Unless your social media bubble is radically unlike mine, your feed is currently full of women posting #metoo. Most shares have #metoo accompanied by this text: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In my timeline, the effect is vivid. For women, the experience of being sexually harassed or assaulted is close to universal. And I am responsible.
I don’t mean that I am responsible in that sense of “we are all responsible, because we all participate in a system that allows this to happen,” although, yeah, that too. I mean that there are women out there who are able to say #metoo because of something I did to them personally.
I’m writing this because I want the men reading to think seriously about whether that’s true for them too. The main response I’m hearing from men is “We need to do better. We need to talk to our friends, our brothers, and our sons. We need to speak up when we see this happening.” That’s a good response. But I suspect the inward response of lots of men reading about all these assaults is “Who are all these monsters?” A number statistically indistinguishable from 100% of women experience inappropriate sexual advances from men, but apparently none of us know who these guys are.
Well, it’s me.
I’m going to tell you every creepy thing that I can remember doing. I’m not doing this for absolution. I’m doing this because I didn’t know. I thought of myself as a good guy. Obviously good men don’t harass or assault women, and I didn’t consider any of what I did to be wrong. I didn’t know this stuff wasn’t OK. I’m pretty sure that if I had known, I wouldn’t have done this stuff. If I had recognised what Pickup Artists advocate as being sexual harassment, I wouldn’t have been receptive to their ideas. I always had good intentions. That doesn’t change the fact that I did bad things. This is something everyone needs to understand, because too many people think rapists are people who sit around plotting to harm their victims. Truth is, a terrifying number of the men who caused these #metoo posts probably think they’ve never hurt anyone.
Now, I should have known it wasn’t OK. That’s on me. If I had just put myself in the shoes of the women I harassed and assaulted, it would have been obvious that my behaviour was unacceptable. I didn’t realise until much later though, and now I share what I’ve learned from my bitter experience so that men reading this can avoid being trashcans.
Sexual assault survivors, you might want to skip this.
A few disclaimers first:
- This isn’t about guilt. Women posting #metoo don’t want men to feel guilty. They want us to stop.
- I did my worst stuff while I was hanging out online with Pickup Artists (PUAs). Pickup Artistry is essentially the attempt to make a science out of being a skeevy creep. Keep away.
- I don’t think for a second that my ‘not knowing’ excuses any of what I did. I could and should have known. I’ll come back to that at the end.
- Your reaction to some of these might be “You didn’t know? Seriously?” That’s fair, and I’ll come to that too.
These are in no particular order. And yes, I’m going to explain why each of these was wrong even though it shouldn’t be necessary, because I really was this stupid. Probably someone else is too.
Here we go.
A (probably incomplete) list of creepy or worse things I have done to women
1) I’m on a date in a bar. We’re sitting next to each other on a bench. Abruptly and without warning, I try to put my hand between her legs. She pushes me away firmly, with a word of objection. Before the date is over, I will try this move twice more.
Why this was gross: Touching someone without their consent is not OK. Especially between their legs. Especially in public. Especially when they’ve already made it abundantly clear they don’t want it. What. The. Hell.
2) I’ve got back to my date’s bedroom (different date), and we’re watching a film. I ask her to have sex. She makes it clear that she does want to have sex with me at some stage, but not then. I keep badgering her about it, and she keeps saying no. I’m complaining about my ‘discomfort’, usual crap. Eventually she caves in. By now I’ve lost my enthusiasm, and we have awful, disappointing sex. I leave. She’d made it clear that she’d had some bad experiences with men and didn’t want to get involved with another man unless it was going to be meaningful. Despite this, I more or less ghost her after this experience.
Why this was gross: I ended up telling my therapist about this encounter recently. I began the story by saying “I don’t think she would say she was raped…” If that’s the best you can say, you have monumentally screwed up. No means no. Hear it and accept it. If a woman says yes because she’s worn out from saying no, that is barely consent.
3) I’m at a photo shoot. I find the makeup artist extremely attractive. After she is done making me up, she writes something down for me. As she’s doing it, I say “Write down your number too.” She freezes for a second before saying “OK” and obeying. After the photo shoot I start texting her to ask her out.
Why this was gross: This was actually a common pickup artist technique (I think popularised by the PUA David DeAngelo). And it’s true. If a woman you barely know is holding a pen and you say to her directly “Write down your number”, chances are she will oblige. One reason for this success rate is that lots of women have experience of men turning violent when they are rejected. Google turns up hundreds of new reports on women who were shot for saying no to a man’s advances. Here’s one. It’s twice as awkward for women in service industries who have to be nice to you to keep their jobs. Don’t put them in that position.
