Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Did anyone order a skeptic pizza… with SAUSAGE?

A few weeks ago, our lovely Jen tweeted that she’d recently had a conversation with a woman who was turned off from attending atheist and skeptic meetups because of the men who attend these events. I chimed in to say that yes, this is a problem, and it’s not just this one woman and it’s not just the men in Columbus.

And this is a very big deal to me, personally, as I’m launching a women’s skeptical outreach organization. While the female to male ratio at WTF events is impressive for skeptic groups in general, it’s not really impressive for a women’s organization. So we have a lot of work to do.

One of the first things that needs to be addressed is the “creepy dude factor”. However, it’s not easy to institute a “creepy dude policy”, especially since women are more likely to just stop showing up as opposed to complaining about being creeped out. It becomes even harder when your group becomes social outside of the events, and adding in Facebook and Twitter and email… it makes it easy to go douche undercover.

Asking a guy to stop being creepy is a difficult thing to do, especially since it’s not something most people do on purpose, and often times it’s an issue of personal presence or a lack of ability to understand social cues. However, I still believe the onus is on the individual to at least make an attempt to not freak people the fuck out.

How do you or would you handle the issue of weird dudes at your meetups? Have you ever stopped attending skeptic events because of unpleasant individuals? What would you like to see done to address this issue?  How can we work together to get more women in the room… and not for sexy time?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. The problem with creepy dudes is that they don’t know they’re creepy. Perhaps if they knew this, they could make efforts to stop. No one wants to tell them though, because they’re creepy.

  2. I say call them out. Momentary awkwardness > creepy dude ruining the fun for everyone else. Unless they’re creepy in the “will I end up in little bits in the bottom of this dude’s freezer for calling him out?” sort of way.

  3. What exactly is it that makes one creepy? Is it a look? Is it behavior? Obvious romantic needyness?

    Is it just men? Would the same traits in women be considered creepy?

    Out of anyone in this world, skepchick people who shun notions of intangible woo-magic should be able to translate this into something more concrete than some mystical creepy-dar.

  4. This isn’t a gender problem. As a dude, I’m less likely to show up at events if there are creepy people. I’ve had awkward conversations with people of both genders. The creepy dudes may not look at my boobs (as I lack them), but they’re not fun to chat with. Eventually I start leaning toward going to other events rather than my local Skeptics in the Pub just because the conversation is better and easier.

    The best times I have at SitP events is when I engage in random small talk with a variety of people. I think some people feel pressure to show up and display their skeptic bona fides and dive right into critical analysis of the latest blog posts. It’s ok to talk about the weather or ask a couple how they fell in love. The skeptical topics will eventually come up naturally.

  5. Isn’t “creepiness” often a symptom of Asperger’s syndrome, something I imagine is present at lots of geek-attracting events and organizations, including science-oriented, skeptical and atheist ones? I can’t prove this, so feel free to dispute what I just said.

    I had to comment, because as someone who was judged by some to be creepy as a young man ages ago (my nickname as a sophomore in college was “Cthulhu”), creepiness can just be an a symptom of being awkwardly socialized, isolated and rejected, if not being wired up differently (Asperger’s, autistic). Creepiness does not equal dangerous. Having just done some reading about psychopathic personalities, it looks like people who can charm and flatter you, and disarm you with their smile and stories, can in reality be the slyest and most destructive of predators.

  6. @laarree: It certainly can be a symptom of AS (okay, pretty much an inevitability of AS), but far too many people use AS as an excuse for their own creepiness. Although Aspies are very likely to be nerds and skeptics, AS is rare enough (a quick check of Wikipedia shows that the prevalence of AS is around 1 in 4,000 people) that it hardly explains this creepiness at SitP that is apparently so common.

    If you’re familiar with AS, you can easily spot the difference between a legitimate Aspie and someone who just has underdeveloped or inappropriate social skills. My best guess is that the problem here is primarily from people who go to these meet-ups as “lonely nerds” than from legitimate Aspies (not to say there isn’t some overlap, though). It’s easy to imagine a male nerd might think this is a good way to pick up girls that he thinks might like him , so he goes with that purpose in mind. If the girls that go aren’t expecting this type of behavior, it will almost certainly come across as creepy.

    How to handle it if this is the case? Well, it’s best to address both the symptoms and the root cause if possible. For the symptoms, just make sure that SitP is labeled as “Not a place to pick up chicks!” For the cause, there needs to be some way of funneling “lonely nerds” to some more appropriate venue for meeting girls, which is much more easily said than done. A skeptic dating site would likely end up suffering from the fact that there are far more males than females in the community, so it’s only a partial solution at best. I don’t really know what can be done, though.

  7. As someone who moves in very geeky circles, a significant percentage of my friends have, since college, been men that many consider “creepy.” And yeah, really they’re just isolated due to their underdeveloped social skills, and that isolation causes their social skills to become even worse.
    But it sucks for them. They aren’t creepy on purpose, but I’d say for the most part a lot of them get that they come across as creepy. They aren’t stupid, they notice the awkward silence after they say something weird. So it makes me a bit mad when people talk about the creepy ones like they’re some kind of alien, or a serial killer or something. They’re people. And they didn’t choose loneliness and embarrassment and mockery; who would? So I really can’t scorn them for going to a skeptics meeting where they hope to maybe make a few friends for once, meet people who they at least have something in common with.
    I know this doesn’t address the issue of getting more women in skeptics meetings but…. well, I have no idea.

  8. Hi, everybody, my name is Mark… and I am a creepy dude.

    I realized this a while ago, and now constantly monitor myself for creepiness. Am I letting others move the conversation, without insisting that they carry it? Am I obsessively going back to say that neat thing I wanted to say? Am I making eye contact? Am I staring? Does this person look uncomfortable with what I am talking about? Am I occasionally asking questions? Am I referring back to answers they’ve given me? Did I actually just use the phrase “rage-fucked to death with a cheese grater” in conversation?

    The key to being less creepy is constant vigilance. I’m not an aspie; just a run of the mill geek. However, if you know that you tend towards creepy, you really need to be aware of your own actions, and take steps to de-creepify. If you don’t know that you tend towards creepy… it may be time for someone to tell you.

  9. My reaction to socially uneducated is generally to attempt to socialize the creepers. If they are struggling to phrase something I try and help them put it to words. If they seem to be peppering a girl with invasive questions, I try to ask them what they are interested in. If they are agonizing about a non-issue, I try to put them at ease. I think it is possible to teach someone to value the whole of human experience and to communicate clearly, but it takes time and work. I can understand if people don’t care to do social work on a Saturday night, but it makes as much sense to me to attempt to transform the members you have as it does to try to recruit replacements.

    As for guys looking to pick up girls, perhaps the best thing to do would be to make it clear when events are not for that purpose and when they are. If there is a separate singles night then it might possible to prevent people from hitting on people who don’t want to be hit on – even if no girls show up to the singles nights.

    Maybe you can do an event about the social behaviors associated with egalitarianism and feminism. This would be a stealth “how not to be a creeper” class and also open up a conversation about what sort of behaviors are acceptable without singling anyone out. Moreover it would help people clearly identify (and hopefully correct) sexist behavior in people who do not attend WTF.

  10. Infophile, thanks for the clarification about the actual incidence of Asperger’s. A good friend teaches high schoolers in a special ed class, and I’ve probably heard far more about Aspies than one normally would, skewing my picture of how common it is.

    I’ve got my creepiness antennae up because a woman I didn’t know called me creepy on a friend’s Facebook thread the other day, reminding me that my eccentric sense of humor is not universally appreciated, making me wonder how often people have this perception of me.

    I’ve worked long and hard over the decades since high school to become a socialized, conversationally fluent and friendly person after a heart-crushingly painful childhood which I survivef by becoming bookish, withdrawn, and drawn to science, science fiction and fantasy, and also filled with barely contained contempt, rage and hunger for affection. I know the back story that many who might be seen as creepy have behind their facade, and ut isn’t necessarily a roiling desire to vanquish enemues,dominate the beautiful, punish the disrespectful and strike fear into the souls of millions. ;-)

  11. It was Seattle, not Columbus. And the easiest way to handle it is to just tell us that we’re being creepy or weird and ask us to dial it back a little. That being said, the guys Jen described were not just creepy, but startlingly ignorant; and that may be the larger problem.

