This is no game.
April 28, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Should I let people know that one of my colleagues (in a male-dominated STEM field) is big into the pick-up artist scene?

I work in a male-dominated STEM field. A colleague of mine from a few years back came recently to give a talk and while we were catching up the first night, he told me that he had recently read "The Game" and was really into the pick-up-artist scene. I let him know that night that I wasn't really into that (specifically mentioning my discomfort with the Men's Right's advocacy connections), and we had a further discussion later where I tried to be as clear as possible why I'm not a fan of the scene. So it's not like he doesn't know how I stand on this.

What's more important is whether or not I should be letting other people know about this. While he was visiting, I saw how he interacted with women in our department and it seemed... predatory, to say the least. In particular, there is one post-doc here who he seemed quite interested in, and made at least some pursuit of her.

(As an aside, it's worth noting that I may not have really noticed this if he hadn't told me about his interest in this book to begin with, but being aware of that made it patently obvious.)

Anyhow, there is an upcoming conference that he and I will both be attending, and this postdoc is interested in joining as well, and I'm wondering if I should be letting her---and others, I suppose---know about his interest in the PUA scene.

So here are my questions. This is predominantly directed towards women in STEM fields, but I'm happy with opinions from everyone.

1. Should I tell her (and others) about this? If you were in her position, would you want to know?
2. If so, how should I go about doing this?

In some sense, part of me wants to leave him be; its his life, etc. But I also don't want to be a bystander to toxic behaviour in a field that already is at time not great for women.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Female in STEM here. Guys at conferences. Ugh. I've literally had to have safe words at conferences to let friends know I need to be extricated from conversations like this.

1. Should I tell her (and others) about this? -> YES

If you were in her position, would you want to know? -> YES!!

2. If so, how should I go about doing this? -> I would just say "Hey, I noticed you taking to Jackhole a few times.... He flat out told me that he's trying to be a big pickup artist so I wanted to give you a head's up. You can google "The Game" to see the tactics these Neanderthals* use."

(*apologies to the Neanderthals)
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2016 [75 favorites]

If I was in the postdoc's position, I'd like to know. It is awkward to bring up, but maybe just say that you've talked to the guy and to be careful?
posted by divabat at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2016

The PUA stuff is a bit of a red herring, what's worth warning people about is actual creepy behaviour. You've said he behaved predatorily when he visisted your department - that's fair game to give someone a heads-up about. I think it would just confuse the issue to mention PUA or The Game or whatever, especially if the post-doc has no idea what you're talking about.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:22 AM on April 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

You must be in a much less gossipy STEM field than me that you're even questioning telling people. I'd also ignore the PUA angle and go with, "Dude's kind of a creep from what I hear. I recommend keeping things professional where necessary. Let me know how I can help extricate you if you want."

Only hesitation is that I gather you're male, and on rereading, that can maybe seem a little paternalistic? I'm not sure if that's true, and if it is, how to get around that.
posted by supercres at 8:44 AM on April 28, 2016 [15 favorites]

Are there any potential negative consequences for you if you speak up about this? I am very VERY repulsed by the PUA stuff, but the last thing you want is harm to your own career over it.

That said, yes, I would spread the word far and wide. However you can fit it into a conversation. Shame him.
posted by witchen at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I suppose there isn't any harm in letting this particular woman know about it, if you noticed that he was creeping on her. On the other hand, it doesn't sound like she ever opened up to you about feeling skeeved out by this guy.

I think spreading it around that this guy told you in private that he read a book and uses it to try to get dates is kind of gossipy and unprofessional. If you see this guy at future events trying to hit on women all the time, it might be different, but I would wait until you see it become a pattern.
posted by cakelite at 8:46 AM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

It sounds like he is a colleague and not a supervisor for both you and the postdoc. I would probably give the postdoc a soft notification about his inclinations (i.e. hint at it instead of pulling her aside to have a more formal chat, because that may be construed as meddling). A few carefully placed words can make a surprising impact on first impressions, and can signify that your door is open to a more in-depth conversation should she want to know more.

