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Backing Up Women at Con

Hello all!

I'm doing a series of panels on sex and gender relations at a convention in my area. Because the attendance for my panels is likely to be at least 50% men, one of the things I want to focus on is how men can back up other women without appearing creepy.

I'm going to focus on White Knight Syndrome (ie. I "rescued" you and now you owe me a date) and why it's unhealthy and misogynistic, as well as the fact men should back up women because it makes the entire community safer and more welcoming. The problem is finding ways men can back up women that aren't either implicitly threatening to the woman or implying she can't handle the situation herself.

What are the ways you would like to see men back up women? Have you had any experience in being backed up by male friends or strangers? What was the reaction? Do you find the dynamic is different when it is a man instead of a woman backing up? What about queer relationships?

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to answer!


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 27th, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)
I was backed up by a friend at a con earlier this year. What was really nice was that he believed me completely straight away, and he acted to get me away from the situation discreetly (which was especially valuable for me because the creep turned out to be a friend of people in the group I was hanging out with at the time).

What was interesting was that the creep came back a short time later and hovered around for a second attempt, but because my (male) friend stayed with me the creep didn't dare come closer. When I've been backed up by female friends in the past, that doesn't usually have the same effect in warding off those subsequent attempts. We had to beat a second retreat to get away from the creep in the end.

I think my key points are:
- take the cue from the woman, if she wants it kept quiet then keep it quiet;
- believe her;
- be aware that creeps usually (ime) do come back a second (third, fourth...) time to try again.

Obviously, my case is slightly different from what you're asking because the guy who rescued me is a friend, not a stranger, but some of the points still apply, I think.
Sep. 27th, 2010 11:22 am (UTC)
Do you mind if I ask specifically how he "rescued" you? I'm looking for specific methods people use and why they work.

Thanks for the reminder that creeps come back! Everyone I know has a story about a guy who just. would. not. leave. them. alone., but that's so ingrained as part of "the [female] con experience" that I never even thought of that. Thanks for exposing a major blind spot!
Sep. 27th, 2010 12:12 pm (UTC)
I was in a corset that evening, and no-one in the group could see the creep running his hand down my back. I was exhausted (ME) and sitting down. The creep was standing off to one side behind me, and trying to move away from him just gave him better access to my back. So I got up to "go to the bar" and fortunately my friend decided he needed a drink too. That gave me the opportunity to tell my friend what was happening. So we loitered at the bar and when we went back to the group the creep had gone. Unfortunately, he came back a short time later.

So then my friend decided to go back to the bar and called me to "help carry the drinks" (which I thought made our departure really obvious but no-one else thought it at all strange that someone who could barely stand up was being asked to carry drinks!). That got us away and we stayed at the bar for ages until the creep started hovering nearby and just *staring* at me. When it became obvious that our ignoring him wasn't going to make him go away, we bailed from the bar and went to one of the lounges. The creep didn't follow us.

What was really freaky was how often I kept running into him for the rest of the con. Sometimes it was him coming over to me, but more often I'd sit down, look up, and he'd be right there - it was just uncanny. I kept having to move seats, asking other acquaintances to fill up seats nearby so he couldn't sit near me, and - when those failed - I just completely ignored him. By the end of the con the creep was really cross at me!

It wasn't as scary as this account probably makes it seem, but I was still very glad when the con ended.

If there is something I'd ask you to highlight, it's how incidents like this can happen right in front of people, and quite genuinely, these people don't see what's going on. I've never had something happen to me that was as blatent and public and persistent as this, and yet nobody else saw what was happening until they *knew* it was happening.
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
I D= D= D='d throughout your story. Yikes.

I do plan to highlight that it happens like this, but I'm not sure how to draw the line between "friendly behaviour" and "being a gigantic creep". I think the nerd community favours inclusion over exclusion where men are concerned, and they'd like the attention, so they assume the woman must be fine with it. Which, as you've illustrated, is patently wrong. (To make it clear, my concern is that women having totally normal conversations will be subject to harassment by men looking to "rescue" them, in effect replacing one form of harassment with another.)

"Hey, [name]. Do you need anything?" works if you're friends, because there's always some excuse for you to leave the situation. Getting strangers to step and recognise unhealthy situations as well as preventing White Knight Syndrome is much harder.

I really appreciate your feedback and response!
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
I take your point completely, and the last thing I want is people interrupting other people's conversations. I think what I'm so grateful for is that my friend, when I told him I was having a problem, he didn't dismiss it as "I was there and I didn't see anything so it couldn't have happened", but instead he believed me, rather than his own initial impression that everything had been fine. And then when he looked for it he could see the behaviour with his own eyes. It's more about believing someone when they ask for help, rather than about wading in beforehand.
Sep. 28th, 2010 02:03 am (UTC)
I'm also collecting stories...
Did you consider asking creep straight out why he was lurking? Why or why not?
Oct. 1st, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm also collecting stories...
That's a really good question. Because I wasn't well at the time I was too tired to think on my feet at the moment the touching happened. After that he stayed at a distance and I wasn't going to get closer to him to ask him anything at all since, in past experience, any conversation just gives them an opportunity to fondle you some more while you're standing waiting for the answer :(.

