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The C-Word

Hello there, Entire Internet! Thank you for stopping by.

Edited to Add: As of Monday, 8/13 I’ve locked commenting on this post. The moderation demands are overwhelming. Thanks for your constructive contributions! We’ll pick this discussion back up another time.</EDIT>

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Right now I’m fielding a lot of emails and comments from guys who are worried they might be creepy or outraged at having been unfairly called creepy and wanting everyone to stop using that unfair word because it is mean and unfair.

I’ve been wanting to write a follow-up post to #322 & #323 (The Case of the Creepy Dudes) about what people can do to be less creepy, but John Scalzi beat me to it, adding to the excellent work of Dr. Nerdlove and Cliff Pervocracy on this subject. If you wrote to me (or commented at length) looking for steps on how not to be creepy or unsure what creepy means, go read all of those links in their entirety and hopefully you’ll figure something out.

I’m noticing some interesting common assumptions and patterns among the responses I’m seeing, and I’d like to write about them here.

First, if you’ve been called creepy, I have no absolution for you. Maybe you were creepy. Maybe you weren’t and the person just didn’t like you for some reason. We have no magic wand to remove the stain of creepiness from you. Arguing that because you are not creepy or because you had good intentions when you did the possibly creepy things, NO ONE is creepy or should ever be called creepy? Not helping your case.

Assumption #1: “Creepy” is what ugly/shy/awkward guys get called for doing the same thing more attractive/confident guys get away with. Therefore it is unfair.

It is unfair. It’s okay that it’s unfair. You know why? Because whether someone likes you enough to want to be your friend, to want to hug you when they see you and let you into their personal space, wants to flirt with you, or wants to joke around with you about certain topics IS a subjective decision they get to make. If Commander Logic comes up to me and puts her arm around me, that’s a friendly bit of affection from a trusted friend. If Joe or Jane New Person sees that and thinks “that’s how Jennifer likes to be greeted” and does the same thing, they’re going to get to watch me jump out of my skin because: Bad Touch! I get to set different boundaries for different people.

I feel like a lot of the people who are looking for a rubric on how to make sure they aren’t being creepy are the same people who are looking for a rubric on how to pick up dating partners. They want rules and steps that will guarantee a certain outcome, and they don’t like being told how much of it is subjective and totally out of their hands. But other people – the people you want to date, the people you want to be friends with – have their own tastes, opinions, likes, and dislikes. To imply that there is some kind of system that guarantees that other people will like you or to make it a question of fairness robs them of agency.

Quick, close your eyes and picture someone from you daily life you don’t like. Got someone in mind?

For some people, that disliked person is YOU. Or me! It hurts to realize that someone doesn’t like you, especially when you’re being kind and doing your best and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. It feels unfair. But feelings aren’t fair. You can’t logic your way into someone’s inner circle.

So, if someone calls you creepy, instead of sending me 2500-word emails about how that isn’t even really a thing, here are some constructive steps I suggest:

  • In the moment, say “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be.” Then stop whatever it is you were doing, and don’t do it again. Resist the urge to demonize the person who called you out. That person is doing you a favor. S/he is respecting you by being direct and asking you to change your ways. S/he is telling you that you are valuable within the group – if s/he didn’t care, you’d just find yourself dumped without any explanation.
  • Read those links from Scalzi, Cliff, and Nerdlove.
  • Take a look at your behavior. Run it by trusted friend or two.
  • If several people are calling your behavior creepy, you’re really doing something very wrong. Reevaluate your entire approach.
  • If one person is calling your behavior creepy, and you honestly can’t think of what you’ve done wrong, all your friends back you up, and your relationships with others in the social circle seem to be fine, make a decision in your head: “X doesn’t feel comfortable around me. That’s sad, but not everyone likes everyone else, and I can deal with it.” Then back off from engaging with X in the future. Don’t do the thing that they asked you not to do. Don’t get drawn into discussions with them. Don’t hang about trying to get them to like you. Just pull away and put your effort into other people in the group.

And if fear of being perceived as creepy is making you feel paralyzed and unhappy and is getting in the way of your ability to socialize, please seek professional help. Social anxiety is a real, treatable condition.

Assumption #2: When people use the word “creepy,” they are being able-ist and unfairly marginalizing people with Asperger’s Syndrome, etc.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome, etc. might have a delay or a difficulty in reading social cues. However, they are pretty great at and hungry for explicit verbal communication.

“Hey, you’re standing a little bit too close. Could you take a few steps back?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, thanks for saying something.”

“Ok, cool.” 

If you alert someone to an unwelcome behavior, and the person keeps doing that thing and/or angrily arguing that they shouldn’t have to change anything, the problem is not Asperger’s. Even if they do have Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s can knowingly or unknowingly violate someone’s boundaries. They can also have their boundaries violated! A lot of people who are Very Worried About The Aspies do not themselves have Asperger’s and are using this as a straw man to derail the conversation away from their own behaviors. They’re also insulting people with Asperger’s by assuming that even close to a statistically significant portion of creepy behavior can be blamed on them. Who’s able-ist now?

Edited to Add: I’m throwing in this comment from the Metafilter thread that linked to the #322/#323 discussion because it is just. so. good.

“For those who are attempting to excuse creepy behaviour as being simple social awkwardness, I thought this post by Hershele Ostropoler here sums up that problem:

‘If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

See, that’s why I don’t get the focus on classifying harassers and figuring out their motives. The victims are just as harassed either way.'”

Focus on behaviors, not possible diagnoses. </End of Edit>

Assumption #3:  Why are the letter writers blaming this on their boyfriends and guy friends? Stop hiding behind them! If women would just be braver/louder/clearer/more explicit/explain it better this whole problem would go away. Grow a pair, ladies! 

FYI, I deleted every comment that asked women to “man up” or “grow a pair” even if the overall substance was good because: BIOLOGICAL IMPOSSIBILITY. Okay, sure, it’s a metaphor. But balls are squishy and really vulnerable! They don’t impart strength. Bad metaphor, no biscuit.

Okay. There is a point to which I agree that speaking up and being more explicit in the moment is helpful.

I’ve written a lot about the ways that women are socialized to smooth things over and to say “no” in indirect ways, so I understand why we have such trouble with it. I understand that sometimes it is legitimately frightening to speak up. I understand why people freeze, especially people who have a history of trauma. There are many barriers to speaking up, not the least of which being the (legitimate) fear that everyone will side with the creeper against you if you do!  So – it’s not a requirement. I totally get it if you can’t or don’t or don’t want to, and there have been many times where I could not speak up until I’d had a ton of time to process or was in a safe place with safe people. So let’s accept as a given that you’re the expert on your own life. You’re the one best-equipped to judge the situation you’re in. You 100%  don’t have to speak up in the moment or else forever accept that everything that happened was all your fault, and if anyone tries to convince you that it was they are WRONG and it is BULLSHIT.

Still. If you can find the words and the courage, saying “Hey, I don’t like that. Please stop” as soon after unwelcome behavior as possible, it will be enormously helpful even if it doesn’t work right away. And even if it feels scary and awkward.

It will be helpful to YOU. Because you will become a person who, against all social conditioning, speaks up for yourself when someone crosses your boundaries. “I don’t like that.” “Please don’t touch me.” “Don’t make comments about my body.” “Don’t tell racist or sexist jokes, please.” Think of speaking up as the first step to being your own superhero.

Speaking up will help people around you who might have been afraid to speak up before now. You can be the first pebble in the avalanche. And you can figure out who will have your back.

Speaking up will help you identify people who are basically well-intentioned but who are awkward or people who took a joke too far or made an honest mistake. Speaking up to them directly, even if it’s uncomfortable, is actually the most respectful way you could treat them. Well-meaning people will go “OMG, I am so sorry” and stop doing the thing to the best of their ability. If they mess up and do the thing again, they will catch themselves and apologize. If they keep doing the bad thing, they’re not so well-intentioned.

Which leads me to: Speaking up will help you identify the unsafe people sooner, because they will laugh at you or say something mean and they will keep doing whatever it was. Unsafe bystanders will jump in to defend the creeper and tell you that you’re overreacting and ruining everyone’s fun. By speaking up and saying no, you have removed the plausible deniability that they use to keep doing the creepy, unsafe shit they do. You position yourself to say “I asked you not to do that, and you kept doing it, so now one of us will be leaving this party. I nominate you.” If you need to seek additional backup (for example, if this is going down at work and you need to involve your boss or HR, or you need to appeal to others in the friend group), being able to show that you asked directly for the behavior to stop will help your case.

If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable speaking up right then in the moment, what about an email or Facebook message the next day? “I was too taken aback to really say anything last night, but the thing you did upset me and I’d like you to apologize and then not do that anymore. Thanks.” You don’t lose the right to do this by not being quick on your feet or by needing a little time to think about how you feel and what you want to say.

One of the things I explicitly want to do with this blog is to give people tools for saying “Hey, knock it off.” Defending your boundaries and speaking up for yourself is a habit that can be learned. You get more aware of where your boundaries are. You second-guess yourself less. It gets easier with time and practice. So, if you can, practice!  Your voice might shake. But “no” is power.

There is power in not asking for permission to stand up for yourself. There is power in acting as if you expect to be believed and respected. But it’s not a perfect power. Rape culture is real. Predators are real. So the assumption that it’s women’s job to speak up totally falls apart as victim-blaming as soon as you start talking about predators and unsafe bystanders who are determined to get their way.

The reason the letter writers in #322 & #323 are going to their male friends in the first place is that they told Creepy McCreeperson to knock it off directly and they kept going. So they thought, he’s not listening to me, and he seems to be a big old misogynist who doesn’t respect my opinion, so maybe it will work better if it came from a dude? Sometimes you speak up and the person willfully refuses to hear you.

Second, other people are not required to be your life coaches and gently guide you toward what is socially acceptable in a way that always makes you feel 100% great about yourself. As Scalzi says:

“3. Acknowledge that no one’s required to inform you that you’re creeping (or help you to not be a creeper). It’s nice when people let you know when you’re going wrong and how. But you know what? That’s not their job. It’s especially not their job at a convention or some other social gathering, where the reason they are there is to hang out with friends and have fun, and not to give some dude an intensive course in how not to make other people intensely uncomfortable with his presence. If you are creeping on other people, they have a perfect right to ignore you, avoid you and shut you out — and not tell you why. Again: you are (probably) a fully-functioning adult. This is something you need to be able to handle on your own.”

Third, when men come forward to complain that they would totally act right if women would just say no “correctly,” they are lying. The idea that you could somehow make your harassment less gropey and upsetting or your rape less rapey, if you would stop being so inscrutable and just explain to the poor clueless dear in terms that he’ll understaaaaaaaaaaand is beyond. fucked. up.

This sets up a world where men can do whatever they want until they hear a “no” that they choose to interpret as being “real,” and sets up any damage done up until that point as being the victim’s fault. The victim is not controlling the interaction, the harasser is choosing to harass. What possible advantage is there in making it the victim’s responsibility to convince their harasser “Oh no, kind sir, please stop?” or they must have deserved what they got? If you’re really invested in the “why are women such cowards who don’t say no clearly enough” narrative, ask yourself, why are you so interested in maintaining a shield of plausible deniability for sketchy people doing sketchy things to women?

Fourth, with a tiny, tiny, tiny number of exceptions, people who claim that they can’t read any verbal or nonverbal communication or signals or clues and shouldn’t even have to try and that it’s all such a huge mystery and that’s why they can’t stop themselves from “accidentally” harassing women are lying. A small number of people have legitimate trouble with reading social cues. They find ways to work around it and definitely do not do most of the creeping in the world! Most people can tell when a cat or dog doesn’t want to be petted, but it’s suddenly impossible when it’s a lady you want to fuck? This preposterous argument that it’s just so haaaaaaaard gets trotted out over and over again by people who could tell…if they wanted to.

But, if you are in that tiny minority who thinks that you genuinely don’t know any social signals for “I don’t want to talk to you or be around you or be touched by you,” I have good news for you! Read John Scalzi’s post.There are a lot of very basic instructions there. Like, if someone leaves a conversation with you, don’t follow them. Now you know one more nonverbal cue than you did before! Collect them all! Stop claiming that you don’t know! GET THE CLUE, ALREADY.

So. I would like to see a world where women can speak up directly when they don’t want to do something. They will be more likely to speak up if they have a reasonable assumption that they’ll be believed and not punished. One way men can make this world more possible is to take women seriously and stop telling women they are overreacting when they do speak up. Mocking someone for being a Humorless Bitch Who Spoils Everyone’s Fun is a silencing tactic and makes you part of the problem. Reading about or witnessing someone’s experience of harassment and looking for the ways it’s all the victim’s fault and probably didn’t really happen anyway makes you part of the problem. Making bad things that happen to other people – real, true bad things, like sexual assault – about your own feelings of hurt about getting called creepy that one time by a girl you liked…makes you part of the problem.

I mean, couldn’t you put all that energy you put into denying and apologizing for creepy behavior or coming in to only to belittle and correct our word choices into believing us and helping us put an end to harassment and sexual assault when it affects women you care about? Couldn’t we try that out for a change? Couldn’t you sit down with your female friends and ask them what’s up and if things are ok for them in the social group and if there’s anything they’d like you to help out with?

Because when you claim that you don’t know any better and can’t learn and get angry at anyone suggesting that you try to do better (where better = NOT HARASSING WOMEN + making the world safer for your friends, your wives, your girlfriends, your sisters, and your daughters by listening to them and treating them like people and not coddling people who mistreat them), when you call discussions about harassment “utter nonsense” and blame women for their own victimization because they didn’t use the one true special fictional code that magically stops all harassment and sexual assault, you’re communicating that you don’t want to know because it’s much more comfortable to do whatever you want whenever you want without thinking about the consequences. Congratulations – you’re officially creepy.

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244 comments
  1. hippipdip said:

    Hi, nothing too earthshaking to share here. Just that I read every post you made on the blog over the past few days, and I love this site. Both content, and in style of writing. Thanks to the Captain and other contributors.

  2. I can’t believe I read the whole thing. You are awesome. Please don’t ever stop.

  3. I know a list like Scalzi’s is trying to help, but I’m terrible at reading signals myself*, and whenever I try to remember lists like that I end up standing in a corner going “uh” and not saying much of anything because I’m busy trying to figure out if the group is turning away from me or whatever. I know body language tips help some people, but that shit always just leaves me paralyzed.

