Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do you scream?

You're a girl. You're youngish, smallish, and while you're certainly not helpless, your assertiveness skills are only medium.

Guy grabs your breasts. Do you scream?
"GET OFF ME YOU CREEP!" Hell yeah you do. He just assaulted you and you have no shame about shaming and repelling him and letting everyone know.

Guy starts talking to you, and you don't find him attractive, and he's giving you kind of a weird vibe. Do you scream?
Of course not. He's only talking to you. You can't make some crazy rule that only people you find acceptable are allowed to talk to Her Highness, for chrissake.

Guy starts complimenting your appearance, again sort of heavy-breathey. He's kind of persistent in talking to you and you can't--or don't, at least--find a polite way to say "it was nice to meet you, bye now." Do you scream?
Of course not. It's a compliment. And if he's still conversing with you, that's half your doing, isn't it?

Guy touches your arm. You really don't like him and it gives you the screaming willies. Do you scream?
No. It's just your arm. And you were talking, and he was being friendly, and touching friends on the arm isn't so weird. If you screamed you'd just look crazy.

Guy gives you a hug. Do you scream?
Talk about crazy, again. Screaming because someone hugged you? Especially when you were already being friendly and touching, it's only natural that someone who sees you as that sort of friend might hug you.

Guy grabs your breasts. Do you scream?
Suddenly it's tougher. I mean, you did lead him on this far. You gave him every reason to think it was okay to flirt with you and touch you and hug you--can you totally blame him for taking that wrong and trying to make a move? Screaming will make him feel angry, make a big dramatic deal with you at the center, put your actions up for judgement. Maybe if you scream people will think you're the crazy one. Maybe you really aren't justified in screaming. Maybe it's best to very very quietly and politely let him down. Or just shrink away silently. Or to just put up with it.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why "women should just stand up for themselves when guys are inappropriate," while certainly not wrong, is not always simple.


  1. This reminds me of something Gavin De Becker said in "The Gift of Fear":

    "I encourage women to explicitly rebuff unwanted approaches, but I know it is difficult to do. Just as rapport building has a good reputation, explicitness applied by women in this culture has a terrible reputation. A woman who is clear and precise is viewed as cold, or a bitch, or both. A woman is expected, first and foremost, to respond to every communication from a man. And the response is expected to be one of willingness and attentiveness. It is considered attractive if she is a bit uncertain (the opposite of explicit). Women are expected to be warm and open, and in the context of approaches from male strangers, warmth lengthens the encounter, raises his expectations, increases his investment, and at best, wastes time. At worst, it serves the man who has sinister intent by providing much of the information he will need to evaluate and then control his prospective victim."

    De Becker was speaking specifically of strangers, but still, I think this applies.


    1. Who cares if a woman is seen as cold or a bitch for shutting someone down? I mean, if we're going to take this idea to its fullest extent, that's going to require not caring or caring less what others think about you. Not to jump too off topic, as a man I really *hate* the long slow drawn out break ups, all in the name of "not wanting to hurt him." I've been through them, I've had many female friends putting guys through it, and in the end that decisiveness is really what the situation needs. Likewise, while egos might feel stung, I think in the long run it's better for everyone if we're decisive up front or at the first sign of discomfort, especially in these sort of "bar room scenarios."

    2. The goal of articles like this is to encourage women to be decisive, and for men to understand where the women's behaviour is coming from. So we all agree with you already :)

  2. Simple is most definitely is not. Particularly since as women we often (and subtly) have the nagging worry "did I give out mixed messages?" pressed into us. A really interesting post, Miss Holly, I'm so happy to have stumbled on this blog.

    Of course in my own case, it doesn't help that I'm a criminally polite English woman facing the added obstacle of living in a foreign country (and therefore always second-guessing myself and wondering whether I've misinterpreted, mistranslated or simply misunderstood things!)

  3. I don't see screaming in the last bit as a problem. Go for it. Touching someone's breasts/genitals is a risk. If you don't know someone really well, you have to accept the consequences.

    Otherwise, you're describing slowly escalating behaviour. There is nothing at all wrong with stopping it when you feel uncomfortable. If you didn't speak up when you first felt uncomfortable, (heaven knows I've missed the moment, many times) do it as soon as you can.

    It is simple. If the person you are talking to criticizes you or complains about your feeling uncomfortable--or does anything else except apologize; they do not respect you and your boundaries. One should avoid people who don't respect you and your boundaries.

    Finally, yes, you can make a rule that only people you find acceptable can talk to you. That's what responsible adults do. You are not a bus. You don't have to take on all passengers. "Excuse me, I'm busy." is all you need to say. Are you really worried what some random stranger thinks about you? Do you value your time so little that you will let anyone trespass on it?

    Grow up.

  4. It's nice that you're perfect and you have it all figured out and never experience any pressure or insecurity or ambiguity in your life. Now hush, the humans are talking.

  5. I think jumping from "a hug" to "groping" crosses the line into "scream territory".

    At the very least, as a guy, it would never, ever, ever occur to me to try that without, like, asking first. Of course, I'm also pretty socially reserved. I'm not likely to try and hug someone I just met unless we've clearly been hitting it off well (as evidenced by her, y'know, responding positively towards me, instead of just tolerating me) and I'm leaving. *shrug*

    I also tend to presume that other people don't want to talk to me, so I tend to look for signs of disinterest, and I'm likely to give up pretty early. Or not talk to someone I don't know in the first place.

