it is: nope.

      • dualityheart said:

        I wasn’t saying what the Captain should or should not do. I have no right to make decisions pertaining to another individual’s life, after all. I was saying what I would personally have chosen.

        Treat others as you would want to be treated is an important way to approach instigating interactions with other individuals. If you make an effort and the person doesn’t like it, the ideal thing is to think “what would I do if someone said or did something to me and I did not like it? Oh right, I’d want them to BACK OFF and GIVE ME SPACE, so that is how I should handle this situation.”

        Basically, instead of being all “oh, she is being offended at my interaction? What a bitch, I’m going to be all aggressive/passive aggressive and make her feel even more unsafe and scared” it encourages a person to empathize and act based on that.


        But I honestly think that people need to take ownership of that, and stop trying to blame their butthurtedness on others when things backfire.

        • YOU HAS AN INCORRECT! Creepy dudes WANT strange women to come up to them and lick their faces at ComiCon.


          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Thanks lady. That’s exactly what I was getting at.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            (Arg, hope I didn’t just misgender you)

          • You did not misgender me! I am indeeed, a lady-person. All is well!

          • griffykate said:

            Oh Rachel, I am loving your existence all up and down these comments today. ^__^ ALL THE INCORRECTS!

          • Ditto, Rachel you rock.

          • That’s exactly it! What *you* want and what *they* want are not necessarily the same thing. They might be diametrically opposed.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          Yeah, you obviously didn’t read ‘Liss’ (ooh, that looks weird when you type it) post. I think you should.

    • Emmers said:

      Only skimmed the comment so far, but +11 billion for recommending that LW read “The Gift of Fear.”

  42. Stay Excellent said:

    If it reeks this much of privilege and poor CWHATMCM fee-fees, why even bother to answer it? More entitled, problematic letters have been met with constructive advice before, and if the blog has evolved past that stage, a redirect to the Dr. Nerdlove/Fugitivus archives(which do cater to LW’s problem) would have been sufficient instead of cobbling together grudging the advice in the comments section. The FAQ says it’s a 101 space, and this seems pretty 101 without too much of a ‘do my rape culture homework for me’ vibe to it

    Anyway, LW, you hit the nail on the head with ‘women aren’t really helped by your worrying’. Feels like a summary, but that’s because this is your issue, not theirs. There’s no 100% safe way to never ever give off the creep vibes. Nicking the Schrödinger’s Rapist scenario, Lady X will get anxious if you keep silent on the bus and not make a chat with her, Lady Y will freeze up and want to run away the moment you talk to her. Lady X will find your nervousness unsettling, Lady Y will feel a tad more comfortable if see she sees you’re just as anxious as she is about sitting on the bus together. Or the qualities in the two previous sentences could be switched. And as much as you can binge on hypothetical cases and archive-binge self-help blogs discussing street harassment, enthusiastic consent and approaches, you will never ever get a 100% foolproof method of approaching peeps. You’re bound to screw up at some point, and thinking this damns you forever sits in the way of actually working on said anxiety.

    Schrödinger’s Rapist was never about ‘stop approaching women in public’. The central message was ‘her comfort overrides your attempts at flirting’. Full stop, no what ifs. And you can read her comfort level. As the other comments already mentioned, body language on eye contact/proximity, tone of voice/choice of words when she responds to your attempts at conversation and whatever attributes she’s carrying(headphones, book, laptop) give crystal-clear signals. Dudes have just been cultured not to pay attention to it, and you should feel positive about deprogramming yourself(feeling positive about this is not automatically ALLY COOKIES OM NOM NOM).

    If you feel you’re terrible at reading these signals, observe, observe, observe. Even a single night out provides enough material to line up the blogs you read with meatspace and depackage what you already subconsciously know. From there on, go read Dr. Nerdlove, since that caters exactly to your issues, regardless if you’re looking for dates or not. Also ask your friends, because non-specific e-advice never beats locals who are aware of the subtleties of different social circles, and tag-team conversation starting is always an option. Never forget much anxiety caused inadveretedly can be mended by apologizing and gracefully doing a stage exit left.

    Most of all, insights may shake your inner worldview, but they have very little practical consequences on the outside world besides what you take from it. It’s a series of micro-changes to your interactions which people won’t even notice, and which become second nature very easily. It’s not as tough as it sounds.

  43. Hi LW Anxiety puts stupid thoughts in your brain, reading your letter I wondered if you have a Anxiety though you aren’t aware of, one which goes “cool guys are out going and talk to girls, and if I don’t everyone will know I am a loser”. I suspect this because right now I am in a mood down swing and feel like everyone is cooler than me, and they all secretly know it. YMMV

    A bunch of posters have asked why you want to talk to women in particular, and if the answer is that you want to date them, then I definitely recommend what those other posters did, but if it is because you don’t want to seem like a loser because you are quiet, then I promise you that you are not coming across as a loser because you don’t talk to women in art galleries, I suspect the people around you, if they are thinking anything about you probably think you are quiet and enjoying art, or have been in meetings all day and are enjoying not having to talk to anyone.

    • KL said:

      This is a good catch. Also, the people around you probably aren’t thinking about you at all, because they have their own stuff going on. I say this with empathy, because I have anxiety issues too, and they can often manifest as “OMG everyone here hates me” when in reality, no one there has noticed me at all.

  44. Charlie Kilian said:

    LW, I would suggest you stop looking at your actual encounters with women as “hitting on them” and instead make them into “talking to them” or “getting to know them as a potential friend/fellow human being.” If your intentions are pure, they will probably be able to tell. In fact, that is the main take-away of feminism: treat women like the human beings they are. Extend them enough respect to believe that they can tell the difference between someone hitting on them and someone talking to them. In my experience, the difference is pretty obvious and they can tell. And if you really are treating them right and they don’t react well? Well, you probably don’t want to be their friend anyway.

    • boutet said:

      “If your intentions are pure, they will probably be able to tell”
      I have a bit of a problem with this statement. Women don’t have a built in Pure Intention meter that gives us a full assessment of a person the instant we meet them. There are some really slick, smooth people who are very capable of hiding some really nasty intentions. It seems like it borders on the edge of a victim-blaming narrative. If women can “just tell” what someone’s intentions are then they would always avoid people with bad intentions, right? It doesn’t work that way.
      If we could all “just tell” what someone intentions were we wouldn’t have any issues of anxiety about social interactions because there wouldn’t be any ambiguity or trust issues. We would know. But we don’t because we can’t and it’s not helpful to suggest that the people you want to communicate with are responsible for just intuiting your thoughts or intentions.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        Also, sometimes we don’t give a fuck about your intentions and want to be left the fuck alone. Sometimes we are concentrating. Or angry. Or tired. Or sad. Or blissfully spaced out. Or LOOKING AT ART. Sometimes we don’t want to be talked to, and sometimes that reason is not about you.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        While many women are intuitive and have their Bullshit-o-meters in good working order, we are not magical creatures who can see into the hearts of men to instantly determine their intent. That’s why we all use words, preferably in complete sentences, to announce our intentions. And word to the YES! We may have ten million other things going on in our heads and lives that don’t involve what some dude we don’t know wants from us. So, to recap:
        1. Women are people, complete with inner lives that DON’T INCLUDE YOU.
        2. Women are not vending machines that dispense sex, chat, comfort, ego-strokes, yadayada. See #1 to clarify.
        3. Women are not mystical creatures in touch with the collective unconscious. See #1 to clarify.

  45. Lucci said:

    I’m reading a lot of stuff that kind of upsets me. I live in a part of the country where small talk is accepted and encouraged, not because we’re nosy, irritating assholes, but because it’s just part of the social structure around here, and *that is okay*. I can’t help but be aggravated reading people’s comments where they’re like “What’s with people from [x place] TALKING to other people all the time?!” Well, golly. Uhh. Cultural difference within a country is a real thing, and it’s not negative.

    I gotta say, I’ve traveled all over the country. I found people in many other places to be off-putting, unhelpful, evasive, and rude. Regional differences cut both ways. I was so unhappy while I was out East, because I felt like people were constantly up in my physical space (we have LARGE hamster bubbles out here) while not giving me any damn politeness or respect in return, or even acknowledging my presence. I didn’t care for that one bit! But I chalked it up to cultural differences. You live in New York, you go to Texas, you might as well be visiting another damn country as far as expectations of casual interaction go.

    We smile at each other, here. We wave at each other in traffic for letting us merge or thanking them for letting us know when it’s safe to turn when your view of the lane past them is blocked. (Do folks in other parts of the country even do this, or is traffic as nasty as TV makes it out to be?) Two people passing each other in a car on a lonely country road will wave at each other even if they don’t know one another. We ask how you’re doing, and we genuinely do care if you’re having a bad day. I can go into any store and people will meet my eyes and say hello to me, I don’t have to fight to get anyone’s attention if I need help FAST. We help one another. I’ve comforted lots of crying people at convenience stores, oddly. And at the mall.

    We talk to folks while we’re in line, or waiting for something, we strike up conversations with strangers because that’s what people around here DO. It’s a thing that is just THERE. This expectation that you CAN talk to people is ever-present, and this is a GOOD thing to lots of us, no matter how awful it seems to folks from other parts of the country — and I totally get why. Yes, people can be obnoxious about not respecting the need for quiet, but in my experience, that percentage of people stays steady from place to place, east to west and north to south, and all that changes is the background level of polite attempts at conversation. Yes, we talk to each other a lot. We don’t like boors, either.

    THIS is the environment I grew up in and was socialized to, and it has HUGE advantages. It’s not awful. We have manners. It’s just different.

    I’m saying this because the desire to talk to people is real. Some people have more of that desire, some less, and some regional attitudes can exacerbate these tendencies. It’s a form of human connection, and it gets cold real fast without it, if you’re used to it. Nobody’s obligated to PROVIDE that contact, no! But acting like casual warm human interaction is not a 100% valid desire and a valid means of fulfilling need for human contact is pretty mean. LW could be coming from a culture where this is the norm, and not being able to do it is going to be painful for some very good reasons. Maybe you like to, and suddenly you can’t. Maybe you’ve been taught that this is how people are supposed to act, but because you’re socially anxious, it’s really hard for you, and that’s way stressful and makes you feel like you’re failing at being a Good Polite Person Who Makes Pleasant Conversation. Feeling like you can’t safely talk to half the people on Earth? That’s a real problem. You feel closed-off. You feel alone.

    This doesn’t trump anyone’s right to be left alone, no, but just saying “World won’t end if you never talk to random strangers ever again” is kind of callous, considering it’s a very important source of human connection for lots of folks. And suddenly feeling like you can’t approach women for totally understandable and very good reasons you are only just beginning to get a handle on is going to be dispiriting to such a person. I don’t know if that’s part of LW’s problem, I’m just seeing a lot of perspectives that don’t take into account healthy regional variation, and act like head-down never-talking don’t-make-eye-contact human *avoidance* is some kind of ideal, or the healthiest way to be, and . . . WOW, I’m surprisingly not okay with that. D:

    Clearly LW still has some issues, though I think he’s doing pretty well, and people have done pretty well at taking those issues apart. People have also done really well giving him concrete advice and giving different, often clearer, perspectives on his question. I think that if he keeps up with therapy and remains respectful of boundaries, things will get easier.

    I don’t think this is about being afraid of not getting something he feels entitled to (the attention of women). I think this is about not knowing how to go about being the kind of person he wants to be — which is the kind of person who can approach others without making them uncomfortable. You can pick at the language he used and draw conclusions about his attitudes, and that may or may not be useful/helpful and those conclusions may or may not be correct, but I just didn’t see the presumption in what he said that others did. Not saying it’s not there, but this whole thing strikes me really differently, based on my own expectations of casual social interaction.

    I’m seeing some radical divides in how people expect to be interacted with, and they aren’t falling along gender lines, really, so I’m wondering if there isn’t a little regional variation in boundaries here that we might talk about.

    • JenniferP said:

      Your comment is kindly meant, but way too long for me to engage with or even read all the way through.

      • Lucci said:

        Sorry about that. Feel free to delete. On further thought it’s most likely not relevant to the LW’s particular situation.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      OK, see this is the weird thing not only about your post, but also other responses here. Here’s what the Captain actually said:

      “And maybe, if approaching women in public gives you that much anxiety, don’t do it. There is no law that you have to approach women in public, or talk to them first, or that if you do that you ever have to feel okay about it.”

      Notice the word ‘women’ appears in both of those sentences. The fact that you and other commenters are reading this as “noone should ever initiate conversation with anyone in public” is, to me, symptomatic of the whole gorram problem here.

      • unlurking said:

        Yes! It’s interesting to me that multiple commentors are reading the only options as “everyone should be able to talk with everyone all the time” versus “no one should ever talk to anyone ever”, when that’s not what the words are saying. There is a difference between, “If talking with a certain subset of people in certain situations really stresses you (you personally) out, it’s okay to decide to not talk with them in those instances, especially since there’s an extremely legitimate reason you might feel a certain level of anxiety (read: awareness) in that specific situation,” and “Everyone everywhere must never ever talk to anyone at all.” False dichotomies, yo, and black-and-white thinking.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          But also, this to me speaks to the fact that women’s attention is considered public property and something that should constantly be available to strangers (and in particular male strangers).

          The Captain said: “OK, don’t approach strange women”. That people took it as “don’t chat to strangers” just shows how much this is seen to be something that is women’s role, women’s burden to bear socially. Fuck that.

          • Meh, I don’t think “rule out casual interactions with half of all humans” is really a reasonable expectation.

          • Even if the guy says “trying to have casual interactions with women (without freaking them out) is sending my anxiety through the roof?” And she only said “’till you get that anxiety under better control”?

          • Well, “don’t approach strange women” *does* mean don’t talk with half of all strangers. A world in which men only strike up conversations with other men is not a world I want to live in, personally.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Well, luckily that’s not even remotely close what the captain is advocating here.

          • JenniferP said:

            The thing is, that people who like chatting with strangers are likely giving off signals (listed in Schrodinger’s Rapist post and exhaustively here and elsewhere on the internet) – smiling, looking around, making eye contact, keeping the conversation going once it starts, having a relaxed body posture.

            So “But I like talking to people, don’t say that people can’t talk to people or you are robbing me of my choice!” isn’t actually an exception to the original “Pay attention to how people react, don’t assume” advice at all. It is a possibility already contained within it.

    • hummingbear said:

      I suspect it is less regional than a rural/urban divide. If you live in a small town or other area where you interact with, say, only 50 strangers a day, it’s a lot less energy to expend having a “genuine” interaction with all of them than if you live in a city where you deal with 500 strangers a day.

      Where real solitude is scarce and hard to come by, people create urban solitude – bubbles of body language, like reading on the train or staring straight ahead on the elevator, that signal “I would very much prefer to be in a quiet space alone now but since that’s not possible please help me pretend to the extent possible.” And usually people respect that, with one large glaring exception of men trying to hit on women.

      • Yes, this exactly! When Lucci said

        “I was so unhappy while I was out East, because I felt like people were constantly up in my physical space (we have LARGE hamster bubbles out here) while not giving me any damn politeness or respect in return, or even acknowledging my presence.”

        I was thinking the same thing. If you are surrounded by strangers all the time, it’s a lot harder to make every interaction with a stranger into a positive, friendly thing. You just don’t have the energy.

      • FlyBy said:

        Beautifully said, thank you. The ‘we’re going to mutually ignore each other’ thing is actually courtesy when you’re in a crowded public environment. It’s kind of rude to break it, so you’d better have a good reason. ‘I’m male, you’re female, I want your attention’ is not a good reason.

      • Emmers said:

        Yup, I agree – this is *very* much urban/rural. People “out East” can be rural too, especially the extreme-east ones (thinking here of some Chesapeake Bay small towns), and sometimes they don’t understand the “bubbles of solitude” that are necessary to preserving your sanity in a city.

    • Grumpy Cat said:

      I particularly enjoyed the assertion that “we have manners!” implying that people with different cultural practices did not.

      For example, it is apparently not an acknowledgement of personal space (in the only possible way) to avert one’s eyes and not chat when crammed body-to-body on the subway: it’s just chilly rudeness and unsociability.

      For what it’s worth, I’m fine with being unsociable on the subway. I do not want to chat while I’m enduring unwanted touch from strangers and I doubt they’re interested in how my day went either.

      • Chalk it up to the regional variation of myself being a New Englander living in the Southwest of England, but generally, I’ve found that people with gracious manners don’t feel the need to advertise them – nor do they do so by comparing their well-bred manners with the Boorish Behavior of Those Weird Folks From Elsewhere….

        • JenniferP said:


          Also, guys, this whole “regional mores about when it’s okay to be chatty in public” is a total derail. Enough. Regional expectations and customs differ. Within those regions, it differs from person to person. Want a safe rubric? If you start a conversation with someone, it is on you to pay fucking attention to whether they want to be in that conversation. The signs for interest are WELL-described in this thread and elsewhere on the entire internet. Learn them. If someone seems like they are avoiding you or uninterested, do them a solid and wrap it up.

    • Combray said:

      Look, I understand that as a chatty person from a chatty place, this post might make you feel defensive, but you’re making a really faulty assumption here. You come from a town (state? country?) where it’s considered normal to chat to strangers everywhere and this is a feature that you enjoy. Your mistake is thinking that everyone from your particular neck of the woods feels the same way about it. Do you think that of all the people in this thread saying that they hate being addressed by strangers in public, none come from places where chatting to strangers is considered socially acceptable?

      Also, even if the people in your neighbourhood are, due to cultural factors or whatever, more accepting on average of being approached by strangers, do you think that the imbalance of women getting spoken to more than men doesn’t exist there? I feel pretty confident in telling you that there are people in your town who hate it when strangers start a conversation with them at the bus stop. I’m also willing to bet that the majority of the people who do are women, because they are bound to be the more frequent recipients of such overtures for reasons that should be very obvious.

    • This is a super well-meant comment, and you sound like a 100% pleasant person, but “the fixed and predictable complaints of travelling Texans when exposed to sociocultural diversity” don’t have too much to do with “the inadvisability of applying pick-up techniques to unknown women when you have recently learned that women may, in fact, find that behavior uncomfortable or creepy.”

      • But…the LW *isn’t* applying pickup techniques. I didn’t see anything in the letter to suggest that he’s trying to pick up women, rather than just trying to interact casually in social situations with people, some of whom happen to be women.

        Women are people, and I don’t think avoiding them is a reasonable thing to ask of him. In the short term, while he’s working this stuff out? Sure. But to say that he should just give up on ever striking up a conversation with a stranger who happens to be female? Uggh, no. I can’t get behind that. I’m not ok with saying that only men deserve the chance to chat casually with other people.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          You are consistently applying this severe misunderstanding of the Captain’s original response. Maybe time to go back and do a re-read.

          • I re-read it, still feel the same way about what she was saying. I appreciate her follow-up post, though.

        • When did anyone say that women can’t chat casually????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

          What everyone *has* said (over and over and upside down and backwards) is that existing power-structures mean that approaching women in public is more likely than not to make women uncomfortable, so maybe don’t do it. If women want to chat casually, THEY CAN START A CONVERSATION.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            I know, this is driving me up walls too. You mean, do you mean women aren’t ever allowed to speak again??! THAT’S SO MEEEEAN!!!!!!!!!

        • “Women are people, and I don’t think avoiding them is a reasonable thing to ask of him.”

          How is that the same as the LW approaching strange women in public? This is about initiating conversation with women he doesn’t know, in public places. Not talking to a shop assistant, or women he already knows, or starting conversations with male strangers. It’s a specific thing and it’s hardly unreasonable to suggest not doing that thing until his social anxiety is dealt with (which also does not mean “never speak to women in public forever after”).

    • Anny said:

      Hi Lucci. Yes. I totally understand what you’re saying, and I’ve had a similar reaction to a lot of the comments here.