    As someone who’s really bad at reading signals, I developed a couple of rules for myself that are easy to remember in the moment but also mostly keep me from being viewed as creepy. To wit:

    1) Ask before touching. At the *very* least, for the first couple times you touch someone. Once you’ve been friends for a while, you’re generally more familiar with their boundaries and know that Alice hates hugs.
    2) Cultivate a reputation for being respectful of boundaries. The best way to do this, in my experience, is to respond to people setting a boundary with “I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me” (not protestations of innocence or accusations of being unreasonable or anything) and then respecting the damn boundary.
    3) Reciprocity. A person who wants to talk to you will act like they want to talk to you– “ooh, that’s cool, did you hear about Y?” not “uhhuh,” initiating conversations, etc. The same applies for a *lot* of things. Don’t send multiple messages when you haven’t gotten a message back. Don’t make sex jokes if they don’t also make sex jokes. Don’t compliment their appearance if they don’t compliment you too. Et cetera.
    4) If you are doing something to someone, and you’d be embarrassed if the person knew you were doing it, don’t fucking do it. That means: no stalking, no “happening” to show up where the person is, no staring at them from across the room, etc.

    Also, I think that the whole “socially awkward people!” thing is a big red herring. Nearly every socially awkward person I know is far more likely to be passive and easily convinced that people dislike them rather than creepy and impossible to convince that anyone dislikes them. Most creepy fuckers know they’re creepy fuckers, you know? It is not like people generally go up to a complete stranger on a street corner and say “nice ass, wanna fuck?” because they believe this is normal and acceptable social behavior.

    *If I get to know someone very well, I can, but casual acquaintances? LOL NO.

    • JenniferP said:

      I really like your list, Ozy, thanks.

    • Agreed. Very good list for generally being respectful of other people’s boundaries.

    • Sarah G. said:

      As a socially awkward (yet not autistic; hates it when people assume social awkwardness = autism!) person who has difficulty reading body language and trouble making friends, you are RIGHT ON about the passivity and easyness-to-convince thing.

    • duckbilledplacelot said:

      You know, Ozy’s list (and Scalzi’s) are totally reasonable ways-not-to-be-creepy, and I love that they were written up to help good hearted accidental creepers because I find it kind and hopeful, like trying to gently logic your grandma out of being racist, but in my experience (and I think research backs this up) Ozy, you’re totally right that in an overwhelming number of cases, people know they’re being fucking creepy. How many of us have pushed back (rhetorically or physically) only to see that smarmy, horrible grin that says, “I love that you’re unhappy. That’s just what I wanted.” The oh no, what about the socially awkward ones is a derailing tactic to avoid dealing with the fact that lots and lots of men*, including socially awkward ones sometimes, behave like predators and want to keep doing so without any social fallout.

      *While Captain Awkward, as a woman writer of note (and probably nicer person than me), often includes the gender neutral or caveat-ed statement, I’m just a lowly commentor, so I say, fuck that; men are wildly disproportionately the problem.

      • ona555 said:

        I suspect that another intended purpose for lists like these is not so much to educate the creepers themselves, but to educate creep enablers. Someone reads “how not to be a creeper,” thinking it’s just going to be some irreverent internet humor, and comes away thinking, “zomg, my friend X totally does half of those things and I keep making excuses for him. no wonder my exgf won’t come talk to me when he’s near, even though i am still good friends with her. i need to do something about that. now i have some tools to work with.”

        At least, I hope so.

      • piny said:

        You know, I think some of the asswringing about creepiness is more manipulative than defensiveness. I think a lot of this oh noes women FIND ME CREEPY!!! is an excuse to go straight to, “They’re mean bitches,” and from there to, “You’re a mean bitch.” It’s a setup. You get to turn into the castrating feminist paranoiac, thereby providing even more evidence that creepphobia is irrational and wrong.

        Dick: It’s wrong to call men creepy! Sometimes men are just socially awkward and also romantic and lonely, and they just want to talk to you!
        Female Friend of His: Well, but sometimes some men can be kind of, you know, handsy. Like, there was this one time I was at the bank, and–
        Dick: But I’m not like that!
        FFoH: …Sure.
        Dick: What?
        FFoH: …No, of course you’re not creepy.
        Dick: Therefore–
        FFoH: Well, but–
        Dick: THEREFORE, it is never okay to call men creepy!
        FFoH: But some men are creepy.
        Dick: But you can’t hate all men!
        FFoH: I don’t, I just said that some men–
        Dick: “Creep” is a misandrist slur that harms all men.
        FFoH: I just don’t think that’s true.
        Dick: You don’t have a problem with labeling men as subhuman?
        FFoH: I don’t think–
        Dick: You hate men.
        FFoH: I do not, I just think that there are creeps, okay? There are creepy men out there.
        Dick: So men are creeps.
        FFoH: Okay, fine.
        Dick: Monsters.
        FFoH: What?
        Dick: You hate men?
        FFoH: I don’t even–
        Dick: YOU HATE MEN. ALL YOU EVIL FEMINIST BITCHES HATE MEN. YOU HATE ME. I KNEW IT.

        • danagb said:

          As an aside, this tends to happen in any conversation about safety or rape prevention too. As in, I confide in a male friend that I sometimes feels nervous if I’m walking alone at night and a strange man is behind me, so I carry pepper spray. My feeling of “Hey, I think this guy might be following me, that is weird and I don’t want to get mugged/raped/worse, lets keep an eye on this situation” get turned into “ALL MEN ARE POTENTIAL RAPISTS, NEVER TRUST THEM”

          • piny said:

            FFS, I don’t think all my partners have STDs. Am I going to insist that all my partners practice safe sex? Of course.

          • oraclenine said:

            That particular bit of bs makes me want to whip out a seres of photos of large crowds.

            “Fine, you tell me which ones are rapists.” Pause for sputtering. “Can’t tell by looking at them? NEITHER CAN I, JERKFACE.”

          • Neat move! Perhaps we all ought to do that regularly and then Clues Will Be Got.

          • IME people usually react to Schroedinger’s Rapist by saying “so you’re calling all men rapists!” a la piny’s comment.

          • Vir Modestus said:

            It amazes me that people could read “Schrodinger’s Rapist” and come away with “You’re saying all men are rapists!” as opposed to “OMG, half the population lives in justifiable fear of the other half. What can we do about that?”

        • MargoVictorious said:

          Not to derail, but “asswringing” is my new favorite word, and it perfectly describes bullshit like this. You are genius.

        • I have a feeling that I’m either a bad person, or the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker, because when Dick got to “You don’t have a problem with labeling men as subhuman?” the first reply that comes to mind is to blatantly give him a looking over and say, “I did, but I’m getting over it quickly.”

    • Bev said:

      The body language thing also pops up in the Dr Nerdlove one, and in telling the potential creepers how to modify their own body language, it felt like a guide to hiding your true creepiness (up until the touching, anyway). Touching is a nice, solid boundary to begin that you can’t miss because for various reasons you’re not making eye contact either. Sexual innuendo is another one, unless everyone’s doing it. I have no bloody idea if someone is “looming” at me or not, but I know if they’re touching my face.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        I agree on the body language rules from Dr. Nerdlove. Being hearing-impaired myself, I really need for people to look directly at me while standing directly in front of me so that I can understand what they’re saying and respond appropriately. If you stand turned away from me or looking over your shoulder or whaterverthefuck, I will not be able to do that, and will assume that you don’t care to be understood by me after I’ve made it clear that I can’t hear you well when you do that.
        There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ body language guide for How To Talk To The Ladiez. You need to tailor it to the actual woman you’re talking to, kinda like how you would with, I don’t know, any other human.

        • JenniferP said:

          You make really good points. The specific body language stuff is no guarantee of not being creepy (also because there is no rubric and it’s subjective and situational) and may not be helpful to everyone. I love Ozy’s point that the way to show that you respect boundaries is by immediately respecting boundaries. Any blanket advice on this is going to be by definition imperfect.

          What I like about Scalzi’s post especially is the attitudes more than specific behaviors. “It’s your job to figure out how to not make people uncomfortable, and if you accidentally do, it’s your job to back off and apologize and not whine that it’s unfair and pressure the person into hanging out with you and making you feel better about having behaved badly.” And some of the stuff about cues and how to tell when you’re not wanted is right on.

          • This quote reminded me of a story from my past.

            The Day I Was Creepy

            When I was in high school I was in most of the plays and as often happens we developed a close camaraderie. After I graduated I kept in touch with the program and continued to come to the plays as a patron. My friends who were still in the program would invariably come grab me at intermission and bring me backstage and we would hang out.

            This was great! Until it wasn’t. At the last play of the season my first year after high school a boy I didn’t know came to me and said “You aren’t a member of this production and by coming backstage where girls are changing, you’re making people uncomfortable.”

            I was shocked and embarrassed. I had been doing it all year and everyone seemed to think it was awesome! Nothing had changed! What. The. Frack?!?!

            Yet, as I reflected, lots of things had changed. One thing was that I was a late bloomer who had begun to change from “cute little high-school skinny boy” to “large, fully developed adult male.” Another thing was that as it happened I just knew a smaller percentage of people in this production than I had previous ones (it was a musical and I wasn’t a musical guy.)

            Nothing had changed about Apeman the person. I still wasn’t a creep! I was a kind person who is maybe a little irritating at times, but who is a good listener and a fine musician and a faithful friend and all of that other stuff. But that day, I was creepy. Not because of who I was but because of what I was doing. So I had to stop.

    • That’s an excellent list, thank you, Ozy.

      Also, yes with the social awkwardness. My default assumption is that people are not that fussed about hanging out with me, and I usually look for specific signals that they want to talk to me. (In some social circles this leads to the lesbian sheep situation, but oh well.)

      • Jiggs said:

        Me too! I am always trying to learn more cues so I can tell who really wants to talk to me (especially in situations where I’m already uncomfortable, like at networking parties. Blegh.) It makes me feel 1000x more comfortable and cool when I can recognize signs someone is “into” having a conversation with me. So I just can’t relate to people who are like OMG WHY U HATING ON MEEEE? I like knowing who doesn’t like me, then I can go find people who do!

    • Laura said:

      This is true for me too. I also tend to say: “i have no idea if this okay, please let me know if I’m being to weird/loud/touchy/whatever.”

      My biggest social cue is eye contact. I believe that if you’re starting to overwhelm people they start to break eye contact. I feel like if people start to pull away, you’ve gone too far.

      • drst said:

        I actually can’t maintain eye contact with anyone myself. It’s part of my social anxiety and possibly some other messed up brain stuff.

        BUT, I will keep talking to you if I’m enjoying the conversation and want to continue it and most of the rest of my body language and especially my vocal cues will indicate that I’m engaged in the conversation. I just can’t look people in the eye for more than a second (I’m seriously screwed if I ever get questioned by the cops, because they’re gonna think “She’s guilty of something really bad!” ;)

        • Ellen Fremedon said:

          And eye contact rules can differ a lot across different situations and social circles, too. I have several friend groups that are exclusively nerdy, predominantly full of introverts, and contain a disproportionately high number of non-NT people, and in all of them, establishing eye contact usually signals the end of a conversational turn– you meet someone’s eye to signal that you’re ready to cede the floor, and then go back to looking at their earrings/the wall/your shoes (depending on your degree of introversion). It took me forever to figure out that the oddly hostile vibe I sometimes got from a friend in one of those circles was because she follows more mainstream eye-contact protocols, where you meet a person’s eyes to make sure that they’re still engaged and have understood you and look away to signal their turn.

          • Denzi said:

            This is also somewhat true in Deaf conversations–direct eye contact signals “I’m done signing; now I will watch while you communicate.” …err, and this totally has nothing to do with Eye Contact Rules of Creepiness, I just think it’s an interesting commonality.

          • Hugh said:

            Some people really hate it when other people make eye contact with them and prefer conversations take place without eye contact. It can be threatening. The more you know.

    • Copcher said:

      I love how you explain that the way to “cultivate a reputation for being respectful of boundaries” is by “respecting the damn boundary”. I think a lot of creepy people want a way to keep acting the same way but have people not see those actions as creepy, so thank you for making it clear that it’s the behaviour that needs to change. Also, I completely agree with your last paragraph. I know lots of people who feel socially awkward. For the most part, they are not the people who make me feel uncomfortable.

      • I think a lot of creepy people want a way to keep acting the same way but have people not see those actions as creepy

        Yes yes yes. I think so many of the “but I’m not a creeper” commenters are coming from that place (or at least initially coming from that place — Creeper #1 from the other day seems to have had an epiphany after much defensiveness). The goal shouldn’t be “how do I hide my disrespect for women” but “how do I act in a respectful way toward women, whom I respect?”

        • Copcher said:

          “The goal shouldn’t be ‘how do I hide my disrespect for women’ but ‘how do I act in a respectful way toward women, whom I respect?'”

          I have a sneaking suspicion that if creepy people actually asked themselves the second question, they would find it surprisingly easy to answer.

    • JenniferP said:

      I commented too soon, Ozy!

      1) I still like your list!

      2) You describe yourself as “bad at reading signals” and other people here describe themselves as “socially awkward” but really what you did there is you made a list of signals you COULD pay attention to and understand and tried to level that whole thing up.

      “Socially awkward” or “bad at signal-reading” isn’t actually a permanent condition. Social skills are learned. You can, with some effort, learn them. Or some of them. Or, a few more than you have now.

      So that’s why I react badly to the “But what if harasser is just permanently awkward and can’t help it?

      I was a late bloomer and spent a lot of my life being wicked awkward. I was way too intense & guilty of Firthing. Sometimes people didn’t like me and I felt excluded and unpopular.

      So I worked hard on developing better social skills, and I slowly leveled up to “still awkward but maybe more endearing about it than creepy.” I didn’t treat my problems like they were all someone else’s fault. You actually have a lot of choices about how to treat people.

      So I like your list not just because the things on it are great, but it’s a demonstration of how a self-described Socially Awkward Penguin figured out how to treat people better and get along better socially. It’s proof that you can learn if you want to. Plus, the reason I like the Scalzi post so much is that it is about attitudes like this – ie, it’s your responsibility to learn how to treat people better, not their responsibility to tutor you and to see your secret good intentions and pre-forgive you for them. The two lists are actually quite congruent.

      • Ellen Fremedon said:

        Social skills are learned. You can, with some effort, learn them. Or some of them. Or, a few more than you have now.

