Flirting, sex, and lines: removing skeeze from the movement

The contents of this post represent the opinions of JT Eberhard, NOT the Secular Student Alliance

There’s a problem in the atheist movement: guys can be skeezy.  This alienates women, makes the women we haven’t alienated uncomfortable, and weakens us as a movement.  There are famous atheist dudes who are notorious for this and plenty of non-famous atheist dudes who are guilty as well.  It needs to stop.  This movement should be comfortable for women.  It must be comfortable for women.

Here’s the problem: at conferences, where skeeze is known to rear its ugly head, lots of people also like to flirt and hook up with each other.  I’m among them.  Mutual flirting is a blast.  So is sex (which we assume is also mutual).  These are not the only reason I speak to women (or women to men).  They’re not even anywhere close to the prime reasons I speak to women (or women to men).  But flirting/sex can happen, and often does happen, in the process of getting to know somebody.  And that’s ok.  But I don’t value these fun activities over the right of women to be comfortable at these events.  Neither do a lot of guys.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking only about these two very fun things, flirting and physicality, that are ultimately a very small aspect of getting to know somebody.  I say that because I’m trying to avoid the conversation of, “but women don’t want to feel like sex objects whose primary purpose is to be flirted with.”  I understand, and nobody is saying you should feel that way.  But sex and flirting do happen, even if it’s not the most important thing.  Many women do enjoy flirting (most, I’d wager, enjoy it when the right guy is doing it).  To say that flirting/hook ups should never happen so that every woman can feel comfortable at all times is not fair to the other women who want to flirt and hook up.  So let’s work together to find a way that all women can get the respect to which they’re entitled and the people who want to flirt and hook up can do so, ok?

Now there are guys who do view women as a means to sex and have no interest in respecting a woman’s boundaries if it means they can’t push for sex.  Those guys are a liability.  They don’t want help and I’m not writing this post to help them.  I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.  Being a somewhat socially awkward guy, I can understand how some guys might cross a woman’s personal line and not even know it.

So let’s start with an example of how things could go innocently south.  I’ll use myself as an example.  I hug everybody.  I always have.  It doesn’t matter to me if you’re male or female, I freaking love hugs.  If you’ve met me at a conference you know how serious I am about hugs.  Most people, in my experience, are cool with this and give a good squeeze right back.  However, there are some people out there who don’t like hugging (or may just not like hugging me).  If I open my arms to go in for a hug and they back off, have I crossed a line?  Clearly, yes.  I’ve crossed their personal line.  There is no denying this.

So how bad is this?  I suspect it’s all in how I react.  If they back away, I immediately respect their decision, smile, and go hug someone else.  Very little harm and, I’d argue no foul.  If I get pushy and say, “Oh come on, give me a hug” once the line has been established, suggesting that I don’t care if I’m stepping over it or that I don’t trust someone to set their own lines (or, even worse, that my interests trump her comfort), then I’ve entered into skeezy territory.

So continuing once the line has been established, whether it’s for hugging, flirting, or whatever, that’s a no-no.  Of course, that’s an easy one that common sense should dictate.  But, I know plenty of brilliant people who lack common sense in social interactions, so it’s good to have it out there.

A problem comes up in determining what leeway we have to search for someone’s personal line.  After all, we need to know where it is so we can avoid crossing it.  If someone’s personal line is vague and undefined, it becomes far more likely that it will get crossed in error.  Inching toward the line is a good thing, I reckon.  Obviously (perhaps not as obviously as I would think given some of the stories I’ve heard), you don’t want to grope a woman and then say, “Oh, I guess her line is more conservative.”  Start small and, if you find yourself interested, inch toward flirtation and try and see how she responds.  If you’re going to err, err conservatively (which is probably the only time in this movement you’ll hear someone say that).

But everybody has different lines, and sometimes, I repeat sometimes, I feel like crossing any line, even a little bit, is treated as a violation worthy of social punishment.  I might catch some flack for saying this, but I don’t think that’s fair.  Sometimes personal lines will get crossed without anybody doing so intentionally, just like with me and hugging.  It’s a mistake, some might even say it’s not a mistake but just an occasional, natural consequence of the way flirting is set up in our society.  What it absolutely isn’t is a sign of disrespect.  Whether it’s flirting, hugging, or propositioning, we already know the proper reaction on the part of the line-crosser: to apologize and to acknowledge that they respect the other party’s decision and to immediately retreat into non-skeezy territory.  What we need is to figure out just how much line-crossing is acceptable/forgivable before someone’s personal line has been decreed.

And I’m going to say the answer is “not much.”  That’s why we need to inch toward the line rather than leap toward it.

But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post).  I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints.  Seriously, I’m awful.  Men like me need you to communicate with them.  If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all.  If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.  We may be dying to respect your line, but if we’re unaware of its location that makes it really difficult.  Bear in mind, I’m not blaming the victim.  I’m not saying women are at fault for the privilege-assuming men who we’re not talking about in this post.  I’m saying clearer communication can help the guys who are trying their asses off and fail on occasion.

In fact, once you ascertain whether or not we’re flirting with you (which I’m told is not that hard), you may even want to communicate where that line is outright to make sure we don’t cross it out of ignorance.  You might say that we should have the awareness to know your line’s location without direct communication, but that’s not fair.  The line is different for every woman, so we can’t know where it is for you as an individual without additional information.  Plus, some of us just suck with social cues, so subtle hinting won’t always work even though we women-respecting guys want them to.  In short, we respect your line, but if you want your line to never be crossed even in error you need to help us know where it is.

Now men, if women do us the favor of communicating clearly, we need to be ready to repay that kindness by not crossing the clearly defined line.  It doesn’t matter if you think their line is prudish.  It doesn’t matter if you think they’re playing hard to get.  It doesn’t matter if her line is different for another guy.  It doesn’t matter if you think you can change their mind.  They’ve established how far you can go, and if you go further you are wrong.  Period.  That would be a crime deserving of social punishment and the offending male should not get away with it.  The man who continues once a woman has clearly established where her line is has lost all claim to innocence, and both men and women alike should chastise him for it.

If we don’t respect their space once a woman has made it clear how much of it they’re willing to share, we create an environment where it is uncomfortable for women to communicate clearly, which sucks.  It sucks for women because they deserve to be comfortable and it sucks for men because the medicine for our social ineptitude is clear communication from women.  Men, if you’re a nice guy, don’t do what sucks for women.  And don’t do what sucks for men because, well, it sucks for you.  Violating clearly defined space sucks for everybody.  But if the line has not yet been clearly defined, I think women should be prepared to either define it or be at least a little understanding if someone goes an inch over it.  If they don’t respect your line after you tell them they’re an inch over it, even if they say, “But it’s only an inch!”, then your understanding can, and should, immediately cease.  But before that, I don’t see how a little line-crossing can be interpreted as disrespectful, and if it can’t be interpreted that way I don’t think it should be treated that way.

If I am wrong here, let me know.  I’m not trying to force anything on women, but I am trying to determine what is fair.  Help me out.

Ok, so in what other ways can skeeze occur?  Again, let’s use myself as an example in that I’m a touchy, feely guy who like to hug everyone.  I wouldn’t do it, even though it’s my nature, if it generally made people uncomfortable.  Fortunately for me, it seems to make virtually everybody happier without scoring me skeeze points.  But I know some perfectly good, perfectly well-intentioned, perfectly otherwise not creepy people who could not get away with hugging everybody like I do without it being creepy.  I’m honestly not sure what contributes to this.  Maybe it’s that they haven’t set a precedent the way I have, or that they’re not as young or outgoing as I.  I’m honestly not sure, but it’s there. Maybe you ladies will have some insight into this and how we can determine how behavior that’s ok for one person is not ok for another.  I know some guys might see me hugging every person I come across and assume that opens the door for everybody to do it when, in fact, it doesn’t.

Once again, women can help the good guys who just suck at figuring out our own creep factor by being frank with us (the comments of this post are a good place to start).  We’re sorry we’re not better at it on our own, but instead of just reminding us that we suck at subtlety, please help us find a way to keep you comfortable that takes our shortcomings into account.  We want you to.  You want us to be better.  Many of us want to be better, and we want your help.  Let’s do this.

So, here’s what I have.  Bear in mind, I’m a socially slow male doing my best.  If you want better than my best, you’re shit out of luck.  But you can help me learn so that my best (and maybe the best of other men) gets better.

This list of helpful hints will need to have things added and I turn to the women in our community for this.  I don’t normally wade into the comments on posts, but I will on this one.  There may be some suggestions that I don’t think are fair and I’ll want to ask questions to better understand before I add them.

  1. Inch toward flirtation.  That way if you cross a line, you cross it by a forgivable amount.  Women, do you think it’d be unfair to ask you to be understanding if a man goes a hair too far if he immediately backs away once he knows where your line is?
  2. Don’t assume behavior acceptable for someone else is ok for you.  A woman’s personal space is not a democracy where everybody’s equal.  If you see a 20 year-old guy hugging a bunch of 20 year-old women and you’re 50, don’t assume you have a similar green light.  You have to do your own inching.  Don’t count on others to do it for you.  There may be times when it is totally not creepy for a 50 year-old to hug a 20 year-old, but it’s all dependent on her comfort level.  If she’s uncomfortable, it’s not ageist, it’s who she is and you need to go hug someone who wants your hugs.
  3. Different people have different lines, and that’s ok.  Don’t assume that one person’s line is misplaced because it’s different from someone else’s line.  There is no such thing as a wrong boundary.  If you think someone else’s boundary is misplaced, you’re wrong.
  4. Flirting guarantees nothing.  It might be an invite to inch a little closer, but if she draws the line at flirting, stay there.  Flirting is not a contract.  She is not a tease.  She is not a slut (and who cares if she is?  Responsible sex is fun).  If you leap to those conclusions because someone is casually flirting of flirting out of friendship (women, please help us realize when you are) then you have entered the skeeze zone.  You don’t want to be in the skeeze zone.
  5. Listen to women, guys.
  6. Communicate clearly with men, gals.
  7. Men, flirting is a two-way street.  If you’re flirting and she’s not flirting back (which you’ll know because women are going to communicate it with you), then you’re crossing the skeeze threshold.
  8. Location matters.  Flirtation that might be an acceptable inching approach at a social gathering might be completely out of place in a professional setting.
  9. Don’t fucking kiss and tell without permission.  There’s no shame in hooking up with different people (if done responsibly), but it’s still personal business.
  10. Slut-shaming: sex is fun.  It’s a better way to spend an evening than playing checkers (unless you really love checkers).  If you shame people for responsibly having fun, you’re an ass.
  11. If the woman says no, stop.  Retreat behind her personal line and never cross it again.  And if you find you don’t even want to talk to that person if she says no, then your priorities suck.  This is the kind of behavior that makes women think we view them as outlets to sex first, people second.  There’s absolutely zero wrong in wanting to have sex with someone.  It’s wrong when you value that over their personal comfort and value as a human being though.
  12. Not all line-crossing is a callous act of intentional violation!  Sometimes it’s innocent and, in many cases, the guy just didn’t know where the line was yet.  If the line is fuzzy, women can’t expect well-intentioned guys to never cross it.  It’s how crosses occur (inching vs. leaping) and how they are resolved that should matter.  Give credit for effort when the guy is trying to be respectful and fails.  If the guy isn’t trying to be respectful, take his balls.

Women, I know this list is incomplete.  I want it to be complete because I want to help everybody here, especially you.  Help me help you.  :P  How can guys determine their skeeze-factor?  How can we create an environment where you can communicate clearly?  What more do you need from us?

For you guys who are like me, who like flirting and like hooking up with another willing party at conferences when the stars align, but who also want to respect women and make them comfortable, what do you need from women?

Nothing is too simple or obvious here.  I don’t mind at all being treated like a moron when it comes to women – I am one.  Lots of good dudes are.

And remember, we’re not talking to the men who assume privilege and don’t give a shit about crossing lines.  I can’t help them.  The best we can do is shame them – but we don’t want the good guys shamed along with them, right?  So don’t spend your time in the comments giving a huge indictment on the bad guys – we’re not speaking to them here.  We’re in agreement on them.

Speak to the good guys.  The ones who are on your side, if only they’d have a little more information on how best to do it.

Stephanie Zvan makes a very good point.

I will note that sometimes, when you cross a line, even if everything else has been going very well, you’re going to hit a PTSD trigger. It’s going to be ugly. It may be awful. It’s going to be entirely out of proportion to what is happening at the time because it isn’t a reaction to what’s happening at the time.

It isn’t fair, but it isn’t “creating drama” either. Do not blame yourself. Do not blame the person triggered. The person you want to lash out at is almost certainly not going to be anywhere in reach, so do your damndest to stay calm, as bewildered as you are. You may well not be the person to help whomever was triggered, but you can offer, or you can offer to get help. Just try not to make it worse. And don’t demand that the person who was triggered reassure you.

Because this movement does have men who value their own sexual privilege over the comfort of women, or even a woman’s right to determine what happens to her own body, stuff like this may occur.  Men, be understanding.  Don’t convict the woman for the crimes of a skeezy, evil man.

Stephanie made another good point to me.

What you say would be much less problematic in a world in which women weren’t punished for setting boundaries. They are, however, which makes phrasing things in terms of responsibilities very tricky indeed. Hell, in cases of uncertainty, it’s even an issue sometimes to ask questions that require a person to say, “No,” in order to make things stop. Our natural inclinations when we’re uncertain are to say, “Yes,” to questions, and women are conditioned to that even more.

The responsibility wording makes me edgy. No matter how much you say there are responsibilities on both sides, some people won’t see anything but that because it’s what they want to see.

She’s right.

Women, what can men do to help make it clear that we support your boundaries and we support you saying “no” at any stage?  Men like me already jump on the skeezoids and do our best to castigate them.  For those of us who, when flirting, want to make women comfortable while putting out feelers for those who will flirt back (and even want to give you the option to refuse flirtation without punishment or guilt), what else can we do?

Physioproffe brings up another point I like.

You use your words, clearly and explicitly. This commenter on your
blogge post had it exactly correct:

“Simple, direct questions are an imperative.”

Like: “Hey, I find you very attractive? Do you want me to flirt with you?”

Obviously, this violates all the rules of “romance”, but that is
because it is based on equal agency of both parties, and not on
patriarchal misogyny.

(2) You don’t physically touch someone unless you are 100% certain
that they want to be touched. The best way to find this out is to ask
them, like “Hey. I find you attractive and I would like to put my hand
on your lower back. Would you like that?”

Personally, I like it.  I don’t think straight communication ruins anything, but I’m not sure how many people would agree, or if we should expect everybody to agree.  I’m also not sure if enough women would consider it creepy that it wouldn’t help at all.

Comments closed on this post due to people derailing the thread to the point of being useless and due to my growing annoyance at watching their derailing fill up my inbox.

Thank you to those who contributed positively which, gratefully, was most of you.  I hope the suggestions I included in the post help make things better for women in the future.

For the rest who took, “give us your insight” as defending skeezy men, you’re part of the reason men like me scarcely ever touch this issue even though we realize there are problems that need to be fixed.  If you want the help of men who want to help make this an accommodating environment for women, you may want to re-think some things.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jasper T

    It amazes me this needs to be explained.

  • Kazim

    JT, a good post that needed to be written, but I hope you have the ban hammer warmed up. :)

    Also, if you’re not already familiar, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Nerdlove.

  • Jason Thibeault

    Let’s not forget the difference between flirting, and flirting with intent. Most of the time, when people who are less socially apt say they are getting “mixed signals” or are unable to recognize times that people are flirting, it’s because there’s a disparity in recognition of intent.

    And most often, that disparity results in friendly-flirting that is misinterpreted as an open invitation to escalation that was not intended. So being very clear about lines is really important here.

    • JT Eberhard

      That is very, very true.

      Is there a way to distinguish flirting to display interest and friendly flirting? It seems to me they are identical.

      Which means if someone takes returned flirting as an invitation for escalation, they need to be ready to retreat if the line gets established thereafter.

      • Jason Thibeault

        Yeah, it’s difficult, but they’re not exactly identical. If you never tried to move from hugging to long lingering hugs to nuzzling my neck, I’d think your hugging me was flirting but not with intent. Or, say, the mock-flirting that comfortable heterosexual guys might do with each other. Like, your proffered sloppy makeouts with Crommunist after Obama’s gay marriage shift. You both know one another’s lines, you both know one another is hetero, so you know intent isn’t there. There’s no escalation.

        • Josh, Official SpokesGay

          Which mock-flirting is often an obnoxious display by straight doods trying to demonstrate for onlookers how cool and liberal they are. Oooh, look at me, I can pretend to creep on a bro and not be all weirded out by it. But I’m not serious dood. . no homo.

          Seriously. This is what you look like. Please stop it.

          • John Horstman

            Yes, this absolutely is the usual dynamic. It’s definitely mostly about posturing and not usually a function of how one interacts with other people generally. The intent is certainly what you describe most of the time; you’re not projecting onto a universalized hypothetical “straight dood” at all, nor specific people in instances where you know nothing about the relationship of those involved. There are no friends/acquaintances for whom this is a comfortable, low-stakes display of affection. Similarly, mild flirting or physical contact between straight, different-sex friends is usually sexually charged and an expression of anxieties around that sexual tension, not actually platonic.

            Assuming your own positional perspective is universal is positionality-blindness. While it more frequently manifests as center-blindness, where those in culturally-privileged positions are blind to the perspectives of those in culturally-marginalized positions, it does happen in reverse as well, or between different marginalized positionalities. Being in a given marginalized position doesn’t give one super powers or a universal claim to truth; it does provide a particular perspective, that’s it. It’s possible for people in marginalized positions to be wrong, even about issues related to that position or that marginalization.

            You do this a lot, Josh, and thoughtlessly, sometimes starting flame wars with people with whom you are essentially in agreement. I don’t really disagree with your tone so much as I think you sometimes pick targets badly.

            (Also, you could have made the same point without engaging in a shocking degree of projection by making your statement conditional and personalizing the perspective: “When that mock-flirting is a display by straight doods trying to demonstrate for onlookers how cool and liberal they are, it’s really obnoxious. … Seriously. This is what you look like to me. If that’s what you’re doing, please stop it.”)

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            FTB needs a “Like” button.

            There’s nothing cute about straight people doing that. It’s offensive And, quite frankly, coupled with the fawning over Obama for his statement last week, along with whining about uppity — oh, excuse me, churlish — queer folks who weren’t impressed with either the statement or the fawning, it went well beyond offensive.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform


            Assuming your own positional perspective is universal is positionality-blindness.

            I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a pile of het-splaining with so much aca-speak in there.

            You do this a lot, Josh, and thoughtlessly, sometimes starting flame wars with people with whom you are essentially in agreement.

            “Oh my god, I’m your ally!! Where do you get off criticizing me for falling short, you uppity ingrate?!”

          • Happiestsadist

            Aww, Josh, you’re not all charmed and amused when straight doodz make a joke of queerness and publicly do what can get us killed for funsies? And here John Horstman went to all that trouble straight-splaining how h=you could be a better queer and find it cute. because you’re interrogating from the wrong perspective. Or something.

          • haggard

            What two guys consensually do between themselves really is none of your business.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            Haggard, what two guys do in bed (or in a tent, on the living room rug, on a deserted beach, etc. etc.) consensually is nobody else’s business.

            When they’re straight guys, they’re in public, and they’re using other people’s sexuality as a joke, it damn well is other people’s business. Especially the GLBT people in their vicinity who have to listen to it.

          • Kaoru Negisa

            I can kind of see both sides of this. On one hand, it can feel somewhat insulting to see straight people flirting with one another. It is like they’re using queer identities as a form of entertainment, much like people who still do blackface. And going way back to when I first came out as bi, I used to get righteously furious at people, mostly women, who were bi for parties and would make out with one another in an attempt to garner male attention.

            That all being said, I can’t ultimately conclude that this is a bad thing or necessarily insulting. Should we say that straight people are generally not allowed to engage in same sex romantic activity of any sort? There’s very little way to draw an objective line. But even more than that, intention matters. “Blazing Saddles” isn’t usually considered a racist film, despite what could be considered a lot of racist jokes. And misogynistic jokes. And homophobic jokes. Ok, let’s face it (everything from the waist down is kaput), from a certain point of view, Blazing Saddles shows contempt for everybody.

            However, it really doesn’t. The jokes involved are aimed squarely at those holding those opinions, ridiculing stupid beliefs and attitudes. Similarly, straight people showing comfort with their sexuality by performing pleasant activities together isn’t an attempt to mock queer people, but rather an attempt to show how same sex flirting is not something to be feared and, more importantly, to enjoy being flirted with. Flirting is fun, kissing it fun, and it’s nice to be wanted even if you’re not specifically attracted to somebody, much in the same way that I don’t much like sports but can enjoy playing football with friends.

          • life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ

            Note to straight people: you do not get to declare what any queer person should be comfortable taking as a signal that you do not want to practice any homophobia, are conscious that you may fail, and always sincerely wish to improve your behavior to fail less.

            If you want a queer individual to think of you as sincere like that, you will have to adjust your behavior in accordance with the queer person’s expectations about what constitutes such a signal.

            Among other things, that necessarily involves listening and not ‘splaining.

          • life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ

            Should we say that straight people are generally not allowed to engage in same sex romantic activity of any sort?

            No, we should say they shouldn’t do it jokingly.

            If two straight men seriously want to make out then good for them. I have a hard time imagining this happening without MDMA, but whatever, it’s possible.

            And simply hugging and saying “I love you” isn’t inherently romantic. I’d better make that clear before someone objects that “I’m straight and I seriously tell my friends I love them all the time!” It’s joking same-sex intimacy that is the problem.

            But even more than that, intention matters.

            Not to me. All that matters to me is whether I feel comfortable around the straight people in question.

          • Kaoru Negisa

            @Life Fair enough and all good points. It’s something I’m trying to understand and this does help me quite a bit. You’re right, the only thing that really matters is the comfort of non-actors, especially queer people. Thanks for the response.

          • happyathiestmommy

            “There’s nothing cute about straight people doing that.”
            But, but, but…
            Ok, I’m Bi (not straight) so I’m not sure if we count (and we never do seem to count), but I mock flirt with my gay, bi, and straight friends all the time. And they mock flirt with me. So, if my straight, gay-positive, liberal, alliance type female friend mock flirts with me (or with a straight female friend)… I just don’t see an issue. I understand where you’re coming from, but maybe you could be more specific that it’s douchey “bro” types that are a problem, rather than every straight out there?

          • Kaoru Negisa


            You’re damn right we count %)

            Seriously, my response is also coming from a place of being bisexual and seeing it less as a form of mocking and, quite frankly, a part of my life. It’s less of an issue because mentally I’m used to the idea that people *can* be attracted to men and women. That being said, I also get annoyed at claims of being bisexual when it’s merely a ploy to receive sexual attention from a person’s preferred sex, so I can kinda see how people might get annoyed or feel like they’re being mocked.

            Ultimately, I think JT’s point about women and flirting also applies here: communication is key. If Jason and JT want to flirt in front of me, I don’t much care. If either wants to flirt with me under the assumption that I know they’re straight and it won’t lead to sex, I’ll probably blush a bit, but still it doesn’t much matter. However, if it did matter, I would tell them that it makes me uncomfortable, much the same way that I tell my awesome and well-meaning neighbors who don’t know a lot of queer people that it’s not cool to use “gay” as a pejorative around me. And they have since stopped doing so, though there was a period where they would do it, realize what they did, and apologize until they broke the habit.

          • haggard

            Haggard, what two guys do in bed (or in a tent, on the living room rug, on a deserted beach, etc. etc.) consensually is nobody else’s business.

            When they’re straight guys, they’re in public, and they’re using other people’s sexuality as a joke, it damn well is other people’s business. Especially the GLBT people in their vicinity who have to listen to it.

            Ah yes, I must take note, these rules of propriety only apply to straight guys in public.


        • Josh, Official SpokesGay

          And remember—this is a case where your intent doesn’t matter. No one is accusing you of being a through and through douchebag or meaning ill. But it’s still douchebag behavior.

