#1153: “Help with unwanted criticism after public speaking.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her pronouns) do a lot of public speaking. I take this seriously and practice/prepare a lot, have worked with a professional speech coach, and often watch videos of my talks afterwards with a trusted friend to discuss ways I can improve in the future.

Although most of the audience feedback after my talks is positive, there is usually at least one man that will approach me to tell me why he thinks I’m wrong and what aspects of my talk upset him. (It is worth noting that I am a woman in a male-dominated industry.) Since I find speaking to be emotionally exhausting and tend to be self-critical, I’m in no mood to be criticized by men I don’t know (especially since I disagree with their points) directly after giving a talk. Do you have good scripts on how to respond?

Also, I do think speakers have something of an obligation to the audience (ie, since people have chosen to take time to listen to me, I owe them to take their time seriously and to prepare appropriately), but I’d like to shut down these uninvited critiques faster, while still being open to meeting people from the audience.

Hi there,

If you haven’t seen Nanette (content warnings for the creator describing homophobia & sexual violence she’s experienced apply) you may enjoy her bits about “feedback” that people give her after her comedy shows.

The thing you’re experiencing is so very common. I gave a talk at a tech conference last year (a talk about giving & dealing with feedback, strangely enough, you can read the notes here PeepasGOTOMay1). It was a super-stressful morning – I took a Lyft to the conference venue to make sure I’d be there on time, and we were involved in a (fortunately slight) car accident on the way, meaning my talk started a few minutes late and I totally freaked out the organizer-person responsible for me. So the talk went okay in the end (I think!) but it was also kind of a blur.

Afterwards, a couple of dudes followed me around the hotel banquet area for a while afterward to tell me how wrong I was about everything. Here’s what I did: “Hey, nice to meet you, I’m not really in a place to absorb or retain your notes – I’m trying to eat lunch and meet up with some people I specifically want to see, and I only have a very limited time to do that – so why don’t you send them through the conference app and/or find me on Twitter? Thanks so much!” and skedaddled away from them. There was a possibility that what they had to tell me was important and useful, in which case, send it my way! But I didn’t have either the time or the inclination to be loomed over and monologued at in that moment, and I didn’t have to submit to that, and neither do you.

In fact, one of the things I specifically covered in the talk is that it’s very hard just on a human level to absorb & apply feedback in the moment, and one useful tactic creators and presenters can use is to document all the feedback you get (take notes, it will give you a safe place to look and something to do with your hands) and then look at your work again and go through all the notes a little later, when you’re calm can approach things with more distance. Smart managers and others who preside over feedback sessions can build this into the process and remove the expectation that people will be able to absorb & respond immediately.

Anyway, there are some common fallacies about feedback, along the lines of:

  • All presenters/creators want it,
  • They want it all the time, right now, whenever it’s convenient for you!
  • They want it RIGHT AFTER they’ve presented the thing,
  • They want it from you, specifically,
  • The act of saying or creating something publicly for an audience means that they must now listen to you in turn, for as long as you want to speak,
  • All feedback is equally interesting and valid and must be acted on,
  • And if you don’t want to engage and/or debate people it automatically proves you’re wrong, about everything.

It’s true that people who present or create things for an audience are opening themselves up to a certain amount of response to what they say and do, including unfavorable responses, and that part of learning to be a person with a public-facing job is learning to professionally absorb a wide variety of feedback and incorporate the useful stuff into what we do going forward. Especially in this day and age of internet comments and social media, we’re supposed to hang out a “we welcome your feedback!” sign, right?

It’s also true that we’re allowed to consider the source and use our own critical thinking tools to parse out what’s useful to us. We’re allowed to set boundaries around our time and attention. We’re allowed to be human beings who need to go to the bathroom or drink some water or need some time to gather our thoughts. (To be clear, I’m not talking about protest, here. If a public figure/elected official finds your humanity and right to exist free of violence debatable, you don’t have to be civil to them or let them finish their soup or their sentence.)

It’s additionally true that this stuff is highly gendered and operates along other axes of power and privilege. It’s not an accident that the Letter Writer is a woman and the people behaving this way toward her are men. If I ask all of you to remember and picture the people you’ve seen hijack author readings or talks or panels or film festival Q&As to talk about their own ideas because they are very sure that they are right and COMPLETELY CERTAIN that everyone wants to hear what they have to say (even more than the audience want to hear the person whose event they bought tickets to!) that it’s completely okay for them to take up everyone’s time, in fact, they’re doing everyone a favor by delivering their insights, welp, let’s be honest: It’s not women doing it to men. It’s not black people talking over white folks. It’s not transgender people talking over cis people. It’s not wealthy older folks being talked over by younger, poorer people. It’s almost 100% people who have relative privilege in the room flexing that privilege to talk over the people they think have to listen to what they think.

It’s why I like the Liz Lerman Critical Response so much as a feedback tool and structure, because it specifically involves consent. The creator is directing the process of presenting work and listening to feedback, there are guardrails around it and a recognition that the audience’s job isn’t to try to outsmart or fix or remake the work. The structure also encourages people to ask questions, which can be hella clunky in practice  – “So what prompted this…(ridiculous) artistic choice (that I clearly hate?”) –  but is also useful because it clarifies the question: What were you going for and is it even the same thing that I thought you were going for?

It’s why I hate snitch-tagging. If I talk publicly about not really liking a book or a show, I’m not out to ruin the creator’s day, personally, and there’s no need to bring it to their attention. They can find it if they want to, otherwise, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. If someone hates my site and my entire being, I don’t need to be personally invited to their venting on their personal feeds. There’s a safety & harassment aspect to it, too – tagging someone prominent or politically powerful into a conversation risks activating their followers and bots and trolls. Just don’t.

It’s why I run a moderated community space and believe in moderated community spaces – online, in classrooms, and in other public discussions and spaces. To your point, Letter Writer, about not wanting feedback from men in a male-dominated industry, I went to one of Kate Harding’s readings for her book on rape culture, Asking For It, and she just straight up shut down the “I have more of a comment than a question” brigade by saying “I’m not taking questions from men.” Oh, they tried it (they always try it) and she enforced it. “I’m not taking questions from men, especially men who haven’t read the book.” It was beautiful, and the resulting discussion was good, because it wasn’t dominated by the skeptics or people who were there to debate her.

Anyway, Letter Writer, I want to give you some specific tools to use the next time you run into this phenomenon:

First, you were likely taught and socialized to think that it is very rude to interrupt people (especially cisgender men). Unfortunately many people (especially cisgender men) were not correspondingly socialized to learn that it is rude to talk at someone without pause or checking in to make sure that they want to hear what you have to say. So sometimes you gotta say “Let me interrupt you!” or “Sorry to interrupt you!” or “Let me stop you there!” You just do. You will never escape them or get to talk if you don’t. They will survive being interrupted. As a woman, you have survived being interrupted all your life. It’s okay to do it back.

Second, if at all possible don’t get boxed in. It’s okay to physically move away, walk away, back away, move away from a wall if you’ve been cornered, and otherwise leave a conversation altogether. You just gave a talk to a room full of people, your time and attention are in demand by lots of people in that room, and “Oh, interesting, but sadly I can’t stay and talk right now, I need to catch up with [another person in the audience] or “Oh, interesting, forgive me for cutting you off but I must get a glass of water!” or whatever you need to do and MOVE YOUR BODY. They might follow! But you don’t have to physically remain available. [By the way if you’re reading this and we’re ever at the same event, invoke the hell out of me – “Great point, but forgive me, I have to catch Jennifer and ask her something important!” – I WILL COVER YOU. We can mimic an intense West Wing sort of walk & talk and talk about the weather or how cute cats are.]

Third, it is normal and reasonable to need time and space to absorb feedback, so use this knowledge and redirect people to a forum that is better and more convenient for you and makes it more likely that you can engage with or even retain what they want to tell you. “Sorry, I need to stop you there – It’s hard for me to absorb detailed notes right after a talk like this, especially when I want to talk to so many audience members. Can you email me your thoughts [email = whatever the least invasive/most public-facing contact method you have is] so I can give them the attention they deserve?”

