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October 25, 2009 8:45 PM   Subscribe

How can we get the sexist guy to stop attending our feminist book group?

I attend a feminist book group that's fantastic. With the exception of one guy who keeps showing up. He's blatantly sexist and socially clueless. Not only does he rudely interrupt the shy, smart 15 year old girl, he does it to reminisce about the halcyon days pre-feminism! We have tried politely explaining that there's a bit of a disconnect. We have suggested that he might be better suited to another book group. We have asked him not to come. We have told him not to come. He continues to show.

At this point the group is in danger of disintegrating altogether. 30 people have dwindled to 5, all because people can't stand being in the same room with this man. How can we get him to stop attending this group? For what it's worth, he doesn't seem to be malicious or attending out of spite. He's not very bright, he's older and set in his ways, and he seems oblivious to other humans in general, not just the ones in our group.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where are the discussions held? Maybe since you're down to five you can hold the next few meetings at someone's house, by invitation only.
posted by headnsouth at 8:47 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Change the meeting time and place and don't tell him.
posted by hindmost at 8:48 PM on October 25, 2009 [20 favorites]

Can you move it to another location without telling him? Set up a No Homers Club.
posted by ignignokt at 8:49 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meet somewhere else. (Who told him where the meetings are in the first place, anyway?)

If you have asked him not to come, and he still comes, it seems to me the best plan is to make sure he is not on any mailing list or notifications for the book club, and that you change the meeting place/time through email or some other method of communication, rather than continuing to meet in the same place and, at the end of each meeting, saying when the next meet-up is.

In other words, cut him out of the loop.
posted by misha at 8:50 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Where is the group being held? If it's not on public property, you could just ask whoever owns or administers the meeting place to request that he leave. If it's at a university or similar there should be security guards who can remove people who are being genuinely disruptive.

If that's not feasible you could also try and ignore the guy as much as possible - firmly state that he will be ignored until he stops disrupting the meeting. Or you could charge a small amount (say $1) as a levy, and ask people to sign membership forms. This might put off people who turn up simply to be annoying, or at the very least it would force them to financially support a cause they are intolerant of.
posted by fearthehat at 8:53 PM on October 25, 2009

Not to be snarky but if you don't want this guy to be at your meeting...don't tell him where it is.

Or am I missing some detail that you haven't provided?
posted by dfriedman at 8:55 PM on October 25, 2009

Reconstituting the group elsewhere is a great idea, so long as you can inform the people who've left.

Otherwise, you've already told him not to come-- enforce this. Be blunt-- something like "People are leaving because of you; you're not allowed here any more." It's hard to kick someone out, but by not doing so, he's been allowed to kick 25 other people out.
posted by zompist at 8:57 PM on October 25, 2009 [11 favorites]

I'm kind of with dfriedman on this with wondering if there are several important details you've left out.

If you're posting here I'm going to assume you have enough basic intelligence to have tried not telling him where it is so more likely is the fact that this info is posted somewhere and you have no way of preventing him from seeing it--like flyer or group.

So, while it would be helpful if you could update us with details on how he's able to keep attending, here are a couple suggestions:

- Rotate the group at people's homes and if he tries to attend call the police. If you're worried about him following you, have a pre-meeting, hand those people you are comfortable with a piece of paper with the location and time/date of the actual meeting on it and then reconvene. Or just get their personal emails/cell phones and contact them that way. I understand this won't help the group grow as much but first you need to deal with the main issue of him crashing it. Eventually he'll give up and move on and then you can try to grow it again.

- If he is making personal attacks on someone you can attempt to get a restraining order--then he's not allowed to be close enough to them to attend.

- If you don't want to go through all the hassle of the above two, just let him show up next time and if he starts getting verbally abusive call the cops. They will show up and A. make him leave and B. warn him about doing this again.

The last suggestion there is probably your best bet but if you can provide the following info it would be a big help to us:

Need to know:
-How he is able to learn details of where/when meetings are
-Need to know where the meetings are held and if its on private property why nobody (a member or someone who works there) can kick him out, especially if its someone's house, a coffee shop or something like that
posted by Elminster24 at 9:44 PM on October 25, 2009

Tell him you have decided that the book group in its present form has reached the end of its life and that this book will be the last and that you are disbanding. End the book group. Wait a month or two or even six and then reform the group. Set meetings up on private property. Make sure your method of announcing meetings and locations is restricted to the group members and those hand picked by the group to invite. Hopefully he will have moved on to other things.
posted by gudrun at 10:07 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fork. Book clubs are like unstable countries. The recipe for revolution is pretty simple. The new dictator invites the best people of the old club to a new mailing list with a new time and location. A new group forms from the ashes of the old.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:08 PM on October 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

We have asked him not to come. We have told him not to come. He continues to show.