  12. Not to be all creepy but, Cant these Women just get over themselves so we all dont have to keep apologizing for having a penis?
    if a guy is creepy tell him… or stop complaining….

  13. Some people can be challenging, that’s for sure. However if someone is AS or socially challenged then sure there may be some extra work required by other people in a group. And really, to not have this in a skeptical or rational thought type of group is so vanishingly unlikely that having pre-screenings would be required to preclude the attendance of such irritations.

    Now least you think I’m some sort of uber-nonjudgmental type I need to let you know that a couple totally ruined our local skeptics in the pub by possessing and cultivating the most amazing hygiene deficiencies you can imagine. I could no longer spend volitional time with these folk; and others at our SitP were of a similar mind and in the end the meetings evaporated. I’m still a bit sad about that because I like good conversation over a drink.

  14. You know, sometime you just want to go to a bar, have a drink and a chat with mates, not have to responsible for educating others over their social inadequacies.

    Sometimes you want to attend a conference as an individual, not as a representative of the female sex and therefore on your best behaviour.

    And sometimes, you just want to call a creep a creep and let him know its his problem not mine. He can fuck off and sort his own life out, and let me enjoy mine.

  15. @Laarree

    “Having just done some reading about psychopathic personalities, it looks like people who can charm and flatter you, and disarm you with their smile and stories, can in reality be the slyest and most destructive of predators. ”

    yeah… people I’ve never met before falling all over me trying to lay the charm and flattery on thick is CREEPY as hell. Far more creepy than some WoW geek. HOWEVER, if that WoW geek is making a lot of rape jokes, or describes his character’s latest exploits as “raping the shit out of other character” whatever, that is ALSO creepy as hell (apparently this may be common in many games?? I don’t play, I don’t know, but it’s not appropriate in a social meeting). Being condescending is also a super turn off and mostly just annoying, not necessarily creepy, but still likely to make me want to stay home next time.

    I haven’t yet gone to a skeptics meeting so I’m not sure what kind of creepy is most common there.

    Anyway, so those are a few of the creepiest behaviors that turn me off.

  16. What flavor of creepy are we talking about, here?

    Are we talking about:

    a) Lonely socially awkward guy suddenly meets some intellectual women, develops an attraction, but doesn’t know how to channel that attraction appropriately due to aforementioned social awkwardness?

    b) Or are we talking about: Sexist git starts taking photos of all the girls breasts and creates an application to send around to the other guys in the group where they can rank the women in terms of their attractiveness? Apparently this was a big problem with boobquake, but I can see it being a general thing.

    I’ve been a violator in terms of a) myself in the past, so I might be able to offer another perspective on how to handle that.

    I’m no help with b) though. Maybe an outright, explicit creepy dude policy with a three-strike rule?

    Could you give some examples?

  17. jemand, there is creepy and then there is fucking scary. A guy making rape jokes or talking about his character raping the shit out of others in games is someone who is basically wearing a t-shirt saying “Callous douchebag with a vicious, hateful streak. Potentially dangerous. Do not touch, pet, feed or make direct eye contact”.

  18. @Daniel Schealler

    The last time I played D&D, two male players spent the whole game having their characters attempt to rape my character, saying it was “in character” for them to do so.

    Notice how it was the last time I played D&D.

  19. @Jennifurret: Echoing @Daniel Schealler, I am astounded that this is something that occurs at all. Then again, I don’t understand the humor of rape jokes, or joking about rape, or using “rape” as a word to describe something other than a vicious sexual assault.

  20. @James Fox: as you know, you and I have discussed this; there is definitely a disproportionate percentage of people with social handicaps in skepticism, regardless of the specific label. What to do? Well, meetings are not the time or place for a counseling session. There’s nothing WE can do constructively. Not at a meeting. But no one, regardless of sex, race, religion, etc etc etc should have to take shit from anyone at anytime. Be polite , but firm, but if this fails, be forceful in voice and never be afraid to get help. Just because we are all skeptics, does not make us all smart or nice or good people. I’ve met people at our meeting who don’t really even understand what the process is about. They heard a single podcast or were invited by a friend of a friend. They are a loner in search of a cult. These are obviously the exceptions. My point is no jerk should be treated better at a skeptic meeting simply because he is at that metting. Go with your gut.

    Finally, as for jsePrometheus’ “as for guys looking to pick up girls, perhaps the best thing to do would be to make it clear when events are not for that purpose” I say, ” really?” You really think that’s the answer. “Chemistry” can occur at any time. Two people have no control of whether or not they are attracted to each other. And telling some one not to actively pick someone is not going to work. Why? Because delusions of grandeur hit heterosexual men when they are with women; if they THINK there is an attraction, they will act, even , no, especially, if they have social dysfunctions. You can’t ask a person without a filter to filter. Defend yourself women … even if you’re at a skeptics meeting.

  21. I think we got a little derailed here because Elyse asked about “creepy” dudes and then used the adjective “weird” in her bolded question.

    Let’s just be really clear about this: people behaving awkwardly and people being creepy are two entirely different animals. And I’d like us to try to get this conversation back on track and, if possible, give some air time to what women define as creepy, as opposed to men fretting that they’re being awkward and it’s coming across as creepy.

    That’s not it. It’s not the problem. And I would like for us to not downplay a creepy problem by just defending your average weirdo. Let’s understand.

    99% of the gals at a skeptical event have the same roots as the guys, and often the same behaviors. Awkward, shy, geeky, blurters, odd sense of humor, social oddities, etc. When I see a guy being awkward at a social event, it’s like a mirror on myself. I have no problem with these guys and, in fact, I have a soft spot for them, sometimes even an attraction. Your average weird guy was cut from the same cloth I was.

    Now, *creepiness* is another story. I would consider creepiness, broadly, to be unwanted sexual advances or aggressive behavior (aggressive behavior usually couched in said sexual advances). Standing too close. Making rape jokes, as someone mentioned above. Stubbornly persisting in hitting on someone who isn’t interested. Unwanted touching. Insisting on getting a phone number. Overt anger at any rejection of advances. Following someone to their car or the restroom. Buying someone a drink and then assuming that gives you a free pass for any or all of the above.

    It is very well and good to ask a woman to just speak up and tell someone to eff off, but I’d like to help those of you who think it’s just that simple to unwrap your privilege. We live in a society where it’s unseemly to reject advances. Where women are supposed to be polite, first and foremost. Where, when women are the objects of sexual aggression, then have their clothes, hair, makeup, and behavior scrutinized because they might have been inviting it.

    I had to get reallll deep into my 20’s until I felt comfortable telling guys to go screw if needed. And that resulted in more than one really angry, really scary dude.

    I would like to ask the non-creep male allies, if you want to help with this problem, to please be on the lookout for men at gatherings making unwanted advances on women. Tell your friends to cool it. Kick guys out if they’re offenders. Keep an eye on anyone who’s on the verge of having too much to drink, and call them a cab (goes for men and women). Even better? Coordinate events that don’t have a meat market association, like a volunteer event, or things in the daytime, or things where there’s no booze.

    That’s my several bucks on the matter.

  22. And in regards to @Jennifurret’s comment, I am appalled that it happened to you, but I just want to clarify my understanding, and tell me if I’m wrong: you were probably playing D&D in a group larger than just you and these two guys, right? Maybe 6 people?

    Meaning, two men kept trying to use their characters to rape a female’s character, and the other participants in the game did nothing to stop it. And then she never came back, and… perhaps still, no one contacted her to say, hey, that was fucked up, we told those guys to stop it, or we kicked them out, etc.

    As a non-creepy person reading this, maybe you can see your role. Don’t get defensive if you know you aren’t a creep. Just start recognizing creepy behavior and helping to stop it. Own what you can, and help make your events better for women.

