Good Comment of the Day: The ‘Creepy’ Factor

Today’s good comment is from a few weeks ago, but it was incisive enough for me to think of it when I read this piece by Jeremy Paul Gordon over at The Hairpin.

The comment was on a post I’d written about the purported “infidelity gene” and commenter Henry Vandenburgh brought up a really great subject:

I liked the article, above. What I don’t like is that the word “creepy” is getting a lot of play lately in taliking about fairly common forms of sexuality. (Obviously not incest, but many other things.) It’s usually used by women commenters.

As a woman writing for a men’s mag—a job that’s made me reevaluate my genderized tendencies more than I ever thought possible—this took me aback. It wasn’t even something that had ever crossed my mind. Was I playing too fast and loose with a word that Gordon dubbed “the worst thing a woman can call a man”?

Here’s his take:

Without a doubt, creepy is the worst casual insult that can be tossed at a guy. A guy can publicly scoff at something you say and be a “douchebag”; sleep with your best friend, never call her back and become an “asshole”; or cry while listening to Neutral Milk Hotel and forever be a “pussy.” But creepy is not that simple. It doesn’t relate to someone’s appearance, actions, or behavior. More accurately, creepy is a vibe. You can’t define it—you just know it. It’s when a guy looks at a girl for a little too long, when he friends her on Facebook a little too quickly, when he doesn’t understand that no actually means no, not “try harder.” It’s a tag that isn’t easily dispelled—after all, what are you supposed to say? “I’m not creepy! I’m NORMAL! I say normal things and act like a human being!”

For me, “creepy” had always been a word from childhood. The rubber Halloween spider stuffed at the bottom of our toy box? Creepy. That goopy half-liquid, half-solid Gak stuff? Creepy. Kissing boys? Really, really creepy. (And from what I’ve heard from boys in elementary school, vice versa.)

It wasn’t until middle school that the adjective became ubiquitous and applicable to guys in a less innocent (read: truly derogatory) sense. But even then, the weight of the word was never heavier than any other insult I’d shoot back at the boys mocking my inability to jump over a hurdle in gym class.

But it seems I was wrong.

So thank you, Henry, for making me think twice about how I use my words and for speaking for good men as a whole.  How about the rest of you, readers? What are your thoughts on the “creepy factor”?  Have any stories?

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About Lu Fong

Lu Fong was a staff writer and blog editor for the Good Men Project in its formative years. As the requisite woman on staff, her hobbies included cleaning, cooking, knitting, fainting, and childbearing. Follow her on Twitter @lufong.

Comments

  1. I think it is some what of a contradiction to post unflattering articles about men’s sexuality and on the same page advertise hosiery with images of half-naked women.

  2. I’m happily married to a woman that can pass as 12 years old with a little makeup. All her clothes are size 12 or smaller from the childrens section. She is over 30.

    So I’m the creepy old guy waiting patiently in the girls clothing area because the XS women’s are still too big for her. I’m comfortable with this because my wife is awesome. (And I’m already married, so what do I care if some little girl or her mom think I’m creepy?)

    I believe that God made me to take care of her. And I’m happy to say that I think she’s very sexy.

  3. I find it humorous that quite a few people refer to women as “girls” in the comments. Honestly, I think that the main reason why most women use the word “creepy” is because they don’t have an advanced vocabulary, and may have little to no experience interacting with people who may have social anxiety or other problems.

    When I first met my husband, he was the quiet shy guy wearing all black and a trenchcoat in the back of the class. The people (both male and female) around me thought he was “creepy” but his body language, turns of speech and general demeanor did not read as creepy to me (and I am female). Turns out that he was just shy and awkward and generally not used to socializing because he went to a crappy Catholic school where maybe one or two other kids were into heavy metal and the same sorts of stuff as him. My husband is the sweetest, most gentle loving man I’ve ever met, and he has mentioned to me many times that he feels that it is quite possible that he may have killed himself or at least resorted to self-harm because of the isolation that the “creepy” designation placed upon his shoulders (from males and females, mind you, who simply did not understand his personality).

    I’ve also had many friends with Asbergers and other such developmental issues that makes them unable to interact in a “normal” way with others. Some people find this creepy because they have no prior experience with this, but those of us who are familiar with it can really draw a distinctive line from “awkward and inexperienced with specific types of social interaction” and “aggressive guy who is trying to use his power, status and age to coerce you through less-than-direct actions and make you think you’re crazy for having your alarm bells go off”.