        This! On balance, I think the increasing awareness of the autism spectrum is a good thing, but in a lot of ways it really seems to have reified Social Awareness as a thing that you just have to be born with, not as a skill set that everyone needs to learn, but that some people, on and off the spectrum, have more trouble with.

        I’m not anywhere on the autism spectrum, but I do suspect that, were I to have been born thirty years in the future, I would be diagnosed* with some sort of social cues learning disorder. And, learning disorders suck! It is no fun watching other people effortlessly pick up this skill that you have to struggle with and try every work-around in the book for and still never find easy. It is very tempting to say it’s just never going to make any sense and give up.

        And in some cases, that may be the best choice! I sometimes regret that I haven’t gone back, now that I have a better understanding of the difference between visual and spatial learning and where my particular issues with those things lie, and made another attempt to learn trigonometry, but I can continue to live a pretty happy life without ever really understanding what a sine is, or running into a situation where I need to understand that.

        Understanding things like personal space, conversational turn-taking, and bodily autonomy? Not actually optional unless you are a hermit. However hard they are to learn, and however unfair it is that some people find it so easy.

        *I have no idea what the sequence of tenses needs to be in that sentence.

        • Rosa said:

          I have a kid on the spectrum, and while that does mean that right now, because he’s young, he gets more leeway on some issues than other kids, what it MOSTLY means is that we are working really hard on teaching and learning social appropriateness. Because he’s not just going to pick it up from context, so it needs to be expressly taught – and because it’s not as much fun for him as, say, learning about the origins of the universe, we have to guide him into paying attention and thinking through social things so he can figure out how they work.

          It kind of sucks that this is hard for him. On the other hand, everybody’s bad at something.

      • Erica said:

        ““Socially awkward” or “bad at signal-reading” isn’t actually a permanent condition. Social skills are learned. You can, with some effort, learn them.”

        So much this!

        It’s a shame that we don’t teach social skills explicitly in school, but mystify them and hold them up as some sort of magic secret that has to be absorbed through osmosis. In some places (Finland, for instance) conflict resolution, negotiation, and other social skills are taught in grade school.

        Sure, some people are naturally better at this stuff, just like some people are naturally better at math. Yet, we require everyone to learn at least algebra in order to graduate high school. And they aren’t expected to pick up algebra on their own (even though math whizzes might be able to) – it’s taught. So why do we fail so many students by allowing them to graduate without the social-skills equivalent of basic arithmetic?

        • Ali said:

          Yes! I am not a natural social skill learner. Like most autistic people, I have to have explicit instruction. But that doesn’t mean anything about me in a permanent way, and it certainly doesn’t mean I am inherently creepy OR bad at social skills. It just means I had to spend time learning to do what comes naturally to others. Maybe it was a trade off for perfect pitch? It doesn’t matter. I wish it’d be taught in school.

          People on the spectrum can and do learn how to not be creepy all the time. We may not do stuff normally, like eye contact, but I’d guess the majority of us are invested in not being read as threatening or creepy and will adjust our behaviour appropriately when told.

          • Kaz said:

            Although I’m generally leery of “learn social skills! it is not that hard!” advice (I’m on the spectrum too and I did some serious damage to my mental health and general ability to function that way), “don’t be creepy” is a really low bar. It’s one thing to tell autistic people that we have to learn how to pass for NT. It’s another thing entirely to go “please avoid these specific behaviours because it makes people feel threatened”: most of the “don’t be creepy” advice I’ve seen is really quite straight-forward and easy to pick up.

    • pomguo said:

      That last point is one I can’t reiterate enough. I think in Scalzi’s otherwise excellent post he didn’t entirely give fair slack to people who genuinely are pretty godawful at signal-reading (I know I have some embarrassing anecdotes along those lines), but the default is not “I can’t read this situation – that means I can grope away!”, it’s “I don’t get what’s going on here, they probably want nothing to do with me”

      • I think you misread Scalzi’s post. He was actively giving instructions to people who are bad at reading signals. He was giving them things to look for (as well as instructions about what not to do). Somebody walks away from a conversation with you, and you don’t necessarily recognize that as a signal? Now you know it’s a signal. OK, you may have to keep it in mind consciously, and work to remember it, but now you know it’s a signal.

    • I also think that there’s a lot to be said for outright saying “I have trouble reading social cues; please tell me if I do X”, where X has a specific value like “stand too close” or “get into a monologue on [favorite subject]” or whatever. Once, very early in a brand-new relationship, a guy told me “I can’t always tell when someone’s ready to end a social interaction. Please tell me that it’s time for me to leave if that happens.” And I did say that a few times, and his feelings weren’t hurt. Reader, I married him.

      • MargoVictorious said:

        Excellent comment!

        This needs to be added to every list on the topic. It’s the best advice for all those people who fear they might come across as creepy. Acknowledging it up front, if done succinctly and sincerely, will probably diffuse a large percentage of the creepy vibes. Politely inviting those around you to speak up shows respect for their feelings and manages to say “Hey, I’m not a creeper!” in a pretty mature way.

        The key, of course, is to be sure to stick the landing: no hurt feelings when a person does speak up.

        Your husband sounds like a keeper. Thanks for sharing this.

    • piny said:

      This is a good list. And, exactly about anxiety/shyness/awkwardness vs. bullying and creepiness. This is like what Martha Stout says about sociopaths: if you’re worried you might be one, you’re not one.

      If you’re genuinely very worried about bothering or scaring people, for their sake, because you like and respect them, then you probably aren’t coming off as entitled or cruel. On the other hand, if you’re worried about your ego or your boner, then you might actually have a problem. And if the Spectre of the Creep makes you very, very angry at women, then you probably do have a big problem.

      • Ali said:

        If you’re genuinely very worried about bothering or scaring people, for their sake, because you like and respect them, then you probably aren’t coming off as entitled or cruel.
        YES

    • I like this list. I can’t speak for socially awkward people generally, but I am constantly worried about being the missing stair, and I suspect more socially awkward people are worried than proud of it or even indifferent to it.

  4. Stuart said:

    Thank you. It’s a hot button topic, and there are genuinely guys out there (I’m one) who struggle in dealing with social situations. I’m learning. Have been all my life. Probably will be for the rest of my life. I won’t deny that there are matters that have come up as a direct result of the original post that have caused me significant heartache. But that’s okay – it’s stuff I’ve been trying to work on, and to have a sudden influx of information is encouraging in ways that I simply can’t express.

    I’ll probably manage to creep somebody out in the future. I’ll be astounded – and very pleased – if it’s only one. But I’ve never shied away from acknowledging my flaws, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that’s been given to learn from all of this.

    We all have to find our own way in life … but there’s nothing wrong with listening to, and learning from, others.

    Again, deeply and sincerely: thank you.

    • M Dubz said:

      @Stuart- It makes me happy to read about guys like you who are genuinely interested in learning more about Social Cues and How to Interpret Them, because it means that posts like the Captain’s are genuinely helping, instead of just preaching to the choir of people who have already created a system of workarounds. Don’t give up! I’m sure you’ll do fabulous.

  5. Sarah G. said:

    Awesome post, especially #2. :)

  6. Kaz said:

    Thank you SO MUCH for #2.

    I left a comment about this on the other post but it seems to have not gone through: what I find perennially frustrating about #2 is that in all the NT people going “but what about the hypothetical Aspie men who don’t understand that [X creepy/harrassing behaviour] is wrong?”, what never ever seems to be talked about is being on the receiving end of X can be very bad for people on the spectrum in particular. AS has other aspects than the social, and things like unwanted touching are extra-unpleasant if you also have tactile hypersensitivity and can be sent into overload through that shit. Having someone trap you in conversation can be pretty bad if you’re having auditory processing issues, cognitive processing issues, sensory build-up, or any of the myriad of reasons a person on the spectrum may need to go find a quiet place to hide for a bit. And so on and so forth, and a lot of this has potentially very bad consequences for the autistic person in question.

    In the meantime, as soon as one turns the “how to support Aspies” conversation away from guys creeping out girls and to things like clear-cut rules and guidelines or organising less noisy/crowded social events or whatever? All of the people who were oh! so! worried! before vanish into the ether. Funny, that.

    • piny said:

      Also, “people on the autism spectrum are bad at social cues” is a pretty messed-up stereotype when it comes to rape culture intersecting with ableism. People with disabilities are disproportionately victimized and disproportionately dismissed in the aftermath; saying that someone on the autism spectrum doesn’t know what sexual harassment is is wrong.

      • Kaz said:

        Yes! I don’t have any specific statistics for the autistic spectrum, but I know the rates of rape and sexual assault among women with developmental disabilities in general are shockingly high. Taking a group of people who are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual harrassment and assault and slotting them into the conversation as the perpetrators is a pretty disgusting thing to do.

    • Rosa said:

      Not to mention that there are an awful lot of women and girls on the spectrum. If this were an autism/Aspie/ASD thing, it would be much more gender balanced.

  7. Seven said:

    “FYI, I deleted every comment that asked women to “man up” or “grow a pair” even if the overall substance was good because: BIOLOGICAL IMPOSSIBILITY. Okay, sure, it’s a metaphor. But balls are squishy and really vulnerable! They don’t impart strength. Bad metaphor, no biscuit.”

    Um, I would like to say I have a pair. They’re called tits.

    • foolsgame said:

      Me too! Kidneys.

      • I got bilateral symmetry ALL UP IN THIS JOINT.

        • I got you ALL beat, two uteruses, baby!

    • That’s never the pair they’re talking about, dammit.

      “Bad metaphor, no buscuit.” YES. I’ve been saying this for years. Drives me nuts. Er, so to speak. :D

      • commanderlogic said:

        Bad joke of the day:

        Pirate Captain walks into a bar with a ship’s wheel shoved down his pants. Bartender says “Hey, what’s with the steering wheel?” Captain says “ARRR, it be drivin’ me nuts!”

        • irishup said:

          As soon as I file the serial number offa this baby, it’s going RIGHT into use!

    • Mym said:

      I have a pair too. They’re called testicles. That sort of omission was not something I expected to find on this site.

      • JenniferP said:

        Did you spontaneously grow them when some jerk on the internet told you to? Do they impart magic powers of bravery? I’m thinking no.

      • The impression I got — correct me if I’m wrong, Cap’n — wasn’t “no women have testicles” (demonstrably false), but “humans in general are unable to spontaneously generate a pair of testicles on command”.

        • JenniferP said:

          Correct. And if we could grow them, they wouldn’t magically make us different people or erase sexism we experience from others…OR WOULD THEY?

  8. I went through a “creeper” phase when I was around 20/21. It was mostly a combination of drinking too much, having no respect for myself, and objectifying every single attractive person who crossed my path as “Someone who might love me and fix my life!” Luckily, I had a very good friend who called me out on my terrible behavior and stopped bringing me places where he knew I would probably be creepy, and look at me now – 27 years old and not creepy. I am forever grateful to that friend for being brutally honest with me back then. In the moment, I thought he was being Mean and Ruining My Fun, but he was protecting people from me while helping me be a better person.

  9. derored said:

    I want to say so very very very much times one million billion that you deleted such what ’bout the menz comments (and I’m sure even more apologist bullshit) and allowed the discussion on those threads to be focused the way it was. You are amazing. :)

  10. TansyJ said:

    I always find it interesting that guys who vehemently protest the term “creep” seem to think that women have 2 categories for guys A). Dudes I would sleep with B). Creeps.

    I’ve known my share of socially awkward guys, and clingy guys, and all around decent guys who I still am not interested in for various reasons, and guys I would date and all of those groups intermingle a bit and then there are creeps.

    Honestly, for me and most of the women I know, a creep is not someone who has a difficult time starting a conversation or occasionally hangs around a bit to much because he wants to date you and doesn’t quite have the courage to ask you out (although that guy can turn into creepy guy eventually).

    It’s the guy who constantly crosses your boundaries, and doesn’t just seem awkward, but actively angry at the slightest hint that his behavior is not warmly welcomed.

    And most of the time that guy can’t say a decent word about a woman who isn’t currently sleeping with him, and he usually doesn’t even have very nice things to say about his current wife/girlfriend/FWB.

    • General Expression said:

      I always find it interesting that guys who vehemently protest the term “creep” seem to think that women have 2 categories for guys A). Dudes I would sleep with B). Creeps

      This is such a good point. Dear Men of the World: Most of you fall into the category of Non-Creepy-Guys-I-Will-Never-Ever-Sleep-With.

      • “I always find it interesting that guys who vehemently protest the term “creep” seem to think that women have 2 categories for guys A). Dudes I would sleep with B). Creeps.”

        And therefore, if I can logic my way into not being called a creep, then teh womenz will all sleep with me! Always!

        D:

    • Honestly, for me and most of the women I know, a creep is not someone who has a difficult time starting a conversation or occasionally hangs around a bit to much because he wants to date you and doesn’t quite have the courage to ask you out (although that guy can turn into creepy guy eventually).

      It’s the guy who constantly crosses your boundaries, and doesn’t just seem awkward, but actively angry at the slightest hint that his behavior is not warmly welcomed.

      Yes, exactly. A “creep” is not a guy I’m annoyed by because I don’t feel like flirting/sexing with him for whatever reason. A “creep” is a guy who I am, on some level, actively frightened of as a direct result of his behavior toward me and the people around us.

  11. Valerie said:

    I am sick and tired of creepers self-dxing Asperger’s and then being all, “WELL THIS TOTALLY EXCUSES ME BEING A CREEPY ASSHOLE.” No, no it doesn’t, just like being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you just get to run over feet all willy nilly.

    It’s gonna happen by accident. But you should try to avoid it, and you should apologize when it does happen.

  12. Vanda said:

    If I can just say something about women speaking up. It’s true, most women should speak up. My experience, however, is that when women attempt to ask a guy to back off in a polite manner right as they are uncomfortable, there are 2 typical answer from the man. 1)Completely shaming the woman. Most likely, shouting that she’s a whore, an std-ridden slut, a skank. For not wanting to be touched by a stranger in a bus/bar/on the streets. (that is my experience, and that used to completely bewilder me before I learned to properly say “fuck off”. Unfortunately, this happened to me most when I was 16-17… by men who were 50 y.o.) 2)This one, most insidious, is the most common. You tell a guy that you are uncomfortable with action (a), and they are shocked that you would even assume that they are attracted to you! You have such a big ego for thinking they were rubbing your thigh for any other reason because they are your friend! (only to have the guy lay you down on a couch and grab [whatever they fancy] a week later, after you think that their “why would you *ever* think I would want you?” settled things.)