  23. wicked-witch, the way you distinguished between awkward behavior and creepiness was very helpful. You were describing well-known examples of behavior that would get any except the most innocent and most inexperienced person’s guard up. Those behaviors as a package would flag someone as a prowling, probable perpetrator of pain. It is eminently reasonable to want to avoid or minimize the impact of people with such vividly malignant personalities, but also to distinguish them from the benign.

  24. I stopped going to local skeptic meet-ups precisely because there was a creepy dude there, who was quite heavily involved with the group (i.e. went to every meeting). The problem wasn’t that he was shy or socially awkward etc, it was that I read some (quite lengthy) stuff he’d posted on a skeptic forum that showed, let’s say, a less than pleasant attitude towards women. He’d also been quite creepy to me personally on said forum (not knowing I was the same woman who’d been to a couple of the meetings) and said some choice things to other female users. Me and my boyfriend were both upset by the things he’d written, so we stopped going to the meetings where we knew he’d be.

    A shame, as we’d enjoyed the meetings up until that point, but we figured life was too short to hang out with misogynist creeps.

  25. @jsePrometheus: “Maybe you can do an event about the social behaviors associated with egalitarianism and feminism. This would be a stealth “how not to be a creeper” class and also open up a conversation about what sort of behaviors are acceptable without singling anyone out.”

    That’s a very interesting idea! I’ve always liked these types of approaches, and this one has the virtue of perhaps resolving potential conflicts before they happen.

  26. I agree with Wicked-Witch’s definition of creepy. I myself have a lot of socially awkward friends. I’m a socially awkward person and have stuffed my foot in my mouth on many occasions. So I really enjoy being with similar people. Makes me think that maybe the silly and stupid things I say or do go unnoticed.

    Creepy is when someone keeps hitting on you even after you inform them that you’re already with and a guy who asks you if it would really be that bad to wake up in his bed with no knowledge of how you got there.

  27. Creepy: someone who attends a social even for their own goals, rather than the stated goals of the social event AND is not forthright about what those goals are AND doesn’t choose to leave said social gathering when appropriate OR someone for whom these things seem to be true.

    Often times people with poor social skills try to make up for this by intellectually understanding social rules, like @Mark Hall suggested. This is not creepy, although working so hard to fit in may be creepy if your larger goal isn’t the same as the group’s.

    To creepy people: the intellect is a tool to be used. If you see a social group or gathering as a tool, as a means to an end, then you are being creepy. Don’t try to fix it, just leave the group. Don’t return until you have figured out why the other people in the group are there and you agree, to yourself, that is why you are going, too.

  28. @jemand and @laarree Yes it is a thing in multiplayer online video games in which people use the phrase “rapin’ ” to describe a powerful victory they have over an in-game opponent. Occasionally there are other variations like “being raped/f-ed up the bumhole/@ss = I losing horribly” and “suck my dick = I want to and think I will powerfully defeat you”. I have played enough games to know the language, which is quite common, but you will never hear be defending the practice. Presumably this practice started with a joke too far about situations in which one person “wins” and another “loses” (apparently jokes about theft weren’t “funny enough” or had the possibility of getting confused with things that actually occur in games). When you think about it this, it kinda implies that if you ever had the opportunity to rape someone that are expected to do just that, or at least, in so far as the analogy can go from the game back into real life. Because then again, these people are playing games literally about killing each other (over and over) so it is empathetically not the case that a violent fantasy or violent game is something that typically caries over to real life. My take is that people who use that language include all sorts – those who think that “rape is okay”, those who are sexist but not rapists (probably the most of them), those who don’t see the word as sexual at all because they just think of video games, and those who only use the word because they think no one would ever mistake them for promoting rape-culture. The language doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but when you take the gaming community, take the subset which is okay using that language, and then take the subset which doesn’t realize what that language means to people outside of the community – then I can see where the creepy indicators go off the charts no matter what the language “means”.

    PS: @Jennifurret role-playing rape is something completely different and it universally disturbing behavior.

    @halincoh I don’t think it would “work” to have a separate singles night but I think that it would help enough to be worth doing (or trying). The reason is that the “don’t be a creeper” message is one easier to send because all you are really saying is “don’t break the rules we set up and you agreed to”. But yeah, there can better approaches that make this one unnecessary.

  29. I suggest calling them on it. Probably a lot of these creepy guys don’t know they’re being creepy. If it’s unwanted conversation then end it with a “whatever” and turn away. Or if it’s something more intense, tell them to kindly fuck off. This is probably best to do only when in an otherwise safe environment – i.e. supportive peers nearby.

    jsePrometheus’ idea about an educational event is also a good one – but that’s more useful as a strategic thing for skeptical (and other) group leaders to organise, rather than the on-the-spot responses I suggested above.

  30. @nickandrew,

    I’m not sure… awkward guys may not necessarily know which behavior is awkward, and I wouldn’t mind talking to them about it… but being awkward doesn’t bother me. It can be kind of cute.

    Creepy behavior is behavior that makes me nervous and scared, and being nervous and scared I feel uncomfortable shining a light on the things that make me scared like that because they could possibly be used against me. Actual creepy behavior always involves actual misogyny and while it is definitely possible for some guys to have it without knowing it, treating women as objects, or as inexplicably “other” not like “normal” people… making light of violence against women, acting entitled, etc. is definitely creepy and I’ll want to stay away.

    That’s what I consider creepy and it makes me frightened. I am not going to speak up and call them on it unless I feel *definitely* backed up by everyone else in the group. I am absolutely not going to call someone on it if it’s my first visit to the group, and I doubt many women would. So your point about supportive peers is important…

    The overall environment has to be pretty supportive and I have to know it pretty well in order to feel secure enough that a single creepy guy’s behavior that scares me doesn’t rub off on the entire experience in such a way that I’m too frightened to bring it up.

    And by frightened, I don’t mean overly emotional or crazy or anything, but just more rational avoidance of locations and situations that make me feel nervous and where I feel like the odd one out or psychologically attacked. Again, I haven’t gone to any skeptic meetings yet (I don’t know if there are any around where I am), but these are just how I generally feel about creepy guys, what things are creepy, etc.

    I think part of the problem is definitions– to me, I don’t really consider decent, but awkward men creepy, but they may be worried about how they’re coming across and think they are. If a guy is relating to me as a whole human being who deserves respect, he’s not creepy even if he’s acting “weird.” It’s when someone starts to relate to me as if I’m not actually a real human being that I get a little nervous.

  31. I have blogged about the physiology that makes this happen.

    One form of this comes from the lack of an ability to understand someone, so you default to “othering” them, or in this case considering them to be “creepy”. This is the normal default mode of human interaction. Unfortunately until you know someone it isn’t possible to tell if they are scary creepy (actually would hurt you), asshole creepy (are only pretending they would actually hurt you), or just unknown creepy (might or might not hurt you, just can’t predict because they are weird).

    People who are scary creepy and asshole creepy should be called on it and be asked to either change their behavior or leave skeptic events. The skeptic community wants to provide a tolerant and inclusive environment for doing skepticism, and that can’t happen if people are being deliberately harassed. But it is easy to label someone who is unknown creepy as either <scary creepy or asshole creepy. This is the essence of what xenophobia does. As skeptics we don’t want to use our default xenophobia to label and then maltreat people, but we also don’t want to allow anyone to be maltreated by scary creepy and asshole creepy dudes (or dudettes, but they are extremely rare).

    I do have AS and am a dude, so it may be that some people have thought me to be one of those creepy dudes. I fall into the category of unknown creepy because I certainly would never hurt anyone and I am certainly never trying to pretend that I would.