Fourth, “The attention they deserve” might be a lot, and it might be little or none. True story, nobody from the conference who was Very Concerned that code reviews for programmers HAVE to be mean  and torturous because how else can they be RIGOROUS and IMPARTIAL ever followed up with me later. But I get all sorts of emails all the time – Why did you mention that book or movie I don’t like? (You don’t have to like everything I like, it’s okay if we like different things!) Why did you unfairly malign natural family planning? But how do you know for sure that people who collect Nazi paintings (and knew enough that they should hide this fact from Jewish family members) are distressingly cavalier about Nazis, couldn’t they have a Really Good Reason?  Literally 1000+ emails about how unfair it is to use the word “creepy” to describe any man, ever, because I’m “creep-shaming.” Emails that just say “You’re fat.” (Sure am!) It’s like reading teaching evaluations at the end of the semester, when the 3 students who love you and the 3 who hate your guts are the only ones who filled ’em out.

I get legit, sincere requests to do better, I do take audience feedback very seriously, and if I never listened or changed or evolved how I do what I do I would lose (audience)(livelihood)(sense of self as mostly not an a-hole). But, lessons learned in 7 years of blogging and 12 years of teaching emerging artists, I don’t have to engage personally and deeply with every single person’s opinion about what I should write and how I should write it in the exact way they choose. I just don’t. I don’t have to accept challenges to Reddit Debates (are these a real thing?) or give other people’s manifestos “equal time” and “free speech” on my website. I can mute and block people on social media and file certain polemics into the “Welp, this was your one email to Captain Awkward, hope you got what you wanted from this experience” folder because if I’m budgeting limited attention and energy, it’s gotta be for the people who generally like it here. So maybe take that with you, too, Letter Writer:  You want to do a good job. You want to improve where you can. You actively take steps to get better at what you do and you solicit feedback and coaching from trusted sources. Ultimately, you were hired/booked for a reason and you’re here to reach the people who want to hear what you have to say, and you don’t owe your critics immediate, personal, on-demand compliance, especially not right after you’ve done a vulnerable thing that absorbed all of your attention and skill.

Good luck in future presentations and evasive tactics!




151 thoughts on “#1153: “Help with unwanted criticism after public speaking.”

  1. Such good advice!

    LW, you may want to set up a burner email account that you use for conferences, or maybe even only for giving out to these Feedback Dementors. Gmail and Protonmail are good free services. That way you can look for written feedback when YOU want to, and are less likely to open your usual email to trip over feedback when you’re not ready. Or, you can just never or rarely look at it.

    1. I’ve found it helpful to have a physical card on me, and that would be a great place to put your burner email. Somehow the act of giving someone a card and telling them they are welcome to email me their thoughts makes the whole interaction feel much less fraught because I’m already adhering to a well-trodden path of interactions.

      1. As an independent trainer and sometimes sessional instructor, I use this strategy. It provides time and space for the person who wants to continue engagement with you to think about what he/she wants to say. It gives you the same time & space to reflect on your presentation, as well.
        Usually, the petty dissenters and outliers will fall by the wayside and not contact you. The ones with more serious concerns will be in touch. With the benefit of a “breather” period, you are better able to consider their comments and act accordingly.

      2. I had this thought as well! Especially now that it is so easy to print up your own business cards, have an email address (SpeakerNameFeedback at hotmail). And maybe even print something like “Be sure to give the date and city of the speech so I have context.”

        You hand it to them, “I’m so sorry, I don’t really absorb feedback immediately after a talk, but if you’d like to share you thoughts, here’s the email I have specifically for that!” Walk away. If they keep talking, you point to the card and say, “Email me? Yes?”

        You can even say, “I only do smalltalk after these talks; if things are more complicated, please email me.”

        Gives you the plausible deniability you might need to keep them from lashing out.

    2. A dedicated feedback email that you can look at whenever you want to (which could be never!) Is such a great suggestion.

      I personally would be tempted to script an auto reply from this email quoting Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena’ speech, but probably that’s not the best idea. (Unless you want to send it to the most egregious mansplainers before you block them forever.)

      1. Not being American I hadn’t heard this speech, but I just looked it up and love it. I think the critic Ego’s humbled speech from Ratatouille must have been based on this. 😊

        1. It’s such a good speech, and I agree that it almost certainly was heavily influential in that scene!

      1. I would just like to say how much I appreciate all the emotional energy you both put into moderating these spaces so that we can all have safe, reasonable conversations on the internet. There are days when being able to go somewhere that isn’t trolled really restores my faith in humanity. Stuff like this reminds me of how fricken hard it must be

        1. Agreed! And also how much energy you both put into trying to find solutions that are helpful to the letter writer. Listening to Dan Savage’s flippant advice on his podcast (where he frequently doesn’t listen properly and fundamentally misunderstands what the caller is asking) that makes very little effort makes me appreciate Alison and Jennifer even more. 😊

      2. I love crossover episodes!! You two are my absolute favorites and have helped me immensely with the language for setting these kinds of boundaries in the professional and personal spheres 🙂

  2. I’m about to be on my first panel this weekend, so excellent timing. Thank you so much for this.

    Plus, I was debating if my email was my least fraught contact space… and then you mentioned reading the first email and then BLOCKING if it proved unreasonable. Thank you.

  3. Ugh, sorry you have to deal with this.

    I’m a guy, but a black guy, so, yeah, it happens to me (in different ways) from white guys when I teach adults or speak publicly. What the Captain advises is very apt, I would only add that I personally go a little… blank/curt? I let them talk for a very short second, add an “mmhmm, thanks” or whatever, maybe a “valid point” (even if it’s not) and then I move on (like literally turn as soon as opportunity arises). This doesn’t work in all situations and more than zero of them probably find me a bit odd, but on the other hand, this worked on the rudest person in any such event, who talked over all my colleagues (none of whom were white guys) as well.

    That said, I won’t pretend to know how it is to deal with this as a woman, but that’s how I’ve shut Rude White Guys down.

    1. I’m a white woman and I use pretty much the same strategy: go blank/curt, make some sort of short polite response then quickly look away and walk away.

      I used to find it weirdly hard to look away from a conversation partner if he hadn’t ‘let me go’ yet. I actually practised this in front of the mirror: break eye contact, fix your gaze on some random point, turn and power-walk toward that point as if you had some appointment you were about to be late for. It works!

  4. Being available to the audience after a talk should be to clarify or expand on the information you discussed, not pick on how you presented it.

    There’s a big difference between “I don’t really understand the difference between A and B example you gave about teapot handle proportions, could you go over that again?” And “You don’t know how to select examples. Let me tell you how…”

    1. For feedback on style rather than content I have a standard response: “I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the content!” For example, I once got told “you should really say like less often, all young people say it too much”. I chose to believe that if that was his biggest criticism then my content must have been flawless so responded as if he’d complimented the actual content of the talk.

  5. In my industry we describe being trapped with a nonstop talker as being stuck in a vortex. My coworkers and I know to check each other for signs of vortex entrapment, and do our best to spirit victims away for pretend meetings or emergencies whenever possible. All to say, if there’s anyone around who can help you with someone who refuses to stop, do it and never feel bad ever.

  6. Also, consider making this your last slide.

    I have commitments to others after this presentation, so I appreciate you sending any questions or comments to me at X. Have a good rest of the day.

    Then if someone comes up to you, you can refer to the last slide, and reconfirm you have an outstanding commitment with someone else.

    It’s none of their business what that commitment is, and feel free to duck into a bathroom for a couple minutes.

    1. Or, perhaps, enlist one of the event organizers/minders to act as your wingman/buffer after the presentation. They can be all ‘LW has urgent business over here’ when a Feedback Dementor looms in. (They always loom. Gah.)

    2. Ditto! I usually have contact details I’m comfortable handing out as the last slide in my presentation, which means it’s easier to say “Thanks so much for coming! I really have to [run to the next session now/make a quick work call] now, but feel free to find me on [internet contact portal] later”

  7. OMG. Mansplaining! Bad enough from relatives and colleagues. Those you can tell off, maybe. But from strangers! (Google has ways to deal, it’s so epidemic.). Just remember, you’re not “running like a rabbit,” as another colleague informs me. You’re fleeing lack of manners and rude annoyance.