      For the most part, I’ve lived in places where small talk in public ISN’T common, and sometimes I wish that were different. The friendliness of strangers can go a long way in making a place feel welcoming and safe. I know we’re not there yet, but can we at least start imagining an ideal where striking up a conversation is considered innocuous until proven otherwise, and where we can expect to have our boundaries respected, wherever we choose to set them?

      My answer to the LW’s question is this: Be aware of other people – how they might be feeling, what signals they’re sending, whether or not they seem interested in a conversation with you – and respond in a way that respects that. Given what you’re learning about gender-based power dynamics, pay extra attention when that person is a woman, and recognize that you’re operating in a wider societal context.

      This is the sort of thing that you gradually get better at, over years of effort, and where there’s always room for improvement. Read, learn, discuss, practice, reflect. Put in that effort.

      • “I know we’re not there yet, but can we at least start imagining an ideal where striking up a conversation is considered innocuous until proven otherwise, and where we can expect to have our boundaries respected, wherever we choose to set them?”

        So much this.

        • General Expression said:

          Many people are working on this. It is called “dismantling the patriarchy.” It is not called “why can’t everyone just assume good intent starting today?”

          We are caught up in a massive system that systematically disadvantages women. (And others, but the focus of this entry is sexism.) That ripples out to everyday interactions. If it frustrates you that many people don’t feel safe enough to assume good intent on the part of strangers, then that is a thing that you can help to work to fix, as so many people are doing. But just accusing people of being scrooges is not the way to do it.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:


      • “I know we’re not there yet, but can we at least start imagining an ideal where striking up a conversation is considered innocuous until proven otherwise, and where we can expect to have our boundaries respected, wherever we choose to set them?”

        It’s nice to imagine that. In fact I tend to think that way most of the time with conversations with strangers, who are mostly women.

        But the “until proven otherwise” is the catch here, and I would never suggest women start assuming all unknown men are harmless when a sizable percentage are not. It’s the Gift of Fear thing: listen to your gut and don’t dismiss any uneasiness – or even just a desire to be left alone – with the socialised “I must be nice to him” message.

    • CL said:

      I relate to at least some of what you’re saying. While I hate getting hit on, I’m a social person, and friendly interactions with strangers are important to me — they give me a sense of community, shared experience, and human interaction. So when people say, “I don’t ever want anyone to talk to me in public,” it’s a little alarming. Chances are, I’ve started conversations with people who feel this way, and it’s uncomfortable to realize that. I also have the reaction that, I don’t want to live in that world. I want strangers to talk to me, and I want it to be okay for me to talk to strangers. So it feels a bit like an affront when people talk about not ever wanting a stranger to talk to them — it seems like such an extreme position to me, and it also feels like they’re saying that people who talk to strangers sometimes (like me!) are doing something wrong.

      I think the only solution is to try hard to follow signals, to realize we’re going to get it wrong sometimes (thinking someone is open to talking when we’ve actually stumbled upon one of the people who hate when strangers engage them) — and to interpret responses very conservatively, erring on the side of ending the conversation if it seems like the person might not want to talk. As long as we do that, I think it’s okay to keep being social with strangers — a lot of people will be happy for the interaction, and we need to be able to find each other.

      • Ystir said:

        Most people will give off some sort of signals that will at least give you a small idea of whether they are in “leave me alone!” mode or “hiya, wow, that guy’s hat’s pretty cool, huh?” mode. (Probably most people find themselves at variable spaces on this spectrum depending on energy levels, mood, whether they’ve got a cold, whether they just had an amazing nap on the bus…) You don’t necessarily have to plough in to starting conversation with someone who may not be up to it, or up to dealing with telling you they can’t manage it in a polite, socially acceptable way to figure out who to chat to.

        If you can’t tell at all (and I get that interpreting body language is difficult for a lot of folks, it’s not one of my strong points) then I suggest you err on the side of ‘looking friendly and open and waiting for others to initiate chatting funtimes’.

        But generally, and again, doing body language myself isn’t really a strong point for me, if I’m feeling un-chatty, I will probably be looking at my book/’phone/hands/feet/anywhere but at other people. I’ll almost certainly look away if I accidentally make eye contact with someone. I’ll probably have my earphones in, actually.

        If I’m feeling chatty, I might take one or both of my earphones out. I’ll probably put my book away, or sit with it closed on my lap. I might even catch your eye, or look around in a more open, looking at people way.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Then why isn’t LW getting his casual personal interaction from dudes, if talking to ladies is so anxiety-producing?

      • Because dudes are only half of the population. And maybe he wants to interact with all people, not just half of them.

        • Why is it necessary for him to approach strange women, though? Does he do that to men?

    • L. said:

      I also didn’t agree with the pile-on here, but perhaps a significant difference is that I read the letter as saying, “I would like to talk with women exactly as I talk with men [because I am not trying to hit on them but just want to speak with them in a non-sexual human interaction*] but certain concerns are making that hard” vs “I would like to talk with women [because I am interested in “chatting them up” but I am not aggressively sexual]”. I have sympathy with the former. The latter is annoying at best, or possibly threatening or worse.

      i am aware that my response is colored by a few things: 1) I have been assaulted, but in a statutory context, I did not perceive myself as unwilling at the time. So I am privileged, you might say, in my experience, in that I have a pretty positive perspective on most people I don’t know. Nor have I experienced a lot of unwanted or uncomfortable attention generally. 2) I grew up in Boston, then moved to LA, where people are much more friendly and outgoing in public situations, and after a year or two of suspicion LOVED the chance to chat with strangers in public situations, because I felt it added warmth and friendliness to my life and I didn’t feel at risk. I now live in New England again, but in a relatively rural region that is friendly and outgoing. I still love interacting with strangers of all genders and types because it makes me feel like part of a human social web. I would be really sad if men avoided making non-sexual small talk with me because I believe that men IN GENERAL (due to societal constructs if nothing else) differ from women in some ways, they make up 50% of the population, they are humans, and I enjoy chatting with them.

      At the same time, if I had a different history with men–if i had been assaulted or if I had been approached with questionable intentions repeatedly–I might be much less comfortable with miscellaneous interactions of the art-gallery or waiting-in-line (public places . So, there’s that privilege. I’m white, straight, cis, middle-class too.

      So given all that, my perspective is: if you’re looking to meet women because they’re women and there’s a sexual component (wanting to date or “chat up”), then I’d respond more negatively and, like others here, I’d advise saving your chat for situations in which you’re talking with women with whom you have prior acquaintance. Then you still follow all the stuff in the paragraph below.

      On the other hand, if you just want to interact with women as humans, I think it makes a lot of sense to read John Scalzi, other resources listed here, and other comments here about reading body language to understand whether a person is enjoying conversation or not, and backing off quickly and without getting weird if not. I agree that you should ask yourself whether you would make the same comment to a guy (i.e. is this a comment to the other person as a human or as a woman?). I agree that, if social anxiety is really upping the ante, you should discuss this issue with your therapist and maybe practice with people you’ve introduced to. I agree that, if people take your non-sexual chat poorly, you do need to learn ways to respond appropriately without taking it as commentary upon your worth as a person, or else avoid situations where that might be an outcome.

      *yes, there is probably always some component of sexuality that can’t be stripped from interactions, but I mean talking with someone because you’re aware that you have a sexual interest in them, as opposed to chat that has no “goal.”

    • THANK YOU for bringing this up. I think the regional differences is a really important point, and it might be part of the complicatedness that the LW is trying to navigate (and even if it isn’t, it definitely colors other people’s responses to him).

      This doesn’t trump anyone’s right to be left alone, no, but just saying “World won’t end if you never talk to random strangers ever again” is kind of callous, considering it’s a very important source of human connection for lots of folks.

      Ohmygod yes this. Thank you for articulating this. I’ve lived in the Northeast my whole life, so I’m used to not interacting with strangers very often, but even still the thought of never talking to strangers again sounds terrible. Even here, where it’s rare (or maybe because it’s rare?), talking to strangers can be an important source of connection.

      I don’t think this is about being afraid of not getting something he feels entitled to (the attention of women). I think this is about not knowing how to go about being the kind of person he wants to be — which is the kind of person who can approach others without making them uncomfortable. You can pick at the language he used and draw conclusions about his attitudes, and that may or may not be useful/helpful and those conclusions may or may not be correct, but I just didn’t see the presumption in what he said that others did.

      Agreed. I didn’t see the presumption either. I saw a cry for advice in dealing with a genuinely tricky situation.

  46. Medusa in the Mirror said:

    Wow. It’s a good thing I’m stuck in the house with the crud, because I see it in no way as a
    lost day that I just spent 10+ hours reading the Schrodinger’s Rapist blog and all (really, all) the comments, 3.5 years late. Not a lot to say right now, as I’m going to be processing for a while (especially with the head cold). But once again, thanks for the links to these awesome sites and discussions. It feels wierd, since I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but as a white, cisgender, hetero female, there’s a hell of a lot I haven’t considered. You, CA, are making the world a better place.

  47. James said:

    Jennifer, usually like your posts, but I think you’ve called this one wrong.

    I don’t read comparisons between feeling bad about sexism and being the victim of sexism. From what I can tell LW is saying “I used to not talk to people I don’t know, then I started getting treated and started talking to people I don’t know. But I’ve been learning about feminism lately and now I’m worried that if I ever talk to a woman I don’t know I’ll make her feel bad. I don’t want to make her feel bad, but also feel that I should be able to talk to people I don’t know, including women”.

    In comparison, your response and /especially/ some of the comments are pretty mean. I don’t think it’s okay to tell someone with an anxiety disorder that they should “get a fucking grip” about being anxious. To me, that sounds equivalent to saying “Just be happier” to somebody is depressed. The entire point of having an anxiety disorder is that he can’t get a grip.

    Maybe the guy is a concern troll. Hanlon’s Razor suggests he’s just a guy who wanted advice on not being accidentally creepy and that he asked a feminist blog about it because who else would he ask?

    • This just means you still don’t get it.

    • Ystir said:

      Why “should” he be able to talk to people/women he doesn’t know just because they happen to be in a public place? Why does that trump women’s right to be left the fuck alone?

      • Stay Excellent said:

        I think ‘should’ here meant the LW thinks he needs to have the appropriate skillset, not as ‘women shouldn’t make a fuss about it’.

        • But why is the ability to approach women he doesn’t know considered a desirable skillset?

          • Stay Excellent said:

            Can’t anser for LW, but in my view, because that also includes the ability to know when NOT to do it. It means the knowledge how to read soft no’s and body language at a glance, since even one’s presence can make some peeps uncomfortable. Or peeps may get uncomfortable because the person isn’t say anything or even attempting to make a friendly chat, despite the open body language. Above all, it ingrains the philosophy that those sorts of interactions are supposed to be pleasant for both parties rather than some sort of one-sided obstacle that proves the anxiety has been beaten, and one shouldn’t even bother with it if it’s only done for the latter goal.

      • James said:

        I’m not sure I agree with the premise that people, in general, have a right to not have someone attempt to make casual conversation with them. Certainly not to be harrassed, and a lot of ‘casual conversation’ made at women is harrassment, yes, but I don’t think you or I or anyone has the right to prevent people saying “Hi” in a public space.

        Also, because y’know, maybe the strange woman is a bank teller or coworker or someone else he needs to interact with to get on with life, rather than the (poorly chosen) example of saying hi to someone at an art exhibition. And even if it wasn’t, cap’n could have turned it into a conversation about that if she wanted to be productive, rather than setting up the stocks and readying the rotton vegetables.

        • But that’s not the same. You go to a bank, you’ve a specific transaction to do, a point to any conversation. The teller expects to be spoken to, it’s part of their job. Ditto co-workers; they aren’t strangers, far from it.

        • Ystir said:

          Well, I am disabled and constantly really, really exhausted, and social interaction (especially with strangers) takes up energy that I simply don’t have, so yeah, I think it’s important that people respect my need to be left the fuck alone. If they approach me I can’t just blank them, or they may get angry, so I have to respond somehow, and I can’t say ‘fuck off’ because that would be RUDE, and I can’t say ‘leave me alone, please’ because that still might be met with ‘Christ, get over yourself, bitch!’ and so basically I have to figure out what to say that will get me left the fuck alone and I do not have the energy for that. So, maybe people could leave strangers the fuck alone unless said stranger seems to want not to be left the fuck alone? That would actually be pretty fucking helpful.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            THANK YOU. You’d think that the people who are talking about abelism in this thread would realize that some of us have issues and disabilities that make social interaction quite fraught, especially when random dudes start talking to us. After dealing with a few who get aggressive or threatening and nasty because I didn’t show enough enthusiasm for their company (or I used my words and said I wanted to be left alone), I just set up mile-high boundaries. I was not particularly good with social cues and cannot always tell if a guy is a friend or a foe, and sometimes, I’m just fucking tired. Maybe that makes me an unmannerly asshole, but I don’t care.

          • Ystir said:

            You would think, but I guess in a way disability/disablism is a microcosm of intersectionality in that there are endless different impairments/illnesses/etc at play, which affect people variably and many people have multiple things to deal with (e.g. I’ve got ADD, fibromyalgia, social anxiety, GAD, depression, PCOS which leads to facial hair which impacts on the social anxiety…) which often impact on each other as well and it’s all bloody complicated and also most of us are so knackered from dealing with our own things that it can be hard to remember to consider other people’s (which isn’t to say we shouldn’t try.)

            But, yeah, as someone with social anxiety and also a chronic illness which leaves me exhausted ALL THE TIME, I find “people should be able to talk to other people in public” AT LEAST as disablist/health privilege-y as anything the Captain said.

    • JenniferP said:

      Anxiety disorder or no, “Woman, how do I get better at/feel less nervous about talking to women?” is a sexist question.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Except that CA didn’t say “Anxiety disorder? Get a fucking grip.” CA said, repeatedly, that it’s great that LW is working on his anxiety disorder and should continue to do so. In fact, the FIRST BLOODY SENTENCE IN HER REPLY was to encourage LW to work on his anxiety disorder. How did you manage to miss this?

      • James said:

        “Also, get a fucking grip and do not come to feminist blogs for comfort about this issue.”

        My reading of that was CA telling LW to get a fucking grip about being anxious about talking to women because of Schroedinger’s Rapist.

        • Ystir said:

          The thing is, though, she was talking there about going to, well, feminist blogs to be told not to worry about upsetting women. Which… is sort of reasonable? And also, to be honest, the worst thing I can do when I’m anxious is constantly seek (and it’s actually worse if I get) reassurance that everything’s FINE. Even if everything really, truly is FINE. Because the reassurance kind of gives a positive feedback to the anxiety, and it just goes ‘oh, okay, that was a relief, but OH SHIT NOW IT’S REALLY TRUE, RIGHT? TELL ME IT ISN’T!’

          No, “get a grip” was probably not the best way to phrase it in the context of a reply to somebody with a mental health problem. But I don’t think that makes the actual advice bad.

  48. Zerks said:

    Hi! I am genderqueer and usually read as male I guess since cutting my hair short? Had to look like a proper boy for the family. Is very hard to deal with how many women seem scared of me now. Because I am dark and “foreign” to them. I really cannot tease apart their reactions, if it is racism or rape culture. I suspect both. Racism is a thing to be corrected and it makes me feel sick inside that I am automatically seen as an enemy wherever I go.

    But there is fear. I understand fear. So I leave people alone. I dun want to hit on them. And I am afraid of men too. If I look like a boy, I am scary. I know. Not offended. Only offended at being made scary because of my race. I know is part of bigger problem. I have anxiety? So I take it. Like I cannot convince a stranger that I am indeed a safe person.

    Some times fear tells us things. Often fear and anger tell us of bigger problems in society. My fear and anger tells me about being viewed as “the scary one” but being hurt by white men. It tells me that other strangers want their safe space as much as they can. Respecting this does not hurt me.

    • twomoogles said:

      You are smart! Your post, and a few others upthread, made me think of something. Sometimes I get the feeling that some guys who perceive the reaction as uncomfortable/afraid, want to convince the woman in question they aren’t a threat. I get this! It makes sense that decent people want to make it clear they are decent people. But, taking a ‘direct’ route doesn’t work, unfortunately.

      I have had guys aggressively say things to me like, ‘what, are you afraid I might do something’ and it is *always* awful. Even ‘gentler’ versions like ‘don’t worry, I am a nice guy’ from a dude who’s alone in the elevator with you just…doesn’t help. Even the times when it doesn’t come as a ‘so prove you’re not scared of me’ thing, it still just makes the situation weirder.

      • Mary said:

        It’s also the extreme creepiness of, “oh hai, cultural scripts dictate that I am the aggressor in this scenario and YOU are the victim! Just thought I’d remind you of that! FEEL SAFE!”

  49. Dear LW,
    I know this guy, who when I met him was in a moderately successful band, and had many friends and acquaintances, and who went to plenty of parties and was relaxed in other social settings. So when he told me that he had occasional social anxiety, I was kinda surprised.

    But then he told me his trick which was this: he only talked to people to whom he had been introduced. Because someone he knew had introduced him to the new people he met, he could relax and chat to them and not have to worry about approaching people he didn’t know.

    You might like to try that.

    Dear Captain,

    You are awesome. Keep on being you.

  50. Ricarda said:

    Dear Captain,

    I have to say I am disappointed. Are you seriously advocating that women should not be allowed to talk to men in public any more at all? Is you ideal world one where only women hold the power to initiate conversation with men? I don’t think that should be the aim. The aim should be social structures where men and women can talk to each other about thinks like pieces of art they are both looking at, that rude person who just cut into the line or the delay of the train without it automatically implying flirtation in either direction. All we achieve by limiting small talk to basically being socially unacceptable is charging it up more and more.

    Dear XY,
    I understand that you want to be able to make small talk with strangers without descending into a panic, which I think is perfectly fine. I find societies where friendly interactions on a non-flirtly level are the norm to be very comfortable places to be and I admire you for wanting to contribute to that.

    In order to judge whether your comment could be taken the wrong way, just briefly ask yourself before you make it if you would make the exact same comment if
    a) the person next to you was a man
    c) the person next to you was 95 years old
    If the answer is the same in either case then I think you should quickly check if the person you are talking to is physically cornered (Literally backed into a wall? Are you sitting in her way so she can’t leave if she wants to?). If this isn’t the case, go ahead and make it. Of course this system isn’t foolproof but I do agree with you in that the person being talked to has a responsibility in letting you know that he/she doesn’t want to be talked to if that is the case.

    • JenniferP said:

      “Are you seriously advocating that women should not be allowed to talk to men in public any more at all? Is you ideal world one where only women hold the power to initiate conversation with men?”

      No, I am not arguing that.

      I am saying that if “approaching women in public” makes the LW anxious, don’t do it until he works on his anxiety as a whole. But also, don’t blame Feminism and new Feminist knowledge for making his world uncomfortable and ask women to comfort him about that. He is probably not dangerous, and he means really well, but anxiety or no anxiety he is assigning women to a monolithic category and then asking a woman to sort that out for him.

      “Woman, how do I get better at interacting with women?” is a sexist question. Everyone: Do not ask me that question anymore.

      • I agree that “Woman, how do I get better at interacting with women?” is a sexist question. I just really don’t think that’s what this LW was asking.

        I read his question as “Expert on social situations with a feminist background, how to I deal with behaving thoughtfully toward an members of oppressed group of people–who are human, and who I want to interact with because I like people and want to connect with them–without overthinking it so much that I become paralyzed? What are some strategies for figuring out what’s my jerkbrain talking vs. what’s a genuine concern? How do I balance my mental health needs with my desire to treat others well?”

        And I found the condescension in response to that question really off-putting.

        • aebhel said:

          This. FWIW, I’m a woman, with some serious social anxiety, who would vastly prefer never to talk to strangers in public. I have zero sympathy at all for a guy coming onto a feminist blog to get pointers on talking to women, but that was not at all how I read that letter.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      “Are you seriously advocating that women should not be allowed to talk to men in public any more at all?”

