Inappropriate Nice Guys
I’m going to talk about a sexual harasser that doesn’t get a lot of attention; the Inappropriate Nice Guy. Hereafter referred to as an ING. I like this acronym because it’s literal and also means, “I’m no good” in text speak. It also denotes the behaviors: trespassing, harassing, commenting, stalking, grabbing, and stealing (kisses, hugs, time.)
In general I apply all my comments about bad behaviors to both men and women, but in this case men are the overwhelming transgressor and women the main victim. As for children, you will see this bad behavior in relation to pedophiles grooming children for victimization and bullies indoctrinating victims into passivity.
I’m also keeping this post in the realm of conventions and workshops and other creative groups and gatherings. Mainly because we all (generally) know what to do when someone in the regular work place is being an ING. We go to HR and HR handles the problem, but in the freelance and fan world there is no HR, so once I explain the situation, I will make a few proposals that I want everyone who attends these venues to consider and share.
So, back to the Inappropriate Nice Guy: the ING is the guy who makes comments that are uncomfortable and often thinly veiled as compliments. They show up wherever you are and to crush and creep on you in a manner that makes it clear they want sex and intimacy from you on their terms.
Some of you are probably thinking that handsome guys get a pass on this, but I’m telling you that they only get a first pass from many people in the same manner that all women tend to give good looking and/or well groomed guys a first pass. We are all looking for companionship on some level, whether it’s a casual friendship or a life-mate. But when someone says ‘no thanks’ in whatever way they say ‘no thanks,’ the person needs to back off.
Here’s where conventions, workshops, and other fan/freelance gatherings come in, and I’m going to refer to them as gatherings from now on.
Those of us who show up at gatherings are often there to promote ourselves and interact with fandom. We are often there because we are either paid guests or volunteers. We are nice to everybody because in general assholes don’t get invited back, and they don’t get as many fans as everyone thinks they do.
Many of the attendees are there to find new media to geek out over, or to improve writing and costuming skills, and generally bask in the wonder and joy of sharing common interests.
A good portion of gatherings are comprised of people trying to improve their skills and network until they can become a paid guest or volunteer. Many have aspirations to climb to the top and be known for what they do.
This is the feeding and hunting ground of the ING.
We all know him.
He seems okay, seems to have a lot of friends, and everyone likes and/or feels sorry for him. He certainly can’t be as bad as the Inappropriate Butthead, who doesn’t care how crass and nasty he is because Freedom. He has never been reported for sexual assault of any kind. He’s also not quite the Awkward Creeper, but he may masquerade as one if he finds it more effective.
The ING is the guy that stares too long at your physical assets when you aren’t in costume, and leers outright when you’re wearing one. (There’s a difference, just ask any cosplayer.) The ING offers compliments that when you take them apart, are just a way of saying they’re having fantasies about you in the shower tonight and you can’t do anything about it. He doesn’t offer a hug so much as take one, and if he thinks he can get away with it he’ll steal a kiss and then hope you’re too surprised or befuddled to stop him. If you object, he’ll be the first to apologize, sometimes with a tear in his eye, and say he misread the situation.
Damn, but I hate this guy.
I used to be nice about it. I figured I was just being too sensitive, too harsh, too afraid. He probably didn’t mean it. Maybe my style of dress made him think I liked that sort of thing? Maybe all these damn ‘rape promoting’ movies and ‘bodice-ripper books’ made him think all women want that? Maybe what I think he said isn’t what he really said?
See what I’m doing there? You’ve done this too, I’ll bet. Blame yourself because society blames you.
Or maybe you have complained, told him to back off, told others what happened. And you weren’t believed.
People offer excuses:
“But he seems so nice?”
“That’s just the way he is.”
“You’re being too sensitive.”
“Maybe he’s just…(fill in the blank with whatever lame excuse lets you sleep at night).”
I’m telling you, the ING is counting on this.
He hides behind our weird obsession with being liked, our desire to be seen as a cool chick, our need to be included rather than shunned.
He counts on the friendliness we have to cultivate to be comfortable in the public eye, and our good manners when we promote ourselves. The worst villains hide behind their friendships with other people who have power in the industry, or behind their own power.
And everyone knows that a woman who complains is a bitch, and one who adds drama is a psycho. It’s so easy to trash a person’s character when all you need to do is say she’s ‘crazy’ or ‘over-sensitive.’
