Posts Tagged ‘Overcoming Shyness’

Highway to the Friend Zone

January 15, 2015

I’m not sure that this should fall under “Philosophy”, but there is some discussion of gender roles and the like so it probably does fit.

Anyway, in looking at a post that just dumped a lot of links, I came across this post by Crommunist on the Friend Zone. As it happens, I have my own opinions on what the Friend Zone is and, more importantly, what the main cause or issue with it is most of the time, and his post is a good framing device to talk about that.

I’ll skip over his definition of Friend Zone, because most people generally know what it is but defining it that precisely is problematic. For my purposes, being in the Friend Zone means nothing more than that someone wants a romantic relationship with someone and at some point comes to understand that the other person likes them … but just as friends, and not for a romantic relationship. In keeping with a big part of Crommunist’s focus, I’ll note that at least the common perception of Friend Zoning is that it is something that women do to men … or, at least, do more often than men. Crommunist then moves on to talk about two general types of Friend Zoning: Zebra, which he considers problematic but rare, and Unicorn, which he thinks is a common attitude but is mythological. Zebra Zoning is generally a woman deliberately cultivating friendships with men who are sexually interested in them in order to get the benefits of friendship from men who might not give them that otherwise by playing on the sexual interest but never paying off on that sexual interest. Unicorn Zoning is generally a man thinking that a woman is doing this when that is really not the case.

He then moves on to try to explain why this is seen as something women do to men. I don’t find either of his answers compelling, and I think pulling a paragraph from his section on “Women as sexual economists” highlights this the best:

I find this explanation unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. Chief among these is that it rests quite firmly on the belief that women are inherently likely to lie and manipulate when given an opportunity. As mentioned in the Zebra Zone section, such a belief requires women to be cruel. One might say that it only requires people to be cruel, but if that were the case then the meme would not be nearly so gendered. We’d talk about how attractive people put others in the Friend Zone, not about how women do it. Except in relatively rare circumstances, adopting this explanation is evidence of the acceptance of the believe that women are morally inferior.

The issue with this is that Friend Zoning is a one-sided exchange that works woman to man but not as well from man to woman. The exchange offered by Friend Zoning is emotional support and gaining material goods — ie getting gifts, getting means paid for, etc — from someone who is interested in sex, and then never giving that person sex (or anything romantic, in terms of a romantic relationship). This is something that, traditionally, would appeal more to women than to men. Men, typically, were expected to be more interested in getting the sex part instead of the emotional/material part, and thus the relevant comparison would be a man who represents to a woman that they are interested in a romantic relationship in order to get her to have sex with him, and then not calling again after they did get that sex. Which, you’ll note, is indeed a common a commonly derided stereotype about at least some men.

So there is no reason to presume that Friend Zoning of the “Zebra” means that women are more cruel than men. It merely means that you assume that women are just as cruel as men, but typically have different desires and means to achieve them. Also, you don’t really need to worry about women who can’t get sex, because the claim is just that the relation is common and more often woman to man, not that this is universal.

Personally, I agree with Crommunist that Zebra Zoning is rare. I don’t think that entitlement — the feminist answer — is the right answer, and think that it’s in many ways a worse answer than the sexual economist answer. He also talks about the fear of male anger, but that doesn’t seem like a good explanation because Friend Zoning occurs when a woman has indeed made it clear that a relationship is not going to happen, but that she wants to remain friends. To use that as an explanation would mean that they are lying about that, and while I think that does happen as well, it’s not a legitimate description of Friend Zoning in any way; the men were never really put in the Friend Zone to begin with. And I don’t even think that the answer I gave here is the most common case.

Where I think we start to see the real drive behind this is in Crommunist’s discussions of friendship:

And I can’t stress this enough: you’re hurting yourself when you do that. Friendship is not a consolation prize when you can’t ‘get’ a girlfriend. Many of my closest, most important, most valuable and long-lasting relationships are with women who I’ve had a romantic interest in at one time. Conversely, I’ve had romantic relationships with entirely forgettable or downright uninteresting people. While it’s obviously best when they coincide, friendship is not on a lower stratum than romantic partnership – it should not be something you ‘settle’ for. And if that’s how you approach friendship, it might be time for you to take a close look at your own life and your beliefs about the value of being close with other human beings of any gender.

The issue, as I see it, is this. Both friendships and romantic relationships are valuable. But the big difference between a friendship and a romantic relationship is the desire for sex. It is rare that someone will choose to stay in a long-term relationship with someone that they find forgettable or uninteresting, so the common interests part has to be there. But those sorts of traits are generally the same traits that would make you want to be friends with that person. Not every member of the appropriate sex that you encounter and would be friends with is someone that you’d want a long-term relationship with, and sometimes that is based on their personality, and not just their sexual attractiveness. But almost anyone that you’d really want a long-term relationship with is also someone that you could see yourself spending time with without having sex with them, or else you’re doing it really, really wrong. So what differentiates a friend from a romantic partner is, in fact, sexual desire.

Now, because men generally have to do the approaching, they are trained to look for indications of sexual attraction first. And, it turns out, this is generally relatively easy to do, at least as an initial assessment. Yes, someone can start out as not seeming attractive and yet can grow on you with more exposure and potentially with different appearances/outfits/whatever (this did happen to me), but in general for most people if they look to see if someone attracts them they can tell right away. While I can’t speak for the experience of women — and so am open to being corrected if wrong — I think that men, because of the training I outlined above, are more likely to openly and deliberately assess a woman’s sexual attractiveness early, in order to determine if this is someone that they want to approach for a relationship, while women can wait for that at least until they get approached. Which doesn’t mean that women never see someone and think “Oh, my God!” … but that happens to men, too. What I’m talking about is the more cold “Do-able?” type assessments (and I think that the thing that those men did that was bad was not asking the question, but was doing it where she could hear them, but that’s another debate).

So as most people fall into friendships — and, let’s face it, that is how most of us do form friendships; we don’t usually actively seek out friendship directly with a person — for the most part when a man approaches a woman that he doesn’t know or doesn’t know very well he’s more interested in a romantic relationship than in a pure friendship, which means that he’s already assessed how sexually attracted to him she is and has decided that she is indeed attractive. But society says that what he should do is try to become friends first, and shouldn’t start from an overly sexual context, because that’s potentially creepy and objectifying. So he approaches as if at least the sexual attractiveness part is a minor portion of his interest, if he doesn’t hide it completely (which is more common).

From her side, it looks like she’s falling into a friendship. There’s no real indication that this is meant to be a sexual approach, so she often doesn’t even consider whether it is one or not. She’s made a new friend. And then this proceeds for a while, and she settles into a routine where this is someone that she is good friends with, and she treats him as a friend. And then, finally, he gets up the nerve to declare that he wants more. And then she does the serious assessment of his attractiveness, and either doesn’t have it, or more likely might have some but likes the friendship better; the attraction isn’t enough to risk losing the solid friendship that she does value.

Which is usually lost anyway, because she can’t help but feel that he was less than honest with her, by acting as a friend when what he really wanted was sex/a romantic relationship, and he can’t help but feel a bit led on because he was acting the way he thought you had to to get a relationship and she never considered that that might be what he was interested in. As the anger builds, the intentions are taken to the extremes, and get into the typical extreme debates over Friend Zoning: she concludes that he was never interested in friendship, but was only interested in sex, and he concludes that she was playing on his sexual attraction to get benefits without having to give what he was interested in in return. Neither is, in fact, true.

Ultimately, one of the PUA principles, if I recall correctly, addresses this: don’t be ashamed of having sexual desires, and don’t be afraid to express them early in a relationship. If you want to have a sexual relationship, don’t start by denying or hiding that. Express it openly. Sure, we have to find ways to do that that don’t reduce her to a sexual object, but ensuring that she knows that you are sexually interested in her early is something that we need to do. Thus, what we really need is a way to express sexual interest honestly without being crude about it. Doing that, it seems to me, will help reduce notions of “Friend Zoning”, hopefully to effectively 0 … and then only from people who are really cruel, and not the innocents we have now.

A thought on shyness …

January 14, 2015

If it’s not another word for the term, it is clear that in general shyness of the sort that Scott Aaronson talked about can oftentimes at least be caused by social anxiety disorder, which is an actual psychological disorder.

Now, think about the responses of at least Amanda Marcotte and Dr. Nerdlove to his comment, where even though it is clear that society makes this worse, they still insist that the problem was all with Aaronson, and that all he needed to do was screw up his courage and get out there, and get over that problem. Do you think that they’d say that to someone suffering from depression, that they just had to get out there and overcome it? Do you think that people would let them get away with it if they did?

So why can they do that for people who are, at least potentially, suffering from SAD?

Dr. Nerdlove Weighs in on Aaronson.

January 11, 2015

So, in addition to the other posts that I’ve talked about, Dr. Nerdlove has weighed in on the topic. Let’s skip the preamble and get right into the action:

While I can sympathize with the emotion – I’ve had all the same worst-case scenario nightmares when I’ve approached women I like – the cold truth is that this anxiety is self-inflicted. The problem isn’t in the desire, it’s in the belief. At their core, these imagined nightmares are about ego protection. All these over-the-top consequences – the mockery, the social expulsion, even being jailed – are ways our brain protects us from the fear of rejection. Don’t get me wrong: the discomfort and anxiety that Aaronson and so many others feel is very real – our bodies respond to imagined fears the same way they respond to real ones. The heart palpitations, the way your hands start to shake and your vision starts to narrow… these are all the physical symptoms of fear. However, the reason we have these anxieties is because they keep us from attempting what we really fear: getting rejected by someone we’re attracted to. These unpleasant fantasies provide convenient and plausible excuses for why the person suffering from them can’t and and shouldn’t approach someone. We dislike the sensation of being afraid and so we come to avoid the situations that might trigger them… literally becoming afraid of being afraid.

(Note: the emphasis doesn’t come through with my copying and pasting, so I’d have to add it, and I don’t think it will confuse things too much for it to not be there. But please note that this is happening and read his article yourself to see if this is still an accurate representation of what he’s saying).

The implication here is that these shy and nerdy people are inventing these extra consequences because they are really afraid of being rejected, and these extra consequences then essentially become excuses to not have to approach without having to admit that it’s because they’re afraid of being rejected. I think that’s nonsense, as the fear of extra consequences is on top of the fear of rejection. To grasp what people are really afraid of when they are afraid of rejection, think about this rather extreme example:

Imagine that you’ve decided to ask your long-standing SO to marry you. You go through all the planning, you try to make it romantic, you do everything right, you do it, and you’re there eagerly awaiting their response.

Now imagine that they say “No”.

This, of course, will be devastating. It will hurt. It will massively hurt. And it will hurt, it seems to me, from the combination of the fact that your vision of the future that you wanted to have and thought you were going to have is shattered — ie it’s a lost opportunity to make your life significantly better — and the worry that it’s something about you, that there’s a flaw in you that causes this, and that in some way you’ve been rejected for who you truly are. In some small sense, there’s also the thought that your life will be worse and more empty because of this, but that’s mostly the result of the other two things, and the loss you’ll have of the specific future that you wanted and now can’t have.