The only time it could have achieved anything would have been if I'd done it right at the time it was happening, in front of everyone I was with, but I was too tired for a confrontation and just wanted to get away from him.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 09:16 am (UTC)
Late comment is late
I've had out-of-con experiences that are similar, and I really sympathise with you. I always figure that moving away will be enough, or avoiding someone will get the message across, and in all honesty I always just wanted to get the hell OUT of that situation.
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
Not at a con, but perhaps it will be useful anyway: Many years ago I confronted a wolf-whistler on the street, telling him it wasn't okay to whistle and hoot at me as he'd been doing, and we got into an argument and collected a small crowd (entirely of men, as I recall). We went back and forth for several minutes ("I'm complimenting you!" "That's not how it comes across, it's hostile and threatening and you need to knock it off"; "In my country women like that!" "Well, you're here now, and we don't"; etc.) Finally he asked accusingly, "Well, what do you want from me?"

I was a bit taken aback and wasn't immediately sure how to respond; I had confronted him on the spur of the moment and hadn't had an end game in mind (my bad). And in that moment when I hesitated, one of the men standing around watching us said firmly, "You could apologize to her."

I loved that. It firmly and clearly backed me up without taking attention off me or making him my Nice Guy Savior: without making it his fight rather than mine. And moreover it let me get out of the situation smoothly, which I really had no idea how to do: the first guy mumbled "Okay, I'm sorry," and I said, "Thank you, I accept your apology" and walked away.

I've remembered that for twenty years now. I'd shake that man's hand if I could.

Edited at 2010-09-27 01:05 pm (UTC)
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
That is an excellent story!

I think you hit the nail on the head with backing up being about supporting women without taking the attention off the feelings of the woman and turning the confrontation into a machismo contest.
Sep. 27th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
That is a great story. Good work, random stranger dude!
Sep. 28th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
That's awesome!
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
If the man can tell that another man is obviously harassing a woman, and she is genuinely not into it, the best approach I've heard of is the bro distracting method. "Hey, bro, I think this lady is tired. Let's go look at some ladies who are awake!" This works best at cons when you can tell the man is pretty drunk. They are easy to distract, and this takes all the pressure off the woman to be anything, without insulting her. It also isn't really insultingly confrontational to the harasser, who could either be drunk enough to not have the best judgement, or who might react badly to a Sir Galahad act. ("Hey, you need to leave the lady alone. She's not into you.")

In all honesty I can see how it can be tough for a man to tell the difference between a woman who's being friendly to appease an annoying harasser until she can spot an exit strategy and a woman who's actually flirting. It might be good to touch on that point. If a guy's spotted a lady who's companion is giving him a creepy vibe, he might just try to ask subtly, perhaps even mouthing, "Are you ok?" when the guy isn't looking. This is more about those cases where it's not so obvious that the guy's being a harasser. Just maybe the lady seems off, or uncomfortable.
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your input! I think mouthing "Are you okay?" is a good idea. Most women who are being harassed are looking for an exit, so it's just a matter of timing until she's looking at you. I'm not so sure how I feel about the first strategy, as it seems to be replacing one woman for another in the harassment scenario, but I suppose that gives you an opportunity to park the drunk and then alert con staff and/or security.

I've been joking with my friends about making a video where I do my "D&D face" - the face everyone gets when someone Will. Not. Stop. Talking. about their D&D character. The "I'm smiling because I'm trying to kill you with my mind" is one most people are familiar with, it's just recognising it in others.

(Also, this comment took me far longer to type than it should have because I kept staring at your icon.)
Sep. 27th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
I would hope the savvy Back Up Gent would not sacrifice one lady for another. This strategy is more about just getting the goon away first, and yeah, getting him somewhere that he can be watched. It also leaves wiggle room for the idea that the dude is just annoying to one lady, but perhaps not so annoying to another. There are all kinds of women, and one woman might be shy, tired, just not interested, or ill, but another might be just fine with the dude. In the case of the Gentleman's Aux it may also be good to recruit some female backup of their own. Ladies who know the score in advance, and might not be so shy or worried about helping to be a distraction *within reason.* There is a tremendous difference between an otherwise well mannered, and genuinely nice geek man who's gotten a little too much liquid courage and lacks in reading signals, and a predator.

A Gentleman Aux wouldn't have to do the swoop and scoop Hey Bro to a predator. Those are the sorts where you just step in and go, "Hey man. The lady said no."
Sep. 27th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
There is a form of "Hey bro" that works better than The Retarget, known as The Derail: "Hey bro, you're into $foo too! You know that episode where. . ." (where $foo is what's on their shirt/costuming, or info you picked up from the conversation while ascertaining if escape was desired). This way you're not changing focus onto new targets while still allowing escape of the one currently there.

The problem with direct confrontation is it could make her a bigger target - she becomes "the bitch who owes me for getting me in trouble" rather than one of a number of women he'd like to take into a dark corner. Instead, distraction followed by reporting to security is a much better plan. (if you're exceedingly clever you could surreptitiously escort the creep to security as part of the distraction, but that could backfire so be very careful)
Sep. 27th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
Also, you know.. Gators gotta gait. Thems the rules.
Sep. 27th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Ahahha "I'm smiling because I'm trying to kill you with my mind" omg yes.

