Intentions

Yesterday did not work out how I’d planned. The plan was for the Professor to come pick up Mrs. Wigglebottom and take her for an adventure while my ceiling was being sanded. But the sanding isn’t actually happening until today, so instead I got a bonus afternoon with my friend while we watched a real-time version of This Old House in the other room.  But I totally forgot to tell her about this cool thing I read, which I thought she might find tangentially related to her work. And I was just about to email it to her when I read the New York Times story on The Oxford American.

And then I realized, “Whoa, these things fit together” and so I thought I’d point that out here.

So, this is the link I was going to send the Professor about the phenomenon of the Creepy Dude and it gets into how women are socialized to just accept and smooth over hurt feelings resulting from the Creepy Dude because otherwise, it would be awkward–as if his behavior isn’t already making things awkward. You should read the whole thing, but here’s how it ends.

It’s really fucking sad and unfair. Welcome to our culture, where it’s always this sad and unfair whenever women’s safety is on the line.

This is how far Rape Culture skews our vision. Being sexually harassed and assaulted is seen as something that you should be cool (i.e. quiet)  about. But GOD FORBID you break up the weekly games night with the temerity to be a victim of such a crime! Don’t you know that your harasser has the best table for playing Settlers of Cataan?

I don’t know how we fix it, but one step has to be to stop tolerating it when it happens to us and when it happens to people we love. Making our social circles and spaces safe means making them AWKWARD AS HELL and UNSAFE for creeps and predators. It means constantly reframing the conversation away from the dominant narrative, so when stuff like the situations in these letters comes up we can say “That’s called sexual assault and it’s a crime. So I need you to stop talking to me about his feelings and pressuring me to invite him to parties.

But then, a commenter tells this awesome story in the comments about her husband having to protect a girl from a creepster and how, even as he knew something was wrong, and he kind of saw that the creepster was ruining the girl’s weekend, his wife had to point out to him that the creepster was obviously looking to harm the girl, and the husband just missed it.

With all that in the background, we can now turn to this flabbergasting article in the New York Times about Marc Smirnoff’s abrupt departure from The Oxford American (seriously, if there ever were a story to waste on of your freebies on, this is it). I don’t even know where to start to quote from it. Let’s go with this:

The next morning he berated the female intern in front of the other staff members when she refused to help clean up a mess in the kitchen. Then, after insisting that the intern ride back to Conway with him, he asked her if she wanted to hold hands. She declined, he said, saying she’d rather “hold hands with a dead dog.” Still, he told her he wanted to take her to his favorite make-out spot.

Mr. Smirnoff’s account matched the description the intern provided the magazine’s board. The intern said she was repeatedly humiliated, sexually harassed and intimidated by Mr. Smirnoff on that occasion and others, according to a written statement from her that was obtained by The New York Times.

During a conversation with the same intern earlier that week, Mr. Smirnoff said, he hugged her and kissed her on top of the head.

None of those things constitute harassment, he insisted.

“It was acceptable to her in that moment,” he said, saying that she did not object to his behavior at the time. “My take of it was that we were trying to see if we could revive our relationship, professional and personal.”

A woman tells Marc Smirnoff that she would rather “hold hands with a dead dog” than hold hands with him, and he still claims that his behavior was “acceptable to her in that moment”?! Holy shit! I kind of want to drive to Arkansas just so I can laugh in his face. Forget “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” What part of “I’d rather have putrid decaying flesh in my hand than your hand?” makes you think your advances are cool?

This isn’t “he said, she said” because he’s literally admitting to the things she said he did as a part of his defense. He’s literally (and I’m sorry to keep using that word, but it is exactly right in this case) claiming that, in spite of her hostility as reported by him, since he intended no harm, she had no problem with his behavior. And he’s trying to talk the motherfucking New York Times into accepting that, if his heart is pure, she must have been okay with it at the moment.

Forget that I don’t believe for a second that his intentions were good. And forget for a second how laughable it is to believe that a man as smart as Smirnoff envisions himself as some kind of bumbling, but well-intentioned fool who just doesn’t understand the implications of what he does. Just focus on the idea that he believes, if he can just convince  someone that he didn’t mean anything by it, the damning facts which he himself presents should resolve themselves into something that leaves him with the moral high ground.

This is how the creepster gets by. It’s uncomfortable for people to confront them and they get used to being able to use any old excuse to garner sympathy and get people to continue to make room for them. Smirnoff’s story is so illuminating because he’s so obviously angry and confused that asking people to consider his feelings and his intentions not working this time. Which would seem to indicate that it’s worked before.

On so many levels, this blows my mind.

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17 thoughts on “Intentions

  1. But she did confront him. Apparently repeatedly. In explicit and unmistakeable terms. And she was not quiet about it — she went to the magazine board to complain so that he would be forced to stop it. Yet, he’s still such a creep that he can’t figure it out. Sometimes, sadly, women can be their own advocates in all the right ways and it will have no reforming effect on the jackwagons who attempt to prey on them.

  2. Wait, this is the guy who in early statements to the press said that the board questioned him about fairly unimportant stuff, like giving alcohol to minors? I mean, I tend to agree that his giving alcohol to minors in a supervised situation was unimportant (sorry, MADD, but that’s how people learn to drink responsibly). But evidently he thought that that was maybe worth mentioning, b/c of the legal ramifications, but that nothing else he’d been questioned about was. Which indicates … wow. It indicates everything you say, B, except that I think he manages to convince himself that he’s not wrong. I know people — numerous people — who have had unpleasant interactions with him in person or online, but I thought he was just a jerk. Seems he’s a jerk and a creep as well. Ugh.

  3. None of this surprises me. Bad behavior from men – expected and despised. The ability to believe what you see, articulate an objection, and successfully intervene requires awareness, self-confidence, and quick thinking that a lot of people have not yet learned. Thanks for raising our awareness – the first step.

  4. This is the thing that really, truly made my skin crawl:

    “It was acceptable to her in that moment,” he said, saying that she did not object to his behavior at the time. “My take of it was that we were trying to see if we could revive our relationship, professional and personal.”

    So gross.

  5. Bridgett, by people, I meant not her–she obviously did confront him–but I was referring back to the Captain Awkward posts, in which the dudes didn’t want to confront their friend, because it would be awkward. Smirnoff seems to be trying to invoke the “but my feelings!” move similar to the creepsters in those letters.

    Nm, I think he clearly believes he’s not wrong. That’s part of what makes this so creepy. He can accurately report what he did. He can report that the intern was like “hell no.” He can report all the steps she took to defend herself from him. And he still cannot see how her behavior could be motivated by anything other than wanting revenge on him.

    I think he’s probably been a creep for a long time, so long, in fact, that he has come to believe that it is the natural order of things.

  6. Brazilla George, I know! Seriously. A man in a position of authority over a woman does not have a professional relationship with her that can be revived with kisses. Not in most lines of work.

  7. I’m still aghast at that thread. And I was immediately struck, in the comment about Dr. Glass and “Awkward Dude,” by the resemblance to behavior Stephen King described in Harold Lauder in The Stand, aka the Original Creep. And we all KNOW what happened there.

    /end IRL references to Stephen King World

    What boggles my mind is that some genuinely good men will still cut a creep slack or be mildly dismissive of women’s concerns about a creep “because I know him, and he’s really a nice guy deep down.”

    No, gentlemen, you do not, and he is not. He is nasty and means harm, sometimes physical as well as emotional, to women you know. I know it may be difficult for you to grasp because your brain doesn’t work like the creep’s, but trust the women who tell you he is a creep. Trust your own observations. You know what’s right. Call him on the behavior and then get the hell away from him. Why WAS he waiting in the dark, as that comment noted?

    I’m not saying anything about Smirnoff. Except that I’m even more glad that I canceled my OA subscription after that fracas here at TCP. At least my money wasn’t helping to pay him while he *ADMITTEDLY* sexually harassed women.

  8. @jagosaurus, I think the “my take on it …” comment shouldn’t be any surprise at all to anyone who either knows the man IRL or has seen how he behaved at TCP. Narcissism is the very least of his issues.

    I am both cringing and furious.

  9. Grandefille, this is what I wish people got more about how certain kinds of shitty behavior intersect. Guess, what, people? Your uncle who is awesome except that he’s racist? He thinks he’s better than people and has the right to things that other people do not, solely based on who he is.

    Your friend who is just a little handsy? He has boundary issues.

    And on and on. And those folks may have favorite targets–racial minorities, gay people, women–but when they can’t get a hold of their favorite targets? They will focus on you.

    Which you know, or else you wouldn’t be so upset at being called a pussy or girly or whatever. Because somewhere, in the back of your mind, you know that, if you can be thought of as having those qualities by guys like that, you can be treated by them the way they treat those people.

    Which is why you should stand against that bullshit even if you don’t give two shits about social justice. Just purely for selfish reasons, it should be unacceptable.

  10. This all just makes me want to huddle in bed all day and avoid all contact with people in the world.

    But, I guess I’ve got lots of work to do on “intentions” instead. That’s it right there. Kant wasn’t right that only intentions matter. But also, I’m still hesitant to concede that “he clearly believes he’s not wrong.”

    If that’s true then people can accidentally rape or harass, which I no longer want to accept. I think he’s lying, using acceptable, or at least successful, social tropes to convince others that he isn’t so bad because he didn’t mean it bad, he wasn’t trying to hurt her.

    Now maybe male privilege means that men can be unawares of their own powers and positions. So he knows he wants young women to be available to him, and that he can use his position to get and keep them there, but he just doesn’t know that that is abusive? Then his intention isn’t to harass, that’s just his method. But his intention is still bad because it objectifies women.

    Maybe here is one place to clarify how, despite significant similarities and intersections, sexism and racism aren’t the same. Because I do think people can be unintentionally racist; although, I also think lots of people hid behind that excuse too.

  11. Re that Captain Awkward comment… I think the commenter and her husband both missed something. The whole thing read more like the younger girl was using the husband as a bodyguard as opposed to a friend.

  12. W, sometimes men who are friends with women act as their protectors (or assist the women in protecting themselves) because sometimes women are in DANGER, from creepy, creepy men, like Marc Smirnoff. Men need to get on board with recognizing this behavior, calling it what it is, and ACTING to prevent it when they witness it.

    I KNEW when the stuff about Smirnoff serving alcohol to minors came out that there was way more to this story. The fact that he was in an academic setting at a work related even, affiliated with a large land grant university, that has strict rules about alcohol consumption, and he cavalierly admits that he gave booze to student interns under his supervision–there is NO WAY a responsible board could let him remain. And that was the least of his infractions.

  13. Professor, I don’t read his behavior as “accidentally” harassing. I’m not sure how well I can make this distinction in print, but I’m not suggesting that a well-meaning man who regards women as other human beings who are his equal could inadvertently harass them.

    I mean it as a grave shortcoming in how he’s wired. When I say that I think he literally cannot understand that this girl, who said “rather a dead dog” was saying “fuck no, you asshole” because he believes his intentions and his desires dictate reality, that’s not something that can be fixed with teaching and explaining.

    I think it’s possible to train someone like this–once you realize that’s what you’re dealing with–to behave, if only because it’s in his self interest. I also think it’s possible that someone like this can train himself to behave, because it’s in his self interest. And I think it’s evident that he had self-trained somewhat, since he wasn’t running around sexually harassing people more powerful than him.

    But I think that, under the great stress of being fired from a project he obviously deeply loved and was deeply committed to, he is unable to keep masked the fact that he cannot see that what he did is wrong.

    And I suspect that it is this deficit in conscience that made it so easy for the board to fire him. Normally, these things drag on and the accusers are disbelieved–at least at first. But something about him makes folks nervous enough that, when they had an opening to get rid of him, they took it.

    in my opinion.

  14. JCC, the whole point of the story was that the guy was NOT acting as her protector because he didn’t realize what was going on. The girl was using him as a shield. I don’t see anything wrong with that, I just wanted to point out the distinction.

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