The fears of people reacting as if you are a harraser because you asked are more about the possibility of having all of that and ruining your life in the bargain.

I think a job interview example can help make this clear. There’s nervousness and a fear of rejection in job interviews as well. Assuming that you want the job, there’s a fear that they’ll say “No” and so you won’t get that job that will make your life better, and also the fear that they won’t take you because you simply aren’t good enough. Getting passed over for a job hurts in pretty much the same way that getting turned down for a date does.

Now, imagine that when you are considering going for that job interview, you’re worried that the fact that you went on the interview will get back to your boss, who’s big on loyalty. So, if your boss finds out, at best you’ll be treated less favourably because you’ll be seen as less loyal, and at worst your boss might fire you. So, on top of not getting what you want and feeling that that is because you aren’t good enough to get that, you now risk losing what you already have, which may not be what you want but is still better than nothing. This, then, is going to discourage you from going on job interviews, or at least going only going on job interviews where you know it won’t get back to your boss. This, then, is a fear of consequences that is on top of your normal fear of just not getting the job.

The same thing applies to dating. Being afraid of being rejected is bad enough, but in general the easiest way to overcome it is to point out that if you don’t ask, you’ll never know, and the worst that can happen is she says “No”, you feel badly for a while, you get over it, you move on. Even this is a bit much for some shy men — although I think a lot of that comes from the fact that it’s a lot more effort for them to make an approach in the first place, meaning that they have more of a need to succeed to make it worth that extra effort — but in general it’s not that bad. Now, add in the fact that they might have people in their social group not just think they are a loser — which those people likely already do — but that they are a bad person — ie sexist or a creep — and depending on the context might lose their job or get suspended/expelled for violating a harassment policy, and you can see that the standard argument loses its force. What’s the worst that can happen? Your life gets ruined. Hardly a consequence that you should approach without major trepidation.

And while it is indeed certainly true that Aaronson was overly worried — seriously, I don’t know where he got “prison” from — feminist theory isn’t exactly helping on this. When discussing harassment policies at conferences notable feminists including one that claims to work in some kind of HR capacity advocated for a policy if “If she feels like she’s being harassed, she is”, which technically means that if you even ask a woman out or attempt to flirt in a normal way and she feels that that is harassment, then it is. Note that in that link they resisted attempts to ask for clarification on that point, insisting that I had to do the research myself … which is likely to result in the sorts of conclusions that Aaronson came to. Also note that they seemed to reject a “reasonable person” standard. So the fear here is that anywhere where there is a harassment policy in place, you could be accused of that if the person feels harassed and because of that have no way to defend yourself by saying that they feelings are unreasonable and that they were indeed just interpreting something more normal and harmless incorrectly. So while the fear is unreasonable, the standard structure of feminist argument doesn’t make it any better. The reason behind that is the fear that people will abuse “normal” behaviours in order to harass people, but that can be easily fixed by simply including “normal behaviours that you know bother someone are harassment”.

So, sure, his fears were incorrect, but they were neither excuses to avoid having to fear rejection or totally invented. Feminist views really do lead to this sorts of thoughts if taken exceptionally seriously.

This is similar to what I call the Dr. Google effect – if you’re sick and enter your symptoms online, Dr. Google will inevitably tell you that you have cancer. By looking for information without context to interpret that information or being aware of where to look, you get results that are unhelpful at best and terrifying at worst. Aaronson found information without context – in this case, the writings of Andrea Dworkin and other radical feminists – and took it as further confirmation that he was a horrible person.

The problem is that he – like many other nerds and Nice Guys – took all the wrong lessons from what he read.

So, what we had with Aaronson was a case where he went through the standard harassment training and came away with a skewed and incorrect idea of what that entailed. However, he was self-aware enough to understand that this probably wasn’t what was meant, but that these sorts of training are going to be much more vague and black and white and lack context, and so wanted to go and find out what the underlying theory was to find out what it all really meant. He did so, and found that it seemed that what he thought were misconceptions actually seemed to be, well, the case. And Dr. Nerdlove’s response here is that that is something wrong with Aaronson, that he took the wrong lessons and read the wrong books, instead of a problem with the training courses and with feminist theory in general that either is in conflict over this or at least doesn’t give people looking into this an easy way to find the “right” authors. While I commend him for giving an explicit reference to bell hooks, I wonder about it because while pretty much everyone who knows anything about feminism knows who Dworkin is, but I think that a lot of feminists don’t know who bell hooks is. Which means that someone who was looking for an example of feminist theory is not exactly likely to find her first. So when Nerdlove blames him for not having the context and so coming to incorrect conclusions, that seems like him putting the blame on someone for not having what they really could not reasonably be expected to have.

As I pointed out above, the whole notion around not educating people with 101 questions because they are likely JAQ’ing off or whatever leads precisely to the sort of “Dr. Google” problem cited here. If you tell people to simply Google the details, they aren’t going to get the context. What we need is to understand that there are people that might be this overly analytic and make the resources that will help explain the underlying details obvious. Nerdlove’s site might be one source, and to their credit a lot of feminists are starting 101-type sites that can be linked to to try to do this, but these are still in their infancy. Because of this, it’s rather perverse to accuse him of taking the wrong lessons from what he read when there wasn’t any real way for him to find the nuanced and context-laden sources that would give him the right lessons.

The problem is that Aaronson made the same mistake that many other nerds and Nice Guys have made: he misunderstood the point of what he was reading. Specifically: he wasn’t willing or able to step outside of himself and realize that not everything was about him. It’s #notallmen all over again – seeing everything as being about him instead of about what women go through.

I’m really starting to find lines like this disingenuous. There is no reason to think that Aaronson thought that it was all about him. There are good reasons to think that he was at least thinking in some way about the feelings of women, even if it was only because their feelings mattered to his getting what he wanted. The cry here is far more about the fact that it can’t be all about what women go through, but we have to consider what the proposed thoughts and solutions mean for others as well. But any attempt to say “Here’s what your advice means for people like me, so can we find a solution that still solves your problem but doesn’t make my life a living hell?” is treated as someone thinking only of themselves. While I do try to avoid this sort of rhetoric, this sort of statement seems to be one that can be only made by people who are thinking only of themselves and trying to maintain that. It is never a good response to “What about us?” to say “Stop thinking of yourself, think about us instead?”

Note that there may be cases where the charge is valid, but I personally think that it often isn’t, and just reflects self-centered thinking … the kind that we all engage in, which is why I prefer to replace the word “privilege” with the word “perspective”. Men don’t know what it’s like to be women, but women don’t know what it’s like to be men, meaning that it is a mistake to dismiss either view a priori, without argument.

So what should he have done instead? Well to start with, he should’ve read some bell hooks instead of Andrea Dworkin. But more importantly: Nice Guys like Aaronson need to take a step outside themselves and examine their behavior. Take that sexual harassment seminar: ok, now you’ve seen behavior that is considered harassing. Are you behaving in that way? No? Cool, then it’s not about you, now is it?

Nerdlove says that he’ll get to Alexander’s stuff later, but this highlights one of the major issues that he raises. Yes, he’s not acting in the ways that they say are harassment … and he isn’t getting any credit for that, and is instead being treated as being just as bad as the people who would do that. Meanwhile, he watches what the cool, popular and romantically successful guys do and, lo and behold, they doing the things that the seminars say you shouldn’t do. And they succeed. At that point, it is reasonable to conclude that something’s not right there. And based on the experience of most unpopular people, it seems like it comes down to the old standard: the people who are popular can get away with things that the people who aren’t can’t.

Which is not likely to calm fears that if you try to do even the most innocent thing, you’ll face the full consequences of the harassment policies, while the popular people get away with even egregious breaches.

Well… no. As I’ve said many times before: you don’t get a cookie for meeting what are minimum requirements for decent behavior.

As Alexander and other commenters have pointed out, that’s not the expectation. The expectation is that meeting those minimum standards will at least leave you better off than those who don’t meet those minimum standards, and in general it seems that the inverse is true. Hence, PUAs and why they find fodder among shy people, because they explicitly point out that doing those sorts of things isn’t actually bad … at least, not if done properly.

And that’s where things fall apart. He doesn’t consider that the so-called Neanderthals weren’t “breaking the rules” or “playing grab-ass” but flirting with the women they liked. While Aaronson and others were paralyzed by fear, those supposed assholes were actually making approaches. They were out there taking chances and risking getting rejected. That doesn’t make them Neanderthals; they’re just guys who’re choosing to go for what they want instead of letting fear hold them back.

Hence, they’re the good guys, the ones worthy of dates, and the shy guys aren’t. Except that the main reason that these men are indeed willing to approach is that they aren’t actually afraid of offending, hurting or violating the boundaries of the women they approach. This might be because they are convinced that they won’t be; they think that their flirting abilities remove that. This might also be because they just don’t care if they do as long as they get a date, so either she accepts that and he wins or she gets offended and he moves on to the next one. But at the end of the day, they don’t care about hurting the feelings of women or violating their boundaries. You know another one of the best ways to get shy men to overcome their fear? Tell them that if they approach the woman won’t be offended, but instead generally flattered. Guess what much modern feminist theory explicitly rejects (see Elevator Gate and the whole discussions of harassment around that)?

I want to drive this home: the thing that changed for him was that he asked a woman out. He matured enough to stop looking at women as The Enemy who were looking for reasons to fuck him over and call him a rapist and just interact with them as though they were people. And yet even looking back on things, knowing he was wrong this entire time – he still can’t stop blaming others for the unfairness of his situation. He still blames “society” for teaching a subset of “unprivileged” men not to approach instead of taking responsibility for his own attitudes and beliefs – ones he still holds on to.

So, yes, he ended up succeeding by gaining the confidence to approach. A big step, and surely the big step in greatly improving his life. A step that he not unreasonably feels was made harder for him to take because of societal attitudes and teaching and expectations. And Nerdlove’s response is for him to stop blaming society for making this harder because … it didn’t make it harder, despite the fact that it did? That the solution to Aaronson’s problem was indeed to get over it and approach doesn’t mean that we should ignore all the ways in which our society makes it harder … including by insisting that he had to ask a woman out instead of encouraging women to take more responsibility for that themselves and so face the same issues. At the end of the day, this is an excuse to ignore how our society makes some people’s lives harder and do nothing about it.

Nice Guys, for all that they insist that they aren’t, are dealing with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. The Nice Guy outlook is about what they’re “owed” and how the world needs to change and conform to make their lives better without requiring that they change. Even in his complaints about how feminists made him feel bad for wanting to have sex, he’s focused on himself – he wants someone to make him feel better and validate his feelings rather than acknowledging that some behaviors are problematic and people need to try to address them.