    These things happened to me many times, mostly when I was under 20 with men a couple decades older than me. By now, this happened to me so often that I just tell most guys off in a pretty straightforward/swat team manner (because no means yes). And when I was 17, men told me so often that they preferred girls my age, since I wasn’t like those bitter, “old” 25 year olds. Now being myself a 25 y.o. sack, I understand.

    I think guys who are self aware enough to not want to be thought of as creeps are usually full of good intentions. I also think they don’t know how much of this stuff a woman has to go through. And it’s not out of ignorance. Women who complain about day-to-day aggressive harassment are usually shunned or dismissed as liars. I understand that the dynamic goes both ways, and some women abuse the fact that men are attracted to them. But it’s unfair to believe that because some women are like that, the stranger you just approach is the same. It’s also unfair to label you as a creep before we get to know how awesome you are. But I’m trying to keep my gropers under 500 before I turn 30.

    All that to say, women learn pretty young to be “nice”. It’s the wrong approach, but clearly is cultivated in our society. And it works for creeps. More often than we’d like to think.

    [to the men with good intentions: yeah, it sucks that you get shit because of a few bad seeds! That's why it's important to try to change this trend of emotional abuse on women (this doesn't apply to you]

  13. I’ve been reading the voluminous response to the Creeper posts over the past few days with fascination.

    Years ago I was married to a rapist-apologist-creeper-type.He openly “flirted” and pawed women in front of me and I’m sure made many of them miserable, but I didn’t understand at the time for various reasons. I wasn’t happy about it, but didn’t realize I could do anything about it. I’m not married to him any more, thankfully. I wanted to describe an incident which was not necessarily “creepy” but fits in with the whole rape culture scenario and point out how I managed to (eventually) deal with it.

    My husband-at-the-time would come home from work and invite a friend over. He and the friend would sit around drinking beer and watching baseball or whatever while I cooked or played with our 4-year-old daughter or read a book. The guys would get drunk and sometimes would be loud and unpleasant. The friend, especially, would start telling offensive, sexist jokes in front of my daughter and start ordering me around like I was the maid or something. I asked him to stop. He ignored me. I asked my husband to ask him to stop. He accused me of being ungenerous and not hospitable and “it was no big deal” etc. etc. I would try to stay in another part of the house with my daughter but they would seek us out to get me to cook or something.

    I was beginning to be frightened for my daughter (and at the time, didn’t realize that I could have just been frightened for myself and it would have been enough) so I determined to make one more stab at being heard. I wrote a letter detailing what I didn’t like and wanted stopped and how I wanted an apology, or else the friend was not allowed to come over any more. I tried to read it aloud to the guys, but they literally shouted me down and wouldn’t listen.

    So I stuck a stamp on it and mailed it. The friend never came back. My husband never forgave me. But I didn’t have to deal with one of the abusive assholes ever again. Eventually, the marriage broke up and I learned to assert myself even more, to the point where now, I don’t really take any crap from anybody any more.

    It was hard, painful, and scary to make the first step. I had survived a victimized childhood and a dreadful marriage, and now, many years and much-needed therapy later, I’m married to somebody very nice who supports me in every way, my daughter is healthy and strong and grown up, and it’s much easier for me to confront asshats of various descriptions and make it stick.

    If you do it once, even if it’s awkward and painful, sometimes it works. Even if it doesn’t, you get to practice. It’s not something you can give up trying to do, though. It’s wonderful if you can get support, and I would have loved some at that time, but sometimes you have to do without it.

    • piny said:

      Well then, belatedly, good for you for protecting yourself and your daughter!

    • Goodness, were we married to the same man? No, mine wasn’t that bad, but he was once fired from TWO jobs on the SAME DAY for sexually harassing female employees. And of course he professed utter bafflement.

  14. Sheelzebub said:

    I have to tell you, CA, that it is so refreshing to read a blog where derailing and self-centered trolls aren’t allowed to piss all over the comments section. As far as those whingers are concerned, I’ll point out that there are socially awkward women, that it’s doubly hard for women to approach men we like (thanks to the idea that it’s unfeminine AND safety concerns), that women get rejected, and that we’ve been called unflattering things as well. Oddly enough, we are held to a higher standard and are supposed to realize that that’s just the way it is and we should just deal with it. (I often hear this from the same d00ds who whine about how unfaaaaaiiiiiirrrr it is to call what they did creepy or inappropriate.)

    And really, if this is all about being friendly and getting dates or whatever, it’s obviously backfiring. You’d think if they were interested in actually getting to know women and not put us off, they’d lurk more on posts like these and change their behavior, they’d listen to their friends and ask about how they should change their behavior (with genuine concern, not a sarcastic rhetorical question). But, no. They instead want to force the issue, to talk over everyone, to say that because their intent is good we should just put up with it. Which has been working just swimmingly so far! (I’m being sarcastic.)

    So, my sympathy for these dudes? Is NIL.

    • metaphortunate said:

      Yeah, I second (or third, or fourth, or Nth) the gratitude to the Captain for moderating the living hell out of this comment space. And thanks for making this space to begin with.

    • Yes, this! I’m still subscribed to the comment thread; when whas’rface responded at some point the other day all “I’m going to play devil’s advocate…” and I twitched, clicked the comment link intending to respond, very simply “…don’t. Don’t play devil’s advocate. Just… just don’t.” it was already gone!

      This blog is awesome. A place where devil’s advocate jackasses get shot down is the best.

    • anlei said:

      Chiming in with another enormous thank you. It’s so refreshing to be able to have sometimes difficult conversations about tricky subjects without wading through a gazillion kinds of awful, and it’s easy to think this is some magical space the awful magically knows to avoid, but really it’s you dealing with all those comments so that we don’t have to. Thank you!

  15. shadowspar said:

    I feel like a lot of the people who are looking for a rubric on how to make sure they aren’t being creepy are the same people who are looking for a rubric on how to pick up dating partners. They want rules and steps that will guarantee a certain outcome, and they don’t like being told how much of it is subjective and totally out of their hands.

    OMG YES. The people who are demanding an Ironclad Definition of Exactly What Constitutes Creepy come across as creepy dudes who are trying to rules-lawyer their way out of having their creepy behaviours defined as creepy.

    This idea that relationships are like games, with universally fixed rules and all — it’s really fucking gross to think about the worldview that this kind of notion must come from. If someone plays the “game” right, I have to let them into my pants? Not a chance in hell.

      • daffodil said:

        Not just okay, awesome. Different people liking different things means we all get a chance for somebody to like us for our specific terrifying awesomeness.

      • This reminds me of a picture I saw of Morpheus that said “What if I told you the Friend Zone wasn’t a thing, because women aren’t vending machines you put kindness coins into for sex”. It really comes down to an unwillingness to acknowledge the other person’s humanity and agency.

    • FlyBy said:

      “The people who are demanding an Ironclad Definition of Exactly What Constitutes Creepy come across as creepy dudes who are trying to rules-lawyer their way out of having their creepy behaviours defined as creepy.”

      Yes! According to a certain class of commenter, if we don’t lay out Rules, we’re being Too Vague and Not Objective, so it’s All In Our Head and Not A Real Thing. If we do, they point out the million and one exceptions to The Rules, because hey, these things are actually very subjective, and now we’re being Exclusionary Judgmental Harpies! (I now want to start a rock band with that name.)

      If you approach human interaction of any type with the mindset of a rules lawyer, you fail. You cannot logic your way into making people think well of you.

      • I would totally do backup vocals for the Exclusionary Judgmental Harpies.

  16. Karen said:

    Such an awesome post! Fanned, like hugely. Thank you.

  17. Vir Modestus said:

    Thank you, Captain my Captain, for doing such a great job on the comments. You’ve done a wonderful job of creating and maintaining a great community. And you say things like “But balls are squishy and really vulnerable! They don’t impart strength. Bad metaphor, no biscuit.”

    For that, I give you Hal Sparks –> http://youtu.be/DcM0DPH2bNo?t=2m5s

    • Ace said:

      Yes! Hal Sparks has one of the best riffs ever on that topic. :D

  18. There is a world of difference between being socially awkward and not picking up clues like; “this person is no longer interested in what I have to say” and “I will follow this person around even after they have *explicitly* told me not to and possibly sexually assault them when they are asleep”. Anyone who tries to conflate the two is full of it. And probably a creep themselves.

    My best mate is what I would consider socially awkward. He frequently talks long after people have lost interest in a conversation, and I sometimes have to tell him when he is asking inappropriate questions. (E.G “Are you pregnant?” Um, if I am and I’m not telling people you’re forcing me to lie or reveal something before I’m ready, and if I’m not, there could be a whole world of pain behind that answer), and when I told him about incidents where people have groped me, or shouted things out of moving cars when I’m walking along the street, or cornered me in dark hallways/bedrooms/car parks, he was APPALLED. Social awkwardness is not an excuse for being a creep. If you are socially awkward and using that as an excuse for creeping without modifying your behaviour when you’re called on it, it is not the awkwardness that’s the problem. It’s that you don’t WANT to stop the behaviour, because somewhere along the line it’s been rewarded by you getting something out of being persistent to the point of assault.

    And that gap in between social awkwardness and full on assault? It’s something I call the Gulf of Plausible Deniability. Basic rule of thumb: If someone uses Social Awkwardness as an excuse for creeping, if they make no attempt to verbally or otherwise confirm they’re not overstepping a boundary on your VERY NEXT DEALING WITH THEM, they’re a full blown creep. Even if no apology is forthcoming, if they’re genuinely just missing cues, they’ll either back off so far you have to bridge a gap, or they’re having a twenty minute conversation with you about whether it’s okay to shake your hand if hugging is not okay. Socially awkward people are not predators. They don’t try and isolate people from the herd. A genuinely socially awkward person is going to be MORTIFIED if you tell them you’ve made them uncomfortable.

    Anything else? Big red flag, I consider you a threat to my person and those I care about, away with you.

    And if you don’t like the label creep? DON’T CREEP. You don’t get labelled a creep for minor infractions, and you don’t get it for doing something once unless it’s serious. You have exhibited either dangerous behaviour, or a pattern of inappropriate and probably frightening behaviour. Put as much effort into learning to not scare women as you do arguing that you’re not, and there won’t be a problem.

    • Meguey said:

      I like your distinction here, that people who are genuinely socially awkward are generally upset to learn they have made someone uncomfortable, and that people who do not feel that mortification are actually just creeps.

    • Britt said:

      I think what this illustrates pretty clearly (especially the way you just laid it out), is that there is a difference between someone being annoying (which is what I’d classify the talking long after anyone else is interested, asking inappropriate questions kind of behavior) and being a creeper. Annoying people are just that, they’re annoying. You may not want to spend a lot of time around them, but it’s not excessively detrimental if for some reason you need to. Creepers make you feel unsafe and gross, and go out of their way to continue to force themselves into your space.

  19. I’ve been reading a lot of the “creeper” stuff today, and it’s pissing me off because the people complaining about anti-harassment standards keep trying to appropriate people like me as an example for why such policies are wrong.

    I think I’m more or less neurotypical as far as the autism spectrum is concerned, but I’m awful at picking up on other people’s interest in me, and witnessing (much less causing) other people’s discomfort is a highly stressful thing. My first con experience was basically me constantly thinking “everyone else here is with their friends, and if I try to engage with them I’ll be imposing on them.” Not hooking up or flirting, just walking over and saying hello, or talking about the panel we all seemed to be waiting for, that kind of thing. And so I didn’t and I had a perfectly miserable lonely-in-a-crowd experience for three days.

    And you know what? I was completely unaware of any formal anti-harassment policies in place, or of a con culture that said that “don’t speak unless spoken to” was the norm. “Don’t go talk to someone you don’t know unless they’ve invited you to” rule was not a law passed by the Socially Well-Adapted Extroverts’ Congress and enforced by the Fun Police, it was a personal coping mechanism gone haywire.

    Saying “if this were the norm, how could socially awkward people hook up/flirt/talk to strangers?” as so many people seem to be doing just feels really disingenuous to me, because it’s not yet the norm and this socially awkward person still can’t do those things. (And while “how can I get past my need for an explicit invitation to interact with someone?” is a worthwhile question that doesn’t always deserve the stomping down it gets, I think it’s a derail for most of the conversations about creepy behavior that have been happening.)

    • Ellen Fremedon said:

      Oh yes.

      One of the most useful parts of this discussion for me has been seeing these basic parameters for courteously approaching strangers laid out so clearly– because those parameters describe behavior that, though I’m fine with it when it’s other people approaching me, still seems so incredibly forward and pushy if I think of doing it myself. It’s really nice to see many people affirming that politely initiating a respectful conversation and letting the other person decide if they want to continue it is not actually rude, whatever my jerkbrain tries to tell me.

    • staranise said:

      If you want a place to ask about how to manage social awkwardness at cons, Anxiety Support at Dreamwidth is a pretty good community that’s full of SF/F and media/fanfiction fans.

      • Thank you for the link!

        • staranise said:

          You’re welcome. It sounds really crappy to miss out on meeting cool people and having a good time because of anxiety.

  20. I have seen this kind of post before, for instance at the sites you link. I wish we didn’t have to keep posting it.

    The thing that really gets me is how whining men get angry at the possibility that they might be branded with the Dreaded C! Because then their social lives are over and nobody will talk to them again.

    It is so at odds with my experience, where creepy people never go away and you can’t get them out of your community and you keep seeing them at parties and then they have very very young girlfriends and I think oh, honey.

    If you are socially ostracized, it is not because the girls call you creepy. It is because for once, the other people agree with them.

    • I think it’s telling when they’re more worried about being called creepy than they are about actually creeping people out.

      • M said:

        THIS! So much THIS. I’ve spent the last hour being creeped via text message by a guy I was thinking about buying something from (oh, Craigslist). He wanted me to meet him at a storage place (um, no). When I suggested a more public meeting, he got all defensive and started listed businesses near said storage place, then accused me of paranoia when I said (politely) (*twice*) that maybe he should find someone else to buy the thing. His last message before I blocked him was something along the lines of, “How dare you accuse me of being untrustworthy!”

        It’s exactly as you say-although I didn’t use the word “creep,” he was clearly more worried about being seen as a creep than about the fact that his behavior (dismissing my reasonable caution, ignoring my “no” multiple times) was creeping me out.