        • Josh, Official SpokesGay

          Horstman, thank you so much for Het-Splainin’ to me. I’m just an overwrought queer who gets above his station sometimes, thinking it’s OK to point out troubling behavior among allies. Totes unreasonable of me. But what do I know? I’m just a fag.

      • NotAProphet

        It may well be indistinguishable to/with some people, but this is the beauty of your “inching”; the response can give you better clues, and if you keep the “inches” suitably tiny then it can be achieved both without making the other person feel uncomfortable, and without risking the sting of rejection.

      • Tsu Dho Nimh

        Is there a way to distinguish flirting to display interest and friendly flirting? It seems to me they are identical.

        Someone who is “friendly flirting” will be flirting with multiple persons fairly equally, and not with any intensity. They won’t escalate very far if someone flirts back and they may retreat in panic or confusion. It’s not a plan to get laid for them, it’s a social pastime, a party game, and not intended to do more than express appreciation for the wonderfulness that is the flirtee.

        “Flirting to display sexual interest” is usually characterized by focus on a single target or class of target and increasing escalation … they start cutting the target out of the herd, closing the personal distance, increasing the contact.

      • Kaoru Negisa

        I find it’s usually best to always run under the assumption that something is friendly flirting. I’m really not great at the whole flirting thing, so any subtle differences are often lost on me (I’ve had to apologize a number of times for crossing lines and make efforts not to do so in the future), so at one point I just decided to run under the assumption that a person isn’t attempting to sleep with me, enjoy the flirting, and be pleasantly surprised if things go further. I’ve found this works surprisingly well in maintaining friendships with people I meet, and occasionally I get the opportunity to fool around with them. Ultimately, while I certainly enjoy sex, it’s best not to be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen.

  • NotAProphet

    Wait for it…!!

    “I’m a great guy and I’m really well-endowed!”

    “Do you have any evidence for that?”

    • Quixote

      That’s what peer review is for.

      • Zinc Avenger

        I happen to have a spare Internet, so I’m awarding both of you half each.

    • Switchhttr

      Sounds like an assertion that calls for investigation, perhaps a well-designed experiment…

  • Nicole

    I’d also suggest not going into the convention environment with the whole reason of you being there is to hook up. I sincerely hope that the first goal at a convention is to learn and have fun… and if a little action happens, so be it.

    The internet has also made things super weird with boundaries. I hate touching/being touched by people I don’t know. HOWEVER, being that I read your blog daily and started a conversation with you at Reason Rally, I welcomed a hug. Not creepy at all. It’s important to remember that not everyone can get over that line with internet communication, but some people do.

    The number one rule is to just ASK! Ask the woman if a hug is okay. Ask, “can I kiss you?” Consent can be REALLY sexy! (seriously Google the words “consent is sexy” and a million resources come up!) It should also be done before each move is made.

    Also just eyeball body language as well. Crossed arms might just be shyness, but it could possibly mean leave me alone! Check her hand for a wedding ring. Understand that ladies who are super hilarious and might make a ton of jokes are just super hilarious comediennes, it’s not necessarily flirting.

    • JT Eberhard

      Glad we got to hug. :)

      I’m with you on everything except for the crossing arms bit. That’s super subtle, and there are other similar things that are super subtle. A lot of times when guys like me don’t pick up on something super subtle it seems as though we get drilled for not picking up on the obvious. I don’t think that’s fair.

      Maybe we should be better with social cues, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re not. Once again, I don’t think I’m an idiot, but I’m really bad with social cues. I think some guys really do need more clear communication.

      It’s not that we’re seeing your arms crossed and saying to ourselves, “She’s not interested, but I’m going to continue to push anyway.” We care about your space, we’re just not seeing a message in the crossed arms.

      Does that make sense?

      • Nicole

        I totally get you. Crossing arms is a small thing that I know I shouldn’t make people pick up on… but it a habit I do have. Same with making no eye contact.

        Perhaps attempting to notice small body language clues could be something that men could work on a little bit. Just as women can work on getting a bit more vocal with their cues. In that department it is definitely a two way street.

        • Molly

          There are other things as well: If a guy starts a conversation with me and I’m not interested in talking to him, I answer in short, general, often one-word sentences. Then divert my attention from him back to another conversation, my phone, or whatever outlet is available.

          This means, “sorry dude, I don’t want to talk to you.” But, if he doesn’t get the hint, I’ll find an excuse to leave myself (if possible).

          • betsumei

            See, what I don’t get is how it’s reasonable to expect every person to know every other person’s physical cues. If my arms are crossed, it’s never a conscious effort to communicate something other than possibly that my arms are tired from dragging my knuckles everywhere I go, or possibly that I’m chilly. If you won’t want to talk to someone, why not just say “sorry dude, I don’t want to talk to you”? It’s not like that’s any ruder than just ignoring them and hoping they’ll take a hint and go away, and probably more effective.

          • Molly

            It’s not expecting everyone to know every other person’s individual social cues. They’re called social cues because they’re pretty standardized across our culture. If someone’s avoiding eye contact by staring at his or her phone and answering “Did you like so and so’s talk?” with “uh…yes” instead of, “yeah, I really liked the talk. The point he made about such-and-such was something I’d never thought about before…” Then it should be clear that that person doesn’t want to engage.

            That said, all of these social cues rely on the opposite party to be tuned in to them. Since we’re skeptics, I’m inclined to use the term “confirmaiton bias,” when describing how someone might misinterpret or ignore those social cues.

          • John Horstman

            The thing is that some of these cues are not as standardized as you (and many others; possibly more women women? Part of it may be gender-differential socialization) think. The arm crossing one is a perfect example. I cross my arms all the time without any desire to signal aversion to interaction. I personally think that not picking up on or ignoring the short responses and lack of active engagement is inexcusable (other than some people with pronounced forms of autism spectrum disorders, I don’t know anyone who signals interest in a conversation by giving short answers, turning away, texting, talking on the phone, etc.), and interrupting someone on a phone call is similarly not okay.

            Eye contact is another one that’s not nearly as universal as some seem to think. Not I nor my friends tend to hold eye contact at all when talking, and so a lack of eye contact isn’t a signal of disinterest when we do it, and we’re not necessarily going to interpret it as one.

          • betsumei

            The trouble, though, is that not every party in a conversation is necessarily going to have the same cultural upbringing, and those cues might not match up. Do I avoid eye contact because I’m trying to avoid a conversation? Nope, I just don’t like eye contact. Sometimes a short response is just a short response, after all. Why is there opposition to just communicating clearly so that nothing has to be assumed? No one gets misunderstood, no one misunderstands, it’s win/win.

          • Molly

            That’s why you have to take in everything, together, in context. Because, maybe I’m crossing my arms but still smiling naturally and chatting with you, because I’m enjoying our conversation, but I’m standing under an air-conditioning vent and it’s a bit chilly.

            There are other clues. I might move toward you if I’m interested or back away or angle my body away from you if I’m not. I might search the room for one of my acquaintances if I’m not, or I might look right at you and smile if I am.

            Unfortunately, picking up on these things might be something that just takes practice.

        • JT Eberhard


          I’m with John on this one, if only because I know I suck with those cues. I want to pick up on them. I hate guesswork with other people. But I suck at them.

          Not only do I suck at picking them up, I sometimes give them off without knowing. I’ve given short replies just because I’m busy, not because I’m shooting a woman down. Other times I didn’t even know she was flirting, because I suck at that too.

          Could I be better? Well, I want to be, and I’m not dumb. This leads me to believe that some people just plain suck at this. We’re not blaming women because we suck at it, we’re asking for their help to get around it so our suckiness doesn’t make life miserable for everyone.

          Not blaming women. I would say I’m blaming men, but I’m really just noting that some people, men and women, suck with social cues, and I’m looking for a way to make sure that doesn’t result in uncomfortable.

          • Molly

            I get that, JT. A long time ago, I was so crazy about one of my guy friends and flirted with him constantly. I felt like he was reciprocating that flirting and then was shocked and disappointed when he asked another girl out. A few years later, we joked about the situation and he told me he never had any idea that I had such a huge crush on him. I’m happy that he and I always remained friends though.

            I am aware that there are people who are inherently unable to read facial expressions, social cues, etc. I’m not sure what the answer to that is, because, as has beem mentioned elsewhere here, women can be concerned about the consequenses of an outright rejection which can range from an uncomfortable situation to anger or even violence.

            Perhaps the best way to avoid that, and it’s probably easier to do in a “con” setting because you know that you share a common interest, is to begin a conversation in a way that has nothing to do with romance or sex. That way, you can slowly begin to steer toward some light flirting as you mentioned in your original post.

          • JT Eberhard


            Absolutely on that last part!

            Because I’m placing so much focus on it, it seems like getting laid is the main idea of these. It’s actually just sometimes a happy byproduct.

            Way more important, as I’ve said frequently, is getting to know people and enjoying the company of other good people.

            Of course, at an atheist con, where everybody’s brilliant and godless, it’s really easy to get attracted to people, even as you’re being social and talking about non-sex stuff.

            But I think what you said goes hand-in-hand with inching. Start with conversation just to see if there’s chemistry. That will be fun even if flirting never happens.

          • Ysanne

            I know perfectly well what you mean:
            It’s not easy to read the body language of someone you’re communicating with right now. Firstly because it’s a huge collection of little signals that could mean anything and its opposite taken separately, and only form a clear(er) message when taken together, secondly because the perspective (as in: angle, distance, etc.) is usually not all that practical for observation, and thirdly, because when you’re busy talking and thinking, there’s not much brainpower left for figuring out difficult clues.
            Two things that helped me get better at this were:
            * People-watching: Watch other people interacting from a bit of a distance (preferably within earshot, but without staring), try to figure out what they’re each saying body-wise, and how it matches with what they’re saying. Best done with a friend so you can discuss what you think you’re seeing and help each other consciously notice things.
            * Learn about horse body language. “Natural Horsemanship” is a good term to start with: Horses communicate very unambiguously in body language with very similar basic principles as humans, and can scale the “loudness” of their message from super-subtle glances to glaringly obvious kicks. This makes them perfect practice partners.

            And I fully agree that people should not expect subtle hints to be understood by everyone, and try communicating more clearly when they don’t see an appropriate response to their subtle cues, before deciding that they’ve been purposely ignored/disrespected. At least until we evolve telepathy. ;-)

      • Rory

        As an aside, “Bear in mind, I’m a socially slow male doing my best,” is something I would like to put on a t-shirt. Or perhaps a business card.

        • betsumei

          I would buy that.

      • Rev Matt

        This point I disagree on. Crossed arms in western culture is almost a universal blocking position. It is entirely possible, but very unlikely, that it is not. The correct action in my view is to either assume it’s blocking and dial back accordingly or to simply ask (in a polite, non-threatening way).

        I’m also fairly unaware of how people view me and I’m terrible at picking up subtle signals, but I approach it from the perspective of assuming a woman has no interest in me unless she makes it very clear. I’m sure I’ve missed out on many interesting opportunities, but I’ve made up for those with great conversations with women and made more friends.

        • John Horstman

          No, it’s not. It’s also frequently a “my arms are cold” gesture. It might also be a comfort position for people with low-level social anxiety; this is related to the idea of a blocking gesture, but the intent is to alleviate the discomfort of the person in question with a sense of protection provided by crossed arms, not actually to signal disinterest in engagement.

          • brittanymays

            I agree, John. I consider myself pretty in the middle of the introversion/extroversion scale but crossing my arms can be anything from I’m cold to I’m in a new place, surrounded by people I don’t know, and bit unsure (usually the case with cons!). In those instances, I wouldn’t want someone to not approach me just because my arms happened to be crossed. The same goes for short answers. It could just be that I find you incredibly attractive and you make me a bit nervous. :) Best thing is to not assume, ask if you feel comfortable doing that and if not then do the inching thing. As long as everyone keeps an eye out for everyone’s boundaries and is respectful, I don’t think it has to be complicated.

          • happyathiestmommy

            I agree as well. I also cross my arms when I’m taking a step back mentally, but not just the blocking sort of step back. I do it when i want to be sure I don’t interrupt someone because I’m overly excited or interested. Sort of like restraining myself before I jump in so that I can be respectful to them, and remind myself to think before I speak because I want to impress them. So for me (and I am a North American Female), crossing my arms actually indicates interest.

    • shaunphilly

      also, the wedding ring may not be the best way to go either. For example, I just got married. My wife and I are polyamorous. If I were out at a bar after hours at a convention and I met a woman I was attracted to and flirtation commenced, the ring is not a barrier. The same goes for my wife and my girlfriend (who is also married).

      Even if you see a ring, don’t assume it signifies an exclusive relationship.

      • Enkidum

        Eh – I don’t want to sound like a prude, but surely in >95% of cases you can assume that the ring indicates out-of-bounds. So unless there’s VERY clear indications otherwise, flirting with ring-wearers should be kept to a very harmless level. I think the onus is on the poly person to indicate their preferences, not on the vast majority of others, who are often wearing the ring precisely as a symbol that they don’t want to be considered as fair game.

        • shaunphilly

          I understand your point, but you have to keep in mind that this come from a privileged monogamous point of view. One of my biggest peeves in life is assumed monogamy; we assume it in our own relationships, others’ relationships, etc. Rather than ask, we become monogamous by default and assume that people, when being affectionate, are exclusive with each other. We need to stop assuming such things. I am hopeful that in coming years, more people will be aware that many people out there, including many in the skeptic/atheist world, are not monogamous. I don’t think its 95%, I think it might be lower than that.

          But this is Off-Topic, so I will let it aside for now. Come on over to if this is something you want to hear more about.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            but you have to keep in mind that this come from a privileged monogamous point of view.

            Poly people aren’t oppressed, so you can stop derailing the sexism discussion now.

          • betsumei

            Hey, there’s another t-shirt idea. “Ignore the ring, I’m fair game!”

            I wouldn’t buy that one, but hey, communication!

          • John Horstman

            Are you joking? Look at the uproar and resignations from public office that occur when it turns out that a politician was having sex with someone other than a spouse. Look at a whole lot of slut-shaming rhetoric. Monogamy is a norm, it is coercive. The marginalization/oppression may not be as intense as it is with respect to other things, but it’s definitely there. What is up with the collection of people here who are ardent activists on a very limited number of privilege/marginalization issues (heteronormativity, sexism, trans rights) but flatly deny the possibility of others that (apparently) don’t impact them directly?

          • Happiestsadist

            I am poly, and I agree with Daisy. The so-called oppressions that most poly people seem to whine about are better covered with religious oppression, slut-shaming and misogyny. It’s inappropriate as hell to derail a discussion of sexism by pointing out that for 99% of people, a ring means that they’re monogamously taken.

      • Katie Hartman

        A wedding ring is very strong evidence that pursuing you is not an ethical option. If I see one, I’m giving it about a 95% probability that you’re in an exclusive relationship with someone else. Even if I might be interested, I’m probably going to write you off and react negatively to your advances. This is because:

        (1) The probability that you’re in an exclusive relationship is very high, and the probability that your S.O. would not want you to be involved in any aggressive flirting/touching/kissing/etc. with me (and that you have, implicitly or explicitly, agreed to these terms) is moderately high.

        (2)Even if you privately tell me you’re polyamorous, I haven’t got very strong evidence that this is true. If you’re very open and public about it, I’ll be more willing to believe this is the case.

        The point I’m getting at is that it is a very GOOD idea to assume that someone is off the table if they’re wearing a wedding ring, and it’s up to the polyamorous individual to figure out a way to show that they really are available.

        • JT Eberhard

          As a poly person, I agree with Katie. It should be the poly party who assumes the responsibility of flirtation in this case since generally a wedding ring means they’re off limits.

          • shaunphilly

            every person, poly or not, needs to take responsibility for all their actions, flirting or not. So I agree too. My point is that with the increasing practice of polyamory, if someone with a ring flirts, the flirtee should not assume they are off-limits, trying to cheat, etc. Again, ask a direct question, don’t merely assume.

        • shaunphilly

          All a married person needs to do, to cheat, is take the ring off. My wearing my ring and flirting with someone is a sign of openness. The ring is a symbol of a relationship, and is increasingly not a symbol of exclusivity. This assumption needs to change in our culture.

          The way we poly people can identify as available is by openly flirting with you. By saying you are likely to not believe us is taking our best method of letting you know we are available away from us. All you need to do is say something like “So, I noticed you have a wedding ring on. What’s up with that? Are you one of those polyamorous freaks?”

          And we’ll smile and admit our freakishness.

          • JT Eberhard

            Shaun, you know I’m poly…

            But married people who are not poly can and do cheat. It’s hard to tell by the presence of a wedding ring if someone’s poly. You either gotta ask or let them make the move.

            Lots of us wouldn’t mind hooking up with a poly person, even if we’d be morally opposed to playing party to a cheating spouse.

          • Katie Hartman

            For the record, I’m poly, too.

            For the time being, the ring is used largely as a symbol of exclusivity. If I ignore it, I’m basically ignoring evidence that what I’m about to do is likely to hurt someone. And I’m not willing to do that.

            Sure, a guy can take the ring off – and I would definitely consider a conspicuous untanned area where a ring once was to be strong evidence for a cheater – but seeing the ring doesn’t provide all that much evidence for legitimate polyamory. Maybe the guy doesn’t want to risk misplacing or losing the ring – and saying “It’s okay, I’m separated/poly” isn’t all that hard to do. If he’s saying it privately to me, a stranger at a conference, there’s very little risk that he’ll ever face any ramification for lying.

            95% is a high prior to overcome. See: Bayes’ theorem.

          • Emburii

            Or we could stop ‘marking our territory’ so to speak and do away with rings as a symbol of relationship altogether? If you don’t like what the ring signals, that of a socially binding contract generally with one person, wear it on a chain as a necklace or something or even don’t wear one at all. When you wear a wedding band on your wedding finger in accordance with widely understood social custom, don’t be upset that people take you at your symbolism. It’s not their responsibility to know that this standardized signal that you seem happy to use actually means something completely different in your specific case.

    • brianpansky

      asking is the best. holding arms open for a hug seems more loaded with expectation. asking is loaded with desire for mutual understanding. :)

  • Drew

    I don’t like to be “that gay”, but I’m going to anyways.
    I’d bet you are well aware of this, but it wasn’t mentioned clearly in the post so I feel compelled to spell it out:
    Boundaries can be crossed by someone of any or no sex/gender toward someone of any or no sex/gender. Respect and communication are important for everyone to practice.
    Additionally, I don’t think straight men are particularly bad at understanding boundaries. I think knowing one’s own boundaries, communicating them, and finding those of others are skills that come to most with difficulty.

    Sorry for stating what was probably obvious

    • Jason Thibeault

      I absolutely agree. Though in JT’s defense, we’re talking about a problem in which men believe themselves to be the only ones necessary in the equation to have any intent to pursue the object of their affections, being primarily women. This isn’t to say this problem doesn’t map directly onto other sexes and genders. We’re just seeing a lot of it right now, oriented exactly this way.

      Women can damn well flirt. And they should damn well respect men’s lines. Same with men flirting with men, women flirting with women, and unspecified flirting with unspecified, and any other variation thereupon.

      • JT Eberhard

        Most definitely, Jason.

  • Jason Thibeault

    One more thing I want to make abundantly clear — the suggestion of inching is for the pursuer’s benefit, to avoid rejection, but more importantly to protect the pursued. The pursued risks a hell of a lot more than mere rejection for a misinterpreted transaction.

  • doctorburger

    I wonder if we could get some input towards more effective ways of communicating where “the line” is.

    The article below is semi-terrible, but it points out the evolutionary roots of men being “over confident” in reading interest from women, when it’s not there.

    Basically, my worry is that the guys who most need to learn to respect a woman’s line of ok/not ok, will be the guys who are least receptive to this sort of message.

    It’s not a crime to be overconfident, but we’ve got to do better.

  • physioprof

    “Inching” is creepy. You don’t just push people until you hit a boundary. People want more than to just have their boundaries obeyed: they want a zone of respect and consideration that is *outside* their boundaries. This isn’t a fucken hockey game we’re talking about here.

    • Stephanie Zvan

      Inching is only creepy if you’re talking about mere acceptance of a move forward being a good enough reason to make another move forward. It isn’t at all creepy if enthusiasm is your required green light. It isn’t “Well, s/he hasn’t objected yet.” It’s “Well, we’re both clearly enjoying this.” Those are very different things.

      • Molly

        Well-said, Stephanie!

    • shaunphilly

      but how do you know, before those boundaries are defined, where they are? How do I know I am outside, on, or inside a boundary? For example, my boundaries are pretty loose. It would take a fair amount of actual groping for e to become uncomfortable, even from other men (and I’m not bisexual or homosexual).

      Are you saying that any time two people talk, they should spell out boundaries and interest? That would be a logistical nightmare. Also, quite often the boundary can change based upon getting to know someone.

      • betsumei

        Well, to save time, especially at conferences where there will be many first-time interactions between people, why not just mark the boundary on a t-shirt? That way, the boundary can be seen from across the room, and is established before even saying hello. I don’t see the downside (but then, I need the shirt that says “I’m a social moron, spell out the obvious for me and odds are about 50/50 I’ll figure it out”).

        (Also, I like t-shirts.)

        • yulaffin

          My T-shirt would read “I’m not here for sex.”

          • betsumei

            Hmm, so would mine, come to think of it, so I’d need both. Probably some other categories, too (“I’m not ignoring you on purpose”, “Please speak louder and in the direction of my ear”, “Warn before hugging”…) Maybe some sort of checklist, and the T-shirt comes packaged with a permanent marker… Is there a non-crappy alternative to Cafepress out there these days?

        • Zed

          Taken from a Blag Hag post about Mensa…

          Stickers on the badge mean different things:
          Green = Hug me!
          Yellow = Ask me first
          Red = Don’t touch me
          Blue = Single
          Ring = Atheist (the hole represents our lack of souls)

          This seemed like a good idea to me.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            It’s not. It’s really not.

        • happyathiestmommy

          I think this idea is both awesome… and sadly flawed. The problem (as point out) is that boundaries both A) change and B) vary on who you’re interacting with. Some people I might be happy to let hug me, and others not so much. And I can’t really pin it down specifically enough to print on a T-shirt.
          It could still be a cool idea for people who have more hard and fast boundaries, but it might make them feel singled out or as if the person being crossed carries all the responsibility. So… I love it, but I can already see the issues. :(

          • betsumei

            Well, there’s that “ask me” option. Maybe little velcro tabs to accommodate changing boundaries? (I’m not one to let a fun idea die, and a shirt that invites JT to hug me is one I can’t not wear to a con.)

            I suppose I should make clear that I’m suggesting this for guys as well. Everyone has boundaries, after all, and it’d be a better world if people remembered that about each other and just tried to do right by people. “Treat others as you want to be treated” is a good start, and probably where well-meaning people get tripped up, because it assumes that other people want to be treated the same way that you do. Instead it should be “treat others the way they want to be treated”. If you’re not sure (and hey, no one is a mind reader, body language is just as ambiguous as spoken language, as in “some people don’t speak it well” and “some things mean different things in different contexts to different people”, but it’s good enough nine times out of ten), ask politely and as non-threateningly as possible. Perhaps even start by identifying your own boundary, and inviting the other party to approach it. Clarity of communication helps everyone.

            OK, I’m rambling now. This whole conversation has depressed the hell out of me. Can’t we all just get along and stop hating and hurting each other? I’m really, really glad that I a) don’t plan on going to any cons any time in the next decade or so and b) don’t plan on doing any flirting if/when I go to one. Married life has its advantages, I suppose. Good luck you guys/gals/etc., it sure looks like you’ll all need it.

          • Ace of Sevens

            This would have been a good response to the OP as well. Plus, just because someone wants to be flirted with doesn’t mean they want to be flirted with by you. That is why I think the problem is essentially unsolveable. Fixing society would go a long way, especially getting rid of the norm that men must be the pursuers and women the pursued, which causes all kinds of problems on both ends, but even that would only partially fix this.