  32. In our culture, there seems to be a lot of what I want to call, “playing the part.” I’ve always been a mechanic. I restored street rods for awhile and then worked on F-18’s in the navy; and now I’m going to school for biology. When I’m with a group of mechanics I can be labeled as, “intellectually arrogant” just for wanting to talk about science or history of science; (or talking about how energy travels from the engine to the road). I have learned to watch my sarcasm too. But, when I go to a science club meeting; (I’ve been to only one, an astronomy meeting) it seems like everyone is, “playing the nerd” where we are socially awkward and somewhat obsessed with fantasy. So my mechanic buddies play dumb and my biology classmates feel like they have to climb up on a high horse. I know my mechanic buddies are smart, but they don’t want to be associated with “nerds.” They tend to be intentionally ignorant, and on the other side (science club) are intentionally socially awkward. Sometimes it just seems dishonest. But I blame our culture for this. My buddy grew up in el’ Salvador and was “cool” because he was smart, presumably, because down there he had a chance to get out of poverty; whereas here in America the smart kids are decidedly not cool. This is why I like the Skepchicks a lot because they seem to me to be battling this stereotype. Personally, I think we need more “cool” and intelligent role models.

  33. @daedalus2u, thanks for your thoughts.

    I’d like to kind of reiterate what I said, though.

    Making someone else feel awkward does not make you creep. If you start a conversation and it fizzles, that’s not creepy.

    Making someone else feel scared is creepy.

    You might be strange, but you’re no creep.

    Again, I’m a little annoyed by the fact that the topic here is how we avoid creeps and make women feel safe to go to events, and it has devolved into a discussion about men’s feelings and defense of their behavior.

    If you’re in this thread, you’re probably not a creep. And if you’re worried that you might be a creep, the phrase you need to keep in your mind is “no means no.” I know we normally associate this with rape or a sex act, but it begins the moment you meet someone. If they aren’t interested in talking with you, are trying to get away from you, refuse to provide a phone number, don’t want to join your table game, don’t want a ride home, etc., your job is to back off and move on with your life.

    I find, in all honesty, that our society creates confusion about this. It’s considered romantic to hound a woman to be interested in you even if she’s already said she hasn’t. You see this on TV and in movies all the time.

    Don’t be that guy. Don’t let the guys around you be that guy. That’s all.

  34. @Jennifurret:
    Jen, those people are assholes and I apologize on behalf of the entire non-asshole D&D community for you having to put up with that.
    Even in the age of Felicia Day, getting girls into d&d is still hard and douchebags like that don’t help

  35. @wicked-witch re:”Again, I’m a little annoyed by the fact that the topic here is how we avoid creeps and make women feel safe to go to events, and it has devolved into a discussion about men’s feelings and defense of their behavior.”
    I think that the discussion took this turn because the original post did nothing to define what constituted a “creepy guy” . Subsequent posts were full of questions and speculations, and I am sure that it is clear to some what is ‘creepy’, but apparently not everyone knows what the line is that is being drawn. My guess is that different people will define ‘creepy’ in different ways.What may be obvious to you may not be interpreted the same way by everyone else.

  36. @Jennifurret: I think your experience pretty much sums up the problem. That sounds terrible.

    I enjoy nerdy things, but I always feel dirty after getting together in a group to do these things. People take it so seriously. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the chance to be together, it seems like everyone starts struggling over an invisible trophy sitting in the middle of the table they think contains their self identity. “No, you can’t be a skeptic/gamer/fan/expert. I’m THE skeptic/gamer/fan/expert.”

  37. @tmac57: For fuck’s sake, people. This isn’t that hard.

    We don’t need One Universal Definition of “creep” that is logically pure. The fact that so many people in here are getting pedantic about this speaks volumes about the problem. A member of our community is telling us she and others don’t feel comfortable. Instead of trying to help address the problem, you’re trying (in a sadly pathetic way) to show off.

    If you are posting this kind of pedantic argument here, you’re part of the problem. Yes! You!

    You don’t always have to be the center of attention. And you don’t have to be the most skeptical or logical. Show some respect for other people and listen once in a while. Are you really skeptical that Elyse or the other women mentioned feel this way? Why in the hell would they bring it up if they didn’t?

    Instead of typing some turgid treatise on the Five Ways the Logical Definition of “creep” hasn’t been properly established, ask yourself a question: “Do I care if other people are comfortable around me?”

    If the answer is “No,” I can’t help you. You’re a self-absorbed sociopath. We’ll just have to do our best as a society to quarantine your douchiness.

    If the answer is, “Yes,” then you’re going to have to face reality and work on your social skills. Admit to yourself that you have a problem and spend some time trying to improve.

  38. @delphi_ote:

    We don’t need One Universal Definition of “creep” that is logically pure…. If you are posting this kind of pedantic argument here, you’re part of the problem. Yes! You!

    Quite right. We should all just make up our own individual definition of creepy, and whenever anyone doesn’t instantly automatically intuit and fully understand our personal individual defintion we can point our angry finger at them and blame them for being part of the problem “Yes you, you naughty doggy you!”

    Excellent idea.

  39. I will not respond in kind to that gratuitous attack.If anything in my comment was understood other than what was explicitly stated then that is not my problem. I expect a skeptical forum to maintain a level of decorum that fosters honest opinions and responses. That is what I usually get. I hope that this is not the usual tone of discourse on this blog.

  40. Yes, if told I did something creepy (and I have, or at least incredibly socially awkward) I stop and put that on my things to watch for list.

    But if someone is uncomfortable telling the event organizers that there are too many creepy people, why would expect them to tell someone to their face? Especially since you can’t tell what their reaction will be.

    Doubly so when you feel alone at a conference.

    I don’t expect the “tell them to stop” solution to win many converts.

    The voice in my head tells me doing a workshop on “how to talk to girls” would be hilarious, but you can’t listen to that jerk.

  41. @delphi_ote: did I miss something? I don’t think tmac57 refuted that Elyse or the other person felt uncomfortable. D’s point is valid: different people have different comfort levels based on experience, etc. A good, working definition of “creep” is useful, especially if it means someone might be ‘banned’ or excluded from attending events, etc. Aggressive behavior, not taking no for an answer, misogynistic language, are all good places to start.
    I have been to a number of skeptics gatherings in various places and for the most part have had wonderful experiences (many of these probably involved men and women who might be defined as “creepy”).
    I suspect that our problem regarding drawing women in/keeping women involved in the skeptical movement has more to do with other factors than the “creepy dude” phenomenon.

  42. @wicked-witch: ” It’s considered romantic to hound a woman (you think ) to be interested in you even if she’s already said she (isn’t). You see this on TV and in movies all the time. Don’t be that guy. Don’t let the guys around you be that guy. That’s all.”

    Well said.

    “I would like to ask the non-creep male allies, if you want to help with this problem, to please be on the lookout for men at gatherings making unwanted advances on women. Tell your friends to cool it. Kick guys out if they’re offenders. ”

    I agree 100%. I have intervened often in my life. I’ll continue to intervene if needed. The intervention does not have to be aggressive. It shouldn’t be aggressive – unless there is desperation. Often , all it takes is a simple redirection with a few spoken words or change of subject or with humor in general, either with the woman who is being confronted or the man who is being confrontational. I have sometimes, to my embarressment, erred on the side of being too protective. I’ll live with that error.

  43. Interesting topic. My husband and I have attended TAM for many years – love it. Last year we attended the Athiest Alliance International meeting in Burbank for the first time. We both noticed immediately that it was easier to talk to folks at the AAI meeting than any TAM. Conversations included everyone at the table, not just conversations limited to a few. Topics were far ranging. Significantly different dynamic. At TAM, I often am the first to introduce myself, bring up various topics, be inclusive of those around me. My husband and I talked about the different ‘feel’ of those two meetings (both of which include many skeptics and many athiests). While we enjoy both meetings – both are so intellectually stimulating – it was easier to interact at the AAI meeting. I didn’t notice creepy or weird people at either meeting (or at least, no more than I would expect at any large gathering.)

  44. @tmac57.

    I understand what you’re saying.

    I think I should also explain the subtext here– I find it frustrating that we’re trying to discuss an issue about the problems women can have at skeptical events, and yet somehow 85% of the people posting are men talking about their own feelings on creepiness, why they think they aren’t a creep, why they might act like a creep but really aren’t, etc.

    Let me explain what I would like to see. When someone who is in a minority group (like women at skeptic events) expresses why there’s a problem, the members of the majority group stop, read/listen, and try to just understand. No part of that involves defending themselves, overexplaining, jumping in to say why they aren’t the problem, or trying to beat a semantic horse.