And why did you not call the police?
posted by jayder at 10:26 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jayder, the poster hasn't indicated whether this book club meets in a public location or a private one. Kinda makes a difference, don't you think?
posted by Happydaz at 11:27 PM on October 25, 2009

My guess it that he started showing up because the concept of a "feminist book group" provoked him. He probably is attending out of spite.

If you can't close the meetings, then start a new group with a different name, "The Simone de Beauvoir study group" or something like that. Change the venue for the meetings, at least for a while.
posted by iviken at 11:33 PM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Every answer suggesting you phoenix up a new group out of the scorched rubble of this one is a good answer. However, if you can't for some reason, try this.

Get a soccer ref kit. The first time he interrupts, is rude, espouses nostalgia for the cobwebbed patriarchy of his youth, or shakes his frank and beans at anyone, blow your whistle and yellow flag him.

Print up a list of the next few books. If you haven't done these already, I suggest:

Bloodchild by Octavia Butler, a tale of pregnancy in a world where young men are used to brood the grubs of intelligent alien parasitic wasps
How To Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ
Cunt by Inga Muscio.

Ask him to make madeleines or a bundt cake for the next meeting. I'll wager you won't have to eat any.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:47 AM on October 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

Make it a women-only group. That's what the majority of book clubs seem to be anyway.
posted by mattholomew at 5:45 AM on October 26, 2009

Make it a women-only group.

Y'know, it's kind of a paradox, but this seems really anti-feminist to me. "We want equality so ONLY WOMEN are allowed in our club!"

Anyhow, I agree that you should dump him from any mailing lists and change your meeting location. If he really doesn't get it, spell it out that the reason your numbers have thinned is that he makes people uncomfortable and in the interest of maintaining a GROUP and not just "Me and you, and you give me the creeps" you unfortunately need to ensure that he needs to leave.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:25 AM on October 26, 2009

Presumably you give all newcomers/new members a list of rules or expectations regarding behavior during group meetings (issues like interrupting, offensive language, etc.)--if you don't, you should--and then they are aware of what conduct is considered acceptable or unacceptable within the group. There is no right to be part of a group whose rules you are unwilling to follow, regardless of where the group meets. This man does not have the right to continue to attend your group while acting the way he is acting, and his behavior seems more and more like harassment.

At this point, I would speak with either your local police (calling the police is not extreme, nor does it obligate you to do anything extreme) or a lawyer regarding your options with this man. Businesses can kick patrons out for breaking their rules or harassing their staff, and can get local police involved if the patron refuses to leave or tries to return after being banned, so you should find out the extent to which your club can do the same thing, and what resources are available to support you.

Making it a women-only group or otherwise scaring this particular guy away doesn't solve the problem fully: you need to know your rights and confidently exercise them so that all group members feel safe and comfortable regardless of who shows up the next time.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2009

Jayder, the poster hasn't indicated whether this book club meets in a public location or a private one.

No, not at all. An unwelcome person does not have the right to attend a book club, just because it's in a public place. I don't understand why everyone has this misconception.
posted by jayder at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2009

(I was responding to something I didn't include in my quoted passage: "Kinda makes a difference, don't you think?")
posted by jayder at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2009

I also think disbanding then reconvening, or arranging to meet at a different time and place without informing him of the new details would be the way to go. I'm trying to think of why you would not be able to do this other than possibly feeling mean or guilty. If that's the case, he has already violated several social agreements of your group and polite society in general, so there's is nothing to feel guilty about and you are certainly not mean. Is there something we are missing here? Is there some reason you can't just cut him out of the loop and proceed without him?
posted by katemcd at 6:58 AM on October 26, 2009

I think evaporating the group and condensing elsewhere is good advice. If you can't do that for some reason, I wonder if you've tried having one single person from the group speak with him? Is there an individual who has a tiny bit more leverage with him, who he listens to even slightly? A personal appeal out of public view might get through (though he sounds pretty recalcitrant). I hesitate to suggest recruiting another man in the group to do this, since you certainly shouldn't have to depend on male intervention, but it could be worth considering if you're more interested in getting him out in a relatively low-conflict way than in standing on principle. Isn't it infuriating how things that should be simple never are? Good luck.
posted by Mngo at 7:28 AM on October 26, 2009

I agree with katemcd. It might be hard if you are meeting in a public place like a library, but even if the place is public, the membership in the group does not necessarily need to be open to the public. Check your library's meeting guidelines, if you're in a library, to see whether there's any such stipulation. It's not too likely, though.