            Also, there’s the whole problem that we have to deal in generalities and no one is ever sure if you are talking about them. Examples:

            Woman is upset that creepy guys keep hitting on her and won’t back off if she isn’t interested. A man who backs off when he gets a rejection, but lacks confidence in his ability to understand them says that he doesn’t do that and gets offended because he doesn’t appreciate being called a creep when he’s trying to consider women’s side. This is presumably why he was listening to her in the first place.

            A man is upset about women being cruel about rejections and telling her friends he’s a creep instead of just saying she wasn’t interested. Woman says she doesn’t do that to socially awkward men, only to creeps who can’t take a no. She understands that there’s no way to ensure that only men she’s interested in will hit on her and that isn’t a problem so long as they back off when told no and observe appropriate time/place.

            Neither person was actually talking about the other, but from their own insecure, limited information, perspective, it seemed like their behavior could be taken that way. This seems to be an inherent problem in any institution that depends on giving hints rather than direct responses.

          • betsumei

            Ace of Sevens, if I had one to give out, you’d have just won an Internet.

    • Rory

      I can understand what you’re saying–nobody wants to feel like they’re being probed at. What would you suggest would be preferable, given two people who don’t necessarily know each other that well and don’t know where the other’s line is? Is it simply to be more willing to forgive an initial transgression, assuming that the offender backs off immediately and apologizes?

  • Jaime

    Another thing to remember, is that there are plenty of socially awkward girls out there who also don’t pick up on subtle cues. I’ll follow your example and use myself for illustration: I’m oblivious about guys. I usually don’t pick up when they’re flirting, never actually. So when that flirting escalates, say with a hug or something, it tends to startle me me and I can react harshly. I would agree that women should have grace for the hair-over-the-undefined-line thing, but guys should also have grace for the sudden back-off. She’s probably not trying to mess with your head; it’s much more likely that she’s just as awkward as you are.

    • JT Eberhard

      So when that flirting escalates, say with a hug or something, it tends to startle me me and I can react harshly.

      Which is certainly your right, and its a right men would be morally wrong to not respect. That is your personal line. You set it.

      I would agree that women should have grace for the hair-over-the-undefined-line thing, but guys should also have grace for the sudden back-off.

      Agreed. Which is why I wrote…

      Now men, if women do us the favor of communicating clearly, we need to be ready to repay that kindness by not crossing the clearly defined line. It doesn’t matter if you think their line is prudish. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re playing hard to get. It doesn’t matter if her line is different for another guy. It doesn’t matter if you think you can change their mind. They’ve established how far you can go, and if you go further you are wrong. Period. That would be a crime deserving of social punishment and the offending male should not get away with it. The man who continues once a woman has clearly established where her line is has lost all claim to innocence, and both men and women alike should chastise him for it.

      • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

        I was going to also bring up the issue of social awkwardness in women.

        One issue Jaime doesn’t address is that of an awkward woman trying to call attention to her lines being crossed in a socially appropriate way. Which sounds easy to solve but isn’t so easy if the woman in question is already dealing with high levels of social anxiety.

        • Jaime

          @JT: I wasn’t trying to imply you didn’t cover that, just reinforce the point from a female perspective.

          @Ms. Daisy: Exactly. I’m personally very bad at that. What would you suggest for women who want to improve their communication skills?

          • JT Eberhard

            Oh, cool! *hug* :)

          • Drew

            I am a socially awkward gay male. My typical response to advances that push my boundaries is to either get drunk until I don’t have any boundaries (bad idea) or to completely shut down socially/emotionally (super sad).
            As far as I can tell the only way to get better at communicating anything is to practice. I highly recommend group therapy sessions as a great place to get used to communicating with people. Though, if you’re not afraid of ‘live fire’ training, the best way to practice is in a relationship.

        • AnneH

          I’d suggest saying something like ‘I appreciate your interest, and I take it as a compliment. Thank you. However, you’ve crossed a boundary, please stop.’

  • Nicole

    An excellent resource on consent is a zine put together by Cindy Crabb called, “Learning Good Consent.” I sell it in my zine distro, but you can Google the name & PDF and there are free versions online. Granted it is written by/for a more punk activist community but I think it is useful here too.

  • Stephanie Zvan

    I will note that sometimes, when you cross a line, even if everything else has been going very well, you’re going to hit a PTSD trigger. It’s going to be ugly. It may be awful. It’s going to be entirely out of proportion to what is happening at the time because it isn’t a reaction to what’s happening at the time.

    It isn’t fair, but it isn’t “creating drama” either. Do not blame yourself. Do not blame the person triggered. The person you want to lash out at is almost certainly not going to be anywhere in reach, so do your damndest to stay calm, as bewildered as you are. You may well not be the person to help whomever was triggered, but you can offer, or you can offer to get help. Just try not to make it worse. And don’t demand that the person who was triggered reassure you.

    • JT Eberhard

      Good point. Added it to the post.

    • SerahB

      Thank you for making this point, Stephanie.

  • shaunphilly

    I’m glad this issue is being raised. It is something that i think about a fair bit.

    I write about the intersection of skepticism and polyamory. The issues being discussed here are sort of polyamory 101 (OK, maybe 102) and are things that even poly people struggle with, especially when new to it.

    Simple, direct questions are an imperative. Simple, direct responses are also imperative. We are sexual beings. Some of us are much less sexual than others (and there are asexual people out there, I know), but most of us will be interested in such things.

    Personally, when at an atheist conference, I am MUCH more sexually interest than I am generally. Why? Because I’m surrounded by (hopefully) intelligent and educated people! What is sexier than that? So while I don’t attend such things merely to hook up, it is certainly a very real desire, more often than not.

    And I do try to keep in mind that some people are awkward, they are not aware of their own desires sometimes, and may not want to hurt my feelings in clearly saying no. I’m fairly good at reading people, but sometimes I get it wrong. I think that people have a responsibility to be attentive to their own desires as well as to the body (and verbal) language of those they talk to. We need to express our desires, respect when they are not shared, and try to give each-other benefit of doubt for minor boundary-crossing.

  • Dhorvath, OM

    I am not comfortable with the idea of inching, far too many people have been cultured to accept slight advances graciously regardless of how they feel about them. For instance, I hate being hugged by strangers, yet I wouldn’t tell you to stop because I have programming which makes it very hard for me to not reciprocate in the moment. I would feel resentment towards you afterwards for leveraging a regular social factor to enhance your experience at the expense of mine, regardless of how implicit your use of that social tendency is. This is the way the world is, I know that people will tread on my particular notions of privacy and I can accept that there are times when I will do something like attend a conference despite knowing that those incidences will increase while there. That doesn’t mean that I want to work within that framework, and the whole inching strategy is still playing the same game. Ask first, don’t wait for a push away.

    • Katie Hartman

      While I have many times found myself in similar situations, I have to say this: it is absolutely vital that you find a way to communicate effectively, as there is absolutely no way that JT or anyone else can create a functioning environment that is safe for people who won’t/don’t say “no” when they mean “no.”

      I totally agree that social leveraging is a dick move. That doesn’t change the fact that your refusal to say “no” makes every social situation more dangerous for everyone involved.

      • Happiestsadist

        There really is no way that doesn’t come off kind of victim-blamey.

        • Katie Hartman

          I don’t blame anyone for not feeling capable of saying “no.” This is the result of a larger social problem, and blame doesn’t have a place in this particular conversation.

          • JT Eberhard

            Bingo, Katie.

      • Dhorvath, OM

        Refusal is a blaming term, would you consider something else please? That I do act in certain ways, and could in the future act differently under similar circumstances is not something I would argue, but it’s not through a refusal or choice to be the way that I am.

        My fundamental problem is not with my specific response to a stranger hugging me, I function pretty damn well within that context because I have learned to cope well with that situation. My problem, which I am quite sure I have not expressed well, is that on the one hand we can all be in the game until we opt out and on the other we can all be out of the game until we are asked to join. I prefer the second option thanks.

        • JT Eberhard

          My fundamental problem is not with my specific response to a stranger hugging me, I function pretty damn well within that context because I have learned to cope well with that situation. My problem, which I am quite sure I have not expressed well, is that on the one hand we can all be in the game until we opt out and on the other we can all be out of the game until we are asked to join. I prefer the second option thanks.

          I hadn’t thought about this.

          How is the best way, for people like you, to be asked to join?

          If the system where people are going to flirt and it’s up to others to opt out doesn’t go away or can’t be expected to go away, what can men like me do to help create an environment where opting out is easier for you?

          • Dhorvath, OM

            I will need to think about that. I am not sure how flirting fits into larger social situations well. Where I flirt tends to be in situations where my partner and I have sought out like minded adults in order to flirt with one another, I doubt I would ever feel comfortable doing so with someone I met at an atheist or secular conference. Social expectations have us both penned, just in different manners, my response is prior negotiation. Likewise, I don’t launch into social justice diatribes in an adult club, maybe I compartmentalize too much. I dunno.

        • Katie Hartman

          You’re right – “refusal” is not a very good choice of words. “Tendency” would have been better.

          My major concern with your opt-in (vs. opt-out) suggestion is that it wouldn’t actually address the problem. Would you feel more comfortable saying “no” to an explicit “Mind if I hug you?” than you would feel saying “no” or backing away from open arms? The social response is likely to be the same either way – possibly even more ‘punishing’ in the former case.

          The only other option I can see is suggesting that people simply never approach strangers for hugs at all, which would be reasonable if the majority (or a substantial minority) of people disliked that sort of experience. I’m not sure there’s much evidence for that being the case.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            Thinking about phrasing here. Instead of asking “Do you mind if I hug you?”, asking “Would you like to hug me?” I do see what you are getting at, but one question maintains the active role for the one asking it, the other transfers the active role to the one asked.

    • Drew

      It seems to me like the inching concept is being misunderstood. The feeling I get when I read your post is that inching is being treated like a tug-of-war. “I’m going to keep pulling this person towards me until their resistance falls”. When I read JT’s original post the impression I got was closer to someone walking on a frozen lake. You don’t just drive your car onto it, you take steps to see how much weight the ice can handle. (I really like metaphor)
      If I were to be “inching” towards someone like yourself who was expressing some kind of unspoken discomfort in their body language that would be enough a sign to stop. I would be able to discern that I should not do whatever it was that I was doing. It would be appreciated if the person could express themself more clearly, but it is here where the responsibility of the advancing party to take notice of signals becomes more important

      • Dhorvath, OM

        If only it worked. This is the problem, right now it doesn’t. People do not communicate well when their boundaries have been passed, we raise people not to be rude by exclusion but don’t teach the converse of not being rude by inclusion.

        • JT Eberhard

          Good point.

  • Rachel

    One thing I would add about boundaries/lines: context matters. If I’m talking to someone in a professional/semi-professional capacity (and this might include quite a few situations at a conference), my line is in a different place than it would be in a more social setting. In other words, I’m much more open to participating in mutual flirting when the context is appropriate.

    So, while I think communication is key (use your words, people) I think keeping in mind the inverse ratio of the more professional the context, the less appropriate it is for flirting, that would help all parties a lot.

    • JT Eberhard

      Added to the post. Good point

  • John Horstman

    This is a good piece on the subject, if anyone’s not familiar (it was floating around a lot in the wake of Elevatorgate):
    A lot of what’s in there is already here.

    I do think it might be effective if more women (generally, though this could also apply to men; I’m going to assume binary gender, heterosexuality, and normative gender roles with respect to assertiveness, since that’s the primary context and focus of this discussion, but I want to acknowledge that it’s not the ONLY context to which the issues being discussed can apply) were more direct (less worried about hurting feelings, though it could also stem from a worry about violent reactions?) when they weren’t interested in men.

    I was at a bar two nights ago, and there were two women sitting next to me. There was a guy on the other side of them who was hitting on them. They were given one or two word responses to him in between mostly ignoring him, but he kept right on chatting at them. Now, their reactions were perfectly clear “I’m not interested” signals to me, but I was much more sober and possibly more socially-aware (I’m not, generally, but being a third party might help; also the guy might have been picking up on their signals and ignoring them). Eventually, a (male) acquaintance of the women who also happened to be at the bar spotted them and ‘rescued’ them, inviting them back to his group’s table. They could have not had to endure the fifteen minutes of unreciprocated flirting with a simple statement of, “I’m flattered, but I’m not interested in you at all; please leave me alone,” right at the start. I generally think it’s the responsibility of the initiator to gauge reactions and respect them, but, for the clueless nice guys, as you say, being direct will work fine, and it’s really a kindness in any case: if a guy is looking for a sex partner or even just a flirty conversation and a gal is not interested, that guy is wasting his time. Not being direct in order to spare feelings (if that’s what’s going on; again, there could be other reasons to not be direct) is actually a lot less kind.

    • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform


      …also the guy might have been picking up on their signals and ignoring them


      I don’t doubt that some men actually are awkward and that they can give unintentional offense. That said, I see so much concern trolling about their fee-fees, and so much refusal to engage with the facts of the above-linked post, that I have a limited amount of patience for the argument anymore.

      Also, I’d like JT to acknowledge the issue of the risks women run for calling this behavior out, from potential violence from the aggressor to “Oh, he didn’t mean it, don’t be like that!” from bystanders.

      • JT Eberhard

        I’m fuzzy on what you mean by “calling out”, so let me say this.

        1. Saying “no” is not calling out. I know there are social penalties for even saying “no” sometimes. Bear in mind, those are the products of people who are not the subject of this post. Those people are a problem. I completely admit, nay, assert that. I’m all for shaming them.

        The people I’m trying to reach with this post are the guys who might get called skeezy, but who just made a social mistake. I’m after the ones who want to make it better.

        2. If you’re talking about spreading word about skeezy people to others, I’m all about it. If they’ve earned the reputation, let them live with it. However, I don’t want the guys who don’t want to make women uncomfortable, but just make the occasional social faux paux (and, bear in mind, I’m one of those guys) to get lumped in and get a reputation as a skeezy person when they don’t deserve it.

        Make sense?

        • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          Saying “no” is not calling out. I know there are social penalties for even saying “no” sometimes.

          So, basically, I’m supposed to muster some sympathy for all the poor awkward menz — the ones who claim to be “just awkward,” anyway — who might get a rep as a “creeper.” But you’re still all about putting the burden of “calling out” on the woman herself, despite knowing the risks it entails.

          Nice. Real nice.

          BTW, I don’t see a word in your post about the job of bystanders to support such women. In the sf/f convention world, this has been thought out. Then again, the priority there was to protect women, not coddle the poor ickle menzes who whine incessantly about their inability to understand such things as crossed arms being a dirt-common gesture for others to back off.

          • JT Eberhard

            So, basically, I’m supposed to muster some sympathy for all the poor awkward menz — the ones who claim to be “just awkward,” anyway — who might get a rep as a “creeper.” But you’re still all about putting the burden of “calling out” on the woman herself, despite knowing the risks it entails.


            Do you not think there are men out there who want to avoid making you uncomfortable but are just socially awkward? If so, you’re simply wrong.

            If you do think they’re out there, why not help them? In this case, yes, have some sympathy. Realize that they, like myself, are trying to find a way to make sure our social awkwardness dosn’t make us like the men we all despise. Surely that’s a position you can sympathize with at least a little bit.

            I don’t see a word in your post about the job of bystanders to support such women.

            First, by identifying the problem of skeezy dudes in the first sentence and calling repeatedly for solutions to the problem of making women uncomfortable, I would think someone could conclude that I want the community in on this.

            Second, even if there weren’t a word about it, why would you immediately take the lack of a mention about it as though I didn’t care about it? You read the rest of the post, written in a way that clearly suggests I’m trying to help, and you’re going to say something like this as if the lack of that idea in the post means I’m not trying to help or don’t care? Seriously?

            What’s more, the post was not written to address the people who don’t care if they’re creepers (you know, the ones who need to be shamed by the bystanders and rest of the community, which I said several times).

            Third, these were all in my post:

            It doesn’t matter if you think their line is prudish. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re playing hard to get. It doesn’t matter if her line is different for another guy. It doesn’t matter if you think you can change their mind. They’ve established how far you can go, and if you go further you are wrong. Period. That would be a crime deserving of social punishment and the offending male should not get away with it. The man who continues once a woman has clearly established where her line is has lost all claim to innocence, and both men and women alike should chastise him for it.

            Perhaps I didn’t express specifically that the social punishment/shame should come from the bystanders as well as the people outside the event, but I think it’d be highly uncharitable reading to read it the second way.

            Ditto with this…

            And remember, we’re not talking to the men who assume privilege and don’t give a shit about crossing lines. I can’t help them. The best we can do is shame them – but we don’t want the good guys shamed along with them, right? So don’t spend your time in the comments giving a huge indictment on the bad guys – we’re not speaking to them here. We’re in agreement on them.

            I guess I could’ve included the line, “‘we’ includes the bystanders,” but I figured people would read it in the voice of someone trying to help.

            Seriously, if you have suggestions for improvement, leave them. But don’t use this comment thread to treat me like your enemy. I’m not.

        • ethicalcannibal

          I completely get what you are saying, but how am I supposed to know if I am saying no to one of the guys you are referencing, or a complete jerk? I have tried your approach, because I am a very up front person. My results are mixed. There’s no real way to discern between skeezy because they are pushy jerks who are willfully ignoring cues, or skeezy because they have no clue that constantly massaging your arm and leaning in really close to you is not socially acceptable in the first five minutes of meeting.

          I see your second point as an academic exercise. In the end, women are being made uncomfortable, and for her she has no idea if social boundary buster guy is socially awkward, or a predator. If she ignores her intuition, and tries to “be nice”, and ends up raped, it doesn’t matter. There is still a strong culture that will blame her for missing those cues. False positives are a much safer, than false negaties in a woman’s world.

          I guess my point is, if I say “No” I have to be prepared for fallout. It’s not just reprehensible quasi-sexual-assault guys that react with vitriole to these things. Some guys can’t handle being told a simple and blunt “No”. Even the nice ones may recoil, and react accordingly. When I was young, I never deployed this tactic because I didn’t want to cause a scene, or make a situation socially awkward for a group, etc. Or make an enemy out of a guy that would later bad mouth me in other ways. If the power dynamic is in favor of the male in this case, sometimes you can’t afford that risk, either.

          Now that I’m an old lady, I say “No” a lot, and even politely, some perfectly good men get into a snit about it. This meanss the rest of the social event, and even sometimes when our paths cross at meetups, things get weird because they can’t handle it. They are just your poor socially awkward ones.

          This issue is just more complicated for women, and what you see women doing, is the safest way they know how to deal with things.

      • John Horstman

        I’m with you on the lack of understanding being bullshit with respect to some behaviors (ignoring someone, for example, or just monosyllabic responses), though not others that have been brought up (lack of eye contact, crossing arms – I do this all the time in conversations with my friends in which I’m engaged, as my arms can get cold, and I’m uncomfortable with extended eye contact generally). And it definitely SHOULD be on men to learn and respect the most obvious signals if they truly don’t understand them. The question comes down to the most functional path forward, given the present culture (male sexual privilege, rape culture). Given the context, I think being direct is almost always the best option, such that there can be no possibility of confusion (women, please don’t worry about hurting men’s feelings – the feelings of strangers are not your responsibility). It’s really only a good idea to avoid direct communication about social/physical/sexual boundaries as a matter of self-preservation, if there’s a reasonable chance that one may be subject to violence for asserting agency.

    • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

      I’m not so much worried about hurting feelings, I’m worried about having my teeth knocked in.

    • Godless Heathen

      1. Ignoring him is a pretty damn clear signal that they want nothing to do with him. It’s his responsibility to respect that.

      2. They don’t know how he would respond if they said “no.” He might cause a scene or become angry or violent.

  • Heather

    I have to admit, just hearing of this stuff kind of scares me off from ever going to a convention. I’m pretty much asexual: any sign of interest past, “Oh, someone to talk to” makes me extremely uncomfortable. Maybe it has something to do with my only (ex)boyfriend and his disrespect for my boundaries, but I guess my boundaries are just too big to deal with meeting lots of guys at a convention.
    I wouldn’t say no to a hug from JT though. :p

    • John Horstman

      Do you have any thoughts on what might make you more comfortable? The point of this thread is to identify ways to allow women to be more comfortable while still allowing people who are interested to flirt with each other and/or hook up.

    • JT Eberhard

      Glad you’d be down for a hug. Hugs rule!

      And your standard is a-ok! There shouldn’t be any pressure on you to have any other standard.

      And there’s certainly a difference between friendly flirting and flirting with intent (though its not always perceptible, I certainly have a hard time with that). Would you be ok with friendly flirting? Would it make you feel more comfortable? Less?

      And flirting/sex are not the point of conferences. They’re a small part of them for some people, not all. You might get flirted with, but I want an environment where you can say no and everybody will be cool, since I don’t think an environment where women never get flirted with is feasible.

      What can we do to help?

      • Chiral

        I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but I identified w/Heather here. I won’t ever voluntarily go somewhere flirting seems likely to occur*. If that isn’t feasible, then I won’t go to conventions (or bars, or the mall, etc). I think excluding some people is just an unavoidable consequence of trying to get a large gathering of humans together. You’re never going to be able to make everyone comfortable and happy at the same time.

        As I get older, I find I’d really rather spend my time fishing or gardening than socializing anyways, so… I’d be interested in the talks, but they tend to get put up on youtube fairly quickly these days.

        *I go almost catatonic when I receive unwelcome advances, I can’t say ‘no’, can’t pull away or even speak and I end up having panic attacks for weeks after. This happened at work recently, luckily I’ve got an anxiolytic prescription now, thanks in part to you :)

      • Heather

        To be honest, JT, I really don’t know. Most of the time I can’t even recognize flirting until the other person makes an overt statement or gesture that makes me realize what was going on. I’m probably more socially awkward and clueless than you say you are. Then again, everyone’s definition of flirting will be different. As I saw in a comment earlier, someone said that when you hug someone you are flirting without intent. I don’t even consider that flirting, assuming it is a “hi-how-are-you” hug.

        And I can relate to Chiral’s idea of a fun time. Gardening, reading, watching Transformers or Doctor Who is usually more appealing to me than social gatherings.

  • Kenny

    Re: “There’s a problem in the atheist movement: guys can be skeezy.”

    Why make this an “atheist” thing? This is just a plain old “guy” thing.

    • Stephanie Zvan

      Because we don’t care whether people go to “plain old” conventions. We care whether they go to our conventions, and we care that our conventions and our movement treat people well.

    • danielle

      because a lot of atheist men think that they are so ~enlightened~ that they must know everything there is to know about women

  • Malimar

    I’ve found that any plan which relies upon other people communicating such subtle nuances as “you’ve crossed the line” in a way that I (or people like me) can understand (i.e., with words instead of body language or tone of voice) is doomed to failure.

    (I’m not entirely certain how much my social illiteracy is a result of me not bothering to teach myself social literacy (in which case nobody but myself is to blame for my inability to understand social cues) and how much is a disability resulting from factors beyond my control (in which case it’s slightly less unreasonable — albeit still futile — for me to ask people to communicate with words instead of tone or body language).)

    Luckily for me, I hate flirtation and most physical contact and usually have no desire to engage in sexual congress, so I don’t suppose it’s a problem for me particularly often. (I play it safe and operate under the safe assumption that I’m maximally creepy anyway, because I have very little way of knowing whether or not I am, as those few people who have bothered to use words to inform me of my creepiness levels have given conflicting reports.)

    But if I were as socially illiterate as I am, and still desired physical intimacy enough to pursue it? Man, life would suck for me, and for everyone of the desired gender that I came into contact with.

  • buttercup

    One important thing for men to bear in mind is that many women are not socialized to set firm boundaries. There is a real risk involved with saying an outright no. The Schroedinger’s Rapist post above emphasizes that, but in minor degree, many women are taught from birth to be sweet, to be accomodating, to not hurt the poor man’s feelings, to not reject outright because it just isn’t nice. Layer that with fear, social awkwardness, nerdiness, and being unaccustomed to male attention, and you have major communication issues coming from both sides.

    I agree that clearly asking is best.

    • JT Eberhard

      What can supportive, feminist men do to make it clear that we have your back when you say “no”?

      Is there anything we can do?

