Harassment Prevention Training

Not As Much Fun As It Sounds

This week I was required to do an online Harassment Prevention Training course. This is ongoing entertainment industry fallout from Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the #MeToo era. I suppose it’s partly to train us on expected behaviors, but it’s also a CYA move from the studios so they have legally defined standards that have been officially communicated to us. A lot of it is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but the producers (studios) can define their own standards which usually exceed that. This is the normal expectation that professional behavior is a higher standard than just what is legal. Sometimes when you start a job you are handed a huge bundle of this stuff to sign, none of which you will ever remember. Most people in the industry try to be decent to each other. Some don’t.

Like a lot of training, I found it annoying and borderline disturbing. There is something about stating things that seem obvious in a way that makes them sound non-obvious, that can set off a processing spiral to figure out where the “trick” is supposed to be. What am I not understanding about this? Am I going to get this wrong in some way I can’t anticipate?

Then the social factors involved are an ASD nightmare. A basic ASD social disaster is to unintentionally offend people, no matter how hard you are trying to do the right thing. Unintentional is a central social issue for us where things do not go or are not interpreted how we intend them. In the training, some of the scenarios were clear, while some were convoluted. At least they were honest about some situations being complex, but their answer was essentially “use your judgement”, which is also a basic ASD social nightmare.

There was a short section on reading non-verbal cues. This is a big problem for us, maybe because there is enough going on during social interaction anyway. How can you track what somebody is saying, plan what you’re going to say, maintain eye contact, and look for body language and non-verbal cues all at the same time? And that’s before you try to interpret them and figure out what it all means. Possibly this is why we tend to figure out an hour later that a conversation meant something completely different than we thought.

Anyway, the whole process made me feel profoundly uncomfortable and now I’m afraid to go back to work. Joking. Well, mostly joking. Maybe I could claim the Harassment Preventing Training constituted harassment? Also joking.

My reaction is usually to over-comply. When I doubt, I don’t interact with people. This is a safe option but not terribly interesting and possibly not a great career move.

My personal nightmare social situation, particularly at work, is being pressured to “participate” when I don’t want to. This almost always goes badly, and whatever I say or do is likely to be “wrong” in some way I can’t predict. Probably not offensive but definitely awkward and not good. There is an NT assumption that we hold back normal behaviors, and just need to be forced to interact. In reality, we tend to hold back autistic behaviors, which people are typically not prepared for. I don’t think I have ever been pressured into “participating” and had it go well. So that’s a nice no-win situation where you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

This sort of training is an odd social exercise in itself, and will drive you crazy if you take it literally. It’s being done for legal purposes, where things are not what they might appear on the surface, and it’s anybody’s guess how it will actually apply. So another ASD social nightmare situation.

I suppose in practice it will all be fine.

It’s for a good cause. I believe many in the industry are genuinely shocked and disappointed by what happened, and at the low standards and awful behavior that some people in positions of authority have gotten away with. Now there are no excuses. And most of the provisions are about treating people with respect in general, not making anyone feel awkward, inferior or excluded. That should support people with ASD too.


P.S. beware of irony in these posts! I grew up in Australia, a culture with a long and storied sense of irony. e.g. if you are a redhead, your traditional nickname would be “Blue”.

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