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
I agree with you on one point: creep and slut are not on the same level. Creep is worse, and this is why: Girls become women when they reach puberty and menstruate. They have their worth as a human being given to them automatically at the appointed time. Boys, however, have to earn their manhood, their very worth as a human being. To be a man is to have: strength, honor, independence, ambition, confidence and sacrifice. The key here is sacrifice, and it requires a person to sacrifice for: namely, a woman. A man is not a man until he… Read more »
Hi, first of all let me congratulation for being among the very few feminists I have seen that are reasonable. Now I am going to mention some points I think need to be addressed, you said slut and creep are not equivalent, but is this really the case? I don’t think so. You said: “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… Read more »
If I hear a woman use the word “creep” I immediately know she is a woman I need to exclude from my life.
Wow. The article goes on to imply that a male looking for sex is the equivalent of a creep. “Not all men are creeps, not all are violent, not all are out just for sex.” So a male who is violent or is out for sex is creepy or the equivalent? Then tell me, what of all the college hook-ups, where guys looking purely for sex can hook-up with an attractive female? Are they creeps, despite the fact that they are not called creeps, and actually accepted by those college women as casual sex partners? Women want sex, too. They… Read more »
A well-written and balanced article! As Joanna mentions in her article, words matter and they can hurt people. Why not choose to be kind? This is the challenge if we’re all up for it: Being kind even when other people are frustrating us or provoking us. I think it’s worth it.
I hope men and women stop treating each other like enemies and we can start to rediscover our compassion and curiosity for each other again!
//More precisely, being a slut is about her lack of value. A slut is, in so many ways, lacking humanity.// now replace slut and her for creep and him and, you may start to understand the equivalence. but hey its ok to dehumanize men in our society, specially if your a feminist… i mean, we are told everyday in one way or another that, we as men are sub human monsters… many of us have come to accept this, personally, when on the rare occation i hear some female call me creepy, i from that day forward call her “Cunt”… Read more »
I agree. It is important that we as men start pushing back. I see this aggression towards men in American women. They do it because the men take it. When we stop taking it, they’ll stop doing it.
Good article Joanna, very unbiased with acknowledgements to both genders.
In other words, a grown up response. One that doesn’t treat the opposite sex as the enemy.
Thank you for showing both sides of the coin.
First, “Guys are so horny they’ll hump a fresh-baked pie.” LMAO, I couldn’t stop laughing. It is true that the media promotes this idea of men explicitly. Think of American Pie. Secondly, “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.” It is so insane coming from a modern man’s perspective how this could be considered an insult. The idea that a… Read more »
In my experience girls (and I use the word “girls” because mature, intelligent women do not do this) call each other sluts much more than men do, usually because of jealousy or competition for a man. If a guy goes around calling a girl a “slut” behind her back or to her face, it’s generally considered very rude, and people will think he is an obnoxious jerk. Men don’t call each other creeps, ever. The word creep implies that the guy has bad intentions, there is something wrong with him – he might even be dangerous. In other words, don’t… Read more »
I do agree that being called creep is far more damaging for socially awkward people. But I think its not just for men, but also for a few socially awkward women ( I know one of them ). Maybe because its usually men who are shy and awkward towards the opposite sex, creep are used to describe men. And I think its because more often shy guys do approach beautiful and popular girls ( out of their league, girls who seems to use more creep words ) than a shy girl approaching popular and attractive guy. I know a girl… Read more »
Well done. I am a middle aged man who was “creep shamed” out of his career by a group of girls and their mothers. It was insidious the last year I taught. I realize there are other factors involved in a story re/ a male teacher and underage students but, until I saw some info on this creep shaming, had no term for the way I was treated. See teacherhunt.blogspot.com (November) if you want the gory details.
