Status Quo is Not God

So, I submitted the post I wrote yesterday to Hacker News. It briefly popped up on the front page, then dropped to the second page. But, overall, it did pretty decently and has a few comments, most of which are quite good, especially for the subject matter in question.

One comment was pretty dismissive. I am going to liberally quote this long remark and address it in pieces. If one person bothered to write these things, probably other people are thinking them.

Flirting is always an exercise in plausible deniability. You do something legitimately (or plausibly) platonic, while working out what the other person wants.
The post in question is addressing the issue of unwanted romantic interest in a business setting from people you need to keep working with. In my experience, doing my best to avoid behavior that could be construed as "flirty" is the single best way to make sure this does not go someplace bad and is the only way to do so without unnecessarily burning bridges.

It seems to me that if a man finds me attractive and I want to do business with him without trouble, the best policy is to make sure the question simply never comes up.

Back when I was still a homemaker, I actually had illicit relationships with men that could have seriously damaged their careers. I am well aware of how you make those inquiries and pursue such things and, so far, no careers have been ruined in the making of my personal life.

Pro tip: If you are actually willing to consider an illicit relationship that is potentially career or life ruining for one or both parties, do your flirting such that there are no witnesses. Do not cover this behavior by being generally flirty with everyone.

In fact, if you are generally NOT flirty, being privately flirty is much more likely to get the message across that you want heard. It is much less likely to be misconstrued as "Well, they just talk that way. It doesn't really mean anything."

However, if you know you unequivocally do not want such a relationship with someone, the best policy is to never let those inquiries be made to begin with. I don't want to personally reject a man sexually and then try to keep doing business with him, no matter how politely. That isn't going to win friends and influence people.

I am not offended if a man finds me attractive. But if I want a business relationship with him, in the vast majority of cases, the question of a sexual relationship needs to simply never, ever come up. He can think whatever he likes, as long as he treats me with respect and doesn't make it a problem for me.

Once that question comes up, the relationship is permanently altered. If you want no misunderstanding, you should do your best to signal clearly that this is not an option. And you should do so in a manner that does not signal "Because YOU, in specific, are unattractive to me personally."

If you are a business woman and you engage in flirty behavior with some men in your professional sphere, but not others, you are doing yourself no favors. If people know that you flirt with some colleagues, but not others, some of the men who get left out will feel snubbed, will be pissed off and it will close doors for you and cause you trouble that you will be unable to trace to a particular source and be unable to fix.

And other men will expect that if you are flirting with them, you need to not be a "tease." You need to actually be willing to sleep with them. If you are not willing to do so, you are using an unfair business advantage that heterosexual men lack and that amounts to a bait-and-switch operation since you don't intend to deliver. Implied willingness to have sex with someone should not be any part of the basis of a business deal.

Implying that you will sleep with them in order to close business deals when there is actually no way in hell you will sleep with them is going to go bad places. If it doesn't lead to sexual assault, it may, instead, lead to shunning. If you need to seal a business deal based on your sex appeal because you don't actually have a strong value position, then this is awfully close to con artistry.

Successful business relationships are respectful, respectable and diplomatic in nature. Implying that sex is on the table when it isn't is none of those things. It's actually pretty shitty behavior, in my book.

If you forbid anything that might look flirty, by definition you forbid a bunch of legit platonic behaviour. This is not a reasonable demand. This is why people push back so hard against such demands, using terms like "victim-blaming".
I am not forbidding anything. I am one woman writing a blog post expressing my personal opinions and hoping to get people to think more humanely about a space in which a lot of finger pointing is currently happening and for which we don't currently seem to have good solutions. No one is required to take any advice from me.

I don't run the world. I don't even run a company. I just run a bunch of blogs and do some freelance writing. That's it.

If your college's social life is based heavily around alcohol, then yes, this drastically impacts your life. You are asking people (let's be clear: women) to self-ostracise if they want to be safe.
I am not asking people to do anything. I am telling people what my personal policy is and that I think it gets better results than average.

I have never once been groped by a man at work. I did have a guy pat me on the back and the like in a way that I felt was motivated by attraction and a desire to just touch me, but he made very sure to keep it platonic. It annoyed me, but it never veered into territory where it could reasonably be called sexual assault.

I also had a guy who worked at the same company as me hold my hand and ask me for a date. For me it was "Ugh, I might as well leave the company now. He is high up in the department I want to work in." But he and I were on friendly terms and only knew each other away from work. I never had anything at all to do with him professionally.

Under other circumstances, I might well have dated him. He was very much the kind of guy I had a history of getting involved with. He apparently didn't think about how his interest in me might impact my career, but, no, he also didn't grope me or force himself on me. He was polite, kind and gentlemanly every step of the way (except for that detail of not thinking about how this might impact my career, which was a glaring fly in the ointment, but the date never happened for entirely unrelated reasons).

I am also not saying that men can keep drinking and only women should remain sober. Furthermore, a policy of sobriety does not mean being a tea-totaler. It is possible to have a drink or two in a social setting where you feel clear this is not going to get out of hand. I rarely drink, but I do have the occasional drink. I am not saying alcohol should be completely and totally banned under all circumstances.

Again, you're asking someone to voluntarily abandon a form of networking, in an industry that is critically dependent on networks.
No, I am actually not. There is zero reason that alcohol has to be included in networking in some sort of "You MUST drink alcohol to network" way. Saying that I can't imagine agreeing to have a drink alone with a male colleague at his place is not at all the same as saying you should just skip out on networking entirely.