But wait…what if I’m wrong? What if that guy is actually innocent? What if he really is new to the whole human interaction thing, and just getting a bum rap? After all, without an HR department, who tracks the complaints? And what do you do when you get enough complaints? Can I trust the people I’m being asked to report bad behavior to? What will happen to that person? What will happen to me? Will people line up to dox, troll, threaten, and otherwise make my life a living hell?
Therein lies the solution.
Every gathering, be it a convention, workshop, or other paid attendance event, needs to have a system in place. When someone rapes someone, or indeed commits one of the levels of sexual assault that qualifies for involving the police, we have an automatic system. (Unfortunately, not everyone knows what the procedure is, and I personally feel it’s every gathering’s job to know what it is for their city/state, and be able to direct someone to proper services immediately.) For the transgressions that the ING does, we also need a system in place. This is not easy, and anyone who coordinates gatherings knows what a nightmare it is to herd cats and monitor transgressions without proper procedures and back-up. Even when procedures are in place, it’s extremely uncomfortable.
I have experience in counseling sexual trauma and assault, and in the psychology of communication. I also have experience in workshops and conventions, so I offer the following advice:
Every complaint can be anonymous, and every complaint should be believed.
(Yes, I know people lie, but if you look at the statistics for rape, it’s 1% in adults. It’s higher in children, but that may be because they are pressured to redact. And we aren’t talking about rape here, that’s another conversation, we are talking about women being empowered to protect themselves from harassment and stalking without exposing themselves to physical abuse.)
Paperwork should be generated and stored by someone in charge who will make sure the paperwork is protected and dealt with, and not just tossed in the trash when the convention is over.
EVERY complaint needs to be investigated and dealt with.
Every convention or gathering needs to have a three-strike rule. The first strike is a private counseling, preferably by someone with two big people as back up and to witness. The second strike is firmer and they will have to sign something saying they have been officially warned and understand the consequences. If they don’t want to sign, they have to turn in their badge and go. When the third strike happens, the offender’s badge is taken away, and the person is now uninvited, and therefore a trespasser. If they don’t leave or they show up again uninvited, they get banned for life. If they get ejected twice, they get banned for life and their name is shared with other convention organizers.
Have a system of reporting that is visible and post the guidelines everywhere: I suggest using the color sky blue as a way to unite and alert. Make flyers with directions to the reporting area and make that area safe. Train the volunteers on this, and do a background check on them if you want to be extra cautious. Volunteers should always be in pairs. Women are preferred when women report, and men when men report. (Because there are Inappropriate Nice Gals, too.)
We all have a stake in this. I further suggest that when a woman feels like someone is an ING, she should be able to rely on her friends to back her up.
Men: Don’t act like this, and don’t tolerate it in your fellow men, especially your friends and family. Loving someone means you’re willing to call them out on bad behavior.
Women: Don’t excuse bad behavior. Please be supportive of one another when ING crap happens. Supporting someone means believing them without judging them. Also, feel free to snap a picture and circulate it on Facebook as a warning. If they can do it, you can do it, and it isn’t illegal because they are in a public space.
People who are sensitive and/or have sexual trauma in their past: I know you want to do more. I know you want to stand up for yourself. Have a plan for when you start to get triggered by a person or situation. Someone close to you can be your convention buddy. As soon as something happens, tell them about it, and report it if you are able to. But always take care of yourself first.
Bystanders: I know you aren’t involved, and no one wants to start a scapegoat/monster hunt, but you can do something. Tell the ING to knock it off if you feel it’s safe to do so. Tell the targeted person, (the victim,) they can report and where to do so. Report it yourself, if you don’t want to get involved in the actual situation. Take a picture of the guy, or group of guys, (Sometimes the asshats dress up and get in groups to hoot and harass women in cosplay. I mean it’s all in good fun, right? <insert sarcasm and eyeroll here.>)
Guests, moderators, volunteers, and officials:
You have more power to do something about this than you realize. Demand the conventions you attend have an enforceable policy. Give them this one if they don’t know where to start.
Don’t downplay the importance of this. The Inappropriate Nice Guy in counting on you to look the other way. They know how to act at gatherings, and may very well be rapists and sexual predators outside the gathering. They are another form of sexual predator.
Kerrie L. Hughes
Feel free to comment or ask questions but I do not tolerate negging and trolls.