I know this is kind of old but am going to comment anyway because I’ve recently been hit with the “Creeper” label and am very hurt by it. To start – Joanna, kudos, kudos, kudos, kudos !!! I have been all over the internet and you are the only female to “get” why creep-shaming is so offensive to men. Thank you. All women should read this before the pull out the C-Card and call any male a creeper. Let me begin by saying I don’t approve of abuse of women by men. I don’t approve of abuse period; so if… Read more »
Thanks for the comment. I don’t disagree that there is a problem with the way in which men and women communicate. Women DO need to be very clear about why they have ended a relationship. However, no one has the right to intimidate or scare someone because they haven’t given the other some certain set of information, even if it would be fair to do so. Now, let’s be clear that both men and women act unstable and mean and scary when being dumped and BOTH need to stop that. However, even if a woman (or man) doesn’t tell you… Read more »
I followed that rule once, and I got told later on that the girl actually liked me despite the fact that she couldn’t find any time to do anything for two weeks straight. I left it alone and never heard back. So who was lying? My friend to me, or her to my friend to save face? I’m also interested in the way you say “but guys shouldn’t be raving lunatics”. As if that’s the norm. Why can’t you agree that women under normal circumstances have a big issue with wanting all the power and plausible deniability while ignoring the… Read more »
“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 think the word you are looking for is “fag”. That word is loaded with threat of violence and reserved exclusively for men who fail to behave appropriately as a “man” should. Failure to… Read more »
Slut and Creep are equivalent in the following ways: 1) Both are a perjorative based upon behaviour – sluts have sex with “too many” partners, based upon the subjective view of the person using the term. Creeps make advances to women who do not welcome the advance, their “creepiness” is based upon the subjective view of the person using the term 2) Both terms are a slight upon the target’s reputation and attribute characteristics associated with the term with the target even if these attributes are not apparent. Sluts might be considered to also be: less intelligent, suffering STI’s, have… Read more »
There is a slight difference: Creepishness isn’t considered to be a positive trait in women, whereas sluttishness is considered to be masculine.
I agree promiscuity is perceived as masculine but not the other attendant aspects of the term “Slut”.
There is no bigger creep than a virgin at least 35 years of age.
Interesting definition of creep!
So people of religious views and practices are Creeps?
Disabled people who have not had access to partners, prostitutes and even sex surrogates are Creeps?
Do you have any feathers to go with that boiling pot of tar and the very big tar laden brush you swipe about with?
I have to say your views are Creepy – as well as ill-informed and juvenile!
In a word, yes.
I’ll see what MediaHound said and ask if this also includes people who simply have never been in a sexual situation (or at least extremely rarely) whether they are disabled or not?
And I’m also curious how you calculated the age of 35 for this? Are you trying to leave enough leeway so that the movie 40 Year Old Virgin is still funny and relevant?
I have been surprised, and also not surprised at all, by the way in which men reporting that specific language such as Creep is damaging has been received. I have been looking for examples of sexual dimorphism in language and would recommend that disbelievers look at the work of The University of Bedford’s work in the area of Cyber Stalking – Bedford is the home of “The National Centre for Cyberstalking Research”. They have been running The Electronic Communication Harassment Observation (ECHO) since 2010. Full publication is awaited this year. Their work with many organisations reveals much that is unrecognised… Read more »
The word “Creep” is powerful, it’s telling the people who hear it that the man in question could be a potential threat.
While challenging her feeling and perception may seem wrong to some, the woman has labeled the man and made her labeling known to others.
The problem then is that the woman’s feelings and perception of the man holds weight in people’s minds, in their minds you’ve most of done something “wrong” to be labeled that.
Woman (and people in general) need to take responsiblity in how they talk about individuals to others.
When men concern themselves less with what women think of them, and more about what men think of them, creep will lose its sting. As a word it is a manipulation, a shaming tactic to cause the man so named by a woman to seek approval, to prove he is not creepy.
This creep won’t walk you to your car, help you with a heavy load or change your tyre for you on a lonely, dark stretch of road. The approval of women is over rated.
It is. And more women are starting to say the same thing about the approval of men. Relations between the sexes need to reach an extreme state of modernity before we can come to something like a sensible policy toward one another. I think your indifference is a good start. It’s on the way to a return—maybe—to a tolerable code of conduct: classical manhood. In the classical period, our style of wounded obsession with the opinion of women would have been loathsome behavior for a man. A man’s relations with women were circumscribed by custom. He gave to the women… Read more »
Mike writes: “It is. And more women are starting to say the same thing about the approval of men. Relations between the sexes need to reach an extreme state of modernity before we can come to something like a sensible policy toward one another. I think your indifference is a good start. It’s on the way to a return—maybe—to a tolerable code of conduct: classical manhood. In the classical period, our style of wounded obsession with the opinion of women would have been loathsome behavior for a man.” I’m not sure I agree with that. Look to victorian England in… Read more »
I can offer my own experiences with the word creep as a bi-sexual woman. I have experienced feeling like I am a creep, or creepy. I still have problems being ok with my own sexuality, most of my family members are homophobic, and I am not open with them about my attraction to women. Sometimes when I notice my attraction to a woman, I have felt like something is inherently wrong with me. Growing up, this feeling of being a creep caused a lot of damage. I acted out often. I still occasionally get a sense of self loathing when… Read more »
A lot to think about here, Jasmine.
Thanks for your insights.