I don’t think he ever denies or even fails to acknowledge that. I think he is saying that there has to be a better way to solve that than to make people who care about avoiding those behaviours lonely and miserable while having an underlying societal structure where people who don’t care about avoiding those behaviours are actually more successful. If I can’t get a date only because I don’t ask, I want to know that so I can start. If I can’t get a date because I’m approaching women who aren’t going to like my personality — ie I’m approaching the wrong women — I want to know that so I can learn how to find the women who will. If I can’t get a date because I’m giving off an incorrect image of who I am, I want to know that so that I can work on my image. If I can’t get a date because I’m just too unattractive, I want to know that, too, so that I can deal with it. These are all things that I can’t do myself. These are things that I need other people to do and help me with. If other people are instead insisting that I have to do all of this alone and on top of that pile on a list of behaviours that I ought not do despite the fact that everyone who succeeds does them, I think it’d be reasonable to be at least a bit annoyed at how screwed up society is over these sorts of things.

Let’s go back to Aaronson’s complaint that the sexual harassment seminars didn’t provide him with clear-cut rules on when approaching someone isn’t sexual harassment. Of course, they couldn’t; the difference between welcome, consensual flirting and harassment is contextual, not binary. What works in some circumstances for some people isn’t going to work for everyone or in every circumstance. It’s on the individual to learn to adapt and change as needed. But by complaining that he wasn’t handed a consistent, universal rules-set2 is asking people to stop being people and start being social robots and the world doesn’t work that way.

Sure, but the only way to learn what works for you is to try, and particularly to try and fail, and particularly to try and fail in a way that lets you get feedback on what you’re doing wrong so that you can correct it. In the ordinary, basic, patriarchal societal expectations, you don’t get feedback. In the feminist societal expectations, screw it up badly enough even one time and you could face all of the consequences of being a sexual harasser. This is not likely to encourage experimentation, and that’s the only real solution that Nerdlove can offer from his starting point. Heck, he can’t even offer a way to figure out if it’s you that’s doing something wrong so you can fix it or if you’re simply hitting one of her personal hang-ups. This is less than likely to be helpful.

In short, for men to learn these things they have to be able to screw up and have people no judge them as being intentionally bad for screwing up. Guess what feminism’s attitude towards intentional vs unintentional harassment is?

Feminism’s theory and its focus on women makes the existing societal constraints worse. While I commend Dr. Nerdlove for trying to provide some clarity on dating and the like the whole — and, admittedly, necessary — focus on it being something that is personal and context-dependent means that theorizing is never going to work. Trying and failing is going to work. And that trying and failing is what feminism both intentionally and unintentionally is stifling. Thus, at the end the day, only people who do not fear and perhaps need not fear the consequences of failing will learn by experimentation … and the experience of most nerds is that they are not those sorts of people. While shy nerds do need to do things themselves to help themselves, we must acknowledge the ways society could help them and the way society hurts their efforts to make those sorts of improvements. Refusing to do that, as Marcotte’s, Penny’s and Dr. Nerdlove’s responses seem to do is to essentially say that you don’t care about their pain and what you and society as a whole are doing to make it worse. Adding that sort of even implicit attitude the idea that it is because of their purported privilege just makes the most damning case against the concept of privilege imaginable: the idea that the feelings of those you declare privileged don’t matter. But people matter … even purportedly privileged ones.

Nerd Entitlement, Privilege, and Feminism

January 7, 2015

So, now, let me address Laurie Penny’s take on Scott Aaronson’s comment. The first thing I noted about the post on reflection is that there are a lot of cases where she bases her arguments on what seem to be standard feminist conclusions, but ones that seem to either be dubious or sound more like rhetoric than a real expression of what reality is like. A lot of them seem to be describing internal thoughts, which might work as an expression of, say, an overall patriarchal attitude — maybe — but don’t really seem to hold water as a description of what any particular or what even the average man thinks about women. And Aaronson’s comment should take us down to that level, to the thoughts and beliefs of the average man, and particularly of the average nerdy man. Because some of her conclusions rely on her knowing the conditions and thoughts of particular men, and often particularly nerdy men … but she doesn’t have any greater access to that than average nerdy men do … and in fact, arguably she has less.

This does strike at a problem that many people have with feminism, which is that while feminism insists that we should listen to and take the experiences of women seriously, they often seem to dismiss or argue against the experiences of men, and that does seem to be happening here. Penny, to her credit, is indeed accepting Aaronson’s experiences, but often ignores what he says about them and what were the causes of his issues, and what beliefs he actually had. In my view, what we must do is accept people’s experiences and feelings as if they happened, but not necessarily accept the conclusions that the people draw from them. Aaronson seems to focus far more on what he concluded from his experiences, and doesn’t seem to make many conclusions about, say, feminism as a whole because of it, so I’d be willing to give him more of a pass there. We’ll see how much of a pass Penny can get.

But let’s start with this:

Feminism, however, is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. Patriarchy is to blame for that.

This is after she talks about how Aaronson’s pain doesn’t impact the idea that he had privilege, just as she had privilege. The problem here, though, is this: it was indeed patriarchy, but more importantly the fact that he was a man in a patriarchy, that caused his pain. Shy and nerdy men suffer under patriarchy because the possess traits that take them away from the patriarchal ideal of what you should be to be a proper man. This is particularly the case when it comes to attracting members of the opposite sex, both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, they get rejected because they aren’t the masculine, “jock” type that all of the women are supposed to like and chase after. Implicitly, they are less aggressive, and so are less willing to approach women, and so because women aren’t encouraged to approach won’t get as many dates … if they get any at all. And so, ultimately, overall and in this particular area for shy and nerdy men the same sorts of attitudes that feminists oppose are precisely the attitudes that shy and nerdy men want to get rid of as well, because those are the attitudes that are hurting them. So, for shy and nerdy men, the big source of their suffering is, indeed, the patriarchy, and the attitudes that they want to change. And the cause of their pain is the combination of those attitudes and their gender. That gender that feminists then say makes them privileged. In a way, they may be … but it does no good to bring that up in these discussions where it is an explicit problem for them.

Nonetheless, he makes a sudden leap, and it’s a leap that comes right from the gut, from an honest place of trauma and post-rationalisation, from that teenage misery to a universal story of why nerdy men are in fact among the least privileged men out there, and why holding those men to account for the lack of representation of women in STEM areas – in the most important fields both of human development and social mobility right now, the places where power is being created and cemented right now – is somehow unfair. Nerds are not like the ‘neanderthals’, the REAL abusers of women.

Which is the point: it is unfair to claim that those nerdy men who oppose at least some of the same attitudes that feminists do are just as bad as those that explicitly accept them. This is not to say that they are perfect, or that they don’t also hold to some problematic attitudes, or shouldn’t be held responsible for the issues that they cause or contribute to. It’s just that they shouldn’t be lumped in with those who are explicitly misogynistic simply because they share the same gender as them, nor should it be the case that people claim that their gender makes their life better when it, in fact, makes it worse in at least some critical areas, while those who are less shy and nerdy do get to have their gender benefit them, and women who better fit into what the patriarchy wants them to do can, in fact, use their gender to their benefit.

See, that’s the thing about patriarchy. Feminist theory holds that patriarchy is a system for the oppression of men by women (and Penny uses that oppression narrative in her post), but this isn’t true. Patriarchy is, rather, a system that imposes strict gender roles on people, and its biggest failing is that at least in our modern society those roles not only aren’t required, they’re detrimental to society. But because of this, men who naturally possess the traits and inclinations that patriarchy says they should have do really well in patriarchy … but so do women who possess the traits and inclinations that patriarchy says they should have. This is one reason why shy women like Penny, when it comes to relationships, generally have it easier than shy men do, because they don’t have to approach and will often seem more passive, which is a desirable trait under patriarchy. The downside of this is that they have to wait for someone to approach them, and have to get noticed versus other women … and patriarchy focuses the attention of men on the most desirable woman they can find, because forcing an active role means that you might as well aim at the top since you have to go through all that effort anyway, and so shouldn’t settle. The issue with this is that while people may have certain things that they ideally want, being wanted is something that can indeed change someone’s opinion in a hurry, and make them think better of the person wanting them. Which is what Penny felt she was missing in her teen years (and possibly still is missing today).

So I’d agree with Penny: the way we go about handling relationships is utter crap. What Aaronson points out with some justification is that feminism is not precisely making that better.

But shy, nerdy women have to try to pull themselves out of that same horror into a world that hates, fears and resents them because they are women, and to a certain otherwise very intelligent sub-set of nerdy men, the category “woman” is defined primarily as “person who might or might not deny me sex, love and affection”.

This is one of the first places where those “conclusions” I mentioned earlier come into play. She talks about women pulling themselves into a world that hates, fears and resents them because they are women … except I’m wondering how many people, in fact, really think that. I also wonder how many nerdy men really think of women primarily as people who might deny them sex, love and affection … and note that even of those, many of them think of them that way not because of some kind of patriarchal and societal training, but because their interactions with women have been such that women denied them sex, love and affection, often in ways that seem unfair or unreasonable. They date men who treat them badly. They reject them harshly. The advice that they give for finding a relationship doesn’t seem to help, and in fact men that do the opposite seem to have more success. Misogyny of this sort isn’t right, but it also doesn’t come from a vacuum either; it comes from how women act based on the screwed up system that we have for getting relationships in the first place.

It is unfair to blame women for the problems that shy and nerdy men face. But it is also unfair to absolve them of all responsibility as well. Their actions and behaviours do contribute to the suffering of shy and nerdy men. It isn’t all their fault, but the feelings of these men aren’t all their fault either.

And if we actually got the sex we craved? (because some boys who were too proud to be seen with us in public were happy to **** us in private and brag about it later) . . . then we would be sluts, even more pitiable and abject. Aaronson was taught to fear being a creep and an objectifier if he asked; I was taught to fear being a whore or a loser if I answered, never mind asked myself.

This was first pointed out to me somewhere else (Scott Alexander’s post, maybe?) as I didn’t notice it myself the first time, but here even Penny is saying that getting sex is easier for her than it is for shy men. If she wanted sex, as unattractive as she thought herself, she could have gotten it, but it would have hurt her reputation to do so; it wouldn’t have been a benefit for her to get it, no feather in her cap, no proof of her worth. For a shy man, however, it would have been. If a shy man had been able to get sex, it would have made him seem more attractive to others, while her giving in there — and yes, I am aware of the difference in phrasing, and that is part of the problem — would have made her less desirable to future partners. The inconsistency is a problem … but it does mean that if she just wanted sex, she could get it, while the shy men couldn’t. That should be taken as a sign of privilege, shouldn’t it?

Women generally don’t get to think of men as less than human, not because we’re inherently better people, not because our magical feminine energy makes us more empathetic, but because patriarchy doesn’t let us. We’re really not allowed to just not consider men’s feelings, or to suppose for an instant that a man’s main or only relevance to us might be his prospects as a sexual partner. That’s just not the way this culture expects us to think about men. Men get to be whole people at all times. Women get to be objects, or symbols, or alluring aliens whose responses you have to game to “get” what you want.