      • Katie Hartman

        I think one of the best ways to be supportive is to simply act completely natural/normal around someone who has just laid down their boundaries. This is a good idea whether you’re the person who engaged in the offending behavior or just a bystander. If you treat it like a faux pas, it will feel punishing. Let the conversation continue uninterrupted. If the offender gets the message, all is well. If the offender continues pushing, it might be a good idea to ask him to stop or leave.

        • Jason Thibeault

          I absolutely love your answer, Katie — nothing’s a bigger tell of who’s a douchebag than whether they decide it’s time to stop talking to you when their flirtations are rebuffed.

        • Kaoru Negisa

          That’s one of the best answers I’ve seen regarding this. Ideally, flirting should be a byproduct of pleasant conversation, not the objective of it. I’ve known far too many guys (sorry, guys, but I have yet to have a woman do this to me) who have suddenly found other things to do when they discover I’m not interested in them. They seemed nice enough, and I may have even found them attractive at a different time, but there is no bigger turn off than realizing you’re only interesting as a sex object.

          Don’t mean to usurp this conversation from the very important issue of protecting primarily women, but it is a situation I at least partially understand in that regard, though I realize it’s not exactly the same.

      • buttercup

        Have our backs. If you see a woman looking trapped, say something. If you are unsure if things are ok, ask. If needed, offer the woman an out-”Hey, someone over here has grommets and asked me to get you so you could try out your new flangulator!” Be observant, and when you see men who are clearly not getting the signals, deliberately or not, help them see the (red) light.

        I’ve run the Mensa gathering in Pittsburgh for a few years off and on (this is my last year) and the behavior referenced in this post happens at our gatherings a lot too. I’ve been trying to bring awareness because over and over we will have young women join, come to an event, get overwhelmed by overbearing skeeze, and never return. It sucks. Men can help.

  • Piksi

    This isn’t just a problem for the atheist/free thinker community.

    Misogyny is rampant, and so often that kind of a behavior gets a free pass due to reasons of “religious freedom”. Just look at the state of our politics if you would like clear-cut examples, in the United States at least. The sheer number of new, and proposed, anti-choice laws, coupled with anti-contraception legislation and the roll-back of several equal pay laws as well is staggering.

    We could argue forever as to why this is, I certainly have my own theories, but of course that’s not the point of your post.

    All that to say, it should be a red-flag to anyone that proper behavior towards women needs to be clearly defined in the first place. Clearly, some deeper cultural bigotry is at work here, and it’s managed to worm it’s way into almost all facets of our lives. This is the issue that needs to be examined, not continuing the discussion of proper etiquette.

    Please understand that I’m very happy that you’re bringing this issue to the forefront again, and in the process subjecting yourself to all kinds of grief from all sides. Your intention is great. You’re absolutely right to stress that communication is key, and it is. I’m just tired of litigating this subject to death when it’s not the root cause of the problem, it’s only a symptom.

    • Jason Thibeault

      I’d contend it’s a problem in the atheist / skeptic community only because there’s a contingent of people who would rather fight any such attempt at righting the injustices tooth and nail. Our problem is not with sexism per se, it’s with members of the community who are more concerned with making our meetups meat-markets.

    • JT Eberhard

      All that to say, it should be a red-flag to anyone that proper behavior towards women needs to be clearly defined in the first place.

      I think this is only possible to an extent. We can say yes, walking up to someone and groping them is a clearly defined no-no in almost every situation. Enough that we can safely say not to do it.

      But other things like hugging are less so. With every person having their own unique line within a certain spectrum, we still need some way to have better communication individually, even if we can have a good set of generally prohibited behavior.

  • Greg Laden

    I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.

    I would like to call for a five year moratorium at getting laid at skeptical and atheist conferences. Let’s first get to the point where the majority of people are not clueless or untrained, are overeager or who’s intentions are misplaced.

    And yes, if the main reason for going to a conference (and I’m NOT saying that JT is saying this) is to get laid, then don’t got to an atheist/skeptics conference. Go to some other kind of conference or convention.

    These conferences really are for a different purpose than being meat markets. Right?

    • JT Eberhard

      I’m not sure the moratorium is a good idea, but hell yes to the rest, Greg.

      What I’m talking about is a very small facet of skeptical conventions. It’s a good facet, a fun facet for many (though certainly not all). But it’s not anywhere near the whole shebang.

      If getting laid is the reason you’re going to atheist conventions, stop. If it’s something nice that might happen on the side, like pizza buffet or video game night, then we’re on the same page.

    • Ace of Sevens

      Would that really help? What’s going to happen in these five years that will make people do any better? Also, keep in mind that some of us are from small towns and the cons are the only IRL interaction we can have as open atheists.

      • Greg Laden

        The moratorium was an intentional overstatement … though worth considering if people really fail to get the point that they are acting unprofessionally. But I do find it interesting that “interacting with atheist” means “fucking atheists”. Kinda funny, though I’m not sure which kind of funny just yet…

  • Cassy

    #3 is especially important, I feel. It’s one of those things that I’ve had to work hardest at to convince MYSELF of in the aftermath of my personal experiences with rape and sexual assault. It’s important for everyone to recognize that there’s no such thing as a “wrong” boundary. And also, consent cannot be negotiated. I’m not saying that you can’t engage in a conversation about why someone set a certain boundary and why you think it is reasonable or not. But if you go into a sexual situation with the intention of changing their boundaries yourself, things will go terribly. I don’t think the issue is so much a lack of communication, but a misunderstanding of what constitutes consent. Coercion is not consent. And coercion can assume many forms — many that may not be so obvious to everyone. I recommend this link for more information on that: Some of the examples on there may seem extreme, but there are less extreme examples that still constitute as coercion, so it is wise to be aware that, if you disagree with someone’s boundary — that’s fine. But their right to say “no” trumps your opinions on what they should or shouldn’t be willing to do. And I cannot stress that enough. I’ve been with very well-intentioned men since my assault — even self-proclaimed feminists! — who simply did not seem to grasp this concept. I know that it’s not as obvious as other scenarios where sexual assault can take place, but this is just as important to consider. There’s a very fine line between asking and pressuring, so if you want my advice, I’d say just be careful not to toe that line.

    Thank you for writing this, J.T. <3

    • John Horstman

      I don’t think the issue is so much a lack of communication, but a misunderstanding of what constitutes consent. Coercion is not consent. And coercion can assume many forms — many that may not be so obvious to everyone.

      I second this.

      • JT Eberhard


  • jamessweet

    These long lists of guidelines may be useful, but you’ll never come up with anything that is sufficient. The problem is not fully tractable: In a world that includes both a) women who are justifiably sick and tired of being viewed primarily as sexual objects (not to mention those who have rather traumatic triggers), as well as b) socially awkward and deeply lonely men (something I have been in the past), people are going to get hurt, and badly, even when everyone is acting with the best intentions. I try not to mention it too often, but I really do identify and sympathize a lot with group (b), and how difficult it is for them to understand and empathize with group (a). For my own part, I was unable to fully embrace feminism until I got married (hence indefinitely ending the “lonely” problem), and my single self said and did a lot of things I am not proud of.

    With all that in mind, I propose two much simpler rules for group (b):

    1) Just try and be aware of these issues. You don’t have to agree with everything. You can still think it’s unfair. But try to think about it, try to notice it, and try not to get defensive all the time.

    2) Yeah, it totally sucks to be a lonely socially awkward guy. But even if you are unable to empathize with group (a), you need to abstractly acknowledge that it also totally sucks to deal with that problem, and that problem (constant sexual objectification) is pervasive and undermining to all kinds of aspects of life. Fair or not, you might just need to suck it up.

    • karmakin

      What really bugs me about this is that we put down basically all the blame on socially awkward individuals who might not be able to read signs, when chances are those awkward individuals are not going to initiate the contact in the first place.

      The problem is with socially “confident” individuals who read signals in an overly-confident fashion and as such tend to ignore what the other person in the party actually want. People who want to flirt, irregardless of their background, need to suck it up and realize that they are the aggressor here.

      • Greg Laden

        Excellent point. Reading the signs OK, but not caring much what they say.

      • JT Eberhard

        I may have erred in giving people the impression that I’m blaming socially awkward people. I’m not. I’m noting that some people are certainly that way and we need to take it into account rather than expecting reality to be some way other than what it is.

        The problem is with socially “confident” individuals who read signals in an overly-confident fashion and as such tend to ignore what the other person in the party actually want.

        I see two possible people here.

        1. Confident, potentially reading non-positive cues as positive, and who cares if women are uncomfortable. The solution seems the same as the opposite end of the “bad with social cues” spectrum: better communication.

        2. Confident, doesn’t care about the comfort of women. A problem, no doubt. Should be shamed. But not the subject of this post.

        • maureen.brian

          No, JT! The person who is over-optimistic about getting laid right here and right now and the person who does not give a toss about whether the other party consents are not the two available options. They are probably the same person – either in a different social context or with a different level of alcohol on board.

          Or possibly with others in the immediate vicinity whom he is less or more willing to impress with his machismo or embarrass by getting his face slapped in front of witnesses.

    • Stacy

      a) women who are justifiably sick and tired of being viewed primarily as sexual objects (not to mention those who have rather traumatic triggers), as well as b) socially awkward and deeply lonely men (something I have been in the past), people are going to get hurt, and badly, even when everyone is acting with the best intentions.

      You do realize that there exists group (c)–women who are sick and tired of being judged (positively or negatively) as sexual objects who are also socially awkward and deeply lonely?

      • jamessweet

        Absolutely, of course, my apologies, I didn’t mean to imply that the whole world is composed of lonely guys and please-just-stop-bugging-me-so-much women. I should have been more careful about seeming to imply that, because I know a pitfall for the bitter-lonely-guy is the false idea that women have it easy, that they can get laid any time they want.

        In addressing a complex issue, I am necessarily oversimplifying, and I might inadvertently give the wrong impression. My apologies, really.

  • Cynthia

    Well, you’ve stepped into a hornet’s nest again, JT. And there’s no easy way out of it.

    I have no great insights to offer, which depresses me. But as a female who can communicate pretty clearly where my lines are, I really appreciate your opening up this conversation.

    The more we discuss this, the easier it gets for everyone to be straight about it. So we just have to muddle through, until we get to a more comfortable place. And that will happen, I think, if we keep talking about it. It’s worked for us in several movements – it can change minds and clarify things here, too.

    • JT Eberhard

      Well, you’ve stepped into a hornet’s nest again, JT. And there’s no easy way out of it.

      Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s pretty familiar territory for me. :) I’m pretty comfortable here.

  • Mallorie Nasrallah

    Take intent in to account.
    If someone clearly intended no harm, try to just let it go.

    • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      Jesus, how many times does “intent is not magic” have to be invoked in this crowd? If you think it is for yourself, that’s fine, but, as someone who was inappropriately touched by a medical professional the other week and doesn’t give a flying fuck if he was “just being friendly,” it sure as shit isn’t enough for me.

      • John Horstman

        Well, assuming that’s actually Mallorie, she offered the same defense for calling women “cunts”, so…

        It’s impact that matters in an evidence-based worldview. If your actions are regularly having impacts you don’t intend, you’re doing rationality wrong. Intent is relevant only in situations where one has no experience to use as data to gauge likely outcomes, and even then, it doesn’t make problematic behaviors excusable, it just provides a way to identify a path forward.

        An analogy: Drivers frequently ignore right-of-way and other traffic laws when they encounter me (I ride a bicycle). This creates a situation in which neither one of us can predict the other’s behavior, which is incredibly dangerous. They do it in order to defer to me, with the best of intentions, but it just winds up creating a more dangerous situation. The best intentions don’t make the damage to my body form 3 collisions any less problematic. The path forward identified by the intent is education of drivers, reinforcing that the best practice while driving is to adhere to traffic laws as the stand, except in the rare situations where breaking them prevents an immediate collision. Attempts at kindness are actually unkind in this situation.

        • Mallorie Nasrallah

          Maybe don’t take everything to a ridiculous level.
          Sometimes someone is just a huggy person and they offer a hug, their intent is harmless so let it go. Thats all I am saying.
          If someone crosses a line politely tell them and just let it go.

          I cant help but think you guys are going to miss all the good shit in life.

          • Mallorie Nasrallah

            Also, JT, I’ll be at the SSA leadership conference in July, even if you fucking hate me, you’re welcome to hug me, because hugs are awesome. They fall firmly in my filing of “the good shit”.

          • JT Eberhard

            Hate you? You love hugs and you take awesome pictures! You qualify for two hugs.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            I will gladly give you that someone was just being natural and trying to share things about their life that they enjoy with others. I have trouble imagining such a person not being upset that some of the people who they have shared with were made uncomfortable by that sharing and being made aware not wanting to avoid doing that to others in the future. JT seems to be trying to navigate that very issue right here. I do not think that anyone is best served by just moving on.

  • betsumei

    Aw shoot, I really wish my schooling at some point had covered body language. Years of loneliness because I didn’t realize that my persistently crossed arms, short responses to questions that don’t require lengthy answers, aversion to eye contact, and running away in abject terror when someone touched me was sending “don’t talk to me” vibes to people. I also really wish that any part of that was a joke and not dead serious things that really happened. Please please please someone tell me where I can get one of those “I’m a social moron” shirts, preferably in a five-pack or something so I always have one clean and wearable. I want to see this problem fixed, because I’d really like to go to one of these conventions and interact with people and not skeeve people out with my ignorance of social norms, and I’d also like to be able to not worry that my daughter will go to one of these (when she’s old enough, if she wants to) and not get totally skeeved at and not enjoy herself.

  • Nick Lewis

    (x-post from facebook) This is one of those times where we have to realize that neckbeard stereotype that atheists carry exists sometimes, and it shows up at conferences. It’s okay for you to hug every JT, because you’re a hunk and everyone loves you. I personally watched my drunk, socially awkward friend cross the line at the SSA Conference last year. Luckily in his stupor he was able to catch the hint that she wasn’t interested.

    Another thing, I guarantee you that for some of these guys, its the first time they’ve ever met an atheist girl their age. This surely makes them nervous and causes them to make awkward advances that they otherwise wouldn’t have made.

    I’m not saying this is an excuse for any of this kind of behavior, I’m just trying to pinpoint the reasons that it happens.

  • mouthyb

    I’d like to add a recommendation, as well. I am, when comfortable, a casual flirt. It’s second nature for me, and is (I like to think) entertaining for others.

    I have repeatedly run into persons (mostly male) who expect sexual contact if the slightest bit of flirting occurs, let alone being flirty with multiple persons. They often respond by accusing me of being slutty or a tease, sometimes loudly. Occasionally, they’ll become threatening.

    Just for my personal comfort, the following distinguishes a serious from casual flirting:

    -willingness to share intimate information in conversation

    -turning my entire body to listen, instead of tossing statements over my shoulder

    -intense eye contact instead of occasional eye contact

    -touching my lips, biting my lower lip

    -my laugh goes down a register

    -sometimes I blush

    -if I’m eating, I’ll forget to finish my food or drink

    -often, I’ll ask the person for a talk by ourselves/time away from the group

    If I’m casually flirting, I tend to do the following:

    -talk over my shoulder, without fully facing the person

    -laugh loudly

    -roll my eyes

    -refuse to share very many personal details

    -sarcasm and/or insult exchanges

    For me, at least, those are two VERY different communication styles. Flirting is a crossing of mental swords with someone, an intellectual game which could be serious, but frequently isn’t. Again, for my personal comfort, people would not treat it as if I had promised them my vagina for talking to them.

    • JT Eberhard

      Modified version of that added to the post. Good suggestion.

  • Andy Jewell

    I can’t help but imagine how this conversation would go in a more religious forum.

    It might be impossible, but if any group can do it, it’s this one. I’m proud to consider myself part of it.

    And no, sadly, I have nothing substantive to add to the conversation.

  • Molly

    I just want to say that I am shocked and impressed at how constructive and civil this whole discussion has been. It’s rather refreshing.

    • JT Eberhard

      Atheists frakkin’ rule.

      But my readers especially rule. :P

  • v1ctor1a

    Personally if someone asks directly if the can touch me like the person above said, I’d be weirded out. With touching people, I think a generally safe rule is start somewhere neutral and then as JT said, inch! Scoot closer to her. If she doesn’t pull away, you’re probably safe to touch her, but againgo slowly.start somewhere neutral like her arm. Also as far as crossing into personal space.goes, be very.aware of your location. make sure youre somwhere that it’s easy and not awkward for her to pull away from you. f pulling away from you when you move closer to her our you touch her is going to draw a lot of attention she’s going to be less likely to pull away, even if she wants to and then you’ll unknowingly make her more uncomfortable.

    • Molly


    • John Horstman

      Why would be weirded-out if someone asked to hold your hand or give you a hug instead of just doing it? Also, do you think your response and reasons are more or less reasonable than those of someone who feels violated if she (in this case, we’re generally discussing women as the objects of male agents) is touched without consent?

      If we’re trying to come up with general guidelines, we have to balance concerns like this. Personally, I think it’s better to err on the side of not violating someone’s physical space without explicit permission. If you’d be weirded-out by that, then so be it, but you might want to consider analyzing why you react that way and also what the implications for other people are of establishing behavioral norms where touching people without explicit consent is common.

      • Dhorvath, OM

        Can I buy you a drink?

        • JT Eberhard

          ^^ Like. :)

  • ozymandias42

    I think it’s really important to note that there are socially awkward and lonely women who have no idea where men’s boundaries are, too. I’m female-assigned and usually sleep with (geeky) men, and I have almost no ability to flirt or to work out social cues; nevertheless, I usually end up being the person initiating romantic/sexual interactions because if I didn’t no one else would. I don’t want to be creepy (and take steps in that direction, i.e., always asking before I touch someone the first time), but I really don’t know how not to be. And I know there were times I’ve accidentally (in minor ways) violated a guy’s boundaries when he didn’t tell me.

    So guys, you have to assert your boundaries too. :P

    • JT Eberhard

      We can do this. Thank you.

      It seems that guys boundaries are usually a little less tightly knit than those of women, so admittedly this didn’t even occur to me. Thanks for bringing it up. :)

  • SerahB

    I am really impressed with this conversation, and am very grateful for the thoughtful way JT initiated it. I usually refrain from participating in commenting on the hostile environment for women at conferences, because frankly, I’m not clear myself on exactly how this should work. I enjoy flirtation. I enjoy the intimacy, sexual and otherwise, that I’ve experienced at many of our conventions. At the same time, I do sometimes get exhausted with the amount of sexual attention at those events. And as a PTSD sufferer, I do occasionally find myself out of my depths in terms of communicating why I suddenly need to dramatically shift the boundaries I just laid out. It’s a lot to navigate, and I have a great deal of respect for the women and men who make sure that we, as a movement, continue talking about how best to do it.

    In particular, I love the emphasis here on communication and consent. If there is a solution to the way we’re failing women at conferences, I think it absolutely is for everyone, men and women, to commit to more conscientious, intentional communication. I’m very optimistic that we can get there.

  • mouthyb

    I’d like to add a corollary, if I may. All of the following are from my experiences dating geeky men/at atheist events. NOTHING sandbags a good conversation like saying any of the following:

    -you’re not like the others

    -why are women so crazy

    -the casual use of the word bitch or cunt to describe women

    -over-sharing about your last relationship. A little discussion is fine, but I am not your therapist

    -jokes about chloroform, rape, kidnapping, some people just being oversensitive

    -demanding I get in a car/enclosed space with you (has happened, repeatedly, both at atheist get-togethers and in general)

    -telling me about being accused of rape/demanding that rape accusations are mostly fake

    -saying nasty things about feminists/feminism

    -talking about the inferiority of women/PoC/persons who are LGBTQI and/or using evopsych to describe why they are inferior

    -talking about how fun it is to fuck women when they’re passed out/really high

    -talking about sexuality as if the people who don’t do one man, one woman, make babby are mentally ill, broken, contemptible, etc

    -cutting me or other women off repeatedly to try and order us around, express your opinion on why we’re stupid/don’t know anything, etc.

    -not saying anything while I’m around if another man in your group is doing those things and/or not backing me up when I tell them what I think of that and them

    Any of these, and you’ve talked your way right out of sexy times, friendship or the willingness to ever speak to you again. I know that no one here would ever do that, but it’s happened enough that I think it bears repeating.

    • betsumei

      I really, really wish I could believe that that’s not something that happens. I think it’s going to take at least half a season of MLPFiM to undo that damage to my faith in humanity.

      • mouthyb

        It doesn’t sound like you’re part of that problem from your responses, if it helps.

        I hope the MLPFiM is helpful.

        • betsumei

          Thanks. I’ve started reading your blog posts, and it’s looking like I may need to up that does, but I’d rather be aware of and angry about the problems in the world than ignorant of them.

          • mouthyb

            I’m not averse to criticism, if you find something you feel bears criticism in my blog posts.

            And, you know, welcome.

          • betsumei

            I have no criticism for your blog posts (I am, however, hating the stylesheet you’re using for making me unable to view the CAPTCHA to comment), just saying that the world sucks sometimes.

  • JT Eberhard

    I am very pleased with how women have been able to come here and respond. It’s being taken to heart, as it should be. This helps.

    I hope the women here feel empowered. I want them to feel empowered. And I especially want them to know there are men out there who want to work with them to make things better (and to make ourselves better).

    Thank you for affording us the chance.

    • mouthyb

      Thank you for listening and asking for feedback.

  • danielle

    One last thing to consider is that just because something was okay two minutes ago (or any length of time in the past) doesn’t mean it is permissible in the moment because consent is ongoing and affirming. If someone changes their mind, they have reasons which are at their discretion if they wish to share with you.

    • Dhorvath, OM

      This! And not just a last thing to consider, this is part and parcel with the whole thing.

      • danielle

        ahaha I’m glad people are still reading! I thought it was over

    • SerahB

      Yep, this!

  • mouthyb

    Fixed the stylesheet and linked back to this post.

  • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

    Plus, some of us just suck with social cues, so subtle hinting won’t always work

    And some of us who do give a shit have actual disabilities in this regard. Not just guys, either.

    • Armored Scrum Object

      Seconded, and as an addendum (I hope JT’s regulars will already appreciate this point, but still…): this does not represent a license to pontificate regarding a diagnosis or lack thereof. Make whatever private judgments you need in order to calibrate your own comfort level, and ask (VERY politely and generally) if absolutely necessary, but please don’t start blabbing your opinion about it, even with the best of intentions. For some of us, diagnosis is hard enough when it’s a trained and licensed professional — sworn to confidentiality — giving their all to unpack our mixed-up shit. Until someone makes it abundantly clear otherwise: it’s not your job, and it’s not the time.

      Since I brought it up here’s an infodump on my status: I’ve been variously diagnosed with panic attacks, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, depending on which symptoms were most prominent at the moment. I’ve never been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and don’t think such a diagnosis is plausible, but I definitely sympathize. I currently get by without medication; this should not be read as a point of personal pride, but as an admission that my problems are “not that bad” mixed with a lament of psychiatry’s current limitations. I’ve struggled enough with suicidal ideation that I’m no longer concerned that I’ll actually do it; I know from experience that I can sleep it off and try life again tomorrow. I’m not looking for pity, just accommodation. I’m willing to put in an effort, but I’m not willing to burn through all my mental and emotional reserves just to meet the baseline social expectations of people who approach the “well-adjusted” extrovert ideal. And please trust me when I assure you that that’s what it would take to keep up such a facade all day. I don’t hate you. I probably like you. Even so, there’s still a cost for me to actually look you in the eye and smile. If I don’t, it’s not because I’m misanthropic or aloof or ignorant, it’s just because I’m exhausted or obsessing over some thought that’s really interesting at the moment.

      All I ask is that you understand and accept that people like me exist, that all the friendly advice in the world isn’t enough to “fix” us (would that it were so), and that we honestly do care and want to engage with people; it’s just harder than you can really imagine unless you’re in the same boat, and even then you (and/or I) might have had an easier time than any given person you’ll run into at a convention.