4) My car breaks down in the middle of the road. A young woman comes to help me. We get chatting while I wait to be rescued. When the van finally arrives, she gives me her number. On arriving home, the first thing I send her is a sexually explicit text. She replies (with more patience than I deserve) that she isn’t attracted to me that way but might like to be friends. I tell her that we can’t be friends because “I’m experimenting with chauvinism”. I’m not really joking.
Why this was gross: Imagine that you had a nice chat with someone for whom you felt no sexual attraction, and then they sent you text graphic messages that forced you to imagine having sex with them. Yeah.
This was my move, sending explicit texts out of nowhere. I could add several more like this but they’re all essentially the same. Don’t do it.
5) I’m 17, and I’ve just got my first gig as a guitar teacher. My student is a 14-year-old girl. Without asking, I sit right next to her, completely inside her personal space, to demonstrate something on her guitar (which she is still holding).
Why this was gross: It’s completely understandable for a 14-year-old (or anyone) to feel uncomfortable about a man/boy in her personal space. I assumed I would be able to tell from how I felt. It doesn’t work like that. Something that feels fine for you can be really upsetting for her. Now if I need to get close to a student, I ask first. No one’s ever said no, but they’re going to feel a lot safer if they know you’re not going to do anything without asking, and that they have the option to say no.
6) I’m at work, talking to the receptionist. I decide this is an excellent opportunity to practise the pickup techniques I’ve been learning. So this is what I do, talking to her, building rapport, and building to the Show Of Interest (SOI): “I find that sexy about you”. This goes on for weeks, me hitting on her at work and telling her I find her sexy. She mentions her boyfriend often. I am undeterred. Pickup Artists do not regard boyfriends as an obstacle.
7) I’m in the Tate Modern, on a pickup bootcamp. I start talking to a girl inside a film installation. I grab her and try to make out. She fends me off. I try again.
Why this was gross: a) despite the proclamations of the PUA community, women don’t go to art galleries in the hope men will try to bang them, and b) NO MEANS NO. The reason I was so thick-headed on getting the message about NO was that Pickup Artists told me that women were secretly desperate for me to ravish them. They couldn’t show it because of societal expectations, but deep down they all wanted it. I ignored evidence to the contrary because I wanted to believe it. Don’t be like me. It’s a lie, and it is dangerous.
8) I’m round at a woman’s house to have sex. This one is definitely consensual, at least. We’ve put on a movie but there’s no pretence from either of us that we are going to watch it. But I know that she doesn’t want a one night stand. I do. Despite this, I have sex anyway.
Everyone knows why this is gross. Despite that, I have two very similar stories like this.
9) I meet a woman while out clothes shopping. Well, more accurately, I went into a clothes shop pretending to be interested in clothes so I could practise my pickup skills (NB this is creepy, don’t do it). A woman suggests I try on a bunch of clothes, which I pretend to like. I then invite her for coffee. We have a good conversation and she offers me her number. She’s mentioned a boyfriend but I assume she wants me anyway because I am a Pickup Artist and all women want me really. I send her an explicit text. Immediately, I get a threatening text from a different number, purporting to be her boyfriend. I keep sending explicit texts, partly to needle the boyfriend.
Why this was gross: I think about this one often, because I worry she might have been in an abusive relationship. The texts the boyfriend sent were really violent, and the first and subsequent replies came so fast that I suspected he was screening her phone. On the other hand, he might have been responding in what he felt was a proportionate way to my obviously creepy behaviour. She might have asked him to make me go away. Anyway, this is about me, a person you should not try to emulate.
10) I am hammered. A friend is driving me in a car through a city centre. Some women are standing outside a club. I wind down the window and yell: “FAT!” My fellow passengers express a mixture of amusement and shock.
Why this was gross: I’m sure you agree this is horrible. It’s sexist and fat-shaming, besides which it’s always horrible to be yelled at. I include it here because it was out of character for me, even then. It’s my only memory of ever shouting at a woman in the street, my only memory of shouting anything at all from a car. I only did it because I was so drunk. Being drunk is not an excuse. If no women are writing #metoo because of you—except for that one time when you were really drunk—you still hurt them just as badly.
11) We are in the back seat of my car making out. I ask her to do something. She says another time, but not now. I keep asking. She keeps repeating that she doesn’t want to do it now.