I don't know that a woman in her position would necessarily be receptive to unsolicited remarks about this man, especially if she were already somewhat flattered and mired in his game-- outside commentary would feel intrusive and, in her defensiveness, possibly not entirely appropriate given the ostensibly professional setting. However, if I were in her position and had already sensed some red flags on my own, I would be super grateful for any other women who would vouch for and validate my sense of unease, which is why I suggest gauging and meeting her where she's at with the softer notification approach.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:46 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would want to know. No, I wouldn't necessarily want to hear about it from a male colleague. (You are male, yes?) You're not really in a position where you can say "give me a signal if you need to be extricated" without coming off like you have some kind of ulterior motive. Honestly, I know this is basically recommending that you become an office gossip, but if you can spread the word among your female colleagues generally and get one of them to talk directly to the postdoc most likely to become his target, I feel like that's going to be the most comfortable/effective situation.
posted by babelfish at 9:14 AM on April 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Are you a woman or a man? It will make a difference to how any intervention on your part will be received.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:15 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

In some sense, part of me wants to leave him be; its his life, etc. But I also don't want to be a bystander to toxic behaviour in a field that already is at time not great for women.

Thank you for pushing past that first instinct and into the second.

You have an opening to contribute to the process of not letting this guy turn into a missing stair, which is awesome. I think you would only need to tell one woman and she would probably disseminate the message from there if need be.

BUT. For a variety of reasons, I would trust this information coming down through a grapevine of other women much, much more than I would trust it coming from a man (although I certainly appreciate the impetus). Because if Dude #2 tried to warn me about Dude #1 who had been hitting on me, I might think Dude #2 was trying to hit on me, too, especially if I didn't know #1 or #2 very well and I felt amenable to #1's wiles. But if I'm hearing it from a woman, even a near-stranger, I'm almost always going to trust her outright, because I know that this is just the kind of thing women do for each other, and there are almost never any ulterior motives involved.

Will there be a woman at the conference who you know very well, who knows you don't have any ulterior motives, that you could key in to this dynamic and enlist as eyes on the ground? That's the approach I'd recommend.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 9:29 AM on April 28, 2016 [20 favorites]

I would definitely want to know. Not the PUA stuff necessarily, but the creeper aspect (which may have been obvious if you were a woman (maybe not though!)).

If you're a woman, an informal 'oh, yeah that guy is super weird and has made me uncomfortable' would probably work.

If you're a man, the easiest thing is to make sure the post doc is okay with driving/travelling with him. That's not really a question you'd normally ask and would (hopefully) put her antenna up. I agree anything more particular might make her think you were trying to hit on her. But also, I've been straight out told that the guy I was applying to work with was sexist, just so I knew ("...although you'll probably be fine dealing with him because you're willing to speak your mind and not be influence by sexism" lolsob). I don't know whether that meant creepy-sexist or jerk-sexist but I was aware I should look out.

The slightly harder thing to do would be to ask the other women (faculty, other post-docs) in the department about him to see if they have any thoughts about his behaviour. Just something like 'So, Dude is really into PUA stuff and it makes me wonder how that's affecting his behaviour with the women here. Have you noticed anything? I don't want him to make the department uncomfortable for everyone' I think it's key to say this would be an issue for everyone because, it really would be.

This isn't about one post doc being made uncomfortable at a conference. This is the stuff that gives STEM a bad name (and your/his department specifically once it gets out (and it will get out)).

Yep, it's going to be uncomfortable but imagine how much more uncomfortable it would be for the post doc to think guy is into her science, but no! Surprise! Just wants to get into her pants.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:30 AM on April 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

I would feel uncomfortable if a male supervisor went out of his way to inform me about creepy-profs creepiness. I agree with amnesia and magnets that this could end up coming across to the woman that you are also hitting on her. Now instead of having one creepy dude with boundary issues on her hands, she has to deal with two potential creepers!

Instead of talking to the postdoc, you might consider talking to your colleague directly about the fact that his behavior toward the postdoc is not ok. He's the one that needs to be warned by you. Not her. Men need to call other men out on their shit directly for there even to be a chance of systemically extinguishing these behaviors.
posted by TheCavorter at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'd talk to the post-doc, but mostly to commiserate. Trust and believe, we know who these men are. We pretty much hate them, but sometimes, we can't kill them with fire because they have power over us. She probably feels trapped and is appalled at this jackhole's approach. She may be on the verge of filing a sexual harassment suit. But the main issue is that so many of these dudes can turn ugly really quickly and women can be vulnerable, so she may be suffering in silence while this guy accosts her.



As for the conference, women there don't have to deal with this guy daily, and will feel MUCH more free to tell him to get lost.

I am so weary of these losers thinking that they have some sort of right to someone's vagina, and the fact that good men don't stand up as often as they should to support we women. It's nice that you want to help.