  8. Lively helpful response, and I’m feeling rather inspired by this awesome letter writer who goes to all this trouble to prepare (I am a new lecturer at a university and I frequently feel chronically under-prepared for my classes, lectures, talks, anything I do…

    Maybe I’ll go away and practise everything for tomorrow a few more times 🙂

  9. Love this, though I seriously lol’d at “It’s not transgender people talking over cis people” because LITERALLY YESTERDAY I (trans) chewed out a cis white dude director after a short films screening and talkback because he cast a cis actor in a trans role and, when an audience member called him on it in the talkback, he defended his decision with “finding trans actors is haaaaaarrrrrrrrd.” You bet I monopolized 5 minutes of his time in the back of that theater. (Wasn’t gonna take talkback time away from the brilliant other directors. That is still bad.)

    1. This all seems like a good (and all too rare) use of Q&A time!

      The director now has the option of taking that feedback in and doing something with it, or not, and you were well within the structure set up for hearing out multiple perspectives.

    2. That line of argument is so bizarre. Of course they’ve never tried to find any trans actors (let alone for a project thats respectful of them) but I’m a trans writer who wrote a trans play and had an almost entirely trans (and completely queer) cast and crew essentially pop up overnight to fill the roles. Its not hard except in the cis imagination.

      More on topic, I think your feedback was valuable, relevant, and not the same as cornering someone to tell them their powerpoint timing couldve been better, or whatever.

      1. Yuup, that guy couldn’t find trans actors because his film was a patronizing melodrama and nobody wanted to get anywhere near it. He literally had people turn down the role and just chalked this up to the haaardness of finding trans actors, not problems with his project. Not a mystery, director dude.

        I agree that my feedback was fundamentally different from the way people with privilege talk over and nitpick the work of marginalized people. To be clear, I’m not worried that I did the wrong thing. The reason that part of the response made me chuckle is that, yes, it’s rare for marginalized people to chew out presenters who hold privilege over them; but in case anyone reading that interpreted it as, “Why of course, because marginalized people are far too conscientious and polite,” nope to politeness, excuse me while I chew out as many cis dude directors as possible.

  10. Something to look out for: Moderator/presenter is clear that only questions will be taken, not comments or opinions. Audience members who believe the fallacies about having to be listened to or that their opinion is just as valid as the informed one given from the podium get the mic. They begin their “question” in the form of “wouldn’t you say that …” or “what is your response to …” and then go on to give their mansplaining or any other sort of splaining uninformed opinion/ experience/ non sequitur/ condescension. It is perfectly alright to break in with “this doesn’t sound like a question. Next, please.” Asking the people who would corner you with their criticism to write it down and send it in email later is brilliant. It can be done in a private setting as when they follow you during the meet & greet after or when they’re at the audience microphone.

    1. OMG I wish more moderators would do this. So many times at cons I hate having to listen to some person drone on about their interest and seemingly not get that noone else in the room is interested. I’ve seen some women repeat offenders too.

      1. My (former? I haven’t gone in ages) congregation regularly invites in speakers on political topics, and the Q and A’s are soooo vulnerable to “let me pretend to ask a question but actually talk about this unrelated issue that I think is more important.” Although I really haven’t been to one of talks in probably a decade, so I should probably use past tense. It might have gotten better.

    2. How I wish more speakers would shut down these bloviators. They’re wasting the audience’s time too.

      1. Bloviate is such a wonderful word that I need to use more frequently. Unfortunately that’s because I’m frequently in rooms with several of them… eep.

    3. In my dream world there is never again a mic available for audience questions without a remote kill switch the presenter can hold.

      “This is more a comment than a question, bu-”
      “no thanks!” *click* [mic muted]

      1. A series of talks I go to regularly changed moderators and the new guy does not specify in talks with Q&As that all questions must be in the form of a question. I miss that instruction a lot.

      2. I used to moderate public hearings for my state EPA. Imaging facing 600 scared, angry, frustrated, worried people who don’t understand what’s going on. I never, never, NEVER gave a mic to anyone for any reason. I would have a person in the audience with a microphone get questions and then speak them into the mic for the questioner “so that everyone would be able to hear.” Either that, or have people write questions on cards that I would read into the mic before answering them. I let someone get their hands on a mic ONE TIME in my first six months and that was more than enough for me. Never again.

        1. Oohh, yeah, bad idea to give an EPA audience the mike. Been there! Hope the nightmares have stopped!

    4. Continuing my own thought. It’s the meet and greet after the formal speech giving part of the event. Some bloviators, having learned that cornering the presenter with their comments will be met with a business card and the request that the comments be written and emailed, will take another tactic. They’ll start with “Just a quick question …” and then go on to bloviate as the introduction to the question. Or “what is your response to …” or “would you agree that …” They’ve learned that questions with their promise of allowing the speaker to clarify, or questions with the implication that they value the speaker’s opinion, are more likely not to be dismissed than beginning with a more honest “I have something to say …” or “Now it’s your turn to listen to me …” Knowing this ahead of time can give the speaker the chance to go right ahead with the business card perhaps by saying “Reading this later will give me the chance to give your question my the full attention that it deserves.” That way, if the question is a good one, great, answer in depth. If the question doesn’t actually deserve much attention, easy, ignore it or give it a quick “thanks for writing.”

    5. Or, if you’re feeling like you can be a little more sharp:

      “Wouldn’t you say that….[starts rambling about a bad opinion]”

      “I’m going to stop you right there. I would not say that. Next question?”

  11. Some people think “creep-shaming” shouldn’t be a thing? How else will they learn not to be creeps?

    1. There’s a subcategory of men who think that “creep” == on the autism spectrum and therefore creep-shaming == ableism and therefore creepy men are entitled to as much of your time/body/personal space as they want.

      As a woman on the spectrum, this pisses me off enormously.

      1. It also sort of presupposes that folks with autism can’t ever improve or expand their social skills, which is obviously bullshit and pretty ableist too, I would think.

      2. Those people definitely exist, but I think they’re outnumbered by the much worse category of men who think that “creep” is a slur for men that’s just trying to ~*oppress*~ their “natural” male tendencies.

      3. I once read a really insightful blog post about how socially awkward women attend cons too and being socially awkward can make it a lot harder to figure out how to respond appropriately to harassment. I’d link to it but I can’t find it any more. (Of course many people have also pointed out that if someone is creepy towards women but not to men that’s probably not a social awkwardness thing, and even if someone is coming across as creepy because they’re socially awkward you should still address it. It just really resonnated with me as a woman who can be socially awkward, that “it’s not harassment it’s just so and so being socially awkward!” can actually make things worse for *female* socially awkward people.)

    2. The argument as near as I can understand it is something like, “We get told not to slut-shame or fat-shame, so why is it okay to ostracize and exclude someone just for being a little weird or socially awkward?!” while playing linguistic sleight of hand on several levels.

      1. They must know that “a little weird or socially awkward” != creepy. Shit I’m a little weird and socially awkward, but I don’t creep on random men.

        1. I’ve been creepy, and a woman. Hell, I was the class smelly kid and I learned that if I feigned crushes on the worst bullies, it would buy me a few precious minutes of recess time that didn’t involve the very real possibility of having rocks thrown at me. I consciously used sexuality to make people uncomfortable, and IT IS NOT COOL TO DO THAT NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES IT IS NOT COOL TO DO THAT NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES IT IS NOT COOL TO DO THAT NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES .

          But what’s funny is I was a “creep” in part because I had no hope of change, no good feedback. When I started shutting up and listening to feedback, especially feedback given to others— well, I’m always going to be weird and awkward, but I at least learned not to be a fucking predator.

          1. I have to say that “preventing real physical harm to myself” is a perfectly reasonable circumstance to do whatever the hell you need to do.

        2. I’ve been accused of being creepy (I’m a woman, so was the person making the accusation, I don’t think there was a sexual element. It was more of a just hanging around awkwardly thing.) So, there is a thing where people do get called creepy outside of a sexual harassment context. And, “it’s just social awkwardness” can be used as a cover for deliberate sexual harassment. And it’s worth figuring out how to not creep people out even if you’re not a sexual harasser. All are true. (I have no idea where the “creep-shaming” objectors are coming from, it may well be disingenious obstructivism.)

