Joanna Schroeder believes that comparing the word “slut” with the word “creep” is a false equivalence. But that doesn’t mean she thinks calling guys creeps is okay.
I’m a feminist. You all know that by now, right?
I refuse to stop calling myself a feminist, despite MRAs and feminists alike wishing I would drop that label.
Just because I disagree with a lot of the things that prominent feminists say, doesn’t mean I disagree with equality and with examining society with a focus on women. And despite some of the disgusting things being done in the name of feminism—whether it be the attack-mobs of Internet RadFems who have been actively trying to ruin the life of my friend Hugo Schwyzer, or the similar groups of feminists on the Internet who berate, belittle and demean men for voicing their feelings and concerns about equality and Men’s Rights issues—I still call myself a feminist. I believe I define my own feminism.
My feeling has always been that there is no reason for snark when simple dialogue would do the job. We don’t all have to agree. In fact we’re not ever all going to agree. But we need to respect one another.
That being said, I disagree with both the MRAs and the feminists when it comes to the word “creep”.
My aforementioned real-life friend Hugo Schwyzer wrote a piece for Jezebel about why men hate being called creepy. In trying to get to the root of why this insult is so much worse than any other that can be leveled at a man, he posits this:
…So if fear of the feminine is what gives male insults their power, why then is “creep” worse than “pussy?” The answer is that creep is the only insult that instantly centers women’s perceptions. To call a man a “pussy” is to make a comment about how his behavior appears; to call him “creepy” is to name how he makes women feel. If a man wants to disprove that he’s a “pussy,” all he has to do is act with sufficient macho swagger or courage to make the insult obviously inappropriate. But trying to disprove “creepy” involves trying to talk a woman out of an instinctual response to a potential threat, a much more difficult thing to do. Most men recognize (or eventually learn) that the harder they try to deny their creepiness, the creepier they appear.
I agree with Hugo on almost all of this. Especially the part where a guy who tries to talk a woman out of thinking he’s creepy makes him even more creepy. That doesn’t mean the guy is actually a bad guy, but it means he’s overstepping a boundary he should be respecting.
What’s missing in this conversation is the understanding that the word “creep” keys into a way in which many men have felt deeply misunderstood and generalized. Not all men are creeps, not all are violent, not all are out just for sex. But in many ways, this is the brush with which we’ve painted masculinity. Not necessarily feminists, but society as a whole. Guys are so horny they’ll hump a fresh-baked pie. Men are so dangerous, they can’t be trusted with childcare. These assumptions go on and on. And while I do believe men need to understand that for some women these fears are rooted in reality, women and society need to see the ways in which men—especially those who struggle with social awkwardness—suffer under these assumptions.
We as a society, and as women, too easily jump to calling someone a creep without really thinking about what it implies. If you extrapolate it a bit, you’re telling a man that you’re afraid he’s going to rape you. Now, you may legitimately be afraid he’s going to rape you (and I believe our instincts about people should be trusted and we should keep away from people we get that sense from) but for all the guys we call creeps, we cannot possibly believe they all are out to sexually assault us.
We use the word to insult men because it works. It is hurtful. For a man who is sensitive to how people perceive him, it is the worst insult you can level at him. It is not to be taken lightly.
But MRAs, here’s what I think you’re missing: “Creep” and “Slut” are not on the same level, and to claim they are is to misunderstand what it means to be called a slut.
Think about it, what is a slut? It’s a woman with a sexual past, a whore, a woman with no sexual morality, a woman who will use sex indiscriminately, a woman who doesn’t value her body or her integrity. To some people, a slut is simply a woman who enjoys sex outside of marriage.
To many people, even people in authority, a slut is a woman who is asking to be raped.
The crime of sluttiness is not about behavior toward another individual. It isn’t about hurting another person or violating their space. It is about the value of the woman… Her value to herself, and her value to society as a sexual being.
More precisely, being a slut is about her lack of value. A slut is, in so many ways, lacking humanity. If she is asking to be raped, or somehow deserving of rape, she is not even human. She is a flesh-doll. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) there is no insult in the English language that is equivalent to that for men. I’m not saying women have it worse, I simply want us to all be on the same page about what all of these words mean.
So is being called a slut the same as being called a creep? No, a creep gets the name by doing something to somebody. By doing something that violates another person’s sense of security or physical space.
I’d like to be more precise with this equivalence and compare the word “creep” to the word “bitch.” Now, being a bitch is a specifically female thing, and it’s not a compliment. Strong women are often called bitches, just as strong men are often called assholes. But there is an element of the word “bitch” that is shameful. Like we can’t control our hormones, like the essence of our femaleness is inextricably linked to being animals; as if nature controls us. Like the moon and the tides may cause our hormones to swell and next thing you know a totally normal woman is no longer in control of herself and she’s become a bitch.
When you’re called a bitch, it’s implied that you have no control over yourself and you don’t care who you hurt.
When you’re called a creep, it’s implied that you have no control over yourself and you don’t care who you hurt.
The ultimate lesson here is that both “bitch” and “creep” serve important functions. As Hugo says, “No other word is as effective as describing when a man has crossed a woman’s boundary; no other word forces a man to reflect on how his behavior makes other people feel.”
I would say the same thing goes for the word “bitch.” Both words should cause the person being accused to stop for a moment and reflect upon what they’re doing, to ponder whom they’re hurting, and to think about how they may need to change their approach.
In turn, neither of these words should be used casually. They are powerful, gendered words. And as we know, words do hurt. Words can even kill, as we see with bullied teens all too often.
Ladies, calling a random guy you don’t like a creep does damage to him, it shames him. Consider for a moment, before you call someone a creep, whether he may actually just be shy or socially inexperienced. He may be doing his best in an unfamiliar situation. No need to wound someone who is taking a risk in talking to you.
That doesn’t mean you have to talk to someone just because he wants you to. You can clearly say, “You seem like a cool guy, but I’m not interested. I’m going to go back to talking to my friend (reading my book, checking my emails, etc) now. Have a good day.” Then turn away. If he persists after that, then maybe he is being a creep. Make your boundaries clear and stick with them.
And fellas, calling a woman a bitch does damage to her. It reduces her to something akin to a beast. You don’t have to put up with someone treating you unfairly, but instead of calling her a bitch, you can simply say, “I think this conversation isn’t going in a productive direction. Let’s talk later (or let’s not talk about this, or let’s not talk at all, etc).” And then walk away. If she persists after that, maybe she is being a bitch. You, too, need to make your boundaries clear and stick with them.
If we can come to a consensus to stop using these words, and replace them with words that are less gendered, less rich with painful social context, I think that’d be awesome. But we’d have to work together—feminists and MRAs, men and women. And until we’re ready to do that, we should perhaps all make an effort at choosing our words more carefully.
Image courtesy of Mykl Roventine