Why this was gross: “Another time” means the same as “no”. Just because someone might want to do a particular act with you in the right circumstances doesn’t mean they always do. You probably love chocolate pudding, but you know there are times when chocolate pudding is the last thing on earth you want, right? On those times, if someone asked you to eat chocolate pudding, you would be unhappy. If they kept doing it, you would get upset. And that’s just pudding.
12) I am hanging out in town with a girl who thinks we are friends but I secretly want to have sex with. I have been trying to make this clear, but I have not been successful. She has a boyfriend. As we say goodbye, she goes to kiss me on the cheek, but I kiss her full on the lips. She exclaims in shock, “You kiss goodbye on the lips!”
“Not with everyone. Just you,” I smile in a way that I imagine is flirtatious.
Why this was gross: This is assault. Unwanted physical contact is assault. That’s all.
None of this was acceptable
I don’t want to see a single comment under this post saying “This is just guys being guys. This is normal. It’s fine,” or ANY VARIATION on that theme. This was not OK. None of it is excusable. Lots of men are not like this. If it’s your idea of what it is to be a man, it shouldn’t be.
#notallmen—are you sure?
I first started thinking back over my past behaviour after reading a comment thread on Pharyngula about #NotAllMen. Of course what men really meant by this hashtag was “not me“. They were more concerned about clearing their own reputation than listening to women about the problem. Most of the Pharyngula thread was about how this hashtag was an irrelevant distraction from women’s reports of sexual harassment, which it is. But one commenter had a different spin. “Can I really say I’ve never harassed a woman?” they mused (I’m paraphrasing from memory). “Never? Not even when I was drunk? Not even when I was a teenager? Not even unintentionally made a woman feel uncomfortable by staring or touching?”
When I first started writing this post, my intention was to make the point that even regular, ‘good’ guys can be harassers. Now I’ve written down 12 of my worst moments, I doubt I’m the best person to make this point. I’m sure (at least I hope) lots of men have read this and gone “Jeeeeeez, I would never do that.” My behaviour went a long way from what most people consider acceptable.
Still: It’s true, there are predators. There are manipulators and those who consciously choose to hurt women. But there are nowhere near enough of them to account for the near-universal experiences of women being harassed and assaulted. Some of the assaults are being done by regular guys. Check it isn’t you.
Seriously, dude. How could you not know?
This is a fair question. Looking at number 1 in particular, it’s such profoundly unacceptable behaviour that it’s hard to imagine how I could have been so dense. Maybe there was an earlier time when I did know it was wrong to grab a woman between the legs. When Pickup Artists started telling me that all women secretly wanted me, I was so keen to believe it that I did not think critically about it at all.
Of course, there was an earlier time when I knew it was wrong to assault women: when I was a conservative Christian, and I believed all sexual touching outside of marriage was a sin. Because all sexual contact was a sin, no one ever bothered to talk to me about the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual touching. So when I stopped believing in purity culture, I just threw out all the rules. This is one of many reasons why consent-based sex education is better than abstinence-only.
There was one thing I never did: get a woman drunk to take advantage of her. Even I knew this was unacceptable. You know how I knew? Austin Powers. Specifically, the scene where Liz Hurley asks him to kiss her, and he says “You’re drunk. It’s not right.” Austin Powers actually gave me better education on consent than I got anywhere else, which is pretty damning.
Really, though, I could have known if I’d just thought about it. If I’d imagined the same things being done to me or to my male friends, I’m sure I wouldn’t have needed consent education to understand what I’d done was messed up. My actions were a giant failure of empathy. And it was because I just didn’t think women are people. Not really. Of course I would have said I believed women were people. But I wasn’t treating them with the same respect I would expect for myself or other men.
What this means
These are things I hope people take away from this:
1) Consent education is worthwhile. Some people need to learn this stuff.
2) Women—your efforts to educate us online can bear fruit. People can change. I have learned and I have done better. Other people can too. Women online talking about sexual assault, Everyday Sexism, #metoo, and feminism were instrumental in helping me learn. You are making a difference.
3) Pickup Artists are a hive of scum.
4) Ordinary guys can be harassers and assaulters. Listen to what women are saying, and think about if you’ve ever done anything that would make them feel similar.
Follow up post
If you recognise yourself in any of the above stories and you want to contact me, use my contact form. If you want to be anonymous, use a fake email address. If you don’t want me to reply, I won’t. I would be glad for the chance to apologise. If you don’t want my apology, that’s OK too.