        • This is why I loved when the captain said “Speaking up will help you identify the unsafe people sooner, because they will laugh at you or say something mean and they will keep doing whatever it was.” Yes, so much yes. I had a potential suitor from match.com instant message me one night and promptly ask for my phone number. When I told him I just didn’t feel comfortable giving out my number to people I didn’t know (we had hardly spoken even via IM), but it was nothing personal to him, he got very defensive like your craigslist guy. A reasonable guy might have thought, “Oh yeah, it might be shady to meet a woman alone in a storage place with no one around because some guys ARE bad guys” or “Oh yeah, I can understand not just wanting to give out your number to any old guy because some guys ARE bad guys.” Creeper guys think, “How dare she think I might be a bad guy?!?!” Even someone who has trouble picking up on social cues and might not understand WHY you don’t want to do X will still understand, “Well, she doesn’t want to do X, so let’s not do X.”

      • Definitely. This came up forever ago on Mark Does Stuff, when he validly pointed out that Tolkien’s description of the Orcs at some point was, y’ know, racist. He went out of his way to add “I’m not trying to say Tolkien was a racist. Or that LotR is racist. Or that his fans are racist. Just, this one thing, it’s just over the line and I wish he hadn’t done it.”

        Oh my stars and fishies, how the roaches came out of the woodwork. “How DARE YOU call Tolkien a racist!” “Tolkien’s not a racist and neither am I!” “You’re reading way too far into this, minority reviewer who has way more experience with racial prejudice than I ever will.”

        The most telling was when someone went “…at least racism is clearly seen as a bad thing?” and Mark had to point out that no, it wasn’t racism they were objecting to. Racism was a minor evil, compared to the horrible terrible evils of being called (or thought of as) a racist*. That was where they drew the line. That’s what I keep seeing here, with the Creeper Apologists. It’s not being creepy that’s a problem, it’s being called creepy. That’s the evil here.

        It’s quite sad.

        *Yes, even though he hadn’t. And even after the thread went beserk, he still avoided it, except IIRC where people were actually quite frankly being racist. The implication was enough to give them the vapors.

    • piny said:

      No joke. I’ll worry about the stigma of being falsely labeled a creep when there’s social stigma attached to being creepy. See also: CHARLIE SHEEN.

  21. This whole series of posts has been amazing and powerful. I especially want to comment on what you said about speaking up, and why it’s not always easy for women to do, and my experiences with that.

    I have way more experience with creepers and predators than I really ever needed from having lived in NYC for 20 years, and one thing I discovered was it, for me, was much easier to learn to speak up for other women than for myself (socialization again!). The first time I spoke up for someone else, it was a situation tailor-made to blast me out of my hesitation. A young woman, developmentally disabled, got on my subway car and asked me to confirm how many stops to where she was getting off. (I don’t know if this was a tactic she had been taught, but it was a great one, because then I felt a connection and something of a responsibility toward her.) She moved off to lean against a pole, which a homeless man took as a sign he should indulge in some frottage. Socialization kicked in at first, and I looked around for a guy who might actually intervene, but no one was paying attention, and thus it was down to me. It was surprisingly easy to run him off with a “HEY!!” and a jerk of the thumb to take a hike. That first experience of standing up was a very powerful one, and I am grateful that this young woman was sent my way. So I’m here to say speaking up once *does* make it easier to speak up at other times, but still it was a long time before it was easy to speak up on my own behalf.

    Having said this, I realize there were ways I was fortunate in learning to use my voice. I’m tall. Not 6 feet or anything, but tall dudes are not that common in NYC. I was aware of the height advantage in speaking up, and I used it. Because of that, my voice is a bit lower and bigger, and I learned to use that too. I cultivated some phrases that didn’t sound meek or feminine, like “Cut it out!” or “Knock it off!” (Your use of “Knock it off,” CA, inspired this whole train of thought, in fact. It’s a great phrase.) and some gestures as well. (I’m fond of what I call the Cop Hand, which many of us remember from grade school with the pictures of policeman with their hand palm outward which means STOP. I think that socialization adds to its effectiveness.)

    I realize that not every woman has the advantages I had in learning to speak up, but I had to become aware of them, and cultivate the best ways to use them, to consider words and gestures to pack them with as much power as I could. I took a self-defense course, the kind with the “mugger” in the big padded suits where you are taught to fight full-out. One of the best things I learned there was using my voice, especially in saying “NO!” — we got tons of practice doing that, and it really was empowering. I live in a place now where I’m not in the subway or on city streets that often, so the creepers in my life are at an all-time low, but I still have my Cop Hand and my ‘GET AWAY FROM ME NOW!” inside if I need them.

    • Hehehe, I use “deep, scary voice” to my advantage too. When I bellow “Hey!” or “Knock it off!”, everyone freezes for a “holy shit, what was that” moment, which gives me the opportunity to do something while everyone else stands around wide-eyed.

      • I use my Teacher Voice for that. It’s almost a spinal reflex for some people. (Oddly enough, I almost never have to bust out the Teacher Voice on my actual students.)

        • Teacher Voice is a fantastic trick. I may be little, but I can project like a mofo.

        • Ace said:

          Because of things, my mother-in-law has been out of teaching for about 25 years. The first time I heard her bring out Teacher Voice was at my niece’s 5th birthday party and let me tell you, *I* almost sat on the mat. Teacher Voice is amazing.

        • Teacher Voice is awesome. My mother (who was a teacher) has a fine example, and I’ve tried to learn, but I’m not great at it. What I *can* do is the Granny Weatherwax Stare. That’s got to the stage where it pretty nearly peels paint. :-)

        • Janey Mac said:

          It’s not quite Teacher Voice, but I have found it useful to pretend to temporarily embody Judy Dench, Maggie Smith etc, glare at Creeper with icy disdain and say “Do you *really* think that’s appropriate?” in tones that indicate it’s obviously not and you don’t care what they think anyway. I figure the creep is gonna think you’re a bitch anyway, so be one.

          • Janey Mac said:

            Using “bitch” here, of course, to mean “female person who is speaking up about things”.

            Of course, last time I was bothered (no, random stranger, the fact that I am browsing in an estate agent’s window does not mean it’s ok to ask me to buy a house with you,) I was too on the spot and flustered and went with “Fuck off!” in tones of utter scorn. And it’s only in the last two years I’ve realised it’s perfectly ok to be rude back to people in these circumstances. (Sat through a long interrogation from a drunk guy on a train where I answered with monosyllables, wishing he would stop talking to me. It was only when he asked me what marks I’d got in my degree (something I’m kind of ashamed of as I did really badly) that I realised he was being rude, HE broke the rules, so I don’t have to stick to them! So I did the “do you *really* think that’s appropriate?” thing, and it worked.)

  22. Copcher said:

    “If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable speaking up right then in the moment, what about an email or Facebook message the next day?”

    Just wanted to say, I did a facebook message once after I felt way too flabbergasted and uncomfortable to say anything in the moment. The awesome results: creepy person (almost) apologized, and then never contacted me again!

    • JenniferP said:

      Awesome. This is straight from my therapist: Sometimes the benefit of speaking up is not even about their possible response (because you can’t control that), it’s about you not holding onto the bad feelings. Someone in the other thread had a great way of phrasing this – “I think this is yours.” As in “these bad feelings that you caused by doing something that was out of line are now YOURS to deal with. Not mine.”

      • Copcher said:

        Very true, and I really like the “I think this is yours” method. I actually felt really awesome when I first sent the facebook message; the creeper’s response was just a bonus.

      • piny said:

        Yes! I was recently in a situation where I had to decide whether or not to send an angry email. And a friend asked me, “Do you need a response or do you just really want to give them a piece of your mind?” And I was like, “No, I would sincerely like to give them a piece of my mind.” And it worked!

      • piny said:

        You know, speaking of Disengagement vs. re: Please Stop, I think it has to do with how complicity changes in context.

        Sometimes disengaging is a social consequence: a statement: “I will no longer have anything to do with you because I find you [negative quality] and/or because [Reasons].” Sometimes, though, it says, “Keep up the good work! I do not resent you at all! That was a good thing to constantly do, current friend and/or colleague!”

        Sometimes responding says, “I will no longer keep quiet about your bad behavior. Expect me to get upset with you if you keep fucking up.” …But sometimes, it says, “Please keep bothering me and making my life miserable and filling my head with pointless bullshit, person I cannot do without! I secretly want you to do that! I’m serious! Fuck with me, PLEASE!”

        And so you have to figure out which is which–and thus, when you’re sending the message that will make you happier.

      • Admiral Backward said:

        Love the “I think this is yours.” Great series of posts.

    • M Dubz said:

      I love this technique and use it to solve most of my problems. I am REALLY bad at addressing things that frustrate/piss me off in the moment, and I love being able to take a few hours (or a day) to collect my thoughts before addressing what is pissing me off. It’s never too late to ask someone to change their behavior!

  23. drst said:

    Creepiness is, in a lot of cases, about repetition, I think. Someone who is not creepy will do something once or twice, note the negative reaction, and not do it again. A creep is someone who keeps doing this shit regardless of the awkward silences, the uncomfortable laughs, the side-eyes, and in the case of the two LWs, someone explicitly telling them to knock it off.

    One of my friends grabbed me and hugged me goodnight even after I had pulled away from the group. He was drunk, and he’s a very happy drunk, so he yanked me back and hugged me. But the thing is, he never did it again. And he wasn’t routinely violating boundaries all over the place. He was drunk and being affectionate with everyone. I don’t consider him creepy.

    Then there was a dude in my social group who kissed women’s hands. It creeped every woman in the group out. We all started keeping out hands in our pockets and not touching anyone when he was around. The negative reaction was blatant, and a few people told him to knock it off, but he didn’t stop. He got to the point where he’d yank your hand out of your pocket so he could kiss it. THAT IS FUCKING CREEPY.

    Repetition is a big part of this. A lot of the whiny guys seem to feel that a single misstep will get them branded with a scarlet C on the forehead and they will be die cold and unsexed and so they object to the word creeper being used at all because it scares them so badly. In my experience, a couple of occasional faux pas are not usually equated with “creeper” particularly if the boundary violation isn’t considered seriously threatening.

    HOWEVER, and this is a biggie, so all you dudes lurking and reading please make note of this: given how many women experience harassment, assault and rape, THERE ARE A LOT OF WOMEN FOR WHOM A SINGLE BOUNDARY VIOLATION WILL RESULT IN NOT TRUSTING YOU. If you had experienced a lot of occasions of someone touching you when you didn’t want to be touched, and that had led to being assaulted in the past, the next person who touched you without permission wouldn’t get a pass. In that case, the person doing the touching doesn’t get to plead that their intentions were good. This person has a right to decide whether or not to trust you based on your behavior and sometimes, one fuck up is going to be the end. This person gets to feel that way and other people don’t get to judge or ignore that feeling. “We set our own risk tolerance.”

    So while I say repetition is a key factor, please to be remembering that people are unique with their own histories and some of them will have far less willingness to give you leeway than you might want and ALL OF US have to accept that about other people, and nobody has to provide a reason that will stand up in a court of law why they feel that way. Accept it and move on.

    • Bunny said:

      I think it still works even with the caveat that different women have different levels of what they’ll accept.

      It is possible to do something only once and creep a person out. This means the act was, for them, creepy. A non-creepy person will react by making sure not to do it to that person again.

      I know I have a few creepy triggers, but if the trigger is something they’ve only done once, or something most people consider innocuous, I still wouldn’t call the person doing it a creeper, or describe them as creepy to anyone else. Even if someone triggers my Assault Flashback Alarm, I still differentiate between the act and the actor unless I notice a pattern.

      So… do it once, you may be being creepy. Do it repetitively, you may BE a creeper.

      • drst said:

        So… do it once, you may be being creepy. Do it repetitively, you may BE a creeper.

        I’d say “do it repetitively, you ARE a creeper” because yeah. Sometimes all it takes is one strike, and that’s the way it is and we all have to accept that people can decide not to like you or find you creepy based on one thing. This isn’t “Law and Order: Who Is A Genuine Creeper?” I don’t have to have good logical reasons to decide I don’t want to be around you, that I can present with footnotes and references.

        It’s all about the woman (person really) getting to decide how they feel about it. It doesn’t go by logic and IT CANNOT BE CONTROLLED. By anyone.

        • Bunny said:

          Oh no, absolutely. I see what you mean. Is it telling that most of the reason I put “may be” as opposed to “are” is because I felt like, in spite of all the recent posts and comments, I still felt like I was being too aggressive otherwise?

          This be-accommodating-girl shit is hard to unlearn, I swear.

          • drst said:

            This be-accommodating-girl shit is hard to unlearn, I swear.

            It totally is. You notice the “I think” I tossed into my original comment? Because it’s just my opinion blah blah blah.

      • Lilly said:

        “Even if someone triggers my Assault Flashback Alarm, I still differentiate between the act and the actor unless I notice a pattern.”

        I think it’s about “does the person respond and stop when I ask them to, and tell them politely that this is a boundary I have”.

        I have an acquaintance who falls into the ” very socially awkward” category, who would repeatedly make jokes about how I was looking fatter and maybe I could be pregnant. This really upset me! I asked this person to stop (I don’t see them that often) and for a few times after they pushed the boundary by repeating the “joke”. But eventually when got mad and explained that this is really hurtful they did stop it. So I don’t class them as a creeper. A creeper would not stop or use the knowledge gained by the admission that this hurts me to continue to push boundaries.

        I was also thinking of how the pick up art nonsense about “negs” teaches some men (who follow that advice) to be creepers by using this technique to make women feel bad enough to give in to them. It makes me feel queasy to be honest.

        All of the advice in these posts has been terrific but I am especially grateful for the idea that you can go back after the boundary violation and still complain. For personal reasons I am very bad at reacting in the moment, or understanding that the sick feeling I get is because someone is overstepping my boundaries. So it’s good to know that after reflection it is still OK to say, knock it off.

    • Alice said:

      I also think that how well you know each other is a big factor. If someone I’m meeting for the first time steps on my boundaries in a predictable way, I’ll assume that they’re generally creepy and if given the choice, I won’t hang out with them again.

      • drst said:

        Definitely. My hugging friend I mentioned was someone I had known for a couple of years by that point, so I knew there wasn’t a habit of ignoring people’s comfort levels going on. And sometimes you get just an uncomfortable feeling around some people and don’t want to be around them again and that’s okay. (Except for when that person is a coworker, argh.)