There are plenty of kinds of groups that need to restrict membership to people who can create a certain focused atmosphere - rape and assult surviviors' groups, bereavement groups, LGBTQ groups, activist groups. There's no stipulation in the world that a voluntary group with a specific purpose can't exclude people from membership. It sounds as though the problem might be that there's no clear difference between members and nonmembers, and maybe there's been an ethos in the past that this was an open group. But it doesn't function well extending membership to hostile people, so an open group is probably not the right format for this.

So whatever you decide to do to get rid of this guy, just do it - but going forward, it might be a good idea to develop a statement of vision for the group. It could be a simple paragraph that says something like "Welcome to the Feminist Book Club. We meet every month and discuss books that deal with feminist topics with the aim of ____ [whatever]. Anyone is welcome to participate, but all participants agree to maintain a constructive and respectful dialogue at all times, even when disagreeing. The following behaviors will be cause for a private discussion with a group leader which may result in your leaving the group:

-insulting group members
-interrupting when others are speaking
-being hostile to the premise of the group
-[whatever else]"

You could just write this up on a page and give it to new members as they show up. This would at least give you some ground rules which you could use to clearly delineate when someone's crossed the line and take action.

You don't mention whether the group has leaders, and that's important too. Does it? One reason this problem has gone on so long and been so damaging is that it wasn't nipped in the bud. I wonder if no one felt empowered to take action, if no one felt the responsibility for the quality of group meetings rested directly with them, if no one felt that they had the support of other group members and a channel through which to act. This can be a distinct problem in leaderless groups and has destroyed more than one viable and wonderful community. Human beings need some structure for their interactions; if you haven't got a leader, think about one, or a rotating three-person council, or an organizer/secretary -- some body in which the group can invest authority and act through.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on October 26, 2009

Check your library's meeting guidelines, if you're in a library, to see whether there's any such stipulation. It's not too likely, though.

Not to be a pill here, but if you're meeting in a library it's actually quite likely that you need to have your group's meeting be open to everyone. Libraries do all have different guidelines, but to the extent that they follow ALA's Bill of Rights (a suggestion, not a law for libraries) they do in fact have to make their meetings open to anyone, at no cost.

So, speaking to the original point, I'd start making the group either meeting at someone's house (where library meeting rules don't apply) or do as Miko and other's suggest and start being a hard liner on the rules. I guess you have to ask yourself, if the guy shows up and does, somehow, tow the line w/r/t the etiquette rules you've set up, is it okay for him to be there?
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stand up to him. If he appears at the meeting, politely explain that he has been disruptive and disrespectful at previous meetings, and you have asked him not to attend. If he does not leave, call security.

If you want him out because of age or gender, or another protected category, and you meet in a public space, you may be violating regulations. But it actually sounds like you want him out because he is disruptive - interrupts & monopolizes, and disrespectful - does not listen to others or allow others to speak, does not stick to the established theme of the group.

Be feminists. Stand up for your right to speak, and not have your interests overrun by a sexist male. You can do this politely and effectively. If you can't do this, then your next several books should be about learning to be assertive. I am not snarking here. This is an important skill that your group does not seem to possess, except for the rude guy.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

An unwelcome person does not have the right to attend a book club, just because it's in a public place.

True, but then the problem is, how do you make him leave if he refuses to? Suggestions to call the cops or to get the staff of the meeting place involved seem a little unrealistic to me. I can't imagine calling NYPD because a book club, which meets at a cafe, wants some guy to leave. Nor can I imagine asking a minimum wage barista, or some such person, to get involved in my book club drama. So he's being disrespectful--how is that a problem for law enforcement or meeting-place staff?