    This is why I have all of 20 friends. ;)

  6. In relation to your post about the guy in the emergency room, in the above, if you swapped out male and female actors why is it okay now?

    Not that i feel it's okay to do the above, but it is interesting that if a woman does that, it's all fine and happy. If the guy complains, he's labeled gay or otherwise "not a man".

    Just food for thought.

  7. tfangel - It absolutely isn't okay for women to socially-corner and grope men. It's just that I have more personal experience with this scenario.

  8. I know there have been times when someone I didn't know ground on me on a dance floor, which normally is a HARD LIMIT for me. And my reaction was "well, I don't want to make a scene, and I was dancing, and this is the sort of thing you do in clubs, and I was wearing a short skirt, and it's a compliment that he finds me attractive so why am I freaking out about it so much?"

    tfangel-- Because our culture is fucked up about gender, and it's fucked up about sexuality, and when the two combine we achieve a singularity of fucked-up-ness.

  9. It's absolutely complicated, and while I agree with tfangel that our society isn't always fair when the gender-dichotic shoe is on the other foot, I don't think it's equally unfair. As a man, there is little to no societal pressure on me to accept unwanted advances. Yes, I'm expected to be a player, but that never means I'm expected to play with someone I don't want to, at least in my experience. Still, the few times I've experienced unwanted touching, I've found it difficult to be assertive. It felt awkward, and I didn't want to make a scene. In fact, I think unwanted touching is done the way it is precisely for the purpose of creating a social situation in which a "STOP" is unlikely. Multiply that by the lifetime of conditioning that my value as a person hinges on my submissiveness to males I would've received if I were a female, and it gets difficult indeed. So yes, assertiveness is good and appropriate without being simple or easy.

    Well said, Holly, and I'll be passing it along.

  10. I wouldn't scream, but I would remove myself from the situation long before the attempt to hug me, and would definitely not permit the hug--I'd probably hurt anyone I didn't know/trust that tried.

    Then again, I'm a bit of a bitch, and have been since I survived the sexual abuse I went through as a very young child.

  11. @Heroditius, you're not a bitch, you're a responsible adult. That's a perfectly fine response.

    No-where is it written that everyone must like you, nor must you put up with the desires of others--even (particularly) people who are related to you. I agree it is hard to learn to say "No." But it is a necessary skill, and just because someone is disappointed, they'll live. They might even respect you more for not being a pushover.

  12. Heroditus - Would you really hurt someone for trying to hug you? Literally? Would you be willing to stand there, in a public place, with them yelling out in pain and not a mark on you, with you not even able to truthfully claim they'd tried to hurt you? Do you honestly think that you'd have no trouble explaining that to the cops, your friends, bystanders... yourself?

    Maybe. I don't know you. But I couldn't. And I think most people really couldn't.

    If you're trying to be a reasonably friendly and open-minded person (and despite it all, I am, and I'm not weak or naive), it's actually really hard to turn down a reasonable request to talk. When someone just says "Hi, I'm Bob! How's it going?", it's really not socially acceptable to respond with icy silence or "I don't want to talk to you" for no particular reason.

    I also think it's important to reiterate, in the face of this "well I would never put myself in such a situation because I'm totally smart and rational all the time" that non-model victims don't deserve to be victimized. A victim may be weak. She may be naive. She may be flat-out stupid. That does not justify, excuse, or make it irrelevant or inevitable if she is groped against her will. There's a reason that sexual assault is defined as "unwanted sexual contact" and not as "unwanted sexual contact with a perfect person who did everything right, otherwise it's cool."

  13. I never said it did. And yes, I would hurt someone in public--I have very different parameters for what is and isn't acceptable in interpersonal relations. Those were set by my abusive experiences before I hit grade school. Talking is fine; invading my space even a little isn't. If someone edges into my comfort zone a little, I back away and put something or someone else between us. If they persist, then there's a problem. My first response to a perceived problem is to try to leave. If I can't get away, I get scared, and my reaction to getting scared is lashing out to hurt what scared me so that I can get away. If that doesn't work, I escalate the response until something does, up to and including deadly force.

    Not everyone could or would do that. I don't judge those who don't; everyone has different reactions, different places where the alarm goes from silent to out loud. I'm just offering my own reactions as an opposite end of a continuum from yours.

  14. What about the following bright-line rule?

    If someone is doing nothing more than talking to you, then screaming is unwarranted (although a simple, sorry, but I can't talk now is fine) but the minute someone touches you uninvited, you should feel free if you desire to scream, "DON'T TOUCH ME!", even if it is "just" a hand on the shoulder or whatever.

  15. Comrade PhysioProf - Then you'll find yourself screaming "DON'T TOUCH ME!" at a perfectly nice man who briefly tapped your arm making a conversational point. And (if you're me, or a similar emotional-weakling type) you'll feel like crap and everyone will look and you will not feel self-righteous about the scene you've just made.

