A lot of men get really upset when they’re called “creepy” by women. A lot of them feel like they are being done a grave injustice when women express any fear of them. They’ll compare it to slut-shaming, they’ll compare it to racism, or they’ll just discard whatever thin veneer of humanity they’d been using to cover their misogyny and sense of entitlement and get incoherently vicious.
Here’s the thing, though. Women need a word to refer to guys who freak us out and make us feel unsafe, and that word for “failed my risk assessment” doesn’t need to meet the approval of men (and in fact might not do its job if it did require dudely endorsement).
I will readily concede that there’s a lot of casual classism and ableism and racism behind who gets read by others as frightening. For example, the fact that a lot of white women are particularly alarmed by black men? Racist as hell, so not okay. People who are creeped out by people with disabilities are being appallingly ableist and need to examine their shit. People who shy away from anyone not wearing designer clothing? Classist like whoa.
What I think a lot of men are doing wrong in their critiques of the word “creep” is straying too far toward saying that nobody gets to call anybody creepy, that we just plain don’t need the word at all.
When no. Maybe nobody told them, but lots of us actually do need to be able to label some behavior (and some people) as creepy. There just needs to be less classism, ableism, and racism muddying up that very important (seriously, we’re talking life or death here) category.
It has come to my attention that there are men in the world who just did not realize that the word “creep” is a thing women use to defend ourselves, rather than a way for the popular cheerleader they always wanted to bang hated to continue denying sex to mercilessly oppressing nerds FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
I assembled a lot of links for one such person who is clearly a really decent dude who definitely just wants people to not be shitty to each other but happens to be really new to this issue. Since I went to all the trouble, I will compile them here for others facing a similar situation but who don’t have the energy to put together the intro course into Why Creepiness is Legitimately Objectively Bad.
I have an ungodly fricking number of links talking about why women need the word and what a lot of the criticism of the word is rooted in. Now they can be your links too!
One thing that is important to start with is the Geek Social Fallacies essay that tends to make the internet rounds a lot.
Predator Redux from Yes Means Yes is a great link that talks about the kinds of behaviors which are not overtly threatening but which still creep women out because they’re precursors to predatory behavior even if they wouldn’t register as predatory not on the receiving end. I particularly like the section about repeatedly testing a prospective target’s boundaries. A guy who keeps inching closer to me even though I am trying to get away might just not understand personal space, but he’s also (possibly inadvertently) starting our interaction precisely the way a predator would.
I also think that the “creepy guys are just awkward” defense is a bit rubbish. Post about allegedly-”awkward” creepers that, full disclosure, I wrote. It links to CaptainAwkward’s entry The C-Word, because that entry is amazing and if I could post copies of it in every bathroom stall in the English-speaking world I might damn well do it.
Furthermore, most people can tell by looking at a cat that it doesn’t want their attention; the only thing that makes it hard to figure out whether a woman want to be talking to a man is literally not even trying to.
As evidence for this, even soft/indirect refusals are completely intelligible to most people except when a sense of entitlement to sexual access to someone else gets involved. Another link to Yes Means Yes because YMY is great. Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer.
And if it makes anyone feel better about the common usages of the word “creepy” in ways that aren’t just about ableism or racism or classism, here are more links that emphasize “creepiness” as a quality women need to keep track of as a way to weed out potential predators. When we defend our need to use the word, this is the need we are talking about.
Pervocracy’s How to not be creepy.
If you substitute “skeeze” for “creepiness,” this essay feels like it might also be a good addition. Flirting, sex, and lines: removing skeeze from the movement, written by a guy so that other people can happily flirt and hook up, skeeve-free! Good info for both men and women here.
I also wanted to address what seemed like an assumption on your part that the only legitimately creepy men are the archetypical trenchcoat flashers and obvious rapists with Pervocracy’s Slavering Beast Theory. I think it’s an important contribution because it makes it clear that the men to worry about aren’t always going to be obviously evil to everyone who meets them.
