Let’s Talk About Hitting On Girls, Boys (i.e. Don’t Sexually Harrass)

No crossed outYou know, it always amazes me the gall some people have. There are guys who can just walk up to women, have a friendly conversation, and then decide that the woman wants to have sex. They then start hitting on her. Some guys skip the friendly conversation altogether and go straight to propositioning. I’m not talking about behavior just in bars, either. I’m talking about behavior on airplanes, in parks, on the street, at work–everywhere.

Maybe it’s residue from my background as an outcast, in part, but I was also raised with strong women around: my mom, grandmas, and sister. It never occurred to me that this kind of behavior was okay. So it always puzzles me. Even in a dating relationship, I have to know the girl is comfortable with such talk to even initiate it. Otherwise, I wait for her to make it clear she wants to go there. That’s just respectful to me. And it always amazed me some people see it any other way.

Richard Branson must. Virgin Airlines now has the ‘Get Lucky’ policy.  No surprise, it has led to sexual harrassment. I’m sure legal trouble will follow.  I can’t believe his corporate lawyers even let that one slide through. Of course, he is the boss. Maybe he ignored them. It will be at his peril, I guarantee.

And in the past year, we’ve heard more and more reports of serious–egregious–sexual harrassment at conventions. People grabbing, stalking, etc. What’s up with this behavior, guys? I could write it off as sociopaths, but it happens to so many women, it scares me to imagine our society is filled with that many sociopaths.

Instead, I think it’s just arrogance and ignorance. Or maybe  bad social training.

Here’s another question: do women encourage it? And should they have to?

First, you can argue that if men are so bad at reading signs, then perhaps some indication of interest would be a good idea. At the very least, this would avoid accidental harrassings (if there is such a thing). But beyond that, it would at least make men aware of mutual interest, even though it would not tell them where the line is.

Second, I know women have been direct with me in the past and I appreciated it, so I think they do do this. But again, should they have to? In an ideal world, probably not, but in our confused culture, maybe it’s one way to start straightening things out for the foolish men (all of us to some degree).

I’m not here to man bash. But I do think male behavior in these cases is clear evidence of a drought of common sense.  If women were going around harrassing men like this, it wouldn’t be an issue up for debate. It would have been cracked down on or solved. I’ve actually had someone come on to me and make me feel uncomfortable, and it was not pleasant. You feel helpless and trapped. And it’s frustrating when the person can’t understand or refuses to accept the word “no” as a literal response to stop.

I think the moment the word “no” is uttered, one should pause and determine the context in which it was said. I just don’t understand the excuse of “she didn’t mean it” or, even worse, “I got carried away.” That’s ridiculous. If someone is saying “no,” then you should assume they mean it and find out. Heat of the moment aside, I’m serious here. If you are moving so fast that you have lost control, then think twice about what you’re doing altogether. As my friend Rosie says: “Don’t wait for a ‘no.’ Get an emphatic ‘yes.’ It’s way sexier, anyway.”

Let’s ask some female friends when they consider it appropriate to “hit” on them. What are the signs a woman might use to encourage it?

First from my friend Leah Petersen: “I’m never offended by a tasteful and polite come-on, but I expect the man (or woman) to take an equally tasteful and polite brush-off without having to be hit over the head with it. I’ll qualify that with: It’s never OK if I’m clearly with my husband. Though even that one I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt on, if it’s not clear. I don’t wear a ring that people identify as a wedding ring easily and half the time I forget to put it on, so I assume anyone who chats me up has done so with the assumption that I’m single.”

From Rosie at makemeasammich.org: “I’ll start by saying that it’s even important to recognize signs that a woman isn’t interested. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy and will reduce discomfort on both sides. Here are some signs (and their counterparts when appropriate) (and note that these are generalizations referring to heterosexual women, because someone will always point out that not everyone is the same, some people are shy, etc.):

– If a woman tends to turn away from you, she’s probably not interested. When a woman is attracted to a man she tends to turn toward him–full on–when they’re interacting.