  16. You have a good point here. I'm INTENSELY protective of my personal space. I won't scream over uninvited touches, but I will step away unsubtly, and push hands away if that's not enough to get the point across. I have in fact punched people for hugging me when I wasn't expecting it.

    But that's not really normal behavior, tbh. I think the vast majority of people--especially women--are inclined to shut up and get along in social environments, which means that it's easy for things to escalate into a situation that's a lot harder to get out of than it looks from the outside.

  17. This is how my sexual abuse went as a child. He touched me just a little bit more, and I couldn't discern the line between appropriate and inappropriate for a family member. Granted, a child generally has less understanding of such things, but it doesn't get much easier when you're older.

    Girls are trained to be nice, to accept "friendliness" at face value, to always give the man the benefit of the doubt, and are punished if they try to make the man look bad. And by "girls" I actually mean women of all ages.

  18. Holly, thank you for bringing this up. If one thinks about this sort of thing ahead of time, its easy to deal with. That said, I've faced many situations (in the past) where I was totally at sea and ended up rather upset. The person making me uncomfortable could be male or female and their intentions could be varied. I assume in the following discourse that their intentions may be sexual.

    I, being part Asian and terribly polite by up bringing have now worked out several ways to deal with people creeping me off without causing anyone to lose face. I try to avoid assuming bad will and try to respect diversity.

    I totally understand the situation described by Holly - the perpetrator could have questionable values, be mentally ill/intoxicated, have different cultural values/behaviours or simply be unable to read hints (I think a lot of men are like this and need clear rather than indirect communication from their target person). You want to treat others with respect, maintain your dignity and avoid feeling uncomfortable or even avoid an attack on your person.

    Firstly, I assess the person - do they look like someone who will take a hint or are they challenged to read hints? Are they criminally insane as opposed to simply "different". Secondly I try getting distance by, as appropriate, leaving or being busy or pointing out I am short sighted and need him/her to stand back so they can be seen. I have other friends who mention their culture and that its very culturally inappropriate / upsetting if a man gets too close or touches them. They will then model appropriate behaviour for greeting/leaving etc. This is all said with a charming but firm smile. Any uninvited touch is then greeted by a jump back, small squeak and perhaps rapid exit. If I am there I will intervene explaining the culture and extract my friend. My ex had a radar for creepy guys hitting on young Asian girls and had a particular look that stopped them in their tracks. Thirdly I may drop a heavy hint such as mentioning my HUSBAND or BOYFRIEND. Fourthly, I clearly point out my interpretation of the situation and that I am not interested in their advances (small words, simple sentences), nor in their touching me. Fifthly, if still being bothered by inappropriate conduct I may consider leaving and reporting the person to management, security, the host or police as appropriate. I don't want vulnerable people to be in danger.

    I believe my approach is effective, safe and socially responsible.

    I think those people who feel they cannot cope with creeps and may scream or hit them could early in a dialogue say "I need to tell you that I hit people that touch me - so it would be fabulous if you kept one arm's length distance from me" - then change the subject and not be drawn into a discussion on why and what. Also, remember it's totally fine to say "I'm sorry, but I need to go now." Just look gracious and firm.

    My basic message is that with time one learns to deal effectively with tricky situations with grace and dignity. I think that the resulting self confidence tends to protect one from creepy approaches.

    I hope this helps.

    :-) Candice

  19. BTW - Candice here - I assume in my above discussion I've taken control before touching occurs. If touch does occur and the touch is way out of line - such as being touched by someone who may want to pick my pocket or some man for sexual reasons - I become suddenly very firm. I move back, look him or her in the eye and say very firmly "DO NOT TOUCH ME". If in public I'll back off and move away, perhaps to stand in front of the CCTV or into a shop. If at home, I may throw the person out! I've never had to use violence, but would do so to protect myself. I pray that God never tests me in that way!

    The take away message is that all through the process of dealing with the difficult situation, one thinks strategically, acts with confidence and takes CONTROL.

  20. ugh - going through this with a neighbor right now. he seems to be taking from my friendliness that it's ok to kiss me multiple times on the cheek, hug me too long, etc. gotta end it, freaked out that i haven't been able to speak up yet about it, freaked out that it's happening at all, embarrassed to tell my housemates, though i know they'd be supportive. i hate hate hate this.

  21. "Guy grabs your breasts. Do you scream?
    Suddenly it's tougher."

    Actually, I wouldn't scream in either situation (the first breast-grabby or the second). I would, however, let him know, in no uncertain terms, that if he touched me inappropriately again, without being invited, I'd punch him in the fucking neck. And then, if he got all handsy-grabby again, without being invited, I'd punch him in the fucking neck. I tend to be straight-forward like that.

  22. seitzk - I know exactly how you feel. I've had this experience as well. I assume you don't like all and sundry man-handling you. In addition, some people are just creepy - if your intuition is ringing alarm bells, listen to it and fix the problem. Always listen to your intuition and always fix the problem.

    To gain confidence and strength repeat - "I own my body and have every right to decide who comes within my personal distance" (note you own the space around you as well) and "I tell people my boundaries and they observe them".