Dissolving and reconvening with limited communication of place and time seems like the best option to me.
posted by Mavri at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

they do in fact have to make their meetings open to anyone

This confuses me; one of my nonprofits has its board meet at the library, and often there is closed session, meaning you have to be on the board to remain in the meeting. Is that really unusual?
posted by Miko at 8:43 AM on October 26, 2009

I can't imagine calling NYPD because a book club, which meets at a cafe, wants some guy to leave.

If the book club meets in a cafe, they should have a relationship or arrangement of some kind with the store's management. So, the first step would be to have a conversation with the manager about how to handle the situation and the extent to which the manager is willing to help the club deal with this disruptive person. If the book club regularly draws up to 30 people to the cafe, and one disruptive person is driving those club members/customers away from the cafe, then the cafe management has an incentive to address the issue and help to remove that one person. The manager or shift manager is responsible for removing disruptive patrons. If a disruptive patron won't leave, the manager or shift manager can call the police. It may not be high priority, and the response will vary depending on the area where the club meets, but this isn't an unreasonable use of police time.

I would think, though, that simply saying "This is my store, I'm telling you to leave, and if you don't, I'll call the police" would be sufficient in most cases for getting someone to leave.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:53 AM on October 26, 2009

I don't know why everybody here is so reluctant to get police involved, regardless of whether you are in a public or private place.

If its in a private place and the staff/management won't do anything call the police. Odds are they will intervene first though because its in their best interest to keep you happy and remove disruptive people.

If its in a public place call the police and claim harassment. He is most certainly harassing you and disturbing the peace. A little uncomfortableness with the police is worth the peace you'll have when he's gone for good.
posted by Elminster24 at 9:25 AM on October 26, 2009

Is that really unusual?

If the general meeting is open to the public and there's a closed session as part of the meeting, that's generally fine and in keeping with the guidelines as I understand them. The library board, if it meets in the library, does the same thing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on October 26, 2009

I am late to this but wanted to ask: is it possible this old fool is not just old and socially clueless but possibly senile? He may be thrilled to be surrounded by young women listening to his tales of when men were men and girls knew their place (ick, I know). Do you know any of his family members or caretakers? It's possible that dropping the right word in the ear of his wife/son/daughter/SO and apprising them of the situation would limit his future participation. Something worth considering before bringing on the big guns.
posted by Allee Katze at 10:51 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

We have tried politely explaining that there's a bit of a disconnect. We have suggested that he might be better suited to another book group. We have asked him not to come. We have told him not to come. He continues to show.

I think you're perhaps being too polite. When he says something inappropriate, stop the discussion. The first time, tell him in absolutely no uncertain terms that his comments are inappropriate and you've had enough. The second time, tell him that he is no longer welcome in this club, and that he needs to leave. Now. You don't have to yell or call him names, but be firm, look him straight in the eye, and tell him to leave, rather than ask him to leave.

If he doesn't leave, you can all leave together and go someplace else or you can tell the proprietor/librarian/police that this man has disrupted your book club repeatedly, you've both asked and told him to leave, and he's now harassing you.

We're not required to socialize with people who piss us off and make us uncomfortable.
posted by desuetude at 4:24 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine calling NYPD because a book club, which meets at a cafe, wants some guy to leave.

The cops aren't being called because the book club wants some guy to leave. They're being called because some guy is harassing and disrupting the book club, despite being asked repeatedly to stop.
posted by MeghanC at 7:52 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

My guess it that he started showing up because the concept of a "feminist book group" provoked him. He probably is attending out of spite.

Absolutely this; he is deliberately provoking the group, and in his mind I'm sure he believes that he's proving something about how men are still more powerful and such. Treat him as you would someone who breaks into your meeting to eat the free snacks; have him removed, and if your facility doesn't have provision for someone to be removed, either change locations or have three large men at your next meeting to talk to him about the error of his ways.
posted by davejay at 10:36 AM on November 6, 2009

note my suggestion of the men to remove him is specifically because your own attempts to tell him to leave have not been effective, not because women aren't able to handle men; in this particular case, he's made it clear he won't respect your boundaries, so absent some way to make him respect that won't get you arrested, a change of gender for the messenger might help.
posted by davejay at 10:40 AM on November 6, 2009

Make it a women-only group. That's what the majority of book clubs seem to be anyway.

Some feminists are not women.
posted by mippy at 5:20 AM on August 11, 2010

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