– If a woman makes moves to put distance between you, she’s probably not interested. Don’t keep closing that distance, because if she is interested (and is just defending her comfort bubble) that is very likely to drive her away. Give her space and watch for other signs.

– If a woman refuses to look you in the eye while you’re interacting, this is a sign that she may not be interested. Women who are attracted to a man and want to encourage more engagement tend to look him in the eye and fully engage.

– If you touch a woman (which you should never do without permission), and she doesn’t respond by touching you back in a way that is unmistakably affectionate and encouraging, she is probably not interested. If you touch a woman without permission, chances are you will know right away whether she likes you enough to forgive your rudeness. If not, she will move away from your touch and possibly injure you, depending.

Now, here are a few signs a woman is interested:

– She’s fully engaged when you talk to her, looking you right in the eye and smiling or otherwise emoting appropriately.

– She closes the distance between you.

– She engages in surrogate touching: playing with your keys, touching your drink glass, messing with a button on your sleeve.

One thing I think people need to learn to recognize is the difference between that feeling of ‘I find this person attractive’ and ‘Zing! We are attracted to one another.’ Being pursued by someone you’re not interested in is one of the biggest turnoffs I can imagine, so it behooves you to know the signs and signals and to recognize the mutual (vs. one-way) chemistry that occurs when two people ‘fit.’ It’s really pretty simple in many cases: A woman who is interested will make excuses to be around you. A woman who is not interested will make excuses to get away from you.”

Pretty helpful stuff. It comes down to this: don’t assume. If you have to guess, you’ll probably be wrong. Wait for definitive encouragement.

And don’t give me that “it’s part of the game” crap either. Because no, it isn’t. It’s not a game to make someone feel threatened or scared. It’s no game to make someone feel uncomfortable. Yeah, there may be masochists out there who get off on such things, but find a group of like minded people. Don’t try them out on random strangers. Seriously.

It sucks to hit on girls a lot of times. It’s nerve wracking and it takes guts. That’s why so many men put on the machismo attitude and pretend it doesn’t matter. In truth, a rejection from one woman doesn’t matter much. It may feel humiliating in the moment, but it’s not going to stop a woman who’s really interested from saying ‘yes’ five minutes later. I’d much rather be with someone who has the same desire to be with me as I have to be with her. Wouldn’t you? Seriously. Even if you’re looking for a one night stand.  If someone wants to screw their brains out mindlessly, it should be mutual. And there are women out there who might. But it’s not your call to pick them. They must nominate themselves.

If Richard Branson is your hero, well, I don’t know what to say about that. Because he’s certainly lost some respect with me for his new policy. Regardless of the publicity stunt and humor angle, it’s irresponsible. And it creates and encourages situations bound to make flying Virgin anything but pleasant for a whole lot of people. Why would a business owner in his right mind want to do that?

Why would a man looking for love want to make a woman uncomfortable? Why would a man looking for a willing sex partner want to make a woman uncomfortable?

If you don’t have good answers for these questions, then I hope you’ve gotten the point. If not, please find a friend and read it together. This is too important to miss the point. Rape culture has to stop. And men, I hate to tell you, but the onus is entirely on us.

For what it’s worth…

Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Write Tip: Collective Nouns And Impracticality For Writers (aka Word Choice Matters)

An “eloquence of lawyers?” Who comes up with these? Seriously. Have you ever run into collective nouns lists? Some of them are hard to believe. What were they thinking?

“A parliament of owls.”
“A covert of coots.”
“A murder of crows.” (You may have seen the meme on this one.)
“A pace of asses.”
“A pomp of pekingese.”
“A blessing of unicorns” doesn’t seem as bad, I mean, come on, unicorns are a blessing!
“A disguising of tailors” though is damned odd. And you already saw the lawyers one.

For more, Tiny Online has a great list divided by category here: http://users.tinyonline.co.uk/gswithenbank/collnoun.htm

Looking at the list made me ask a very simple but important question: Are these usable?