    You need to practice by yourself how you will handle it - read my previous entry for background. This guy sounds like he craves physical contact and is taking advantage of your availability (or he could just be from a culture where they hug a lot). It does not matter - your rights matter! You need to establish your boundaries and take control of your interactions with him.

    As he cannot (or will not) read your negative body language you need to speak clearly to him - simple words, short sentences, one idea per sentence, no hints. This may appear rude, but remember, to understand he NEEDS you to communicate clearly. Many men are thankful for clear communication. You're not being rude, you're being clear!

    I suggest holding your hand up in the stop gesture (forearm extended, palm facing him) as he approaches (also look him in the eye), say "Stop, Fred. I need to tell you I am uncomfortable with men (or you) touching me. Please do not do it again. I do hope you understand". Smile confidently yet firmly. If he comes up with some argument such as "everyone else does" or "you allowed me before" or "you do it with X or y" say "I am sorry, but I don't want you to kiss or hug me". If he apologises and gives an excuse, graciously accept and change the subject.

    If he starts to get too close at any subsequent time, step back, hold your hand up in the stop gesture and get out of grabbing range. If he persists, its time to be angry and say "DO NOT TOUCH ME".

    I once faced a grabbing issue with a rather naive young man - he was obviously looking for a girlfriend and did not know how to approach me. I resolved the issue the very next time we met by telling him directly that he was not getting through the door unless he promised to keep his hands to himself. He promised, kept his hands to himself, was fed coffee and cookies and we remained friends. I was glad I took the lead and did not let the issue fester.

    June Clever - Your direct approach is very useful as the perpetrator will know clearly where the boundary is.

    I'm sure at times one needs to be very assertive and even physical to remain safe. The key here is to remain calm and take your chance when it comes, not panic and freeze.

    I don't recommend violence because of my religious beliefs and because so many people have been seriously injured in fights. I prefer to talk my way out of trouble. That said, I've been trained to hurt people in order to stop them hurting me. I recommend such training because it gives one confidence.

    The take away message is that you have a right to your boundaries and clear enforcement of those boundaries is not rudeness, but is welcomed as clear communication.

    :-) Candice

  23. Then you'll find yourself screaming "DON'T TOUCH ME!" at a perfectly nice man who briefly tapped your arm making a conversational point.

    Good point.

  24. I think it's very interesting that the advice above for politely setting boundaries includes:



    I observe that neither of those things is required to be polite.

    They detract from your message, which is why women are strongly socialized to do these things when saying unpleasant things to another person.

  25. I think that the last paragraph of this post needs a "victim-blaming"-warning sign - I know that most of your regular readers will understand that you are speaking from the inside, from the doubts and the difficulties, but I am quite worried about people stumbling in here and reading this and feeling bad. On the other hand Im not a native english speaker, so maybe its just a language barrier.

    Second thing: I dont understand why some people here would think its not socially acceptable to tell someone "I dont want to talk (to you) right now" if a stranger starts a conversation with you. Of course this is hard and of course the definition of 'socially acceptable' is open to debate, but this isnt something that will traumatize the other person or will make the whole room look at you in disgust.

    Third: In my ecperience these things can be learned. It took me two years of thinking and practice to get to the point where I now block off most unwanted advances after the first sentence exchanged. I still experience difficulties from time to time, but it gets better. What really helped me is getting angry. I spend a lot of time alone in cafes reading, and it happened dozens of times that people approached me without even exchanging a smile and looking if I held eye contact before (My eyes and the eyes of the other person were quite fine). THIS is RUDE!

    I am a woman, I have been trained my whole life to let people invade my space, mentally and physically. If someone (especially someone privileged at this point) thinks I react unfriendly while I am on my journey back to self respect, I can live with it. I am (trying to) not any more causing me immense discomfort to make someone else feel good

    Of course my heart is beating as hell in these situations, but to me its worth it.

  26. I know there have been times when someone I didn't know ground on me on a dance floor...And my reaction was "well, I don't want to make a scene...and it's a compliment that he finds me attractive so why am I freaking out about it so much?"

    You're freaking out because you don't like it, and you're allowed not to like it. Btw "I think you're hot" is a compliment; some asswipe presuming to hump a stranger like a pile of pillows is not.

    I'm at a point in my life where I just push dance-floor grinders away. Nobody has ever turned it into a confrontation; the kind of person who grinds against a total stranger without permission is usually perfectly fine to transfer their attentions to someone else. That's the other problem with thinking this behaviour is a "compliment" - you'll find that 99% of the time, this person isn't violating your boundaries because they think you're so super-hot - they're just horndogs who systematically hump every girl in the room until they find one who's okay with it. They're trying to get laid via the law of averages.

    Other things that have happened to me at clubs: a guy grabbed my boob in passing and I punched him in the spine, and a guy came up behind me and grabbed my ass while I was dancing and I turned around and yelled "What the FUCK are you doing?!?" In both cases, the guy held up his hands in a defensive posture, backed away, and left me alone.

    It pisses me off that these guys sexually assaulted me and then used the body language of "Oops, I tripped and fell (on your breast/ass) by total accident! Sorry about that." But the fact remains, they left me alone.