        3. Yup. They’ve twisted the meaning of not only “creep”, but also “shaming” (“I heard A slept with the entire Quidditch team!” is not the same thing as “I’d rather not invite B to play at our weekly Gobstones night, because their behavior makes me feel really uncomfortable”, and not *remotely* the same as “just so you know, when C gets a couple butterbeers in them, they start groping on everything in sight”.)

          1. I’m a deeply socially awkward and moderately weird-not-in-the-cute-way bi person and I don’t creep on anyone.

            It’s not rocket science. All it takes is understanding that I am not entitled to other people’s attention. That’s it, that’s all.

      2. Part of the reason it’s so difficult to respond is that the premise itself is misleading– the majority of creeps aren’t less socially adept, they’re MORE socially adept. They’re socially adept to the point that they’ve figured out how to “get away with” extraordinary things that would be difficult for “socially normals” to pull off even if they wanted to, they’ve figured out exactly how far they can go and to whom, and then have hordes defending them.

        Like yeah, sure some people are just clueless or struggling somehow but those people specifically tend to respond and benefit (eventually) from being informed and held accountable to creepiness. The socially adept ones are the ones, specifically, who skate by on “just socially awkward.”

    3. Some people think it’s unintentional (it rarely is) and that therefore no one should be called out for it.

      Guess what, y’all? Bad behaviors don’t have to be intentional for me to be allowed to want them to stop. If you step on my foot it doesn’t matter why you did it, get off and apologize. And if you keep stepping on my foot, I’m going to call you an asshole, because you are one. Same with creeps.

      1. I swing dance, and when you go to a social dance and have dozens of people on the floor, you will step on, be stepped on, and otherwise accidentally contact other people. When we do, protocol is to pause, turn and look at the other person, and say “sorry”, even for a little bump. If you look and they appear in pain or have stopped dancing, you stop and make sure they are okay. And there’s definitely people I won’t dance with or near because they are involved in too many collisions for my comfort.

        Basically, seconding everything you just said with a literal example of toe-stepping 🙂

    4. Yep, these people are annoyingly disingenuous. Push back against creep behavior is not unfair shaming. It’s a justified response to a harmful behavior.

    5. I also think there’s a difference between social interactions and professional interactions, and personally what I may tolerate in terms of questionable behavior is different based on that context. I hope if a guy was trying to chat me up and was being clumsy and/or insistent in doing it, I would try to detach tactfully and kindly if I wasn’t interested. But someone who wants to come for me in a professional context I will shut down hard. For me, in the work context, it is definitely a gender thing; I work in a field with a fair bit of bloviating (love that word!) and jockeying for position, and as a woman dealing primarily with men I literally will not stand still for feedback that boils down to (a) how I could do my job or presentation better or (b) hypotheticals that take my valid point and stretch it to the point of ridiculousness.

  12. *takes notes*
    This is great advice, Captain, and I love that you linked it to question #787, been trying to find that one for a while.

    I also would like to mention something regarding the policy of not taking questions from [X privileged group] in a public speaking event, in case the LW might want to apply it: I’ve seen it backfire spectacularly, because sometimes LGB people can look straight, trans people can look cis, and people of color can look white. By “backfire spectacularly” I mean a member of the oppressed group who doesn’t look oppressed tries to participate during the allotted time for that only to be told by the speaker that they can’t, ’cause they’re not part of the oppressed group.

    In a specially upsetting occasion, during a talk about LGBT representation in video games where straight people were asked to hang back and listen, a good friend of mine raised his hand and got told, scathingly, to shut up because he was straight. He is bi, and at the time he was trying to find his way into the LGBT community. He got up and left without a word, and it was a hurtful experience for him. I’m sure the speaker didn’t mean to be a biphobic/transphobic/moronic asshole, but he relied on his skewed assumptions of what LGBT people look like, and attacked one of the vulnerable people he meant to protect. I can’t imagine any other bi and trans people who witnessed that felt very safe afterwards.

    So, what I’m trying to say is, if you’re considering a similar policy, please know your context, know your audience, and know your own biases. For example, it’s never a good idea to assume anyone’s gender or sexuality, especially in a LGBT space (visually or otherwise): what we do in my group to enforce safe spaces is writing down who wants to intervene and not allowing anyone have a second go until after everyone else has spoken. If we want to bring forward an oppressed perspective, we ask in advance that people who have a certain privilege hang back. If the moderator suspects that someone may be breaking that rule, they let the person ask their question (sometimes that clarifies which oppressed group the asker belongs to) and, if there’s doubt after that, the moderator might say something like “so, just to be clear, we’re prioritizing [X perspective] today, could you tell us how your question relates to that?” (in a friendly tone, to try not to exclude anyone vulnerable) and *then* turn the conversation to the next person if it turns out the asker was breaking the rule.

    We do it this way because feeling accepted in a community of strangers-at-first is crucial for many LGBT people and we want to prioritize not excluding anyone who needs that over 5 minutes of maybe listening to someone hijack the conversation. I imagine your context is different, LW, so adapt accordingly to what might work best for you. But if you decide to enforce a similar policy, please be aware of any internalised biases that might interfere when restricting someone from speaking: for example, if I were to give a talk on domestic violence, I’d keep in mind that a) I don’t know the gender of anyone for sure till they tell me; b) men can be victims of abuse as well; c) women can be abusers as well; d) non-binary people exist.

    Best of luck and congratulations on all the hard work you do! 🙂

    1. ‘if there’s doubt after that, the moderator might say something like “so, just to be clear, we’re prioritizing [X perspective] today, could you tell us how your question relates to that?’

      That’s such terrific framing. Excellent idea

        1. Thank you all for the kind responses! It’s come in handy for moderating, so I’m glad to share it here, since the Captain and this community have shared such great advice with everyone over the years 🙂

    2. Yes, I’d be hesitant to say something like ‘No questions from men’, because like you say I don’t know the gender of the person putting their hand up unless they confirm it… (I’ve worked in schools as a cover teacher and I found you need to be careful – you don’t always know the gender of the students in the room and the last thing you want to do is accidentally tell someone they look like someone of the opposite sex/ gender….

    3. >> “so, just to be clear, we’re prioritizing [X perspective] today, could you tell us how your question relates to that?” (in a friendly tone)

      I like this a lot. You make a solid point in your comment and this seems like a graceful script to have on hand for these types of situations. I can also see this being modified slightly to be used in any sort of group discussion… I’ll be keeping it in mind for class!

      1. Thank you! I find this dynamic works best in settings where you want to promote participation and where you can invest the time in hearing people out, so it sounds like a classroom setting could definitely be a good way to apply it 🙂

    4. Ayyy. I’m bisexual and whenever I run into someone policing the boundaries of what counts as queer/LBGTQ I assume they’re trying to draw me outside of it. Even when it’s really clear from context that bisexuals are on the “in” side of the line. I just… yeah. Bisexual inclusivity can be very fragile.

      (And yeah, policing on gender can be really fraught for trans people as well, for a variety of reasons.)

      1. Yeah, it sucks 😦 there’s still so much biphobia and transphobia in supposedly safe spaces! I hate when people who are looking for a community get hurt because of all the gatekeeping. I’m very sorry you went through those experiences, jellyfishcreationstory.

    5. I’ve def. stepped in to call out somebody for talking over trans folks, but waited until she explicitly identified herself as cis to do so, because as you say, not every marginalized person is visibly so.

  13. Dear LW,

    WOW ! The Captain gave you a great answer. I particularly love the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process.

    You may be like me: I get better results – especially from men – with orders in the imperative than with those phrased as questions. (That is Please [do X] rather than Can you [do X]?) So that’s one more small tool if it suits you.

    And yes! Handing out cards is excellent.

    Good luck!