    I’m glad of the discussion in here, don’t misunderstand. There’s just a lot of noise in here that’s not contributing to help solve this problem.

    A few years ago, a black friend of mine once shared that he “can’t discuss racism with white people, because all they want to do is explain why they aren’t racist. I finally decided to stop wasting my time with that.”

  45. Yeah, who would have guessed that on a blog post about what should be done about all the creepy men ruining skeptical meetings,that it would attract so many comments from men? That’s a real head scratcher.

  46. @tmac57:

    Perhaps it’s because a lot of the men here, most of them actually, are as concerned as the women are that this kind of unpleasant behaviour goes on at these kinds of functions.

    I do believe it’s called working together towards social equality.

    Would you rather the men simply stayed away, did not become involved in trying to work together toward a better set of social behaviours, and left it all up to the women to work out on their own without any help, or empathy, or contribution from the other side?

  47. I don’t go to any skeptical events, so I’m not sure I can contribute to the overall discussion, but I have to say: Elyse, I LOVE the title of the post! Very appropriate :-)

  48. Excellent topic, excellent discussion… sort of. Wicked-witch has it right – this isn’t about blokes trying to justify their behaviour in terms of whether they’re AS (as I am) or not. It’s about women being able to feel comfortable in social situations.

    Simple, but not easy. AS people are fairly easy to spot – be direct about their lack of social skills and they’ll take it with grace and dignity because they know it’s true, most want to change, and appreciate your help. If they are not positive about your help, they’re really a creep.

    Real creeps are simply creeps – they make people uncomfortable because they don’t conform to the societal norms that allow people to relax in a social situation. Put them in a church, or on a train, or in a pub, or anywhere and they still creep people out. They don’t really want to be part of the social interaction, so exclude them from it – gently at first by just not talking to them, but with increasing force up to and including up-ending them in a rubbish bin.

    An object lesson in manners is a powerful lesson, and this is about manners. I may be an old (and old-fashioned) AS sufferer, but it’s got a lot going for it.

  49. @John Greg:
    Yes I realize that. My statement was meant as ironic.I just find it non productive for a few who decide that they are the ones who get to decide who should be allowed to comment on a subject.I was caught off guard by being unjustly attacked for what was a fairly uncontroversial observation that could have moved the discussion forward instead of being interpreted as being “part of the problem”.
    I have been to 3 TAM events,local skeptical meetings and social events, and I haven’t seen anything like this going on,so naturally,I wanted a little clarification,especially after it was obvious in the comments here that some was needed.
    I don’t doubt that something is going on that needs to be addressed,but when the topic comes up,and it becomes clear that there is some confusion over what behavior is being deemed as “creepy”, then it seems reasonable to draw a clearer distinction of what the problem is.

  50. I’m pretty sure that most creeps know that they are creeps. They just feign innocence when they’re called on it, because they know that everyone wants to believe it’s just an innocent mistake.

    Here’s a clue: if you’re man and women are frequently creeped out by you, then stop blaming women and consider your own behavior. As scientists, you should be able to realize that if multiple people are reacting to you in the same way, then it’s probable that the problem is with you and not everyone else.

  51. @wicked-witch: [applause]
    Seriously, when you have an organization for women that holds events for women you want women to choose to show up. People are busy, they have a lot of things they can be doing. When events are filled with people who are not fun to be around – even if they’re just awkward or annoying – it will tip the balance in favor of doing something else. Don’t get defensive, that’s just how social economics works! I assume Elyse means “creepy dude” in the casual sense, not someone who is actually dangerous and intends harm.

  52. If you guys want a definition of creepy to work with here, it’s not rape creepy. That’s a situation that’s simple… you kick rape-creep out. You don’t hang out with him. He’s not allowed back. Rape creep is shunned.

    I’m talking about that intangible, not doing anything necessarily wrong, but still imposing on someone’s sense of being comfortable.

    If I walk into an event for women, and there’s men there, I have an expectation of the men to be LESS creepy than the overall population. Because I expect to be welcome. I expect that an event for women is safe for women. If there’s a guy there who violates my sense of welcomeness, or if I feel like the men attending, even ONE of them, is there to troll for ass, I’m not coming back.

    If men are making the women uncomfortable, it affects my ability to do outreach. And if it’s not correctable behavior (like rape-creepy is), you can’t just say, “Don’t do that” to creepy dude.

    I’m sorry if that seems noninclusive. I’m sorry you think I’m being an ass for not embracing this behavior.

    But mostly I’m sorry that many of you (or ANY of you) think that women should have to deal with it without any repercussions for men… because hey, some dudes are just creepy, and we should celebrate their unique personalities! Outreach be damned. Women be damned.

  53. so, while i think this conversation has touched on a lot of relevant points, here’s what i see missing:

    regarding defining creepiness: there is never going to be a universal definition of creepy for the simple fact that different people feel creeped out by different behaviors. what has followed in this thread, in between a lot of defensiveness, is a lot of women (and men) explaining what creeps them out. this is the important data, and a lot of it probably comes close to a broad understanding of what most people will consider creepy.

    for me, as with many of those who shared above, if i get the feeling i’m being treated as though i have no agency, and that a man believes his attraction to me privileges him to my attention regardless of my wishes in the matter, i get creeped out.

    but here’s the point: it’s not about having a working definition of creepy. it’s about understanding that there are things you can do in social situations that may make others uncomfortable, you are not always going to know what these things are, and so you should make it a habit to try to be aware of how others react to you, and be open to criticism if it arises.

    that’s it.

    if you are unwilling to do that, then you shouldn’t be putting yourself in social situations.

    yes, we should foster an environment in which all of us can recognize and call out these behaviors; or at least one in which those of us who do recognize them will. i acknowledge that there are plenty of perfectly non-creepy skeptics who lack the social savvy to pick up on some of these subtleties.

    but if the community truly wants to achieve diversity, we need to start doing more looking out for each other, and intervening where we see potentially creepy behavior.

    i’ve seen a lot of it: men following women around, forcibly kissing them, talking to them despite their obvious disinterest/discomfort, backing them into corners…i may be more aware of this stuff because i’ve experienced it myself in the past, but we can all be more vigilant.

    this is not an attack on men. it’s a spotlight being shined on a legitimate problem that needs addressing.

  54. I realized some time ago that I have creepy tendencies, and I struggle not to be creepy. When I see creepiness in other people, I find that shouting “Creeper, no creeping!” three times while pointing at the creeper will 1) bring the creepiness to the creeper’s attention, 2) cause people to realize that I’ve watched way too much children’s television over the last decade, and 3) get me asked never to show up again. (I can’t take credit for Creeper no creeping, though. I got it from Tumblr and the Spieling Peter fiasco.)

  55. @tmac57:

    Yes I realize that. My statement was meant as ironic.

    Ah, I see. Sorry. I missed the irony. Irony is often hard to pick up on when used online, and I rarely miss a chance to miss it.

    I was caught off guard by being unjustly attacked for what was a fairly uncontroversial observation that could have moved the discussion forward instead of being interpreted as being “part of the problem”.

    If you’re referring to @delphi_ote’s ridiculous post (that I also replied to – @John Greg – with sarcastic irony, no less), then I certainly agree with you. Clarification on definition is very important. And a surprisingly (to me) large group of skeptics do not seem to much care for really careful language specificity — which I’ve never been able to understand — and get quite defensive and angry when us “pedantic asshats” even gently, calmly, and constructively push for it.

    However, all that being said, I think @carr2d2 makes a really valid point, which is that determining a universal definition of “creepy” probably isn’t going to happen — it’s just too broad a term. And then she follows that up with an even better point that people explaining what creeps them out is where the important data is. That’s so true. And that’s probably about the best, and closest, we’ll get to a universal definition of “creepy”. It’s also good because it helps to determine when an individual’s perception of creepy is really nothing more than an over-zealous, but basic, “fear of the other”, which I suspect happens a reasonable amount of the time.