    I have met several of both. The one problem is the escalation that the second type tends to fall into. You start out with very obvious body language that most men understand (turning away, moving away, using facial expressions of dislike and discomfort), but they make it clear that they don’t respect that and don’t CARE about how you feel, and continue doing it, many also escalate behaviors to physical touching or a raised aggressive voice. Which basically tells the woman “holy crap, if I keep being more and more direct about my rejection, this guy might escalate further and hurt me.” This is not because he is male, but specifically because his reaction shows her that this particular individual male is not interested in respecting her boundaries and will likely escalate further because in his mind, his feelings and wants override anything other than what he wants to do to her and excludes her feelings on the matter.

    Of course, then there’s the thing that these specific types of people do that basically amounts to the headspin of “you’re just imagining things” (disclaimer: women do this to men and it happens in homosexual relationships, and I honestly think that the reason I can recognize it pretty much instantly is because my mom did it to me as a kid) only it potentially or actually escalates to full on physical violence where he tells himself that the reason she’s saying “no” or struggling is because she’s totally into it. And when she finally stops struggling because she knows that any further physical protest might lead to her being stabbed, punched or injured further, he thinks that she’s “accepting” what he’s doing.

    “Creep” is the female equivalent to “hey everyone look at this guy who makes me super uncomfortable- let’s put the spotlight of the public eye on him so that he will go away and leave me alone since lord knows that my individual rejection isn’t working at all.” It’s making a spectacle of a guy who is making her feel unsafe, “outing” him in a socially acceptable way before he has the chance to escalate further.

    Of course, this can back fire on a woman who is, say, fat or “unattractive.” Many times when a guy is giving off the “rapey-vibe” and you’re not stereotypically attractive as a woman, people ENCOURAGE you to do whatever the guy wants because “you don’t get many offers as it is.”

    It’s harmful to disrespect how others feel just because it makes you feel bad.

    I’ve had plenty of men I was interested in tell me that they didn’t think of me that way or felt I was ugly or unattractive and were honestly ok with telling me that even though it hurt. One guy who I was friends with but developed feelings for REFUSED TO TALK TO ME for the rest of the time that we were in school together, but that’s the extreme. The point is, most guys feel justified in having this level of honesty but don’t like when it’s turned back upon them in the “creepy” comment. To some extent, this is a function of male privilege because generally you never have to feel “uncomfortable” in most situations, so those that do make you feel that way really do stand out and you start wondering why you had to feel that way in that one situation when regularly you never have to even be aware of it (ostensibly, I have similar experiences with white privilege).

    It sucks to be called “creepy,” but it also sucks to be called “fat” or “unloveable” or otherwise “undesirable” as a woman, especially coming from the guy who you’ve just confessed your interest to. Inter-gender relations often lead to hurt feelings and confusion, but regardless of the lack of tact of a person to communicate their own feelings of your advances, they are entitled to their reaction and you are entitled to feel bad about it.

    But in the end, I think that the main reason so many decent men defend the “creeps” is similar to the rape apologist- as a guy who would never rape or hurt a woman, it’s much easier to see how many women may or may not overreact due to a misunderstanding instead of a clear evil intention. But the problem is that many of these criminals HOPE that you’ll imagine your fear of being “wrongly accused” is good enough to dismiss the behavior- because that’s how predators work. They listen to the conversations that people have about women who “shouldn’t be believed” or “were asking for it” and then they target those individuals. This leads to silence on the part of women, who largely do not want to be seen as “that horrible bitch” but then leads to her making concessions to her feelings on safety and increases her risk of accepting unacceptable behaviors from predators, feeling that no one will believe her anyway, and then beating herself up after the crime has been committed because obviously she was “asking for it.”

    What is being created is a complex societal web of how one ought to act in the presence of others, to override self-preservation in the name of being “nice” or “not being a bitch” and then being told that she should not have been so nice or trusting if something bad DOES happen.