  14. Seen on FB by Hilary Jerome Scarsella

    Story time. I’m at the airport, working on my laptop, sitting near a guy I just met at a conference this weekend. He and I were both invited speakers, and he was waiting for his flight home too. Another guy comes and sits across from us. He starts talking. He is talking a lot. He finds out we were speakers at a conference about trauma, theology, sexual abuse, and the church. He thinks this is really interesting. He’s into theology and trauma. He asks what my degrees are in. He launches into explaining his belief that everything happens for a reason, that the universe is filled with forces that even out all wrongdoing, that everyone is where they are supposed to be at all times, that something good comes from each thing that is bad, and so on. I listen and ask him questions and let him know kindly that I disagree. Did slavery happen for a reason? Has the Native American genocide been evened out? Was that woman really supposed to be in the room where she was raped? We argue. He works hard to show me that he is right. I look at my laptop. My work is not getting done. I say “I understand your perspective and I disagree.” He reiterates his points and then says, “It was great talking to you, I’m gonna go catch my flight!”

    Then this brilliant thing happened. My new friend leaned forward as airport guy was about to walk away, and he said, “Dude, you missed an opportunity. You had an expert in theology and trauma sitting in front of you. You say you’re interested in these things but you didn’t ask her a single question. You didn’t try to learn anything at all from her. You know she has advanced degrees and is published but you just tried to show her that you know more about her work than she does. You missed out. Big fail, man.”

    I’m sure I didn’t remember that verbatim, but I think the quote is pretty close.

    The guy got uncomfortable and tried to defend himself, but my new friend and I smiled and shook our heads. Nope, we weren’t having it. Then, the guy sat back down and asked me to “teach him” for 5 minutes before he went to board his plane. He was trying to make it right. I smiled and said no thank you, I didn’t want to be put on the spot or responsible for him missing his flight (which had been boarding for 15 minutes). My new friend added, “No, man, you gotta live with the consequences of your mistake. Time’s up.”

    We each said a pleasant goodbye, waved, and the guy went off to his gate.

    This was (for me, in this particular situation) an awesome experience of a man (my new friend) using his male privilege to call bs on another man’s (airport guy) entitlement and sexism in a way that redirected power and dignity, and honestly, needed emotional energy back to me. When he spoke up, my body relaxed. My new friend wasn’t the least bit concerned about hurting airport guy’s feelings or making him uncomfortable. He was concerned about interrupting men’s patterns of lowkey dominating women. I found his priorities startling and refreshing. They made the physical space I was in change. It went from hostile space to safe(er) space in the time it took to speak a sentence. The ease with which my new friend expressed his priorities signaled a long term, practiced commitment to not only holding them in his mind but to embodying them as well. I wish I encountered this more often. My new friend shouldn’t get accolades. I’m not writing this to praise him or put him in some kind of weird male savior position. His priorities should be normal and interrupting sexism should be mundane. But they’re not, so. Here we are.

    Menfolk, will you please make this happen more often? I could get by on half the energy it currently takes me to exist in the world if y’all would each take on one or two airport guys a month.

    In earnest, though. I hope this might be a helpful example for those looking to build habits of supporting women and challenging sexism. This isn’t the only way to do it but it’s one way that worked today.

  15. I’m curious; do talks at your industry have any sort of official feedback process? Every time I attend a lecture in my line of work, there are forms we’re meant to fill out afterwards to rate the speaker on various things, with some spaces for other comments. These are a PITA as far as I’m concerned, but they sound perfect for the kind of jerks you’re describing; “Let me stop you there; the official feedback forms are on that table, so please go ahead and fill one in. Thanks! Bye!”

    If not, is it an option for you to create one and leave a pile of them for anyone who wants to give feedback? Gives you something physical to direct people to (or even to thrust at them directly), and means that they’re simultaneously being welcomed to give the thoughts they’re supposedly so desperate to give and expected to put a bit of effort into it. (I suspect a lot of the mansplaining enthusiasm might diminish if it involves writing their thoughts down by hand instead of getting to corner you in person and monologue them at you.)

  16. All of these are great, and I especially love number 3 for those times when the person giving feedback is someone with whom it’s politically astute to at least appear to give consideration to–your boss’s boss, the head of x major organization you’ve applied for a grant from, whatever. Also, the Liz Lerman process is great. We used it in a grad choreography 2 class and I found it quite helpful, especially for those situations in which you actually do want or need feedback but don’t really want to be swamped with it/swamped with critique of your entire being indefinitely.

  17. LW – Also, remember that you have been incredibly brave by putting yourself out there. The ones who follow and lurk and want to “talk” to you, you will notice, are doing it in private, directly with you, and they are not putting themselves out there because they are cowards.

    There is a great scene in “Hoosiers”, with Gene Hackman as the basketball coach, at the first pep rally, talking about how these boys standing here have decided to put themselves out there, and y’all have not, so STFU “or something like that).

    Love Gene Hackman.

  18. And to add to what The Captain is saying: typically, I wish people would send feedback to the event organizer. In case of dudebro mansplain-y feedback, I’d definitely prefer that someone filter that for me. In case of complimentary ‘so helpful’ feedback, I want the person hiring me and organizing this stuff to know that I rock and hire me again at the next conference. And, frankly, if I suck, they should get someone better, and if your concern is the quality of the conference, that’s where you affect things.

    Usually conference organizers will gather up the feedback and pass it on, along with feedback forms/emails/etc, so: please. Centralize. It’ll get to the right place if everyone is doing their job.s

    Unless you’re just being a mansplain-y dudebro, in which case, go where you can be filtered, I suppose?

  19. If the Dementor wants to walk and spout at you and is of the opposite gender (presentation), head for the restroom! Yes, they may linger in the hall waiting, but it gives you time alone-ish to catch your breath, and maybe snag someone else to be in deep conversation with when you emerge. I’ve ducked into the restroom to cut short conversations with benign-but-annoying people at conferences more than once.

    Doesn’t work too well if the Dementor can/will follow you in and spout at you through the door, I’m afraid.

    1. I was going to suggest this. It’s amazing how “I’m so sorry but I need to use the restroom” is the ultimate phrase that will get you out of any conversation. You can interrupt without being rude, you can go more than once, sometimes there are multiple locations, and everyone understands!!

  20. I like the business card as punctuation (we are DONE and you can EMAIL me or toss this in the garbage). If you have no business cards, but are willing to shake hands with your Feedback Dementor (LOVE this title), you can do the patented George Clooney shake and walk.

    Dementor (who is boxing you in): I have some important points to make. 402 of them, in fact. To begin-
    You: That is so thoughtful of you, and I’m terribly sorry I have to move on, you know how it is. (extend hand)
    Dementor: But- I’m important! My points are-
    You: (grab their hand and shake, perhaps use your other hand to take their shoulder and guide them out of your way) Thank you so much.
    Dementor: Than… k you..?
    You: [blessedly gone, maybe waving cheerfully goodbye to them if you feel like it]

    They have shaken your hand. The conversation is over. You know how it is. Nothing personal, and you ARE important, but things! You know?

    1. I was looking for the video of Hugh Jackman demonstrating this exact thing but came up short!

      1. I’ve seen William Shatner references as the personality that does a friendly handshake and move on.

        1. The George Clooney is amazing. I’ve also seen a couple of videos demonstrating how to turn a hug attempt into a handshake, which are VERY useful.

  21. Hand out your card and say “Send me an email/text so I can give your comments the attention they deserve.” You could even set up a special email for such comments, if you don’t want to give out your real email.

  22. This is wonderful advice. I’m going to read it often as I descend into my conference season. I have also found that it is worthwhile to invoke The Organizers. “Thanks for the feedback–sounds like you didn’t agree with the entire premise of what I said! If you talk to the organizers, I’m sure they’d like to hear your ideas on how [event] can have an array of experts with different points of view.” The organizers will never hear from them.

  23. Hi,
    If you’re speaking in an academic context especially it might be helpful to talk to the organisers in advance & quote the research that found that when man asks the first question the whole question time tends to be dominated by men, but when it’s a woman it turns out more equal. And to specifically ask the moderator to choose a woman for the first question if possible. Similarly it can be good to say up front you’d only like 1 question from each person to allow as many people as possible to ask one.