This is indeed another one of those conclusions, and it’s one that is pretty much totally wrong as far as I can tell. For the most part, women were as free to treat men’s feelings in precisely the same way she says men are free to treat women’s feelings: as a means to an end. In general, women care about men’s feelings and about not bruising their egos because if they don’t care about their feelings and do bruise their egos then they won’t get men to date them, won’t get relationships with men, and won’t get men to give them what they want. On the flip side, men care about the feelings of women because if they don’t women won’t give them sex, won’t date them, won’t get into relationships with them and again, in general, won’t give them what they want. So, to that shallow end, men and women both are free to care about the feelings of the other only in order to get what they want.

Now, of course, once we get down to individual people and even into the patriarchy, things are more complicated. Aside from a relatively small number of people, most people do indeed care about other people, and care about them regardless of their gender. And the patriarchy recognized this. In general, the ideal marriage according to patriarchy was one where both men and women tried to make each other happy. The thing with patriarchy was that they were supposed to do that according to the roles set down for them by the patriarchy, with men doing that by being good providers and so providing women with, in general, the material goods that them happy. On the flip side, women provided for a welcoming and happy home and hearth, and happy and healthy children. But ultimately both were doing this not merely or generally even primarily to make themselves happy, but to make their partner happy. The man just had the more active role, and women the more passive role.

And patriarchy definitely made men care about the feelings of women. Men were indeed supposed to, in general, try to ensure that women weren’t upset or bothered by the things in their sphere of influence. So if finances were tough, men were supposed to deal with it without forcing their spouses to get jobs or to worry about, and often were encouraged to simply not tell their wives about those problems if they could get away with it. And even then, they were supposed to leverage their spouses’ trust in them by saying that it would be all right and that they would take care of everything, even if they had no idea how to actually fix it … and they were often encouraged to do really harsh things (ie multiple jobs) in order to fix the problem, even when it wasn’t their fault. So even the patriarchal system never said that women had to care about the feelings of men while men didn’t have to care about the feelings of women. And, in practice, men and women care about each others’ feelings, and don’t care about the feelings of others based on gender.

Because it’s built and run by some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least. People whose received trauma makes them disinclined to listen to pleas from people whose trauma was compounded by structural oppression. People who don’t want to hear that there is anyone more oppressed than them, who definitely don’t want to hear that maybe women and people of colour had to go through the hell of nerd puberty as well, because they haven’t recovered from their own appalling nerdolescence. People who definitely don’t want to hear that, smart as they are, there might be basic things about society that they haven’t understood, because they have been prevented from understanding by the very forces that caused them such pain as children.

There’s nothing in Aaronson’s comment, or in the general grumbling about feminism and its interaction with nerd culture, to indicate that they don’t want to hear this stuff. As already stated, the big objection is that those who are talking about this don’t seem to be willing to allow for any degrees at all. The nerds who suffered under patriarchy in large part because of the interaction between their traits and their gender — ie suffered for being themselves and being men — are being treated as if they were as privileged as those men who didn’t, and nerds who are more willing to respect women and try to act the way women at least say they want are being treated as being as bad as men who have shown absolutely no indication that they are willing to do that. And they’re finding that treating women the way they say they want to be treated isn’t working, while treating them in the old sexist matter seems to. And when they point this out, they are not only treated as being as bad as those men, but as even worse. They are treated as being complete and utter losers for, again, not following the traditional masculine ways, even though they’re being told that that’s not the way to treat people.

They might be willing to listen, if it wasn’t coming from people who are more than willing to ignore them and treat them as an enemy without bothering to see if they really are, and who are willing to lump them in unvarnished with people whose attitudes they hate.

There are a lot of young men out there – I suspect even now – who sometimes wish they’d been born when things were a bit easier, when the balance of male versus female sexual shame was tilted more sharply by the formal rituals of patriarchy, when men could just take or be assigned what they wanted, as long as they were also white and straight.

And, again, the longing for simpler times isn’t about being able to take or being assigned what they wanted, but is instead longing for a time when society had more support systems in place for helping everyone through this. Shy and nerdy women benefited just as much from a society that placed a premium on ensuring that everyone had a long-term relationship to ensure their happiness. Few want to be able to own a woman, but instead want it to be the case that the society will help with the matchmaking, so that they aren’t obligated to shoulder all the burden themselves. And feminism is not helping with this, because while feminism may encourage women to make more approaches, it doesn’t put any of the responsibility for doing so on women. If a woman is comfortable approaching, then she should. If she isn’t, then she shouldn’t. But no one is telling men that, and no one is telling men that if they don’t approach it’s okay and that they ought to be able to find a relationship without doing so. Instead, they get what Marcotte gave them: comments that if they don’t “put themselves out there” then they don’t deserve to have a relationship. We definitely need a new way of doing things, but I don’t think that feminism has the inside track on finding it.

And the backlash to that change is painful as good, smart people try to rationalise their own failure to be better, to be cleverer, to see the other side for the human beings they are. Finding out that you’re not the Rebel Alliance, you’re actually part of the Empire and have been all along, is painful. Believe me, I know.

But why does it have to be one or the other? Can’t we just have normal people who have their own views, hang-ups, problems, and pluses? And is it the case that if you aren’t a perfect ally, if you have some blind spots, then you have to be on the side of the Empire? Are there no degrees? Can it not be the case that Aaronson could have his issues and still be on the side of the Rebellion, more so than the Neanderthals who clearly aren’t?

Because a big part of Aaronson’s comment is that he’s on board with feminism but he feels under the gun when the concept of privilege is shoved at him. Even if wrong, that would just him being wrong, not misogynistic, not evil, not part of the Empire.

And on that note I shall return to what I was doing before I read this post, which was drinking sweet tea and weeping about how boys don’t seem to want to kiss short-haired lady nerds, and trying not to blame the whole world for my broken heart, which is becoming more complex and interesting in the healing but still stings like a boiling ball of papercuts. I’ll let you know how that goes.

This is going to sound like my taking the exact wrong take on this, but I have a point for this, so bear with me. Since she presents this as if she’s still having problems getting dates, I did an image search to get a better view of what she looks like. Looking at the images I found, I don’t think that attractiveness is her major issue, whether she has short hair or not. Granted, there may be some cultural issues adding to it, but she does seem to be attractive enough to get at least some male attention.

Now, you may be saying that what I’m doing here is precisely what you shouldn’t do, saying that she is attractive and so likely really could get dates. But I’m not doing that. I’m going to accept that she doesn’t get a lot of dates, and I’ll even tie it into her shyness by positing that the main reason is that she doesn’t really do things, in public, to get noticed, or to encourage approaches, or to go to places where people might approach her. And unlike Amanda Marcotte, I’m not going to say that this is bad or a problem with her; her hobbies and her personality might make that difficult, and I’m not going to say that that’s a bad thing.

But what I will say is that the push for harassment policies at conferences that she might be attending is not going to help her. One of the benefits that shy women had over shy men was that men were encouraged to approach women pretty much anywhere. They didn’t have to wait for specific events where “hitting on” was deemed appropriate. There were some cases and situations where it wasn’t deemed appropriate, and certainly a number of men took advantage of this to be annoying jerks, but in general any even remotely social situation afforded the opportunity for a man and a woman to get together.

A lot of the harassment policies proposed were proposed to stop not only things like sexual assault or overly aggressive approaches, but approaches in general. One of the complaints was that women at conferences where men were in the majority had to spend significant amounts of time fending off even the less aggressive approaches of men, which happened extremely commonly (at least to them). So these women who just wanted to enjoy the conference were being annoyed by too many approaches when they just wanted to listen to the conference speakers. So the harassment policies were aimed at stopping even that, by asserting that these conferences were not places to meet a potential partner, and so that these sorts of things ought to be curtailed, at least somewhat. And that then takes away one of the places that Penny goes where some man who finds her interesting and who she might find interesting might get up the guts to talk to her with that sort of relationship in mind. Additionally, if Penny is also interested in shy guys, one of the ways for shy guys to get up the nerve to approach is to have someone tell them that instead of trying to read out signals that they don’t understand and that might be vague, for them to just go up and ask because the worst that can happen is that she’ll say “No”. When, as Aaronson commented, the worst that can happen is that you get banned from the conference, publicly shamed, lose your job, or whatever, well, that line just doesn’t work anymore. So shy men become even less likely to approach except under ideal conditions … which often don’t come. And so it becomes even less likely that she’ll get an approach from a guy, or a guy who has her on the top of his scale while others don’t. And so by ignoring the perspective of men in making these policies, they end up hurting women at the same time.

As Penny says, our way of forming relationships is crap. It’s terrible. But feminism’s focus on the perspective of one gender isn’t going to solve that problem, and in fact it often makes it worse. That was indeed one of Aaronson’s main points: that the way feminists explained things didn’t do anything to help men understand how to go about approaching women in a way that wouldn’t potentially be offensive. It focused on telling men the wrong things to do, but not the right things to do. And the vague advice on what the right things were often didn’t seem to work, for various reasons. If we are going to solve this problem, we need to work together to define how this should work, not just working on honest expression, but how honest expression can be done to ensure that things are clear and that one side isn’t bearing the burden of that honesty or expectations. Rants about men not seeing women as completely human or not caring about their feelings or being privileged doesn’t do that. It sets up the “us vs them” dynamic and turns it into a fight instead of a conversation.

And more conversations is what we need, both in feminism and in forming relationships.

Feminism, Privilege, Nerds, and Relationships …

January 5, 2015

So, Scott Aaronson wrote a comment about his personal interactions with feminism. It’s been getting a lot of attention, and I’m going to comment on some of the replies. I’ll start here with Amanda Marcotte’s, and then I’ll address the one that might actually have content that needs actual addressing Laurie Penny’s. But first, Marcotte’s.

As typical of her, this is pretty much a snarky, sarcastic “fisking” of the comment, that wouldn’t be notable except for one really, really big problem that it exhibits, which I’ll get to later. But it gets in trouble right off the start:

It’s a response to self-pitying comment from MIT professor Scott Aaronson’s blog comment section, a response he wrote to a woman who dared suggest that nerd men can sometimes be, you know, sexist.

The problem is one that I have seen constantly in these sorts of situations, including pretty much anything Rebecca Watson says that people disagree with: the minimizing of what the person actually said into something so harmless and trivial that, hey, how could anyone take any offense to that, let alone the amount of offense they took? Here’s what Amy actually said about nerd men:

As for the “shy and nerdy” bit…you know, some of the gropiest, most misogynistic guys I’ve met have been of the shy and nerdy persuasion. I can only speculate on why that’s so, but no, I would certainly not equate shy/nerdy with harmless. In fact I think a shy/nerdy-normed world would be a significantly worse world for women. (Not least because so many nerdy guys are certain that they’re extremely fairminded and rational, when instead what they are is naive about both social structures and how many things play out in reality, and unwilling or unable to fathom that other people’s reactions to events might be both different from and as valid as their own.)