    I don’t hate men. I just hate it when someone assumes that it’s MY fault if I express my discomfort with obvious predatory behaviors but it’s ALSO my fault if I “play nice” and get raped or molested. As an adult, I’m tired of this kind of crap. As a mom, I can’t ignore the alarm bells because I not only have to protect myself but also my daughter. But I still get the disapproving look from the guy who I pointedly avoid because he’s setting off my alarm bells for whatever reason. And what’s my crime? Being a woman who doesn’t go out of her way to kowtow to men’s feelings when I feel threatened. Honestly, I can live with that. The consequences for making men feel uncomfortable is their hurt feelings. The consequences for making myself stay in a situation where I feel unsafe can lead to me feel deeply uncomfortable, frightened, and possibly even at risk for having my bodily integrity violated by people who on average have more muscle mass and size advantage than I do. It’s not a function of sex, specifically- it’s a function of knowing when I am at a constant disadvantage and knowing that there are very limited options for me to deal with it.

    • “I find it humorous that quite a few people refer to women as “girls” in the comments.”

      You called your husband a guy, “girls” is a noun with a double meaning, 1 of being a young female, the other of being a female. Guys n girls is often used referring to males n females.

      “The point is, most guys feel justified in having this level of honesty but don’t like when it’s turned back upon them in the “creepy” comment.”
      I’d say most guys don’t like it because it relies solely on her instincts, which can be completely different to how he acts, how others see him, and how he thinks he acts. I myself am shy, people that understand my shyness don’t get creeped out, others probably do. I haven’t been called creepy since high-school where I was depressed and usually avoided people, does mental illness make someone creepy? Is that my male privilege showing? I find it very creepy that some folk find shy men n women creepy. Is it ok if I tell a woman she is creepy for thinking a guy is creepy because of how he dresses?

      “But in the end, I think that the main reason so many decent men defend the “creeps” is similar to the rape apologist- as a guy who would never rape or hurt a woman, it’s much easier to see how many women may or may not overreact due to a misunderstanding instead of a clear evil intention.”
      I disagree, I think the main reason so many decent men defend “creeps” is because they have probably been called a creep when they have not been threatening, overstepping boundaries, etc. Hell I got called creepy because I was shy, stuck to myself. I got called creepy once when the bell rang and we had to goto class, I was walking behind a group of girls IN my class and we all were going to the same class and even dropped back a few steps to try avoid making htem feel uncomfy. She said I was following them, and hence it was creepy, it simply did not occur to this girl that we’re in the same fucking class in the same damn room and originally we were all in the same eating area as I was with my own group at the time.

      Should I have taken the longer route purposely to avoid this girl yet other girls were fine with my behaviour? Should I have magically cured my depression and put on a happy face more at school to avoid being called creepy because I was into metal music and didn’t always have a damn smile? The trouble is there are men who are called creeps who really don’t act creepy to most people, nor should they be called a creep because a girl felt creeped out by a mis-read signal/action (eg shy people going silent). If the guy purposely acts threatening, etc then sure that is creepy as fuck and I’ll tell them myself it’s creepy. But too many women call non-threatening men the creep label, it has diluted it’s meaning so much that a lot of guys question when a woman calls someone creepy. If I have just heard various women call a guy creepy because of his glasses and then another woman calls another guy creepy without saying why, should I automatically believe her? Or should I question it?

      “But I still get the disapproving look from the guy who I pointedly avoid because he’s setting off my alarm bells for whatever reason. And what’s my crime? Being a woman who doesn’t go out of her way to kowtow to men’s feelings when I feel threatened.”
      If you set my alarm bells off, and I called you a creep, told my friends you were a creep, yet all you did was say hi and didn’t realize that I was a rape victim of females and thus they creep me out (I’m not btw) then would you find that fair? If someone acts threatening, I fully understand and support calling em a creep, problem is too many use it to insult a man over how he LOOKS and shit that has nothing to do with his actions. The way you use the label I would say is perfectly fine however, and for most critics of the creep label I’m sure they’d be ok with how you use it because it’s the RIGHT usage. I don’t want women to feel they can’t use the label ever, I want them to exercise RESTRAINT in using it so much, save it for those who threaten you, don’t use it on shy guys who are stuck for words or guys walking to the same destination as you that you should already know about if you’re in their class. If the guy follows too closely, then use it. It all comes down to the individual situation, just keep in mind that if you tell OTHERS someone is creepy you may be labelling them wrongly, you may have made a mistake and it can have consequences on them. Eg, a father with his child at the park gets called a creep because he is male and the person feeling creeped out has a misandrist view of men as pedophiles, he could be father of the year but still if she tells others it can really fuck his reputation up because comments about negative sexual elements like pedophilia and creepyness stick like glue.