      Are you… are you seriously able to read?

  51. fourpences said:

    I don’t really have anything to say regarding the male privilege dynamic that hasn’t already been very well covered, but there’s something else I wanted to touch on. LW, why are you so concerned that you need to be able to approach women? Because if it’s because you believe you ought to be dating and having sex (because natch that’s what is owed to/required of you as a man), I think you need to reevaluate your priorities.

    Speaking as someone who has struggled for over a decade now with bouts of depression and anxiety, people in a bad way mentally do not make good partners. People with crippling anxiety leave their partners to pick up the slack in terms of important shared life decisions. People with depression can make life hell for their partners. It is part of being a mature and responsible adult to know when you need to deal with your own shit as a single person so that one day you can actually make someone a decent partner.

    I had a severe depressive slump after I finished my undergraduate degree and spent some time wallowing around thinking that if only I had a boyfriend I would be happy, if only I’d found someone everything would be fine, etc etc, and it took me a while to realise that I didn’t need someone to make out with, I needed treatment and direction of my own, to start getting my life together before inviting someone else into it (I also realised that the boyfriend thing wasn’t going to be much cop either since I’m actually gay…). I’ve since moved on, got my MA, undergone some really helpful CBT, got some personal stuff together, and arrived at a place where I can be good and supportive to my girlfriend and not just be loading all my brain crap onto her without recompense.

    All of which is to say- stop trying to talk to strange women in the first place. You have no need to. You do not need to “acquire” some woman to make your life complete like society is constantly telling you. You need to get to a better state of mind and maybe stop thinking about this until then.

    • Uh… I have crippling anxiety and I certainly do not make my partner pick up the slack with our relationship. I appreciate that you are saying this as someone who has depression/anxiety yourself, but it’s a pretty awful generalisation to say that “people in a bad way mentally do not make good partners”. It’s possible that I will never not be anxious, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be single forever!

      I do think that “getting your life together before you invite someone else into it” is good advice, but I think you are conflating the two concepts. Depressed and anxious people are allowed to date other people (even other depressed and anxious people!) without having to pass some magical test of “now you are not-depressed enough to have relationships with other human beings”.

      In the case of the LW, anxiety sucks, but again it seems that he is conflating two different problems. One of those problems is “I have anxiety and this makes it difficult to interact with people” (to which the answer is: yay therapy!). The other is “sometimes women do not want to talk to me in public, how do I safely gauge that without making someone uncomfortable?” to which the answer is: if in doubt it’s generally a good idea to err on the side of caution and not talk to them, but if they seem receptive, whatever, go ahead.

  52. kappa said:

    “Women’s fear of violence from men is not the same as your fear that you might say the wrong thing to a lady and she may not like you.”

    I hoped somebody else would come along and talk about this line, but I waited a while and read all the comments and nobody did, so I guess it’s on me.

    The LW did not once imply that “and she may not like you” was the bad end here. The LW made it pretty clear that the outcome he fears is the one where women he speaks to get freaked out, get upset; feel uncomfortable, feel threatened. In other words, he does not want to harm them. That is what he is afraid of doing.

    Now, I agree with you that a certain amount of worry about harming people is appropriate in situations where harming people is a very real possibility, and I really don’t know what the LW should do about it, besides get treatment for his anxiety disorder and then hopefully come to terms with his worries about harming women in a way that leads to him continuing not to harm women.

    But as someone who sometimes experiences a screaming irrational terror of causing harm to others, one of the worst things that can happen to me while I’m going through that is for someone to come along and tell me I am only afraid of bad reactions and the impact they will have on me, as though I couldn’t possibly be genuinely concerned for someone else’s well-being. And seeing you do that to the LW makes me want to cry a little bit. So there’s that.

    • Sarah N. said:

      I think this falls under the Captain’s encouragement for the LW to continue with his therapy though. If he is irrationally obsessed with making sure he doesn’t hurt anyone around him, he should work on that and that is a good thing to do.

      However, the Captain’s line still isn’t wrong. Even crippling concern for other’s well-being isn’t the same as women’s fear of violence. It is extremely dangerous to think that one’s concern for someone else’s well-being trumps that person’s ownership of their well-being.

      There is also little sound advice that can be offered over the internet to deal with irrational fears of harming others. The Captain can’t lie and say women won’t potentially be scared or distressed by the LW. She can’t say that talking to women is a good way for him to learn how to handle his fear because it isn’t. Therapy and small groups is the best way to learn how to handle his fear.

      • kappa said:

        My problem isn’t with the things your comment is defending. My problem is with the six words “and she may not like you”, in context. I wish they were not there. That is all.

  53. Just a human being said:

    Let me please quote a few of the comments from above which struck my attention:

    “Shorter version:

    Q: “Life was so much better before I had to consider other people’s feelings. How can I go back to being oblivious and happier?”

    – This is CA’s comment. What it boils down to is this – LW is an insensitive asshole that only cares about himself.

    “So, the LW basically wants his cookie for learning to behave like a decent human being – yet also wants to go back to the shitty clueless way he behaved before, AND have us pat him on the head and comfort him as well?

    Uh-uh. No dice. Go bake your own effing cookies, keep on with the therapy, and quit expecting an easy ride.”
    – Here we’ve got more of that resounding hatred. If you treat women like the human beings that they are and talk to them as your equals, you’re an insensitive asshole. Instead, NEVER EVER TALK TO THEM. EVER.

    When I talk to a woman, or any human being, I first say hi. If she/he doesn’t seem all that interested, I apologize and walk away, and if they happen to be interested, then we can continue chatting. This is, judging by his letter, what LW is like. Someone who would have kept harassing the woman/man is an asshole, but an asshole would have never cared about the woman’s/man’s feelings in the first place … But no, LW couldn’t possibly be a decent human being, he’s got to be that disrespectful asshole.

    And if you don’t happen to agree with the general opinion here – that LW is an asshole, then it sucks to be you because your opinion is not valid. I generally agree with your advice, but you’re a human being, human beings make mistakes, and I definitely think you made a mistake here. And I am sad to see that only a handful of commenters dared to call you out on it.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think your comments are best addressed with this one.

    • Sarah N. said:

      Yep, totally. Don’t forget, kids: if you agree with the Captain that the privileged LW kind of seemed like a privileged jerk looking for excuses, you’re just a lemming.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        A terrified lemming, at that.

    • After carefully considering your points I decided to run them by the Resident Male.

      He said, essentially “Addressing strangers in public, without any clear reason, makes people uncomfortable for a lot of different reasons. You immediately assume they want sex or money despite the fact that I’m not at an art gallery to advertise either. While I sometimes start conversations with strangers in public, it’s mostly because something interesting just happened that creates a natural conversation, and since people are individuals, you can’t predict where that will flow. I wouldn’t go out randomly in public trawling for sex – no wonder LW’s anxious if he actually thinks that’s how humans interact. Anyway, who are the people who approach you in public to get your attention? Lost tourists – creepers – people trying to sell you things – charity shills, con men and people who want spare change – interrupting people wanting THINGS – why put yourself in that company? NOBODY LIKES THOSE PEOPLE. Like, I have sympathy, I wouldn’t tell everybody to Never Approach Women in Public, since natural random conversations and socializing can happen, but I’m suspicious of anyone who does it. But why would you defend your right to be annoying? Why not just be not-annoying?”

      I felt a bit guilty because I cold-picked-up our friend the beekeeper, because he was buying several gallons of chocolate syrup in the middle of the night and therefore was clearly a creature of interesting stories.

      “Okay,” said Dr Glass, “If a woman in a strange outfit is buying several gallons of chocolate syrup, ten pounds of sugar and a lot of charcoal in a grocery store the middle of the night, yes, you can try to have a conversation about that, but you must take responsibility for the outcome.”

      • VA said:

        “Why would you defend your right to be annoying? Why not just be not-annoying?”

        Oh my gosh, I want to say this to JUST SO MANY PEOPLE right now.

      • General Expression said:

        I super-enjoyed this comment. Especially for the bee-keeper ending. But also for the extremely good advice!

      • That beekeeper story is awesome, and I’ve liked Dr. Glass’ advice when you’ve related it in the past.

        But this…it rubs me the wrong way. Assuming that someone who makes a comment like “that painting’s really something, huh?” at an art gallery is necessarily looking for money or sex is, well, a huge assumption. And it’s hugely tied to regional norms as well, which Lucci touched on so well in her comment.

        Personally, if someone made an innocuous comment about a piece of art at a gallery, I probably wouldn’t assume that they were looking for sex or money, unless they gave some particular indication that that was the case. Obviously, I don’t speak for all women. But I don’t think there’s something inherently creepy or annoying about striking up a conversation with a stranger in an environment where you’re enjoying a shared interest, especially if you live in a region where that’s commonly done.

        And especially if the art gallery in question is a social event, like an opening or party. It’s really not clear from the LW’s letter whether this was the case, or whether it was just a random quiet day at a gallery. If it’s the latter, then yeah, chatting up a stranger could be kinda weird and annoying. But I’ve been to plenty of open studios and gallery openings and art parties that are really social events, where people do mingle and socialize, and making small talk with strangers would not be at all out of the ordinary.

        TLDR: “people who approach strangers in public are always annoying and/or creepy” is a big assumption to make, and one that may or may not apply to the LW, depending on a bunch of factors that we just don’t know.

        • Hi Laura,

          I’ve been thinking about your responses to me on this post – you’ve got some points, I consider you a valued and lovely internet-friend, and I don’t like to think of you being upset. I’m sorry for upsetting you, Laura!

          Honestly, I’m demonstrably extroverted and social: I pick up beekeepers in grocery stores.Therefore, advising the LW is just not my wheelhouse (unless I decided to advise him on how to be me, which wouldn’t help anybody.) Instead, I’m responding to other commenters in the discussion.

          Here, I am being a bit sarcastic and ungracious about JustAHumanBeing stating that “WELL FINE THEN, NO MEN WILL EVER TALK TO WOMEN EVER, WILL THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY? BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT YOU HAVE JUST TOLD ALL MEN, WHY DO YOU HATE MEN” and I responded by jokingly running things past my Friendly Resident Male, because presumably as a heterosexual dude, he should also take away the message that MEN SHOULD NEVER TALK TO WOMEN EVER.

          The point being that Friendly Resident Male does NOT look at this discussion and go “WELL FINE THEN I GUESS I WON’T TALK TO WOMEN EVER AGAIN SINCE THAT’S WHAT YOU ALL WANT.” Instead, he said “Well, I prefer not to make people uncomfortable or get uncomfortable myself. I err on the side of not bothering people in public – although I often have random conversations with strangers, it’s not something this guy HAS to do. I usually start random conversations for a reason, since unsolicited public conversations are usually unwelcome and I personally don’t like them.” Because it is rather unreasonable to read this stuff and say that NO MEN SHOULD TALK TO WOMEN EVERRRRR. It’s an unreasonable thing to take away from the discussion, and HumanBeing’s defensiveness clearly does not speak for the experiences of all men.

          So I think we’re arguing at cross-purposes here, but we can take it to a private conversation if you like.

      • I want to know what the chocolate syrup and charcoal are for? I assume the sugar feeds bees, but do bees eat chocolate?

    • neverjaunty said:


      I was wondering when somebody would pull out the Dramatic Exit card. It’s the same mentality (and maturity) you get from a thwarted teenager. “What do you mean I can’t go to the party because I have homework? Well FINE, then I’ll just go to my room FOREVER and I’ll have NO SOCIAL LIFE and be MISERABLE.” *stomp stomp stomp*

  54. Jolly said:

    You could also just ask yourself, “would I talk to a dude in this scenario? is there something happening here that makes would make me want to talk to this person, even if this was a little old man that I was definitely not going to ever have sex with? is there actually something for me to talk to this person about?”

    Do you want to talk to the person next to you because this painting is [whatever] and you want to know if the people around you also think it’s [whatever]? Or is the painting just a thing to talk to a woman about?

    I’m not sure how deep your anxiety goes, but this could help if it is pretty broad. Is it JUST strange women in public? Or is it all women, even at parties surrounded by friends or whatever, where people generally go with the intention of being social? Because there is a whole spectrum of talking to people you don’t know, and I think that making a solid attempt at categorizing the other person as A Person instead of A Woman would help. If you don’t think you’d strike up a conversation with them if they were a podgy, middle-aged dude, just don’t talk to them.

    And as with any other human being, if they are anything but openly friendly, immediately wish them a nice day and excuse yourself.

    Also, if you are looking to meet ladies, definitely find a better method than trying to pick up random strangers. The key to meeting more ladies, is meeting more of everybody, in situations where you aren’t just Some Guy On The Street. Join clubs, take classes (and yes, might as well make an OKCupid account). They still might not want anything to do with you, as is their right, but at least if they do, you already have something in common. And if you don’t meet any ladies, they are still fun activities that make you a more interesting person (maybe).

  55. sh said:

    So while this might be a feminist safe space, it’s not a safe space for people with anxiety disorders/other mental health disorders. GOOD TO KNOW.

    Just because he’s a guy, doesn’t mean that his question is invalid. I am a woman! I don’t want to be talked to by creepy guys! I live with the fear that women have of violence and sexual aggression! And yet, I also have fears of talking to people I don’t know and worrying about what they think of me. These fears can be paralyzing and, *gasp*, at times they can even be more paralyzing than the fear that some random guy on the subway is going to make sexually suggestive comments to me or grope me inappropriately. After all: the groping and sexually suggestive comments have happened and I have survived. But the anxiety has never, and probably will never, leave me entirely. I live with it every single fucking day. And then posts like this come along and absolutely fail to understand the basic issues of living with social anxiety.

    This question, rather than being about feminism, is actually about managing a social anxiety disorder when you are being given conflicting advice. Advice never one: it is not your responsibility how other people react to you. This is even advice that I have heard here! On this blog! It is advice that I tell myself quite often when managing my social anxiety! Advice number two: there are certain ways that women might react to you and it is your reponsibility to avoid behaving in ways that garner this reaction. That is … a really hard standard to judge. I mean, as a woman this seems obvious to me: if I am giving off body language signs that say: DO NOT APPROACH, then don’t approach. But when you have social anxiety being told that you are somehow responsible for how someone else reacts it is really difficult to manage and wrap your head around and makes you second guess everything.

    At first, yes, it seems obvious that when it becomes hard to reconcile those two things that you just don’t talk to women. Right? Problem solved! Except that life isn’t that easy. It’s not reasonable to tell someone never to talk to a group of people in public. Where I live, I have to talk to people all the time: asking for or giving directions, saying “excuse me” or “would you like to sit” on the subway (usually saying would you like to sitt to older women or women with children), going into stores and asking where items are kept or while checking out. It is not possible to never speak to people in public ever and it’s not reasonable to assume that the people you will have to speak to in public will always be men. And it’s also not reasonable to say: “well if you are anxious then women have it worse so shut your mouth”. That is … really clueless about the way that the world, social anxiety, and even fear of sexual agression works.

    Here is what I would say: when you talk to someone in public, watch their body language/listen to their tone and if anything, anything at all, says, even in a whisper, “Don’t talk to me” back off gracefully. It is better to cut the conversation short than continue past the point of comfort — for you or her. And if you are not up for an actual conversation with navigating social cues then it’s probably not a good time to strike up a conversation with anyone, women or no. If you have to talk to someone (“you dropped your phone”) then make it as short as possible for your sake, so that you are not second guessing. And if you are at an art gallery and want to say to someone “I love this painting” then throw it out there and let them decide if they want to respond.

    And understand that feminism talks about society, broad trends, culture. It doesn’t talk about you specifically or anyone specifically. So the main thing to remember about applying feminism to your own life is that you don’t want to contribute to the negative trends and cultures and feminism is trying to fix. If ever you think you might be, that’s a good time to disengage, step back, take a huge breath, and process so that you don’t fall into the same trap again.

    • sg said:

      Thank you for posting this. As another female-identified feminist and queer activist who ALSO has severe social anxiety, I found this discussion and especially the mockery and piling-on profoundly one-sided, one-size-fits-all, ableist and problematic. Ironically, I was too afraid to say anything because I was anxious about being attacked, mocked, and targeted with sarcasm and condescension.

      I expect to get exactly that response to this, honestly, or to get a “go away until you’ve gotten therapy” response. It’s easy to make fun of socially anxious folk because we tend to hide and don’t fight back. But I think it’s worth saying that I agree with you, so I’m going to take the risk and do so anyway. Social anxiety doesn’t excuse misogyny. But feminism doesn’t excuse ableism, either.

      • sh said:

        Thank you so so so so so much for replying. I couldn’t get through most of the comments, because of all the making fun that was happening, so I’m so glad that someone who is also in the middle of the venn diagram of socially anxious femist read and agreed.

        The more I thought about Jennifer’s response the more I got angry at the opression olympics she engages in. “Existing in the world as a lady” should not should NEVER be weighted against “existing in the world with social anxiety” and found to be more difficult/important. Like you say, social anxiety doesn’t excuse misogyny, but feminism doesn’t exucse ableism. Kyriarchy, people! Look it up! I’m also really upset because from what I’ve seen of the comments there is some “if you don’t agree you aren’t feminist” and just no. A feminist space isn’t complete unless there is room for dissent. Feminism isn’t just a one note discouse and feminist spaces shouldn’t be either; if they are they become an echo chamber and that is helpful for exactly no one, first and foremore feminism itself.

        It also just pisses me off because I found both Jennifer’s response and some of the comments that I did read really triggering — today is already a day with lots of social anxiety stuff and I just can’t deal with a place that is supposed to be socially engaged failing so hard at something that is so important to me and so tied in with how I view and approach social juctice and feminism. Seeing this reponse basically make anxiety vs feminism an either/or was just NO. And it’s so oblivious to how social anxiety also has cultural and social baggage that can make existing in the world difficult, just like feminism and sexual violence do.

        …Clearly this whole post/subject hit a nerve, but yes. Thank you for agreeing.

        • sg said:

          . “Existing in the world as a lady” should not should NEVER be weighted against “existing in the world with social anxiety” and found to be more difficult/important. Like you say, social anxiety doesn’t excuse misogyny, but feminism doesn’t exucse ableism. Kyriarchy, people! Look it up! I’m also really upset because from what I’ve seen of the comments there is some “if you don’t agree you aren’t feminist” and just no.


          It is difficult to engage with the world as a woman. It is difficult to engage with the world as a person with a mental illness. Neither one is more important, and I feel that a lot of the comments here have been, basically, saying “If you haven’t managed your mental illness in the way I consider appropriate, you have no place in public discourse. You don’t even deserve to ask a question. Go away until you’ve fixed your brain to my satisfaction.”

          I absolutely don’t think that mental illness is a free pass to be a jackass. But the problems caused by mental illness are real things, and the social stigma against mental illness is also real. I think that accusing someone of using their anxiety disorder as an excuse to harass people–which is basically what’s happening–is deeply, deeply problematic.

          I could go more into why, but as is so frequently said around here: I don’t feel like it’s my job to educate people. I was just stunned, dismayed, and depressed (and, yes, triggered too) by how many people in this community that I had considered largely sympathetic to the mentally ill were quick to play Oppression Olympics and decide it wasn’t worth consideration.

          • E.C. said:

            It is difficult to engage with the world as a woman. It is difficult to engage with the world as a person with a mental illness. Neither one is more important, and I feel that a lot of the comments here have been, basically, saying “If you haven’t managed your mental illness in the way I consider appropriate, you have no place in public discourse. You don’t even deserve to ask a question. Go away until you’ve fixed your brain to my satisfaction.”

            Yes, this, a thousand times this.

          • Yes yes yes. So much yes to all of this.

