Comicpalooza has come and gone, and though I consider myself an investigative journalist, I spend most of the convention looking solely for the bright spots in geek life. It’s my little annual vacation away from staring at the swollen and badly infected parts of pop culture. Sometimes just being a fan is more important than being a critic.
That said, watching dudes fumble for words when engaging with attractive women in cosplay is perhaps the saddest thing I have ever seen. It happens a lot, and it seemed especially prevalent this year when the sweltering heat wave was a perfect excuse to cosplay as the most skimpily dressed of characters (If I could pull off Leelo from Fifth Element, I’d have been right there with you). It’s an old cliché that geeks, meaning men, can’t talk to women. The word “awkward” comes up a lot.
However, I’ve noticed that “being awkward” has become this weird shield for guys to excuse behavior that is way closer to creepy, harassing and downright rapey. They act as if “never learning how to talk to girls” is some sort of mental disability the rest of us should be tolerant of rather than a conscious choice on their part not to bother considering the feelings of others when they speak.
Which they might understand better if they actually, you know, listened to the women they were supposedly interested in. In the tradition of my friend James Fell’s piece “She Doesn’t Owe You Shit,” I’ve brought some examples for the class from people I questioned on Facebook.
At Game Stop another patron interrupted my conversation with a grandma about why L.A. Noire isn't appropriate for her 11-year-old grandson’s birthday present to say, "why are you against prostitutes? You're sexy enough to be one. I was planning on buying a PS4, but you would be way more fun."
-Lynne, from San Diego
Some creep recited the courtship/mating ritual in Klingon at a Star Trek Convention while his wingman translated very LOUDLY!
-Melissa S., from Houston
I really cannot overstate how terrible an idea it is to make your opening gambit a blatant and unapologetic affirmation that the person you’re talking to is valued near-exclusively for how hard they make your dick and what they can do about it. For one thing, guys, I can promise you that nearly every woman you meet is already going to assume that on some level, you’re considering the possibility of sex with her. Objectification is the background radiation of every woman’s life. Your lobbing out a ham-fisted sex joke is not actually the naughty little witticism you think it is. It’s tiresome and boring.
I know bringing up the phrase “rape culture” is one of those things that summon trolls like I’m playing a green beatdown deck in Magic: the Gathering, but it bears repeating.
We live in a society that condones and accepts the idea that men are entitled to women’s time and attention in a way that is not reciprocated in the other direction. It does not mean that rape is legal or celebrated, but it does mean, for example, that while hanging out at the Texas Renaissance Festival…
For the flat-out creepiest of my experiences out there, it's a hard contest, but I'm going to go with a man old enough to be my father first critiquing my chest in great detail and then very graphically describing how he would finger me if given the chance. I was 19 and terrified. Second creepiest would be an acquaintance looking at me and asking, "You wanna get raped?" He meant it as a compliment.
-Becky, from Houston
In my years as a beer/street wench out there… Like guys going to tuck a tip into my bodice, and then stuffing a hand down and trying to pull out a nipple. Or guys literally grabbing me by the arm and refusing to let go as they groped me, top and bottom.
-Melissa M., from Houston
This is not being “awkward.” Ross from Friends was awkward when he would flirt with girls by naming types of gas. This is being a creep and hoping that a combination of societal expectations and fear of escalation on the part of the person you’re creeping on will allow you to get away with it consequence-free.
It’s easy to hide this as the lasting repercussions of childhood bullying or frustrated romantic hang-ups from adolescence, but, sorry, that’s a cop-out. The “nerds are sexless losers who can’t get a date” was already an aging trope when I was growing up in the ’90s, and in a post-Matrix world where hackers are also ninjas and occasionally Jesus, this sort of idea doesn’t really fly. Geek went mainstream a long time ago. Calling yourself an otaku is not a get-out-of-all-social-responsibilities-free card.
Truth is this behavior is not a clumsy misunderstanding of how courtship and human interaction work. It’s the end by-product of years of ingesting rape culture telling you that touching women without their permission or assigning them as sex partners whether they’re interested or not is okay. You can choose to understand this, or you can choose to ignore it and pretend it isn’t there. However, do not be surprised if women avoid your company when you do the latter. It’s not because you’re awkward. It’s because you scare them.
Visiting a friend from out of town, she took us to a coffeehouse she loved. I was with my then-boyfriend and it was some sort of board game night. We were approached by a group to play a board game with them and we accepted. I smoked at the time and one of the guys stops everything to tell then-boyfriend "Hey, I don't mean any disrespect to you (the boyfriend, not me) but that French inhale your girlfriend is doing is the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I bet she gives great head with those lips of hers." I wasn't aware I was doing a French inhale and not only was I not addressed he didn't even look at me.
-Amanda, from Houston
I was playing my Gameboy in a gaming and comic cafe and a guy came and sat next to me, and without asking if I wanted to talk, started talking about being a furry. Now, just to clarify, I have zero problems with furries. This was not the issue. It's just some stranger telling me in detail about their fetish when I was just trying to play Pokemon that was the problem. It was really gross and made my skin crawl.
-Gray, from Glasgow
I had a guy at a gaming con roll a die at me, and said it was a natural 20 on his seduce roll, and that I had to sleep with him now.
KT, from Chesapeake
This is not an okay way to act. This is not some lovable screw-up that culminates in winning a woman over. Life is not a John Hughes flick, and there’s a reason why when most of us re-watch the “loser pursues the girl until she loves him” genre of film, we start to feel a little sick to our stomachs. Duckie Dale was a creep, Lloyd Dobler wasn’t much better, and if anyone acted like Randy from Valley Girl around my daughter, I would have that bastard under a restraining order.
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When people ask what women want, the answer is to be treated like people, not more unsolicited dick. Turning every interaction into a conversation about your genitals may seem like fun and games to you, but no one else is getting anything out of it. There is nothing on Earth so special about your particular junk that any woman has not seen or had rubbed on her over her protests before.
At an anime con, a guy told me I had "great tits," and started listing characters with big breasts that he thought I'd look great cosplaying. Also, he kept saying Black before the character's name. I guess as long as the boobs were accurate, that was good enough for him. He was quite dense and seemed confused when I said I needed to go and just about ran away.
-Daisy, from Milford Mill
You know who else considers women a collection of parts? Serial killers. You’re not striking out because you have a Dungeons & Dragons character rolled up ready to go. You’re striking out because what you consider roguish charm sounds like a threat of sexual violence. You’re not awkward. You’re just creepy.