      *hits Play on AFI – Silver and Cold just for meta-irony value (is there such a thing as anti-projection?), and because yeah, I’m kinda drunk and really like the energy of punk but also melodic bombast and ah fuck I’m still excessively analytical and hypervigilant and shit even after too much booze*

      Your sins into me
      Oh, my beautiful one
      Your sins into me
      As a rapturous voice escapes, I will tremble in prayer
      and I’ll beg your forgiveness

      (yes, I would like an actual effective treatment, but at least I have a little fun along the way, and have a decent job and savings and such; “some have it worse than I”; I similarly don’t wanna be an American Idiot, even though as failed-rebellion-themed-rock-operas go I’d rather be listening to Operation: Mindcrime but can’t find that CD to rip and will subsequently troll YouTube. Whee!)

      Sweet dreams, you bastard

      • Armored Scrum Object

        The album, not the song. I’m fully aware of the narrative arc and Nikki’s pain and the ultimate futility of his goal, and “The Mission” is arguably my favorite track on the album for its painful (and musically bombastic) portrayal of Nikki’s regret over the pain he’s caused. It’s not easy, but I do get by.

        Further the cause, boy, yes, you know the game.

  • Zengaze

    Absolutely fanfuckingtastic post JT.

    Though one critique, the major focus is on the male to behave lol. I worked nightclubs for thirteen years as a bouncer, not once did I breach boundaries in a skeezy way (I can honestly say that) whilst on the job, but nightly I was groped whilst walking across the dance floor, and it wasn’t guys, well not that I knew lol. I’ve stood in front of a dj box and had a completely random stranger shove her hand down my trousers without even the courtesy of eye contact prior! I’ve had girls out of nowhere Plant their lips on mine, more times than I can count I’ve had girls attempt to rip my shirt, or pull the bow tie from my neck, anyway you get the picture.

    My point being, female sexual predation gets a pass, whereas in my own personal anecdotal experience girls as much as guys need a lesson in acceptable behaviours.

    • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

      How threatened did you actually feel, though?

      • Zengaze

        Very good point, honestly never, but violated definitely.

      • Jason Thibeault

        This question doesn’t matter in terms of whether or not the violators of your personal space were right to do so — they weren’t. But it’s a damned salient question in terms of what kind of systemic problems we’re talking about here, Zengaze.

        “But what about me” when we’re talking about people who do, actually, feel significantly endangered, and you never, is a derail.

        • Zengaze

          Sexual assault is sexual assault regardless of the gender of the perpetrator. What I described was quite obviously more than personal space violation.

          I don’t accept it as a derail, as it relates specifically to the boundaries between individuals, and what constitutes acceptable behaviours in the realms of flirting etc.

          I was fully aware when I made this post that it would draw that response, my intention was not to diminish the experience of females who have suffered unwanted sexual advance, but to highlight the issue is not gender specific.

          • SerahB

            While all this is true, the messages we’re getting from men in this movement aren’t “I’m not comfortable going to conferences because of the inappropriate sexual advances I have to deal with from women,” whereas we’re getting that message loud and clear from women in the movement. So while obviously ANY kind of boundary violation is something human beings should look at and address regardless of the genders of the people involved, this blog post is specifically looking at how to make our conferences safer and more fun for women, because we’re losing women who would be great additions to our movement as a result of this ongoing problem.

          • Zengaze

            Hey serah

            I acknowledge that, and I’m acutely aware of the difference in potential danger that is involved. Having worked in a meat market environment I’ve witnessed base humanity in all it expressions. Alcohol and humanity are a dangerous mix.

            The purpose of my original post was in part to challenge the myth.

            But as I said there is a very different threat potential. One of the clubs I worked in is one of the major nightclubs in Europe, there have been instances of women drugged raped and murdered. Thirteen years of scanning crowds for potential problems has trained me to understand movement and physical signals like its a spoken language.

            I personally have intervened in a date rape scenario, very very lucky girl had decided to flirt with me, she was in full control of herself, twenty minutes later I picked up on a girl slumped on a guys shoulder across the room, heading for the door, moved behind them and recognised her as the girl from earlier, who was now looking like she had be shooting tequila all day, I made an intervention, and the guy bolted, unfortunately he got away as I stayed with the girl. We got her home safe, and she came back a week later with a box of chocolates for me lol.

            So yeah I fully understand the difference.

    • Happiestsadist

      And here we have why anecdote is not the same thing as data. Hey, it’s not like I went out the back door through the dark alley at the end of my shift regularly when I was a dishwasher in a pub kitchen, because going out the real door meant I’d be groped at least half a dozen times. By people much larger than me. And drunk. And this was treated as something to be expected, and funny/cute.

      • JT Eberhard


        You and Daisy are talking about things and people that are not the subject of this post. Yes, they area problem. Yes, they need to be talked about.

        But for this thread, try to stay on point.

        • Dhorvath, OM

          Not sure I follow this, I am seeing a difference of degree, not kind. If we need to confine the discussion based on degree I am thoroughly confused as to where the line lays.

        • Happiestsadist

          And the dude who decided his club experience of unwanted touching is as bad as systematic sexism is of course on topic.


        • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          What Happiestsadist said.

          Zengage was coddled when he wanted to pretend that being groped occasionally by women at the bar he worked at was just as much a societal problem as the pervasive, systematic violation of women’s boundaries by men in society. Men who whine about how haaaarrrrrd it is to pick up on social cues, then argue with women and men who are attempting to teach them social cues, are coddled.

          But when we and other women bring up serious questions about your assumptions, we’re “derailing.”

          You’re not my ally, JT.

          • JT Eberhard

            Given your inability to detect nuance, your determination to respond to what you think was said but was never actually said, and your abysmal reasoning skills on display in this thread, I don’t want to be your ally. I have higher standards for my allies. I was wrong to say I was yours.

            In my defense though, at the time I lacked the necessary information to accurately judge you personally and was more saying that I was an ally to women.

            Mea culpa.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            LOLOLOLOLOL. “Stupid female doesn’t know how to reason her way into believing that rational d00d JT is her ally!”

            Fuck you, you arrogant, clue-devoid asshole.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            JT, you don’t get to decide that.
            You can decide that you want to be an ally to women, but you don’t get to make that call.
            That’s something you need to accept before you can even be considered a potential ally

          • mero


            Given your inability to detect nuance, your determination to respond to what you think was said but was never actually said, and your abysmal reasoning skills on display in this thread, I don’t want to be your reader.

            This was the first, and now last time I’ll visit here.

          • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

            Feminists are human too. They are capable of being mistaken.

            Why is this controversial?

  • ethicalcannibal

    The one problem I have with your post is an assumption you implied. That we, as women, are going to know we are being flirted with. That is not always true.

    My biggest problems in these social circles, and the gaming social circles, is that my smile, my friendliness, and my generally platonic enthusiasm is misread. We’re not talking about “leading” anyone on, or my inadvertent flirting. This has actually happened while I was with my husband, holding hands. It was just a case of an extremely socially awkward guy being so darn pleased that I, a woman type human, was talking to him, that he just assumed I wanted more. (I believe there is a study out there somewhere that showed men have a harder time reading cues such as smiles for flirting, but I sure can’t find the damn thing now.)

    This means I, as the target of unwanted advances, have to feel guarded. Every smile, every touch, all topics of conversation. I do that anyways to try not to give off unwanted signals, but I can’t take on the additional responsibility of needing to be aware of some guys idea of flirting and awkward advances so I can try and stop him before he skeazes all over me.

    As women we are already told we have to guard everything about ourselves or be seen in a negative social light. This issue of being skeazy isn’t that hard to figure out. My husband, and my male friends have absolutely no problem identifying skeazy behavior in other men.

    Perhaps, instead of asking women to take an additional responsibility of trying to figure out if men are socially awkward flirters, other men could clue in the skeazy behavior types to the fact that what they are doing is skeazy. Perhaps a little casual, “Hey bro, your coming off like my creepy uncle Alan who touches too much.” might work a bit better.

    • Dhorvath, OM

      This is a damn good piece of advice. Speak up!

  • tarian

    Completely impractical advice: until atheist conventions are actual safe spaces, in which it is assumed that the attendees aren’t various flavors of bigot (and that the leakthrough bigotry will get immediately called out by people other than the primary targets), there aren’t any temporary patches that’ll be sufficient to get me to attend. My personal boundaries are set way farther out than the social norm; I’m good with “I like your idea” as an icebreaker, but will turn into a cortisol manufacturing plant at basically any attempt at flirtation past that if it’s from someone that I don’t already know from another context. (Internet conversations sometimes count, if they’re sufficiently in-depth.) I cope with existing in the world by shunting over into polite professionalism, assuming that the flirty behavior wasn’t meant that way and acting accordingly. This doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily uninterested, just that the venue will have me on high alert already; the stress levels aren’t manageable.

    • Ace of Sevens

      Is there any such thing as a safe place, though? Is there some rule other than “consign yourself to never showing interest in another person” which is foolproof?

      • karmakin

        Personally I like the concept of keeping it to a designated time and place.

        • Ace of Sevens

          That would require a dedicated time and place. These really only exist on online dating sites, where slight variations of the same problems happen anyway.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            I dunno, there are places aside from online dating sites where I have gathered with other people specifically to have a flirty good time. And yes, they do have problems too, but it’s a different starting point and I think a step in a better direction.

      • tarian

        Safe spaces can be created; I’ve been in a few. Not sure how to scale those, though; they relied on fanning out from a core group of people with high levels of social justice (and consent culture) awareness, and bringing new people in after verifying they’re already with the program. And then staying on top of that; you’d prefer to deal with a potential problem at the level of “I was happy with that level of interaction, but I didn’t feel as though I had the space to say no if I hadn’t been”. This isn’t just teaching people how to seek active consent; it also involves teaching people how to set boundaries.

  • carlie

    Blog post referring to a paper that shows men do understand a roundabout way of saying no, they just ignore it when convenient. One point made is that people, and women especially, are raised and socialized their entire lives to be somewhat non-direct in communication, and people understand completely well what those phrases mean, so it’s asking them to jump a larger hurdle than in any other type of conversation to tell women to simply say a firm, direct NO to someone’s advances.

    • Ace of Sevens

      That study seems to be a meta analysis, but it timed out when I tried to look at the actual blog post, so I can’t look at it in detail. That conclusion goes against other studies and common sense, though. If both men and women could reliably tell if someone was interested, why are there all these magazine articles about how to tell if someone is interested? Not that they offer good information, but the fact that people buy these seems to mean there are a significant number who aren’t confident in their ability.

      I don’t disagree that a lot of men feign confusion in hopes of peer-pressuring women into sex and various other reasons, but to claim that almost no one really misinterprets social cues amounts to saying the majority of people are liars. Look at the upthread discussion arguing about what even is a rejection cue.

      • Ace of Sevens

        What I to say was that I read thee blog post with quotes, but couldn’t get to the actual study. I understand that you are trying to say that the problem is men who think that all women are or should interested and that the men this post is aimed at aren’t part of the problem anyway, but I can assure you it doesn’t feel like this on the ground.

      • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

        Oh, you mean, all the whiny menz upthread who are being told over and over that things like crossed arms are a fairly universal gesture meaning DO NOT APPROACH and insist that the woman in question might be cold, so they’re going to approach her anyway?

        • Ace of Sevens

          Nicole first said that, not the menz.

    • Silentbob

      Ms. Daisy Cutter already posted the same link as carlie above, and made a similar argument. JT replied.

      • carlie

        Thanks; I hadn’t clicked her link and realized it was the same one. My fault.

        I agree with what ethicalcannibal just said a few comments before mine:

        As women we are already told we have to guard everything about ourselves or be seen in a negative social light. This issue of being skeazy isn’t that hard to figure out. My husband, and my male friends have absolutely no problem identifying skeazy behavior in other men.

        Perhaps, instead of asking women to take an additional responsibility of trying to figure out if men are socially awkward flirters, other men could clue in the skeazy behavior types to the fact that what they are doing is skeazy.

  • Marvin Long

    I’d like to expand on #5: “Listen to women, guys.”

    It seems to me that this should really be: “Learn to be feminists, guys.”

    Or if the word “feminist” is too loaded — and it really shouldn’t be, guys — how about: “Listen to women. Read books by women that are about women and about human relations in general. Open your mind to the fact that half the human race experiences a very different world from you, guys, and try actively to learn about it. If you’ve saved your listening to women until it’s time to flirt, then you’ve already failed.”

    • Stacy

      Yes! This.

      {offers virtual hug}

    • Mallorie Nasrallah

      Just to make sure that while we are telling people how to behave and “what women want” or whatever this stuff is, allow me to make sure it is fair and balanced…so to speak:


      We are people, as far as I can tell my experience is all but identical to a man’s, barring the ability to easily piss off things. Which I will forever be jealous of.
      Excepting that, I resent being treated differently.

      There is no playbook for this because we are all different.

      “listen to women” if changed should simply be changed to “listen to the woman you are engaging with”.

  • William Brinkman

    Great article.

    I think asking permission for every thing can be a bit creepy to some women. Usually there are visual clues that can guide you. Even so, you should inch, not leap.

    Now I’m with a great woman, so I won’t be flirting any more. Still, it is nice to know that there are others in the secular movement who seek the balance between being a overly aggressive and being closed off.

    Now if we can just take care of some of the speakers in the movement so they’ll treat women with respect.

    • Dhorvath, OM

      Sure, it’s against the current narrative, it challenges the script if you will, but starting with concern is hardly creepy.

      • Erasmus

        I’m not sure if its a cultural thing with differences between the US and UK, but I routinely tried the straight out asking for consent/inching approach and it never worked.

        The responses I received were invariably negative and usually hostile, although I always respected the response and never insisted, asked more than once or any such thing.

        The best response I have gotten is to be told that being direct is “just creepy”. So after a while I gave up with this approach. Just before I did it lost me a friend. I asked her if she were interested in me, which caused her to assume that the whole process of becoming friends had been a trap o get into her pants I just had developed an attraction to her as I got to know her, hitting on her hadn’t been my intent.

        So now I just wait for a woman to show interest first, which of course is socially conditioned against so pretty much doesn’t happen. I have been told after the fact by mutual friends that so and so users to have a crush on me etc, which of course is then useless.

        I guess I’m wondering if there are any other solutions than straight up asking, as apparently doing so is creepy. I have been told by female friends that asking is creepy at the same time that they are complaining about being targeted by PUAs who use them and move on (naturally I haven’t asked them for info etc. As at that point they needed some support because some asshoe had just treated them badly).

        Well that was slightly incoherent hope it makes some sense.

        • Dhorvath, OM

          No, it actually makes good sense. The whole damn system is broken, and it hurts men too, it’s just that as it sits right now women get hurt more and are expected to both defend themselves and mitigate harm to men at the same time. Men do not have the same degree of risk or responsibility, and I would see that change.

  • Eliott

    There are a couple different conversations going on simultaneously regarding inappropriate behavior. I don’t think you can see every sign and interpret every nuance correctly about where “the line” is for each individual but there are some guidelines from my experience, and I’m pretty old, that may help.
    In business or professionally, never touch anyone other than shaking hands. No hugs, no kisses, no shit. This can fall into either the sexual harrassment or hostile work environment category. There is a line from a movie that I think summarizes the issue…”sexual harrassment is not about sex, it’s about power”. Never put yourself in the awkward position to be misunderstood. I have investigated harrassment issues where both males and females have been victims. The outcomes can be brutal on your reputation and finances if you are found guilty of one of these behaviors. You can come up with a million reasons why it was harmless, in which case good look if you get prosecuted.
    True story, 3 part time associates didn’t like the way the store manager looked at them. They reported it and it didn’t get investigated to their satisfaction. They sued and said it was so traumatic they couldn’t have sex with their husbands. The husbands also sued. The company paid $750,000 to settle. Lots of people got fired.
    As it relates to conventions, my experience has been that they are informative and informal and interesting. I view them as very social occassions and would expect a significant amount of extra curricular activity. I have not seen any uncomfortable compromising situations but have generally been in my own world. For those that have been harassed, my counsel would be to tell the harasser to stop whatever behavior they are utilizing to cause the discomfort. Giving the benefit of the doubt, they may not realze they offended and deserve the opportunity to correct their behavior.If they continue then or in the future walk away and report the behavior to the organizer. The one caveat to this is if they are groping or grabbing. Immediately walk away and look for help from the organizers. They have a responsibility for your safety. If they won’t or don’t solve this personal safety issue to your satisfaction, you may need to seek other recourse and remedies. I would not use names in sharing the experience on a blog or public venue. Light is the deodorizer of bad behavior but you don’t want to get into a liability jackpot.

  • Med_stu

    I’m not sure if someone’s said this already, there are too many posts to read all of them, but here goes.

    I appreciate your general point. I think it is really important for men and women to find ways to negotiate social encounters, including flirting, without either side feeling uncomfortable. However my issue is with your assumption that guys are dumb and can’t work things out, but somehow for all women it is supposedly ‘easy’ to figure out if someone is flirting with you. I have an issue with this for three reasons.

    1. It presupposes that women magically understand social situations. Like they’re all confident, psychic people who know exactly how to orchestrate a flirtation/conversation and are never awkward or unsure. This puts them in a position of responsibility for making sure guys know where the line is, or what’s appropriate. Here we are back at ‘it’s my fault he behaved inappropriately, cause he’s a dumb guy who doesn’t know better, and I should have been clearer about where my line is’. I know this isn’t your intention, but it’s where that line leads.

    2. I think someone else mentioned – women are taught (this is a slight generalisation, but I think a valid one) that they will be punished by society for being assertive, and having strong boundaries. You’re supposed to be nice, polite, not offend anyone, never say no without a really good, non-offensive reason, and make everyone around you happy. Especially the men. This makes being clear about what you want very difficult for some women. You don’t just have all the social issues on your side.

    3. My mum always said ‘prisoners always know more about the jailer than the jailer knows about the prisoners’. This is a metaphor for the fact that those in power never know as much about those oppressed, because they don’t have to. It makes no difference to men to know the nuances of what it’s like to live as a woman, because they have all the power. Women on the other hand have spent centuries and more relying on men for their safety, their livelihood, and now even if able to financially support themselves, still need to negotiate a world where men are socially more powerful. So if we do know more about what’s happening when we interact with you, it’s because we use more energy learning about what it means. If we didn’t, we could get ourselves in real trouble. Maybe what you guys should do is what Marvin Long said above. Read, talk and listen to women and find out what it’s like to be us. Then you won’t need us to tell you if something you’re doing makes us uncomfortable. You’ll already know, and you might even understand why.

    • Ace of Sevens

      How does any of this pre-suppose that women magically understand social situations? It deals with men’s lack of understanding because it’s explicitly positioned as advice for men, but certainly doesn’t say that women are any better.

      • Med_stu

        Well, not that I want to argue about specific statements, he explicitly says
        “In fact, once you ascertain whether or not we’re flirting with you (which I’m told is not that hard)…”

        which assumes all women are able to ascertain whether someone is flirting with us. In the same paragraph he states that many men are socially inept and don’t recognise if women are flirting with them, or if they’ve crossed a personal line. This to me implies that as a general rule women understand what’s going on in social interactions and men don’t.

        • Happiestsadist

          Exactly. It’s a sexist, inane stereotype that has mostly historically allowed men to conveniently “miss” whatever cues and hints they don’t like.

    • Happiestsadist

      Agreeing so much with this whole comment.

  • Mr.Kosta

    Well, going into de-lurk mode again…

    I admit I’m also somewhat clumsy in social situations, although I’m doing my damnednest to improve that*. When it comes to the gender I’m attracted to (women), I strictly follow these rules:

    1) No physical contact whatsoever unless she touches you first (hand in shoulder or hugs, for example)

    2) I also don’t use to begin conversation with women. I prefer to let them introduce themselves. I may be doing wrong, but as JT has said, if I’m going to err, I prefer to do it conservatively than making someone unconfortable.

    *: I’m in a stable relationship (+5 years and counting) so I guess I’m improving.

  • carlie

    It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the post and many comments still seem to be relying on the old “geez, men, we just don’t know anything, so women ought to do all the work for us” trope. I know it’s well-meaning, but over and over again it’s women have to set the boundaries, women have to read all the social cues, women have to lead the men by the nose in all interpersonal interactions. I don’t see a whole lot of putting this back on the men’s shoulders, like “if you have trouble reading social cues, then don’t do these things (x,y,z)”, or the like. It’s kind of as if Crommunist’s post on foot-shuffling instead said “I’ve noticed that some people get nervous around me at night, so they ought to walk up and ask me if I’m a threat”.
    Yes, of course it’s good to get women’s opinions on how to deal with the issue, but the recommendations still need to come back to how men could approach people differently in the first place, rather than how women should respond.

    • Zengaze

      You must have read a different blog than this one

      • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

        She’s hardly the only one who’s reading things in this post and thread that are flying past other people.

      • Happiestsadist

        She’s not the only one who’s gotten this impression.

      • ethicalcannibal

        I got that out of this blog, too. It’s a well meaning blog, but it still puts the onus on us women to figure out if men are flirting, socially awkward, and to catch it, and fix it.

      • KG

        Yep. One more (straight, cisgender man) seeing the whole approach of the post as (yet again) putting responsibility on women, because the poor menz are so clueless. Sure, I’m sure we’ve all seen much worse, but all this “Tell us, ladies” stuff – bleeeaach.

    • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      No shit, eh?

      Since FTB comment nesting sucks a giant bag of rancid ass, I was going to start a new thread to reply to JT’s last comment to me, but I might as well respond to it in reply to yours, Carlie, because it’s relevant.

      I am a woman who has always been socially awkward, for reasons not necessary to get into here. Know how I learned a lot of basic aspects of social interaction? Social opprobation. Was some of it bullying, or gender policing? Yes. But was some of it proportionate to the offense and therefore merited? Yes.

      So, while I empathize with socially awkward guys, I don’t have any sympathy whatsoever for those who refuse to learn anything, given how much slack society cuts them — exemplified by all the ultra-patient hand-holding going on here. “OMG, that woman with crossed arms, tightened lips, and a cold stare might not be trying to ward me off! She just might be cold!” Give me a motherfucking break.

      And I really don’t give a flying fuck if they don’t get to flirt or get laid, either. My safety >>>>>>> their dicks getting wet.

      Also, JT: You can declare yourself my ally or “not my enemy” all you want. It doesn’t make you correct. “Ally” is a verb. If other women want to embrace you as an ally, they’re welcome to, but I don’t consider this post, or much of this thread, very ally-like.

      By the same token, straight people who pretend to be gay for the lulz aren’t being allies, no matter how much they might advertise themselves to be. Now I don’t happen to know your orientation, JT; if you’re not straight, the preceding sentence does not apply to you. However, your not objecting to it, or your playing along with it, doesn’t mean it’s okay. Josh and Happiestsadist aren’t straight and they’ve already objected strenuously to it. I know and have seen other GLBT people who are offended by it as well.

      tl;dr: I’m really bloody tired of privileged people on all axes who think they get to declare themselves “allies,” then get all snitty when the people they’re purportedly “helping” criticize their efforts. And, yeah, I’ve been there myself, because like most of us I am privileged on some axes, oppressed on others. Until I learned how to STFU and listen, I didn’t learn anything else.

    • Happiestsadist

      I agree so much. For those who refuse to (mostly this one) or cannot read social cues or body language, maybe flirting (actively or in a friendly way) shouldn’t be your priority. The idea that women (and let’s face it, we’re mostly talking straight dudes doing the cue-ignoring here) should put their comfort and safety on hold for the poor dudes’ penises’ sake is not acceptable.

      I’m also very socially awkward, but realizing my lack of knowledge, I learned. No, it’s not easy, but I didn’t decide the onus was on everyone else to deal with my cluelessness.

  • Switchhttr

    To start even further back, I’d remind men particularly that their very physical presence might be a warning sign for some women. Most men are larger than most women and have more muscle mass from their higher testosterone levels, so the playing field would be uneven right off the bat, rape culture or no. What is more, those hideous rape and child abuse statistics represent actual beings; some survivors may find the physical bodies of men larger than themselves trigger anxiety in them without the men doing anything at all. (Imagine, if you will, flashbacks being viewed through the eyes of the person who experienced the events, three to four feet off the ground, rather than from the point of view of a mechanical third-party camera, as usually depicted in films and television.) This fact, too, is unfair to the men (the good-intentioned ones, at any rate), but there it is. Grousing about the unfairness, or worse, blaming women for it, will not help matters.