Due to a condition I was born with, I have special dietary needs. Because I was born with it, I have always had special dietary needs.

As a military wife, I regularly attended social functions with my spouse that were related to his career. I routinely showed up with my own personal supply of diet coke because it is nearly the only thing I drink and most people never had it on hand. My spouse didn't drink alcohol and I usually didn't. I don't recall how many of these events did or did not include the option of drinking alcohol because it was really not noteworthy. I had no problem fitting in. My weird choice of beverage was not a big deal.

When I had a corporate job, I even pretty routinely brought my own food to team meetings where food was being supplied. If they were serving something I could eat, cool. If not, I just brought my own. I was very low key about it and did not make a big deal of it. I downplayed it and deflected attention from the issue.

The result? One of my bosses who was always trying to lose weight stopped feeling compelled to politely partake of pizza and other things that were not part of her diet plan. She began quietly bringing a salad and having maybe a single slice of pizza with us.

So, my willingness to bring my own became the new norm. It empowered people to eat and drink as they saw fit, while still fully participating in whatever team activity was happening.

Status quo is not god. It also isn't Darth Vader and the evil Empire telling you what you must do in all cases, and god help you should you deviate from the norm.

To be fair, if someone asks you to have a drink with them as a means to network and you promptly get up on your high horse, lecture them about Rape Culture and inform them that only fools drink alcohol and do all in your power to signal that men are all rapey bastards who cannot be trusted, yeah, sure, this is going to be a very big problem. The reason it will be a big problem has zero to do with drinking or not drinking alcohol.

I have a very long track record of being able to suggest to people "Hey, let's meet at the sidewalk café (instead of someplace private)" or bringing my own food or drinks, mumbling something about special dietary needs and glossing over it. It has not had noticeable negative impact on my ability to connect with people.

If you believe status quo IS god and business people are not allowed to deviate from the current culture at all, not even to avoid potentially being sexually assaulted, then you are telling me that women basically need to accept sexual assault as par for the course and just the price of doing business. This is not a price I am willing to accept.

I also see no evidence that it actually accomplishes the intended goal of allowing women to make money for their skills, knowledge and abilities. There are already ways for women to earn their keep via sexual means. I was a wife and homemaker for a lot of years and I have no moral objection to sex work. If I wanted to earn my money that way, I would vastly prefer to be honest about the fact that sex is involved and not have it be a dirty little secret that I just have to put up with unwanted sexual attention in order to make a buck at all.

Women who are willing to use their sexuality to pay the bills can already do so in myriad ways. In addition to sex work or being a full time wife, plenty of entertainment work involves using your sexuality in some manner.

It is the women who primarily or solely want to get paid for something not involving sex at all that are having a lot of trouble here. I personally think that being more clear that sex is simply NOT on the table AT ALL is the best path forward here.

And all of this ignores that this victim didn't even do the things you're advising against! This incident happened after a party where several others were present. The "private setting" happened to her.
First, I addressed that issue. I noted that it was inherently problematic to invite all these people to her place for drinks because if something goes wrong, you cannot leave. Second, she did have drinks with him alone on previous occasions. It is part of the context for what eventually happened.

That does not excuse nor justify his behavior. Her description indicates he was refilling her drink very aggressively. I believe he likely planned ahead of time to get her drunk, remain after everyone left and try to take advantage of her.

But, as I understand it, his version of events is that he "misread the situation." And I am pretty confident that her willingness to drink alone with him on prior occasions contributed to his impression that she was potentially amenable to sleeping with him.

This is why my personal policy is that if circumstances are such that introducing the question of a potential sexual relationship is inherently problematic, I want it to never, ever come up, if at all humanly possible. When I had a corporate job, if a man sounded interested in me and I was willing to consider a potential romantic relationship with him, the first thing I did was find out his title and position at the company and pull up my employee manual to see if the relationship was against the rules based on his position and title.

That is exactly what I did when some man at work began calling me "doll" and "babe." I looked him up in the system and determined his name, title and position.

A few days later, I learned that he was about to become my new boss. The company had strict policies about not having romantic relationships with direct reports, among other things. Because I was proactive and identified that this was potentially a very big problem, I was able to speak with the current boss before this other man became my boss.

My then boss wanted to out him in an ugly manner. I told him that since I didn't currently have a professional relationship to him, he had done nothing wrong and that was really not called for. I told him: Just talk to the man. Worst case scenario: I get quietly moved and he never becomes my boss.

Result: I was quietly moved. Two years later, the man in question was fired. The rumor mill suggested it was over bad behavior involving one or more women at work.

But it didn't much impact me. I never worked for the man and I had very little at all to do with him. He never turned into big trouble for me, personally.

I like keeping things that way. That works for me.

As I understand it, Cheryl Yeoh's relationship to Dave McClure was similar to being a direct report. If I had been in her shoes, I would have done all in my power to never let the waters get muddy to begin with. I would have done everything I could to clearly and consistently signal "This is only business. Period."

It still might have gone bad places. Men who are creeps sometimes just escalate in the face of such a message. They very often don't like being told some woman is off limits.

But it likely would have gone some other bad place, such as Cheryl realizing sooner that he was a creep who would not take "no" for an answer and choosing to take some other career path rather than keep dealing with him. And then she at least wouldn't have the psychological scars she says she has from this incident.

I was sexually assaulted as a child. I spent a lot of time in therapy. Happily, nothing like that has happened to me as an adult.

I plan to continue to do all in my power to keep it that way. So far, I am satisfied with the choices I have made related to such things.


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