    In quieter social situations where I'm hanging out in a group of acquaintances, I'm not so bold. Holly has it perfectly right with this post: sexual predators will slooowwwly push your boundaries until, by the time a definite line is crossed, you feel like "Oh crap...I've been letting this person do all this other stuff, so they must think I want this...I guess I was leading them on...I guess this is all my fault."

    But I'm working on my assertiveness. Also, I think that politely asserting boundaries early on is a good way of not looking like a bitch - if I've clearly stated what I'm comfortable with yet the person persists in violating my boundaries, everyone present will likely feel like the aggressor is being an asshole. Whereas if I overlook a bunch of things and then get sick of it and start freaking out, that will likely prompt the whole "OMG psycho" thing that women tend to fear so much. So speaking up early on is not bitchy/psycho/etc.

  27. Channeling my inner Miss Manners sometimes helps. Unwanted chatter by strangers: *frosty* smile, maybe a nod. An unwanted touch: icily spoken "Excuse me!" as I move away.

    With @seitzk's icky neighbor, though, I might back away with my hands up and say "Whoa, man! Personal space!" in as friendly a "What you are doing is totally not cool" manner as possible.

    I think the key to these "polite but NO" maneuvers is to internalize a sense that HE'S not behaving properly; it ain't YOU. That's why I think of it as channeling Miss Manners (who is actually a real badass about being strong in one's personal boundaries). And sometimes it's hard work.


  28. Personally, I draw the line on touching plus creepy vibe. I know pretty much instantly whether I like somebody who approaches me. This is obviously an entrirely subjective measurement, but often when I've had a bad feeling about someone from the beginning, they've end up doing something inappropriate later on, and anyway I should be the one who decides who touches me. So if I don't like someone AND they touch me without asking, I pretty spontaneously jerk away and tell them firmly not to touch me without permission. I used to be self-conscious about being "cold" or "bitchy" if I'm like this, but now I know our society just teaches girles they are "cold bitches" if they are assertive about their boundaries, something that men are encouraged to be.

    This is much harder to do, though, if it's not just a random person but somebody at work, or my neighbour, or otherwise someone I'm supposed to get along with but not necessarily make friends. Suddenly I'm much less assertive. I want to work on that. I guess, for me, it's a matter of where I carry my (mostly mental) "safe space" around with me. If I have a feeling I'm not in a safe space in the first place, I tend to put up with behaviour that makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe much more than when I'm happy and in the company of like-minded friends.

  29. Oh, oh! This ALSO reminds me of the "boiling frog principle" of boundary violation (off the Yes Means Yes blog). You know: Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and it'll jump right out. Put a frog in a pot of room-temp water, heat the pot slowly and the frog will acclimate to the temp until it eventually boils.

    That's how these sickos operate: They start with "innocuous" things and keep working their way up until ... well, you get it.


  30. There is a large grey area between not saying anything when someone touches you and screaming "Don't touch me."

    For instance, you could simply just *say it* in a calm and firm tone of voice. Direct eye contact helps, but isn't necessary. If you want, you can preface it with a 'please'.

    Someone who is just being 'friendly' may not realize that they are being inappropriate and needs to be told. If they aren't polite to you about it, then I see no reason you need to continue to be polite to them. If they aren't being friendly, you need to know that asap.

    Holly, you have repeatedly advocated direct communication about intimate wants/desires and explicit boundary setting in the context of sex, why is this different?

    If you can't state your desires plainly when the stakes are low (you're in public, surrounded by witnesses, you will likely never see this person again) how are you going to be able to do it when the stakes are high (you're alone, possibly not in your own house, possibly without transportation, probably naked)?

  31. I think that the most important point is how women are socialized to be nice and polite and to never make a scene. Even with my brash outspokenness in most parts of my life, it took me a long time to learn how to stand my ground and tell someone to back off without stuttering and shrinking in to myself. The first time I actually did that (when a stranger approached me on the street, complimented my looks and then asked if he could kiss me), I felt incredibly powerful.

  32. The movie Bruno (the mocumentary about a flamboyantly gay man) really made an impression on me.

    Bruno would go to these different little American towns so we could watch the rednecks freak out over his extreme gayness (only Bruno was an actor; the rednecks were not). Sometimes, Bruno wouldd just greet some guy walking down the street and the guy would yell at him to fuck off. When Bruno came closer, the guy would yell "FUCK OFF" again and shove him.

    It was an interesting contrast, realizing that a sexually threatened man will instantly yell and become physically combative while a sexually threatened woman will sit there quietly and make excuses for the man threatening her (he's probably just being nice/I am wearing a short skirt/etc.).

    Bruno was the turning point where I decided to start standing up for myself more. If some guy thinks I'm a crazy bitch for making a scene, well, fuck it - lots of guys are crazy bitches just like me.

  33. Figuring out how/whether to deal with confrontation can be incredibly difficult, especially in ambiguous situations, and especially when one has been socialized to be, well, non-confrontational. I've found that thinking about "What would I do in this situation? or that situation?" ahead of time is actually quite helpful. Like when watching TV (Law and Order: SVU, anyone?), or hearing a story from a friend, etc. And when something does cross a line, however I actually deal with it, I turn it over in my head later to determine if that's how I'd really want to deal with a similar situation next time. Not to scare myself or relive something or make myself feel bad, just to process it and make a better game plan.