  • jherazob

    As a single male with some degree of social anxiety, i find the fact that this post needed to exist highly discouraging and terrifying, like the minefield that i always felt society was is actually real and not in my head as i’ve been told by people trying to encourage me

    • mero

      You can’t change a situation or how other people react, but you can change how you react to both.

      Social navigation is totally a minefield! Imagine being a woman and needing to worry about which man is going to push your boundaries or not! It IS actually real! And it’s scary!

      Oh wait, you meant the ‘minefield’ where women could potentially reject you for being a creep, Or just outright reject you and laugh in your face? That one’s similar to the minefield that socially awkward/non-conventionally attractive women face when they try to flirt with men. Us unfuckable bitches have been on the receiving end of those social bombs for millenia.

      • mero

        Urgh, this comment was sent before I was done. My “real” comment is below.

    • mero

      Social navigation is totally a minefield! Imagine being a woman and needing to worry about which man is going to push your boundaries or not! It IS actually real! And it’s really scary! And there are people out there that sincerely believe that landmine is what you want to step on, otherwise they’ll throw it on your face…

      Oh wait…you meant the ‘minefield’ where women could potentially think you’re a creep, or just outright reject you and laugh in your face, right?

      That one’s similar to the minefield that socially awkward/non-conventionally attractive women face when they try to flirt with men. ‘Unfuckable bitches’ have been stepping on those landmines for millenia. If we don’t move (so as to avoid them altogether) we’re ‘frigid bitches’, and if we try to maneuver our way around them with stylish clothes/makeup/surgery then we’re ‘fake bitches’, but hey, we should be grateful for a sloppy drunk fuck.

      Please, tell me why I should be sympathetic again?

      • Ace of Sevens

        Isn’t this just an appeal to worse problems? Sexism hurts men and women both, but women more, therefore we should have no sympathy for men when they get hurt by sexist expectations? Even when it’s in the context of telling men what they can do to minimize the problems sexism causes for women?

        • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          Isn’t this just an appeal to worse problems?

          No, it’s a derail. An “appeal to worse problems” is an appeal that takes the attention off the most oppressed people in the discussion. Men aren’t the most oppressed people in this discussion.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            Crap. I reposted my comment, but what I meant to say is, “It’s a response to a derail” — that of jherazob, who wants us to privilege his anxiety over that of women.

        • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          Isn’t this just an appeal to worse problems?

          No, it’s a response to a derail. An “appeal to worse problems” is an appeal that takes the attention off the most oppressed people in the discussion. Men aren’t the most oppressed people in this discussion.

        • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

          No, it’s about the fakt that the stakes are vastly different here. It’s about that old quote from Margret Atwood: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.
          Seriously, what we had in this thread, in the very OP is a large number of men complaining that it’s so unfair and hard and that they’re just socially awkward as if it were women’s task to fix that problem for them.

          • Ace of Sevens

            Really? What I see in the OP is advice for men on how to fix their own awkwardness with some comments saying that if men are awkward, they should fix it themselves and not expect women to do it, when that’s exactly what was suggested in the first place. Asking for a bit of understanding seems reasonable, especially since a lot of women have similar problems. It isn’t the same thing as saying that it’s women’s responsibility to fix it. The OP pretty explicitly says otherwise.

          • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

            Awkward men get tons of “understanding” in our culture. Constantly. Gender essentialists assume that because they’re men, the poor dears can’t be expected to “get it.”

            On the other hand, awkward women learn this shit the hard way, and we’re not given shit for understanding because it’s our “job” in society to make other people comfortable.

            As I already said, there is plenty of education and hand-holding going on in this thread. And, in response, there’s no shortage of whining and resistance and claims that f/m harassment is just as bad (i.e., pervasive and systematic).

            And, despite what JT claims, he is putting the burden of “calling out” on women. He said as much to me upthread. And he’s behaving really pissily to women like me and Happiestsadist who are calling him on this crap without sugarcoating our words.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            Ace of Sevens
            I’m talking about this in the OP:

            But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints. Seriously, I’m awful. Men like me need you to communicate with them. If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all. If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.

            And somewhere later the phrase “not fair” appears.
            It puts a serious onus on women, accusing them of being drama-queens, completely disregarding the many reasons why women won’t tell you straightforward, including risks for personal safety

          • mero

            @ Ace of Sevens

            (I hate this commenting format.)

            Asking for a bit of understanding seems reasonable

            If women were to ask, hell, even politely, for men to just stop pushing and making out of the blue “connections” (like RobinK describes in #55), would you think that was reasonable too? (I’m guessing your answer is yes). But many women have done this, and are met instead with the likes of “How will you know you’re into me if I don’t badger you first? wink wink” and “But ahhhm so cluuuueless!! Hold my hand!” like this very post.

            So fuck “reasonable”.

            since a lot of women have similar problems
            On the face of it, being rejected is humiliating for everyone. But in the larger scheme of things, women get unfairly treated. There is no male equivalent of “hogging”, for example. Or “butterface”. Or slut-shaming.

            Yeah, sometimes women make the same jeers at men/make statements about how hot underwear models are/say they want a sugar daddy. But consider how much media is created by male producers, and also how much social status men confer on each other when you have a “trophy wife.” If you hear a male friend say that he wants a “trophy”, do you nod in agreement or do you challenge his statement?

          • karmakin

            Reply to everybody.

            This is why I object, VERY strongly to the focus on “Awkwardness” in these discussions. The problem is NOT the awkwardness. The ability or the inability to read certain signals. The truth is that these signals are often hit or miss, and they can be unclear.

            The problem is the social aggression being displayed. This is something entirely different than social awkwardness, if you want you probably could put it on a different axis. Myself? I’m pretty socially awkward, but not TOO much, but at the same time I’m VERY socially passive. I assume, generally speaking that if someone wanted to speak to me they would well..come up to speak to me. I think that if I initiate, I very easily could be invading their personal space and as such, out of respect for the person, I tend to stay away.

            There are exceptions of course. I’m not entirely passive. If at an event someone is looking lost or alone or whatever I might go talk to them or something. But even this is a risk, and I fully accept this.

            The problem is that socially aggressive people are more apt to misread the signs than socially passive people. They’ll see signs as being more positive than they are..negative signs being neutral and neutral signs being positive.

            Now, you can have socially awkward but aggressive people and socially not-awkward and passive, however I think most people go somewhere in the other two quadrants.

            Personally, I think the solution..the only solution to this, to be honest is to “crack down” on socially aggressive behavior, full stop. And it’s the behavior, and NOT the reaction that’s important. It doesn’t matter if with some people the behavior is welcome. Especially when dealing with someone you don’t know, always always err on the side of caution.

            That’s the most important tip here, and I feel that’s one that people by and large are apt to ignore.

        • mero

          Isn’t this just an appeal to worse problems?

          Yes, because this is a case where the ‘less worse’ problems are a result of being told to stop causing the ‘more worse’ problems.

          I don’t see a problem with “just” using it.

    • Mallorie Nasrallah

      I’ve gotten shit from a handful of very loud, but marginal (if you ask me) people for saying this but:

      Not everyone agrees with this sort of thing. Not everyone is like this. This post does not represent how every women feels, some of us, do not even see things like an overly friendly gesture as harmful. Some of us will simply say “thanks but no thanks” and gladly be your friend all the same. Some of us will say “thanks, lets!”. And yeah I suppose some, will find any little thing to jump on and freak out about, but sincerely I believe they are a minority.

      I cant speak for everyone here, this is me, Sometimes its not a minefield, for any reason, sometimes its just people hanging out. Nothing to be concerned about.

      • Jason Thibeault
        • Mallorie Nasrallah

          That, and a coward and a bully, if you’re asking me.

          And a liar, in so much as you assumed my intentions before I had acted, decided I was preemptively guilty of something I never did, then proclaimed you assumptions as fact to the world.

          • Jason Thibeault

            Yup, I sure was bullying you by telling you to stop protecting bullies. Poor baby.

            I laid out exactly why what you said was wrong, with plentiful blockquotes, none of which were pull-quotes but practically the entire text of your letter. You may not like it, but my argument — “bullies should be called out to make this community better” — is a hell of a lot more cogent and appropriate and humanistic than yours, which is evidently “be nicer to those guys and their privilege to try to get into perfect strangers’ pants because that’s totally more important than making a safe place for women”.

            It’s all there in my link.

          • Mallorie Nasrallah

            Oh fun, there you go again, telling people what *my* argument is.

            And as usual, its been completely mischaracterized, poorly stated, and twisted in to whatever you want it to be.

            Its all right here in the comments :D

          • Jason Thibeault

            Ahaha! Oh you’re a gem! I’ll turn the advice you gave those predatory pick-up artists and misogynist assholes back at you:


          • Mallorie Nasrallah

            Awww, are you mad that I called you marginal?

            I love life, I have a great time of it, I’ve never been intimidated, harassed, or made feel as though I was a victim. Not because people haven’t tried, you adorable little bully, but because I like me and I am really not worried about jackasses.

            Life is going really really well. Why on earth would I change?

          • Chris Hallquist

            Oh hell Jason. I liked JT’s post, but you could’ve responded to Mallorie without maliciously twisting things she;s said in the past.

      • Beatrice, anormalement indécente

        Sometimes its not a minefield, for any reason, sometimes its just people hanging out. Nothing to be concerned about.

        True, sometimes it is.

        But you are forgetting that the topic of this very post is how often social interaction is a minefield for many men and how women, who are expected to be more socially savvy, should help them out. You seem intent on dismissing the difficulties that women encounter, saving all the sympathy for troubled men.

        • Mallorie Nasrallah

          Sure, call it my pet project. Everyone has some issues they take a special interest in, this one is mine.

          I saw a person post something harmless and honest, and I saw them abused for it. This made me sad. I don’t want to be misrepresented at part of those who would abuse this person, or their ilk, simply because I am female and attend conventions.

          I spoke only for myself, and hopefully it perked the poster up a little.

          I do not care about the horrible, abusive, demanding people who have posted here, they seem to be happy in their little bully gang.

          • Beatrice, anormalement indécente

            Sure, call it my pet project. Everyone has some issues they take a special interest in, this one is mine.

            Dismissing women’s problems and having sympathy only for men whose problems women should strive to solve is part of your pet project?

            No, actually I don’t have an answer to that that doesn’t include me staring at the screen in disbelief.

          • Mallorie Nasrallah

            No, speaking up when I see someone who expresses something harmless and honest being viciously abused is a pet project of mine.
            In this case it generally seems to be people who have normal concerns and want to be decent people being name-called and made to feel irrelevant, or worse, evil, because they dared care about something that is not precisely in line with what the loudmouths want to talk about.

            Also not letting other people make a playbook for how to deal with me (considering I am female, and again attend conventions), when I do not feel as though that is how I wish to be dealt with…thats also a pet project of mine.

            Expressing the idea that we are all people and should be treated as such, the person I responded to included. Moreover we are all individuals and things like this will never be representative of all of us. Unfortunately they are usually just representative of the loudest.
            Thats also a pet project of mine.

            Hope that clears that up for you.

          • Mallorie Nasrallah

            I should add, I am talking about the “comments” section here.

            JT’s basic “Dont touch people who say they dont want to be touched” type stuff is already a law, and in general practice, I have no desire to disparage that.

  • RobinK

    The creepiest advance I ever got was an email through a meetup group. Why was it creepy? Because I hadn’t even met the guy at the meetup, and I can’t say I even looked at him since I didn’t recognize his picture. Was this a small thing? Yes! But it was enough to send up alarms and make me uncomfortable. Based on that, some advice.
    Guys, don’t be pushy! If you are trying to get a woman’s attention, start with direct eye contact and a smile (sorry JT, I’m not a hugger! But that goes for EVERYONE – even family). If she doesn’t return that, you have your answer and if she does return the smile, take JT’s advice and start slow. Also, honesty goes a long way – if you’re confused on signals, feel free to ask (some of us ladies are shy, too, you know!) and don’t mark yourself down if this becomes necessary. That’s another thing I want to point out – there are those guys out there who are completely comfortable in their own skin and don’t mind asking questions. Because they are comfortable, they make us women feel comfortable! Be yourself and be happy about it – you’d be surprised how far that can get you.

  • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    There’s some problems here.
    No, carlie, happiesadist and Ms. Daisy Cutter aren’t the only ones

    First of all, for the body-language is hard people:
    There’s books on that. Yes, I’m being serious. I’m not going to adress any of you personally, but I’m sick and tired of it. Every time this topic comes up there’s such a large number of people moaning that they can’T understand that a woman who’s crossing her arms, leaning back and looking around the room for one of her friends isn’t interested in them, it makes me wonder how scientists come to the conclusion that there’s actually more non-verbal communication going on than verbal.
    Yes, this might be hard for you, but if you’re genuinly interested, instead of whining on blog-posts, do something.
    And do you know why I’m confident that you can make it? Because most people are fucking able to learn the body-language of their pets.

    Second, the idea that women should voice it clearly when their boundaries are crossed: Others have written enough about social conditioning, I’m going to add another point: fear.
    Until I say “please stop that”, I have no idea if you’re clueless JT who just fucked up or if you’re the genuine creep who’ll retaliate. You’re asking me to take that risk solely for your benefit
    Now, should a woman take the risk, there’s two things that are important:
    1) Stop digging.
    Don’t insist that she mislead/ teased you, that you didn’t
    mean it and that now you deserve a cookie for being such a good guy.
    Say you’re sorry that you crossed her boundaries and take a step back. You’ve fucked it up. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean it, intent isn’t fucking magic. give her some space because the boundaries you had before your mistake have inadvertedly changed.
    Many years ago, in the age of the trees, I met a guy at a New Year’S Eve party. We talked and laughed and had a good time and I simply and genuinly enjoyed talking to him until the moment he tried to kiss me and I asked him what the fuck he was doing.
    He backed off, apologized, and gave me some space.
    Obviously he had read my “I enjoy talking to you signs” as “I’d like to hook up with you signs”. Yeah, unfortunate fuck-up. But he behaved decently after it had happened and we’ve been together for about 12 years now.

    2) Don’t do a Mallorie and claim that she’s unnecessarily blowing things up. This applies to you as the guy who fucked up as to you who’s somewhere near.

    Oh, and don’T “inch”, dance. Dancing only works if two are doing it, so make sure that the ball is safely in her half quite often. If she uses the opportunity to talk about her friend Mike or her dog, she’s declining your invitation

    • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      There’s books on that. Yes, I’m being serious. I’m not going to adress any of you personally, but I’m sick and tired of it. Every time this topic comes up there’s such a large number of people moaning that they can’T understand that a woman who’s crossing her arms, leaning back and looking around the room for one of her friends isn’t interested in them, it makes me wonder how scientists come to the conclusion that there’s actually more non-verbal communication going on than verbal.

      I don’t have the exact quote, but when Racefail was happening on LiveJournal in early 2009, someone noted that a lot of people who, in technical situations, would tell people who asked stupid n00b questions to “read the FAQ” or “read the fucking manual” were suddenly insisting on having their hand held when it came to learning about cultures not their own, despite the copious sources out there on the internet, written by people of said cultures.

      The learned helplessness of privilege, it’s a marvelous thing.

      • mero

        Daisy: “suddenly insisting on having their hand held when it came to learning about cultures not their own


        But here it’s less having their hand held and instead trying to convince us wimminz to just put out already and solve men their heartpenisache. Otherwise going “She doesn’t look interested, so I’ll stop.” wouldn’t be so anathema.

    • Happiestsadist

      This whole comment is amazing. If I can learn how to roughly discern the mood of not only my cats, but cats in general (among other critters) through things like body language, it is not beyond the capacity of most people to learn how to engage in basic communication with others. General understanding of whether or not company and contact is desired can happen across species! And somehow, maybe through oh, tons of fucking privilege, a large yet distinct subset of humans seems to have decided that another subset is just too unfathomably alien to bother.

      • Dhorvath, OM

        It’s pretty awesome, but allowing that some small set of people will mess up on body language we have now installed a ready made excuse for other people to exploit when they ignore it. Seeking umambiguous verbal communication seems like an alternative with promise.

  • Erista (aka Eris)

    I don’t know if anyone has said this, but I’ll offer up one of my own:

    Don’t touch me without asking and/or indicating your desire to do so beforehand. For example, if you want a hug, you could ask me for one. Or you could open up your arms and stand there, or move slightly towards me but don’t complete the hug unless I make a move. But do not assume that just because I haven’t moved away, I am okay with being hugged. For many women (including me), the automatic response to someone violating our boundaries or moving to violate our boundaries is to freeze. It’s often a bad response, but it’s also one that we had forcibly opposed on us by abusive people. Given time, warning, and opportunity, I will assert my boundaries, but if you rely on me being able to assert my boundaries when you make an advance towards me that I may not have expected, you’re likely to violate my boundaries before I unfreeze enough to do anything. And that’s no fun for anyone.

    • Happiestsadist

      Seconding this. My response to unwanted touching varies from (depending on the context) freezing up to a full-on flashback, the latter of which is mostly silent.

  • kerfluffle

    Going right to the hugging. I hate it, oh god I hate it so much. Especially in large crowds where I don’t know anyone and I don’t have anyway to judge the hugging. There’s a moment when the other persons arms are opening and my stomach knots up, I put on the stiff upper lit, get it done and then have to spend the next few minutes with some stranger who thinks we’re bestest buds now, praying for an escape. I hate it, did I mention that?

    Which is not to say that all hugs from strangers have been bad. At Lollapalooza, this drunk/high skater boi was bounding up to everybody, going “I am so happy today!! Can I hug you?” I said yes and it was great. One of those goofy bouncy hugs that in the moment was perfect.

    It wasn’t just that he asked (that helped a lot) but that he read the crowd right. Everyone around us was on the same page, he was part of our group, even if it was a temporary group based on a gorgeous day and some decent music.

    Sometimes you’ll know that you’re part of that group and things will be fine, if you ask first. Sometimes, you’ll be pretty sure and asking will clarify, sometimes you’ll be winging it and you’ll mess up and make someone’s day worse. It’s up to you to figure out how comfortable you are with the possibility of messing with someone so that you can get a hug.

    Many people in the skeptic community have already decided that they are always good with it if there is a small chance of getting what they want.

  • Beatrice, anormalement indécente

    I would like to use this opportunity to apologize to any man I have ever led on by acting in what I considered a friendly manner in response to his flirting and not giving him a clear sign of my (dis)interest. Being socially awkward myself, I have trouble noticing someone is flirting with me unless they make it really obvious. And when it’s obvious enough for me, it means that it’s pushy and worthy a hearty fuck off from me. I know, I know, as a woman I should know all there is about flirting in order to make life easier for you guys, but I’m just bad at these things. What can I say, I guess some asshole left out the “How to make life easier for horny men” from my female instruction book. I feel so bad now for any Socially Awkward Guy I might have unintentionally left a trembling mass of confusion or any Socially Awkward Guy to whom I’d said to fuck off in a rather aggressive tone for accidentally touching me. I’m sorry. I feel terribly guilty for not being able to help you out in your hard and perilous journey of understanding those strange creatures that are women. I will always wonder how many lives I have ruined. It’s tearing my heart apart, but I guess I’ll just have to find a way to live with it.

    • Happiestsadist

      Someone left that out of my copy of the manual too. I have also been a cruel harpy, with m friendliness and civility. But then, any deviation from being an icy-hearted cocktease has generally resulted in being called a mean bitch, so.

  • Zengaze

    Great discussion going on throughout the thread.

    I know JT already very clearly stipulated that conferences aren’t about sex, but we’re human so sex happens, but I think that point is worth addressing.

    Firstly, personally I’m married, and off the table, I’d expect the ring I wear to be a huge signifier of that, and have found since I’ve been married a dramatic change in the way females interact with me. I got a bit of a head donk when I read about the poly situation.

    In my opinion rings are great for letting someone know That any interaction is going to be purely platonic. And the poly situation with regard to rings could very possibly lead to even more confusion, an example being a girl chats to a guy likes him notices the ring on his finger, so let’s her barriers relax as she assumes she can be friendly without it resulting in an invite to get naked, and then finds that she has been working under a bad assumption!

    Simple solution: the I’m here for interesting conversation and to get to know interesting people conference,, and in room two, the I’m here for interesting conversation and to get to know interesting people with the possibility of getting laid conference.mkind of like a workplace with a crèche, okay that was supposed to be funny.

  • kerfluffle

    Zengaze, rings don’t work. Even great big CZ’s next to a fat gold band. The second question after “so are you married?” is often “And is your husband here?” Without a bodyguard, you’re available.

    Segregating by possible willingness to flirt wouldn’t work either. It would attract all the skeeze who think that anyone in the room is available to all. Some would act badly when they discovered this wasn’t the case.

    People should just assume that all participants of a con are there for the subject matter. Anything else is an unexpected bonus.

    • ethicalcannibal

      I have to second this. I wear a wedding band, and often have my husband in tow. Even his 6’4″ self isn’t a deterrent to unwanted advances. I still get them the minute he is not there. . . usually. Add alcohol, and I get them when he is there. I am not a flirty person, either. I’m blunt with masculine speech patterns, but according to the other women I know, these guys will hit them up too. Often machine gun style, one to the next. It really doesn’t matter what you do, how you look, and even if you have a ring.

      • Beatrice, anormalement indécente

        In any case, you shouldn’t judge them too swiftly. They might just be socially awkward. In which case it is your duty to let them down gently and squeeze in a subtle lesson about how to approach women. Not too subtle because they are socially awkward and not able to notice subtle hints, but not too forward either – you wouldn’t want to hurt their masculine pride which is especially fragile when it comes to socially awkward guys. Do I hear you saying that it is not your duty to educate every asshole nice, but socially awkward guy that hits on you (possibly right after hitting on your friend who wasn’t kind enough to instruct them in behaving properly)? Well, my dear, then it’s your own fault if they never learn. Don’t go around complaining if you’re not willing to do anything about their behavior.

    • Zengaze

      If my wife was an attendee, it sounds like I’d be in bother the next morning then, after giving lessons in cause and effect.

      I don’t know if there is a solution, unfortunately I think it would take a radical change in society and attitudes towards sex, not only gender, but the act. We aren’t there and I don’t see us getting there anytime in the next millennia, discussions like this are great for raising awareness, but the only way societies have ever been able to make drastic change in behaviours when voluntary adherence fails, is rules and lots of them, with serious consequences for breaches.

      Therefore perhaps conference organisers need to draw up rules in relation to this, breaches of which result in barring from umbrella conferences for a period of time.

  • kerfluffle

    Given your inability to detect nuance, your determination to respond to what you think was said but was never actually said, and your abysmal reasoning skills on display in this thread, I don’t want to be your ally. I have higher standards for my allies. I was wrong to say I was yours.

    In my defense though, at the time I lacked the necessary information to accurately judge you personally and was more saying that I was an ally to women.

    Mea culpa.

    I read comments backwards and just got to this. What a punch to the gut. There are reservations to being an ally towards women? Certain women are not included because you think they derailed a discussion of comfort zones by pointing out that your arbitrary focus made them uncomfortable.

    Shit like this is why I lurk. It’s just too easy to change the rules so that women in atheism can be legitimately targeted. You are not my ally and you have betrayed the small amount of trust I gained from your previous postings.

    • Ace of Sevens

      Ms. Daisy Cutter isn’t women.

      • betsumei

        No one is, given that women is plural. I think that there are many posts in this conversation that need the word “all” desperately. Generalizations are never helpful.

      • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

        So, who counts as women?
        How many of us have to voice our concerns about cookie-craving “allies”?
        Are Ms. Daisy, carlie, beatrice, me and some more who have expressed discontent enough, or do those who agree with JT trump our voices?
        And yes, somebody who is only my ally as long as I play nice and agree actually isn’t one.

        • Ace of Sevens

          Being an ally doesn’t mean being an ally to all women. I bet I could name a dozen or so that you don’t consider allies.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            Regardless, it’s an appellation that is bestowed based on past actions not on current or future intent, as neither of those can be reliably indicated.