So she didn’t just claim that shy and nerdy men could sometimes be sexist. She essentially argued that they were more sexist than other men, that a world where people acted like shy and nerdy men would be worse for women than a world populated by the sort of extrovert jerks that invented things like, say, Speed Seduction (I don’t think that most PUAs who sell their product are actually introverts). This is a far stronger claim than Marcotte’s summary suggests … and is endemic of why feminists are facing such resistance in my opinion. They tend to either explicitly or implicitly claim that the group they are targeting is particularly bad, when in reality it isn’t any worse and may even be slightly better than society in general. Sure, some nerds are gropy and misogynistic. Are all of them? Are most of them? Overall, is that subgroup really worse than other groups? And is that the result of something specific to them as a group? These are all interesting questions whose answers are important for determining how to go about solving the problems. It does no one any favours to ignore what they’re actually saying, rational or not, right or not.

Much of Marcotte’s post consists of her translating what Aaronson is saying into, well, something else. How it relates to what he’s actually saying is never really proven, but is just assumed. Which means that, like most of her posts, if you agree with her you’ll laugh and if you don’t you’ll at best be confused. I will address at least some of these translations.

Translation: I think you’re lying, because my desire to believe that nerds are balls of pure goodness oppressed by 80s-style cartoonish jock villains cannot countenance the idea that nerd men could ever do anything wrong, ever. Never mind that the movie epitomizing the nerd/jock dichotomy I lean heavily on features a nerd raping a woman in an act of revenge, which is treated like a triumph instead of an act of violence.

The link she gives describing the movie is here, and she’s talking about Revenge of the Nerds. The author of the article describes the scene thusly:

The date rape in Revenge of the Nerds comes as Lewis Skolnick, played by Robert Carradine, sneaks up on beautiful cheerleader Betty Childs in the ‘Moon Room’ of a haunted house while wearing a disguise. See, they’re at a costume event and Lewis has stolen the Darth Vader mask of Betty’s dipshit boyfriend Stan (played by TV superstar Ted McGinley) and is wearing it to conceal his true identity. Betty thinks Lewis is Stan and, as one is wont to do, ****s him with the mask on. When Lewis removes the mask Betty decides that he’s such a great lay she’s going to leave her jock boyfriend for this nerd. Victory for nerds everywhere… who can only get laid through misrepresentation and subterfuge, I guess.

So let’s talk a bit about how this does fit into the nerd culture as talked about by Aaronson. The main idea here, I think, is that if the nerds were given a chance by women, then the women would find out that the nerds are in fact good people deep down and worth dating. In the context, that pretty much means sexually, although it is possible that the reason he’s better is because he actually cares more about her and her pleasure than her boyfriend does, which would definitely be less sexist. But the nerds don’t get that chance because of the preconceptions about them. So once they trick her into giving him a chance, then she realizes what they can offer and he, at least, manages to “win”. From the nerd angle, they shouldn’t have to trick women into giving them a chance to prove themselves, but they do … and that they have to is no fault of their own.

Now, this is indeed rape, where rape is defined as sex without consent. She wouldn’t have consented if she’d known who it was. What the movie, I think, tries to imply is that while she wouldn’t have consented if she’d known who it was at the start, she would have consented if she’d known what she knows after they actually do have sex, which muddies things a little bit (can you have give consent willingly after the fact, retroactively applying it?). This, however, has the rather unfortunate implication that a rape victim might actually enjoy the rape, and not be traumatized or angry over it, implying that if you trick someone into sex they might like it and so not have it be rape. But, at any rate, the triumph is, to me, the proving of their quality that the movie rather awkwardly promotes, not the rape of a woman, as Marcotte implies.

He also doesn’t say that she’s lying. He merely says that her experience may not be universal, which is a perfectly reasonable response to make to someone insisting that a world nerd-normed would be worse than the one we have.

Despite saying he’s steeped in feminist discourse, you will find that the only feminist whose name he appears to remember is Andrea Dworkin’s, i.e. a woman modern day feminists reference rarely (if ever) but misogynists tend to obsess over because they want her to be the spokeswoman for feminism.

And he claimed that he liked her work, and that of radical feminists, and relates better to them … something that misogynists never, ever say. And she ignores the general sites that he lists and that he’s really trying to establish there that, yeah, he does read feminist work and so has the vocabulary. So this doesn’t seem to be any kind of strike against him unless she wants to claim that Dworkin actually isn’t really a feminist, which feminists, well, never, ever do.

Translation: Having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome.

Let’s look at what Aaronson said to lead to this comment:

But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged”—that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes—is completely alien to your way of seeing things. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I’m going to have to reveal something about my life, and it’s going to be embarrassing.

(sigh)

So, Marcotte interprets this as him expressing frustration, which doesn’t follow from the preceding paragraph. What does follow from the preceding paragraph is a sigh like a deep breath, preparing himself for saying what he admits is embarrassing. Which, since all he’s talking about is his lack of success with women, shouldn’t be embarrassing, but as we’ll see with people like Marcotte out there, it becomes that.

This is a critical passage, because it really lays out his thesis: That fear of rejection is a male-only experience, and one that is so awful that any suffering women have endured through history is a mere pittance compared to it. The possibility that women want love and attention and worry about being humiliated and denied simply has never occurred to him. I have some theories as to why.

I’m not sure how she gets to that thesis from a paragraph that simply talks about his own personal experiences and says nothing about how women have it. And I’ll give you a spoiler for later: this isn’t his thesis. His thesis is that he had these issues, and that feminism instead of making it better or a world where this was better, actually made it worse. And, on top of that, the men who rejected the feminist ideas actually had success. And, on top of that, he was seen as having to check his privilege more than those “Neaderthals”, as he puts it. This is not likely to lead to a positive view of feminism.

Also, spoiler, Marcotte will not, in any way, make this better. Instead, she’ll make it worse.

Translation: I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.

Um, it seems that he did listen. The lessons, at the very least, as provided, weren’t presented in a way that worked to teach him what he did need to know. I’m suspecting that he was one of those overly analytic people — you know, like people on the Autistic Spectrum — and needed more than a list of behaviours not to do, but instead either also a list of behaviours to do or a way to generalize what the underlying link between all the behaviours so that he could make a rule on that. Many people don’t pick up social cues naturally, and so rely on rules to navigate social situations. What was done here sounds a lot like the problem with a lot of sexual harassment policies: they state rules that don’t actually work in real social situations, and so people ignore them … but the people who try to actually follow them are seen as weird and creepy, and the people who want to follow the rules don’t have the ability to determine on their own when the exceptions come into play. That’s why they wanted the rules in the first place. So if you list a set of things not to do, don’t blame people for thinking that doing those things is always wrong and so they should never do them.

Translation: I believe that women and gay men do not experience either sexual desire or fear of rejection, mostly because I haven’t considered the possibility that people not exactly like me have internal lives and desires of their own.

I find that fantasy itself rather odd, and would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it. I concede that he might have had a distorted view of what the life of others is like and might not be properly empathetic towards their issues, but that doesn’t justify not being empathetic to his own experiences. He might have been wrong, but he did feel that way. And it is useful to note that if he had been a woman, his shyness would not have been as big an issue — shyness is a positive trait in women and a negative trait in men — and if he had been gay he would have had a reason for being lonely that wasn’t an indication of a personal problem in him. Yes, there would have been many other issues, though …

Translation: I skimmed through feminist literature and got angry when I realized that they were going to spend all their time yapping about women’s problems, instead of getting onto the real problem that they, as women, are obligated to solve. Which is how to get someone to touch my cock without making me work at it.

Or, rather, he went to get more detail to find out the underlying theory and how it could explain what actions were allowed or not, and how to tell the difference, and found that there was nothing else to it. In fact, as he said next, it went even further into the things that thou shalt not do without saying what the determining factor was.

Translation: Unwilling to actually do the work required to address my social anxiety—much less actually improve my game—I decided that it would be easier to indulge a conspiracy theory where all the women in the world, led by evil feminists, are teaching each other not to **** me. Because bitches, yo.

Um, considering that what he lists are actual statements made in feminist literature, it’s hard to claim that it’s a conspiracy theory to take what feminists say literally. And he didn’t say anything about women not having sex with him, but that it gave him more reasons to not approach. In short, it made his social anxiety worse. Surely feminism should not be proud or even content with making an actual mental problem worse, right?

Also, the “much less actually improve my game” should be a massive red flag here, because you know who talks about improving your game? PUAs. Who often frequent shyness newsgroups promising to do just that for shy men. Excellent work making shy men who read your column more vulnerable to PUA literature and promises.

There are many women out there who are also crippled by social anxieties who would prefer to hide in their hobbies and interests. The difference is a) they can’t blame the entire opposite sex instead of themselves for their mental health issues and b) when they actually try to turn those interests and hobbies into professions, they are told by various social forces, both explicitly and implicitly, that their femaleness means they will always be second-rate at best. Being able to hide in mathematics is, in fact, a privilege, because it is one that has long been and continues in many ways, denied to women.

On a), my answer is “And yet, they do”. Blaming the shallowness of men for a woman who is not model beautiful not being able to get dates despite being a “great person’ is pretty common. Additionally, shy women have an easier time getting dates and relationships than men do, because under patriarchy men are supposed to be the initiators and the aggressors and women are supposed to be the gatekeepers. On the shyness newsgroup I used to frequent, you rarely got women posters … in general, but also few who came to complain that it stopped them getting dates. If they ever left the house, chances are they got hit on (which we know to be true because the whole push against sexual harassment is to stop that). That was probably the number one complaint from men.

On b), that depended on their hobby. If it was traditionally female, they could hide in it without penalty. Academics was not, unfortunately, one of them, but a woman interested in that was not, in fact, necessarily worse off than a man whose hobby was traditionally female. About the only real difference here is that traditionally female hobbies and occupations tended to be more social, while men had more solo options.

I’m not a doctor, but I can imagine that it’s nearly impossible to help someone who is more interested in blaming his testicles, feminism, women generally, or the world for his mental health problems than to actually settle down and get to work at getting better. Perhaps actual therapists might want to weigh in on how you handle cases like this.

The issue here is that for him it seemed that it was his sexual desires that were his biggest problem. Not the cause of it, of course, but the thing that caused him the most grief. So, no, it wouldn’t have been a solution to his problem, but it would have made him happier, at least in his mind.

The main issue here is that there is a lot of social pressure to get dates, get sex, and get relationships. Speaking personally, I found that my quality of life improved greatly when I decided that being in a relationship just wasn’t that important to me and to embrace my introversion. I was never really lonely, but did feel the pressure to get a relationship, but coming to understand myself better and noting that many people in relationships were or ended up worse off than they were outside of them led me to that conclusion. Which is what I might have recommended to him. Which, you’ll note, for men makes getting a relationship a lot harder; men don’t generally fall into relationships as easily as women do, as they generally have to make the first move. Which would have meant that he wouldn’t have found his wife. So, Amanda, was that a good solution to his problem?