    I'm chatty and friendly, I laugh a lot, and I have a great deal of bosom. Somehow this combination of factors - especially if I'm wearing something low-cut - seems to make some men (and some women, for that matter) conclude that they have extra rights, somehow. Obviously, they don't. I think we can all agree on that. How I respond to unreasonable overtures varies based on the situation.

    If someone really crosses a line and starts touching - wherever, however - and I don't feel comfortable with it, I either remove myself from the situation, or I make it clear to them that they need to stop. Sometimes I do the latter in a relatively non-confrontational way, because the confrontation isn't worth it to me, might escalate into something nastier, and probably won't really accomplish anything. I might say I had a boyfriend, or mention that I don't like to be touched by people I don't know well, or make a joke about them being overly handsy. Or I might be more overt - if that was what made sense to me, at the time, or if things escalated.

    I don't think that THE most obvious-and-straightforward-and-confrontational approaches are always the right ones, for everyone, in every situation. Sometimes it can be better, and even safer, to carefully remove yourself from a situation, or carefully get it to stop, rather than escalating it. But also, we all have the right - or SHOULD have the right - to start screaming when we're feeling/being violated. Personally, though - I find that sarcasm is often quite effective. Even just raising my eyebrows pointedly can get people to realize that they're being inappropriate, and stop. the end, all of this is complicated, and leaving room for that complexity isn't necessarily, um, kowtowing to the patriarchy.

  34. " There is a large grey area between not saying anything when someone touches you and screaming "Don't touch me."

    For instance, you could simply just *say it* in a calm and firm tone of voice. Direct eye contact helps, but isn't necessary. If you want, you can preface it with a 'please'. "

    This. Just because I don't stand up for myself by shoving or screaming at people doesn't mean that I don't stand up for myself. And it also doesn't mean that if I choose to smile and say please that I'm doing that because I've been socialized to act that way.

    I'm not denying that this socialization to be passive happens to women. Not at all. I just don't equate taking a calm approach with being passive. I've never had a fiery, aggressive personality when it comes to dealing with people (though I see nothing wrong with those that do), and when people imply that I'm that way because of how I was socialized to be a passive woman, THAT makes me feel like they're denying my agency. I am not a passive doormat.

    /end tangent

  35. Something interesting I'm noticing in these responses--just about everyone is talking about how to respond from the victim's point of view. "Yeah, I'd totally scream," "Hm, I might go along with it, scary," "I wouldn't scream but I'd assert myself," the whole range of responses.

    You know the input I'd really like to hear? "Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence."

  36. Unfortunately, a lot of people consider acquiescence sufficient to proceed, especially if we're talking about people who are really being creepy and assgrabbing and such, as opposed to people who actually care about other peoples' boundaries but are maybe just socially awkward and aren't always sure what's acceptable.

    Creating a culture where people understand boundaries and consent is of course most important, but in the meantime, learning how to communicate effectively is one of the best things we can do.

  37. Holly, if you don't like the responses you're getting, maybe you shouldn't have spent your whole post asking what we would do if a man kept getting more and more intimate with us without our consent. Do you also enjoy putting a cat on a table and then yelling at the cat, "Get off the table!"?

  38. Holly - with respect to your last comment - check the title of your post. You asked a direct question. If the answers don't provide the data you want, ask a different question.

  39. The reason why men push physical and sexual boundaries. Sometimes it works. Intermittent reinforcement is tremendously powerful. "Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence."

    Not going to happen.


    Most people only care about getting their needs and wants met It is a numbers game, and eventually it will work. You are appealing to people's maturity and better nature, and they may not possess one. You assume people will play by your rules (or the rules of a civilized society). For many people, their desires are paramount, others desires are irrelevant, and you need to deal with it.

  40. ^ I love when someone feels the need to use elaborate phrasing to painstakingly teach everyone a stunningly simple and obvious concept.

    All that verbiage, just to tell us the shocking true fact that...some people are dicks.


  41. "You know the input I'd really like to hear? 'Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence.'"

    Well, sounds like a good time to chime in with the male perspective.

    Just as society tells girls they must be passive, it tells guys they must be active. The male social role is that of the instigator.

    And part and parcel of woman being told to be passive and nice, they tend to respond with code and nonverbal communication.

    So for the decent guy, who has no desire to make woman uncomfortable, still has to make women uncomfortable because in his role of instigating, it's a natural byproduct.

    The decent guy has to approach the complete stranger and instigate the social steps that lead to a relationship while determining through her coded and nonverbal responses whether she's interested and he should continue or not and he needs to abort.

    So in the ideal social world, things go down decently well. The guy instigates, he gets a reaction, things either go forward or they stop, there may be a moment of uncomfortableness on both sides but it's fleeting.

    The problem is this is not the ideal social world. We have guys who have different social scripts, girls who have different social scripts, guys who are bad at reading social cues, girls who are bad at giving social cues, and to top it all off a smattering of assholes and predators who don't give a damn about where the boundaries are.

    So if I were to offer a piece of advice for navigating this social world we live in, it's that decent guys will appreciate a nice, direct verbal mention of where the boundaries are. If they get pissed off, it's highly likely they were a predatory asshole.