        • sasha said:

          I also fall within the Venn diagram of social anxiety and feminism, and I have to say that I disagree. The Captain *did* address the LW’s anxiety: she told him to continue treating his anxiety disorder. What else can she do? Social anxiety is not something that can be magically cured by the author of a blog waving a wand, as much as we might wish it to be so. Overcoming social anxiety takes a LOT of work over a LONG time, and that’s a job for a psychologist and/or psychiatrist, not for Some Woman Who Writes A Blog. Even when that woman is as awesome as the Captain is! She’s not the LW’s psychologist. She can’t cure him.

          Moreover, there’s more than just social anxiety going on in this post. This right here:

          I used to think that it was up to other people to make me aware of any problems. That was a big part of getting over my social anxiety – I told myself that people had no right to be upset about my behaviour if they weren’t going to call me on it. … I was so much happier, outgoing and nicer to be around when I didn’t have this on my mind.

          …is hella problematic, especially when fit within the context of gendered social norms. True, you can’t always control how other people are going to respond to you, and learning to let go of that overwhelming fear is part of overcoming social anxiety. But that doesn’t give you the right to totally disregard others’ needs, desires, and boundaries. ESPECIALLY in the context of approaching strange women in public. Like it or not, women are both a) socialized to be kind and not call others out on behavior that makes them uncomfortable, and b) all-too-often blamed if that creepy person she was socialized to be nice too ends up being Schrodinger’s Rapist and assaults her. This is what Starling’s post, that the LW mentioned, is all about! The LW wants to stop worrying about whether he’s making women uncomfortable – but because we live In The World, it’s not that easy! To a point, he should consider whether he’s making women uncomfortable and use that knowledge to alter his behavior; the alternative is to be inconsiderate and, yes, creepy. Beyond that point, the problem is anxiety – and the solution to that is therapy. We’ve now come full circle.

          As for the oppression olympics, I *do* think we can make a comparison between “existing in the world as a lady” and “existing in the world with social anxiety.” Existing with social anxiety SUCKS, I know – but, especially for men, it’s not likely to get you assaulted or raped the same way that existing in the world as a lady can. I just don’t see how a man’s need to talk to strange woman in public without being rebuffed can be considered equally important to a woman’s need for physical safety. If he can’t manage talking with strange women in public without making them feel unsafe – and if he’s as nervous as he describes, the women he’s approaching are going to pick up on that – then he should continue to work on his anxiety and refrain from approaching women until he has. It won’t be the end of the world to miss one (likely awkward) conversation.

          • sh said:

            Ok, at this point I really need to walk away from this because I am finding this whole post/discussion so triggering I cannot even.

            But. I just have to say one thing.

            “As for the oppression olympics, I *do* think we can make a comparison between “existing in the world as a lady” and “existing in the world with social anxiety.” Existing with social anxiety SUCKS, I know – but, especially for men, it’s not likely to get you assaulted or raped the same way that existing in the world as a lady can.”

            Existing in the world as a man with social anxiety might not get you raped. But it’s probably more likely to lead to you killing yourself than being a lady without anxiety would.

            Don’t play oppression olympics, especially not on this topic, with me. The dangers are different and should not be compared. Period.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Thanks for this.

            Spoken as someone with a loved one with anxiety who committed suicide.

            (And I will also bow out of this subthread as it is too personal.)

          • Thank you. I wanted to reply to this thread as someone who has anxiety (which is thankfully responding well to medicine and changes in thinking thanks to therapy).

            You said everything that needed to be said.

          • sasha said:

            I’m truly sorry I triggered you, sh and Badger Rose. I’d say I didn’t intend to, but of course intent isn’t magic. So instead I just say: I’m very sorry for hurting you, and I’m very sorry about your loved one, Badger Rose.

            I wasn’t going to say anything more here and risk triggering you further, but since I see sh brought it up again below, let me clarify:

            When I referred to the relative risks of assault versus anxiety, I was referring to the specific example of one man approaching one strange woman in one single interaction*, as presented by the LW. Not the universal, day-to-day experiences of what it’s like to live as a woman in this world versus what it’s like to live as a person with anxiety in this world. Rereading my comment, I see I didn’t make this clear (again, my apologies).

            Living day-to-day as a woman, and living day-to-day with anxiety, are both fraught with their own difficulties and risks, as all of us that fall within this Venn diagram know. I wouldn’t begin to compare them.

            * In which case I do still maintain that the woman’s need to feel safe trumps the man’s desire to interrupt her and say whatever he wants without having to consider her feelings, even though that makes him a little more anxious.

      • Just want to apologise to you and sh in case any of my (one or two) comments contributed – I’m diagnosied with social phobia, though it’s more under control these days, and I’m one of those [pre-everything] trans guys who thinks women’s issues are really important. It could be because I still look very, very much a woman that I don’t have to think too much about opposite sex interactions yet where I have all the power, so for me I can look at Schrodinger’s Rapist and go “yes, there are lots of rules here, they make sense, I understand.” But I haven’t actually been able to use them in the real world because of how I’m perceived, so I don’t really *know* yet how those particular rules will interact with an anxiety disorder. Anyway, too much rambles.

        • sh said:

          For my part you’re good! Thanks for checking in though. ❤ Women's issues are totally important, I agree there, 100%, but sometimes intersectionality hits even the best of us over the head in bad ways. Which is to say, Schrodinger's Rapist is a great resource, but even the best resource when mixed with anxiety can lead to bad news bears. Which in this case lead to conflict between the gender axis and mental health axis and, yeaaaaah. Thanks and take care ❤

    • Sarah N. said:

      I think your second paragraph is a tad dismissive of other (even disabled like me) women’s experiences about sexual assault and harassment. In your life, your anxiety has hurt you or complicated your life more than the harassment you’ve experienced. That isn’t true for everyone and it makes me extremely uncomfortable that you’re offering the view that women-survive-sexual-harassment-let’s-move-on to the LW. I am sorry that the Captain, myself (I was sarcastic and snippy elsewhere), and the community here made you feel unwelcome. Ableism sucks, but that second paragraph is gross.

      • sg said:

        The problem that I am having with this discussion, that has made me feel unwelcome and, yes, actually harmed, is that it has pretty unilaterally gone the other way–saying that disability is easier to manage than sexism, that you should manage ableism yourself and not bother other people with it. I’m sure for the commenters who have said that they find disability easier to manage/less problematic than issues of sexism are telling the truth. But it’s not true for everyone, and the tone of the discussion has utterly erased my experience and made me feel like a freak.

        Which also feels “gross.”

        And “ableism sucks but” (implied: sexism is more important) is not really an answer. In fact, it’s really dismissive. So. Mileage varies.

        And because I know my credentials are going to be called into question as soon as I hit Post: female-identified, feminist, queer, disabled.

        • Sarah N. said:

          I don’t think that the Captain’s thesis was that disability is easier to deal with than harassment. I also don’t think that has been the thesis of most of the comments.

          The Captain simply pointed out that there is no magic solution to talking to women in public. The LW should be concerned about how women will feel – not as much as he is if it is causing him harm but to some degree. Plus the thought process the LW provided actually seems sound. I can’t critique it as irrational. I know it is hard to articulate how exactly you’re feeling, so there was probably a lot underlying the example situation, but a lot of what the LW wrote sounds reasonable. I think the Captain could have maybe pointed out that the LW working on distinguishing his anxiety-stress with his dealing-with-privilege-uncomfortableness might be helpful, but I still agree with almost everything she said.

          I also think the Captain’s advice of not engaging with female strangers is sound. If that is causing him distress, trying to hit it head on isn’t going to help him or anyone involved.

          Additionally, I don’t think anyone meant to suggest that people with disabilities shouldn’t inflict themselves on other people. What I got from the Captain’s post is that the LW’s anxiety is not the problem of random women on the street and that is true.

          I should have articulated that last sentence better. I am sorry I hurt you. I’m not looking to play Oppression Olympics, but the solution to experiencing oppression is not oppressing other people. Kicking oppressors in the shins? Sure. Some people would say that’s a little extreme, but I’m all for a little shin-kicking. Dismissing the experiences of survivors? Not okay. If you were triggered, please step back. I don’t mean that as a slight. I think your voice is valuable and I’m going to back off after this post because you do have every right to vent, but you should take care of yourself and space might be helpful. I know it can be for me. However, no matter what, I do stand by the fact that empathizing with the LW at the expense of survivors is dangerous and harmful.

          • sg said:

            If you were triggered, please step back.

            All right. That’s clear enough. I will make myself scarce.

            (Yes, I did read the rest of your comment. But as I said elsewhere: just as it is not your job to educate passersby about sexism, it is not my job to educate passersby about ableism.)

          • Sarah N. said:

            I ended up sticking around because there was another comment.

            Please do feel like you can come back and talk, sg. I don’t want to run you off. I just know that if I’m triggered by something, doing things and being encouraged by other people to do other things is very helpful.

            And now I shall flee into the noon myself to do the exciting thing of bathing my dog. Awyeah.

          • sg said:

            I do appreciate your clarification–it read as very dismissive, and “if you feel triggered, back off” often reads as “if you’re upset, GTFO.” So I am glad to see that you didn’t mean it that way, and I’m sorry I took it that way.

            In general, when I should “walk away” and when not is something I consider myself and with my therapist, not with strangers on the Internet. Maybe you consider it useful advice; I find it condescending (as I said, it’s the kind of advice I expect from a professional, not a stranger).

            Perhaps I’m an outlier, but that’s exactly what I mean. When people say, “Women, if you’re upset by men talking to you in public, you should just suck it up or get out of the public sphere,” we–quite rightly!–consider that profoundly sexist. Even if it’s another woman saying it. (Sometimes especially if it’s another woman saying it.)

            But we feel quite happy telling people with mental issues, “If you’re upset by this, you should just suck it up or go away.”

            So does that mean that I think that we take sexism more seriously than mental illness? Not necessarily. But I think that considering things in that filter can be really helpful. If I wouldn’t tell a woman “back off and stop talking until you’re less triggered about sexism,” I shouldn’t tell a disabled person “back off and stop talking until you’re less triggered about ableism.”

            It’s just easier to see with the sexism, a lot of the time, because most people–including the disabled people themselves–have internalized in a fundamental way that a mentally ill person really is “broken” and should back off until they’re “fixed.” I just think that that’s really toxic.

            And I do apologize for coming on like a ton of bricks initially. This is just really, really important to me, and it hurts a lot to see a community that’s usually copacetic pull the “go away until you’re fixed.”

          • Sarah N. said:

            I didn’t mean it as back off or shut up. I meant it as get yourself space. Do what you need to take care of yourself; if this space doesn’t feel safe, leaving can be important. However, you are right that you get to handle your triggers how you and those you trust think is best. It isn’t my business, though I personally probably would have stuck my nose in whether it was sexism or ableism. Taking space to improve one’s headspace rather than beating oneself against a brick wall is important regardless of the trigger.

            I am that brick wall though right now and that is problem. I am sorry if anything I said was oppressive. It was not my intention to promote ableism, but I understand my intentions are not important and that I am not monolith for the oppressions I experience. Your triggers trump my nosing. I was upset at the treatment of sexual harassment I saw, but I have already expressed that and now (having briefly returned with a clean dog) I will back off properly.

      • sh said:

        Well you were sarcastic and snippy, I was sarcastic and snippy. We both felt hurt by this post. That’s gross on both ends. I’m sorry for my part, I reacted to hurt with sarcasm and that wasn’t cool. Still I stand by my assessment that this post and comments are full of ableism and that right now this is not a safe space for people with mental health disorders. I was offering my second paragraph more as a reaction to Jennifer’s oppression olympics (feminism is more important than mental health issues is what I got from her post) than to the LW, but I wrote when I was angry and shaking (still shaking actually) and not in a good headspace, so.

        Also, listen. I’m not going to go into a long defense of my experience of public (or private) sexual violence vs my experience of social anxiety, nor will I ask you or anyone to go into a long description of yours. But I live with both. And on some days one becomes more important than the other. And sometimes they are intertwined so that I cannot separate them. But I know which one leads me to destructive self-hate and it’s the one that I am both the perpetrator and victim of.

        • Sarah N. said:

          I didn’t see this comment before I posted my one above. Thank you for apologizing. I am very sorry that I made it seem like ableism is less important than sexism. Like you, I live with both and know that both are important. I didn’t get the same vibe from the post or comments as you did, but I respect your opinion and perspective and something definitely needs to be addressed if it was triggering. I just think a lot of Jennifer’s theses were sound and important, so it needs to be addressed without losing them (because a big thing for me with this letter is that if the LW had written to most people, they would have lied and I really appreciated that Jennifer shot straight; I know I hate being coddled as soon as I bring up that I have a disorder).

    • Jolly said:

      I hear ya. I thought the pile-on here today was pretty sad.

    • Phospher said:

      Another feminist woman who does not like being harassed by strangers, who does not like seeing mopey Nice Guys coddled, who felt really damn uncomfortable and tense ever since reading this and glad my anxiety is not what it used to be. And I am worried for the LW, perfect feminist though he is not. And it’s taken me several attempts to manage to post as much and I don’t feel comfortable going into any further detail because I’m that unnerved.

    • As a woman with a history of mental health issues, I feel *more* welcome here after the Captain’s response, because I fucking hate, hate, hate, hate, hate it when other people are all like “Oh I have a TERRIBLE MENTAL DISORDER that is FUCKING UP MY LIFE SO BADLY” when all they mean is that they stopped to think about something once and found the experience unpleasant, which was what I was getting from the original post.

      I think I have located some of the source of the split in reactions here: in addition to having some degree of social anxiety, the letter writer is also fucking fantastically bad at writing letters.

      The letter writer said he had social anxiety, and then gave an “example”… which didn’t actually illustrate the problem. So some people here saw “social anxiety” and identified with the letter writer; but other people read the “example” he gave of his terrible problem and got pissed off because the anecdote doesn’t show someone with social anxiety–it shows someone having perfectly reasonable second thoughts about his mastery of an advanced and completely optional social skill.

      If the letter writer really is having trouble talking to women *at all ever*, including in class, at work, at parties, at his tabletop gaming group… I’m sure he would have gotten more sympathy and understanding if he’d picked one of those as his example. Or at least we would have agreement that there’s a problem.

      You wrote “I have to talk to people all the time: asking for or giving directions, saying “excuse me” or “would you like to sit” on the subway (usually saying would you like to sitt to older women or women with children), going into stores and asking where items are kept or while checking out” and… the letter writer did not. If the letter writer is having issues with things like that, he could have written that. Instead, he wrote that he was having issues striking up completely unnecessary conversations with random women because he’d learned that some of them find that unpleasant. Hence the mocking response.

      If this dude has crippling social anxiety, then his difficulties in bugging random women on the street for no particular reason are not his biggest problem, and his letter is terribly written. And if his biggest problem is that he’s having difficulty bugging random women on the street for no particular reason, then he doesn’t have that bad social anxiety, and his appropriation of the term is disrespectful to those who do.

      • sh said:

        I think my issue is that at this point I feel like the mocking response is less about the LW and more about people with social anxiety. YMMV, but that’s largely what I felt gut-punched and triggered by in both the Jennifer’s response and in the comments. sg above has a really good point about how it feels like people with mental health issues are being told to go away until our brains fit better with society — that’s how I felt reading the post, like if I had anxiety I should go away.

        I’m also just not cool with mocking in general? Like, yeah, the LW has some feminism 101 issues going on (and as you mention some not great letter writing skills), but the mocking feels really over the top and mean, to me, again, YMMV.

        (I also feel triggered by people asserting that rape culture makes being a woman a more dangerous proposition than having mental health issues, but I’m still feeling shaky and angry about that so I can’t even begin to respond to that one.)

        • I also felt gut-punched by all the mocking of people with social anxiety. I agree about the meanness of mocking in general. If you have nothing constructive to say to a letter writer, and would rather just mock them, why answer at all? That’s not what I come to this space for. I come here for constructive advice and thoughtful discussion, and this entire thread was pretty much the opposite of that, in a way that was really painful to read.

      • XtinaS said:

        +1000 to this comment entirely. Very well spelled-out.

      • This is the first response I’ve read that even begins to actually make sense of the rage being levied at the LW, so I thank you for that. It still makes me profoundly uncomfortable, and I still think CA missed the mark in a pretty painful way here, but at least now I understand why people seem to be reading such a profoundly different letter than I was.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:


      • Jack V said:

        I found cynical romantic’s comment here really, really helpful. Like several people I had several negative emotional reaction many of the responses and wasn’t sure why, but I realised people reacted very differently whether they pictured someone with chronic anxiety desperately trying to navigate completely normal social situations, or someone trying to chat people up despite being chronically anxious talking to people they don’t know.

        • JenniferP said:

          I also appreciated thecynicalromantic’s comment very much, s/he nailed exactly how I processed the letter. To me, everything after the first paragraph was “I read about how sometimes I maybe should not approach strange women, even if I am nice and well intentioned, and it made me back down from having a conversation with someone at an art show. That’s ridiculous, right?”

      • BlackHumor said:

        But see, the problem is, the thing about social anxiety (or at least, my version of it; apparently from this thread some other people have different versions) is that it makes all social situations (subject to a few caveats) identically horrible.

        There’s no real difference for me between talking to someone in class or at an art gallery (I would almost never do either), and there’s a serious difference in favor of those two between them and talking to someone at a party (AAAHH situations where I’m expected to be social: in this case not only would I not talk to anyone at the party I probably wouldn’t go in the first place).

        Back when my social anxiety was even worse, in all of the above situations I would not talk to anyone even though I wanted to be able to talk to someone, and then resent myself for it. Now I still wouldn’t talk to anyone, I just don’t see that as somehow “failing at conversation”.

        But, back to the main point, I really doubt that LW is capable of understanding your complaint. I don’t think he’d get particularly why talking to someone in an art gallery is a “frivolous” social ability and talking to someone in class would be a “necessary” social ability. If they’re all horrible it doesn’t matter which particular horrible thing you write about.

    • hippipdip said:

      If I were able to write about my crippling anxiety in a coherent manner (ah, the anxiety about having anxiety goblin, always making things worse) I would hope to be able to express myself as gracefully as you just did. You nailed it. Thank you.

    • I’m a woman with an anxiety disorder.

      I used be able to drive on the interstate without too much difficulty. Then I moved to a much larger city, and suddenly it became excruciatingly difficult for me. My anxiety about it was seriously impairing my ability to drive safely. My therapist told me to just stop driving on the interstate until we had worked on my anxiety some more.

      Which is, weirdly, what CA told the LW: You’re really anxious about doing this thing? So don’t do it right now, and do go work on your anxiety, and learn some more so that you can get comfortable doing it. How is that different?

      Oh, ok, yeah, it is different. It’s different because there’s this whole fucking context to the LW’s situation that isn’t there in mine. And that context is one that causes more anxiety for other people. Sounds like an even better reason to just stop doing the thing for a while. Because the LW’s anxiety is not the only factor here, and his disability does not trump other people’s sense of safety, either.

      You can speak for yourself about CA being a safe space, but don’t fucking speak for the rest of us who have mental illnesses. CA’s response made me feel safer here.

      • Badger Rose said:

        For what it’s worth, I’ve contributed on CA for many, many posts, and this post made me feel unsafe as a mentally ill feminist.

        I won’t “speak for” you, but I am completely willing to speak for myself. I think CA is doing great work for anti-sexism, but I think she has room to improve on anti-ableism topics.

        And I won’t apologize for fucking saying so, even if other people disagree. In fact, I think that there is a real danger to mentally ill people in making one perspective be the acceptable one. Mockery and sarcasm are a really effective way to silence the mentally ill, non-neurotypical, and culturally dissimilar. Why? Because humor usually depends on a distinction between the audience and the mocked. It’s easy to make fun of people who are “different.” I don’t think CA would make fun of those who are “different” because they are female, gay, or trans. But I think the hilarious commentary in the comments section often relies on making fun of people who communicate differently because they’re mentally ill, non-neurotypical, trans, or come from a different culture (whether from another state, country, or continent).

        If that makes me a pariah, after my contributions in other threads, then so be it.