Fugitivus has a great post about the ways women are also taught to perpetuate the nasty cultural crap that shelters and aids rapists. There are women who really will say no when they mean yes, but if you think that this trains men to interpret all no as yes, this seemed like a useful read along those lines if it isn’t something you’d had a lot of familiarity with before now.
The other good thing this link does is get a little into the disproportionate reactions a lot of women get when they respond “too strongly” (read: at all) to being creeped out by a man.
Here’s a situation every woman is familiar with: some guy she knows, perhaps a casual acquaintance, perhaps just some dude at the bus stop, is obviously infatuated with her. He’s making conversation, he’s giving her the eye. She doesn’t like him. She doesn’t want to talk to him. She doesn’t want him near her. He is freaking her out. She could disobey the rules, and tell him to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER, and continue screaming GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME every time he tries to step closer, or speak to her again. And then he will be all, “I was just talking to you! WTF!” and everybody else will be all, “Yeah, seriously, why’d you freak out at a guy just talking to you?” and refuse to offer the support she needs to be safe from dude. Or, the guy might become hostile, violent even. Ladies, you’ve seen that look, the “bitch can’t ignore me” look. It’s a source of constant confusion, as soon as you start budding breasts, that the man who just a moment ago told you how pretty you are is now calling you a stupid ugly whore, all because you didn’t get in his car.
The reason I mention this is that I have known men like this, and you know what they do? They go get on the internet and tell all their friends how they just paid this bitch a compliment and she called him creepy like the ostracizing stuck-up bitch she is.
This is a big reason I am skeptical of men who claim they are being wrongly accused of creepiness, because I’ve heard it too often from men who don’t realize or don’t care that their behavior actually is genuinely alarming.
Anyway, more links.
Dr. Nerdlove’s Don’t Be A Creeper is great. Just… it’s…. it’s just a great goddamn essay. Also it is written by a dude, which I know might give it extra credibility to some people.
Here’s another. Why “Creep Shaming” Is Total BS One of the links in this entry is broken. I had to find a cached copy of Amanda Marcotte’s essay In Defense of the Word Creep, but here it is. I’ll quote a chunk of it in case it gets eaten further by the internet.
Clarisse is critical of the word “creep”, and she compares it to “slut”, which is to say a term used to police sexuality. (…)
She does make really good points about how male sexuality is constructed as predatory, and how this needs to be changed, but I don’t think that means the word “creep” is invalid. If anything, the fact that the term exists shows that our society has evolved a highly imperfect restraint on predatory behavior. I do agree with Clarisse that this creates a confusing contradiction for some men—-a lot of creepy dudes aren’t out to hurt anyone, but act out of cluelessness (though this doesn’t let them off the hook, as I’ll get back to)—-and I agree with her that a world where male sexuality was more about pleasure and less about point-scoring would be one where there was less creepy behavior. But that world is a long time coming, and in the meantime, the word “creep” is a useful, commonly understood term for a set of behaviors that absolutely are a problem. (…)
Some creeps are openly predatory, and some fall more into the “clueless” category. (Though the problem is that men hide behind “clueless” in order to excuse being creepy. When they whine that they Just Don’t Know, and women go out of their way to educate them, the response is going to be a tantrum 99% of the time. They could change, but they don’t want to. But they don’t want to be responsible for being creepy, so instead they just choose cluelessness as a strategy to avoid having to change.)
Dan Seitz of GuySpeak.com wrote The Male Perspective: Why “Creep-Shaming” Is Ridiculous.
Other people’s experiences will vary, so I don’t speak for all women. Someone else’s mileage may vary on this issue. However, it is pretty obvious from even a cursory look at the way this word actually gets used, rooted in the fears a lot of women demonstrably have, that I speak for more women than just myself. If I speak for you, here are your links. I hope these conversations get easier for you in the future because of it.