Spot The Question is a short story by blogger Elodie Under Glass that powerfully illustrates the negative space around male privilege and the depth of the concept of creepiness. It originated in comments on a Captain Awkward blog post entitled "My friend group has a case of the Creepy Dude. How do we clear that up?" The post itself resonated, receiving over 700 comments.
Spot The Question became a story of its own, and has a way of communicating its message in a manner that, towards the end of the story, a sudden realization occurs that will send a chill down the spine of any allied male reader. It can be quite a teaching tool about privilege, the insidious nature of which being that those with privilege often cannot perceive it.
Spot the Question
Spot the Question tells the story of university professor "Dr Glass", and his two students at a workshop. It is told by Dr Glass' wife.
Dr Glass is participating in a workshop for a week, where everyone works on teams and spends all day together. A student in his team, a very beautiful and a much younger woman ("Luminous") becomes his friend based on their common project and other interests. On the same course but on a separate team there is a young man ("Awkward Dude"), who tries to "make the workshop all about his pantsfeelings for Luminous Girl" and is constantly trying to garner Luminous's attention. In turn Luminous refuses him "in all those thousand little pleasant ways that women are trained to do". Awkward's attempts to impress Luminous turn out such a distraction that Dr Glass cuts him off, and Awkward only reshapes his approach. He also starts "loudly asking wasn’t Dr Glass married?!" and behaving very jealous and critical of the married man's connection with a female student so much junior to him.
Dr Glass wasn’t sure why he was suddenly the target of the resulting animosity, as he clearly had no romantic interest in Luminous, until I explained it to him: Dude had decided that the reason Luminous Girl was not sleeping with him was because she was the Possession of Another Male, and further, a Male who Already Had His Fair Share of Females (...)
Awkward remains persistent and resourceful in his efforts to win Luminous over. The story culminates in a situation where Luminous, about to go hiking with Dr Glass, encounters Awkward alone, and returns to her room as soon as Dr Glass gets to the scene. The following day Awkward is at it again in the class, having "dragged Luminous into yet another unwanted conversation". Dr Glass calls him out on it, and Awkward ends up being thoroughly humiliated in front of the entire class.
“I really feel bad about that, actually,” Dr Glass said. He hadn’t really wanted to humiliate the younger man in front of everybody, especially since his only crime had been really inept flirting. (...) But Dr Glass didn’t regret it. He just felt odd. (...) He’d just snapped. “OH MY GOD,” I replied, “WHY DIDN’T YOU DO MORE? WHAT A FUCKING CREEPER!”
Dr Glass explains that he hadn't wanted to be too hard on Awkward for just "not being very good at talking to girls". His wife points out that the guy had ruined Luminous' entire workshop experience, and he agrees, but cannot still put a finger on why he's feeling weird about the whole thing.
(...) And then I asked The Question. And after I asked The Question, his face changed. He looked sick. “I didn’t think of that.” After The Question, he wished he’d been more explicit – gone to the course director. Been there more for Luminous. The good intentions that he wanted to assume, the passes he was willing to give the other man, evaporated, completely. They had evaporated for me, halfway through the story. When I tell this story to women, they spot The Question right away. The men don’t; they think that Dr Glass behaved like a gentleman, neither doing too much nor too little. They are feminist men, and good people. They have read “The Gift of Fear” and they talk about privilege and the patriarchy, and they don’t spot it.
The identity of The Question is a major spoiler, and to retain the effect of its revelation, it's recommended that one read the story before looking The Question up.