          • ethicalcannibal

            This is a pretty messed up sentiment. Usually, when talking allies to a movement, you imply you are sympathetic to say, GLBT people as a whole, or women as a whole. It’s pretty cold to decide for you (or anyone, whatever) that you are only an ally to a subsection of those people. To me that reads (hopefully erroneously) that you are “an ally to all women, except that uppity one over there.”

            I may not like every single woman out there, but that doesn’t negate that I will fight for all women’s rights even if I find a particular woman odious. That means, I stick up for those affected by systematic, institutional, or unintentional, ‘ism’s even if they aren’t present. It also means, I listen to the folks I am an ally too. Being a woman that’s white, that means I open my ears if someone of color tells me what I am doing is not helping.

            This is one of those times where many women are saying although well meaning, this is not functional, and the reasons why have been listed out in detail, but are not being listened to. An ally listens. An ally does not say “I am an ally to women, except for you.”

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            So, who gets to hand out the “ally-cards”?
            And yes, an ally who’s only an ally as long as you agree with him is a shit ally and more like and enemy.
            Being an ally to womwn means that you have to be an ally to Sarah Palin, too, if she gets attacked along the lines of “she-male” or “she’s so uptight she needs to be fucked.”
            You can be an ally to women and yes, that means all women, or you leave it. You can’t just be an ally to women you like and who agree with you.
            Being an ally doesn’T mean you have to like each and everyone of them. There might still be some you passionately hate. But if you decide that you’Re not an ally to them when they’re attacked in a misogynist manner, you’re not an ally to any woman.

          • JT Eberhard

            Read the rest of my responses in this thread. I’m listening. I wrote the post to listen. It would take a monumental bit of selective reading here to conclude I’m not listening. Go back. Read.

            It is entirely possible to listen to someone and then conclude they have no interest in responding to what people have said but instead to what they think/wish was said. This is the conclusion I’ve reached with Daisy. I would do the same for an obtuse MRA.

          • JT Eberhard


            Let me assure you that thinking Daisy is having nothing but one-way conversations doesn’t mean I’m not an ally to her gender. That’s an absolutely ludicrous idea, so ludicrous I’m amazed anybody can hold it.

            My reasons for not giving two shits if Daisy considers me an ally is because I want my allies to be reasonable along with being feminists. When she learns how to respond to what people are actually saying instead of derailing threads (a thread, I should note, that has been set up purely to listen to the input of women), I’ll reconsider her as an ally. Until then she’s just aggravating.

            Being a feminist or a woman does not automatically mean you’re conducting yourself well, and I’ll not pretend it does. There are plenty of other instances in this thread of me listening and incorporating what I’m hearing. I’m here to listen, and dismissing Daisy doesn’t change that. Like I said, I’d just as soon invite an equally obtuse MRA to leave if he was behaving like her.

          • carliecc

            Who does count, then? If simply saying “it feels like you’re still putting a lot of the responsibility on me to police your behavior for you”, and explaining why and how that’s problematic gets one kicked out of the group of women you are an ally to, who is left? What are the rules we have to follow to be in the “girls I’m an ally for” club?

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            JT, I’m understanding that you’Re having a very bad day and believe me, mine isn’t much better, so I suggest that we continue this at another time, ’cause you’re digging.

          • Ace of Sevens

            Some people seem to be reading “I do not consider you an ally” as “U do not support your rights” instead of “I do not support your views.” I don’t think that this is justified by the context.

          • carlie

            Argh, I did not mean to look like a sockpuppet and mess up my own name. I was on a mobile, which is slow and stupid.

            My original point was that a majority of what was here (not all, but a lot) gives off the vibe of throwing your hands up and saying “I don’t get it! Teach me how not to offend women!”. It smacks of the if you really cared you’d be willing to educate me tactic. That’s why I contrasted it with crommunist’s post, because his was centered on him being proactive, figuring out what kind of image he was getting across, and changing his behavior ahead of time before the interaction even happened. That’s like Being An Ally, acing the senior seminar class, as opposed to getting a C in Allies 101. Ok, the kind of questioning here is a decent start, but it would be nice if guys cared enough to do a little bit of work on their own rather than asking for it all to be handed to them. And a lot of the suggestions here aren’t asking just for that tutoring to happen once, creating a nice reference that other guys can be pointed towards, but for it to happen every time a woman interacts with a man and he crosses a boundary. That’s really…not that helpful, for all the ways that women have outlined. I’m not sure why pointing that out should mean that someone then declares they’re not an ally to the people pointing it out.

    • Happiestsadist

      Seriously that was revolting, and why I’m extremely wary of anyone who calls themself an ally. Support should not be contingent on whether the oppressed group you purport to be an ally for coddles your feelings sufficiently and never, ever points out ways your efforts could be better.

      • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

        Co-signed. But it’s helpful that JT showed his true colors so blatantly as soon as one of us refused to suck him off just for claiming to be an “ally.”

        I agree with what you said to me privately: I prefer the virulent misogynists to the phony-baloney social-justice warrior menz of FTB. You already know not to turn your back on them.

        • JT Eberhard

          I’m about to close comments on this thread due to people like you derailing it to the point of being useless.

          In the future, if you derail threads this badly, you’ll get the ban hammer. Behavior like yours is counterproductive whether you’re a feminist, atheist, or theist.

  • Anonymous

    Not only are women (in general) more strongly socialized to have difficulty with saying ‘no’ outright and drawing clear boundaries than men are, but these (again, in many cases) deeply ingrained behaviours do have good reasons behind them and are not just laydeez being irrational. Even the slightest verbal rejection or dismissal (as opposed to just making the conversation as difficult and awkward as possible)(words create an opportunity to argue) can be taken in so many negative ways; I’ve had my boundaries turned into a joke (and then, with much laughter, repeatedly violated) and my discomfort dismissed, I’ve had people (men) react with anger, with violence, with ‘give me a chance’, with attempting to argue me out of them, with offers of alcohol or drugs (the offers not always being presented as a choice) to loosen me up, with the person in question creating a scene and making my personal boundaries into the subject of a public debate (with my opinion not being wanted), with going into the ‘no means try harder’ mindset, with insults and sexist remarks, with going to my friends and attempting to get them to peer-pressure me into agreeing, with guilt trips about how they didn’t mean it like that and they were just trying to be nice and thought I was their friend, etc. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    In addition, being asexual and socially awkward, I also have a great deal of difficulty noticing flirting and differentiating friendly and sexual advances.

    To make this work, it is going to have to involve effort from both sides: we’ll make the effort to set aside a lifetime of training, but we can’t do that unless we feel safe.
    I’m assuming that the vast majority of people who are contributing to an environment in which many people (especially women) do not feel comfortable defending our boundaries are unaware of it and would be distressed to find out the roles they’ve played. With this in mind, here are my suggestions of what people can do:

    1. Verbally express willingness to listen and respect boundaries: give an unambiguously worded statement that you are trying to improve, that making someone uncomfortable is the very last thing you want to do, that you would like to be told about transgressions and that you will make a genuine and honest attempt to look at things from out point of view if you mess up. (For myself, this is the most important one.)
    2. Don’t assume sexual interest, and don’t assume that we’re aware of yours. Check in every so often to make sure you’re both on the same page; don’t make it a question that requires an answer, just say ‘Oh, hey, I think you’re sexually attractive’ or make a statement of intent. Watch for changes in attitude and/or offer opportunities to escape politely. It is on the one who wants/is interested in something to make certain that the other person is aware and engaged. Similar things go for jokes and teasing: make sure the target is having fun. Passive agreement != consent. All parties should be enjoying an interaction.
    3. Believe what people say about their personal boundaries and experiences. Assume that any boundaries expressed are done so seriously, not jokingly.
    4. Watch your own behaviour for sexist things (the more sexism you express, the more difficult it is for me to speak up), treating women differently (, and accidental dismissals of tentatively-worded boundary statements (see above list for examples of how that can be done).
    5. Put forth your best effort to make it a safe space — express disapproval of other people’s sexism, treating women differently, and dismissals of boundaries when you see them.
    6. Don’t add pressure: don’t press for answers to questions or reasons for having certain boundaries, don’t try to isolate people, try not to loom or block escape routes.
    7. If someone is triggered, it may be appropriate to ask about other triggers so that you can avoid them in the future. In the event of sexism from others, if you didn’t say anything at the time, expressing after the fact the willingness to back the other person in similar situations in the future is a good thing.
    8. It’s generally a good idea to ask before intentionally making physical contact, no matter how slight.

    I’d also like to register a bit of discomfort about the ‘inching’ thing. It’s a bit too similar to the tactic of making small, hard-to-object-to violations so that it becomes less acceptable to object to the bigger violations. Paying attention to change in behaviour/posture after making small pushes, making participation rather than passive acceptance the standard, and the rest of the items in the list should mitigate the effects.

    • Dhorvath, OM

      This reminds me of some growth of my own over the past years. Time was I was pretty awful about verbal teasing, I love trading barbed insults with people: new acquaintances and old friends alike. Thing is, I love trading them, and time was I would test people to see if they were interested by throwing snide comments out and seeing the response, reciprocation with glee was my go ahead. Pretty wretched for those who didn’t want to receive an insult, I know. I got better, I think.
      In any event, I turned the tables a bit: now with new people I will disparage myself a bit here and there and see how that plays into conversation. Some people will join in and I will treat that as a good moment to check with them about the difference between playful and serious hurt. That initial contact I then combine with frequent checks thereafter to insure we are both having fun should a positive inclination be indicated. Now I don’t mock anyone who isn’t already playing the game, I wonder how well that can carry over into flirting. I don’t know as I could pull off flirting with myself, the energy is different, but maybe starting with people who one knows well already and then leaving it open for like minded people to join in.

  • Carlie

    Shorter me: if you know you suck at social cues, and you don’t want to creep people out, then your response should be to err on the side of caution and not do things that could possibly invade someone’s personal space.

    Yes, this means you might miss out on some flirting opportunities. It might make you more of a wallflower than the life of the party. But if you don’t want to creep people out, then this is the price you pay. Or, you go get some books on body language and learn yourself some social cues so that you can be more reasonably sure what you can and can’t do.

    What is kind of douchey to do is to tell people “I don’t read social cues well, and I know this but I don’t care enough to either hang back or learn about it on my own, so after I’ve overstepped your boundaries you tell me that I did, ok?”

    • Ace of Sevens

      It doesn’t mean you would miss out on some flirting opportunities. It means you would miss out on all flirting opportunities. Shorter you sounds like “if you are insecure, consign yourself to being alone forever.” Note that this applies to women as much as men. Women aren’t expected to initiate flirting, but they are expected to recognize it when it happens and flirting back when no one was flirting with you in the first place has similar consequences to initiating unwanted flirting. “If you aren’t sure, don’t do it” is advice you hear all the time, but it just makes things worse for people who are never sure, which is a lot of people.

      • Dhorvath, OM

        Because no relationships ever grow save out of flirting with new people? Gimme a break. If no one ever flirted again people would still end up in relationships, sexual or otherwise.

        • Ace of Sevens

          So is your position that men who care about feminism shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to women without causing offense, intimidation, social awkwardness, etc, and instead give up on the whole idea of hitting on women at all? If not, please clarify.

          Perhaps there’s some way that people end up in a relationship without the awkward initial phase of trying to figure out if the other person is interested or just trying to be polite and the converse problem of how to indicate your disinterest without being rude. If so, I’d like to know how.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            Flirting is something that I can say I enjoy, hitting on women not so much. You may want to consider the difference.

          • carlie

            is your position that men who care about feminism shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to women without causing offense, intimidation, social awkwardness, etc, and instead give up on the whole idea of hitting on women at all?

            My position is for them to figure it out themselves using readily available resources, not to expect women to do the work for them.

      • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

        Are you aware that you’Re saying that somebody’s need to flirt and get laid trumps another person’s need not to have their personal space violated?

        • Drew

          I think what he’s saying is more along the lines of “Making mistakes sometimes is better than never acting at all”
          Whether or not that actually applies to what Carlie said is something I am not going to comment on.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            The problem is still that the price for that mistake is paid by somebody else and that you’re saying that you’re willing for them to pay the price so that you can have a possible gain.
            And what carlie said below.

          • Drew

            I certainly agree with what Carlie said about learning body language in your free time. Personal accountability is a given.

            Where I differ from you is that I think the price is paid by both people and the potential gain is shared by both people. If discomfort is experienced it will be experienced by both people. If consensual romance is experienced it will be experienced by both people.
            Additionally, I think it is bad for people with high levels of anxiety to hear that they should be constantly afraid of tripping up in a social situation (I can only speak for myself, but this is how a lot of the statements being made sound to me). Mistakes will be made and they are not generally going to be a huge problem. Caution, awareness and knowledge of etiquette/social skills are all of extreme importance in social situations, but so is a little bit of assertiveness (as distinguished from aggression). As long as someone IS actually showing signs of trying to be considerate and IS actually putting in effort I don’t think they ought to be afraid of making the occasional mistake.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            So how many women turn you down? How many men have they turned down? Who gets to opt out when the pain out classes their gain?

          • Jason Thibeault

            Drew, it’s important to remember that you don’t have the right to cause someone else to experience discomfort.

            I think a lot of us are talking past one another, because we’re dealing with two sets of issues — one very large one where people are exhibiting outright egregious and predatory behaviour, and another much smaller one where certain clueless dudes don’t mean offense but trigger all those same effects. I read the OP as trying to tell this latter group how to minimize how much they look like the former. That former group can fuck right off, and their feelings shouldn’t be taken into account whatsoever.

            And considering the societal pressures on women to molly-coddle these poor doofuses so they aren’t hit with splash damage from taking on the asshats, I can see why this post is falling flat. Women damn well shouldn’t have to worry about nice guys’ feelings while doing what they have to do to protect themselves from the assholes. And any parts of the conversation where women are told “just give more feedback to us clueless dudes” is plain wrong.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            “Where I differ from you is that I think the price is paid by both people ”
            So, do you actually think that the price I pay by having my personal space invaded, my boundaries disrespected and potentially my triggers set off is equal to that somebody pays for being rejected?
            That’s the problem here.
            You have to err on the side of safety and that’s true for all people, those for whom social interaction is easy and those for whom it is hard.
            Yes, fuck-ups will happen. As mentioned abve, I’m married to somebody who badly fucked up our first meeting.
            But there’s a big difference between trying your best and fucking up unintentionally and saying “if I don’t push I’ll probably never flirt so fuck that shit I’m not going to be cautious”

          • Drew

            Dhorvath: I have never opened flirtatious exchange with anyone. Therefore I have never been rejected. I don’t think that is relevant. People always have the right to opt out of interacting with me. Furthermore, if interacting with me has gone from being uncomfortable to being painful then I think there are bigger issues going on that the ones being discussed here.

            Jason: I never have to right to deliberately cause someone discomfort. I knew that. I DO have the right to attempt social interactions with other human beings. I DO have the responsibility to attempt to do so in a respectful and considerate manner. I DO have the requirement to apologize if my actions cause anyone harm.
            I read the OP, I acknowledged his explicit statements that discussion here is intended only to facilitate more respectful interpersonal relations, and I have targeted my posts toward this goal.

            Gilliel: “So, do you actually think that the price I pay by having my personal space invaded, my boundaries disrespected and potentially my triggers set off is equal to that somebody pays for being rejected?”
            I think the price someone pays for putting up with an awkward conversation with me is the price I pay for initiating an awkward conversation with someone. That price is awkwardness.
            If someone is unconsentually entering your physical personal space and treading over your boundaries then they have failed to inform themselves of any basic etiquette.

            These are your words: “there’s a big difference between trying your best and fucking up unintentionally and saying ‘if I don’t push I’ll probably never flirt so fuck that shit I’m not going to be cautious’”
            These are mine: “Caution, awareness and knowledge of etiquette/social skills are all of extreme importance in social situations”

          • Ace of Sevens

            But there’s a big difference between trying your best and fucking up unintentionally and saying “if I don’t push I’ll probably never flirt so fuck that shit I’m not going to be cautious”

            I agree with this, but what I’m saying is that there’s a big difference between saying “if I don’t push I’ll probably never flirt so fuck that shit I’m not going to be cautious” and “I’m trying my best not to fuck up, and I’ll back out and apologize if it looks like I start doing so.” You can’t flirt at all while err completely on the side of caution because, as seen in this thread, for some people, any sign of interest makes them feel uncomfortable. Trying to make minimal advances and backing out if discomfort starts still involves taking some minimal risk of violating boundaries. Yes, the general need of humans for interaction does trump this minimal risk. The duty of decent people is to minimize the chances of this happening and minimize the damage if it does, not to be certain that it won’t happen.

          • Dhorvath, OM

            Drew, I tried too hard to make my point cleverly. The ‘you’ in my queries was not meant to be read as you specifically, but that mysterious impersonal you that I should have taken more care to elucidate. I know that your response was an attempt to clarify your reading of another person’s point.
            I do think the point important however: those who are being rejected can opt out whenever they choose, those who are rejecting cannot. A group that can choose not to be involved seems to me to have more responsibility of care for the needs of those they interact with.

          • Drew

            Thank you for the clarification. I understand what you meant much better now, and I certainly agree with your point. Initiating contact with someone, particularly when flirting, is always an imposition to some degree. The one forcing the situation would then hold a greater responsibility for terminating the interaction if it turns sour.

        • Ace of Sevens

          Are you talking about personal space as something physical or an abstract concept? I took it to mean social boundaries. On a second reading, I’m not sure this was a reasonable way to interpret it. Social boundaries are going to violated sometimes if people interact at all because people are so different in what said boundaries are so different. This isn’t even limited to flirting. Physical space is a general no-no, though. I agree with that.

        • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

          Ace of Sevens
          Context is, as usually, important.
          Your “but what about all those akward people, they’ll never get to flirt” comment was made in the context of people saying that the onus is on the person initiating the interaction to be competent in social clues and conventions.
          And all this time you’re looking for excuses.
          First there’s the “poor awkward people”, then you go on about “but books are soo contradictory, some say kiss her, some say ask her” when nobody talked about stupid “flirting for dummies” but about general books about body-language and social interaction.
          Also, if you had been actually interested in getting a solution to your proposed problem, instead of doubling down you would enquired what people think how to find good books.

          • Ace of Sevens

            Who said that it was my problem? It used to be back when I was 24 or so, but that was a while ago. My point was that figuring out what to do isn’t as easy as cracking a few books as was suggested. Also, no matter how much you learn and pay attention, it is impossible to be sure that there is no possibility that you won’t violate someone’s boundaries. (Well, it is possible to be certain, but you’ll be wrong nonetheless.) This was the standard that Carlie seemed to be requesting and I was saying that it isn’t reasonable.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            Geez “your proposed problem” as in “the problem you proposed”.
            Nope, it’s not easy.
            Everybody gets it wrong from time to time.
            But it started with lots of people claiming “Ooooh, I can’t read basic body-language and social clues, really, you can’t expect me to!”
            To which people like me and carlie suggested that there’s actually books on that topic and that if you just can’t get it right you’re obliged to abstain from activities that will inflict harm on other people.
            To which you complained that this is so unfair because it condems the awkward person (who apparently didn’t bother to look up a book on body-lanuage and social clues) to a life of lonely misery.
            And then you complained that books are shitty and contradictory and therefore obviously not worth the effort.
            So, in short, you have constantly worked not towards a solution and possible ideas, but you’ve been looking for excuses for people to fuck up unnecessarily.

          • Ace of Sevens

            I should clarify: this wasn’t my problem when I was 24, either. I never had any interest in picking up strange women in public. Besides the minefield issues, it’s hard to know whether I like them based on a few minutes of superficial recognition. If I want to have sex at a convention, I’ll pre-arrange it online.

          • Ace of Sevens

            I don’t think that I said any of that. In fact, I clearly said otherwise on many points. You seem to be responding to what you assume I meant based on interactions with other people who said things that seem similar to you. I shall try to respond here with actual quotes rather than paraphrases of what people said according to me.

            if you know you suck at social cues, and you don’t want to creep people out, then your response should be to err on the side of caution and not do things that could possibly invade someone’s personal space.

            If we take “personal space” to mean “social comfort zone” and not a purely physical space, as seems to have been the intent, there is no way to know that anything couldn’t possibly violate someone’s personal space. I never claimed that people have no responsibility not to try to avoid causing offense, just that trying, no matter how hard, will only minimize the possibility of violating someone’s boundaries, not completely eliminate it. If carlie had said “likely” instead of “possibly” I would have agreed with her. I do think that it is the responsibility of the flirter to understand and consider the probable effects of their behavior and to make their best effort to avoid causing problems for others. Mistakes will happen despite best efforts, but they’ll be trivial compared to when people don’t try. I don’t think you (Gileil) and I even disagree on anything here.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            I don’t think you (Gileil) and I even disagree on anything here.

            Probably on my name…

      • carlie

        “if you are insecure, consign yourself to being alone forever.”

        No, it means if you know that you don’t understand social cues, then you learn about them if the ability to flirt is important to you. Not understanding social cues is very different than being insecure. People can learn about things. As pointed out somewhere above, noobs in many areas are told to “read the fucking manual”. There are guides to social behavior out there. Hell, the idea of being autistic gets thrown around so much wrt men and social cues, guess what? There are all kinds of materials designed specifically to teach autistic people how to recognize social cues. It’s kind of an entire field. Does it ever come naturally? No, but you can learn to read and diagnose the cues and expected conventions with a decently high amount of accuracy. My point is that if you care and want to flirt, then YOU go and do something about learning how to if you think you’re not good at it. Don’t depend on other people to simply teach you what you’re doing wrong after you’ve already trampled all over their personal space. It’s important for you to flirt well, so you go do the work; your comfort is not important enough for them to school you in it.

        • Ace of Sevens

          Right, but these guides often give contradictory advice. Anybody can write one and it’s hard to tell whether the advice is any good. For instance, depending who you listen to, asking women for permission to kiss them is either wimpy and creepy and you’re supposed to take initiative, not just talk about it or is the correct way to avoid trying to kiss a woman who doesn’t want you to, which is creepy. Even if you are somehow sure the advice is good, it isn’t necessarily clear which rules apply to a given situation. Reading these guides and following them may keep you from engaging in creepy behavior, but it won’t keep you from feeling like you might be engaging in creepy behavior.

          If you are only talking about physical boundaries, I think you are being perfectly reasonable. I may have misread you because there are plenty of behaviors that get labeled creepy, some with good reason, that don’t involve violating personal boundaries. In that case, I apologize.

          • carlie

            I’m mainly talking about personal boundaries, yes. Standing too close, touching, that sort of thing. But it works for other things as well – gazing at someone too long, making intimate comments that aren’t warranted, that kind of thing. I wasn’t being snarky when I mentioned autism resources; seriously, those things are good. That’s a whole other realm that is nothing like going to “how to pick up a woman” types of articles in pop magazines. There’s been a mini-explosion in books and other resources aimed at teen and young adult people with autism on how to interact with people, along with more basic stuff geared at younger kids but still useful for people who are aware that they miss social cues. It’s laid out explicitly, with social stories and sample conversations and everything. Its good stuff.

            Hitting on is definitely different than flirting. Or, what Zengaze said. One has a clear and obvious goal that is “I want more intimacy than we have right now”. Flirting is saying “you’re fun and cute and I like you”, without necessarily any other goal.

  • BrighterThanSunflowers

    *quicky situation = squicky situation.

    Just to clarify.

  • researchtobedone

    This hasn’t come up for me in the context of atheist events, but in other contexts where I’ve been interested in fun sexytimes with people, and been the one doing the propositioning, I’ve found that the phrase, “No is an okay answer”, is a great way to communicate that I can and will take a rejection gracefully.

    • Katie Hartman

      That’s really true in a lot of contexts, especially if you tack on a plausible excuse so the other person doesn’t feel at all obligated to come up with one themselves.

      “…I totally understand if you’d rather not, I’m sure you’re exhausted.”

      “…I’m a huggy kind of person, but that’s just me – I know a lot of people don’t really like to be touched by new people, and that’s cool.”

  • Draco Malfoi


  • Ace of Sevens

    Flirting is something that I can say I enjoy, hitting on women not so much. You may want to consider the difference.