  56. Whee , a female asking for someone to change, and not for changes’ sake but for the effect it has on her, and not a very specific request, but a wage one.

    women and men for that matter, that fill up the uncomfortable silences, that occur during conversations with random strangers during TAM meetings, with idle chatter about their personal lives creep me out.

    i have no interest in learning about your likes and dislikes, i’d rather talk about the last speaker or an issue brought about by that weirdo woman who talked about female porn at TAM london, romanticizing sex at a public venue is sorta lame.

    i mean honestly, what percentage of your sexual encounters, are filled with bouquet of flowers, rose pedals leading to the bedroom, champagne and caviar, cheesy music, constant wind to blow back each persons’ hair, and it going on for an hour?

    this creepy guy comment brought to you by the committee for more relaxed attitude toward strangers and sponsored by the get over yourself foundation.

  57. @Egillvs: Whee, a male dismissing a woman’s concerns over her and other women’s safety and comfort because he doesn’t want to be bothered to be responsible for his own actions and their consequences. I’ll get over my crazy desire to be treated like a human being when you start acting like one yourself.

  58. I see no reason why the Women Thinking Free foundation should become the Educating All The Socially Awkward, Dateless, Insecure Creepy Kids foundation.

    I sincerely wish I had a good solution for what to do with/for/to the guys who create more than their fair share of “Uhh…. what?” *edge uncomfortably away* moments, particularly at women-oriented events, but unfortunately I don’t. Certainly none that could ever work in the general, fix-it-all sort of way we’d all like to see, anyway. But, if anyone does have any ideas, I do believe that this might just be a wonderful place to post them! And perhaps even the intent behind Elyse’s post!

    The fact remains that a the primary responsibility of a women’s organization is to the wimmins, and not to dedicate itself to perpetually, gently, and non-emasculatingly explaining to the menfolk how they should behave in order to get in our pants be permitted to join in our reindeer games.

  59. Forgive me if my thoughts on this are a bit unfocused; I’m running into multiple lines of thought on this.

    Despite my admission of a personal tendency towards creepiness, I’ve also excluded people based on a general perception of creepiness. Most recently, it was an RPG game in July. One guy showed up with his wife… and he proceeded to be really fuckin’ creepy. Collecting physical specimens of various nature from dead enemies creepy. Unhealthy obsession with goats creepy. Insisting on touching parts of other characters creepy (not the players, which would’ve gotten his arm immediately broken… just the characters, in game). He was consistently creepy, and even his wife was saying “Don’t get us kicked out of another group.”

    We had a break between games, and I polled the other players. The unanimous opinion was to give him another chance… and I didn’t invite him back, anyway. Here was a man, in his 30s or 40s, who was being pretty aggressively creepy to people he’d met once before, despite his wife telling him “Don’t do that.” I wavered on not inviting him back, but finally decided that it was recreation, and it wasn’t our job to teach him not to be creepy. So he didn’t come back, and now we’re quite comfortably creepy with each other… occasionally pushing lines with each other, but not dancing upon those lines. We had far less problem with a character who ate the hearts of his foes and painted himself in their blood than the guy who collected semen samples from dead hobgoblins and spent game time discussing the mating potentialities of his goats.

    To the topic of creepy folks at more public gatherings, however, I think this is something that event planners need to take into account. While the creeps are obviously responsible for their own creepy actions, event planners need to take into account that not all creeps will be, or that some people’s creep line is set lower than others, and so is much easier to step over. What many events need is a type of pseudo-security… people who will insert themselves into creepy conversations to help other people escape. Some groups develop this naturally; one of my jobs at the library is to let some of our staff members know they have a “phone call in the back” so they can get away from creepers. The SCA is, IME, generally pretty good about locating creeps and making sure that they’re kept occupied.

    It comes down to, IMO, developing a group awareness of creepers and, if their behavior isn’t worthy of kicking them out, redirecting them appropriately. While the creepers are responsible for their own behavior, it is, IMO, the responsibility of a group to see to it that irresponsible creepers don’t ruin things for everyone else.

  60. @Mark Hall:

    … the guy who collected semen samples from dead hobgoblins and spent game time discussing the mating potentialities of his goats.

    Jebbles! What kind of friggin’ game are you playing? I must be living under a rock or something.

    Don’t you think maybe it’s the game that’s creepy, and not so much the guy?

    (Sorry for the slight topic derail.)

  61. @John Greg: No, it was the guy. Everyone else was happy to kill things and take their stuff… run through dungeons beating up orcs and fleeing like little girls from the minotaur. He’s the one who insisted on interjecting goat mating and sample collection.

  62. This whole conversation is beginning to creep me out. Are we really advocating that women must be protected from the “creepers” in order to keep us coming back to meetings, gatherings, etc? If we are dealing with the vague kind of “ill at ease” stuff that Elyse focused on in her last reply (as opposed to aggressive behavior), then maybe this is stuff we can handle on our own and in the moment… I hate being thought of as that delicate because of my sex.
    And why are we focusing only on the guys? I have seen women trolling for dates at these things, too and I am sure that “creepiness” is not a male gender only problem.
    Again, I reiterate some of the others’ points above: one person’s creep may be another’s dream come true.

  63. Never having been to one of these meetings, I have to ask, is there an application form with an ‘code of conference conduct’ section?

    Seems like one could word it in such a way that ephasises the importance of respect for fellow conferenceites, maybe with a hint of ‘don’t be an arogant jerk’.

    Most importantly (to me anyway) is that it could be worded in a gender neutral way. People, both men and women, seem to get defensive when their behaviour is questioned based on their gender.

    Wording a code of conduct carefully may be most effective in improving creeps’ behaviour if it doesn’t feel like it is singling them out for being male.

  64. @Egillvs: Ugh, I know, right?!

    So anyway @Egillvs, I spent most of the day painting with a 0000 brush (really tiny, ya know) and I’m working on this painting on a tray, for a charity. It’s wooden. Anyway, I’m painting with this tiny brush, listening to Cosmos that I’ve got streaming on Netflix. Don’t you just LOVE that this is possible?! It’s like we’re living in the future LOL. Anyway, I’m painting away and I get a text from wife (here we go LOL) and she’s going on and on about how she had to talk about art in her sociology class. WTF, right? Sooooooo ridiculous. So she’s like ‘They all probably think I’m a snob now’ and I was like ‘Good job, dummy’ and she was like ‘LOL’ cuz I called her a dummy, like on 30 Rock and stuff. But then I realized that while I was sitting and painting for so long, and all hunched over my table, that my leg fell asleep. So I went to get up and I was all dizzy from staring at all these little tiny lines and curves I was painting (like I said, I was all hunched over LOL). So then I decided that I should probably do laundry (I’m doing the laundry because wifey is at class, ya know?LOL) So I’m doing laundry and I get another text from my wife, this time about blah blah blah she’ll tell me later. Women. Am I right?! LOL
    So then I came home and caught up on this thread and saw your comment and I just HAD to post something. Ya know?
    And what I decided to post is what I wrote above.
    Oh and also this, in keeping with @Elyse‘s comment of “you can’t just say, ‘Don’t do that’ to creepy dude.”
    You, @Egillvs are a creep. You have posted a dipshit rant here and you should not be tolerated. Please leave.

  65. @mezzobuff: I’m personally advocating that people in general be aware of creepiness in groups they are part of, and act to make things comfortable for everyone… the non-creeps first. It doesn’t matter who is being creepy to whom… a group that is interested in making its members and visitors comfortable should take steps to reduce creepiness.

    Individuals are responsible for their own actions, yes, but groups are responsible for making sure their group lives up to their own standards. On a blog, that might mean Skept-artist pointing out to Egillvs that he’s being creepy, and others backing him up (which we are, Egillvs. Seriously, dude, what the hell?). At a gathering, that means looking around and saying “Person A looks really uncomfortable talking to Person B; let’s go rescue A.”

    I don’t see any reason why WTF should be the EATSADICK foundation. But part of any organization’s growing is making sure that it is enforcing the culture it wants, or it’ll wind up with the culture it has. And that means addressing the creepers who are fucking up that culture, and doing so in a way in keeping with that culture.

  66. @bug_girl:

    Perhaps somewhere within the goal of social equality can be found an acknowledgement that there are a lot of men and a lot of women that do a lot of bad shit to both men and women.