This is a common theme: He isn’t failing himself. Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden.

Or, that being an introvert and analytic isn’t actually something that someone should see as a problem with them, and so there really was nothing wrong with him. The world just wasn’t really set up to deal with his reasonable and valid personality traits.

Translation: It’s unfair that I can’t just go to the wife store and buy the latest model.

Or, that a society where there is more social support for people who want to get into a relationship would have been better for him than the crap one we have now, where relationships are seen as incredibly important but no one wants to help anyone actually get them other than by giving trite and useless advice. For example, a lot of shy men, particularly, would prefer getting set up with people. Guess why no one usually wants to do that anymore? Right, non-shy people don’t like it and find it insulting. Our world is not a world that is kind to introverts, of any gender.

I have no doubt that men who spend their dates flirting with women instead of demanding that the answer for something Andrea Dworkin wrote 35 years ago do, in fact, get laid more. What’s interesting is Aaronson doesn’t seem to grasp that some of that ass-grabbery might be, you know, consensual. Because that would be admitting that women have sexual desires like he does, as opposed to being sex-dispensing machines who have been broken by feminism and their own inherent female wrongness.

Here is where we really start to see the glimmerings of a serious problem, as here she admits that that ass-grabbery behaviour might be consensual. In short, women might like that. Considering that a lot of this behaviour would be happening among people who wouldn’t be in enough of a relationship for this to be explict, and that the big push of PUAs is that their behaviour isn’t wrong because the women really like it, and that one of the main issues with sexual harassment is that women don’t actually like it but for various reasons won’t protest, I really can’t see how this isn’t just tossing feminist theory out in order to make a cheap shot at Aaronson, hinting that he just really wasn’t a man worthy of getting dates despite his taking feminist theory seriously, unlike those other men.

Also … flirting is crap and sucks. Flirting is the approach of choice for women because it allows for plausible deniability if the person rejects you; you don’t have to admit that you were actually interested, and can be doing it just for fun. Of course, that also leads to the possibility that the target might completely miss the signs, but even that can be used to save face, and claim that they were just clueless and that would prove that they weren’t worth dating in the first place. We really should advocate for a much more honest and open approach to relationships. Oh, and BTW, flirting actions can be considered sexual harassment in some cases.

Translation: I’ve completely absorbed the idea that dating nerds hurts your social status, so I only pay attention to women I have nothing in common with while turning my nose up to women who share my interests. When those women inevitably reject me, I refuse to accept that it might be because they don’t share my interests, but instead choose to believe that it’s because they are fundamentally broken and therefore must be attracted to men who are bad for them. I categorically refuse to accept that any of my romantic rivals might actually be okay guys. I also categorically refuse to accept that women have a right to have sex with who they want instead of dole pussy out like it’s gold stars for getting good grades.

Um, except … Marcotte’s advice was for Aaronson to get out there and approach women and fix his social skills, so presumably she wanted him to approach the women who shared his interests. With the methods that the “Neanderthals” used, because presumably that’s what she meant by consensual flirting, since she seems to consider those people as having valid success. And Aaronson is clear that he didn’t approach anyone, so it’s not likely to be the case that he was simply chasing women that were either out of his league or that didn’t share his interests, and ignoring those that did. He was likely ignoring all of them. And his comment was essentially that these women were, in fact, dating people who did all the things that you weren’t supposed to do and held the attitudes that you weren’t supposed to hold. And somehow, these were then “okay guys”. Think about that: these people were better than someone who read and liked radical feminists and feminism in general.

Again, Marcotte parrots one of the main PUA talking points: the men who do these things are the men women want, and do what women want. Men, then, who try to give women what they say they want are just losers, and need to wake up. Somehow Marcotte, without any idea of what men these women were dating, can conclude that they were “okay guys” just because they had success, as if women’s ideas of dating and what is desirable weren’t as completely messed up as those of men.

I wouldn’t call it hidden. And it’s entirely possible that said “Neanderthals” are not acting entitled but are flirting and trying to impress women they’re interested in, which suggests that they understand that they aren’t owed but that women should have to want it, too.

PUAs talk about impressing women to, with flirting as well. “Social proof” is the ur-example of this. The whole PUA philosophy is based around demonstrating value. I doubt that Marcotte will thus conclude that they understand that they aren’t owed. Again, Marcotte draws this conclusion without knowing what does men were doing, despite the fact that from Aaronson’s description it really would seem to be the things that feminists and sexual assault/sexual harassment seminars said you shouldn’t do. It’s just cycling back to the old canard that if a men can’t get women to date him then there must be something wrong with him. He’s a Nice Guy(tm) or an AFC. The similarities between her attitude and that of PUAs is striking.

In other words, his problem was not feminism or women, but his crippling unwillingness to put himself out there. When he got over that a little and actually started to interact with women, he discovered that they were not actually the man-hating hell beasts he believed.

That crippling unwillingness that was worsened by feminist theory talking about all the ways in which doing so might be terribly sexist and offensive, remember. Also note that he didn’t think that they were man-hating hell beasts, but that what he might do might be terrible and offensive, and so cause the problems he wanted to avoid.

However, he continues to be unwilling to believe that he was the one with a problem, and prefers to believe that it’s women and feminists in particular that are out to get him. He is utterly unwilling to accept that what happened was he overcame a personal problem and instead imagines that he defeated a cabal of man-hating feminists that exist only in his mind.

Except that his personal problem was caused in large part by the inadequacies and often downright stupidities of certain feminist theories. He felt that he had to ignore a lot of what he thought feminism said in order to make these approaches and overcome his anxiety. This means that either the feminist theory is wrong or that it isn’t expressing itself clearly enough, or providing a way to appeal to all people in a clear way. Both are things that feminists should pause and consider, not dismiss with empty rhetoric.

The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.

Which has no relation to what he actually said. There is no evidence that he thought that way. It’s those that she says are “okay guys” that think that women are the robot army by running flirting techniques and developing game. In general, those that are afraid of offending women tend to think that they are people, and that they don’t want to risk hurting of offending them. In Marcotte’s mind, the opposite seems to usually be true, for no other reason that I can see than that she’s annoyed at Scott Aaronson.

While continuing to build your social and sexual identity around this specific conspiracy theory.

In the time period when he was putting himself out there like she suggests? Please.

I say that women aren’t to blame, but look at them! They **** men who aren’t me. Clearly they are screwing up.

They have sex with the men that feminism says that they shouldn’t like. Whether or not that’s true, it’s not something that she can dismiss … at least, not something that she can dismiss and be consistent with feminism and its view of society and relationships, which both have to concede that women and the attitudes that the patriarchy gives them contributes to sexism in society.

The notion that women respond with enthusiasm to having someone sexually assault them will not be moved by any number of Hollaback videos. He needs to believe that women did not **** him not because of anything he did, but because women are fundamentally broken, as a gender. No evidence otherwise will penetrate.

Except that his argument is that they did, in fact, respond with enthusiasm to some things that were considered sexual assault by feminist theory. Thus, either they are broken or feminism is. And feminism already argues that due to our society a lot of women are.

Look, the big issue here is that one of the main concerns about sexual harassment policies is the fear of those who are not cool or popular that whether or not something is harassment or not will depend on, in fact, on how cool, popular or attractive the person is. The precise same behaviour in the exact same context will be considered harassment if she doesn’t find the guy attractive and just normal flirting if she does. What is hidden in all of Marcotte’s comments about consent and “okay guys” is the statement that, yes, this is how it all works. Even though men might not be able to tell if she’s interested without, saying, pushing the boundaries a little, trying it when she’s not interested is bad and trying it when she is is good. How do you tell? Well, you just know. A lot of people don’t just know, and fortunately most sane positions give leeway for the actions you’d want to take to express and discover interest. That’s what Aaronson was missing, and doesn’t seem to be something Marcotte is interested in providing. She’d rather engage in snark and sarcasm and attack him as a loser than understand that yeah, people have problems with this. So much for empathy.

He’s not equating them. He’s definitely suggesting that having to learn to speak to women instead of having naked women show up in your bed by magic is worse than being raped. You know, because people pity you if you’ve been raped. They may even pity **** you, which is clearly all he ever wanted.

Most of the problems shy guys have is caused by the patriarchal attitude that they have to be the one to initiate and drive these things, which is precisely what they have problems doing. You’d think that feminists who are trying to oppose and eliminate patriarchy would have theories that would help them overcome this. Instead, they make it worse by defining behaviours as sexist and ignoring intent, and then by fostering the attitude that men who can’t overcome these things are simply losers who didn’t deserve dates in the first place, often justifying women choosing the precise men that abuse them by insisting that the alternatives were not only as bad, but were in fact worse, based on nothing more than the fact that the women chose them despite those men acting in the precise way that should indicate sexist attitudes and the shy men having the audacity to point out the inconsistency and potential hypocrisy.

So, while being raped is worse, at least feminists are telling rape victims that it’s not their fault, even as patriarchal attitudes often make them feel like it is. For these shy men, everyone is telling them that it’s their fault, even though it isn’t. While let’s not let this stop us from working to stop rape, can we show some empathy for those who both the patriarchy and feminism are screwing with in the relationship game?

He really has a problem with women reacting normally to objective facts about the world, doesn’t he?

Is it an objective fact about the world that he’s an agent of the patriarchy trying to “mansplain” away his privilege? Has anyone demonstrated that? Marcotte certainly hasn’t.

I am not buying the argument that his mind was ever actually open to hearing from women about their experiences, lest that disturb his belief that we never suffer rejection, anxiety, or fear.

She concludes this because he says that a stock answer that doesn’t address his experiences won’t be one that furthers the discussion. So … who’d be ignoring experiences, then?

Translation: Despite my claim to be afraid of women, I feel powerful enough around women to decree whether or not a woman’s response is acceptable or not, based strictly on how much it flatters me.

Well, first, he did already claim to have at least mostly overcome that, so this reflects her not really understanding what he said in her haste to “fisk” it, and second he didn’t in any way demand flattery. It’s always nice to end with a comment that pretty much only proves that you were ignoring what was said.

Essentially, in her haste to declare Aaronson a sexist, misogynist loser, Marcotte ignores what he said, proves objections to feminism reasonable, throws feminism under the bus, and sounds a lot like an advocate for PUA techniques. This … can’t be what she wanted to do.

Why Some Nice Guys ™ Are Angry at Women …

October 5, 2014

I had thought about making this post in light of the Elliot Rodger shooting, with all of the discussions about PUAs and MRAs and Nice Guys ™ and them not being nice and people being angry at women and all of that … but I got lazy as usual. My October rush of posts is a good time to actually do it.

Disclaimer: I in no way think that what Rodger did was in any way defensible, and I don’t support — and don’t have — the anger and hatred towards women that’s being referred to here. I pretty much just gave up on this crap. But having seen it and experienced it myself means that I understand where it’s coming from more than a lot of people do.