    1. I attended an event yesterday where the panel moderator set up that expectation right at the start: “We have very limited time for questions and there are quite a few of you, so we are not taking comments and we aren’t allowing multiple (or even multi-part) questions.” One guy near the end started with, “I know you said not to do this, but–” and the moderator said, “And I meant it. Next questioner!” and it was like seeing the sun after a long dreary winter.

      1. Several recent conferences in my field have been doing similar things – most folks don’t seem to want to rock the boat by saying “we want Qs from women first!” But they’ve gone with “take questions from junior people first” (and the junior ranks have a better gender ratio) and “your question must end in a question mark”/”only questions, no comments”. They’ve had mixed success, though – it strongly depends on the chair’s willingness to ignore the senior man in the front row, or to cut people off if they break the rules.

        1. I saw a panel with John Lewis and the other folks behind the graphic novel about him and he did the most brilliant thing along these lines – he only took questions from children. The questions were so good and insightful and things that adults would not ask – things like “were you scared?” and “what advice do you have for me? I’m 12.”

          Clearly, most situations like these don’t have children at them, but if they do, it’s an idea.

          (Also, the book is very good.)

          1. My son is 12 and loves asking questions. We were recently on a tour of a historic home and he asked two questions that honestly stumped the tour guides, but as soon as he asked them the adults in the group were all “yeah, how did the families who live here combat the real possibility of fire while they slept?” and “Yeah…how much money would all of this furniture have cost the family in 1620? and what does that translate to in today’s money?” (Answers if you need them: a lot of families would have servants who slept nearby whose sole job was to keep the fire in bedrooms from sparking in the night and the house was furnished with about $1500 worth of furniture in 1620 but it would cost over $500,000 in current money to purchase all the same period items as antiques. )
            I love when he asks questions because they’re things I never think of to ask, but the second it’s out of his mouth I want to know the answer. Kid questions rock!!

          2. My 6 year old recently sat silently through a presentation at our library given by a historian speaking about a rather famous sculptor of western US americana. One might have thought child was bored out of their skull and waiting to run back to the fun kids section. Only, during the Q&A, child raised their hand and asked a surprisingly thoughtful question (about a piece of clothing known to have belonged to the sculptor). The presenter responded in terms my child could understand, and in a lot of detail my child could appreciate and understand. Kids have a way of asking “obvious” questions that require presenters to give a lot more explicit detail than they might otherwise.

  24. OP, I think you’re giving these dudes way too much credit. You’re assuming that a) they took the time to listen to you, and b) that their feedback is objectively worth listening to at some point and it’s on you that you can’t do something useful with it at that moment.

    Neither of those things is necessarily true. They may indeed have shown up and been in the room for your talk, but that doesn’t mean they listened–that requires a certain level of active engagement with and consideration of what you said, which someone who’s rejecting all your points outright probably hasn’t done. And not all feedback is equal–some is thoughtful and considerate and great, some is kind of neutral, and some is just plain wrong/bad/unhelpful. People who actively stalk down presenters right after their talk are very often in the last category. They’re not trying to help you improve; they’re trying to prove (to themselves, to their friends, to you, etc.) how much Smarter And Better Than You they are. Their ‘feedback’ is really just three ego trips stacked on top of each other wearing a trenchcoat.

    You have no obligation to indulge them. Even if you want to be open to audience feedback–which isn’t actually a requirement, though I understand the thought behind it–you have no obligation to be open to it in any given moment. You can direct it into a time and format that’s good for you–e.g. put up a last slide with “Feedback? Contact me here!” info, and direct anyone who tries to steamroller you in person to that place. No well-meaning, sensible person is going to resent you for that; on the contrary, someone who really wants to give feedback in the spirit of helping you will probably be delighted to know where to do so without being rude or hurtful to you. And if ill-meaning, unreasonable people are upset about your refusal to cater to their ego…well, that’s not really on you, now is it?

      1. That sentence is worth an Internet at the very least xD Good advice, Amy! That’s a good filtering system 🙂

  25. Rando dude thinks it’s ok to mantique (man+critique) me: “Go away.” ::me turns and walks away::

    1. I get this perspective & fantasy (believe me) but the other side of “Thanks, but please send me your notes if you want to!” in a professional situation (esp. one where I’m representing an institution more than just myself) is that I don’t always know right in the moment who will have good feedback and who is just bloviating. This way the good stuff has a way to get through, everyone saves face, I haven’t outright snubbed someone who might be a valuable connection or who does have something good to offer.

      1. I don’t disagree about professional situations. I do welcome feedback and constructive critique, even from males, but I am so over being mansplained to, particularly about feminism and domestic violence (my particular areas of expertise…two master’s and a doctorate…25+ years experience…) by males who are always doing the “devil’s advocate/what about the menzzz” thing. Trying to tell me that “but it’s exactly the same for males because women do those things too.” “Every second of every day 90000000 males are falsely accused of rape and thrown into a dungeon somewhere never again to see the light of day because of the evil matriarchy.”

        Mostly I’m just venting, but for real the last time some guy asked me (for real) “why do you think you get to speak to women’s experiences/feminism” as he was mansplaining it to me I just…couldn’t.

        I mean if he was trying to silence me he almost accomplished it because that statement coming out of a cis, white guy, full tenured professor, old guy with a beard dude was just soooooo entitled that I was momentarily stunned.

        I looked at him like he’d just crawled out of the primordial ooze while smelling like decomposition and said “why do you? Not my best comeback …

        On the upside (for me) I am in a place/position where I am not needing to be exposed to too many males right now. I work almost exclusively with women which has a lot less incidence of people trying to tell me that they know my work better than I do. There are some because …people but it is way, way, way fewer. My biggest challenges vis a vis feminism is internalized misogyny…it’s a hell of a drug.

        1. Oh, jeez, the guys who want to talk about men and have no experience whatsoever but think they’re so clever! I did my PhD in the experiences of women survivors of same sex domestic violence, I worked in the DV field for years, I’ve spoken at conferences on this… but as soon as I say the topic to a man, I get back “but men can be victims too, you know!”

          Like, oh, you’ve thought about this for all of five seconds and I’m supposed to be, what, amazed at your insight into the topic I’ve spent my adult life on? Like that’s never occurred to me? Like I’ve never thought or cared about them? Let me tell you about all the interesting research done into the different experiences of male and female victims and survivors of same sex abuse…

          Oh, you didn’t want to talk about them, you just wanted me to be impressed that you could think of anything to say, and hopefully humiliated that I’m ignoring and don’t care about men when of course you do? Sorry, try again next week!

          Sorry to hijack your venting with mine but I had a moment of “oh! a kindred spirit!” and was so happy to have one – most people I tell that to try to explain to me why it’s OK really and they don’t mean anything and it’s just so… grr!

          1. Oh you so much did not hijack anything.

            My research/work is with cis gendered couples and focused on the DV experienced by women from male perpetrators, nevertheless you and I have pretty much the same experience with these males coming in as if they are the great light shining gods informing we ignorant women about our life’s work. “Men can be victims too.” Yeah? No shit? Really? Want to talk about stats for a minute dudebro?

          2. Oh and it’s not “ok” and they do “mean” something. They mean to derail and take away from the message and to give a pass to the perpetrators while victim blaming. It’s sick.

          3. Not to go off on a tangent here (ok maybe a small tangent) but I get so much push back from the “men can be victims too” brigade who are all upset that I don’t focus my limited energies being more “fair.”

            Well to be fair we have to realize that far and away women are victims of patriarchal terrorism much more often than males are and again to be fair, we have to realize that males have (lots of) someone(s) looking out for their every need and comfort pretty much from the second the doctor says “it’s a boy,” whereas women, do not.

            I used to try to explain that to them. That males are privileged by virtue of being male and that women need advocacy more, but I got tired of hitting my head against that particular wall which is why I now just walk away.

            They don’t understand, they don’t want to understand, They want to “devil’s advocate” and rules lawyer me into submission. I refuse to submit which makes them double down. I’m too old/tired for that shit these days.

      2. It is incredibly hard to tell who has good feedback and who is a total write-off in the moment, and also, being seen being rude to men can have professional consequences especially if you are marginalized in some or several ways.