    There are also a lot of women and a lot of men who notice this bad shit and do what they can to counter it.

    Personally, I get very depressed at how many “gals” don’t seem to notice the shit that happens to men non-stop.

    Listen, it’s a bad-shit-happens to everybody all-over-the-place kind of a planet. And lots of us are doing our best to point this out to all the other men and women who just don’t seem to care about anyone but their own particular isolated group, culture, clique, gender, sex, career, whatever, and just keep on hollering their mantra of exclusivity.

  67. @BonnieBeth:

    E.A.T.S.A.D.I.C.K.? You win Skepchick.


    I’m asking men to be responsible for their behavior and not drive women away from meetings. And the thing is, this IS a problem. It’s been brought to my attention and to the attention of other women in other groups in other cities. Women are FAR less involved in skepticism, and when their introduction to it starts with being creeped out at a meet-up, that’s a problem. It’s not that I think woman require protection; it’s that I think we should demand respect and civility.

    If “fending for yourself” means “never coming back”, that’s not an okay solution to me.

    My focus is on women for this question because it’s women who have brought the problem to my attention, and and when they bring the problem to my attention, it always involves men. And this is Skepchick. And my foundation is for women. And women are not showing up to skeptic events. If men are being creeped out and intimidated by date-trolling women, no one has brought it to my attention. It maybe happening, I don’t know.

    And in Chicago, we have a really great and diverse skeptical community. But that’s only recently. Too many times for too long I was the ONLY woman in the room. Remember the first time we met? It was you and me and dudes everywhere (ok not everywhere, there were like 10). We’ve come a long way as a community. Now, I’d like to think that when women come to Chicago events, if they run into a creepy guy, they can turn to other women and be all WTF is up with that guy??? They see other women and it helps give them the confidence to come back… most of the time anyway… I hope.

    Other communities are not so fortunate. It’s hard enough to keep coming back as a woman when there’s no other women. It’s even harder when you’re the only woman AND you’re left uneasy by the men who attend. Even harder harder when you’re the only woman AND you’re uneasy by the men AND it’s a small, intimate group of 10 or so people.

    It’s easy to dodge Creepy Dave at a meetup with 30 people. Not easy to dodge him in a group of 8 and he always picks the seat next to you.

  68. This has happened to me before.

    I went to a meeting and there was this one woman who just sat in the corner sharpening the tines of her pitchfork. Creeped me the hell out.

    I have never gone back to that sewing circle.

  69. @Elyse: Sorry, I am not completely buying into it. You seem to be moving goal posts: in one instance it is “I’m talking about that intangible, not doing anything necessarily wrong, but still imposing on someone’s sense of being comfortable.” and then it is someone being disrespectful and uncivil. These are very different situations. Which one involves the creep or do we toss anyone out based on someone’s else’s intangible sense and go from there?
    I didn’t imply that fending for oneself meant taking off and not coming back: I did say that it needed to be handled on our own and in the moment. I agree with Mark Hall in that we all need to enforce the kind of community we want, but I also agree with John Greg in that it needs to be gender neutral.
    The other option is to produce some women only events (which we should probably do anyway) if we are truly worried about this issue and feel that it is generated primarily by men.
    I honestly think the creep factor is being given too much weight in this matter and that there are other reasons for lack of female membership that probably have more to do with ingrained ideas of gender roles and societal roots.
    It sucks to be the only woman in a group and then feel put upon, hit hard upon or maligned and get no back-up (been there, done that)… and in these small groups and those particular instances that you are talking about I think the woman actually should leave and perhaps start a group of her own if she is truly interested (like you did).
    I have not seen nor experienced anything like the above at any of the WTF , atheist or other skeptical groups I have been involved in out here in Chicago (going on 5 or six years now) or any of the other cities where I have attended similar functions. Have there been socially awkward, geeky even strange people attending? Sure. Have I at times felt like I would rather have sat by someone else? Sure. Have I even had the “dude who always wants to sit right next to me” situation? Sure. But it was always easy enough to take care of right then without any fuss or hurt feelings. More often than not it is the type you described in your first response: the person who isn’t doing anything wrong, who is vaguely uncomfortable with him/herself, maybe a little difficult to talk to and who makes it kinda hard to connect in a regular, easy kind of way. Someone who maybe tries a little too hard to be accepted. I just don’t want to see these kind of people turned away because they have value, too and more often than not are the more interesting and devoted members.

  70. Ok so I know I am jumping in here a bit late but I really think that there have been several points missed in this thread.

    Most women (ecspecially those in skeptism) can discern the difference between socially akward behavior and creepiness. A stalker is still creepy even if they haven’t stalked you!

    I would like to think I have a pretty fined tuned “creep-o-meter”. If I walked into an event and there was a “creepy” person there I would leave and never say anything to that group. Why? Because I am an outsider whose opinion most likely wouldn’t be valued. So why waste the breath? Is that really fair?

  71. @mezzobuff:

    I think the creep factor is an important issue. I don’t think that it’s a primary issue. I don’t think that if it was gone that we’d instantly double the numbers of women in skepticism. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t in need of addressing. And it doesn’t mean that it isn’t affecting turnout numbers. It’s one of the reasons Skepchick even exists. Women are experiencing the creep. It’s real. And it’s keeping them away. And we know this because they’re telling us that.

    Please don’t think that I’m confusing “awkward” with “creepy”. They’re not the same. And “disrespectful” doesn’t mean that it’s something tangible. I have all the respect in the world for people who are awkward, and know it, but work hard to overcome their awkwardness and get out to events. It’s FANTASTIC! I love it. I really do. They need to be encouraged. We do need to welcome them. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

    You don’t have to KNOW you’re doing something wrong to be disrespectful. And it doesn’t have to be tangible. When dealing with personal boundaries, not understanding where those are, and crossing them, whether you mean to or not, is not respectful. It happens. Everyone does that. Even the non-creepy and the non-awkward among us. Reasonable people understand that. But when you have someone who is constantly right on that boundary line, rubbing up against it or crossing just enough in to make you uncomfortable, that’s not “correctable”. It’s not the single act of sitting next to you… which, I admit was a poor example because, you’re right, that’s just an awkward thing… it’s the sitting next to you and sitting too close and forcing you to carry the conversation totally/creating a monologue disguised as a conversation and sending a few too many facebook messages and skyping you the second you log on every time and giving you weird or inappropriate gifts (homemade drugs – NOT appropriate… seriously) and asking you out repeatedly no matter how many times you say no and misinterpreting your, and others’, relationship with him and any combination of these things (as well as any number of other factors) in just the right way. These aren’t things that are limited to the awkward. Boisterous men (and women,too!) can be these things do. But they’re not correctable. Each act maybe is, but each act in and of itself isn’t really wrong and isn’t creepy. But as they accumulate, it’s creepy. And as they accumulate, the creeper is not respecting the other person.

    Yeah, we can all handle it ourselves. But when someone stops enjoying attending events because the creeper is there, or is dreading opening Skype, or has to turn off FB chat or has to start lying about being in a relationship with someone else… that’s not embraceable behavior.

    Creating women-only events is a great idea for a lot of reasons, but creating them to solve this problem or even address this problem isn’t one of them. It’s not ALL men. It’s some men. A very small number of them, but enough that it’s keeping people away. Women’s outreach includes men. We need to work with them. It’s why I have men on the WTF board. Besides, I like men. As far as genders go, they’re one of my favorites.

    We need to address the creeps, not embrace them and give them certain places they can be creepy and create other no-creep zones. Everywhere should be a no-creep zone.

    Bah… I don’t even know if I’m making any sense anymore… or if I ever was.

  72. Translation: What do we do about the Dr. BUZZ0s of the world?

    Good question! I have no idea. The problem is, how do you define “creepy”? Is it like the old Justice Brennan(?) definition of pornography – “I know it when I see it”?

    If I was creep, maybe I could give some input. :)

  73. @Elyse:

    Bah… I don’t even know if I’m making any sense anymore… or if I ever was.