Some are known, so no issue. But others, like the examples, not only do you risk not being understood, but you risk taking people out of a story by either laughter or just the double take they do. What would you do in such a case? Use the correct term or stick with a generic like “a gathering of owls,” “a forest full of owls,” “a tree full of owls,” or even “a group of owls?” I mean, do you want to have to explain that the owls are not a) politically organized into structured bodies with a voting system and role in societal lawmaking? or b) explain they have no official capital and building where they hold chambers?  This comes, of course, from the images and questions the term “parliament” used in this way evokes.  But let’s look at a definition via my old friend: Dictionary.com.


[pahr-luh-muhnt or, sometimes, pahrl-yuh-] Show IPA



( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of Great Britain,historically the assembly of the three estates, nowcomposed of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, formingtogether the House of Lords, and representatives of thecounties, cities, boroughs, and universities, forming theHouse of Commons.


( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of certain British colonies and possessions.


a legislative body in any of various other countries.


French History . any of several high courts of justice in France before 1789.


a meeting or assembly for conference on public or national affairs.
1250–1300; Middle English:  discourse, consultation, Parliament <Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  alteration of Medieval Latin parlāmentum < Old French parlement  a speaking, conference ( see parle-ment); replacing Middle English parlement  < Old French

Related forms

an·ti·par·lia·ment, adjective
in·ter·par·lia·ment, adjective
sub·par·lia·ment, noun
Example Sentences
  • Nobody can expect a parliament to stablish what is good and what isevil.
  • The interim government will have to contend with the same cantankerousparliament that made life miserable for the old leadership.
World English Dictionary
parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. an assembly of the representatives of a political nation or people, often the supreme legislative authority
2. any legislative or deliberative assembly, conference, etc
3. Also: parlement  (in France before the Revolution) any of several high courts of justice in which royal decrees were registered
[C13: from Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  from Old French parlement,  from parler  to speak; see parley ]
Parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. the highest legislative authority in Britain, consisting of the ouse of Commons, which exercises effective power, the House of Lords, and the sovereign
2. a similar legislature in another country
3. the two chambers of a Parliament
4. the lower chamber of a Parliament
5. any of the assemblies of such a body created by a general election and royal summons and dissolved before the next election

Hmmm, no mention of owls in any of those. But plenty of mention of terms like “legislative authority, “assembly,” and “courts.” Do you see where readers might be confused?

I think word choices matter. They should fit the world, the time setting and the context without being showy or standing out.  Don’t show yourself in your work. You want readers to forget the writer and be immersed. I like learning new words, but novels aren’t the main place I go for it. If I can understand the word in context and continue reading, I’m fine with it, but if it pulls me out of the story by forcing me to seek a dictionary before continuing, I consider that bad writing. I know some will disagree, but one of my definitions of good writing is something seamless and flowing that challenges the reader without making them feel like they’re working hard. So words like these must be used with care. the argumeent “but it’s the correct term” does nothing to address the qualifications I just laid out nor the fact that if it’s obscure and rarely used, by using it, you are pointing out its oddity in a way and letting the more important goal of communicating with your readers fall by the wayside in the process.

I come from the school of readers which is more impressed with how immersed I get in your story and world than by your vocabulary. For me, the main value of diverse vocabulary is to have better words to paint pictures and vary the phrasing in descriptions as well as create dialogue unique to characters, not to show of your intelligence. But there have been many times I have read a book and wondered which goals the author had in mind. When fiction reading becomes work and not fun, I quickly lose interest, no matter whose name is on the cover. As usual, I know some writers will disagree with me, but I make this Write Tip anyway because it’s worth thinking about the choices you make, why you make them and how they affect readers.   Readers and critiques will overlook a lot of flaws if they enjoy your book. On the other hand, if you force them to work harder and look more deeply, or, even worse, annoy them, you may be in for more than you bargained for.

So I guess the moral of the story is: just because a word exists and is technically correct doesn’t make it the best word to use in your prose. Give thought to other factors before you finalize the choice. What are your goals? What are your motives? What are the possible results? Will the choice get you where you want to go with all of them?

That’s the bottom line for me. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sunforthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.