  4. A ‘girl’ is a desirable woman in this context.   

    This term probably comes from the transition from Miss to Mrs. or Ms.  In a traditional no-divorce/no coveting neighbor’s wife setup it is only okay to desire the girls.  Note that 12/13/14 year old girls were the norm to be the subject of this desire in this time frame.  Particularly if you’re dead at 40. 

    Fast forward a few hundred (few thousand) years, and men still need a one syllable word to grunt that means ‘desirable woman.’   Women should at least finish high school, so lets make the age of consent 18 (because once they are pregnant, the school thing for them is probably shot). This artificial line in the sand supports society by protecting young adults from adult situations until they have a good chance at having the resources necessary to deal with the side effects of sex (children) and still contribute to society (not live on welfare).  But men still identify a lot of the traits of a young girl as attractive.  So we still call ‘desirable women’ as ‘girls’.  

    Even though from our prospective it is a compliment, calling a woman a girl may be seen as lumping women in with children (suggesting they need help making decisions, supporting male dominance, etc.).  Having tools (i.e. vocabulary, etc.) to help us find a good mate is generally more important to us than the impact of our tools.  Once we are married, though, the opinion of a specific woman (!) is suddenly more important (note we switched to ‘woman’ there). 

    Guys using the term ‘girl’ generally classify age groups of females as infant, child/little girl, girl/young woman, woman, senior/old lady.  A girl is sought because she is not usually jaded, worn, wrinkled, bitter, bossy, is/was married and/or has kids, and so on and so forth, where a woman might be.  So without further information (and on average) we’d prefer a girl over a woman.

    • As a woman who got into the relationship that led to marriage in my twenties (which, by the way, I am still happily in), it bothers me deeply that so many men would lump in so many negative associations with the word “woman” as though it is practically a bad word! No wonder there is still so much lingering negativity and severe division between “desirable girls” who are acceptable and desirable due to fitting the male desire and being far more willing to do as instructed by said older male, and “women” who are jaded, ugly and otherwise full of negative qualities that likely are also paired with many (ignored) positives to the point that you might actually think she was a person- an individual, not a representation of her gender as the comment appears to be implying of “girls/women” designations.

      I do not speak of women just as you likely do not speak for all men. It is disrespectful and clouds the true issues of gender and understanding when we make generalizations and start saying “well as a man/woman, I believe X, therefore men/women ALL believe X by default.”

      I honestly think that many men use the word “girl” because they don’t have to examine the undertone of this usage of the word. Just like “creep” gets under most people’s skin, so too does being referred to as a “girl” even when a woman is of legal age and has fully developed secondary sex characteristics.

      Creating a pecking order and almost Victorian classifications of human beings in generalities in society may be something that masculinist movement followers seem to think is “innate” to maleness, but I honestly think that it’s not even close. We must examine our thoughts about this world carefully and, if we wish to be enlightened and not simply blindly follow the dogma and social brainwashing of an imperfect, racist, sexist, heterocentric, and classist society, it is imperative to realize privilege, to understand where it comes from and to develop empathy to social experience that is not simply focused on the Self.

      Maintaining a world where people are dismissed or shoved into stereotypical boxes is not what I want for humanity. I should hope that others would share this hope as well.

  5. I think a project titled The Good Men Project inherently requires stereotypes (generalizations) in order to make progress towards something the majority of men (and the poles within poles :-) can be that is good for the majority of women.  Or at least the majority of women that you like.  You have to develop a ‘good’ stereotype (good man, good behavior, good woman to you, etc.) and then strive to meet it.  In my opinion.

    Women (older women) tend to be more experienced, able to be more generous, stronger, and more sophisticated.  I know many single moms that are awesome mate material (they are all married now). It depends on what you are looking for.  Women and girls are people, each with good and not-so-good attributes.  

    For example – So you find a woman who is great.  She’s a single mom.  What are things I should know about dating a typical single mom?  We’ll, when we went on a date to see the Blue Man Group, I didn’t think about how much she would wish her daughter had seen it with us.  It seems obvious after the fact, but being a good man for a single mom means realizing that much of her happiness comes from her daughter’s (or son’s) happiness.  I had assumed she would enjoy an evening to herself with adults, but I would have made her more happy (and probably been a better man in her eyes) to give her and her daughter something fun to share.  (I still regret not bringing her daughter on that date.) 