    • piny said:

      I think Lundy Bancroft called it The Rule of Three? Once could be a mistake, twice could be fixable, three means you’re dealing with a bad person.

      • Cheshire said:

        Yes, this. Once is an incident. Twice could be a coincidence. But three times is a pattern.

    • Fuck yeah. One of the great things about progressing into my mid-30s has been becoming less invested in being “nice” and accommodating. (I’m still interested in being nice, but not the sacrificial niceness that is usually expected of women.) Crossing a clear boundary one time now puts you into the DANGER WILL ROBINSON DO NOT BE ALONE WITH THIS PERSON category. Doing it twice puts you into the “does not exist” category.

      I love the “does not exist” category. I’ve currently got only one man in it. I am, to all appearances, incapable of seeing or hearing him. Obviously this can’t work with everyone — a co-worker, for example — but for people I occasionally bump into in social settings, it works really well. It makes me feel powerful, whereas doing the “oh god it’s HIM avoid avoid avoid” makes me feel powerless. It also appeals to my Regency-era-novel-loving side, since it’s pretty much a classic “cut indirect”.

      • alphakitty said:

        I was just talking to my daughter last night about “the cut direct” in the context of the Creeper Dude in the Friend Circle!

      • drst said:

        I’ve gotten more concerned with “decency” than “nice” as I’m approaching 40. “Nice” has a lot of baggage especially for women, and I’ve never really been “nice” in any sense of the word. But decency is different. I don’t mean “decent” in the sense of propriety (like morality or the opposite of “indecent exposure” and all that) but in the sense of kindness, integrity and respect for others.

        I’ve also lost tolerance for pretending to be nice to people who are not respectful toward me. Because I’m getting to be a cranky middle aged lady and I can. ;)

        • KL said:

          Yes. I think if you concentrate on decency and kindness, you get all the important parts of “niceness” without the icky socialization.

      • jp said:

        Not only is this an amazing discussion, we’ve just deliciously detoured into a Jane Austen novel! I LOVE all those snarky scenes where people get “cut.” And you are right, having the choice to be the “cutter” (& not the cuttee! Yikes!) is empowering.

        • I also love all the variations on the classic “cut” that don’t get mentioned as often, but really were a thing: the “cut sublime”, where you are too busy looking at the clouds/ceiling to notice the other person and the “cut infernal”, where you are too engrossed in your own shoelaces. (Socially awkward folks, rejoice! There is good etiquette precedent for staring at the floor instead of interacting with someone you don’t like!)

      • Not It said:

        When I was in college, my advisor (a wonderful, dear man who is still a part of my life) said to me, “Not It, you are not nice.” I started to protest. He held his hand up. “Let me finish. You are not nice. You are good. That’s a compliment. Never be nice.”

        I love that man. I am fortunate that I have been able to tell him how important he was in my development.

        Oh, and I am super-duper polite. Politeness can be a weapon. But I don’t compromise my beliefs or safety. I, too, have the Teacher Voice and when combined with the Not It Death Glare (one part Pat Summitt, one part Hillary Clinton, one part Clint Eastwood), the creeper must be extremely foolish in persisting.

        I have learned, by employing these tactics (polite yet firm, Teacher Voice, Death Glare), that strong men respect strong women. I was in a club once and a guy was pestering my friend. I put her behind me, turned and faced him in the defensive stance and yelled, “She said ‘NO!’ ” Dang. There was instantly a wall of guys behind us all just staring at him. I think the band was ready to interrupt the set. The security guys started working their way through the crowd. He slunk away. I didn’t have to hit him.

        Someone mentioned self-defense classes. I received training through R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) and became an instructor. I cannot recommend it enough. The first four hours are spent learning how to trust yourself. The second four hours are spent learning the basics (how to make a fist, how to stand, how to kick), and the last four hours you beat up a guy in a padded suit. By far, the most important lesson that women learn is to listen to their intuition. There are all sorts of programs and I think many of them are good, but this one really changes lives. I have used the techniques to get out of several sketchy situations and I can honestly say that one night I escaped serious harm–my life was saved because of R.A.D. When I needed these skills the most, they were there for me.

    • alphakitty said:

      Well said.

  24. Adelene said:

    Speaking as someone who actually is autistic and actually does have a hell of a time with body language, two things.

    First, I think you’re underestimating how big of a deal that can be in situations where it’s relevant. There’s a reason it’s considered a disability.

    Second, I think you’re *over*estimating how relevant it is to the issue of not being creepy. It’s really not at all. The issue of being creepy, before body language even comes into the equation, is about whether you’re assuming no or assuming yes. If you’re assuming yes, you’re doing it wrong! Assuming yes and making people tell you no is still creepy even if you respect the no – it’s just not *as* creepy as assuming yes and then not respecting the no, or only respecting certain kinds of no.

    If you assume no, and then look for yes, not only will you not be creepy to people, you’re guaranteed to wind up with someone who has a compatible method of communication, which means that the relationship isn’t basically doomed like it would be in the case of someone whose communication methods you can’t actually parse. (And don’t forget to emit your own yes – just do that in a way that doesn’t assume that the other person agrees or will even recognize it as a yes.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi Adelene, I get that it is difficult for people to recognize social signals. But if you read Ozy’s comment above, you can design a set of behaviors and coping mechanisms that work for you that are also respectful to other people. I love your framing about “assumping no vs. yes.”

      I don’t think autism is all that relevant to creepiness at all, mostly I’m calling out the way it gets brought in as a straw man when people try to argue that creepy people can’t help being creepy when really they can.

    • Hallom said:

      I like this comment, the “assuming no” versus “assuming yes (but accepting no)” is a good way of looking at it.

      • Hallom said:

        And for full disclosure … and this is a difficult thing to say on the Internet … I mean, I think this hits me pretty hard as the thing I sometimes do. Not a lot. Not as much as I once did (I am a “recovering Nice Guy” and I think almost totally recovered? but maybe not 100%?). But when I am being creepy — and I know when I am, the “people can’t tell” really is bullshit — I realize that what I am doing is effectively shifting an attitude from assuming no to assuming yes (but being ready to immediately respect a no). And the latter is still kinda creepy.

        What I have basically trained myself to do is to recognize when that attitude comes on me and disengage. Sometimes I will literally leave a social gathering and go home, or to be less extreme I will hang out only with people who are already close friends, or I will tell myself to give people around me even extra personal space, less eye contact etc. from normal.

        I am glad to say that this rarely happens anymore thanks to me having done therapy and actually worked on the underlying bullshit that had led me to feel the need to go into social events with such attitudes. So it’s not as though I’m abandoning social events left right and centre :) I have a lot of female friends and I’ve talked about it a bit to some of the closer ones, who have told me I’m not at all creepy and shouldn’t be so hard on myself. And maybe I am too hard on myself but I do think it’s better to be self-aware because at least in my past, now several years ago, I have had people call me out on creepy behaviour once or twice (and I really appreciate that they did — it enabled me to change into the better person I am today).

        I think the Captain’s post here is incredible, one of the best things I’ve ever read on the subject and something that I think will be genuinely helpful to people who are well-meaning but just haven’t thought about the impact of their behaviour. I will always remember the moment a woman explained to me (this is one of the instances I referred to above), “hugging means you’re pressing your breasts against somebody so it’s a real personal space issue, and you really have to feel comfortable with the other person” — something that seems obvious, but as a man with what I now understand as male privilege, I had never thought about it, and it fundamentally changed how I saw a lot of “creepiness” issues.

        • alphakitty said:

          “…shifting an attitude from assuming no to assuming yes (but being ready to immediately respect a no). And the latter is still kinda creepy.”

          ABSOLUTELY, and thank you for saying it. It ties in with what I’ve said elsewhere (in response to the whine that the Creeper label is used to punish not-good-looking guys for behavior that they would consider acceptable from a good-looking guy): stereotypically ‘good looking” guys can be the creepiest of all, because they can have a disturbingly entitled attitude, where a woman saying “no thanks” is shocking and inexplicable and can only be attributed to her being a man-hating feminist bitch!

  25. Thank you Captain for your no bs approach to people’s rights to decide their own boundaries. I’ve read some of your other posts and really liked them, but in this one I especially like how you emphasize a person’s right NOT TO educate someone they don’t feel comfortable around, and the absolution of the victim’s assumed guilt if they don’t speak up. Very well put, I’m sharing your post again.

  26. joanofharc said:

    I went on a first date recently. It was at his home, which is usually a little too intimate to me, for a first date. I accepted because I knew of him, he is well known in my social circle and he had a new deck and bbq to show off so, yeah, I rationalized that he at least wasn’t a serial killer and off I went. Five minutes in, I was regretting it.

    Waaaaay too touchy. Arm brushing, shoulder draping. I diplomatically called him on it and he actually took it well, I thought. He remarked that I wasn’t the first person to point this out to him.

    A lot of his stories were about past women in his life and there seemed to be a distinct angry and misogynistic element to them all. I very carefully pointed that out and he seemed to take that very well too. In fact he was down right contrite.

    He changed the topic. He brought up his massage/chiropractic background. He offered his services; I declined while thinking, “call cab from bathroom?” I distinctly told him that I was not interested in any back cracking. Merci very much.

    Went to said bathroom and when I came out he hugged me big time and cracked my back. Too pissed for words. Then.

    Now: I’m pissed at myself for breaking my own rule of not going to dude’s places till I know them better. Pissed at him for being him. Mostly pissed at the few friends who knew I was going to his place and they didn’t warn me.

    I have since talked to one of those friends. Apparently the topic came up (of my going to his place) and it was decided that because I am so able to stand up for myself, their theorizing went, I will surely figure his creepiness out myself and, can deal with it. Because I am super woman? NOOOOOO I am not. I was told they were trying to respect my boundaries.

    This is hell to the wrong. And they know now. But sheesh friends of friends out there. Stop hiding the creeps. I am still upset by this whole mess. But, writing this helps, and now its raining out, I have some cocoa, and a warm couch. Resisting urge to stick super woman thumb in mouth.

    • drst said:

      I was told they were trying to respect my boundaries.

      WTF? No. Just, no. Being able to stand up for yourself does not make you magically immune to harassment or even rape. That’s kind of the core of the problem. And not telling a friend information about the relative safety of someone, especially prior to going to his house alone, is friggin negligent friendship, not respecting boundaries. Gah.

      • Yeah. And they wouldn’t have taken the decision making away! “Here is a useful information. Make of it what you want” is not exactly patronizing. It’s human decency.

    • Ace said:

      WTF? Did this guy get a book of red flags and decide to fly them all one by one as a fun trick?

      I’m sorry you had to go through that, and I’m doubly sorry your friends didn’t give you a heads up. Respecting boundaries would have been warning you strongly and then if you still decided to go, being ready to pick you up.

    • bearcatbanana said:

      Agreed 100%.

      I was at a work conference where I knew no one except for my male friend who knew EVERYONE and was graciously introducing me to everyone. This guy walks up to me when Pat was there and says, “If I were your boyfriend, I would lock you up at home. HAR HAR HAR.” He hadn’t even introduced himself. I said “GROSS,” in my most disgusted voice. The creeper even asks me why it’s gross. Ummm, because you’re implying that you would lock me up at home to prevent other men (like yourself) from leering at me?

      He left shortly afterward, but my mind went into a panic about how this guy knew I had a boyfriend. He had asked Pat earlier if I had a boyfriend. I was pissed at my friend. If someone you know is creeping on your friend, let the intended victim know. It’s the friendly thing to do.

  27. sasha said:

    SRSLY on the not always being able to speak up and say no at the moment. Every single time I’ve been harassed or groped, I’ve been way too shocked in the moment to say the “right” thing. Especially the time I was groped on a bus in a foreign country – I was coming back from a hospital in a pain- and drug-induced haze, woke up to find his hand on me, then had to fight through the haze to come up with the right words, *and* then translate them into another language! As CA said, it’s not on us to say just the right thing the right way to the creepers – it’s on them not to creep.

    And add me to the list of shy-and-socially-awkward-late-bloomers who had to self-teach how to read social cues and interact. It *can* be done. Ozymandias’ list here is fantastic, as is Scalzi’s post and, of course, all of CAs advice. But even without these lists, you can figure it out just by watching and observing other people interacting and then trying out conversation in online spaces – that was my own technique.

  28. drst said:

    Did my comment on the original post go into moderation? It seems to have vanished.

    • JenniferP said:

      It was accidentally in spam (along with a lot of other good, good comments). I cleaned it out, sorry.

      • drst said:

        No worries! I can just imagine the garbage coming in with the comments this week so delays are to be expected. Thank you for being so diligent about screening comments coming onto the blog.

  29. kimberlychapman said:

    Thanks for this. I shared the original post on G+ and most people were being awesome about it, but in one re-share of that, a guy claimed to be trying to help by constantly nattering on about the word choice, claiming that it was going to put off nice guys. Our constant rebuttals of, “You’ve missed the point, which is that creepers need to be called creepers and shouldn’t get to have nicer, gentler words because they are NOT nice and gentle people” earned us the standard, “You mean feminists don’t like a male perspective, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

    Derailment bingos all around.

    You’re absolutely right that too many people are spending too much time and energy on whining about ridiculous elements like that instead of concentrating on the real problem, which says a lot about how little those people see it as a problem at all. Sigh.

    • And, in fact, it doesn’t matter what we call them, because what the assholes claiming it’s creep-shaming are actually complaining about is that we’re calling the behavior out at all. If we found something else to call them, or their behaviors, even something nicer, these people would object to that too. It’s a classic tone argument.

      • Stuart said:

        Bingo. Speaking as somebody who is trying his damnedest to bring his “creep factor” down to zero, I would actually prefer to be called a creep. That’s the single surest, most effective way to guarantee that I will look at what I just did, think about it long and hard, and – 99+% of the time – never do it again (along with associated behaviours). It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t meant to be comfortable. It’s like getting doused in a bucket of cold water, outside, in the middle of winter – and if I can’t figure out what it was that I did, (a) I’m going to be keeping well clear of that woman (either I’m going to repeat whatever it was and make matters worse, or – infinitely less likely – she’s making it up out of nothing and I’m better off not being near her anyway), and (b) I’ll have a long, serious chat with somebody I trust implicitly to try to figure it out.

        The default assumption should always be that there’s a damn good reason for being called a creep, and work on fixing it.

  30. katyisbutthurt said:

    I still have a hard time feeling any sympathy for “what about the menz”. Really guys? You’re whining that from a place of privilege, that you consistently refuse to share. Women are not allowed to tell you no, or that we have boundaries, and will not allow you to cross them, you are supposed to be able to do what you like, no matter the response from us.