I’ve been in the groups and listened to the people who are in various ways unsuccessful with women, and I’ve seen them develop their anger and in some cases hatred of women. But I’ve found that most people either don’t see or don’t understand the reasons behind that, and the actual serious issues that those men have to face. Issues that I’ve faced myself, but just reacted differently to. I’ve seen why they turn to PUAs to at least get something or have some chance at a relationship, and have noted why a lot of the responses they get are trite and often as hateful as the comments they are responding to. So I thought I’d try to outline the experience that can lead to this through an analogy:

Imagine that you work on the night shift. Also imagine that you decide, for whatever reason — which may actually be wrong — that your life would be better off if you worked on the day shift. And so you set out to land a position on the day shift. You apply through the proper channels, clean up your resume, look for positions in the usual places … and can’t get onto the day shift. There just aren’t any positions available when you’re looking, or when you do get a chance you don’t get the job.

After a while of this, you start to wonder if maybe you’re doing something wrong. So you ask people on the day shift or who know people who are on the day shift what you should be doing to maximize your chances to get onto the day shift. And they tell you a number of things to do: take certain training courses, use specific channels to apply, and so on. They also tell you a number of things never to do, like never bother the people by asking them if they have a new spot, and just wait for them to reply. And you feel good about this advice, and you set out to implement it.

And you still don’t get onto the day shift. But, hey, they all say it might take time, so you’re willing to be patient. And then you notice that there are people moving from the night shift to the day shift. And you notice that they didn’t take those courses, and they didn’t apply through the channels you were told to use. And, more damningly, they in fact kept bothering the people hiring by asking if they had a spot on a regular basis.

Now, since you’ve spent a lot of time waiting and following the advice that it seems isn’t accurate, you feel a bit miffed about this. And you go back and talk to those people and tell them that the advice isn’t right, and they tell you that it is and that you have to just keep trying. And when you point out that the others didn’t follow it and got on the day shift, the nicer of those, the ones who are your friends, tell you that that isn’t how things work and that those people got positions that weren’t really what you’d want … despite them looking a lot better than what you have. Others, the ones who aren’t, get angry at you being upset, saying that you shouldn’t be upset over this, and even pointing out that you don’t deserve to get a spot on the day shift because you’re angry at being given what seems to you to be bad advice, and that on top of that if you were just taking those training courses in order to get a position well, then, you don’t deserve a position if somehow you weren’t doing that completely on your own, and that you’re a fake and a fraud, and not really a worker … despite the fact that those who did get on to the day shift actually didn’t even do the training at all. At the end of all of this, you’ve moved from being told that you’ll eventually get on the day shift if you try and are patient to being told that you don’t deserve to be on the day shift because you simply aren’t worthy of it despite in general having more of the abilities that they originally say you needed to have to be on the day shift than the people that you’ve seen move to the day shift. You’ve gone from being someone who’s good and will get there someday to someone who’s a complete loser that will never get there for no other reason that you can see other than getting angry at advice that didn’t seem to be working for you and seemed to be wrong to start with,

Now, on top of that, there are people on the day shift who think that their lives would be better if they were on the night shift. They also apply for spots on the night shift. They also don’t get them, or at least don’t get the ones they want. They complain about not being able to get spots on the night shift … and the response, in general — from almost everyone — is that there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that those people on the night shift have completely impossible and ridiculous standards and are just shallow and stupid. Ultimately, for them the reason they can’t get onto the night shift has nothing to do with them, while for you the reason you can’t get onto the day shift has everything to do with you.

Wouldn’t you be angry, too?

Feature Creep …

August 10, 2012

This is tagged with the “Overcoming Shyness” tag even though it isn’t one of my specific posts in that series because being or not being a creep is something that a lot of shy people both fear and, unfortunately, do.

Anyway, here’s a guide to not being a creeper (or, I guess, creep). It starts out defining what a creeper is:

Let’s define our terms here. Let’s say that for this particular conversation, a “creeper” is someone whose behavior towards someone else makes that other person uncomfortable at least and may possibly make them feel unsafe. A creeper may be of any gender and may creep on any gender, but let’s acknowledge that a whole lot of the time it’s guys creeping on women. Creeping can happen any place and in any community or grouping of people, but in geekdom we see a lot of it at conventions and other large gatherings.

Well, it’s nice that it tries to make it gender-neutral, but it clearly isn’t when it gets into the details or, if it is still trying to be, would fail miserably in at least a couple of places. Anyway, in my quest to point out how a lot of the rules people devise around these sorts of things don’t actually work so well if people tried to follow them — which shy people not only often try to do, but it’s also one of the best ways for them to gain the social skills they lack — I’m going to go through them all and point out the issues with them, if they have any. And some clearly do.

Let’s start with, well, the first one, just to be different:

1. Acknowledge that you are responsible for your own actions. You are (probably) a fully-functioning adult. You probably are able to do all sorts of things on your own — things which require the use of personal judgement. Among those things: How you relate to, and interact with, other human beings, including those who you have some interest in or desire for. Now, it’s possible you may also be socially awkward, or have trouble reading other people’s emotions or intentions, or whatever. This is your own problem to solve, not anyone else’s. It is not an excuse or justification to creep on other people. If you or other people use it that way, you’ve failed basic human decency.

Well, yes and no. Yes, you are responsible for your own actions, but we do generally tend to think that if someone has a particular issue that makes it harder for them to do certain things that we loosen our standards a bit for them. In this particular case, if you happen to be socially awkward and are known to be so and are known to be struggling with fixing that it would seem only reasonable for people who know that to give you some slack when you screw up, instead of, say, claiming that you are a “creeper”, which seems to imply either a deliberate attempt to make someone uncomfortable or that you’re making no attempts to learn how not to be a creep. This one seems to translate to “If you screw up, it’s your problem and that you didn’t intend it at all and are genuinely both puzzled that you did cause discomfort and apologetic for means absolutely nothing at all”. It’s the epitome of the utterly insane “If you make someone else uncomfortable, you are automatically wrong and bad” argument. Sure, you have to take responsibility for your actions, but other people have to take responsibility for their reactions. If you make a genuine mistake and didn’t intend to cause discomfort and give every indication of being sorry and will try to learn from it so as not to do that again, it’s a problem with the other person if they react with anger and not with understanding.

2. Acknowledge that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you. Which is to say that you may be trying your hardest to be interesting and engaging and fun to be around — and still come off as a creeper to someone else. Yes, that sucks for you. But you know what? It sucks for them even harder, because you’re creeping them out and making them profoundly unhappy and uncomfortable. It may not seem fair that “creep” is their assessment of you, but: Surprise! It doesn’t matter, and if you try to argue with them (or anyone else) that you’re in fact not being a creep and the problem is with them not you, then you go from “creep” to “complete assbag.” Sometimes people aren’t going to like you or want to be near you. It’s just the way it is.

This is similar to 1, and has similar problems. Look, there are cases when you can, indeed, argue that you aren’t and that they are wrong, because they are reading something into your actions that isn’t there and, in some cases, that no reasonable person should think is there. If someone thinks that you are hitting on them because you ask them to pass the salt, and that you keep doing that every time you want the salt is creeping them out, the problem is not with you, but with them. And there are many closer cases where someone, say, mistakes an innocent offer of a drink with a proposition, say. So if they think you are a creep because they are making guesses at your intentions and you can prove that you don’t actually have those intentions, then yes you can indeed argue with them over that. And while it might not change their feeling that you are a creep, if you are right then the problem is theirs, not yours. Just because someone is creeped out doesn’t automatically make them right to be creeped out.

3. Acknowledge that no one’s required to inform you that you’re creeping (or help you to not be a creeper). It’s nice when people let you know when you’re going wrong and how. But you know what? That’s not their job. It’s especially not their job at a convention or some other social gathering, where the reason they are there is to hang out with friends and have fun, and not to give some dude an intensive course in how not to make other people intensely uncomfortable with his presence. If you are creeping on other people, they have a perfect right to ignore you, avoid you and shut you out — and not tell you why. Again: you are (probably) a fully-functioning adult. This is something you need to be able to handle on your own.

This is an issue over obligations. Yes, no one is obligated to tell you that you are creeping them out, but they really should … especially since they might be reading something in that isn’t there or may have eccentric views on what counts as “creepy”. But, hey, in conventions it’s easier to just avoid people you don’t like than try to explain it, since you aren’t likely to be friends already and aren’t even likely to see each other again anyway. But this goes for absolutely everything, even someone you don’t like because their voice reminds you of Fran Dresher’s. In a more tightly knit social group, like a class or having a friend of a friend join in to social outings, then this is a really, really bad way to go. You really should let them know and see how they react, if you can. Simply ostracising them won’t help them in any way, and might really hurt them — and might hurt them more than your discomfort at their creepiness.

4. Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use. Yes, I know. You know that. But oddly enough, there’s a difference between knowing it, and actually believing it — or understanding what it means in a larger social context. People go to conventions and social gatherings to meet other people, but not necessarily (or even remotely likely) for the purpose of meeting you. The woman who is wearing a steampunky corset to a convention is almost certainly wearing it in part to enjoy being seen in it and to have people enjoy seeing her in it — but she’s also almost certainly not wearing it for you. You are not the person she has been waiting for, the reason she’s there, or the purpose for her attendance. When you act like you are, or that she has (or should have) nothing else to do than be the object of your amusement/interest/desire/use, the likelihood that you will come across a complete creeper rises exponentially. It’s not an insult for someone else not to want to play that role for you. It’s not what they’re there for.

This one’s fairly good, but a lot of people who get called creeps already get that. Also note tha a lot of people who do think that don’t come across as creepy, because they learn how to get what they want from people. Shy people who are trying to get into social groups but don’t think that people are just there to be used are the ones who didn’t learn by failing because they disliked it so much because they see people as important, unlike those who treat them as toys.

5. Don’t touch. Seriously, man. You’re not eight, with the need to run your fingers over everything, nor do you lack voluntary control of your muscles. Keep your hands, arms, legs and everything else to yourself. This is not actually difficult. Here’s an idea: That person you want to touch? Put them in charge of the whole touch experience. That is, let them initiate any physical contact and let them set the pace of that contact when or if they do — and accept that that there’s a very excellent chance no touch is forthcoming. Do that when you meet them for the first time. Do that after you’ve met them 25 times. Do it just as a general rule. Also, friendly tip: If you do touch someone and they say “don’t touch me,” or otherwise make it clear that touching was not something you should have done, the correct response is: “I apologize. I am sorry I made you uncomfortable.” Then back the hell off, possibly to the next state over.

This is the first of the ones that clearly break the gender neutrality, or else it doesn’t work. Imagine that everyone, male or female, followed this rule and waited for the other person to touch first, and let the pace be settled by the other person. So, you are doing this … and so is the other person. Ergo, no one makes the first move and so touching vanishes. Nice job breaking it, hero.