        • You, obviously, get to feel the way you feel about the comments here. The above commenter did try to speak for me, and for many of us:

          So while this might be a feminist safe space, it’s not a safe space for people with anxiety disorders/other mental health disorders.

          And, no. That commenter does not get to determine whether or not this is safe space for me as a person with an anxiety disorder.

          I don’t agree with you that the snark and sarcasm in this post targets the disorder, although some of the comments may. Especially with mental illness, where the shape our thoughts take are so influenced by our society, the behavior our disabilities cause can be problematic, sexist or racist or whatever, and it is not exempt from being called out, and it is not exempt from being called out in the ways we normally call things out. It’s not the LW’s anxiety that’s being snarked at, it’s what he’s doing in assuming that a) it’s ridiculous to be concerned about whether or not talking to a woman will cause her distress, and b) write in to a feminist blog demanding that he be reassured that that’s ridiculous, that he should be able to talk to any woman without concerning himself with whether it will upset her, and all the other things that have been pointed out as problematic with his letter.

          • This is reminding me of threads about harassment and people with Asperger’s, where the point is often raised that it is possible to both have difficulty with social interaction due to one’s neurological wiring, and be a jerk. I both think that the LW has social anxiety that is hard to deal with because of what it is, and is also choosing to deal with it by coming into a feminist space and asking women to do his emotional work around his discomfort with the facts of sexism.

          • Yes. Quartzpebble has it. The LW is having anxiety issues because he has an anxiety disorder — something CA is not qualified to give advice on, so she wisely didn’t try beyond “keep getting treatment” — but his choice of how to deal with it is inappropriate and follows a standard sexist pattern. He’s not being made fun of for the former, he’s being called out on the latter. How is that a bad thing, exactly?

      • Laura said:

        As another non-interstate driver, thank you, madgastronomer! Both for refraining from a nonessential activity out of consideration for yourself and others and for articulating so well exactly what I appreciated about this response by CA.

        What I also appreciated was the lack of condescension. LW wrote in with a question and got a valid answer (continue therapy + some of the reason you are scared is because what you want to do may be dangerous, i.e. the thing you are worried about might happen (someone could feel threatened) + women aren’t a monolith + if an internet stranger gave you permission to chat up strangers, would you suddenly not have to be concerned that that could be invasive of other people’s space? + some righteous indignation that LW would try to get a pass on doing something potentially offensive).

        LW has a disproportionately hard time approaching strange women to chat. Approaching strange women to chat is not an essential function of life (because there are many other ways to end up in a conversation that don’t involve approaching strangers to chat; several alternatives have been proposed in the comments). Similarly, I can get by without ever getting on a highway again, because there are plenty of lanes and avenues on which to travel.

        If a stranger I wrote a letter to told me I should just go ahead and put the pedal to the metal and get on the highway, safety concerns be damned, then that would be abelist. If instead they told me to keep on talking to my therapist about the excessive concern, but forcefully reminded me that I will have to continue to worry about safety and abide by traffic rules when I do decide to give it a whirl (plus, expressed some anger about the presumptuousness of my inquiring about how/whether I could stop worry about the safety of myself and others) then I would consider that a fair answer.

    • Thank you for this. I keep coming back here, even though it keeps making me upset, because I just can’t seem to tear myself away. To be perfectly honest, the way this writer’s question was dealt with makes me extremely uncomfortable about participating in this community any more, knowing how much derision seems to be levied at anxiety disorders.

      And, I’m sorry you guys, but “Keep going to therapy.” As a single sentence of help in a long response full of sarcasm is not a helpful response. It’s just not.

    • Yes to all of this. Thank you so much for bringing this up and articulating it much better than I could have.

    • Blue Cat said:

      Even though I agreed with most of the Captains actual advice, I also found the delivery rather ablest. Specifically the “get a grip” line. Telling a person with an anxiety disorder to get a grip is never appropriate, or helpful.

      I wish this letter had been written more clearly. When the LW wrote about the art exhibition, the image that came to my mind was a lively social gathering where everyone was chatting and mingling, discussing the art, and food and wine was being served. Other people might have imagined a stuffy art museum where everyone is silent. The Schrödinger’s Rapist post applies more to the latter situation, but its easy for me to imagine how an anxiety disorder could cause someone to take it out of context.

      Unfortunately, due to the pile on, the LW will probably never comment to clarify.

      At first, I was thinking that this was a bad place for the LW to post this question solely because the feminism 101 issues that have already been discussed. Mainly, not asking oppressed people to help you navigate the feelings that come with realizing you’re privileged, because it can be triggering for the oppressed people.

      Seeing this pile on, it looks like there’s another good reason that this isn’t a good place. I’ve had the experience of trying to help male friends understand feminism and navigate the emotions that come with being privileged and its really exhausting. I’m betting that a lot of commenters can relate. It can get triggering when someone you generally respect and care for fails to get it over and over again. If this had been posted closer to the time when I was dealing with that, my own triggers could have led me to writing a really snarky poorly thought out response. I think this pile on probably has a lot to do with the commenters triggers that have absolutely nothing to do with the LW.

      So, second reason not to go into oppressed peoples spaces and ask for advice on navigating the emotions that come with realizing you’re privileged: you’re likely to get a lot of bad advice because the people you’re asking are having to navigate their triggers in addition to yours.

      • +like.

        I appreciate your analysis.

      • Yeah I imagined a space in between those to extremes, but towards the quiet end. Handfuls of people wandering round, but not a big party, because I have never been to an event like that, because that many people would trigger my social phobia something wicked. 😛 I suspect those personal factors are REALLY colouring how people view this conversation in ways that we don’t necessarily even realise.

  56. The Captain, as always, has a great perspective on things. Here are just a few things I’d like to address.

    I’m now petrified of talking to any women I don’t know, unless they talk to me first.

    I don’t see what the problem is with this. If women are talking to you first, then just keep talking as long as it seems appropriate. If you didn’t initiate, then there’s no conversation with a woman you don’t know, which is also fine and wholly appropriate.

    I’ve basically stopped talking to women in public. I was just at an art exhibition and was about to talk to the woman next to me when I start thinking “what if she thinks I’m hitting on her, and gets upset because she just wanted to look at art and not get creeped on”. So I say nothing and move on. This is ridiculous behaviour and I want to stop

    This part’s a bit unclear. I don’t know if the LW means stopping talking to women in public is ridiculous behavior or the second-guessing himself is ridiculous behavior. If we take him at his word, I don’t think either is ridiculous behavior. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, stop talking to women you don’t know unless they talk to you first, and if you ever get concerned your creeping on a woman, and keep yourself in check, that’s also great. Nothing ridiculous about that either.

    While I have occasionally enjoyed conversations strangers have initiated with me in public (at the grocery store, on the bus, on the sidewalk), 1) there have been far more annoying than enjoyable encounters, and 2) I can’t think of a single one of these enjoyable conversations that I couldn’t have done without.

    Something other commenters have alluded to that maybe the LW just needs to hear a lot is that a lot of being creepy is not picking up on cues. If someone looks at you and smiles, that’s a cue that this person is receptive to at least one brief interaction with you (and maybe not a prolonged conversation). If someone turns away from you to read a book and re-adjusts headphones, that’s a cue that your stranger conversation is not cool. One-word responses like “Yes” or “Okay” or “Thanks” could also be good indicators this person does not want to talk to you. The stranger asking you questions back and moving closer toward you (as opposed to away from you) are signs this person wants to continue talking to you.

    I don’t know much about anxiety disorders, but I hope that helps if you’re actually asking a question in good faith and not being a concern troll.

  57. Vicky with a Y said:

    The Captain and a lot of the other commentors have nailed it. Unless you wanted to ask something like the location of the bathroom, it’s probably best to wait until you’ve been formally introduced. Maybe you could bring a friend to the art gallery to share observations with.

    I also wanted to share my sympathy with you; I have been where you are. When I first started learning about racism, I would feel really anxious when people of color where around. I would think about the things that they went through and feel bad about them. I wasn’t sure how to behave. Should I say something about racism? Should I not say anything? I don’t want to be like one of those “colorblind” assholes. Eventually I got it, and think that you will get it, too.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep getting treatment for your anxiety; keep reading social justice books and blogs; keep talking to women (that you already know 😉 ). Here is something that it took me awhile to figure out: Racism, sexism, etc. are systems. If you notice a pattern where members of certain groups are having a worse time than members of other groups, say something. If a member of your group says something that strikes you as problematic, call them on it (this can be scary). However, if you are having a conversation with an individual, that is an I-Thou relationship. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_and_Thou
    You are not having a conversation with Women or Asian-Americans, or whatever; you are having a conversation with Vicky or Thomas or Jennifer or whoever it is you’re talking to.

    Anyway, good luck, and don’t be afraid of wading through the bad stuff, because you have to go through it to get to the good stuff.

  58. Devon said:

    Actually, I don’t think the Captain nailed it on this one. She made some good points but through what came off as thinly veiled contempt and I see no cause for it. The guys wasn’t “seeking comfort” and he sure as shit wasn’t asking women to not potentially feel trepidation at being approached by a male stranger. He was asking for practical advice on how to be considerate in a situation with the potential for awkwardness or social discomfort. Last I knew, that’s what this site was about. Instead of help he got a token “keep seeking treatment for your anxiety” and a strong message that he’s not welcome here or on any other feminist site for that matter. And Captain, since when do you speak for all feminists? I typically admire your posts and take a lot away from them, but this one just came off as mean and insensitive. Since when do you do that to people struggling with Anxiety disorder?!

    Also, I think it bears noting that he repeatedly referred to speaking to women in “public.” Am I the only person who translates that to mean somewhere well-lighted and full of witnesses? Your response seemed to imply that he wants to know how to corner women in elevators or back alleys without creeping them out. Oh, and I’m a woman and a feminist so please don’t assumed that I’m a woman-oppressing monster with a penis just because I dare to question what goes down in the name of feminism. i don’t know when mean and insensitive behavior came to be celebrated as pro-female, but I’m here to say it’s not.

    My advice man? Hold your head up high and present yourself as the good person you are to everyone you meet. If someone treats you like a criminal for doing that, that’s on them. Learn to read body language and watch your settings. Dark alley? Give her a wide birth and don’t make eye contact. Art gallery? Start a conversation about something that genuinely interests you. If your attention seems unwelcome, make a graceful exit. As long as you’ve used basic manners and given her freedom to exit the situation whenever she chooses, you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m sure there are many women who would very much enjoy talking with you, even not knowing you at all. I wish you the best!

    • Agreed with all of this. I don’t think the LW was seeking cookies or asking for permission to creep on women–he was asking how to navigate a situation where he both had a genuine concern AND had reason to believe his jerkbrain was blowing it out of proportion to an extent that was paralyzing. He was asking for advice on how to walk that line: the line of acting thoughtfully without thinking himself into a state of paralysis.

      And CA’s response was just…well, “thinly veiled contempt” just about sums it up. It was not constructive at all, which goes against pretty much the point of this site.

      Agreed SO HARD on the thing about CA–or any one person–not speaking for all feminists. I got the “I’m a feminist and I don’t like you, therefore you’re not welcome in feminist spaces” vibe from the Captain’s response, and it really bothered me. If anything, I think feminist spaces are the *perfect* place to ask questions about how to navigate the intersections of dealing with mental health issues while also being thoughtful of social justice concerns.

      In theory, the LW should be able to discuss this stuff with his therapist, but in practice, maybe his therapist isn’t well-versed in feminism. Maybe his therapist would just blow off his concerns, and he’s looking for a community that will take seriously both his mental health issues and his desire to act justly. And then the Captain took neither seriously, and treated him like he was engaging in bad faith. I just….arrghhhh.

    • Chantelle said:

      Can we stop pretending that creepy things only happen in the dark and a lightbulb somehow makes everything safe and pretty with rainbows? I have had people make me feel creeped out in well-lit, well-populated rooms. I really hate this idea that because things happen in public, it’s somehow ok. It’s not. And that’s the same bullshit excuse used by people who dismiss women’s discomfort when men hit on them (I get that the LW was not writing about hitting on women – I’m just taking issue with the reference to: it happened in public, so fear ye not ladies! Bullshit. We live in a world where men’s inappropriate public behaviour is condoned if not encouraged).

      Finally, I am genuinely confused as to how people read LW’s letter to be: “tell me how to approach women in a not-creepy way”. He explicitly cites HIS FEELINGS as the problem, not his behaviour, and is asking for comfort, not tips on how to behave differently. He wants to FEEL differently. And CA (correctly in my view) criticises his need to be molly-coddled. So all this random advice on how to behave around women is not actually answering the LW’s question.

  59. Suzers said:

    I love the Captain’s response and a lot of the commenters’ advice. I just wanted to expand upon what I think was briefly mentioned by another commenter, and what CA has recommended to many a wayward dude struggling with his own misogyny and related issues: LW, this is a great time to engage with media created by women. Don’t just read feminist/social justice logs that make you alternately pleased with yourself and stressed about your behavior–seek out movies and TV and books produced/directed/written by women and featuring female characters. Look for female artists and comedians. *Especially* make sure you include women of color, queer women, trans* women and women with disabilities.

    The more you do this, the more you train your brain to understand that women are people, with vastly varied feelings and experiences, who have their own lives to live and who may or may not feel inclined to participate in friendly public social interaction and/or dates with you. Stories and art help us see people who are different from us as real and complex, instead of categorically demonizing or idolizing them.

    Plus, it’s a good step to take for anyone, because chances are if you’re not deliberately looking for work by women, you’re not going to see a whole lot of it, and you’re going to miss out on a lot of really great shit.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      Great point, good to see it mentioned here.

  60. Hey LW,

    here’s the thing; I think you should get some therapy before you do any approaching of strangers. Then read up, there are several excellent links here. Then follow some of the ideas that people have given you. First things first. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Trying to approach someone when you’re petrified seems way too much, too soon. To be that scared to do something that most of us think of as second nature = interacting with strangers, must be horrendous. That doesn’t take away from anything that CA and everyone else has said. Your need to learn doesn’t come before anyone elses need to be left alone. I don’t think you should practice on strangers. Therapy to the rescue! But to live with that kind of dread? Sounds exhausting. You say “I also think that women aren’t really helped by my worrying.” but the thing is a) not all women are the same b) you’re not hurting anyone by staying away. If you try to interact without having the proper tools, you can do some serious damage. I don’t think that’s what you want.

  61. popesuburban said:

    I have questionable feelings about the letter, but everyone has done a much funnier, wittier, through job of talking about those than I would– I’m off my game today, but so glad you are all on yours. Instead, I’m going to add John Scalzi’s Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping, because I think people may enjoy reading it, or find it a good jumping-off point if they are new to social justice things.

  62. Blue Cat said:

    “It’s possible to be an anti-sexist, pro-feminist, actually nice person without constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women, right?”


    The fact that your new understanding of feminism is causing you anxiety when approaching women you don’t know isn’t a problem in and of itself.

    If you’re being a good ally, you’re probably going to have a slight amount of anxiety about this whenever you’re interacting with women, especially women you don’t know. That anxiety shouldn’t be debilitating, and I think this is probably where your anxiety disorder is interfering. A therapist can help you work that out.

    Your feelings aren’t invalid, but the mistake you made here was taking this issue to a feminist blog. Being a good ally requires learning how to take responsibility for your own emotions, and not expecting oppressed people to comfort you.

    • It’s especially wrong if you are determined to approach women you don’t know when they’re just going about their business, as opposed to being in social contexts that indicate a receptiveness to being approached.

      That’s the flaw in the guy’s question.

      He wants to be able to feel good about himself. (Don’t we all?)
      He wants to be able to talk to random women out and about in the world, not just in specifically social contexts or situations where he has an actual connection with the woman (e.g., friend in common, taking a class together).
      To his dismay, he has become aware that it causes many women great anxiety to be approached that way.
      As a good guy who suffers from anxiety himself, he does not want to cause other people anxiety, and would not be able to feel good about himself if he knew was doing that.
      Unfortunately, the only way to do it is to go through a bunch of analysis about the woman’s physical situation, the cues she is sending out about how receptive she is to being approached at the moment, what would and would not be appropriate to say, etc. etc…. which he says makes his anxiety spike debilitatingly.

      He wanted Jennifer to tell him there was a way he could have it all: talking to random women going about their business, but not having to be anxious about making them anxious, but still getting to think of himself as a decent, enlightened fellow.

      But she can’t, because it isn’t true. And that’s not Jennifer’s fault. She’s just the one who told him something he doesn’t want to hear: that something has to give, and that for now the something that has to give is his desire to talk to random women in public. Because, after all, he ASKED.

      After all the comments that have been written, I don’t see ANYONE resolving the conflict any other way.

      • Blue Cat said:

        “It’s especially wrong if you are determined to approach women you don’t know when they’re just going about their business, as opposed to being in social contexts that indicate a receptiveness to being approached.”

        I agree, but it wasn’t completely clear to me what social contexts he was referring to. He only talked about being in public (which can mean a lot of different types of situations), and the only specific example he used was an art exhibition and I don’t know what the social etiquette is at art exhibitions. I don’t know if mingling is expected behavior, and I imagine it could be different depending on what venue is hosting it.

        I’m kind of bad at being able to pick up on these kinds of rules anyway, so maybe this was more obvious to other readers, but it wasn’t obvious to me. I didn’t want to write my response under the assumption that he was talking about situations where mingling and talking to strangers isn’t expected, such as walking down the street or riding public transit.

        “Unfortunately, the only way to do it is to go through a bunch of analysis about the woman’s physical situation, the cues she is sending out about how receptive she is to being approached at the moment, what would and would not be appropriate to say, etc. etc…. which he says makes his anxiety spike debilitatingly.”

        Yup. Reading cues requires a certain amount of social skills, and managing anxiety spikes requires a certain amount of emotion regulation skills. These can both be learned through therapy. I agree with you, the Captain, and other commenters that asking women to make this comfortable for him is a sexist shortcut.

        “He wanted Jennifer to tell him there was a way he could have it all: talking to random women going about their business, but not having to be anxious about making them anxious, but still getting to think of himself as a decent, enlightened fellow.”

        Yes, and he can’t have it all.

        Part of the reason I framed my response the way I did is because I’ve also been diagnosed with GAD, and have had my own problems with social anxiety and emotion regulation. I used to get anxious about being anxious because I thought anxiety was bad. One of the things I’ve had to learn is that sometimes I’m going to be anxious, and anxiety is not a bad thing to be avoided. Its just something that needs to be managed.

        Based on my own history, it seems plausible that him wanting to avoid anxiety about making women anxious could be part of a pattern of avoiding anxiety in general. I could also be completely off, but I think thats the type of thing a therapist could help him figure out.

        “She’s just the one told him the regrettable truth that something has to give, and that for now the something that has to give for now is his desire to talk to random women in public.”

        I think the advice to stop talking to women in public is solid. When or if he develops the emotion regulation and social reading skills necessary to be able to navigate talking to women he doesn’t know while respecting their boundaries, he can try it again.

        • The reason I assumed it was one of those contexts is that those are the ones where the Schroedinger’s Rapist considerations come into play.

          • Blue Cat said:

            That would be pretty logical, but anxiety has a way of hijacking logic.

            I should add that I’ve had several male friends who’ve had similar problems to this writer, which biases my own interpretation. My response is largely tailored towards the types of guys I’ve known.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          I used to get anxious about being anxious because I thought anxiety was bad. One of the things I’ve had to learn is that sometimes I’m going to be anxious, and anxiety is not a bad thing to be avoided. Its just something that needs to be managed.

          Funny, that’s what I got from the original LW.

          Maybe not phrased the best, but picking out a situation that would be questionable per Schroedinger’s Rapist, and immediately getting a massive flood of anxiety, and second-guessing his own reaction because he’s used to anxiety being irrational instead of rational.