    I always used “hiting on” someone and “flirting with” to be two terms for the same thing, meaning to make sexual or romantic overtures to someone. Is this not how other people use them? Wikitionary defines “to hit on” as “to flirt with.”

    • Jason Thibeault

      I’ve often seen “hitting on” in a context more akin to what a pick-up artist might try to pull — the manipulative games played by people looking for something just close enough to consent to count.

      As far as I’m concerned, if you’re getting anything less than enthusiastic consent, you’re taking a risk, and the consequences are most often worse for the other person. And even in cases of enthusiastic consent (speaking from personal experience), there can be psychological damage regardless (and yes, I mean PERSONAL personal experience, not first-hand experience).

      • Jason Thibeault

        (Read that as “not second-hand experience that I’m claiming is first-hand.” As in, the trauma was my own, despite my own and my partner’s enthusiastic consent.)

    • Zengaze

      Successful Flirting is essentially letting the other person know you find them attractive in a subtle way, without that realisation implying anything other than you find them attractive.

      Hitting on is aggressive flirtation with the definitive aim getting them naked.

      • Ace of Sevens

        If those are you definitions, then I am only talking about flirtation.

    • Dhorvath, OM

      Flirting is fun in and of itself and involves shared interest in social interaction. To call it hitting on, which term trades on the traditional pursued/pursuer dichotomy of gender interaction, is unfortunate in connotation.

  • Seb

    De-lurking to post an addition here: What this post seems to be missing out on is that for every social action, there is an appropriate level of reaction. It’s all very well to ask women to make their boundaries clear but there are some circumstances where this level of reaction is socially inappropriate.
    If someone is flirting by being extra friendly and attentive, the appropriate response is to maybe lean back a bit, give short answers etc.
    Saying “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable flirting with you” to a guy who’s being enthusiastically friendly makes you sound exceptionally vain if you misunderstood his intentions – maybe he was just being really friendly – and overly harsh and assertive even if he was, because you have exceeded the socially correct response, the same as if you slapped someone who had made an outright but respectful request for sex. The societally accepted response for subtle flirtation is subtle rejection, the correct response for a polite request is polite refusal. Expecting someone to give a polite refusal to very subtle flirtation isn’t fair.
    I find a lot of people, especially socially awkward ones, flirt on the lowest possible level out of shyness or fear of rejection, which is also a level at which they are incapable of picking up the appropriate rejection. This leaves the person being flirted with the option of either feeling slightly invaded until they can make their escape or responding in a way that will seem needlessly harsh to everyone else, including themselves.

    I agree with a lot of this post and believe it was written with the best of intentions but I don’t think a reasonable solution to men not picking up on social cues is to expect the woman to respond at a level which would normally be classed as rude.
    If you can’t understand anything other than a polite refusal, flirt in a way that polite refusal is an appropriate response.

    • Ace of Sevens

      I find a lot of people, especially socially awkward ones, flirt on the lowest possible level out of shyness or fear of rejection, which is also a level at which they are incapable of picking up the appropriate rejection. This leaves the person being flirted with the option of either feeling slightly invaded until they can make their escape or responding in a way that will seem needlessly harsh to everyone else, including themselves.

      Yes, this. I guess the question is how to hit the middle ground between this and being one of those obnoxious assholes who makes kissyfaces at women he passes in the cereal aisle at the grocery store or, on the pathetic romantic end, changes their Facebook status to “in a relationship” after possibly flirting with someone once. If you aren’t confident about social interactions in general, pretty much everything you do seems like it could be one of these.

      • Seb

        Yeah, it also seems pretty mean to tell especially shy people that they have to come on stronger than everyone else – “Are you socially awkward? Make sure all your rejections are public and obvious BWAHAHAH!” – but not as mean as expecting socially awkward flirtees to either act in a way they know to be inappropriate or to put up with being flirted at for lengthy periods. I’ve had Monopoly games that were shorter than some people’s flirtations.

        Of course, another aspect of the ‘polite refusal’ being a hard thing to give is that even when the flirter isn’t being particularly subtle about things, responding with ‘sorry, I don’t want to flirt with you’ comes off as a bizarre non-sequitur to anything other than ‘do you want me to flirt with you?’. And nobody says that. Nobody flirts by asking people if they want to flirt. Nobody asks”‘it it okay if I touch you briefly on the wrist while making slightly more than usually intense eye contact?”.
        People say things like “Hi, I’m Steve. Are you having a nice time?” or “I’ve not seen you here before, is this your first convention?” and responding to that with “I don’t want to flirt with you” just makes you sound like you’re in a different conversation with people only you can see.

        Open communication has to come from both sides. Asking only women to be open about how they feel will generally just put them in an awkward position.

        • carlie

          Yes, exactly – something like that was nagging at the edges of my brain, but I couldn’t figure out how to use words to describe it. That imbalance is definitely part of the problem with suggesting that women be forthright about rejection.

  • dbh2ppa

    A big part of this problem may be solved by people requesting explicit consent before initiating any kind of physical contact. If people think it’s creepy for someone to ask them “Would you like it if I hugged you?”, then they shouldn’t be hugged.

    The logistics of getting explicit consent for every kind of non-physical interaction, however, would be prohibiting. The approach JT seems to be positing, “inching” and stepping back when a line is made explicit, is being criticized because, as I’m reading it 1) It places a lot of responsibility on the person being approached, and 2) When the person is being approached is a female, and she has been socialized not no say “no” when her boundaries are being crossed, then the “inching” will inevitably end up in boundaries being crossed.

    But, then we come at a impasse; women are socialized against saying no, and forced to rely on sending subtle clues when uncomfortable, under threat of either shaming or violence, and men are socialized to either not see or ignore those clues, and keep pursuing the woman until they are firmly stopped. I believe this behavior is also imposed under threat of shaming, and sometimes violence (not from the woman being pursued, but from peers), though I will admit physical violence in these cases is rare, and as someone said above “the stakes are not equal”.

    As a gay male, I know what it feels like for my boundaries to be pushed or broken by people who are physically stronger than me, in various states of intoxication, and fearing saying no. I also know what it feels like to be interested in someone, but unable to tell when a boundary has been broken, because the other person doesn’t explicitly tells me so, and I’ve been socialized not to see the clues. I also know what it feels like to be socially inept, and give short answers and stare at my phone when someone I feel attracted to talks to me, and that person reading my behavior as lack of interest.

    I guess what I’m saying is; I think both men and women need to work to overcome our respective socialization; men need to teach themselves to read body language and back off when appropriate, women need to learn to speak out and say “no” when appropriate, and everyone need to learn to look out for situations when someone saying no, or backing off, is met with hostility and step in to stop it. The responsibility lies not on men or women, but all of us.

    I know, I’m gonna get a lot of shit about this post, but it’s just a proposal, and I’ll appreciate any criticism that comes my way.

    • Drew

      You win my “most-carefully worded post of the day” award. I think it would be hard to find anything objectionable in what you said.

    • Seb

      I don’t find anything you say offensive, but I also don’t see the problem as just being women conditioned against saying ‘no’. Everyone, women and men, are conditioned to give an appropriate level of response. And the problem with saying ‘no’, is that often nobody did anything as obvious as asking a question.
      What is someone is flirting by having a regular conversation but with more eye contact and closer physical proximity?
      “So, what did you think of the last speaker?”
      “Sorry, I don’t find you attractive”
      Hardly anyone feels comfortable saying that, regardless of gender or upbringing, because it makes you look like a strange, strange person.

      • dbh2ppa

        How About
        “So, What did you think of the last speaker?”
        “I liked some of their ideas. By the way, I’m not interested in having a conversation with you right now. Have a good evening.”

        I’ll admit, it sounds a bit strange, but the more people do it, the more we’ll get used to it, the easier it’ll be on everyone.

        • Seb

          It’s not that that wouldn’t work as such, but I think the land where such a reply is socially acceptable is a theoretical land which will probably never come to be. And making that land come to be will very hard on the pioneers.
          It is unfair to expect people to respond to subtle, non-verbal language with a direct verbal reply. This is not how society works. My problem with JT wanting women to be more obvious about their boundaries is that often it requires them to do just that and much of society will have to change before this becomes socially appropriate enough for anyone, women or men, to feel comfortable doing it.

      • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

        Everyone, women and men, are conditioned to give an appropriate level of response.

        Have you been raised by wolves?
        I’m serious, because that’s the only explenation that might lead you to a statement that’s so at odds with reality as this one.
        Well, one of two, the other one is privilege.
        I have two daughters and there’s hardly a day when there isn’t somebody who thinks it’s OK to pat and touch them because they’re so cute. It’s something that never happens to my friend’s sons. And most parents don’t teach their daughters that they should speak up loudly and tell that person in no uncertain terms that they should keep their dirty paws to themselves. So girls are conditioned to freeze, smile and endure.
        And have you ever heard the phrase “boys will be boys”? It’s usually uttered after boys have definetly transgressed boundaries and they are excused.
        Men are conditioned to push, transgress and “get what they want”. There’s hardly any worse offense that you can throw at a guy than calling them weak and insisting that they are a loser for not getting what they want. While women are conditioned to smile and endure.
        You can’t shake that off, you can only work hard against it.
        Step one on this way is to accept that you actually are conditioned in that way and that the opposite gender is conditioned in a different way

        • Seb

          First off, no it isn’t privilege, I’m a woman, and the reason I have felt to respond to this one post is because I have been subject to a high level of unpleasant sexual behaviour – some accidental, some malevolent – and thus getting this right is important to me.
          Second, I agree with you that women are generally trained to be accommodating. I agree that comes into play during sexual interactions. But I don’t think it is the only reason why women accommodate undesired attention.
          I also don’t see the statement that there are societally acceptable levels of response as particularly contraversal. If you ask me how I’m feeling and I scream “it’s none of your buisness!” in reply, you would be either concerned or offended and people would say my reaction was uncalled for. While I also agree that society grants men more leeway in pushiness than a woman, I think the level of transgression JT is expecting from women would also be considered a transgression from anyone.
          I am telling you now, as a woman, that the reason I am often not forthright with my views and my bounderies as the post recommends is that there is often no way to do so without seeming either cruel, impolite, or perculiar.
          If a guy is flirting with me by having a pretty regular conversation, only focussing on me too intently and finding me way funnier than I am, it is awkward to break into that by telling him “sorry, I’m not interested” because he hasn’t asked me if I’m interested. He’s asked me what my favourite film is, or if I like chicken. Responding to ‘what’s your favourite film?’ with ‘look, I’m sorry, but I just don’t find you attractive’ is inappropriate. That is not what he asked. As long as someone’s attraction remains in the non verbal realm, you will come off as weird if you respond to their subtext, rather than their verbal cues.
          This is why I do not believe it is fair to expect women to be more clear about how they are feeling when a man is flirting with them. It is asking women to make a direct verbal response to subtext, which is a societally incorrect response. Rather, men ideally would learn to recognise the non verbal cues of disinterest (leaning away, monosyllabic reply) OR learn to phrase their flirting such that an open verbal response is an appropriate one.

          • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

            Oh, I see, I think I missunderstood you.
            By “appropriate” you meant “approved by society”, is that correct?
            I agree, in that sense men and women are conditioned to respect the rules, only that they are different for men and women.
            I’m sorry for the lash-out

  • Saint Gasoline

    Reading through the comments, I think people are making too much of a distinction between verbal and nonverbal communication, and seeing verbal communication as the ultimate arbiter of consent that lacks the problems of nonverbal communication—which is a view I find to be incorrect.

    Like it or not, most people rely on nonverbal communication in social situations to express interest/disinterest. To say this is simply because of “patriarchal influence” is a bit too simple-minded. It has more to do with taboos against directness and offending people more than anything. The argument against nonverbal communication, like “inching” toward a person’s personal boundaries in regards to being touched/hugged/kissed/etc., seems to be that it isn’t a perfect indicator of consent, that people can be intimidated or pressured into behaving in certain ways, and so on. The problem, of course, is that this is just as true of verbal communication. Someone who feels pressured to hug another person when someone approaches them with open arms could also feel the same pressure when that same person asks “Can I hug you?” In either case, both are clear communications of the hugger’s intent and both can be pressuring. So the idea that consent must always be verbal strikes me as completely wrongheaded when we live in a culture that relies mainly on nonverbal communication to indicate romantic attraction and interest. It’s not as if these forms of nonverbal communications are impossible to decipher, and it’s not as if verbal communication is necessarily clearer or more direct.

    • dbh2ppa

      I agree that asking “May I hug you?” and approaching someone with open arms are not very different.

      Looking away and slightly moving a bit to to the left v.s. saying “I’m not interested in having a conversation with you”… somewhat different things, but given enough experience, one could learn to recognize the meaning.

      The problem with “body language” when it comes to requesting consent, is that, it’s pretty difficult to ask something with body language. “Would you like me to give you a handjob” is pretty easy to decipher… I have no idea how you would approach that in a non-verbal way… You could slowly inch towards their pants, and watch for a reaction, but the mere act of reaching may be crossing a limit. (Do forgive the explicitness of the example) =)

      • Saint Gasoline

        I get what you’re saying, but I think don’t think nonverbal communication has to necessarily be as vague as you suggest. If I ask, “Can I hug you?” and you hold out your hand with open palm, that’s probably a pretty clear indication. To think you always have to be demure and completely subtle with nonverbal communication is a bit misleading. It can be just as clear as speaking. It only tends to be subtle because, for whatever reason, there are taboos against being direct with people in these situations. But the same goes for verbal communication. There’s a reason people have said “Wanna come up and see my etchings?” or “Want to come up and have some coffee?” to mean “Want to exchange sexual fluids?” for ages, and there’s just as much a chance for misinterpreting those remarks as there is for misinterpreting someone slightly turning away from a hug or having folded arms.

        For that reason, I don’t think it’s all that difficult to ask for things with body language, and that it’s not all that different from verbal communication. It can be preferred, in fact, in that it spares people from outright embarrassment/rejection. To signal you want to kiss someone, there are clear environmental contexts (on someone’s doorstep saying good night) and physical indications (gradually leaning in closer, body posture, etc.) to indicate such, and clear indications of a rejection (simply turning away). This is all basic face-saving stuff that we engage in because we’re helpless animals with horrible fears of social rejection. We do it all the time.

        In general, we use basic heuristics of verbal/nonverbal communication to determine consent for various activities. Most women, for example, know that a man who has shown interest in them and is visibly aroused, for example, is probably willing to have a “hand job” and can simply reach down pretty safely without fear of rejection. There will always be situations in which these heuristics don’t work, in which we overstep boundaries and make people uncomfortable, but that isn’t simply a feature of nonverbal communication or using social heuristics to judge a course of action. It’s also a problem of language. (“Would you like to come up for coffee?” if misinterpreted, can be quite awkward when your date finds out you don’t actually have or drink coffee!)

        I find the solution to simply be direct with verbal communication to be quite laughable. Maybe a few select human beings appreciate directness along the lines of “Would you like me to flirt with you?” but most people would find that kind of directness awkward and strange and be immediately turned off by that, thinking you’re the type of person who doesn’t understand basic social norms and is likely what the kids call a “weirdo”. You’d probably be able to hook-up with a lot of people on the autism spectrum with that approach, though.

        • Erasmus

          “I find the solution to simply be direct with verbal communication to be quite laughable. Maybe a few select human beings appreciate directness along the lines of “Would you like me to flirt with you?” but most people would find that kind of directness awkward and strange and be immediately turned off by that, thinking you’re the type of person who doesn’t understand basic social norms and is likely what the kids call a “weirdo”. You’d probably be able to hook-up with a lot of people on the autism spectrum with that approach, though.”

          This seems to be a theme that keeps popping up across these discussions. There are I am sure several of us who ARE the type of people who don’t understand social norms (at least not without a lot of effort) and ARE on the autism spectrum.

          The way people keep phrasing things that implies that such people are somehow not worth “normal” people bothering with and that maybe “normal” people should shun this behaviour not simply because it is ineffective (which I agree it is), but specifically because they might appeal to people on the autistic spectrum is really nasty to read.

          I’m not even saying that the comment is wrong, I would respond better to a direct come on than a subtle one, the implication that that is somehow wrong is frankly offensive.

          I may be reading more into what you’ve written than is there, but this sort of comment keeps appearing and whilst the accurate comments about straight questions not working well are welcome the negative connotations are not.

          I’d also like to point out that you quite often may not know you are interacting with someone with a spectrum disorder, especially if they are particularly intelligent, as many of us are excellent at covering (through conciously learning appropriate responses, by studying them) in familiar situations.

          As a final point, not directly aimed at what you said, but a more general one, please keep in mind that being on the autism spectrum and even being classified as having a “severe developmental disorder” as it says on my certificate is NOT the same as being intellectually incapable or deficient in any way (I’m not saying you should be prejudiced against people who are I’m saying the two groups of disabilities are distinct).

          Treating someone who has a spectrum disorder as if they have a learning disability is just as disrespectful as treating someone with a learning disability as if they can’t process social situations, there are people who have both problems. Most don’t.

  • Saint Gasoline

    “Simple, direct questions are an imperative.”

    Like: “Hey, I find you very attractive? Do you want me to flirt with you?”

    Obviously, this violates all the rules of “romance”, but that is
    because it is based on equal agency of both parties, and not on
    patriarchal misogyny.

    Just had to briefly address this. The idea that nonverbal or subtle types of communication that avoid directness are created by “patriarchal misogyny” is questionable. For one, I always thought directness was the trait associated with patriarchal dominance and masculinity, not indirectness. Second, it seems rather obvious that we engage in indirect social behaviors for face-saving reasons to avoid feelings of rejection or guilt for rejecting others. The rules of “romance” exist because they indicate to a potential partner that you are capable of behaving in socially appropriate ways and understanding basic social norms. Violating these rules by asking a direct question like, “May I flirt with you?” is a big signal to a potential partner that you lack the capacity to engage in complicated human discourse and hence you’ll be perceived as awkward or weird. As far as I can see, this has little to do with patriarchal, anti-woman influence. Men and women alike are expected to avoid directness and be subtle.

    Also, using subtle verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate interest doesn’t deny equal agency to the opposite sex. We engage in these subtleties specifically because we care about their agency—their thoughts and desires—and so we behave in this way to avoid offending them or rejecting them in an embarrassing manner. The reason a man “asks” for a kiss by walking a woman to her doorstep, waiting for a long tense pause, and leaning in slowly is because he doesn’t want to be in a position to be summarily rejected and put the woman in the position of being “mean” and verbally rejecting him. This is also why a woman, when she sees a man leaning in and she does not want a kiss, will often simply turn away rather than shout, “Ewww! No! I don’t want to kiss you!”—because she doesn’t want to be mean and direct, and would rather give a more subtle cue of disinterest. The nonverbal route leaves it open to both egos to rationalize “Oh, I wasn’t rejected because maybe she just thinks I lost my balance” and “Oh, he doesn’t think I’m mean because I just turned, possibly to sneeze”, whereas if the guy asks a direct question, he gets a direct rejection, and whether we like it or not its basic human psychology to perceive outright, direct actions as rude, unseemly, and inappropriate.

    Is it rational? No. But many things in our courtship rituals are not rational. You can’t just simply tell people to be direct and expect that to override the basic social norms and human psychology that make us averse to directness in these matters.

    And, as I alluded earlier, I’d think directness is a more “masculine” and patriarchal quality than indirect social cues that try to avoid awkward recognitions of the deep shame and embarrassment often at play. A rapist is direct. A normal human interaction is often indirect.

  • Katie Hartman

    “Where I differ from you is that I think the price is paid by both people and the potential gain is shared by both people. If discomfort is experienced it will be experienced by both people. If consensual romance is experienced it will be experienced by both people.”


    I’m not sure where anyone got the idea the people haven’t benefited – often in a HUGE way – from getting spontaneously offered a hug or being flirtatiously approached by someone. It can be an extremely rewarding experience for both people. The idea that you shouldn’t approach anyone unless you’re 110% certain that they’ll enjoy the experience – something NOBODY can be 110% certain about, EVER – is, IMO, wrong-headed.

    Two important points come to mind:

    * Think before you act. Determine, to the best of your ability, the probability that what you’re about to do will be received negatively. Think about how negatively it could be received. Think about how to mitigate both the risk that it will be received negatively and the extent to which the experience will negatively affect the other person. (A lot of different strategies have been mentioned here…) If the risk and/or extent are too great, back off.

    * Do not approach someone in a situation where they could be unable to fend you off if you were a serial killer. Do not do it when a woman is alone. Do not do it when the only people around are your friends. Do not do it if either of you are very drunk or using drugs. And so on.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay


    My reasons for not giving two shits if Daisy considers me an ally is because I want my allies to be reasonable along with being feminists.

    You skeezy fucker. Parading around trumpeting about how you’re a Great Big Old Ally to Queers and Women, and you can’t take on board some criticism from same queers and women.

    Fuck you and your privileged straight ass, JT. You wanna be an ally? Then listen.


    • JT Eberhard

      You strongly imply bias on my part to two groups I have a long history of going to bat for in the same breath you say “fuck you in your straight ass.”

      Can you not see the irony?

      Also, I am listening. Read. The. Thread.

      Read. The. Post.

      Listening does not mean agreeing or that I find all behavior of women acceptable. The reasons I gave for thinking Daisy is behaving poorly really are the reasons I think she’s behaving poorly.

      I listened. I think she’s failing to respond to what people have said. I think this fact is obvious.

      I also think your last comment was flagrantly unreasonable. Not because I hate gays or women, but because it was unreasonable. I said that I think someone is unreasonable and you leaped immediately to questioning my dedication to equality. The two aren’t even connected. Don’t tell me to listen before you give it a shot first.

    • Zengaze

      Fuck, that is completely over the top.

      I think there may be a conflation taking place due to a number of blogs running posts on slightly different aspects on the topic of sexual interaction at conferences.

      In my understanding this post’s objective is to discuss how we can all interact at conferences without seriously crossing generally accepted boundaries with regard to interpersonal relations. The focus of the post was how to make guys better at not crossing boundaries, and to educate as to what does constitute unacceptable behaviour. The post starts with the premise that people are going to have sex at conferences, a reasonable premise.

      This isn’t about sexism! Though I know the argument is there that sometimes the reason that guys boundary step is due to privilege and sexism. I don’t see this post as setting out how to irradiate sexism! Though a lofty goal that may be.

      The ally thing is really a misnomer, we should all be ally’s in getting people, whether they be male, female, straight, bi, poly, trans, or none of the above! to interact better.

      If I am totally misunderstanding the nature of this post I’m sure someone will let me know.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay

    And turn off your nested comments because no one knows who the hell is talking to whom.

  • Bjarte Foshaug

    Why should the “sex card” always be on the table anyway? (Aren’t there other reasons for attending atheist conferences?) I suspect that in many cases there is no “comfortable” way of “drawing the line”. The very idea that someone is thinking of you as a potential sex partner can be awkward enough when the feeling is not mutual. If men (like myself) sincerely want to make women more comfortable at conferences, how about not trying to hit on them in the first place (there are plenty of other venues for that), but simply treating them as people? If being treated as a potential sex partner is the price a woman has to pay for showing up at a conference, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if a significant number of them chose not to.

    • Ace of Sevens

      I can see your point, but aren’t there other reasons for most everything? When should the sex card be on the table? Is it limited to dedicated venues for singles to meet up or are there other situations?

      • Bjarte Foshaug

        Of course that is a question that each person needs to answer for him-/herself (I certainly don’t claim to be the perfect judge), but let’s not pretend there isn’t a trade-off. If your answer is “always”, then alienating a certain number of women (or men for that matter) is a price you are willing to pay.

        • Ace of Sevens

          That’s the problem, though. It’s not a question everyone can answer for themselves because people who have different answers interacting and causing problems is the issue here. This requires general social norms about what is and isn’t OK behavior.

          • Bjarte Foshaug

            As I said, it is a trade-off. If you are unwilling (as I think we should be) to trade away anyone’s comfort (see comment 17 by Heather and response by Chiral f.ex.) for a chance to get laid, then I see no option but to keep the sex-card off the table altogether.