    So I had the wrong stereotype in my head that single mothers are mostly craving a night with adults (probably from watching the movie As Good As It Gets, where Helen’s character really just needs to ‘go out’).  But people need stereotypes (models) of as least what is basic good behavior in order to anticipate what will make a woman feel good.  Nothing pleases a woman more than for you to provide what she wants just before she realizes she wants it.  The single mom didn’t say ‘Can we bring my daughter?’  She did gush about how much her daughter means to her, but I didn’t put it together until later. 

    Another example – Trying to figure out what a girl (young woman) wants when (generally :-) a young woman a) doesn’t know what she wants well enough to describe it correctly and b) doesn’t have the vocabulary or is too shy to ask for it when she does know, is a difficult exercise at best.  So if a young (or older) man is interested in a relationship with a young girl, it will be useful for him to expect that he will need to be able to interpret the 13 ways the girl he likes says ‘okay’ in order to understand what she’s saying and be good to her.  And some of those okays will basically mean ‘not okay’ or even ‘no’ and men have trouble with that and usually need to develop that skill (another stereotype). 

  6. Creepy is definitely a word I only use to refer to a very specifically deviant aura filled man. Some idiot (the most disgusting thing any man has ever said to me) had the a completely serious look on his face, and thought it was a compliment as he looked at me in a sundress and said “you look really fertile tonight”: ladies & gentleman THAT IS A CREEPY MAN. And yes, I knew this person. He had NO idea what he had done wrong when I asked him if he was serious…which made the whole experience even creepier. He said it in a very non-chalant, calm matter…like the tone you would used to comment on the weather. CREEPIER yet! Um yeah. I was right, btw. After two years of not even speaking to the guy (which was a completely 100 percent platonic relationship),he decides to rekindle our friendship by sending me a pic of his man banana. CREEPIEST. Please believe I forwarded that pic to his GIRLFRIEND immediately for her own safety. Who knows what other completely perverse stuff this man was up to.

  7. David Benetton says:

    I get tired of reading articles and comments like some of the above. Here’s a clue – if two people connect with one another and want to have a relationship maybe people should just get over it. I’ll be nice to whomever I wish to be nice to, I’ll chat up any guy or girl I feel like. I don’t care if they’re older than me or younger. Makes no difference at all. I will say this though – If you judge me as being a certain way because of my age or think that there should be some kind of restrictions placed upon me regarding who I find attractive or who I should date, you can fuck off. I go to a local community college. The only girl I decided to talk to is 18. I’m twice her age plus a few years but we get on fantastically. I’ll never date her or sleep with her. She’s my friend. There’s no use for dunces like you lot putting ideas in people’s heads that there’s something wrong with guys like me.

    • Jason1982 says:

      David, if you are 36 (twice her age) and this girl is only 18 I think YES THERE IS something seriously wrong with you. She is still a TEENAGER and very much a kid. And 18yo has extremely limited life experience. You could be her father or her teacher. And if she were my daughter and you tried anything with her I would put the fear of God in you.

      I don’t understand what you would have in common with a high school girl (or who just recently got out of high school).

      The term CREEPY would apply to you 100% in this scenario.

      • You do realize he isn’t interested in dating/sleeping with her as he said? The term creepy would apply 100% for seeing the devil where it ain’t!

        I was talking to 50 year olds when I was 16, and had stuff in common. You know like hobbies? I didn’t have the same life experience but I still had some, you don’t need to have a matching IQ and life experience to chat with someone.

  8. Ms. Wakeman couldn’t have said it better:
    “It’s a really freaking dangerous idea to twist a woman’s open, honest communication about her boundaries/expectations into ‘creep shaming’ that victimizes men.”

    WOMEN NEED TO BE ABLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES AND WHEN THEY DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE.

    Sometimes us men (not included children) take for granted the fact that we’re not usually the victims of sexual assault. But women are and it’s a sad reality in this world. To try to shut them up about a male in their lives or a male they came across who is potentially a real threat to them is stupid, unethical, and dangerous.

  9. My name was prefixed with “Creepy” throughout all of high school, simply because I was typically sullen and moved very quietly (symptoms of random assaults at home). Because of the nickname (at least in part, obviously there were extenuating circumstances as well, both before and after high school) I am still unable to act on signals I may get from women in person, ten years later. And I think this article has finally made me realize something else to unravel.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This forms an interesting contrast to what men experience as initiators. I’ve already written about some of the romantic and sexual double binds men deal with as part of a previous AlterNet article. One of the points I made is that usually, when men initiate, they don’t have to fear being seen as “slutty”—but they do have to worry about being seen as “creepy.” [...]

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