        Im a trans author/illustrator who is constantly fighting being seen as rude for even trying to get professional contacts to use my pronouns (youd think they would since its kind of a focus of my work and I display them prominently at conferences). There is also the issue of being cornered 20 minute long gender apologies or education I’m not there to provide. These things suck – and I consider myself a very blunt, no sugar coating person! – but abruptly stopping people especially with seniority in your industry just… It’s just going to ruin opportunities for you. You might say those arent opportunities you want, but the ones you want wont see you if you never get the chance to be present at industry events. Tact is sometimes better, if excruciating.

        That said! I have sometimes interrupted mansplainers who are clearly critiquing me, my identity, my presence in the industry, etc, with “I’m not looking for feedback right now.” It really confuses them that there would be other reasons to make work than to have it be evaluated by them.

        1. “It really confuses them that there would be other reasons to make work than to have it be evaluated by them.”

          Doesn’t this just sum it up perfectly.

        2. Oh yeah tact. I do get it. Fortunately for me I am looking at “retirement” (as if that will ever really be thing…I just can’t ‘quit’ activism) approaching just over the horizon so I can afford to be much more blunt than I was in my 20s, 30s, or even 40s.

          For me there isn’t any professional stuff I am worried about or contacts I care about losing/not getting at this point in my life. Ergo, I am privileged to be able to weed out/ignore rando dudes who think they know my stuff better than I know my stuff because there is no real potential loss for me. So yeah I can make these kind of “::walks away::” comments pretty easily.

          I do know that others just don’t have that kind of ability. That sucks so hard…which is one of the myriad reasons that I just can’t quit fighting/being an activist. I just refuse to do it on others’ (read “male’s”) terms these days. I will take what victories I can, where I can, without subjecting myself to males when/wherever possible.

          To recap: I know my age and career situation give me a lot more leeway to double down than many younger women have. I respect that. Do what you gotta do. Get in on the inside and destroy patriarchy from within if you can.

          And just like Jennifer, if we are ever in the same place and you need to get away from some guy, for any reason whatsoever come to me. I will cover you!!!

  26. “If a public figure/elected official finds your humanity and right to exist free of violence debatable, you don’t have to be civil to them or let them finish their soup or their sentence.”

    What a succinctly brilliant response to the accusations of “mob behaviour” currently emanating from 45 and his co-conspirators. I would like this embroidered on a sampler.

  27. In grad school, one of my professors would take notes on them comments we received for us after we presented. She recognizes that we were often anxious/stressed/overwhelmed after presenting our seminar paper and that we often missed the good points others made. By her taking the notes, we could be sure to get everything. She also took it as an opportunity to reassure us and offer supportive and constructive feedback.

  28. After much trial and error at academic conferences/socialization, the script I’ve settled on is “Excuse me” + leaving. You just have to look them in the eye calmly and assertively while doing it. There’s no reasons, so there’s nothing to argue with, you’ve satisfied politeness, and you take back power by not asking permission or acting like you have to justify yourself. It’s perfect.

  29. Legit this weekend I spoke at a conference and my last talk was very very late in the evening–like, it *started* after my usual bedtime–and afterwards this dude cornered me to Have Opinions At Me. It wasn’t even particularly egregious, he probably thought it was a jolly good debate, and he probably would have backed off with a polite redirect.

    But Tired Me is not Politic Me and instead I just declared “I THINK I AM DONE TALKING TO YOU NOW! YUP, DONE!” in a cheerfully aggressive voice with a big ole delirious smile and walked away from me while he called out confused apologies and I feel a little bad but also it was so, so good.

  30. I also speak publicly. I was invited and have something to say. I like to take questions after the talk. If someone approaches me later, I consider whether they could affect my career in a way I care about, or if what they are saying is useful. At the same time, I am clearing up and bustling elsewhere. If I want to continue the convo, I ask to arrange a time to talk, while bustling.

    If I don’t want to continue the convo, I do exactly what TZ did, in a variety of ways: walking somewhere quickly and decisively while respond flatly; creating a situation where they are unlikely to continue to talk to me (find a colleague or vendor to talk to while ignoring person, head to the bathroom; say goodbye; tell them I am done just like TZ did, all while walking.)

    LW, Remember you are Important Expert! A firm response is both polite and socially appropriate.

  31. I fondly remember the Portlandia skit in which Annie Clark (who, in real life, is the incredibly talented musician St. Vincent) plays a concert and then gets aggressively mansplained by an audience member. It’s done in an over-the-top way that is very funny if you’re in the mood to laugh at mansplainers.

    Are we allowed to post YouTube links? If not, please delete! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eem2ZpFEcao

  32. non binary software engineer / lurker here. That’s so cool that the captain gave a talk at a tech conference about code reviews! Was this recorded anywhere?

    1. I don’t know if it was, but those are my slides linked in the post, so grab ’em and read ’em if you want.

  33. If someone is being particularly obtuse and just railing on about some pt they don’t agree with, in my talk, sometimes I’ll just stare, uh huh uh huh, a couple times, and then pause…. riiiight…. well ok. Then turn your body. Not just your head but your body, to the person who wants you next. If that person is right in front of you, who cares. It’s the dismissive body language and verbal cues. I only do this to mansplainers. It never fails to piss them off but as I’ve just dismissed them in a room of folks,anyone who’s just talking at me as a power move will recognize the shift and realize they can’t get it back. If they continue, they cone off as aggressive. You can cut your eyes over without turning your head. Pause, then re-engage your new speaker. Sometimes an awkward, oh ok… to convey the awkward. This is reserved only for those who require firmer boundaries. And in mansplainers it tends to make them angry but if they re-engage later you can try: oh we already discussed that, remember? And laugh. Laughter is for sone reason poison to a mansplainer. Not sure why. Maybe bc deep down they are mansplaining bc no one takes them seriously? No idea. But caution as no matter how nicely but firmly you shut them down they’ll get pissed. Just be prepared for that. Another firm ending to disagreement is to refuse to play: welllll, there are more than one set of views. Full stop. Don’t restate yours. Don’t listen more than once. You can let them have a short say. But after you acknowledge it with, well that’s one view, or similar, do not keep going. This is not what normal folks expect and only weirdos actually expect you to stop your worldview on whatever it is you’ve just presented on, in favor of theirs. Anything longer than a min or 2 is rude since there are always lots of folks wanting to talk after.

  34. I’m late to the comment party, but I’m interested in some further advice on the “move your body” bit. I have an invisible disability, and after standing for 15 or 60 minutes giving a talk I have to sit down and stay down, so I do. Sometimes the first/best/only place to sit is not ideally located.

    What tends to happen is some middle aged white guy positions himself blocking all the other people who want to ask me a question or connect, and starts up his diatribe (we call people who monologue at you like this ‘punishers’). So I can’t physically escape, and I’m usually mentally and physically tired and it feels pretty hard to tell him to go away. I’ve thought about trying to position a chair like in the middle of the room, but I can’t carry a chair and it feels like such a weird request to ask for help with.

    Sometimes if another person is keen enough to make it very obvious they want to ask me something, I can make eye contact and tell the punisher “excuse me” and start talking to the other person and he’ll move. But more often than not, it’s sort of delicate social dance requiring some space and more sensitive inviting body language to let the less punishy people know I’m happy to meet them (and these are the people I want to talk to!)… Gah! So frustrating, and just happened again last week so it’s on my mind.

    1. A little bit after you posted this comment, theRev posted a comment I think might be helpful for you? She said,

      ‘You also can’t do the full George Clooney, because you have to stay still, but you can modify it by urging them to consider that they are holding up the line. “Oh! [So-and-so] is trying to get through. Let’s chat later this week.”’

      Perhaps you could give your business card in place of “Let’s chat later this week”?

    2. Before your talk, can you coopt a friend/colleague/handler as wing-being, arrange a secret signal, and when Mr. Mawg wants to corner you, have wing-being hurry over and demand your attention?

  35. Would you consider adding a new category “Fallacies” to link this and the immortal “Geek Social Fallacies” post? I’ve had reasons to reference that many times since first encountering it, and I can see that this one will get traction for me as well.
    Thank you.

