When the creeper is your mate

Alex Casey and Duncan Greive at The Spinoff have written a phenomenal article about sexual creepiness and exploitation of young women, specifically by Andrew Tidball of Cheese on Toast and bFM. (Trigger warnings apply. This is a difficult read.)

It’s led to another discussion about predatory/abusive men in different cultural niches, and the responsibility particularly on other men to identify and call up their comrades on this stuff. To believe women rather than immediately assuming they’re liars. (As I said on Twitter, you’re not neutral if you refuse to believe women; quite the opposite.)

Every time we have this conversation, a little progress happens. I remember where conversations about rape culture were five years ago; we’re still fighting the fight, but it is getting easier. When it comes to calling out missing stairs (trigger warning: sexual violence) and identifying the bad apples in our various fandoms, we’re making headway.

But one difficulty I’ve noted in a thousand little ways around sexism and progressive politics in general: when you know your’re One Of The Good Guys, it can be difficult to see abuse happening right in front of you.

In the gaming crowds where I spent much of my lecture-skipping university days, some dudes were well-known as bad dudes. Creepers who literally everyone recognised as such. And other men would step in – no, you shouldn’t get a lift home with that guy; make sure we don’t leave the new girl alone with him; definitely don’t assign him a romantic role with her at the next LARP. It made me feel safe, and that’s a rare experience in nerdy circles.

Those guys looked out for you and knew who the predators were and, if they didn’t go so far as to kick the missing stairs out of the club, they didn’t excuse the creepiness or tell you it was all in your head or make you feel like they wouldn’t believe you if you had a problem with someone.

Until it was one of their mates. Because it’s really easy to say “that guy’s a predator” when he’s someone you already didn’t like. When he’s also obnoxious, dishonest or outright violent to men as well as women, it’s easy to believe the ones who say “he’s a real creep” or “I don’t feel safe around him”.

But when it was their friend who sexually coerced a woman with implied threats of violence, well. He was having a really rough time. He’s not dangerous. When it was a member of their D&D game regularly intruding on your physical space? Look, he just got mixed signals. The group clown keeps plying younger women with drinks and touching them without consent? Oh, it’s so funny, he’s just trying to flirt.

When you know in your heart you’re A Good Dude, you can be oblivious to your friends’ creeping. You tell yourself you’ve called out Bad Guys on their creepiness, you look out for your women friends – therefore the way your mates behave isn’t the same. Because they’re your mates.

This is the danger. The creepy dudes who you think are charming and affable are using your status As A Good Dude to harass and abuse other women. You’re their meat shield. They’re your mate, so they must be safe, because you wouldn’t stand for creepiness.

Believing women can’t just be about believing them when their experience aligns with yours. It has to mean reflecting, checking your instinct to say “but he’s my mate”, when the creep in question is your good friend.

And this isn’t just about geek circles and creepy dudes. We all have to be aware that our self-image, our conviction that we’re on the side of the angels, doesn’t make us immune from thinking and saying and justifying horrible oppressive or abusive stuff. When we’re against slut-shaming but say Kim Kardashian should cover up; when we’re against government policing poor people’s choices but think a sugar tax will force them to “make better choices”; when we’re totally pro-choice but think three abortions is way too many. It’s too easy to undermine our hard work trying to change the world by replicating the very awfulness we struggle against.

Being a good progressive person isn’t a one-off achievement. It’s a never-ending personal struggle. It means not just taking the easy road of criticising the despised. We have to be open to criticising ourselves – and our friends.

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