Why is not recognizable, is what I want to know, because it's pretty damn recognizable to me.
Sep. 28th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
I know! I think it might take working in customer service, and that's a pretty female-dominant field. Although I suppose you get into privilege and men not noticing because they've never been taught they *should* notice how women feel.
Sep. 27th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
Fugitivus.net has a list of reader-contributed examples many of which would probably be useful to you: Stuff What Boys Can Do.
Sep. 28th, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
I am going to lose many, many hours of sleep reading all of these.
Sep. 27th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
A female friend and I were out dancing at a club and pairs of men kept coming up behind us and dancing at us. Like, rubbing their hard-ons up against us. My friend and I would employ sharp elbows and shouts of "EXCUSE ME but I'm TRYING to dance with my GIRLFRIEND", eventually they'd fuck off, and then another pair would come along and do the same thing. It was disgusting.

Finally we spotted a guy dancing all by himself, who looked like he was having a genuinely great time just getting down to the music. We drifted over toward him and he gave us big friendly smiles and struck up a conversation. (Turned out he was from Martinique, so he and I shouted at each other in French a bit, which was hilarious and awesome.) He was quite happy to dance "with" us while not actually coming very close to us or interfering in our time together, and his presence kept the other men away.

What made this work:

* He understood what was going on and we didn't have to explain it or ask for help (which can be embarrassing and feel very vulnerable).

* He was friendly, nonthreatening, and not the slightest bit flirtatious.

* When we decided we were done dancing and wanted to go up to the bar on another floor to get a drink, he waved goodbye and went back to dancing on his own. He was totally self-sufficient. He was happy to be around us but didn't in any way need our company.

* He never once even suggested that we owed him anything, even though it's quite possible that he would rather have spent that time dancing alone.

I've also backed up a gay man who was being aggressively hit on by another gay man, but that time I was very blunt about it, starting my approach with "When you back someone into a corner, it's polite to leave him an exit". (My friend was sitting down, and this other guy--whom I know a bit but am not close friends with--was leaning over him with one hand on the wall. I know that pose so well. Stupid dominance games.) My friend politely protested that no no, it was fine; the other guy defended his innocence and looked a bit insulted, but eventually moved off; and my friend later thanked me profusely for helping him out. What helped there, I think:

* I noticed what was going on and my friend didn't have to ask me for help.

* By being blunt and forward, I gave my friend room to be polite and save face.

* I'm queer, so they knew there wasn't any homophobia behind my interference, and obviously I also wasn't competing with the aggressive guy for my friend's affection, since neither of them dates women.

Hope that's helpful!
Sep. 27th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
I was backed up on the bus a couple of years ago, by some guys, when I asked a group of three teenaged boys to please stop shouting obscenities and discussing explicit stuff in front of my two small children.

As I recall, I said, "Hey, guys, you need to keep a lid on it, I've got little kids here," and they started saying that they could say whatever they liked, and not one but two guys my age or a bit older stood up and turned around (the kids were in the back of the bus) and said, "No, you need to listen to the lady, and we don't like what you're doing, either. That's not okay for you to act like that." The teenagers grumbled, but they also stopped what they were doing.

So I'd say my idea of a "good" backup from a guy is just that: believe a woman when she says she's uncomfortable, and make it clear to the guys who're doing the harassing that what she's saying is valid and you are going to support her -- physically, if necessary.
Sep. 27th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
Would this link be at all useful to you?:


(Wrong link formatting!)

Edited at 2010-09-27 06:12 pm (UTC)
Sep. 28th, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)
I have most of the main points in my outline, but the comments with examples are really useful. Thank you!
Sep. 27th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
If you're in a position where a woman might rely on you as the safest port in her particular storm (say you're a friend of her brother's or her study partner from college or - the one which used to come up a good bit on sailing regattas - a fellow crew member or someone she'd sailed with) and she asks you to do something which covers her exit from a particular situation, do it without arguing.

That is, don't second-guess her with something that sounds to you like a much more rational idea - for example, if she wanders up to you and says, "Dave, it's my round, can you come to the bar and help me carry the drinks, please" don't say cheerfully, "Oh, you don't need to bother, it's table service" and call over a waiter (there are numerous variants on this particular type of cluelessness which the chap thinks are helpful counter-suggestions).

Getting out of a situation which has become a perceived threat is something women have various techniques for doing, but the essential element of all of them is the need not to escalate the threat by making it obvious what you're doing. I've felt very backed up by men who've immediately gone along with the suggestion and waited until safely outside to ask "Why" and conversely felt very let down by men who don't have the social savvy to realise that the professed reason for doing something may not be the full or true reason.
Sep. 28th, 2010 07:10 am (UTC)
"...the essential element of all of them is the need not to escalate the threat by making it obvious what you're doing."

This is perfect wording. Do you mind if I use it?
Sep. 28th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
Feel free.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )