The Case of the ‘Harmless Baffoon’ and Why We Cannot Make Allowances for Them

I really hate when you tar everyone with the same brush, and yet I am frequently guilty of that. Let’s face facts, some men prey on women. Too many for sure, but then even one is too much. Women prey, too, as recent news stories have proven. But this is a post focused on males of different cultures. More to the point, what’s the proper reaction when one of your FB acquaintance’ s contacts does. In other words, making allowances because of cultural conditioning (our own) and being taken for a xenophobe if you point to a behavior perpetrated by someone of a different culture.

A friend request is standard. Especially if you have a picture of yourself and are female. Women shouldn’t have to change their profile picture to feel safe, but many do. Or post a picture of themselves with their male partner. I can’t stand strangers knowing who I am, so I rarely show my face. But my name states I’m female, and makes me sound either American, Latina, or French. All of which are desirable when it comes to the dating meat market (as opposed to standard dating where you’re just looking for a partner who shares your values). And I won’t change my name on there, because that defies the point of my account, which is to stay in touch with people you’ve met over the years. Nearly five years ago, someone I care for very much found me after years of me trying to find them merely confirmed my belief and was a huge reason in why I never changed my name. The other being, why should some jerks dictate my actions. 

Yesterday, I received a friend request, and when I checked after blocking and reporting (for a valid reason I won’t get into), he was the friend of an acquaintance. I sent my acquaintance a message along the lines of, tell your friend XY that I don’t accept strangers and have blocked him. Her reply, if I’m perfectly honest, didn’t even shock me. What? Jesus, I think I’ll kick his ass when I see him. To give a clear picture, she rarely swears or takes the name of the Lord in vain. And then came the kicker, he did it with several of my friends, too. He thinks because I’m nice to him when we run into each other at charity events, he can hit on me and my friends. And he’s over 50. She, for the record, is in her mid-twenties, and so are her friends. 

It’s not her fault creeps attach themselves to her and she should not be blamed for a male friend’s actions, no matter how questionable they are. Neither should she be blamed for anyone’s actions where she had no control over them (looking at you, Ms. Maxwell, because that monster needs to be locked up with Mafiosi and gangbangers who all lost their children to pedophiles). Or that she’s nice to everyone because she’s a firm Christian and likes to work with refugees, causing those with evil intentions (be they male, female, foreign, or local) to prey on her. She also meets enough local creeps when she’s out and about, because frankly creeps are everywhere, and I’ve posted about Eastern European men and the problematics interactions with them can entail previously. Plus she’s a very pretty, very attractive, extremely well-groomed girl in a country where cleanliness and looks always trump character.

Neither should she be held accountable for her own country’s misdeeds, because that’s too high à standard to place on anyone. But what is a proper reaction? Is it to suggest a mental detox when your acquaintance tells you how violated she feels by this action (as it triggers her memory of every similar event and #metoo moments she has ever had). Or should the creep’s friend do what she always does when you’re upset and talk you through it, helping you work through your triggers, without trying to defend her friend. Where is the line when you stick up for your friends fiercely on principle, and whom do you protect, the predator or his target? 

She did, as she stated, consider him ‘mildly creepy’ when they first met. But ‘he only says weird things, nothing physical.’ Her friend, as she told me, considered him a ‘harmless baffoon.’ And this acquaintance said she hated unfriending people. That’s my issue right there, because I was brought up with the same mindset, it’s just harmless banter / means they like you / boys will be boys. That last part is actually very true when you substitute creep for boys. Creeps will be creeps and will try to ‘ease’ you into their mindset forever. The process is gradual, because they are grooming you. 

I wish more people would understand the intricacies of that process. Creeps are no different to child groomers, and in all honesty, my acquaintance looks closer to 15 than 25. We know how ‘those who like them young’ operate, and we are beginning to show less and less tolerance towards them. I say less and less because while we do not tolerate pedophiles, we shrug off those who sleep with underage girls, where the age difference is significant, even referring to girls barely in their teens as women. Creeps understand this only too well, and are very quick to adapt when it comes to navigating just how much they can get away with. Though the core MO remains the same: start with words, and move on from there. And even if and when that fails, it’s already too late. Words and looks cut deep, and the damage can’t always be measured. Creeps thrive on that. They don’t even always need sex, causing discomfort is already enough. If called out, they’ll often hide behind, I’m socially inept / it’s my culture / I didn’t know better / it was a misunderstanding. FYI, rendering someone deliberately uncomfortable where they can’t defend themselves or give back has nothing to do with cultural but everything with a serious defect in character. Every normal person of every culture has as their aim to make interactions with each other more pleasant. While in Mediterranean countries that can be subtle flirting, farther up north it can mean giving others space. But everyone respects differences when they are pointed out, and pushing through them for your own gain by deliberately making others uncomfortable, makes you not a good person.

A side note, albeit a very important one, three in fact. 

  1. Children and teens will test their boundaries. It’s in their nature because that’s how they learn to become productive members of society. Yes, some will be more hypersexualized than others. An excuse used too often. To which I always say, kids also want junk food, chips, and candy and an endless supply of gadgets and toys. Plus trips to amusement parks and whatever else strikes their fancy. And you, who are using that argument, would be among the first to set severe limitations on that. It is our job as adults to set boundaries. I’ve known several musicians who managed to sidestep that fine line that apologists like to trot out in their argument, of teens throwing themselves at them. As one put it, “I immediately became all fatherly and encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a musician by telling her to practice.” 
  1. Different countries have different habits. Some are way more chatty and open than others. The classic “where are you from,” can be asked in a variety of ways communicating creepy or genuine interest. I learned very quickly that if I want to keep something secret with certain people, I can’t tell anyone, regardless of nationality. But in some communities the secret won’t get spilled due to gossip, it’s because the community should know. You’re literally part of the tribe, allergies, illnesses, heartbreak give good guidelines as to what to cook, which activities can be done safely so as not to exclude you, and to know what to watch out for. Some are more touchy feely on average than others. I know I am. Again, intent is the key. Openness of your place of origin, or the culture in which you were raised should not ever be an excuse for preying on innocent girls who’ve been conditioned that you just can’t say no, because it would be either racist or rude. 
  1. Someone making suggestive comments or acting even mildly creepy is not a ‘harmless baffoon’ in any way, shape, or form. You wouldn’t advise someone to keep standing by the cage when a monkey starts throwing feces at you, so why tolerate verbal crap from any male regardless of age, nationality, or status  (comparing males to monkeys because real human men ensure that you’re in your comfort zone, because that’s what a human being does, in fact even monkeys have been known to do that). If you’re already classifying someone as ‘mildly creepy’ that’s the proverbial alarm bell going off, your gut instinct checking in. No, he does not need you to guide him, that’s just a poorly crafted, albeit quite standard, excuse to get his way by guilting you. This creep will never change his ways. He gets off on making others uncomfortable. And – this cannot be stressed enough – that feeling of ‘mildly creepy’ is your gut instinct sending you a warning. I don’t care if it’s the priest who is ‘so good with the congregation’ or the refugee ‘who is away from his family, friends, and all that used to be familiar to him.’ And most of all, I don’t care if it’s your creepy beloved apple-of-your-eye son Marek, who just entered his teens hugging and slobbering all over his younger female cousins, but whose abnormal behavior you can’t acknowledge because it would bring shame on everyone and what would the neighbors and relatives say if they ever found out (but let others get hurt, because as long as you’re not impacted in a negative way and your reputation remains untarnished, who cares if others get hurt). 

Here’s why we need an honest, open, no holds barred discussion of how things work. People, women especially, are too often way too afraid of being seen as troublesome, unwelcoming, unchristian, unaccommodating if they don’t allow themselves to succumb to the creep’s advances, be they physical or verbal. And all too often too, they think it’s just cultural. Something creeps know how to abuse only too well. Just going by myself, I know not everyone is comfortable with touch. So I tell people to tell me when they aren’t. And I don’t get mad. I also know lots of men from a variety of backgrounds and cultures who can be very respectful of a woman’s space, going out of their way to do so without making it obvious. Hiding behind ‘this is my culture / I’m socially awkward / please tell me when I keep overstepping the same line over and over,’ is as cheap a shot as those famous words in the pilot of Friends ‘ever since my wife left me two years ago, I haven’t been able to … you know.’

Meeting people from other cultures and demographics (including regions or states) is a huge step in that direction, to understand what cultural norms are in certain settings. A while back, a male friend and I became super close because we were both missing our partners who couldn’t be with us. We are both chatty, touchy-feely, and susceptible to be cheered up by the human touch. We were also the only ones in our group with partners too far away to visit. No one thought anything weird if they saw us go somewhere arm in arm or giving each other hugs. Because we were like that with everyone. We were both good at taking the mickey, but his comments were never sleazy. And honestly, he’s one of quite many. 

This is why we need to attack racism. So it doesn’t become a situation of either or. Seeing all refugees as poor people who just want a new life, or seeing them as predators. Refugees first and foremost are people. And people display all possible characteristics from introverted to outgoing, from creative to practical, from predatory to just being friendly. We need to be able to say, there’s a group of males who prey on women, and then analyze their behavior to warn about them be they foreign or local, regardless of where they come from, or their age group. Because back in the old days, when people moved to the cities from the villages in your country (yes, that means everyone reading this and their respective countries), there were those who sought work, and those who decided to make a living in other ways. This is no different. Even better, take any classroom and look at what you have: diligent learners, class clowns, lazy kids, kids fighting disabilities, kids cheating on tests, bullies, popular kids, brainy ones, those deemed more athletic, creative spirits, and those who couldn’t even draw a stick figure to save their lives. Any group of people you interact with (church groups, social gatherings, work) will show types you’ll easily recognize from your school days.

Being completely open and able to admit that all is not well in our respective societies is another step. Most nations do not take well to criticism, especially when it comes from an outsider i.e. someone not local. But things are not well. Victim shaming is still the go-to in too many places, lack of empathy is another. The boys will be boys mindset alongside that’s between the couple in question / oh, it’s just a misunderstanding / no one got hurt causes more harm than could ever be measured, because how do you measure emotional scars. Too many males will shrug at women getting raped or voicing their concerns over predatory behavior. Yet when faced with the ‘danger’ of just sharing a space with a gay man, all hell breaks loose for them, because ‘what if he hits on me.’ In Finland, the general saying goes, that not paying your taxes is a far bigger crime than raping or / and molesting someone, and considering the punishments meted out for either, I’m inclined to agree with that. In Hungary, most cases don’t even get reported. Partly because harassment is considered as commonplace as adding sour cream to any cooked meal, though mostly because reporting such behavior invites inappropriate, suggestive jokes, questioning your own morals, and general admonishments on how you could have, should have, and hopefully will be doing better, by the authority figures meant to protect you. 

Here’s what I propose. Teach kids as early as possible what is right and what’s not. Teach them to voice their concerns and set boundaries, and then listen when they speak up. This doesn’t mean to bombard them with facts that might overwhelm them. Feel your way in. Children will let you know when they’ve had enough. Some are inquisitive and need to know all the details, others are good with just wanting a short answer. Teach people from the earliest age possible that no means no will always be respected, whether they are saying or hearing it. And then act on that promise. Let people, regardless of age, know that if they are yanked out of their comfort zone against their will, they will be heard and action will be taken. Let people know that they will be listened to and protected. Then stand by the promise you’ve given. Yes, it’s hard work, hard intricate work, but wouldn’t the benefits reward your actions? I see this as a natural thing for me to do as an adult, and if I can keep just one child from getting hurt, my work is (almost) done.

And face facts when your son is mentally ill, provide him with the help he needs instead of sending him into the priesthood because it’s respectable (though none of your other relatives chose that path) and will help you avoid shame in the city you immigrated to and back home in the old country with the relatives. You can still love him. But getting him the help that he needs instead of hiding and exposing others to danger is a far bigger act of compassion. And as a good Christian, isn’t that what you want to focus on every day of your life? 

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