So, either it’s a call to let women touch first — which ignores that they may set a faster pace than the people they are touching are comfortable with — or it’s actually logically impossible. Nice. And since touching is so crucially important to a lot of social bonding — which is why PUAs make a big deal out of anchoring — following these rules will end up with the person being considered odd or strange because they never touch anyone. Not, then, a rule that shy people ought to follow.

6. Give them space. Hey: Hold your arm straight out in front of your body. Where your fingertips are? That’s a nice minimum distance for someone you’re meeting or don’t know particularly well (it’s also not a bad distance for people you do know). Getting inside that space generally makes people uncomfortable, and why make people uncomfortable? That’s creepy. Also creepy: Sneaking up behind people and getting in close to them, or otherwise getting into their personal space without them being aware of it. If you’re in a crowded room and you need to scrunch in, back up when the option becomes available; don’t take it as an opportunity to linger inside that personal zone.

Kinda good, but the issue is that personal space actually varies with the amount available — I once actually had people feel bad walking into an empty theatre because at the time I was all alone and would have had a solo movie — and with the person and culture. Yes, violating personal space can be an issue, but I’ve had it happen to me and just moved back. Eventually, people get it, and if they don’t, tell them. Do pay attention to circumstances and context, which takes a lot more than what is said here.

7. Don’t box people in. Trapping people in a corner or making it difficult for them to leave without you having the option to block them makes you an assbag. Here’s a hint: If you are actually interesting to other people, you don’t need to box them into a corner.

Again, context. If you don’t need to box them in, don’t, but don’t panic if you happen to due to perfectly natural mechanisms (like a crowded table, or whatever). Never try to box anyone in, but don’t obsess and move around to avoid it either. If they feel boxed in, they can always ask for space or ask you to excuse them and move out of the way if they want to leave, as happens many times a day every single day everywhere in the world.

8. That amusing sexual innuendo? So not amusing. If you can’t make a conversation without trying to shoehorn suggestive or sexually-related topics into the mix, then you know what? You can’t make conversation. Consider also the possibility the playing the sexual innuendo card early and often signals to others in big flashing neon letters that you’re likely a tiresome person who brings nothing else to table. This is another time where an excellent strategy is to let the other person be in charge of bringing sexual innuendo to the conversational table, and managing the frequency of its appearance therein.

Again, context is important. Listen to conversations among real people. You’ll hear an awful lot of it. Does this mean that all of those people are tiresome and bring nothing else to the table? Of course not. It’s simply not the case that sexual innuendo is a problem generally. It becomes a problem if it’s all you do, or if it’s done at inappropriate times, or if the people you are talking to are sensitive to it. Be yourself with these things and hope to find a group that talks the same way you do. After all, you’ll be looked at funny if you slip physics jokes into inappropriate places or with a group that doesn’t care for them, so the focus on sexual innuendo is odd and seems to be coming from someone who doesn’t realize just how normal that is. It’s like my aversion to swearing, except that I realize how normal it is; I just don’t care much for it. He may not care much for it, but that doesn’t make it generally inappropriate.

Now, starting off a conversation with someone you just met with one would be a problem, but that’s one of those “inappropriate times” that I referenced before.

9. Someone wants to leave? Don’t go with them. Which is to say, if they bow out of a conversation with you, say goodbye and let them go. If they leave the room, don’t take that as your cue to follow them from a distance and show up wherever it is they are as if it just happens you are showing up in the same place. Related to this, if you spend any amount of time positioning yourself to be where that person you are interested in will be, or will walk by, for the purpose of “just happening” to be there when they are, you’re probably being creepy as hell. Likewise, if you attach yourself to a group just to be near that person. Dude, it’s obvious, and it’s squicky.

So, you’re talking to someone and they say “I want to get a coffee”, and you could use one, too, and so you say “I’ll join you”, is that wrong? Likely not. If you’ve seen someone that you find interesting, and want a chance to talk to them, and you’re told that they might be at place X later, is it wrong to head over there just in case? Again, likely not. There’s a fine line here between stalking and just doing perfectly normal things, and one that isn’t easy for people to figure out. Essentially, what people need here is to learn how to read body language and so know when the person isn’t interested in talking to you, not some hard-set rules about when you go with someone and when you stay.

10. Someone doesn’t want you around? Go away. Here are some subtle hints: When you come by they don’t make eye contact with you. When they are in a group the group contracts or turns away from you. If you interject in the conversation people avoid following up on what you’ve said. One of the friends of the person you are interested in interposes themselves between you and that person. And so on. When stuff like that happens, guess what? You’re not wanted. When that happens, here’s what you do: Go away. Grumble to yourself (and only to yourself) all you like about their discourteousness or whatever. Do it away from them. Remember that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you. Remember that they’re not obliged to inform you about why they don’t want you around. Although, for God’s sake, if they do tell you they don’t want you around, listen to them.

It’s good to know when you aren’t wanted, and while I’ve messed it up in the past I do have a rule that I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted. So learning to read these signs and respecting them is a good thing. But, the people described here are jerks, and I see no reason to not grumble about it to other people. The big thing, though, is to not take this as a sign that there’s something wrong with you, necessarily. They might not like your shirt (yes, some people are that shallow). They might think you’re a creep. You might be one. As many shy people know, if this keeps happening you might have something that you need to work on, so go try to figure that out. But just because some other people are uncomfortable around you doesn’t mean that they should be, or are right about that, or that you have a problem.

And I think that sums up the whole problem with this list: it is built around the idea that if other people are made uncomfortable around you, then that’s your fault and your problem and something to be worked on, rather than perhaps it simply indicating that you and they really shouldn’t hang out together. And if shy people take the former interpretation as if it is the absolute always true truth, then it can set them back massively. So, we need to look at nuances and contexts, and understand that the creepee might be wrong or the creeper might be wrong, and figure out how to figure out who is wrong and how to fix that, even if just for interactions with other people than the creepees.

Fixing Shyness Will Not Fix Your Life …

June 22, 2012

One of the most pervasive myths that I encountered reading the shyness newsgroups was the idea that if the person could only fix their shyness, then their life would just be unconditionally and completely great and wonderful. They’d get a girlfriend. They’d get that job they wanted. They wouldn’t be poor anymore. They’d no longer be depressed, and feel that they fit in and really connected to society. They’d have tons of friends, and a completely active and engaging social life. All of these things would just magically occur the instant they stopped being shy.

From personal experience, it just isn’t true. You don’t magically get friends or a relationship or whatever just because you suddenly stop being so shy that you can’t even try to start the process, do job interviews, or carry on a conversation. All of those require more effort, and may well require changes in other areas. You might have to change your style of dress. You might have to improve your skills. You might have to go places you still don’t really want to go. Fixing shyness, for most people, will be the start, not the end.

For me, I’m quite capable of working and improving my skills through education. I can generally interact with people, although I’m still — proudly — a bit odd. My social circle is still pretty limited, and I don’t foresee myself getting a long term relationship anytime soon. But for most of the things I don’t have, a big part of it is, basically, my not really wanting to put in the effort, and that’s a personal choice. One that I may change, one that I may regret, or one that may be right for me. But, again, fixing shyness doesn’t end these choices; in fact, all it does is change and increase them.

You remove shyness to remove one limiting factor, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have others. Which is why fixing shyness is valuable even if, at the end of teh day, it doesn’t just fix your life.

Introversion and Extroversion …

June 10, 2012

Allow me, here, to debunk two pervasive and damaging myths about shyness:

You can have introverts who are not shy.
You can have extroverts that are shy.

Shyness and introversion are not, in fact, the same thing, and once we realize this we can see that shy introverts and shy extroverts have similar, but sharply different problems.

Shy extroverts feel shyness painfully. Shy extroverts thus have absolutely terrible lives, where they are continually desiring and grasping for social contact only to be incapable of actually achieving it. The flip side of this is that they have plenty of motivation to overcome shyness, and there’s almost nothing that they could do that would be more annoying or painful than their life without social contact, and initial set-backs will be more likely to push them to do something else than to give up entirely.

Shy introverts, on the other had, require less social contact (although they generally need some). Thus, a life spent mainly alone isn’t generally as acutely painful for them as it is for shy extroverts. Thus, a lot of their pain is actually situational, and so they tend to focus on specific things like not being able to get dates, or a job, or friends when they need it. But in general, they can be reasonably content with a more isolated life. The flip side of this, of course, is that they don’t have as much motivation to try to overcome it, and so if the measures they take don’t succeed immediately, they are more likely to simply give up than to try again.

I only have a little experience with shy extroverts from reading alt.support.shyness for several years. This is because I, myself, am a shy introvert. And, as you might expect, the most problematic situation for me was the lack of dates and that sort of social interaction. For the most part, simply chatting with co-workers and others would suffice for my other social needs, but getting a relationship was something that I considered important and an important lack. But if I tried things to improve this, like dating sites or spin dating or other things, and it didn’t work, then it was easier for me to just quit instead of trying something else or trying a bit harder. Thus, the convenience of the methods mattered, far more than it would be for a shy extrovert. If it was too hard, I’d simply think to myself that being by myself with my games and DVDs and books wasn’t all that bad, especially if it didn’t seem to be working.

So, because of this, the methods have to be different. Shy introverts need to set smaller goals for themselves so that they can see some progress which can encourage them to continue, but have an advantage in being able to focus in only on the things that really bother them. Shy extroverts, on the other hand, don’t need the smaller goals — although seeing progress always helps — but do have to change themselves and their condition far more to be satisfied.

I Was Once Shy …

June 7, 2012

For the longest time, I was pretty “shy” in social circumstances. I had a small group of friends, but didn’t always make friends easily, and often made social faux pas due to a lack of social skills. For the most part, I was rarely– I think — truly offensive, and I know that at times people did seem to actually like me other than finding me a bit conservative and a bit odd.

But the biggest area it impacted me in was, of course, in relationships. I never really dated all that much, and it took me quite a while to “work up the nerve” to ask anyone out … only to discover that they were attached or not interested. I also missed signals from women that things might have worked well with if only I’d known that they were expressing interest, and was brave enough to actually pursue it. (The two I regret most are the woman who I think came to debate club meetings mostly to talk to me, especially since she said that she didn’t actually like the other people in it, and the one co-worker that people told me was interested but whom I pointed out was also interested in one of my other co-workers (and they dated for a while)).

I have to concede that my introversion — which I still have — was likely a big reason for my being shy; I didn’t feel the need to interact enough to really gain social skills, which only added to the problem. I’m also a bit eccentric in my views and interests, and this causes me to have a hard time predicting what other people want or expect. If I treat them like I want to be treated, I generally miss things that they think obvious, and vice versa, so that causes some issues interacting with people. However, I have been able to say for the past few years that I’m no longer shy. I’ve overcome it. And so what I hope to do in this series is post some of the things I’ve learned, including some of the myths that are foisted on shy people as if they are proven facts, when they aren’t.