    And sort of a corollary to that advice. People in social situations tend to project onto the other person, but people rarely project an unsure state despite it being an amazingly common one. So both recognizing that unsureness is extremely common and expressing when you are unsure is good.

  42. I once ended up in a similarly creepy situation, and I'm still not sure that it wasn't in large part my fault. I was at a sex club, trying to meet up with a BDSM group, but I had arrived late. I'd never been to the club before, had never met the group before, and I couldn't work up the courage to walk in, especially late, and just introduce myself. So I ended up sitting on a chair, kind of off to the side, not really a part of the group.

    I was feeling kind of cut off and awkward, which was my own damn fault, when some random dude walked up and started talking to me. Being nervous and not in a familiar place, I lightly chatted back, explained why I was there and that I was mostly just there to watch. The dude started getting touchy, which made me incredibly nervous, but hey, he was talking to me, and maybe that was just the way people from his culture did things. Still, it was making me uncomfortable, so I was kind of edging my way closer to the group of people.

    The guy was not taking my hints, even though I had moved to more or less speaking in mono-syllables and very stiff body posture. For some reason, I couldn't manage to just tell him to leave me alone. I've never had that problem in my life, but suddenly I couldn't possibly run the risk of offending this person.

    Then he started asking me to take a walk around the club with him. Nervously, I told him that no, I didn't want to. Standing in my space, he asked again, said that he just wanted to walk around with me, was there something wrong with him, and did I think he was going to do something to me? Still unable to risk offending him, I just repeated that no, I just didn't feel like it, then mumbled something about needing to go to the bathroom and got the hell out.

    Was he a rapist, or just a creepy dude who wouldn't take no for an answer? I don't know. But he creeped me the hell out.

    I feel like I was leading him on by talking to him in what was obviously an environment aimed at people having sex, and even a little bit for wearing revealing clothing that gave off the impression that I was looking for something that I wasn't. This is patently ridiculous, and if any friend of mine was where I was, I'd tell her (or him) that no of course none of that was their fault, that they were in an unfamiliar place where they didn't know anybody, and that talking to someone who seemed friendly was a perfectly reasonable response.

    I was going somewhere, but now I have lost my train of thought and am feeling creeped out. :\

  43. Holly,

    You know the input I'd really like to hear? "Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence."

    Your post seems based on the premise of ambiguous communication--you build up to the situation on a foundation of unclear and misinterpreted signals until the situation comes to a head. With your last comment, though, you seem to be saying that you expect the guy/assailant to interpret correctly everything you decline to express explicitly.

    Speaking as a guy who has received more wave-offs than go-aheads, and who defaults to the former, I don't think that's reasonable. Miscommunication happens; it's a fact of life. I really hate when I misread signals and push through a comfort zone. Nobody wins: she's (rightly) upset, and I feel terrible for being the cause.

    All that said, and speaking as somebody who has taught communications, I have to say that the responsibility for communication is on the sender, not the receiver. Communication is about transferring a message. The sender, therefore, must be responsible for ensuring the message is correctly received: by definition, only the sender has the message (if the receiver had it too, there would be no transfer).

    I'm okay with a "no." Really, I am. I've had one as recently as a couple of weeks ago, and we still talk as friends. Doesn't bother me a bit. Frankly, I'm glad it was clear--I'd hate to have lost a friend over something stupid. But I can see where it would have been a problem--at one point, we were talking in public, and somebody observed that watching us was like watching "a dating show." We were just having a good time, but even people with no stake in the matter saw it as something more.

    Bottom line is, clarity counts, and it has to come from the person with something to say.

  44. You didn't lead him on.

    Leading on suggests that you offered B and then refused it. Which is actually an okay thing to do, but that's not the point.

    You did not offer B. He offered A and you accepted. That does not entitle him to B.

    In this case, A was conversation and B was contact and C would have been the walk.

    It's pretty okay to be annoyed when you thought you might get B but only got A. But it's not okay to take that out on a person, and it's not okay to use pressure.

    Women frequently worry about leading on men, and men rant about women leading them on. It all goes back to the idea that somehow, men have a right to B if women consent to A.

    I'm glad, for you, that you didn't give in to his pressure. I'm glad you shared your story.

  45. You know the input I'd really like to hear? "Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence."

    Back when I was in high school, I read a bunch of PUA. The comment above reminded me of a technique/suggestion:

    To assess whether a girl is interested in you, start talking to her. If you get conversation, touch her on the arm. Look carefully for any sign of discomfort on her part. If you see any, stop. If you don't, keep talking and after a bit, touch her on the arm again, so that she can't put this off as an accident. Again, if you notice discomfort, STOP. Progress to more (socially) sensitive areas, e.g. shoulder, hand, etc.

    I find it interesting how emphasized (I remember) the importance of backing off at the first negative response was.

  46. Woo, I am WAY late to the game on this thread, but I thought I'd share:

    I am a creep magnet. About 20% of the time when I leave the house and go somewhere that isn't my workplace, I will be targeted by a stranger, always at least old enough to be my father, and they will employ the frog-boiling technique of harassing me. This has been happening since I was 8 years old---I don't know what it is about me, but I just can't afford to let my guard down any more. I've experienced everything from guys following me, staring at me, persisting in conversations with me in order to eventually ask me out despite my signals that I am NOT interested, to guys sexually assaulting me. Doesn't matter what I'm wearing either. Every time, I am left feeling shaken, terrified, and disgusted. I feel enraged that this is the price I pay for wanting to, you know, leave the house like a regular person and how dare I expect to be left alone? And each time, I tell myself "he had no right, next time I will be more forceful, next time I will scream, next time I will walk away, next time, next time, next time..." For twenty fucking years I've been saying next time, but each time it happens I freeze up, terrified of making a scene, unable to assert myself, unable to admit even to myself that I am about to be in trouble. And I am known to all my friends as a very strong willed, independent, "angry feminist", yet I still struggle with this. But I shouldn't fucking have to, because I should be left the fuck alone. So fuck those people who say it's all cut and dried, and that anyone with some common sense can just leave a bad situation, that anyone at any time can enforce their boundaries. Fuck them and the horse they rode in on.

  47. (Just found your blog; have been reading through the archives.)

    A point that was never made in the comments:

    Holly is all: "You know the input I'd really like to hear? 'Hm, I have a responsibility here when I approach people to be sure that I can tell enthusiasm from acquiescence.'"

    And then Dave is like: "All that said, and speaking as somebody who has taught communications, I have to say that the responsibility for communication is on the sender, not the receiver."

    This is an excellent point. This is why, when you are interested in someone, you walk up to them and say, "I am interested in you. Would you like to [circle one] talk / go for coffee / make out / come back to my room where i have a convenient stash of condoms?"

    You do not slowly push past her boundaries, assuming that she magically knows you are simply trying to get to first base, and then act all pouty when you do push past her boundary and get yelled at. The responsibility for communication is definitely on the sender.

  48. The thing is, as somebody who is really really bad at reading nonverbal communication because I'm autistic, I do try and take responsibility for that. I *ask* people, "Is this okay? Can I hug you/sit next to you/cuddle with you?" Even with my friends and family, I open my arms and gesture, and I wait for a reply before doing anything.

    Not everyone socially awkward is an asshole! And I do respect boundaries, and try not to assume.

  49. Would it be that hard to say "i'm not interested in you" at any point before the breast grabbing?

    1. Sometimes, yes!

      Nothing before the breast grabbing expressed unambiguous interest. There was always some plausible deniability. Since the woman was never really asked "are you interested in me?", it's going to come off presumptuous and rude, maybe even arrogant, if she just comes out with it.

      If someone seems to be just talking to you in a friendly way, finding the exact point where it crosses the line to flirting and thus makes a flirting-shut-down appropriate is not easy.

  50. I dont like this false choice between a slow-boil rape and screaming the moment someone makes unwanted eye contact.

    When someone makes eye contact you can look away.
    When someone starts talking to you and you're not interested you can say so and walk away.
    When someone touches your arm you can brush his or her hand away and say, "really I'm not interested, dont touch me"
    When someone hugs you you can push him or her away and say, "I asked you nicely, now stop"
    When someone grabs your boob now you scream and fight back.

    1. Okay, first of all, these are excellent ways to get branded a horrible bitch in your social circle.

      But also, what if I wanted to talk to him? Or at least didn't mind?

      I shouldn't have to build a fucking Wall Of Doom around myself any time I can't 100% trust someone with my life. That's not a realistic expectation.

  51. There isn't a woman alive (over a certain age) that hasn't had to deal with this kind of scenario. At 16 (just turned that age the week before) I had an older latin man seated next to me on a plane who took advantage of the situation to not only talk to me and touch me (on the arm and hand), but kiss me! This was my first trip by myself and I had been very sheltered and taught to respect others, especially my elders. The memory still creeps me out. I didn't know what to do! This probably sounds stupid to most people, but I was so embarrassed and underequipped to handle this situation. I wanted to tell the stewardess, but when she passed by she gave me a totally disgusted look. I immediately thought the whole thing was my fault. Now I see that girl as stupid and silly. I'd be able to handle this situation now with no problem, but this is almost 40 years later. My friends would never believe I was that girl. In my 40's and newly single after a divorce I met a very charming man who said all the right things---the things I needed to hear. He seemed like such a nice man and we started dating. It took me awhile to figure out that he is a total sociopath. Look up the definition if you don't know it. It will educate you. Even smart people get taken in by sociopaths. They are so good at manipulating and reading others, that it is hard to see what is really happening. I agree with the comment by Anonymous regarding Gavin De Becker's "The Gift of Fear." Listen to your instincts. Have boundaries. Be rude if you need to be. Don't worry about what other people think. Hard to do when you are a girl, but necessary skills to be a woman and to stay safe. We live in a world that has less and less boundaries and there are good things and bad things about that. I think every woman should read "The Gift of Fear." I have passed it on to all 4 of my daughters. We tend to talk ourselves out of what our instincts are telling us in an attempt to be rational, but there are sometimes things triggered in our subconcious minds that scream out at us to get away from someone, and we need to listen even when we don't understand the whys.