  63. Dear LW,

    I know you didn’t come to me for advice, but I hope you’ll let me impart some, because I do think that it was wise of you to seek advice about feminism from feminists, particularly when addressing your own privilege versus that of someone you would like to date. I’m writing this because I don’t want you to quit trying, and because I think you know deep down that the only thing ridiculous about a social conscience is stating that it’s ridiculous. I’m writing because I’m in the same boat: awkward, male, and sometimes frustrated.

    I have the perspective of an FTM who lived as female until a year or two ago, the perspective of someone who is romantically and physically interested in both men and women (particularly feminists, because—although various political viewpoints are valid—there’s just something not as attractive about someone who espouses anti-choice or gender essentialist leanings, nor do I get all hot and bothered about someone who isn’t interested in ending all privilege, even that from which said person benefits), the perspective of a survivor of abuse, and maybe other determining factors which give me perhaps a slightly different point-of-view from that of Jennifer.

    I have to accept at face value that you really do have good intentions, because—having been an awkward person before transitioning—it became clear afterward that I had this budding male privilege that could unintentionally but easily be used to oppress others. And, as you are aware from reading up on feminism, intent does not equal impact the majority of the time.

    You need not die of loneliness while you’re getting your anxiety treated; I have an issue with anxiety, too, and Klonopin doesn’t always help. I think you’re doing the right thing seeking to approach people—any people—in a non-threatening manner, but where I agree with Jennifer (one of the many ways) is that you might want to avoid doing so until you’re confident in your actions; otherwise you risk oppressing others and reinforcing said anxiety.

    Your constant worrying is evidence that you are attempting to account for your privilege, but have you considered online dating? I met my partner online. She’s awesome. And here’s a bonus: if you look for a date online, you can be sure of what the other person is seeking! That person isn’t just trying to look at art without being hit on.

    No matter how hard you try, you will probably continue to scare people off. I will, too. It happens. You will accidentally oppress people (hell, I might be doing that right now! It’s not my intention, but intention doesn’t always equal impact, like I said earlier; it’s a risk you and I take with every interaction, but, Jennifer’s right, pales in comparison to the risk women face at the hands of men every day). But please don’t stop trying as hard as you can to avoid oppressing others. We may not have asked for this privilege with our fundamental maleness, but—having looked at it from both sides of the glass—it matters. Your constant worrying about this is a sign of strength, not weakness, and there’s nothing wrong with it; I do it, too, and yeah, even when I lived as female, it was honestly easier before I was aware. But now that I have this awareness, it’s my job to utilize this discomfort to the betterment of the world, because that’s what a conscience is: constant discomfort. But it won’t always involve panic. I promise. Our awareness is a tool in addition to being a burden.

    A good example of this: I was on a second date at a movie theatre. I’d thought about nothing for the previous three days that wasn’t holding this person’s hand. Her hand was just… sitting on her thigh. My scalp was all tingly. So… I asked her if I could hold her hand. Old me wouldn’t have asked, and might have gotten away with holding her hand, but at what cost? She is a dear friend, now, and while the result of my asking was the scalp-tingliness being blown (followed by an awkward tug-of-war for the next ten minutes while both of us tried to find a comfortable hand-holding position), and while our relationship didn’t turn physical, there are two sets of needs and desires that needed equal time, and not saying “no” is not the same as a “yes.” So, just like you follow the law when you’re driving and shopping, just like you follow your ethical code at work, also follow your social conscience. You’ve got one, and, despite the worrying, it shouldn’t be ignored. You will fuck up. You will be OK.


    • Just a human being said:

      So, just because I am a human being that just happens to be male, I oppress women by default. It is so reassuring to know that no matter how respectful I may be to women, that no matter how much I treat them as the human beings that they are, I will always be an oppressor. You’re putting me, yourself and every man that believes in equality in the same basket with the spineless bags of flesh that treat women like another species, mock them, abuse them or worse. Again, it is so reassuring to know that there’s nothing I can possibly do about, because that’s the way I was born.
      The way that I see it, your comment screams resounding sexism.
      You and everyone inside this echo chamber seem to equate initiating conversation with harassment and oppression. If the person I am talking to is genuinely interested, I continue, otherwise I apologize and move along. I fail to realize how that’s equal to harassment. This is how human beings of BOTH sexes should be treated.
      I am a man, therefore I opress, and nothing I ever do will change that. That’s such a comforting idea.

      • Wow, are you ever at the wrong website.

      • Sarah N. said:

        Humans beings of ALL genders and sexes should be treated well. Neither sex nor gender are binary.

        I think that idea might be a little hard for you though, given that you can’t even seem to accept your male privilege. Note that I didn’t say be guilty about your privilege. You don’t need to feel guilt. You just need to accept that you can be oppressive.

        • Just a human being said:

          I fully agree on the first part, but we’re gonna have to disagree on the second. My existance does not opress, my actions do.

          • Sarah N. said:

            You benefit from hundreds of years of systematic oppression. You benefit from the pay gap and a million other little things. Your existence isn’t oppressive, but every action you make that isn’t done as an ally is most likely oppressive. Every time you are silent and pretend something is fine you perpetuate the system. I know that can be exhausting to consider, but you can’t come and shit in a feminist space because that upsets you.

            It looks like you saw the link below about men expecting women to do their emotional legwork, so why don’t you stop expecting us to figure out your privilege for you? Go figure it out for yourself. I’m not going to tell you that you don’t have privilege. I’m not going to give you a cookie for not abusing women. Your gross faux-allyship isn’t going to appeal to most.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        I knew as soon as I saw the handle ‘just a human being’ that this guy was gonna turn out to be a douche

        • therainparade said:

          Yeahh. Generally only people in positions of power get to claim “we’re all the same” and variations on that. “I’m just a person! I don’t see race/gender/class/etc.!” Yeah… because you don’t generally HAVE to in order to survive.

        • Ve said:

          I snorted at your comment. Now I’m awaiting the handles “Just a nice guy,” “I don’t see gender,” “Can’t we all just get along.”

          But yeah, as therainparade said, people in a position of privilege always get to claim that everyone is equal and those who think otherwise are perpetuating racism, sexism, –isms. No, those who think otherwise are merely not delusional. I admittedly had to make myself more aware of certain privileges of mine (such as heterosexuality) as they’re not something I’d be actively conscious of otherwise.

      • VA said:

        “Being respectful” to other people, regardless of their gender or any other characteristic, is the bare minimum of being a decent human being in this world. When you benefit from centuries of public policies, business practices, and social norms that privilege men and exclude women and you choose not to do anything about it, you are still part of the problem. You don’t get to absolve yourself of individual responsibility in creating a more equal society just because you’re not a domestic abuser or a street harasser.

        I know you are not even reading anymore but I’m angry at the sheer laziness of your attitude and needed to say this.

        • JenniferP said:

          He’s still reading, he’s just banned.

          • JP, I really enjoy your site and your writing and your advice. I hope I didn’t over-step. I apologize if I did.

      • JAHB, that’s not it; as a male, you are clothed in privilege. You didn’t ask for that privilege, but it makes your interpersonal-interaction feet larger, which means you have to watch it more to keep from stepping on toes; large feet are your default. Capisce?

  64. LVM said:

    I actually pulled out my laptop to post just how hateful and unpleasant I find CA’s advice on this one. Why crucify the poor guy?

    First of all, an anxiety disorder is a disabling thing. If you’re too afraid to even talk to a female human being for any reason for fear that she will blow up and call you a creepy rapist (the way you’re blowing up at him right now), what will happen when you go to a coffeeshop and the barista is female? What will happen when you go to a doctor who happens to be female? What will happen if a strange woman strikes up a conversation with you in public? This is not just “being nervous” – this is an anxiety disorder. People like that are the ones who become recluses and agoraphobes because they get panic attacks when approaching other human beings. And your advice is “Keep being worried?” Way to go. Do you tell suicidal people to “go hang yourself”, too?

    Secondly, what the hell is wrong with talking to a strange woman at an art exhibition? Is any contact between strangers now verboten? Are we all supposed to be silent and stuck in our own worlds? Will a brief comment cause untold trauma? From what I read of his comment, he may have just wanted to make a comment to the girl about the art, but worried that she would be terribly traumatized by this contact from a male stranger and assume that he’s trying to hit on her, even when he wasn’t. Are you arguing for a world where men never talk to women they do not know and where public spaces are always silent? What will this do to our sense of community?

    To the OP: not all women are as loony as the ones on this blog. If you make an innocent comment to a strange girl, you will not end up crucified. Be sensitive to the signals the girl is giving out, know when to stop the encounter, and you’ll be fine. Keep working on your anxiety disorder, and don’t let the hateful comments here fuel it.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Has anyone called “bingo” yet? Because if not–BINGO! We have a winner!

      • popesuburban said:

        I was thinking of doing it, but decided that it would be wrong to put “winning” anywhere near this festering pile of super-callous words, so…

        • Idk, it could be Charlie Sheen.

          • popesuburban said:


        • miss_chevious said:

          I love the commentariat here. For reals.

    • Elikit said:

      “If you make an innocent comment to a strange girl, you will not end up crucified.”

      Because girls (and women even!) don’t often carry the tools and equipment necessary for ad hoc crucifixions. To their detriment.

      • Laura said:

        I usually just hiss in annoyance and walk away, but if only I did carry about nails and a hammer (instead I just have my emergency mace and a rape whistle).

        Don’t try to predict how all women will react. Don’t reassure LW that he doesn’t have to worry about how different people will react to being approached in public by a stranger.

  65. Recently, unquietpirate posted a great analysis of the phenomenon of men asking women to do their emotional labor for them, and extended it to the ways in which men who would like to support feminism tend to do the same damn thing: http://naamahdarling.tumblr.com/post/48554790615/goldenorbrokenorlost-unquietpirate
    Naamah_darling added some good commentary, also.

    Thank you to the men in this thread who are sharing the ways that you’ve dealt with similar realizations to the LW.

    • Sarah N. said:

      I like that post a lot. I’m a little iffy about the importance of men fighting the patriarchy for their own survival, mainly because I think there is a big problem with men only trying to fight for their own survival by talking over women which it doesn’t address wholly, but the idea of men wanting me to do their emotional heavy lifting definitely resonates with part of what made me uncomfortable with this letter.

      • Just a human being said:

        The way I see it, patriarchy and the two shiny boxes of what is to be masculine what is to be femininite both need to die if men and women are to ever be equal. Women definitely have it worse, but regardless of gender, if you don’t happen to fit in the shiny box that’s appropriate for you and approved by society, then you’re free to fuck yourself.
        I totally agree, fuck patriarchy.

      • I agree–men speaking over women and privileging men’s concerns is a problem, and there’s a reason “what about the men?” has become a trope/bingo square/whatever. However, I think part of the problem with that is that they’re raising these concerns in the context of women’s discussions about their own experiences. I think it’s the difference between a man walking into a women’s meeting and wanting to use their analysis to address your own issues, and having your own meeting next door with other men who want to work on those issues, and then, hopefully, sometimes getting the two groups together to have a beer or do work on something that affects them both. (And hopefully everyone is self-aware enough that the men don’t just happen to bring the leadership while the women just happen to bring the support. I can dream, right?)

      • Just a human being said:

        If I am male, whatever I do or don’t do, I must oppress.
        If I am male and I believe in equality, then damn, I must be a hypocrite.
        I suppose there’s little point in arguing with people like you.
        You’re just as sexist as the patriarchy you’re fighting against.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          Wow, good point, you make such good arguments!

          • Truly, I cannot argue with this logic.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            The problem with you, q. pebble, is that you never think of the menz.

          • *shakes head sadly* They make it so hard to notice them, so thinking of them, it is even harder.

          • Just a human being said:

            I don’t agree with the resounding and echoing opinion that seemingly everyone here has, and because I am male, you dismiss my opinion based on my gender.
            Again, you’re just as sexist as the patriarchy you’re fighting against.

          • …no, dude, we’re dismissing your opinion based on persistent missing of the points made by multiple people. Please lurk more and read for comprehension.

          • Sarah N. said:

            Misandrist 4 lyf, sunshine, misandrist 4 lyf.

          • Crap! No one taught me the secret handshake for that! Or is it the Fistbump of Misandristic Solidarity? I can never keep these things straight.

        • Just a human being said:

          I feel so defeated and so hopeless for the future of society when I see the kind of attitude you have against people that don’t believe everything that you do. You can stay in your extremist, holier-than-thou, antagonistic and bullying – yes, BULLYING – bubble and get nowhere at all because most people who are able to critically analyse patriarchy, sexism and misogyny will find your attitudes deeply insulting and unreasonable. You are so blinded by your tunnel-vision beliefs that you have to resort to mocking those who do not agree with you.

          • Sarah N. said:

            Aw, darn. I got my “reasonable, caring, benevolent feminist” card revoked by a man again, everyone. I guess I have to go on probation now to get it back.

            In all seriousness, Human Being, what do you want me to do? You don’t want to be educated about your privilege. You don’t even want to critically engage with me. You want me to be quiet and back off for no good reason. You want me to let you feel comfortable in your privilege, but that’s not going to happen. I like being loud. I am going to “bullying” you to heck and back again with my sarcasm and snippiness, because you aren’t worth getting angry over. You aren’t worth explanations. There are other people here I’d rather try to dialogue with and understand better. To me, you’re just another man talking over women in a conversation about the patriarchy and sexism. You’re a dime a dozen.

            All you’re worth to me is some of my abundant sarcasm. That’s it.

          • Just a human being said:

            “To me, you’re just another man talking over women in a conversation about the patriarchy and sexism. You’re a dime a dozen.”

            Wow, and I thought you were being sexist before. With people like you breathing life into the stereotype of stick feminist, no wonder so many people that believe in equality don’t like being labeled as feminists. The only people you seem to like to talk to are your own narrow-minded ilk.

          • Stay Excellent said:

            Go to http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/ already: it specifically caters to ‘what can feminism do for men and vice versa’. Stop the useless accusations of circlejerk when half the comments disagree with each other, and stop hijacking the thread to make this about you.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Defeated and hopeless, you guys. That’s how he feels! Doesn’t that touch even one of your icy, man-hating hearts? IS THERE NO LOVE IN THE WORLD ANY MORE?!

          • Sarah N. said:

            I wouldn’t exactly describe Feminist Critics as being about what feminism can do for men and vice versa (most of their posts are about critiquing feminism as their name suggests and, while they doubtlessly mean well, some of the things they’ve posted are pretty awful; massive warning not to dig too deep if you have triggers of basically any sort), but I agree that it is a much better for Human Being if he’s looking for like-minded individuals.

    • Blue Cat said:

      Thank you for sharing this link.

      I’ve been in the position of trying to help well meaning male friends navigate their emotions about feminism while I was teaching them about feminism, and it didn’t work out very well, and it was exhausting for me. I found a lot of stuff in this link really validating.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for this link. This couple of paragraphs especially:

      “So, what does all of this have to do with men being feminist allies?

      I think that a lot of men are perspicacious and, when they encounter patriarchal oppression, it (1) feels viscerally uncomfortable. It should. Why wouldn’t it? Some experience this feeling as (2) a perception that “something is wrong with the world” and, especially if they have some feminist analysis, they might perceive it as something bad that is happening to women. All of that is great, sure. But it’s (3) confusing to feel THIS bad about something that’s happening to someone else. So, some men then (4) turn to women for help telling a story about their feelings about patriarchy. Ideally, a story that will make them feel good about themselves!

      The upshot of this is that many women, feminist and otherwise, spend a lot of time trying to help men make sense of their uncomfortable feelings about patriarchy. Because women are pretty busy processing our own feelings and because we don’t actually know as much about what men are feeling as they do, the narratives we can construct about why patriarchy is painful for men — both as individuals and as a movement — are best-guesses that don’t always fit in all the right places. We’re also tip-toeing around emotional landmines the whole time we’re doing it, and fearing that if we do it wrong, we’ll be failures and lose friends, lovers, and allies. That’s scary and exhausting.”

  66. Oh boy did this post explode!

    I did not sense any ableism in The Captain’s response. I think it’s important to recognise that the LW has two problems and The Captain addressed them separately.

    Schrodinger’s Rapist is something I have used to modify my own behaviour in public – towards all people. Taking the time to consider whether or not a stranger would appreciate being approached for conversation while out in public – it’s time-consuming and uses emotional resources. But actually taking the time to think before we act is how we examine our own privilege!

    You can be disabled and still have privilege. You can be a woman and still have privilege. You can be coloured, or queer, or poor, or a child, and still have privilege. Examining our privilege it vital to recognising the interconnecting web of human interaction that we live with. Recognising that web, and the nature and extent of the consequences of our actions and changing them accordingly – that is the first step towards making the world a better place.

    • duaecat said:

      That’s one of the things that bothers me about how people interpret “privilege” because everyone has some sort of privilege over another.

      As an example, trans people frequently have to face the fear that any time they go into a public restroom they could be attacked/shamed/arrested no matter which they use. If you don’t have to deal with that fear and risk every day? You have a privilege specifically related to that. And having that privilege or not having it really doesn’t carry any weight towards privilege/nonprivilege in other areas.

    • Elikit said:

      Perhaps consider person of colour over coloured?

        • Sarah N. said:

          I am white, so if any POC would like me to be quiet or disagree with me, please let me know. I just know there is a lot of baggage and racism attached to the word you used, Monica, so I would second using POC instead.

        • There are many problems with person-first language, but POC is a term created by and for people of color, which many people of color actually use, while “colored people” is a specifically racist term used historically as part of an oppressive system, specifically the Jim Crow laws. It’s a racist term to use, and because of its history cannot be used without a racist context. Period. You don’t have to use POC, but don’t use “colored”.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Thanks for this.

          • Elikit said:

            Thanks for this. I did not have the spoons.

          • Chantelle said:

            Just one minor quibble: “POC” is a term created by people of colour from North America, and does not speak to the global perspective. There are many (many!) countries in the world where it is rejected by people involved in anti-racist and black consciousness movements. It is definitely the term to use in this space since many people are from countries where “coloured” has a negative connotation, and where POC is the term people prefer (which is why I would always use it here or when talking with North Americans). Just saying that it is not a rule that can be universally applied.

            Not disagreeing with the jist of the criticism which is spot-on, but I also want to note that race and ethnic identity is not universally defined: “coloured” is in fact the preferred term for some people.

        • JenniferP said:

          This wasn’t the day or the space to try this out. No matter how justified you feel it is, please don’t add one more crappy thing to this thread. Thanks.

          • Sorry JP. I just wanted to mention that the Schrodinger’s Rapist scenario is useful for examining many different types of privilege – it wasn’t my intention to bring race into it.

  67. Jon said:

    I don’t know if anyone’s even reading this far down anymore, but as someone with mental health issues myself, I’d like to call bullshit on the people who try to argue that criticizing someone who, as per the OP “_may_ have an anxiety disorder,” is ableism. It’s not; simply having a disability does not get one an all-purpose get-out-of-criticism-free card. What’s more, not all social anxiety is pathological. When the LW says “I was so much happier, outgoing and nicer to be around when I didn’t have this on my mind” because “I told myself that people had no right to be upset about my behaviour if they weren’t going to call me on it,” and that he “wants reassurance that It’s possible to be an anti-sexist, pro-feminist, actually nice person without constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women,” he’s not asking about managing an anxiety disorder. He’s asking for permission to turn off the completely reasonable, justified, and even good! anxiety he feels about how his actions affect other people.

    If you have debilitating social anxiety, I am truly sorry. I’ve been there. But what you experience has nothing to do with the OP, and criticisms of him are not criticisms of you, or of people with disabilities broadly. It does no one any service to pretend that they are.

  68. Look into the book “How to Succeed with Women”. One of the first things they cover is how not to seem creepy.

  69. aebhel said:

    “Get a fucking grip,” seriously?

    I mean, I really like this blog, normally, but that felt like a slap in the face.

  70. misspiggy said:

    I just read the Captain’s latest post and I wanted to say, I love you so much, Captain. You didn’t have to do that and it’s another indication of why you are so awesome. The initial post did make me flinch, but when I read it again and read many of the comments, I learned something – women should not have to take responsibility for explaining how not to be unpleasant to women. Just as in your example, no way would I approach a black person to ask how not to behave in a racist manner, because that would be unfair and insulting. This was obvious to me, but it wasn’t when applied to women.

    Nevertheless, the follow-up was no doubt easier for many people to absorb and therefore very useful. It was also useful for me to learn that some men are only just realising they can’t be untroubled and safe in a public space. Since the age of five I have known that I can’t be untroubled and safe in a public space because I am female. That knowledge has been reinforced on many occasions. It makes me enraged. If more men start to feel bad that their experience of public space is spoiled by abuse against women, great. Things might change more quickly. Nobody should want to make men feel better about this until public spaces do actually become as safe for women as they are for men.

  71. DP said:

    Look, I know you (rightly) give exactly no fucks about what I think of either post, but the corrective post makes me so freaking happy. Thanks, as always, for doing what you do.

    • JenniferP said:

      I am glad to read this, and sorry if I was unnecessarily harsh at you yesterday.

      • JetGirl said:

        When I read your original post, all I could think about was your unpleasant forced conversations on the train post, and how that could affect your patience with this letter writer. When you referenced it in the next post, I thought, ahh yes. We all get compassion fatigue, especially when triggered.
        Thanks for everything you do here. You’ve helped me, and many of my friends, a lot.

    • Badger Rose said:

      Seconded. As someone with bad anxiety and a family history of same, I winced at the original post.

      I was so very, very pleased to see the new post. Very, very.

      • I also like the new post a whole lot. I had a hard time putting my finger on what troubled me about the first post, and the Captain nails it in her followup – normally this is a 101-ish space and she engages with letter writers in good faith, even when they are describing thoughts or actions many of us would not condone, and her responses are tough sometimes tough but always well-considered. This response, though, was tough but not measured, for reasons that I can relate to (every feminist/social justice activist I know has moments of, “WHY. DON’T. YOU. UNDERSTAND. THIS. ALREADY”). The surprising thing for me was not seeing snark in an advice column (I read Savage Love on the regular, too, after all), but seeing it deployed in a way I didn’t expect from this writer, and seeing the Captain do badly something she normally does well (and with commendable patience).

        • Badger Rose said:

          Yes, I can relate too! I have my own moments of WHY DO YOU NOT GET THIS ALREADY.

    • Marwen said:


    • Simone Lovelace said:

      I actually liked the original post (at least, right up until “Get a f*cking grip…” but I agree that the corrective post was very super awesome.

      • Chantelle said:

        I liked the original post too. The tone took me aback, but the content was good, and I really try not to police people’s tone. Also, I really didn’t see the anti-anxiety stuff people seemed to hear – I have an anxiety disorder so usually I spot it (not that it may not have been there – just noting that feeling anxious about our place in the world is not inherently bad, and neither is pointing this out to someone with an anxiety disorder). But I also liked the follow up post.

    • For what it’s worth, ditto the thanks. I’ve only recently gotten up the nerve to start delurking here, but I’ve been reading for a while and have generally found your advice really incisive, thoughtful, and well-delivered. After the bilefest, though, I was basically about to unfollow and hide from the internet until I saw the updated post, which was excellent. Really appreciated the do-over.

    • Agreed! I found this post and thread upsetting and disappointing, and was SO glad to see CA’s thoughtful follow-up post. Thank you, Captain.

  72. sh said:


    Thanks for posting a revised response and apologizing for this post. Now that I’ve had time to calm down I agree with the content of what you are saying and I understand where the negativity was coming from. Yesterday I couldn’t really process the meaning of what you were saying or why you might be reacting the way you were because I was so caught up in the fact that it was, or at least felt like it was, open season for mocking people with anxiety disorders.

    I’m still hesitant about continuing to read this site going forward just because reading the site yesterday was beyond terrible, but thanks for having the guts to back up and say “I did this wrong” and also for closing the site to certain 101 questions if you’re burned out on them.

    I’m sorry for any part I had in fanning discord in the comments yesterday; I was responding to something from a place of hurt and anger and I regret how I reacted, because I wasn’t really thinking clearly or fairly. Even if the tone argument is a derail, and I can’t help but feel that the tone *I* used was wrong and unfair and made things worse. And even though I stand by the fact that this post was hurtful in how it handled discussing anxiety disorders, I shouldn’t have reacted to hurt with further hurt. I’m really sorry.


  73. I really like and admire the way CA took responsibility and wrote the updated advice. Idk, Usually I find this blog a pretty mellow place with lots of nice, helpful people. But yesterday it was like a car accident, with more and more angry cars adding to the crash site. It surprised me that it got so bad. A few months back a guy wrote in who’d had sex with his soft no-giving girlfriend (or something very similar, I’m not sure about the details, but she’d tried to say no and said that she didn’t want sex and he just didn’t get it). I understood the rage and snark then. But this LW hasn’t hurt anyone that we know of.

    I’m not perfect, I can be snarky too and I have and will apologize for it. I was just.. flabbergasted to see some comments.

  74. The Rat Lady said:

    Thanks for the new post. I really liked it, and I think the decision moving forward to avoid all questions that might spark similar feelings was a wise move for everyone. Now it’s easier for me to see where people are coming from, and I feel a lot less icky about participating in this space (although I’m still kind of shaky about it, considering some of the comments I’ve seen – hence the name change). Will be lurking more for a while. But glad to see that you’re able to apologize and take a step back to self-evaluate when necessary.

  75. BlackHumor said:

    On the correction, and particularly the line “Probably too late to do the actual LW any good, and I can understand if he ran far, far away from this blog.”:

    I’m pretty sure I’m the one who directed LW to you (he posted a question worded almost identically to 477 on a forum I frequent and I pointed him towards you), so I can make sure he sees it.

  76. Palliser said:

    This comment is actually for the captain. I happened upon Dr Nerdlove today and there’s some interesting discussion going on about not being a creeper. I enjoyed it, and I started reading comments through the ages. I didn’t check to see if the discussion was moderated, but there were definitely dudes writing under the guide of “not understanding” and when scores of people attempted to enlighten them, they just reiterated their misogynist blarney, as though it were as well thought out as the posts of the many earnest feminists who tried to reason with them, and as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing changed.

    I just wanted to say that I so appreciate the time you take to write every single one of these answers, and that you keep the crazies from taking over this space, which is a respite from the battle of being a woman in the world. I went to a women’s college, and reading here every day gives me a sense of the support I felt when I was surrounded by other intelligent, interested women.

    So I just wanted to reiterate–you don’t have to be God or Gandhi and you’re damned good at what you do. From my viewpoint, you didn’t need to apologize for anything.

    • Just wanted to pile on with thanking CA for putting what is probably a lot of her time into moderating the many comments on this site. It makes the experience so much better than the many other sites, even those whose content I agree with, where I can’t read the comments section because I know I’ll end up needing a hug and a cookie.

  77. theLaplaceDemon said:

    Re: “Friendly Places” vs “Chilly Places”

    This has cropped up in a few different threads in a few different ways, so I figured I’d stick my response at the bottom.

    There have been a bunch of comments saying “I live in a friendly chat-with-strangers place and I love/hate it!” and “I live in a chilly, distant, don’t-chat-with-strangers place and I love/hate it!” as well as the somewhat predictable “I’m a women and like getting approached in public!” and “ARE YOU SAYING NO ONE CAN EVER APPROACH SOMEONE IN PUBLIC?!”

    As a person who has lived in both of those kinds of places, I figured I’d add my two cents, though of course YMMV etc etc., I am basing this on my personal experience in ~3 cities and ~3 towns, sample size, cognitive biases, disclaimer disclaimer.

    Here’s the thing. I *love* the feeling of community that comes with those small college towns (especially in the south). I love that you can just walk into a coffee shop and find a lively conversation to get sucked into. I love the ease with which “we go to the same bar every week” turns into friendship. All of those things have given me great comfort at times in my life when I have felt the need for community.

    Those places also make it REALLY easy for people to creep on you, attach themselves to you, and follow you around all night unless you explicitly and in no uncertain terms tell them they are NOT INVITED to hang out with you.

    Now I live in a big city, one of those textbook lonely places where everyone is transient and career obsessed. And it was a lot harder to make friends here than in Small Southern College Town, and many months in and I will say I still don’t have any sense of community.

    But you know what’s fuckin’ awesome? I only get creeped on like, once every three weeks, rather than every other day. I never need to worry about people trying to talk to me while I’m reading a book on the subway. I never need to worry about someone I just met assuming that it is okay to follow me around for the night. People don’t *presume* consent in social situations.

    And it’s not that most people in Friendly Southern Town are like this. Most of them are perfectly polite and respectful, just a little more likely to make eye contact, smile, or comment on your awesome taste in books. But the overall chatty-vibe of the culture makes it *a lot* easier for the boundary-violators and consent-presumers to operate. There are a lot more people who will call you a bitch for wanting to be left alone. In the Big City I live in now? People just assume you want to be left alone, unless you give them a reason to think otherwise.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with preferring Friendly Chatty Place Where You Can Talk To Strangers, as long as you don’t use that social leniency to violate the boundaries of others. But I also think it’s reasonable to admit that you are making a tradeoff.

    • I am from a big friendly city (Houston) and am now living in a less-friendly smaller college town. I do miss the friendliness of the people back home, and the politeness, but I *don’t* miss being chatted up and hit on constantly just because I am a woman walking down the street or riding the bus.

      There is definitely an expectation (among men) in Houston that because I am a woman I will be polite and therefore I am fair game for striking up random and often rude conversations with. Here no one expects me to be polite and friendly, so I almost never get random guys harassing me. It is pretty awesome.

      Ideally I would like to have the friendliness and politeness of Houston and the lack of chatty-ness of this place as well.

  78. Phospher said:

    I am so glad to see the new post. This blog has been doing me so much good lately— but yesterday I felt perhaps this place wasn’t what I thought it was… so yes. Very relieved.

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that you’ve had an infuriating pattern of men writing to you being all “Boo! Feminism gave me a sad! Nice lady make it better?” and I can see how the letter hit some of the markers of the pattern, but this individual letter still struck me as, well, the way it’s framed in the new post, a request for help sorting out the overlap between his malevolent jerkbrain and his conscience, so he can work out how to conduct himself sensibly without either upsetting anyone or suffering more himself than is rational or helpful. Dragging around a load of mind-numbing terror you’re about to cause some sort of irretrievable disaster for yourself and others is awful, and the LW doesn’t deserve it. The recalibrated advice is great and I hope it reaches him.

  79. person who lurks said:

    I normally lurk on this site. And I’ve been reading CA religiously for a while now. I think the correction was very much needed, as the original response upset me A LOT. So much so that I still don’t I am totally cool and happy with this blog. It has nice advice, but I question it’s status as a safe space. And I think it’s very telling that although the Captain corrected their response and apologized for the quality of the advice given, she never actually labelled it ableism nor labelled any of the commentary it elicited as ableist. Living with an anxiety disorder is crippling and it hurts, and if you don’t live with it, it will never make sense no matter how many times someone explains it to you. Maybe next time an LW with an anxiety disorder writes in the comments should prioritize the voices of people living with anxiety disorders? IDK, it’s just an idea.

    For now, I guess the correction is helpful, but I have my reservations about this place. I hope the LW gets the help they need from a good, feminist-friendly therapist.

    • Laura said:

      People with anxiety disorders did speak up and some of them expressed support for what CA had to say and how she expressed herself.

      I thought this comment for example was spot on: “My anxiety about it was seriously impairing my ability to drive safely. My therapist told me to just stop driving on the interstate until we had worked on my anxiety some more.

      Which is, weirdly, what CA told the LW: You’re really anxious about doing this thing? So don’t do it right now, and do go work on your anxiety, and learn some more so that you can get comfortable doing it. How is that different?”

      People with anxiety disorders (and women) are not a monolith.

      • person who lurks said:

        And I never said they were a monolith but that their commentary should be prioritized when talking about people with anxiety disorder, which the LW is?

        There was, in fact, a diversity of commentary from people with disabilities–trust me, I noticed and I honestly don’t need your help with realizing that. Amongst that commentary many of the people with anxiety disorders who commented also expressed that they were uncomfortable with the original response. Many, including myself, believe that it was ableist. When someone living with a disability says that something is ableist that is not the cue to say “but hey all these people with disabilities over here don’t think that” and explain how it totally isn’t ableist, it is the cue to listen.

        So please don’t trot out their comments as evidence that the original response from the Captain was okay or appropriate, because 1, it’s not actually going to change my mind–the original response actually was ableist and messed up, and 2, if it was okay or appropriate it wouldn’t have upset as many people as it did and the Captain wouldn’t have posted a revision in the first place.

        • Laura said:

          My goal isn’t to change your mind. Simply to point out that you don’t speak for everyone with social anxiety, which is what I’ve done.

        • I swear, every single one of the complaints I’ve seen about the original response that call it ableist are all about the tone. They’re tone policing.

          CA chose to rephrase it because she felt it would better get her point across, and that’s her choice to make. She gave the exact same advice, though, and now those people seem to like it. That’s tone policing. Textbook.

          Or can you give me any reason other than the tone that the original was ableist?

          And yeah, I am one of the people who has an anxiety disorder. The one quoted upthread with the driving example.

          • The Rat Lady said:

            I have what is probably a very dumb question, but what exactly is *wrong* with tone policing?

            I’m not trying to stir up shit here, I’m legitimately curious.

          • Badger Rose said:

            I can’t interpret telling someone with an anxiety disorder to “get a fucking grip” as anything but ableist. Had she written it with a different tone–perhaps as “compose yourself!”–I would still consider it ableist.

            Telling someone with a mental illness to “get a grip” is dismissive, condescending, and incredibly problematic. I say this as a woman and a feminist: it’s like telling a woman dealing with sexism, “don’t be so hysterical.” Or: “don’t be such a bitch.”

            I don’t think it’s a tone thing at all. It’s a content thing. The content of the message “get a fucking grip” is, “You could manage your emotions if you just tried harrder. Ergo, your anxiety is not real. Ergo, you are faking.” The content of the message “get a fucking grip” in the context it was presented was, “until you have fixed your brain to my satisfaction, you are not fit to be seen.”

            I say this not to clobber CA, who has apologized, but because you asked: yes, it is ableist, in its content, not just its tone. And that is where, and why, and how.

            (“But I have a mental illness and I thought it was funny and true!” goes exactly as far as “But I’m a woman and I think [sexist joke] was hilarious!” Ie, not far at all.)

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Exactly everything that Badger Rose said.

          • @The Rat Lady: Tone policing is usually what happens when you challenge someone’s privilege and it makes them uncomfortable, so they say “well if you said it nicely then we would listen” when that is never true. You can’t say “you are oppressing me” nicely. It is why feminists and black men and probably all kinds of others are stereotyped as angry, so they can be dismissed based on their tone.

            Low privilege can be nice tactically or if they feel like it, but that is different from high privilege telling them how to speak or present their case.

            Discussions about tone in other contexts get more murky and often tone policing gets thrown around, and it may be less clear what is going on, but that is the essence of it.

          • sh said:

            For my part, what I agree with in both the original (now that I’ve calmed down) and in the updated version is the feminist concern of women having a right to not be harassed (even unintentionally) in public and that asking a woman how to talk to women is sexist. On Sat I wasn’t able to see either of those things and now I am. However. That doesn’t change my opinion on the ableism.

            What I think is ableist in the original response and comments (and possibly still sneaks into the new reponse, as others have pointed out) is everything that badger rose said about “get a grip”, in addition to the following:

            –saying to someone with anxiety that they should have increased anxiety about the thing they are anxious about; to put another way — if I am worried that I am annoying people and the response is yes you should be worried about that, my anxiety goes well clearly you should go fuck off and die because that will fix the problem of you being annoying (this is a simplified, of course, but true). It is one thing to say, that the thing they have anxiety about is something that they should be considerate of; it’s something else to say that you should have anxiety about it. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable and all encompassing so saying that someone should feel it is … not on.
            –mocking someone for having anxiety because you think that the subject they have anxiety about is something that deserves to be mocked. anxiety doesn’t understand the nuances of complex subjects like feminism, but it *does* understand mocking. Mocking someone with an anxiety disorder for having anxiety is ableist, even if the mocking comes from a place of feminist burnout, which is understandable and sympathetic — this is a situation where intersectionality is doing no one favors. The question had sexist issues (explain talking to women to me, random woman!) while the response had ableist ones (get a grip!)
            –telling a mentally ill person that they need to get fixed in the head before [X]. Yes, this can be true, and coming from a professional in a professional setting it can be helpful. In the context of “get a grip” and mocking on a blog it sounds like “go away until you’ve changed yourself so that you’re fit for human society because you are clearly not now, forget about you”
            –assuming that someone who has an anxiety disorder isn’t aware that public spaces aren’t safe for everyone equally. yes, even if that person is a white straight cis-man. when you have anxiety you head is the least safe space ever and you take that around with you everywhere so no where is safe. It just feels really condescending.
            –the implication that it is ok to do all of these ableist things in the name of feminism. That creates a space where feminist issues trump mental health issues.

            This is an issue in the comments, but the fact that people are taking certain comments (like yours) as license to ignore those of us who have issues with the post because you’re a person with mental health issues and you say it’s ok is really not cool. you can say it’s ok all you want, that’s your opinion. but people who are saying that you and people who agree with you are proof that I and people who agree with me are wrong is a huge resounding NO.

            There is also an issue in the comments where I see people policing what is/who is mentally ill enough. There is a rule in this space not to diagnois. That goes both ways: don’t say that someone has X, but also don’t say that someone doesn’t have X, just because they don’t present enough proof for you.

            Jennifer’s response showed that she understood what she did hurt people, but the response of the community has been more mixed, and the fact that people are buckling down and continuing to dismiss those of us who were hurt is really off.

          • @sh, love your comment. I especially agree that it’s troubling that while CA apologized, I haven’t seen many of the snide-pile-on-commenters do the same. I know CA sets the tone a lot and it’s easy to get caught up, but that’s not an excuse.

          • Laura said:

            @sh I think the issue is that there’s a gap between what people are saying and how you’re interpreting it, which you’ve pointed out. There’s miles of difference between “go away until you’ve changed yourself so that you’re fit for human society because you are clearly not now, forget about you” (which nobody has said to LW) and “you don’t need to feel that approaching strange women to chat in public is necessary to be a full-fledged member of society” alongside “there are appropriate places to address this question (with your therapist) and inappropriate places (feminist blog)”.

            CA made an apology for the tone of her post (and I agree that get a grip is an abelist statement on its face), but not the content, which was, in my opinion, spot on. (ex: “The content of my advice remains basically the same, but I’d like to try again in a non-snarky way.”)

            I am not ignoring you or the several others who have voiced similar concerns. I just politely and respectfully disagree.

          • There has been a fair amount of interpretive “paraphrasing” and then arguing against something the person didn’t actually say. On all parties’ parts.

            Proof positive that well-meaning people can slash each other to confetti with their best intentions, leaving an abbatoir-worthy pool of blood on the floor when all is done.

        • Ystir said:

          This is very true. I have anxiety, which at times can be extreme, and even when it’s not, is ever-present and affects my daily living. I, personally, did not interpret CA’s OP as ableist, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t. (Incidentally, I suppose my comment above about being an adult and yadda yadda was possibly also quite insensitive – I was thinking about how I typically manage my anxiety, but I am aware that it doesn’t work that way for everyone, and it doesn’t work that way for me when I’m at an extreme. So, I’m sorry if that hurt anyone or anything like that.)

  80. MamaCheshire said:

    And I think it’s very telling that although the Captain corrected their response and apologized for the quality of the advice given, she never actually labelled it ableism nor labelled any of the commentary it elicited as ableist.

