I’ve been struggling with anger in the past week, and now it’s come crashing down around me and has settled into a thick goo of depression. i have a hard time finding motivation for anything, and I have a fatalistic viewpoint. I mean, I do in general, but it’s especially bad right now. I have the tendency to be negative, and the pandemic sure isn’t helping.
Side note: My right eye has been twitching for no reason. This has happened in the past, but not to the extent it’s happening now. In addition, my sleep has been really fucked over the days. Not unusual for me, but it’s reverting back to early days sleep, which is discouraging. I don’t sleep enough, and then I’m drowsy all day. Then, when I try to sleep, I’m suddenly wide awake.
As my readers know, I am a big fan of advice columns. I call them my stories, and I have a loop I do every morning. One of them is, was, Doctor Nerdlove, and I need to talk about it. I want to say before getting into the controversy that while I enjoyed reading his column, I did not like his podcasts or his videos. It was puzzling to me how someone who could write a good column with solid advice could not do videos/podcasts well (in my opinion, of course). In addition, while I agreed with his general advice, his specific tips in dating were borderline cringe-worthy to me. His idea of flirting was aggressive and skewed cliched, and if he were to his tricks on me in real life, I would be very turned off. That said, his general advice was sound, and I allowed it to overcome the grimace I always had when I read his specific advice. This is relevant to the rest of the post, I promise.
So, there has been a spate of stories about sexual harassment in different branches of geek culture. Games and comic to be more specific. Doctor NL wrote a post about a mentor of his who was accused of…not exactly sexual harassment, but of sexualizing the attractive young women in his forum in a way that would assume de facto pressure. He had a lot of clout in the industry (comics), and a leg up from him would do a lot for someone’s career. Add to that the fact that comics are still largely white dudes, and it’s easy to see how he could use his power for evil.
In the comments, there were people who didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Distressing, but common. There was one dude who ‘just wanted to understand’ and kept asking questions. It was clear that he really did want to understand, but he was coming at it from the wrong angle. I had a Twitter interaction with an Asian friend that was crashed by a rando who was ‘just asking questions’ about a racial issue, but it became quickly clear that he wasn’t arguing in good faith. I muted him and moved along with my life. In the above case, however, it didn’t really matter that the guy was arguing in good faith because the starting point was so different for him and for the actual situation. He didn’t think the behavior was bad enough to classify as damaging, which was pretty myopic of him. But, it’s sadly common in that people often feel that they are the standard of norm. I’ll delve more into that in the future.
A few days after this, the doc then penned a post about his own situation. He was at a con in 2017 and was flirting with a woman at a bar. He’s in an open marriage, so there’s nothing there (unless he didn’t mention it to the woman involved). By his own recount, they flirted and had chemistry. He thought it was going well, so he reached over, gently wove his fingers through her hair, and lightly tugged.
This was where my brain screeched to a halt. Touching someone’s hair is an intimate act. Full stop. Hair is very personal, and you should not touch someone else’s hair without their permission (see, black women and hair). We’ll get back to that in a minute.
Doctor NL went on to say that she didn’t respond so he pulled back. She said she wasn’t up for anything; he said it was find and to let him know if she changed her mind; he lingered a bit, then left. The next day, he went by her booth and said it was nice talking to her the night before. That was the last time he saw her in person. This was August of 2017.
He heard from a friend in early 2018 that the woman felt violated by the whole incident. He was shocked and horrified, and in his post, he included the email he sent her as an apology. There were also details about how she said she had said no before he pulled her hair, and initially, there was the text she sent to him in return as well as a text from the mutual friend (who was facilitating the interactions). Those were pulled sometime in the past few days (I went back to check the post today for clarity in this post), and the doctor did some interesting editing on the post without noting that he’d done that.
In the comments, most people were appropriate in their responses, but there were more than one (and, sadly, two of them were women) who denigrated the woman for overreacting. One of the commenters is a regular who is very much a ‘women are like this and men are like this’ with some very toxic ideas. I roll my eyes wherever I read her comments, and the ones in this post were especially disturbing. Because SHE likes it when men are forceful and aggressive, she thinks any woman who would balk at this behavior to be deficient.
Side note: The thing she didn’t seem to understand was that all her examples came from when she was already attracted to the man doing the moves AND the attraction was clearly established. She also literally said that there were going to be mistakes made in these situations, and someone rightfully pointed out that the mistakes should be made on the side of not hurting the other person.
There was another woman who said that it didn’t seem that big a deal and maybe it was because she was a Latina. Which, I mean, sigh. She also speculated as to the mental health of the woman involved (who had posted about it elsewhere), which is another depressingly common response to any woman speaking out about sexual assault.
It got really gross in the comments, and it just depressed the fuck out of me that in 2020, there were still people willing to be so dismissive of bad behavior. The doc listed what he was doing to curb his behavior, which, fine and good for him. He stated that he didn’t remember things the way she did, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be accountable for his behavior. The thing is, it’s impossible to know if he’s sincere or if he’s just aping what he knows would be the right thing to say/do.
Now. Let’s go back to the threads I mentioned above. One, his specific advice being aggressive. He used to be a PUA, and his advice retains dustings of that background. Things like if you’re dreaming about a woman you like and texting with (but not yet dating), then you could playfully scold her to stay out of your dreams. He always emphasized that it’s tone and that you have to flirt in a way that fits with your style, but, again, it was over the top for me. There’s a slight negging to it that I am not comfortable with, but I figured that I was being too sensitive as is my wont.
Pulling on someone’s hair as a way of flirting is aggressive. Pulling hair is dominant behavior, and I don’t care how ‘lightly’ he tugged. Look. I’m someone who likes it rough in bed. Really rough. I like to feel as if I’ve been through it after fucking. I put that out there because I don’t want the red herring of ‘well, some people like having their hair pulled’ to be thrown into the conversation. Yes, there are women who like having their hair pulled through sex. I am one of them. But! That doesn’t mean I want some rando pulling my hair in a bar. Even if he thinks we’re flirting and we have great chemistry.
Here’s the thing. The woman I mentioned above was lamenting that she hated the idea of consent because she didn’t like having guys say, “Did you like this?” “Was that ok?” during sex. She said she was a Gen X woman who liked her men to be men. Other Gen women pushed back, thankfully, but I would add, consent doesn’t meant stopping after each act to dissect what did and didn’t work. For her, consent could be saying ahead of time, “Hey, I want us to keep going unless I specifically speak up and say no or stop.” When I used to do S&M/B&D, I was pretty game for anything. I had a safe word, but anything else was up for grabs. One time, in a non-relationship threesome, one guy tried to stick his cock in my ass without forewarning, and I stopped him. The three of us continued on, and it was fine. If I were in a similar situation these days, I would probably lay that out before starting–anal sex has to come with a fair amount of prep. But it didn’t ruin the moment other than me taking a few minutes to collect myself in order to carry on.
Back to the doctor. Putting the hair pulling aside, his description of weaving his fingers through her hair sent chills down my back. If touching someone’s hair is intimate, weaving your fingers through someone’s hair is even more so. In addition, it makes it really difficult to get away from that person if you so wish. I have hair that falls below my ass (side note: it’s still growing! I’m amazed, to be honest), and if someone were to grab it in such a way that I felt I couldn’t escape, well, let’s just say that would not endear that person to me at all. And, in my old age of no fucks to give, I cannot promise that I wouldn’t give him a quick chin na poke to the thyroid or one on the wrist.
The pooh-poohers were focusing on the ‘tugged’ part of the sentence whereas I was focused on the ‘weaved my fingers’ part. The problem with hearing about these kinds of situations after the fact is that it’s easy to see the whole situation and think, “Well, there was no danger there.” It’s worse when the narrator is someone you like and respect because then it’s easy to dismiss the person on the other side. “The doc is a good guy! He would never hurt anyone! Therefore, it was no big deal.” That’s the wrong way to look at it, though. Looking at it from the woman’s point of view, she was someone who wasn’t that well known trying to hustle at the comic con. Here was someone relatively well-known flirting with her in a bar (I’m not even going to get into how I feel about bars playing such a prevalent part in conventions and gaming events). She may not have been as receptive as he thought or maybe she was interested in flirting but didn’t want to go any further. Then, out of nowhere, he grabs her hair and pulls. Remember, she doesn’t know him personally. So in that moment, he’s Schrodinger’s rapist AND he has her hair is his hand. She doesn’t know if he’s going to drag her somewhere and rape her. Because his behavior is unusual by societal norms (pulling someone’s hair you don’t know is unusual. Don’t @ me about this), that ratchets up the sense of danger. Someone who doesn’t follow the norms is scary as fuck because who knows what else they will do?
This is all before we get to the fact that she says she told him no and he ignored her. If that’s the case, then everything I’ve said intensifies exponentially. The reason I’m not addressing it, however, is because the story by the doctor’s own account is bad enough. There is no way in good conscience I can continue reading him and supporting him after that post. Which, makes me sad, but more because it’s exposes how deep the issue of sexism runs and how much more work we have yet to do.