Would you be willing to file a complaint against this man for sexual harassment, based on his actions creating a hostile work environment, not for you perhaps, but for your female colleagues and co-workers?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Woman in kinda-STEM here. I don't think that I would want a male co-worker to comment on my romantic life unless I brought it up to him (probably not a female one either, but still).

The danger that you face in telling her is coming across as kind of paternalistic and as if you don't trust her to be able to take care of herself. It's entirely possible that she's into the casual hook-up life and finds PUAs to be easy marks herself. Or, maybe she's gay/in a relationship/not interested in guys in her field/not open to dating at all and so would be shutting this guy down regardless.

So, I guess I'd maybe come at it a little more obliquely. I wouldn't warn her about this dude in particular, but bring up the general subject of being female at conferences (hopefully not in a "conferences are dangerous for your kind you shouldn't go" way). Maybe ask something like "how do you normally deal with all the gross dudes at conferences?" Then let the conversation flow from there. Instead of warning her about this dude in particular, maybe say something like "it's always amazing to me how many pick up artists think that technical conferences are an appropriate time to test out their Game technique."

Then, if she asks what a "PUA" or the Game is, you can give her a heads up and she can do the research/decide how to deal with it on her own. Knowledge of the Game is the best defense against it.

And yeah, like TheCavorter says, if you can and you think it's necessary, call the dude out. Like, if you are out as a group and he starts negging or something, and the target isn't pushing back, say something like "really, we're going to neg on our colleagues now?" Just make it clear that you know what he's doing, and you don't approve. But please don't jump in if she's handling it herself.

He'll probably just move on to another lady, and it's not like you need to follow him around or anything, but making it clear that it's not behaviour that you tolerate in your presence is powerful.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:05 AM on April 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

You have an opening to contribute to the process of not letting this guy turn into a missing stair, which is awesome. I think you would only need to tell one woman and she would probably disseminate the message from there if need be.

Hm, actually no, a whisper network is perfectly compatible with a missing stair. In fact, the definition of a missing stair is pretty much "a problem that nobody with power will fix, and so the whisper network becomes the crappy way that powerless people do their best, in the absence of justice."

So here's what I'd suggest, OP. Don't contribute to the whisper network: that shifts the problem to the potential targets, which is unfair. You could speak directly with the guy but I wouldn't bother -- if he's into PUA he is likely not coachable nor easily shamed.

I think you should have a chat with HR. If what you're observed is sufficiently problematic, they will speak with the guy and that may be sufficient to warn him off. (Predators are opportunistic and will focus their energies wherever they think they have the best chance of succeeding.) If what you saw isn't sufficiently bad to be actionable by HR, you've still alerted them there's an issue, which gives them a chance to monitor it. It also means that if a woman complains about the guy any time down the road, she will be taken more seriously than she otherwise would've been.

That's your best shot at being a good ally, IMO.
posted by Susan PG at 10:31 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you should have a chat with HR. If what you're observed is sufficiently problematic, they will speak with the guy and that may be sufficient to warn him off.

Pick-up artist dude does not have the same employer as anonymous and postdoc. HR is not likely to consider this within their remit. Dude's manager should, though. That's his department chair, if he's faculty, or principal investigator if he's not.
posted by grouse at 10:38 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah I see, thanks grouse. I didn't understand that.

Given that, I would encourage the OP to speak with, or send information to, PUA guy's HR. The OP doesn't need to make a big formal case; he just needs them to be aware that the guy is problematic and someone to watch. The goal is to make the issue unignorable, and getting a head-up from an external guy that your guy is a problem -- that's hard to totally ignore.

OP could speak with department heads etc. as well: that might help. But I would say that generally HR is the best path to getting these things addressed and solved.
posted by Susan PG at 10:57 AM on April 28, 2016

I feel like bringing HR in on this might be an overreaction. PUA techniques run across a spectrum, and if all he's doing is the stuff that makes him more confident when speaking to women, and most importantly backing off when the women ask him to, I don't know that escalation to management or HR is really appropriate. Even if you know that this confidence is backed by a philosophy that is kind of gross.