    +1. That bothered me a bit, as well.

  81. Mortifyd said:

    I’m glad to see the new reply as well. As a trans man who spent 21 years female – and someone who suffers from social anxiety from time to time – not as much as LW seems to, but still – I was pretty shocked and dismayed at the slap down and pile on that happened.

    Yes, as a man I do have to be aware of the whole “creeper” aspect – and I totally get it, having been raped twice while female. At the same time – he was asking for “my jerkbrain is killing me” help and got stomped for having an outie – which is not cool.

    I really hope he sees the new response and finds it useful and friendly.

  82. Ok, folks. The Captain has taken the time to rewrite the post to be constructive and non-snarky. She has explained circumstances that understandably caused the original letter to push her buttons, without suggesting that those circumstances excused her curtness or snark. She has expressly apologized. How many people do you know who’d do half as much?

    When someone you care about has apologized, there is a point at which it is ungracious and downright ungenerous to go on and on about how horrible the thing they did was, or to pick at the wording. Also tends to piss the person off and make them regret apologizing.

    • theLaplaceDemon said:

      Thank you.

    • JenniferP said:

      Alphakitty, you are very kind, but it is ok if people think the apology wasn’t enough or still have things to express. Apology doesn’t erase bad actions, or hurt. People who care enough to let you know when you’ve hurt them are doing you a service, even if it is hard to hear and absorb. That work of “I might be screwing this up, whoa, that feels bad” is part of the work I was asking the LW to do, so not exactly something I can abdicate for myself.

      • An admirable sentiment. But when they do so, I’d just like them to remember that superhero title or no, you are a person, too, and a darned good one. There is a certain irony in calling you out for not being more sensitive and understanding of the LW’s issues and how they perhaps led him to express himself inartfully, while rehashing their dissatisfaction and grumbling about your actual apology.

        • Badger Rose said:

          I think this is a fair sentiment, and yet I think it’s also a bit problematic to tell people who have been triggered: “You are expressing your triggered-ness in a way that makes people feel bad, so stop it.”

          I should probably clarify that I am not triggered. And while I was upset by the original post, I’m thrilled with the apology. So I’m not talking about myself.

          But this is fairly classic tone argument, I think?

          • A fair point. Still, I hope people will be thoughtful.

        • I think some of it is more commenting on the (scary, for some) feel of the blog vs CA as a person? I hope you get what I mean.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          “There is a certain irony in calling you out for not being more sensitive and understanding of the LW’s issues and how they perhaps led him to express himself inartfully, while rehashing their dissatisfaction and grumbling about your actual apology.”

      • person who lurks said:

        Hearing you say this makes me trust you a bit more, and I just want to say thank you.

      • sh said:

        Thanks much for this. I for one am still processing everything, but I’m glad that you’re giving the space here for people to continue discussing the apology and both posts and the various reactions to them. Saying I’m sorry and then asking the other person/people to not speak or to immediately forgive isn’t cool and I’m so so so grateful that you’re not doing that here.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      I’m glad for the apology, but I do feel it is slightly for the wrong thing, and apologizing for the wrong thing tends to make matters worse.

      I think that most of us who read CA generally like her snark, so “snark” isn’t the problem. (See her “cold shoulder” comment below, for instance.) The problem with the original response is not that it was “snarky”, and only slightly that it was curt, and very much that it was ableist, which is why I was disappointed that the apology didn’t address that head-on. Not only the obvious “get a fucking grip” but the repeated…to my way of seeing it, mocking…continued use of “anxiety” and also the bit where Jerkbrain was being identified as a feature instead of a bug because hey, it means that the LW won’t harass women so much with the Jerkbrain there! So don’t fix the Jerkbrain because it’s RIGHT to tell you that you’re a jerk!

      I mean, there have been a lot of letters about clinical depression and related issues and I never saw anything like this in response to them, so I was really pretty stunned. I can understand and sympathize with her impatience re: this line of questioning, but…I don’t know, yeah, it felt like she was barely able to avoid putting anxiety in sarcasm-quotes throughout the response.

      Meh, maybe I’m not very good at saying any of this. But I guess I felt like I had to try.

      • Badger Rose said:

        No, I understand exactly what you mean. Particularly:

        and also the bit where Jerkbrain was being identified as a feature instead of a bug because hey, it means that the LW won’t harass women so much with the Jerkbrain there! So don’t fix the Jerkbrain because it’s RIGHT to tell you that you’re a jerk!

        …because when you’re in the grip of an anxiety disorder, the answer “listen to your disorder” is basically never right. It might be correct to get past the disorder and then also recognize that certain behaviors are sexist and harmful to women. But “listen to your jerkbrain” is basically never good advice for a mentally ill person.

        Your jerkbrain is a jerk. You are not required to bow down to bullies, ever, even if they’re bullies inside your own head.

        You might get past the bully in your head and then still not talk to women in public because it’s the better thing to acknowledge that you-as-a-dude may be causing them anxiety, or simply that you-as-a-person may be pressing an interaction where no interaction is desired. But that’s not listening to your jerkbrain. That’s listening to your reason and compassion.

        And it is not at all the same thing.

        • sh said:


          (I mean, listen, I am a socially anxious cis-lady who hates talking to strangers and avoids it at all costs and is essentially an aromantic asexual so I don’t hit on people *ever*, even if I know them and it would be welcome, and when I read Schrodinger’s Rapist for the first time I had increased anxiety about how I was presenting myself to the world and other women (and even men) and started freaking out that I was doing everything bad that was being described even though, logically, I knew that none of it applied to me in the slightest. So, yeah, the “feature not a bug” can still be a bug if you are a person with social anxiety because anything dealing with “how to do social interaction the right (or wrong) way” can be the thing that your jerkbrain grabs onto and starts freaking out over. Listening to the jerkbrain isn’t good advice. It is, in fact, the opposite of good advice. Being a reasonable and compassionate person is definitely good advice.)

          ((I am still glad that we got the revised post though because at least it shows that, even if not everything is fixed, Jennifer at least realized that something was wrong and took steps to fix it and take responsibility. I mean I’m still processing all of this and I couldn’t really bring myself to engage with the new post much beyond seeing it was there, but, yeah. Baby steps?))

      • Marwen said:

        I think you expressed yourself very well here.

      • Blue Cat said:

        “…also the bit where Jerkbrain was being identified as a feature instead of a bug because hey, it means that the LW won’t harass women so much with the Jerkbrain there! So don’t fix the Jerkbrain because it’s RIGHT to tell you that you’re a jerk!”

        You just perfectly described one of the things that gave me a weird feeling about the post, but that I couldn’t quite put my finger on myself.

        Because yes, having some anxiety when interacting with people less privileged than you is normal and useful, but being tortured by your jerkbrain isn’t.
        This isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone forget to make the distinction, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve made that mistake myself, so it was really nice to see it spelled out the way you did it.


        • MamaCheshire said:

          I’m glad it was helpful for you.

          The thing about Jerkbrains? They LOVE to justify their own existence, usually by telling them that, cringing worm that you are, sure they make you miserable but you’d never survive without the Jerkbrain’s constant punishment. 😦

          • Marwen said:

            Or you might survive, but only by being *EVIL*, an evil malignant toxic stain on the face of the world, harming and poisoning people everywhere and being too selfish and self-absorbed to see it.

      • CA did not say the jerkbrain was a feature. She said the thought pattern that the jerkbrain latched onto was a feature, despite the fact that the jerkbrain latched onto it. There’s a fucking difference.

        “Your second-guessing of how the world should work, while almost certainly exacerbated by your anxiety disorder, is not a bug, it’s a feature.”

        See? The LW needs to reexamine how he thinks the world works, because his assumptions are wrong and damaging to other people. The reexamination is triggering his anxiety disorder, but that does not make the reexamination bad. That’s why he should continue treating his anxiety disorder. I’ve generally found it absolutely crucial to treating mine to figure out when something is a good thought process that has been usurped by the jerkbrain, and when the entire thought process is pure jerkbrain. It is good for me to think about the possible problems that may come up during a project, because not doing so means I am unprepared to deal with them. Letting the jerkbrain obsess about what might happen is bad.

        Allowing the jerkbrain to usurp a positive, useful thought process is allowing the jerkbrain to win. Saying “This is a good thought process to have, a good thing to consider, but the jerkbrain takes it over, so maybe I’ll just avoid the situation until I can separate the process from the jerkbrain” is a good and reasonable step to take.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          “This process that is made more intense by your Jerkbrain is a feature not a bug.”

          Yeah, I can see your reading of it, but someone actively dealing with enough of a Jerkbrain to have written this letter in the first place probably doesn’t need to see it conflated like that. And it bothered me, a lot, and it looks like it bothered at least some of the other people who are reading.

          (Also? Endless loops of re-examination SUCK, and thanks to my own Jerkbrain I get stuck in them a lot. So anything that looks like being told the endless loop is a good thing is going to bother me.)

          • Yes! This is what bothered me so much about the original response and many of the comments–the implication that the LW *should* stay stuck in an endless anxiety loop forever.

            Like, when the LW asked, “It’s possible to be an anti-sexist, pro-feminist, actually nice person without constantly worrying about accidentally oppressing women, right?” I took it to mean, “it’s possible to be thoughtful and aware of sexism/gender issues without being constantly stuck in a paralyzing spiral of anxiety, right?” Whereas a lot of people (mostly, those who haven’t experienced with anxiety disorders) seemed to take it as “It’s possible to get a cookie for having read something feminist once without ever having to actually think about how my actions impact women, right?”

            And since so many people were responding to the latter interpretation, their comments definitely came across as pro-jerkbrain, in a way that was really painful to read.

  83. I appreciate the updated response, and I am personally content without any explicit comments regarding ableism (and I have anxiety, albeit not social anxiety).

    I feel much of what went wrong here was that we got into a general discussion of what should feminists say to a man who asks feminists for help about women — along with various side trips that seem unavoidable whenever anyone says the word “schroedinger” and isn’t talking physics.

    That is super unfortunate — and not typical of this space — because it’s a hard problem. A lot of folks are sick of explaining. A lot of folks still have patience for it. A lot of folks still buy into the idea that it’s just a simple question, when the entire premise of the question is loaded and exhausting. That’s not even counting the deliberate trolls or the people who aren’t necessarily the trolls but who seem to have missed the point somewhere. And *now* we have to Re-Enact The Ritualized Feminist Discussion About Schroedinger’s Rapist. Again.

    Lost in all that is that guy who’s probably suffering pretty badly. Lost, also, are the people who identify with that guy, and no wonder they felt unsafe! Even without the anxiety problem, and even without the blindness-to-privilege problem, probably a lot of people feel unsafe whenever anyone stages a Ritualized Feminist Discussion. They get heated and upsetting and are exhausting.

    To the people left hurting: Your pain is real and it matters. It sucks when you think you’ve got a safe place and then it’s not. I appreciate, so much, that some of you have spoken up to share that pain, so that the rest of us can notice and do better. It is true that this space is imperfect on disability, but most days we do a whole lot better than this. Most importantly, this is a space where people learn from mistakes and make changes.*

    If you do choose to stay, and if you do want to help us with those changes, my suggestion is to wait a few days for the sharpest ouch to pass — and ask for what you need. It shouldn’t be necessary, and it’s okay if you don’t want to. But I know I, personally, would like it very much if you stayed with us in the future.

    Besides thinking more about ableism, I am going to think more about how it might be possible to redirect some of these conversations to a more compassionate place.

    Also, a special thank you to @sh who let us know whose toes were being stepped on, and opening the door for others to say something. That’s hard when you’re triggered and you feel unsafe, and I am super glad you did it.

    Jedi Hugs for those who want them.

    *A few months ago, the question system was revamped. This topic that is triggery is now off-limits.

    • JenniferP said:

      Bright shiny glitter stars around this comment, though it is okay if people are not fine with the updated response also. Thank you.

    • Badger Rose said:

      To the people left hurting: Your pain is real and it matters.

      This is really important to hear.

      I was one of the people with serious anxiety issues who flinched, hard, at “get a fucking grip.” Because I’m trying, I’m trying, and it’s hard. If I could “just” “get a grip” and understand what is reasonable anxiety and what is unreasonable, what is anxiety that I should feel because I’m treading on dangerous ground and what is anxiety that I should not feel because it’s a product of my screwed-up brain chemistry, I would do so. I would love to be able to do so.

      The jerkbrain, alas, doesn’t respond to “get a grip,” except to interpret it as “you are a waste of space who ought to be able to do this already, and you are more of a burden on the people around you than you’re worth; what the fuck is wrong with you, that you can’t deal with this already?”

      And mockery and sarcasm aimed at the anxious only feeds that impulse. Mockery says: you do have a purpose! …your purpose is to amuse those around you with your pain. In fact, your pain is hilarious.

      So it’s been really nice to see CA’s followup post and the responses to it. I think it’s entirely reasonable to say, “Your issues and mine dovetail in a way that means that I can’t answer your question constructively. So I’m not going to answer it at all.” I think that’s totally fair. I think that intersectionality is hard. I think that mental illness and feminism are both important, and I think it’s entirely possible to say, “I can’t deal with all the oppressions right now” without saying “X oppression is more important than Y.”

      We’re all imperfect. I’m really, really happy to see CA walking back on this one, because it makes me feel a lot safer, as a mentally ill person, to stay in this space.

    • sh said:

      Hey, thank you. ❤ I keep telling myself that I'm going to stay away from this post and the comments because, you know, distance, self-care, yadda yadda. But. I keep coming back. Not really sure what I'm expecting — a formal apology for ableism? Vindication when all of the people who were dog piling suddenly realize why many of the comments triggering and ableist? The jerkbrain expecting people to reply to my initial comment to tell me why I'm wrong and terrible and should jump off a cliff and die? IDEK. But this comment does mean a lot to me and I wanted to thank you for making it.

      I don't know yet if I'm going to continue reading this blog. On the one hand, I do really like it, most of the time. Lots of great advice and usually the comment section is A+. But on the other it's just not worth it to hang on to something if it ends up stepping on my toes about one of the big huge important things in my life. My anxiety is really intensely personal and difficult and all-encompassing and even life threatening (yay how heightened anxiety can lead to suicidal thoughts! ug) and I'm really protective of how anxiety and people with anxiety are treated. And the fact the toe stepping happened in the guise of social justice and feminism is just a lot to take in. So. Thank you for your comment and I'm glad that if I do stick around I won't be entirely a pariah to everyone.

      Thanks much and take care.

      • JenniferP said:

        I spoke to a LW the way I would ban someone from speaking to a fellow community member. I need to sit with that for a while before I make some necessary changes, because that’s not okay. I don’t have a fully fleshed out response yet, I’m still embarrassed and still processing. That’s not your job to take care of, it’s mine, so feel how you feel.

        • sh said:

          Oh, sorry didn’t mean to pressure you into making a further apology or comment. I was just … idek, processing out loud. Good luck with your processing and thanks for handling the apology part gracefully, at least. I mean, we all make mistakes and say things we regret later and it’s easy to forgive that kind of human mistake. But there’s a difference between forgiving you the person and forgiving the space and community for … ~this~ … so that’s sort of where I’m at.

          Good luck and take care — I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from your posts and I hope you find something positive out of all of this.

      • Suzy said:

        Self-care, glitter and chocolate for everyone!

        (and gluten free/dairy free to those who need it!)

    • aebhel said:

      This. I think you articulated a lot of the things that I found upsetting about this discussion.

      I was so glad to see the updated post. So much of what makes a community a safe space (at least for me) is less about doing everything perfectly than it is about acknowledging mistakes, or hurt feelings, or w/e, and doing what can be done to fix them.

    • I have like, a bazillion loves for your response Carbonatedwit!

      You are spot on and you’ve said everything that my brain was feeling but couldn’t articulate, and more.

      Jedi hugs ❤

  84. Dear LW,

    You have two options.

    You can be a misogynistic pig by giving women the cold shoulder. Refuse to approach them. Don’t even look at them. You can never know how you will be perceived, so just don’t do it. It’s questionable to even talk to women that you know well. Option one is be a misogynistic pig by giving women the cold shoulder.

    Option 2 is be a misogynistic pig by being Schrodinger’s Rapist. Just do it. Ignore how they may feel. Don’t worry about if your making them uncomfortable. Your a pig and a rapist anyways. Option two is be a misogynistic pig by being Schrodinger’s Rapist.

    There is no third option. You are a misogynistic pig by the very fact that you are male. It’s just a question of how and why you are labeled Misogynistic, Rapist and a pig.

    • JenniferP said:

      Well, SOMEONE is a misogynistic jerk here. I choose cold shoulder! One serving of cold shoulder from you, duration: forever. Thanks!

    • EB said:

      It’s laughable how you get off on acting as thick as a brick. Too difficult for you to observe and respect social cues? Go for the cold shoulder then. Easy.

  85. Thanks for the update, Captain. I’ve appreciated having this as a 101-level space, because I still have a load to learn. There are a lot of blogs that I love but will never post on, because I’ve seen how nasty they can get. (Sometimes justified, sometimes not, IMO.) The response/comments on this one seemed to be coming from a totally different place than usual.

    That said, I also get the exhaustion setting in and it’s totally understandable – thanks for keeping it up as long as you have and for the heads-up on the change.

  86. LauraA said:

    Dear Jennifer,

    Your updated post is one of the most gracious things I’ve seen on the Internet. Thank you for taking the time to process this discussion and respond in the thoughtful way you did.


  87. I have read a lot of comments here from both sides and I agree with some points and disagree with others, but overall the whole discussion makes my brain tired.

    I follow this blog because it is a good advice column, the questions are usually pertinent or interesting and the Captain’s answers are in general, civil and helpful.
    I know that Jennifer acknowledged that she responded inappropriately to this question but what she says is a little concerning. (I would post on the other post but comments don’t appear to be allowed.)
    Jennifer, if you’re feeling tired or fatigued, please don’t ignore it as a sign of burnout or other flags. It could be a signal that you need to take a break.
    Many people here find your posts helpful and valuable but if you are letting that fatigue bleed in, no matter what the reason, it affects others. The amount of people who felt hurt or angered by both the question and response is a testament to that.

    So please, look after yourself. 🙂

    • misspiggy said:

      This advice looks kindly meant, but it does contain a suggestion that CA owes her readership something more than she has already given. Personally, I don’t think she owes us anything. CA is not a paid advice columnist, she is a blogger. I think she gets to articulate any feelings she likes about the topics which come up. Also, this fatigue, this anger, is something that many of us share: for me it’s useful to discuss why it happens and what could be done about it.

      • I’m not saying that fatigue and anger is not useful or natural, just that is shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed.
        I work in healthcare and while we are always telling people to look out for these things, we often ignore it in ourselves.
        What I meant was that it is fine for her to voice her frustration but the point is that she is responding to questions and giving advice but also let that negativity slant her thoughts.
        It wasn’t the LW’s fault that CA has received lots of letters that are similar, it is the LEs fault for not reading the previous posts about it.

        I don’t want to stir up a debate however, I am aware that CA’s advice touches many people and she has built a community of followers. Because of this, it is good to have an awareness that since responses like this post can affect the community. At the same time, this is the Internet blogosphere and you can say what you like.
        But ideally we all should consider what social responsibility we have as informers and givers of advice.

      • It’s really good that CA acknowledged her feelings but I also am concerned that she may/may not be dealing with them.
        And sometimes the solution to fatigue with these sorts of things is to take a break and come back refreshed, rather than letting the fatigue and frustration bleed into her posts because ultimately, it makes for a negative experience for all.

        • BoyOrHedgehog said:

          I feel uncomfortable with what you’re saying here. The Captain has not requested any advice or speculation on how she is handling fatigue/stress/casual sexism/anything else that is going on for her. You are free to express your feelings about the post but I think your commentary on her emotional state is very inappropriate and invasive.