    NO. It doesn’t work that way. Women are people who are allowed to refuse to put up with your bullshit. Let me put it this way, creepers, you can change your behavior and learn to act like decent human beings, or I will start buying my lady friends pepper spray, and you will learn like Pavlov’s dog. When someone pulls away from you, removes your hands from various parts of their body, tells you no, tells you to get lost, refuses to speak to you at all….PAY FUCKING ATTENTION. You are NOT entitled to challenge those boundaries. Not at ALL.

    Of course, “what about the menz” is why people make comments like, “Well, if she didn’t dress like a slut,” or “she’s dated everybody, who does she think she is to tell ME no,” or “she was asking for it, being there that late, and drinking that much.” Women are not sex toys to be used at your convenience. So no, the “socially awkward” coupled with “not doing anything about it but using it as an excuse to creep on you,” does not fly. Nor does, “I’m not neurotypical” coupled with the same. Especially since nine times out of ten, the creepers I’ve seen can readily identify social cues from the other men, but flat out ignore them from women because it’s more fun to watch us get uncomfortable. That’s why I made it not fun to watch me get uncomfortable, because I made it clear that me getting uncomfortable would result in the creeper in pain, and in our group, ostracizing.

    • oraclenine said:

      Yeah, “What are the poor sad socially awkward guys supposed to do?” makes me tired.

      Sad socially awkward guys- Are you spending a lot of time at HR at work because Bob says you keep bothering him? Have your male friends told you to keep your hands off their asses? Do strangers interrupt your conversations with guys at the local bar to ask if everything is cool here?

      No? Huh.

      Then maybe it isn’t that you don’t know how to interact socially with people, so much as you don’t treat women like people.

      • FlyBy said:

        Yes, this! It’s akin to a guy who “can’t help” hitting his wife because “she makes me so angry”, but somehow manages not to hit his boss who also makes him angry.

      • Elsajeni said:

        The one I always wonder is: Can you tell when your boss is in a bad mood and it’s not a good time to ask about that raise?

    • Most of the “what about the menz?” comments I’ve seen on this subject are really “what about the creepz?” They completely erase the guys who, when we can’t read signals, err on the side of *not* violating other people’s boundaries.

  31. Allen said:

    Guy’s, listen up. From an old cowboy whose social skills tends towards zero in some ways I’m only trying to help you here. Damn it, stop scaring the horses!

    1. Chasing a horse only scares it more.
    2. If you can’t read a horse’s body language stay the fuck out of it’s space, you could get hurt.
    3. The horse is reading you at all times, and might decide to flee. Go to number 1.
    4. The horse assumes you are a predator, don’t blame the horse, that’s just the way it is.
    5. Sneaking up on a horse certifies that you are a predator.
    6. To earn a horse’s trust you have to learn it’s language, so pay attention.
    7. If you want to learn how to handle a horse, get lessons. We were all greenhorns at one point.
    8. You can do this, you just have to work at it.

    Seriously gentlemen, if you are having problems with socialization, try working with horses. There are a lot of people out there who would be more than willing to help you. No, horses are not the same as humans but they are social animals like us and there are many overlaps. Some of the skills translate. Similarly, once people see you have a gentle touch with animals they will probably see you in a positive light. Some people actually like me, which says something.

    To the blogger: how I arrived here is beyond me, but I have read some of your work with both interest, and in some cases, horror. I’m wondering if the mythology about vampires actually started due to toxic people.

    Good show.

    • SadieBlake said:

      “4. The horse assumes you are a predator, don’t blame the horse, that’s just the way it is.”

      Yes, yes, yes. Thank you.

    • Britt said:

      From one horse person to another, spot on. People are animals, too, and we have a lot of the same instinctive responses as any other social, prey animal (like horses!).

    • #5 is an absolute Gospel truth, and one that makes me wish I had iron shoes and really powerful leg muscles.

    • Ha! Now I’m thinking that all the whiny creepers are like Draco Malfoy whinging and yelling it isn’t FAIR that the hippogriff doesn’t like him…

      • piny said:

        You know, some friends of mine had a toddler and a cat, and they were trying to teach the little girl to be nice to the cat, who was wary, to be gentle, with the result that she would stumblerun from room to room after the fleeing cat, shouting, “GENTLE! GENTLE!”

        But, you know, she was two.

    • I may be a horse person, but I am not a horse. There is way too long of a history of calling women livestock as a way of making them less-than-human. Please don’t compare women with horses.

      • Thanks for saying this — I get what Allen is going for in his analogy, and I think saying “if you can read your cat/dog/horse/whatever, you can read human body language” is actually really clarifying… but there is still something very othering about that analogy. “Women are mysterious, majestic creatures” is the flip side of “women are not quite human.”

        • Yeah. I don’t mind “human body language is as easy to read as animal body language, if you can tell when cats/dogs/horses are unhappy, you can tell when humans are.” I mind, when we’re talking about women, “stop scaring the horses!”

    • anneka said:

      This echoes my experience with my dog, who’s fearful of strangers, especially men. He has a very charming trot, his fear-face looks smiley unless you know him well, and we live in a densely populated area, so strange men are always addressing primate greeting behaviors to him. They stare, they hover, they yell, they try to touch.

      He just does not want to interact with strange men, period, and that’s fine–EPIPHANY: neither do I, and that’s fine–and since adopting him I’ve gotten so much better at declining to interact than I ever did when it was just a question of my own social comfort. I look away, I say “No” out loud in one of several hard-to-mistake ways, I cross the street. Pup needs out of the situation and we get out. The men will live. They tend not to press the point because hey, big scary dog. I still can’t do this when I’m out alone.

      (Side note: please don’t stare into the eyes of strange dogs! Some of them don’t like it. A few of them REALLY don’t like it. Thanks!)

      • Datdamwuf said:

        anneka, I’m so late to the comments you likely won’t see this reply, anyhow; I read that although dogs do react themselves to individuals, often the dog is not reacting to the person, he’s reacting to your (dog owner) body language/feelings/etc because the dog picks up on your intuition and feelings. I probably didn’t say that very well. Trying to say often your dog is reacting badly to a person because he picks up your reaction to that person.

        • anneka said:

          Nope, that’s not what I’m talking about here.

        • alphakitty said:

          That’s actually a very common behavior for a dog who has been rescued from ill use by a man.

          • Shaenon said:

            When I was growing up, my aunt and uncle had a rescue dog who was the sweetest, friendliest, most fearless people-loving terrier in the world–except if she heard the sound of men’s boots. Then she’d turn tail, run under the nearest piece of furniture, and huddle there quivering.

            It was very sad to try to imagine what had happened to her in her previous home.

  32. TaylorJoy said:

    Captain Awkward, thank you so much for your articles. Seriously.

    I’m married to the Mathman, and we have 3 lovely daughters together. A friend had the creeper article on her facebook page, and after reading it I thought, “Oh, what a great way to explain the the Mathman how I feel when I bring up something uncomfortable: he always wants to look for the most normal, best-case-scenario explanation, and acts like I’m turning a waterspout into a Category 5 Hurricane.”

    I told him about the LW#2, and he said, “What the hell was she doing drinking until she passed out anyway? She was putting herself at risk for something like that to happen!”

    My jaw hit the pavement.

    I reattached it, wiped off the pebbles and the bits of asphalt, and used it to start a several-hours-long discussion with the father of my **three daughters** about sexual abuse, and what is and isn’t the fault of the VICTIM.

    The Mathman is stubborn, logical to a fault (he doesn’t consider the human element in a lot of his analyzing) and very, very articulate. He didn’t even realize he was harboring a ton of crappy victim-blaming nonsense in his skull until we spent the better part of yesterday afternoon going over dozens of scenarios. Eventually, he understood that, “While an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, you don’t question a victim about the length of her skirt after she’s been raped, you jerkwad.”

    When and where and why would we have ever had this discussion without this article? Well, after something horrible had happened.

    Not only did we discuss what was appropriate to say to a sexual abuse victim, we also talked about what “over reacting” meant, what was socially appropriate in friend circles, why men tend to say that women “over react” to a creepy guy (or in general) what guys should do when a friend of theirs turns creepy, and when it’s ok to question each other’s judgement in a particular scenario.

    Thank you for bringing up such a messy, awkward, and totally needed subject in your blog.

    • What did you & Mathman come up with re: “why men tend to say that women ‘overreact'”? I am eager for a succinct & appealing-to-logic way to describe this, as I have similar dialogues with my own Logicdude.

      • alphakitty said:

        I know you weren’t asking *me,* but I think it’s that men tend to look at whatever incident is under discussion in isolation (and of course they’re looking at it with hindsight).

        Unless the assault was actually successful, there is *always* some theoretical (if highly improbable) possibility the person’s alarming behavior was subject to an innocuous explanation… It’s only when you understand that women have unsettling encounters all the time but have to act *looking forward,* not knowing which of those myriad creepy encounters are going to be the one(s) that go critical, that the unfairness of blaming them for either over- or under-reacting becomes clear. Women actually leave ourselves vulnerable all the time, trying not to overreact by our own lights, second-guessing our own Spidey-sense to avoid crying wolf and because if we went on full alert every time it tingled even a little we’d wear ourselves out.

        Men also tend not to get, intuitively, that the cost of over-reacting is that you didn’t get to meet an interesting (or at least harmless) guy (or whatever), or maybe hurt his feelings, while the cost of under-reacting is sexual assault. Throw in a little denial (not wanting to believe that women really go through this crap often enough to justify reacting that way), and even decent guys will sometimes come out with a knee-jerk accusation that women overreact.

        We may all enjoy swimming in the same waters — but women have a very different experience from men as to how many of those fins belong sharks, not porpoises. It colors everything.

        So,you know — “all” you have to do is clear up some of those fallacies, and you’re all set!

  33. I think my favorite part of the WHAT ABOUT THE AWKWARD DUDES/BUT NOW I’M AFRAID TO GO OUT INTO SOCIETY pushback is–wow, I wonder what it could POSSIBLY be like, walking into a room and having to constantly second-guess whether the most innocent action, or just standing there existing, is going to get you harassed by people who want to humiliate you.

    • daffodil said:

      I just typed like 3 comments trying to explain how much the reversal in this comment makes me laugh with recognition and love Cleolinda. Winner.

    • drst said:

      THIS. X 1 bieberillion.

      • TaylorJoy said:

        I freaking LOVE Cleolinda, and your Twilight fan stuff makes me LOL every time. Ok, thread jack over. :)

    • RIGHT???????????????

      /dead from facepalm

    • piny said:

      File right next to, “Women are so superficial! They act like men are worthless unless they have perfect bodies!”

    • I keep looking for the Like button!

  34. Alice said:

    I hate hate hate it when people talk like having Asperger’s means you can’t be expected to act like a decent human being.

    I have Asperger’s and I don’t feel marginalized by the term “creepy” because I don’t act like a creep. And I also expect other people, including autistics, to not act creepy.

    • Alice said:

      Also, I really don’t think having a hard time reading social cues is the problem for most creeps.

      A couple of weeks ago, I was at a club with a friend, waiting to order drinks. Some guy starts talking with us about how it’s much easier for us to order, because we have so much bigger boobs than he does. I ask him why he would say that to strangers and tell him that it’s really awkward and rude. He continues talking about it. His wife/girlfriend tells him to stop hitting on us. He says he’s just talking. I tell him that he shouldn’t because he’s really bad at it and is making us uncomfortable. Dude keeps on talking anyway.

      If both the person you’re talking to and your partner tells you that you’re being weird and that you should stop, you don’t have a problem understanding people’s boundaries, you just don’t think they’re as important as whatever you’re doing.

  35. gemmaem said:

    I once explained to my boyfriend, snarkily, that when I was younger, I used to react to unwanted attention from a guy at a social event by going all small and uncomfortable and nonresponsive and “please just go away”, and that this left me with the impression that only about 40% of all guys are any good at reading social cues — and then I changed my body language to “go away now or I will reject you loudly and embarrassingly in front of everyone” and, hey, wow, what do you know, there are practically NO boys out there who can’t read body language, after all.

    My boyfriend responded with the standard, awkward “yes, well, but, sometimes it is hard to tell…”. The remarkable thing is that you’d think my boyfriend would be the last person to worry about that. I had a “this person is probably safe” vibe off him from our very first interaction that he barely remembers. His later “I might be interested in you” signals were completely safe and free of stress from my end, and when I eventually came around to “hey, actually, I could maybe like you a lot, let’s get to know each other better,” he picked up on the signals I was sending him pretty much immediately.

    So I like these lists to the extent that they help non-creepy guys to realise that, no, we’re not talking about you — not if this has only happened to you a couple of times, and when you realised what was happening you stopped and let the creeped-out person set their own boundaries with you.

    So here’s one dividing line: suppose you’re talking to someone and you get the sense that they’re getting uncomfortable and wish you would go away. Now suppose you’re talking to someone and you get the sense that they wish you would go away and will make consequences for you, if you don’t. Is there a difference in how you’d respond?

    • FlyBy said:

      “Hey, wow, what do you know, there are practically NO boys out there who can’t read body language, after all.”

      This just made me fall over laughing. Thank you!

    • alphakitty said:

      Excellent point.

  36. Is it sad that I’ve been refreshing this all day to read the new comments as they came up? :-)

    Just to add a bit of personal experience here, recently I was in a situation where I was latched on to by this chap who was obviously *seriously* socially awkward. I had a programme from the evening’s entertainment in my hand, and the very first thing he did was to try to take it away from me without so much as asking. I didn’t know him, and was honestly too baffled to react in any other way than gripping harder, until my friend who was in charge of proceedings stopped him and told him he could have his own programme later. (He was a member of the company. You would think he’d got one already.)

    This was kind of a bad start, but he at least seemed friendly enough, so when he sat himself down next to me I wasn’t so much creeped out as thinking I’d probably drawn the conversational short straw here. Still, I’m polite and he wanted to make conversation, so, fine, let him.

    At which point he leans over into my left ear and informs me that the lead tenor was, and I quote, f***ing awful.

    Now this is truly bad form. Musicians have to work with one another a lot, and it’s accepted – certainly in this country – that you just Don’t Do That. Also, he was a lot closer to my left ear than I really liked him to be. So I leant away from him, he leant a bit closer, and I got some more unparliamentary language regarding this tenor, who, I have to say, wasn’t my favourite either, but it’s a new company and you take who you can get. And I leant away again. And… well, rinse and repeat until I am almost horizontal.