I hate the word creep but I would not say it’s the male equivalent to slut-shaming. I’d say that by and large the male equivalent of slut-shaming is shaming someone because of their lack of sexual prowess. Slut shaming implies it is inherently linked to their sexual encounters, whereas creepiness is not. However, “virgin shaming” or “loser shaming” or whatever you want to call it is, and it exists, both to and from men and women. I’d say however, it is much more likely to be towards men, just like slut-shaming is more likely to be towards women, but nevertheless,… Read more »
I think “virgin loser” is probably closer to an equivalent. And like slut I’ve heard it applied most by the same gender.
Creep shaming… seems to me to be mostly a product of men being expected to make sexual advances more than women. If things were equal I’d imagine women would see this too.
Interesting article…thanks! Hate the word “creep”, personally.
I just realised that finnish does not have an direct translation for the word creep in this context.
Interesting observation! Is there any equivalent usage – with a direct translation! It’s like the ongoing saga of “Rape Culture” which has no direct translation into other languages and has top be translated as “Culture of rape”, “Culture of Shame”, “Culture of dishonour”… and it all depends upon the social context of the county and cultural group! In French the there is no direct translation fro creep – and multiple possible translations “effrayant” is one meaning scary! It just shows how the English language word “Creep” is not just a word, but a Concept in a single word. It’s far… Read more »
Sorta off topic, which is apparently where I’m living today, off topic…but yeah…it’s interesting what you’re saying about language. Really, that’s so very true of a large portion of the words and phrases we use. Even something as simple as the word ‘apple’ is actually partially a concept. The thought that usually springs to mind is a red delicious, but really we use the word to mean a bunch of different types. But just because in English the word ‘apple’ includes red and green apples, doesn’t mean that every other language will be the same. Another language could consider red… Read more »
Heather – I love language – we have been close lovers for many decades! It’s very intimate – and trilingual! Quite a Mouth full! P^) All is fine as long and language behaves is a socially acceptable manner – and when it does not the stand up shouting matches and rows are legion! …. but the making up afterwards is worth it all! P^) As for Creep – glad you grasped that it’s not just a word but also carries a whole load of social baggage with it! I remember one friend explaining this to someone who could not grasp… Read more »
Any equivalent usage? Well you could use other words like weirdo, stalker, nutcase, crazy but there is no direct equivalent usage.
Maybe the question is why does the english language have such an word?
Safor – answering why the English Language has specific meaning attacked to creep would require a time machine to fully unravel. The earliest references I can find for “Creep” on line are in Shakespeare’s works (circa 1600) – where the word is used in many different ways – to move slowly (creeping like snail Unwillingly to school – Twelfth Night) – to be fawning and obsequious, even serpent like (Troilus and Cressida) …. and the reinvention of language goes on from there to the modern day. If you go further back you get into Olde English (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Circa… Read more »
Another perhaps minor difference between “creep” and “slut” is that if a man hears a woman labeled as a slut, he may actually find her more intriguing or compelling, depending on the person using that word. (“Really? A slut, you say? Hmm. Tell me more.”) Hope springs eternal, you might say. If someone whose opinion I don’t respect calls someone a slut, I would likely think more highly of the person accused, and would probably guess that the person accused has a healthy attitude towards sex. I’d think, “ah, this so-called slut is someone probably a lot like me.” I… Read more »
Another test of the difference would be to compare your reaction to hearing your sister labeled a “slut” and your brother labeled a “creep.” Would you be equally eager to defend each of them against those two different slurs? I wonder. Honestly, I’m not sure I would.
It’s a good question but it ignores the larger issue of protecting women and letting men fend for themselves. In this comparison the labels aren’t nearly as important as the people being labeled.
Sure – but you’re also injecting another meme variable into that test: vulnerable female and self-reliant bootstrapping male. Your test reaction would need to compensate for that lopsidedness.
I do agree with your point regarding overt malice. It needs to be considered for both words. We can’t communicate properly in glass houses.
When someone asks that question, the word ceases to be about how it makes the person against who it’s aimed feels, and more about how it makes the person related to the person against who it’s aimed feels. The notion of “family shaming” comes into play. In short, possessiveness becomes the issue. As Jimmy says, it also becomes about “protecting women,” which, in of itself, establishes an intrinsically sexist power differential. And people don’t generally run out defending their brothers against name calling unless they have a personal stake in not wanting to be related to someone associated with the… Read more »
Although the word creep is used far too easily, I don’t think it’s always _primarily_ meant to hurt someone. When one woman tells another that a man is a creep, it’s not necessarily because she is primarily interested in hurting him. In some cases it’s a sincere attempt to warn someone about a perceived danger or to commiserate with someone else. This is no excuse for tossing around a shame-filled word any old time you like. That doesn’t mean the word isn’t painful, just that there may be very little overt malice in using the word. That’s part of the… Read more »