(Hat tip to Misha and Doug S. I assume the coincidence of two people sending this to me means that there is a vast outcry for me to write about it. Never let it be said I ignore the wishes of my slavering fanbase.)
Recently, Yvain wrote a series on privilege and creepiness and social justice and suchlike things (the link goes to the race/gender tag, in which I think all the posts are tagged. They’re all called “The (number) Meditation on X.”). (Incidentally, I am such a fan of Yvain. The non-libertarian FAQ! Squee!) I read through it and it was half “oh, yes, never thought about it that way” and half “yes, but you’re not paying attention to…” So I decided to write about it. These meditations do stand on their own, but you should read his posts, they’re fun.
There’s a pretty common meme when people are talking about creepiness which Yvain sort of takes as understood in his posts, i.e., that the problem of creepiness is primarily a problem of socially awkward dudes who don’t know what they’re doing and accidentally creep women out. I’ve seen well-meaning socially awkward dudes creep women out, of course. (And well-meaning socially awkward people of all genders creep out people of all genders; despite the way it’s usually portrayed, sexual harassment is not just a dude-on-lady thing.) But, you know, I don’t think that’s true.
Although I’m nonbinary, I’m generally read as female and have spent most of my dating life being called “she,” dating straight men, making half-hearted attempts at wearing eyeshadow, etc. Also, I am what is technically referred to as a “nerd fetishist,” so I have dated a lot of fucking socially awkward people. Right now my girlfriend, my boyfriend, and I are sitting in a room together all on separate computers, the way we do most nights. (She’s on Lamebook and he’s watching a Magicka Let’s Play. We’re nerds.) I have also been sexually harassed including (much to my displeasure) when I’m binding.
Here’s a pretty typical example of Ozy Being Hit On In A Way Zie Finds Creepy, chosen because it was the most recent:
Ozy: (in dimly-lit park, alone, at eleven at night, on swings, contemplating life)
Dude: (with friend) Hey, baby. You playing by yourself?
Dude: Hey, baby, you wanna play with us?
Dude: Why aren’t you talking to me, bitch?
And the thing is… of the socially awkward guys I know, not one of them would do that. Not even the most awkward ones! It would not occur to them as a possible thing that one would even consider doing. In fact, being hit on by a socially awkward guy usually looks more like this:
Dude: (sends telepathic vibes of wanting to sex you up because you are teh sex)
Me: You’re cute!
Dude: (turns bright red, looks in the other direction, mumbles) Thanks.
Me: Would you like to come to my house to watch a movie?
Dude: (comes over, actually watches movies)
Me: Let me slip into something more comfortable. (comes back in lingerie)
Dude: That doesn’t look very comfortable.
Me: FOR FUCK’S SAKE JUST TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF AND LET ME SUCK YOUR COCK I WANT TO RIDE YOU LIKE YOU’RE ONE OF LOKI’S CHILDREN
Dude: (to himself) But zie probably means it in, like, a platonic way.
There are many, many, many problems with that strategy, but I really cannot think of a conceivable circumstance in which it would lead to harassing random people on swingsets.
And, you know, I don’t think Random Dude’s problem was a lack of understanding of social rules. It’s not even just that he failed at “do not approach women who are alone, at 11 at night, in a badly-lit park” (although please don’t do that), it’s that he failed at “if someone has not said anything to you in response to you saying something, they don’t want to talk to you.” Most people learn that by kindergarten. While there are probably some people who have not mastered that, it is odd in the extreme that that problem only comes out when they’re hitting on ladies, as opposed to every conversation ever. You never see them being like:
Dude: hey, what’s the time?
Other Dude: …
Dude: HEY WHAT’S THE TIME TELL ME THE TIME
Other Dude: …
Dude: STUCK-UP BITCH
So I’m pretty sure most of the problem of Dudes Hitting On Ladies In Creepy Ways is not actually a problem of social awkwardness, but a problem of Something Else. I haven’t read any studies or talked to any dudes who hit on ladies in creepy ways, so this is just speculation. But I hypothesize that some of the problem might be that they have a fundamental problem with the concept that women have the right to say no and that a woman not wanting to talk to them is a perfectly valid life decision rather than a sign of her being a stupid fat ugly stuck-up bitch. Possibly a fundamental problem with the concept of “figuring out hitting-on-people strategies that work rather than ones that just freak people out”? I really have no idea.
I think that socially awkward guys often tend to assume that when women (and people who are read as female but aren’t women) are complaining about creepiness they’re complaining about socially awkward guys, because they’re socially awkward. It’s relatively easy for most people to imagine “fuck, I did something wrong without meaning to and accidentally freaked her out,” and relatively difficult for most nice people to imagine “I have not quite realized that other people have boundaries and it is not okay to try to violate them.” But guys? It’s not about you.