I would save the escalation for if he were doing things like not leaving women alone when asked, or saying that he'd actually engage in the techniques that involve coercing consent or ignoring the lack of consent.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:19 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

if all he's doing is the stuff that makes him more confident when speaking to women, and most importantly backing off when the women ask him to

This might make sense in a social environment, but he was visiting in a professional and public capacity. He should keep it professional. I'm not comforted that he might only use these techniques to hit on women with more confidence because he shouldn't be hitting on people here in the first place.
posted by grouse at 11:43 AM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm not comforted that he might only use these techniques to hit on women with more confidence because he shouldn't be hitting on people here in the first place.

I think there are was of using PUA techniques that wouldn't be understood by anyone who wasn't familiar with the techniques to be hitting on someone. Like "oh, you studied at ...? I wouldn't have expect that" is a neg, and "Here, let me show you my custom Eclipse skin that lets me do such-and-such idiosyncratic thing" is peacocking both are totally appropriate for work conversations. But yeah, if this guy is actually hitting on women in a workplace, a report would be warranted.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:07 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

My spouse has experience with academic HR related to sexual harrassment/hostile work environment claims: the harasser was not disciplined in any way, and the blowback was confined to my spouse and the fellow accusers. My spouse was not required to work with the harasser any further, but he was free to continue harassing other women at the institution. And the names of the accusers were made public to the rest of the department via the whisper network.

Unfortunately, HR will likely not be helpful; they only exist to prevent lawsuits against the institution. Sadly, on the other hand a man making the case may get more traction than a not-man (call it the Burress effect).

If you do make a move on this issue, be very cautious that this doesn't blow back on the intended target, the postdoc.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:33 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm with sparklemotion on the paternalistic angle. I like that you want to look out for your female coworkers, but you're also casting doubt on their ability to act professionally when faced with an asshat, and their personal life is really none of your business. Maybe a casual "that guy's a real player, isn't he?" is about all you could say.
posted by cabingirl at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a woman in STEM: please tell your postdoc specifically that he told you himself about the PUA shit. She should absolutely know, especially if he was targeting her, and especially if there's some chance he may try to collaborate with or recruit her at some point. There's definitely a way to do it that isn't paternalistic – don't be like, "Watch yourself," just be like, "Ugh, I was talking to jerkface and you won't believe what he said, [insert broader conversation about conference or academic socializing here]".

I mean, your field and position and relationship might be different than mine, but in my field that would be super standard and appropriate stuff to talk about, and well appreciated, no matter who it's coming from. Plus, once your postdoc knows, word may spread, which is a good thing — in my field, women tend to put the word out in order to protect each other. Academia runs on people talking about who to work with and for and who to talk to and who's a backstabbing opportunist; this is similar, just grosser.

You have the best possible source for this information, it's not as if you're spreading rumors. It's not like he's going to tell a woman what he's up to. Use your dude insider status for good.

As to academic HR: hah hah hah.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2016 [27 favorites]

I'm a woman in a non-STEM but very male dominated field. I have had male colleagues mention to me that another dude in the profession is creepy a couple of times in the past, and on all occasions I have appreciated it. I agree with those above that you want to be a little careful in how you bring it up, but I do think it's good to spread the word. Specifically, I would probably avoid specifically referencing stuff like PUA/"The Game" which could drag out into a lengthy conversation about the pick up scene if she's not aware of what you're talking about. I would stick to something straightforward along the lines of "I just wanted to give you a heads up that so-and-so is a creeper - you may have already picked up on that, but I wanted to you have full information. If I can do anything to help, please let me know."
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:21 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd be explicit about the PUA stuff — most women I know have heard of it, but if your postdoc isn't from the US she might want to google it herself. Calling someone creepy is better than nothing, but more information is good.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Woman in STEM. Bring it up specifically to the postdoc using a combo of scripts from you're a kitty! and rainbowbrite. If you try to go subtle you will look paternalistic or like a big old creeper yourself. Be professional and brief, and don't go after her again if you see her talking to him.

But do tell her.
posted by telepanda at 1:28 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not in STEM but I'm just thinking back to my single days; there were a few times when guy friends at work would warn me off of some guy. I was young and naïve and with the benefit of hindsight and having seen what these guys did to other young women in our vendor/customer circle, I say absolutely YES - tell your postdoc and other friends "hey, you know this guy is kind of a creeper, right? Give him a wide berth". It's the right thing to do.

And you know what - for the guys who looked out for me this way, that cemented my professional loyalty to them too. Twenty years on and some I haven't talked to in a long while, and if they called me today I'd go out of my way to help them with anything they asked.
posted by vignettist at 1:45 PM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd say it's worth taking the small risk of seeming condescending in order to send out a warning and possibly spare someone a lot of pain. I'm not in STEM, but in the male dominated communities I've been in, I've always appreciated someone giving me a heads-up about creepy behaviour.