    Well, speaking for myself you are now making much more sense, or rather you are defining the issue with many more tangible specifics than in the original post. Thanks for that.

  74. @John Greg:

    Well I usually try to keep the AI vague. It’s just supposed to be a conversation starter… but the question is poorly written.

    But I climbed a giant building yesterday. So that’s my excuse.

    (And yes, I wrote the question before I climbed the giant building…. but I was so tired afterwards that it made me retroactively stupid.)

  75. @Elyse: “We need to address the creeps, not embrace them and give them certain places they can be creepy and create other no-creep zones. Everywhere should be a no-creep zone. “

    Plenty of sense in fact. Some events may simply require creep bouncers or even some kind of polite notice regarding interpersonal behavior expectations if there's an issue. As discussed previously I wonder how many creeps even know they've crossed lines or violated space.

  76. @James Fox:

    I think a lot of them don’t. And I don’t know how to explain it, either. I’ve tried. I’ve never been successful… not even when explaining “this is exactly what’s wrong with that specific behavior” to a close friend. He never got it. Insisted I was wrong.

  77. Specific creepiness at a skeptic event: TAM8, evening, bar where everyone hung out. Guy plops down in the middle of a group and hits on one woman, proceeding to discuss his ball-sac depilatory issues (to be humorous?) and when I call him out, “Dude, that’s really creepy!” he then hands his business card pre-written with his phone and room number to said (overly-polite) woman and keeps talking. She and I walk away and watch him then move on to another woman who was with another man and try to hit on her.

    Our discussion resumed and we concluded creepy is a feeling you get, you can’t define it but you definitely know it when you feel it. Even the men around us agreed he was creepy, but not one stepped up to remove the guy. They (and we) all just laughed. But what if my polite friend had been alone? What if the next or the next woman didn’t have someone watching out for her?

    Women are taught to be polite. Period. It’s a hard habit to break even for your own safety. If we want women to feel comfortable in a more male situation, we need to ensure they feel safe.

  78. @BonnieBeth:
    I see no reason why the Women Thinking Free foundation should become the Educating All The Socially Awkward, Dateless, Insecure Creepy Kids foundation.


  79. @The Central Scrutinizer:
    If I was creep, maybe I could give some input.

    Perhaps you’re the “creepy Dave” mentioned earlier? :P

    As far as keeping the creeps occupied so they don’t bother others, I have failed on a few occasions. It’s not just women who are sometimes too polite. It’s a typical nerdy/geeky habit to have been excluded from the cool groups doing cool stuff your entire life that you don’t suddenly want to exclude someone just because they’re a bit off. Inevitably, in a group of about half a dozen people about to head some place else, there’s one person who’s going to say: “oh sure, you can come along if you want to.” and suddenly you’re stuck with creepy dude at dinner once again.

    I suppose the most obvious thing you can do as women to make these events more comfortable and inviting is simply not be afraid to say out loud to people around you “geez, that dude is creeping me/her out”. Because unless you speak up, other people will often not be aware of the creep’s creepyness. If they don’t know, they won’t be able to help you avoid a person you just don’t want to interact with, or walk in and save someone from an endless conversation they’re not interested in continuing. I’m often socially clueless enough that this stuff passes by me completely unnoticed. Probably up to the point where people have thought of me as the creepy guy for not noticing their cues of disinterest. At that point I’d prefer to be side-tracked by someone else, rather than continuing to make someone uncomfortable unbeknownst to me.

  80. @Michael Critz RE: “Creepy dudes scare off regular dudes who hate to look creepy by proxy.”
    Your comment and this thread made me reflect back on an incident at TAM. I was next to a young lady in the food line that I recognized from a TAM cruise (40 people only). I said “hey I know you, my wife and I were on the ‘(such and such) cruise’ “.She gave me a withering look,and said “Yeah,well I meet a lot of people”,and walked away. I thought that she was just being rude or stuck-up, but maybe she had the wrong idea of why I spoke to her.Oh well.

  81. @Elyse: We need to address the creeps, not embrace them and give them certain places they can be creepy and create other no-creep zones. Everywhere should be a no-creep zone.

    @James Fox: Plenty of sense in fact. Some events may simply require creep bouncers or even some kind of polite notice regarding interpersonal behavior expectations if there’s an issue.

    This ties back into what I was saying above. The “creep bouncers” need to be people from the community, either specifically asked to be on the look-out by event organizers, or who simply do it to make sure the event is fun for everyone. Sometimes, they bounce. You’ve got some people who are just going to be creeps and won’t contribute meaningfully. Sometimes, they redirect. I’m not talking about sending socially awkward people to a “creep corral” where they can be collected by members of EATSADICK, but at least rescuing people from uncomfortable conversations and giving the occasional “Dude/Lady, you’re kinda creepy” in a non-offensive way.

  82. What about a subtle kind of creep bouncer approach?: If it’s just one or two creeps ruining it for everyone, make sure they don’t get positive attention and that they don’t have a good time in general. Let it be known that people don’t have to be nice to them. In the same way that women don’t return to events because of the creeps, creeps might not return if they’re not getting what they want.

  83. @B Hitt:
    In the same way that women don’t return to events because of the creeps, creeps might not return if they’re not getting what they want.

    You’d think that, wouldn’t you? And yet, some people have been returning to TAM every year despite not really being encouraged. Whatever it is they want from it, they seem to be getting it even with everyone trying to avoid them.

  84. I like people. I’m not a creeper and creepers don’t bother me. But you know what? It’s important to me that creepers don’t bother other people. Whether you have to redirect them, bounce them, or ban them you have to deal with them.

    Creepers in nerd communities are like spammers and trolls in Internet communities – both types have to be dealt with (and both types made an appearance in this thread!)

  85. I agree with John Greg: it is possible to pinpoint some tangible behaviors that are unacceptable and Elyse has pin-pointed a few in her post. Home-made drugs gifts? Unacceptable (although, weirdly interesting). Not taking “no” for an answer? Already identified as unacceptable. The other stuff just seems too subtle and vague to be considered aggressive and too easily used to vilify or exclude people.
    I think responsibility needs to go both ways: if someone is making me uncomfortable, the first thing that needs to happen is for me to make sure I express that to the other person. In our kind of groups, that should be enough and especially in our groups, I should feel comfortable doing that. If my declaration isn’t enough to nix unwanted behaviors then I would assume the rest of the attendees would back me up. And hey, if that doesn’t happen, then I don’t want to be part of that group in the first place… just as I wouldn’t want to be part of a group that is exclusionary for vague reasons.

  86. @ireilly2: Err, I don’t see how that works. Either way. Getting drunk in the presence of creepy guy would just make you more vulnerable. Getting the creepy guy drunk would probably make him worse, at least until he passes out.

  87. When that whole Noirin-debacle was linked last week, I found a link in the original blog’s comments that lead to a post about “sexual harassment policies for conventions” or some such. While that is clearly the next level compared to mere creepiness, it occured to me that even such a policy would take care of the worst of the creepiness (following someone around, not taking no for an answer, etc…). It made me wonder: I don’t even know if JREF has such a policy for TAM, I admit I’ve never read the conference rules (if they even exist) that intently.

    Of course, the subject of TAM is less erotically laden than, say, a furry convention, so perhaps there’s no specific need for an anti-harassment policy. But it would be nice to have this stick available in case someone needs to be clubbed with it.

    But as others have mentioned before, if you want to start enforcing something, you really will need more specifics than “I’ll know it when I see it“. Until then, you can only rely on the attendees to police the event themselves (and risk stepping on the wrong person’s toes in the process, or the organisers losing control of the event, etc…).

  88. I don’t know if this has been mentioned or not, the comment thread has gotten too dense for me to tackle. But this isn’t just a local Skeptics in the Pub or grassroots organization problem. One rather disgusting thing I learned at TAM 8 this summer is that two of our most prominent skeptical community members frequently make unwanted sexual advances toward women, to the point where (allegedly) one of them has tried to extort sexual favors out of women in return for his celebrity pull for their cause. Until we start holding the highest ranking members of our community to a higher standard, I don’t think we can expect the plebs to set the tone.

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