  36. INSTAGRAM. Has an advantage over twitter in that people can send you messages that go in a “requests” folder and you can look at them whenever. I’d recommend insta or FB over twitter (maybe you can have a FB page for yourself as a speaker for this purpose!) because there IS a way for people you don’t follow to message you, BUT it’s separate from your other mail. Also, they already know your name so you don’t have to give them any additional info like an e-mail address.
    Also if there’s a line of people to speak to you, you can say “thanks I need to talk to the next person”—which doesn’t have to be someone you know! Anyone who is waiting to speak to you will do. Good luck!

  37. To build on the fact that we are socialized to Be Nice, there is an unspoken threat that if, as women, we are not nice, then…. some big awful terrible thing will happen. (I see it as a basic part of rape culture). What helps me stand up to Dementors is to remember that NO, I will NOT cause a big terrible awful thing to happen, which I somehow deserved because I wasn’t nice. First, if something awful does happen, I did not cause it — a dude with no respect for me actively decided to do awful thing of his own free will. Second, in real life, nothing awful has ever actually happened. There are no guarantees, but it’s a relief to politely, professionally stand up for yourself in the ways that the Captain recommends, and find that the world is not, in fact, going to shun you. You have not transgressed. LW, you are a thoughtful, responsible person; you owe nothing to the dementors, and a great deal of the world understands that, not just the Awkward Army.

  38. I loved the bit about who is doing the Not a Question But a Comment thing in these spaces. At a con panel earlier this year that was specifically centered around racial diversity in publishing, a white woman (because of course she was) started unspooling her entire novel-series ideas (because of course she did) and handwaving a connection to the original topic by talking about how centuries-deep in the annals of her ancestry there was maybe a drop or two of melanin (because obviously).

    Most of the panel just STARED at her for several minutes, because she was scarcely taking a breath in the middle of her monologue. The only surprising thing was that she wasn’t attacking anyone on the panel. She had no questions for them. She had no requests for advice. She just wanted to talk about her own unfinished, unpublished work. After a few verbally vomited paragraphs, it was clear she wanted to get blanket validation/permission from people of color to write about people of color, because once upon a time her ancestors had a black friend or something.

    It was maximum cringe. It wasn’t shut down as soon as I would’ve liked, but the moderator (another white lady, actually) did step in to interrupt her and see if she actually had a question (of course she didn’t). She even reminded the bloviator that they only had a couple of minutes left, and this was taking up other people’s time to ask questions. It was a nice twist, this white-lady-on-white-lady social shaming, and I liked that she didn’t put the onus on the panelists (the people of color being tapped for emotional labor already) to push back. That’s the mod’s job, and it shouldn’t have to be on the presenters to risk their reputation or the good will of potential customers/readers/community.

  39. This is my whole job. I’m a young, female pastor, so I give public talks every single week at minimum, and it’s our culture that the preacher owes it to the congregation to stand in the receiving line to receive feedback from the congregation. Some of the more satisfying solutions presented in the comments would not be possible in such a context.

    So in case the letter writer is in a similar boat, the Captain’s advice can be adapted for such a culture really well. I’ve found a lot of success in saying to people, “You know, I never remember what’s said to me on a Sunday morning – could you put it in an email and we’ll talk later this week?” Reader, they never put it in an email.

    You also can’t do the full George Clooney, because you have to stay still, but you can modify it by urging them to consider that they are holding up the line. “Oh! [So-and-so] is trying to get through. Let’s chat later this week.”

    While I share the urge to smash the patriarchy, sometimes Tina Fey’s advice to go over, under, and around it can be more effective until you’ve built the relationships you need to be more direct. Best of luck!

    1. I’ve been in churches with this same tradition that also did not have a detailed theological party line (so pastor would reasonably expect some argument and discussion after a sermon) and the pastor was chosen/hired by congregation (so pastor had legit reason to converse further on the basis of being hired to be a teacher in ongoing relationships and being accountable to the listeners employment-wise).

      I’ve seen a few helpful things in these situations. One, the pastor plans on after-sermon discussions and saves energy for them, rather than seeing them as extras. Or, two, a sermon topic discussion session is held later in the day/week or online. The time right after the service becomes the time for a friendly handshake only. Or, three, there is a quick handshake line in which discussions are deflected, but following that, some people stick around for a low-key half hour, perhaps with refreshments, for kids to play outdoors, to chat with friends, or to talk more with the pastor one-on-one.

      I think it’s great to offer email and discussion later for the sake of deflecting trivial critics and offering a better time to talk. From a congregant’s point of view, I’ll offer a couple of observations. Chances are good that not everyone in a church has email or feels comfortable using a computer and they may be embarrassed about that, so they give up easily when they really wanted to talk about something important. Also, I find it common to believe that contacting the pastor during the week is a huge intrusion, and allowed only for shut-ins, mourners, and the favored few, so again, people may back away from the offer to email you even with something worthwhile to discuss. Another common thing is that people are busy. They have managed to set aside a half day in the week for services and won’t have a chance in the rest of the week to talk.

      I have pastors in my family and know some of the great difficulties and demands. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of being in churches where it was nearly impossible to get anything besides a polished, professional brush off from the pastor who saw people mostly as useful or troublesome, and that was really awful.

  40. Thank you thank you thank you!!! I’m at a conference and I haven’t even presented yet and I got cornered by a creepy dude at a reception. I used the oh I need to go over here now tacit and escaped!

    1. I feel you 100%. I was able to stop eventually, but I cried too. Totally worth it, in my book.

  41. “your time and attention are in demand by lots of people in that room”

    This thought I find particularly useful, making it for other people when that’s easier than making it for myself.

    Other people would love some of your time if you want (or, you can politely go hole up and drink tea, is totally legit). This time, if any, is a limited resource. Commenter dude is consuming time either from other people, or from your tea, or both. Tell him you’re sure he appreciates economic opportunity cost.

    And this time can be used for live two-way conversations, if you want (you don’t have to want). Anything that can be moved to text later probably should, both to free the time for conversations and because text-later likely works better for it.

    It’s almost as if they don’t really value you benefiting from feedback, they value compelling your ear.

  42. Physically moving away works wonders. I spent a lot of time as a TA for a lab where students were mostly supposed to work in several groups of 4-5 (lol actually 5-6 bc class sizes are out of control and public universities are accepting more students than they are willing to pay for and I take as many people as there are chairs in the room off the waitlist so people can actually graduate) ANYWAYS there’s always one student (typically male, but not always, definitely not underrepresented in the student population) who doesn’t want to do group work, but wants to follow me around and ask me how to do everything, and basically monopolize my time and attention and take away from the rest of the class.

    I say, “hmm, does the rest of your group also have that question?” and basically no matter what that student says, I go, “okay lets go back and talk to them” and I actually just walk the student back to his or her group and continue the discussion with all of them. Then I walk away and they don’t follow. Works. Wonders.

  43. I want to thank you for recommending Nanette. I’ve just watched it and think it’s great.

  44. It’s so hard to be “impolite” to men when you’ve been conditioned to cater to and manage their feelings your whole life. I’m a true believer in the fact that no one is entitled to your kindness, and I consider myself a “bad bitch,” but I still find myself cornered in bars by men who are clearly not respecting my boundaries and in whom I have no interest. I get mad at myself for getting trapped, but in the moment it’s very very hard to turn away. That’s why the “creep shaming” crowd is so insidious, because for most women, it’s hard enough to get to the point where you have the guts to call a guy a creep to his face. Usually if you get to that point, he’s being pretty fucking creepy.

    In a professional context it can be even worse just because of the power dynamics of interacting with men in your industry. You never know if one going to get promoted above you, even if they’re incompetent or less experienced, so the pressure to be polite can be crushing.

    Here’s my trick for dealing with dudes at conferences: I hand out business cards, but I’ll make sure to hand write my “personal” email address on the back. That’s the email I made for conferences and don’t check. They have as much time as it takes me to write the email down to talk to me, and then they get to feel extra special while I get to talk to the people I like.

  45. Wow, Captain, I just read the linked notes for your talk on Feedback … and I’m in love! Just reading through the notes (and yes, wishing I’d heard the whole talk) reduced my stress level about the writing project I’ve been procrastinating. Thank you SSOOOOO much!

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