There's also the bonus of giving these women a signal that someone is on their side. I've had so many situations where I wish I had someone to turn to when I was being creeped on. Having an ally is an immense help.

There's a risk of seeming a little weird, but that's so trivial compared to the benefits of telling people. Not all women have a magical creep detector in their heads.

If you end up not wanting to directly say anything, just be present and aware. If you see a female colleague looking uncomfortable while this man is talking to her, step in and diffuse. If you see this postdoc touching anyone, step in. If the alarm bells are sounding in your head, there's no downside in making sure everyone's okay.
posted by InkDrinker at 3:18 PM on April 28, 2016

How comfortable are you with participating in gossip? I'm a female academic, but as far as I've observed, both males and females participate in the academic "whisper network" ... =)

As a man, I think that your biggest potential for impact is in talking about this with other men, making clear that a fellow man finds this behavior unacceptable, and helping to change the culture in that way. "What did you think of so-and-so's visit?" "Ehhh. Profesionally, [short comment about his research], but I was really put off by his behavior." You can elaborate from there if your conversation partner indicates an interest in following up on the gossipy bit.

As far as interacting with that specific postdoc, follow you're a kitty!'s approach for bringing his unacceptable behavior up. Don't make it about her and how she should react to him, make it only about him being a sleaze, and the fact that you are absolutely judging him for it. This is how you make it clear you're an ally without coming across as paternalistic/predatory yourself.
posted by Metasyntactic at 4:44 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would definitely want to know.

I think it's fair that you're worried about coming across as paternalistic. It's not an easy thing to tell someone. But to guard against that, you should view yourself as providing information and no more. Don't in any way imply that she was behaving "wrong" around this guy, and don't try to convince her to change her behavior.

Example script: Hey, this might be none of my business, but I think you should know that Bob told me he's really into the pick-up artist scene. It looked like he might have been trying some of their techniques on you yesterday. I just thought you should know before the conference.

That kind of script wouldn't bother me, personally. Well, it would bother me, because I would feel like an idiot not to have noticed--and I would feel angry and betrayed by this guy, but I wouldn't be angry at you.

The best result would be her asking more about what he told you. (That would be my natural response.) That would be a good opportunity to give her some more information, without seeming like you're staging an intervention.

About the missing stair problem: The problem isn't the whisper network itself; it's when the whisper network is used as the sole means of addressing these kinds of problems. Sometimes, though, the whisper network is all you have.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:27 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think I figured out why the framing of the question and a lot of the answers were bugging me. There's this subtle assumption that dealing with predatory dudes in a STEM field is the postdoc's problem, and that you're helping her deal with it. No. Help make it this creep's problem.
posted by Metasyntactic at 5:31 PM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Women in male dominated STEM field:

Should you tell her - yes.

But be very, very careful that it doesn't come across as 'he's a creep, *hint hint* date me instead'. In particular things like offering an out can be very easy to accidentally seem like this.
posted by Ashlyth at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2016

A male colleague did this for me once. The fact that he was openly gay meant that I definitely didn't think it was a ploy for hitting on me, but even so his method was hard to mistake for flirtation. "Hey, I thought you should know Bob is kind of a lech. Bye now."

At that point I had already had a pretty awkward encounter with Bob, but I still appreciated it. Sooner would have been better.

And the thing is, even if she does wonder if you might be wanting to date you, she will also likely be cautious with Jerkwad. I would not assume she already knows. Boy have I been wrong about that stuff, and I swear I have ovaries.

Tell her, move on from it quickly, and don't bring it up again unless she does. All you have to do is offer her the fact, she can use it as she wishes.
posted by bunderful at 7:57 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of on the other side from most people here. PUA stuff is awful, but I don't think you have a lot of useful knowledge about this guy to share. It sounds like everything you know about him is several years out of date, so he could have gotten worse or better. Plus, unless it is a really tiny conference, there's always going to be someone who's terrible.

I think you should let the post-doc know that this guy is planning on going if she doesn't know already and then leave it alone. She can make up her own mind if he was annoying enough to warrant special preparation for dealing with him or not.

And then if you see him being really obnoxious at the conference (negging or whatever), you should call him on it and make it his problem to deal with.
posted by anaelith at 7:17 AM on April 30, 2016

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