    This is where I thought, no, he is not getting the hint here, and besides it is starting to look as though he fancies me, which is a distinctly sub-optimal state of affairs. So I said brightly, “Would you mind not leaning over me like that? You’re really quite seriously in my space and I don’t appreciate it.” He immediately apologised and straightened up, allowing me to do the same without actually headbutting his nose, and explained that he’d been trying to be confidential. I assured him that he had made his point rather well. I then made it politely but abundantly clear that I did not fancy him, whereupon he was highly embarrassed that I should have thought he was trying to chat me up, and I thought… well, you were, but you’re not actually malicious, so that’s fine, we’ll pretend you weren’t and you can save face.

    I relate this story to show exactly how socially awkward it is possible to be, and still manage to apologise sincerely and back off the moment someone tells you they’re feeling uncomfortable with it. I kind of hope he manages to fix his relationship with the tenor, but that’s not my problem; he gets ten out of ten from me for total de-awkwarding, we had a good chat after that, and I was comfortable enough with him to agree to be Facebook friends. :-)

    • Is it sad that I’ve been refreshing this all day to read the new comments as they came up?

      Sad? OMG no! Compared the the cesspool that much of the rest of the Internet is, this place is a huge relief. The comments here are so awesome I’m tempted to print them all off and roll around in them like a puppy playing in a pile of fallen leaves.

      It’s been said before, but thanks to all the other members of the Awkward Army for being amazing, and especially to the Captain for dealing with the hellish mod queue.

  37. Miki said:

    As an Aspie, I always have to resist the urge to punch someone when they either wring their hands and go “What about the poor Aspergers folks?” or when someone goes “Well, I didn’t know any better because I HAVE ASPERGERS. NOW YOU BETTER BE NICE TO ME. OR ELSE YOU’RE A MEANIE WHO HATES THE DIFFERENTLY ABLED.” I actually find it highly degrading to have “special treatment” just because I’m wired a little bit off standard factory specifications ;)

    Aspergers ain’t an excuse people. I have it and I learned to deal with it. Nope, it isn’t easy. It might be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. But learning how to unlock those social cues? It does you a world of good. Took me over a year to start getting better and it’s getting better every day. There’s no magical formula that will instantly make you the social butterfly. I believe everyone can get better at their social interactions, Aspie or not. It mostly lies upon their decision to.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha, now the evil part of me wants you to “accidentally” punch them and then claim it’s not your fault – you couldn’t help it, after all!

      Note: Don’t actually do this. Hitting is bad.

      • Jiggs said:

        Now I am picturing a Hulk rage scenario that goes I HAVE ASPERGER’S *HULK PUNCH*.

      • HULK HAVE ASPERGER’S
        YOU ARE BEING A MEANIE
        HULK PUNCH FACE

        (I apologize if my Hulk-ku totally sucks. English is not my native language, but I was inspired.)

  38. Lily said:

    Let’s say you’re bad at reading social cues. Guess what! There’s this TOTALLY AWESOME THING!

    It’s called asking direct questions.

    Example: I’ve run into someone in the hallway at a conference and I tell them how much I enjoyed their presentation. But I have no idea if they want to keep talking or need to rush off to something…so….

    “It’s so great talking to you — I’d love to talk some more, do you want to find a place to sit? Or if now’s not a good time, maybe we can do it some other time?”

    Example: I am out with someone but UGH! I have no idea if this is a date or not! But I would really really like to maybe kiss this person! What do I dooooooo?!

    Say, I really like you, but I don’t know how you feel about me. I’d love to give you a kiss, but only if you would really like to have one from me. What do you think?

  39. belle said:

    Ok, look. People who are worried about being creepy or proving that you aren’t creepy: You seem to be under the mistaken impression that there is a universal set of Creepy Behaviors and Attributes. Those of you who aren’t sure if you’re creepy want us to tell you what those behaviors and attributes are so that you can know for sure what things to do and what things not to do. Those of you who want to prove that you’re not creepy think you have memorized the list of Creepy Behaviors and Attributes, and since you never do any of those things or have any of those attributes, you can’t possibly be creepy.

    That’s not how it works.

    Ok, there are some things that are pretty much universally creepy. Touching someone — especially sexually — while they’re sleeping or unconscious, for example. But in general? What makes you creepy or not isn’t the specific behavior you’re doing or a specific attribute you have. It’s only one thing. One pattern. One question you should ask yourself:

    Do you respect other people’s boundaries?

    Every rule that anyone is going to tell you about how not to be creepy will come under this rubric. You can learn how to respect other people’s boundaries better, but you’ll never have get a list of every person’s boundaries. The key is actively WATCHING AND LISTENING for clues, heeding them, and being cool about it when you fuck up.

    If someone calls you a creeper or says you’re being creepy, that’s actually an opportunity. It’s easy to be un-creepy at that point, because they’ve told you exactly what to do: apologize, and stop doing whatever it is that they said was creepy. If they called you a creeper, or they weren’t specific, just dial back your interactions with that person. Be cool about it. Be secure in your knowledge that you just did the un-creepy thing, and that you’ll know that about yourself even if no one else ever gets to appreciate it. (Don’t try to get other people to appreciate it. That’s the opposite of dialing back your interactions with them, and is therefore creepy.)

    Creepiness is, essentially, failing to respond to other people’s boundaries — whether they’re boundaries that most people know about or assume because they’re somewhat standardized by culture, or they are person-specific and can be communicated by words or behaviors like ignoring you, looking uncomfortable, etc. Make it a goal to look for and respond to people’s boundaries. You’ll still fuck up, as we all do. But that’s the difference between being creepy once (which might be subjective! or an honest mistake! but is still a valid judgement someone might make about your behavior) and being a Creeper. Creepers refuse to learn.

    • alphakitty said:

      I agree with this, except for one thing: some boundaries must be presumed in the absence of specific data. If someone goes around thinking anything goes until the woman specifically delineates a boundary, that person is a creeper.

      As you said, some behaviors are indeed universally creepy, and it is not women’s job to have to lay down those boundaries every time they interact with a new guy. We don’t have to wear T-shirts that say “hands to yourself without an invite, buddy” or hand out index cards that say “No rapey jokes; keep your hands away from your genitals and mine unless I’ve actively communicated an interest in getting physical; don’t try to isolate me from my friends at this party or act like we’re freakin’ soul mates (or pre-destined bedmates) before you even know squat about me as a person; don’t act like the fact that you’re attracted to me means I owe you my time or attention or in fact anything at all; look me in the face, not the tits…”. Some of this stuff, we’re entitled to expect guys to know in their capacity as civilized adults, and to hold it against them if they show they don’t know it. Because if they don’t know (or respect) those things, what else might they not know? Like that we have a right to decide who we’re attracted to and what we want to do about it (just as they do)?

      If somebody tries uninvited touching, heavy sexual innuendo, touching his own genitals in women’s company, staring at tits instead of faces, standing too close/in a way that cuts the woman off, or acting way too possessively attracted to someone he barely knows, or any of the other universally creeperish behaviors that have been discussed, until the woman lays down that boundary…that’s “testing” (“How much can I get away with? How good is this woman at protecting herself? What kind of support does she have at this party?”)… and whoa, Nelly, is it creeperish.

      Looking for specific cues and clues from an individual woman is something that guys who don’t want to be creepers need to do on top of the basic rules of non-creeperdom.

  40. AliasCelli said:

    People reacting to “creepy” as though it’s some sort of unfair punishment, like it’s more important for them to feel okay about their behavior than it is for someone else to suffer their behavior, kind of reminds me of one of Gavin de Becker’s famous lines:

    “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”

    I don’t think it applies to every man and every woman, but still…why is some other person’s (inaccurate) self-image ever more important than my safety?

    • Awkward Niece said:

      Those words are in fact Margaret Atwood’s, de Becker was quoting her.

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        The sad part is, I’ve actually gotten in arguments with MRA types who used that quote as some sort of support for THEIR position– as in, “you know that fear you get when you think a dude might abuse or rape or even kill you? That’s exactly the fear a dude gets when he thinks a woman is going to laugh at or reject him, so you should probably be nicer to the poor men!” THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH FACEPALMS IN THE WORLD.

        • Awkward Niece said:

          Yes, those two fears are only comparable when you are operating under a metric of profound contempt for and devaluation of women. Ugh.

      • AliasCelli said:

        My bad, thank you for the correction!

        • Awkward Niece said:

          Pleasure :-)

  41. twomoogles said:

    I am also really sick of the whiny little argument that goes, “Well, an ugly guy is creepy–a hot guy is romantic’ or ‘an undesirable guy flirting with you is stalking you, a desirable one is pursuing!’ No. My not-stalking-but-not-OK experience happened with a guy who was not ‘unattractive’ by most standards. And I have been asked out by guys I wasn’t into and not even slightly creeped out by them. There’s this idea with some people that being direct about intentions is creepy/overly aggressive. That’s one of the least likely ways to get labeled creepy. “Hey, wanna go out some time?” and then dropping it is an awesome thing to do. Not asking someone out, but making it really really clear you want to date them, is not likely to be effective and may be creepy.

    And guys? When you say things like ‘oh, well I wasn’t trying to *hit* on you, I didn’t even *like* you’ or talk about how women are just overinterpreting your innocent behaviour? Whatever it was you were just doing? Seriously think about whether your behaviour towards women is way different than your behaviour towards men. If you hug and tickle and sexually comment to every woman, but are totally hands-off with guys, that’s going to read as creepy. Whereas someone who is genuinely huggy with everyone is probably not going to be read as creepy in the same way.

    • Yeah — as soon as the ugly/attractive thing comes up, I start timing how long it is until the same guy uses the words “beta male”, which is the center square in my imaginary MRA bingo card.

    • Exactly! I remember being part of a group of women in a grad school cohort trying to have a come-to-Jesus talk with our male colleagues about how one of our profs was pretty sexist and their open admiration of him was straining our ability to be friends. Most of them were totally defensive on behalf of the prof, all “Well he is just hard to get along with” and “You can’t expect him to coddle you.” Finally it came down to us asking the guys a series of yes or no questions that they just could not weasel out of: Does he compliment your outfit when he sees you? Does he kiss you on the cheek when you come to office hours? And so on and so on. It was only when we started forcing them to think about the shit he didn’t do to them and JUST HAPPENED to do to all women that they even *started* to get it.

      I really feel like this should not be that hard.

    • Yes. They say there’s someone for everyone, and just because *I* do not find you attractive doesn’t mean that you’re unattractive.

      As a 33 year old teacher, the 19 year old brother of one of my 5th grade students began “pursuing” me. Maybe other women would be all “rawr, I’m a cougar!” Me, I was happily engaged to Mr. Bells and not at all flattered. It came to a head when I was out one day and he showed up in a suit, carrying flowers and reeking of cologne, and aggressively confronted my substitute demanding to know where I was. She told me she shot him down, but I am sure she did more than that because he never came on campus again.

      He was a good-looking guy. But he did not take NO for an answer.

    • Erin C. said:

      I am also really sick of the whiny little argument that goes, “Well, an ugly guy is creepy–a hot guy is romantic’ or ‘an undesirable guy flirting with you is stalking you, a desirable one is pursuing!’ No. My not-stalking-but-not-OK experience happened with a guy who was not ‘unattractive’ by most standards.

      This, seriously. In the closest experience I’ve had to being stalked (thankfully it was confined to this single instance), the guy was pretty close to my physical ideal. That didn’t mean it wasn’t seriously uncomfortable when he followed me down the nature trail where I was walking, asking me if I was over 18 and telling me unsolicited how his body was just as awesome as back when he was a male stripper and how he’d done time twice for beating the shit out of other guys, supposedly because they told him they were going to rape his girlfriend/sister. And it didn’t mean the alarm bells in my head weren’t clanging like crazy when I said goodbye and left the trail and the guy TRIED TO FOLLOW ME HOME. The only reason he didn’t discover where I lived is that I got around the corner before he did and hid with a neighbor. In short, “scary as fuck” is its own thing that no amount of hawtness.will offset.

      • twomoogles said:

        Guys who have a penchant for telling stories about ‘beating up guys to defend women’s honour’ in some way have pretty much always set off my ‘bad, no, get away’ meter.I had a coworker like this. Who ended up hitting his girlfriend, who then dumped him. I don’t know whether these are just violent guys who figure ‘defending a woman’ is a way for them to look like an awesome hero instead of a scary violent dude, but I’ve actually never met an exception. These guys seem to *love* the cultural language of Woman is Victim, Man Saves. They’ll tell me I shouldn’t walk alone at night even though I feel like I’m in more danger were I to accept a car ride home from them (probably the danger is more likely to be ‘super awkward atmosphere’ than violence but still.)

        Then they get super angry when you don’t accept their help, or tell them how heroic they are for reacting with violence. Yeah, cause you telling me all about your temper problem and then starting to get angry at me isn’t threatening at all. Thanks dude.

      • I think the phrase in your comment that most embodies the realities of rape culture is the parenthetical “(thankfully it was confined to this single instance)”. I do that all the time. I see other women do that all the time.

        We count ourselves fortunate to “only” have been frightened or traumatized or yelled at. “Fortunately, my only groping experience was that one time on the subway.” “Luckily, I’ve never actually been assaulted, although…” “Thankfully, all he did was follow me every day for two weeks and make lots of phone calls.”

        I wish I could cull every single sentence like that from every feminist blog I can find and compile them into a book, and make every man who thinks harassment can’t be as bad as all that read the whole damn thing.

        • misspiggy said:

          Can we do that? I mean, is there a webpage somewhere that people could leave their examples on? Hmm, might be a bit of a moderating nightmare but would be a great great idea.

      • Not It said:

        I report these guys now. I did have a stalker when I was in grad school and I got the cops involved. They REALLY wanted me to press charges, but I demurred. I found out later than they knew a lot more about him that I did and they were hoping to use my testimony to get him off the streets.

        I guarantee that this guy has done this kind of thing before and will do it again. I keep the police non-emergency number programmed into my cell phone. In my city, which is fairly large, we have a separate parks division of the police force, and believe me, they want to know about this kind of thing.

    • Awkward Niece said:

      Also, sometimes (often!) women prefer sexual attention / flirting from guys they find attractive. This is not “unfair”. This is because WOMEN HAVE DESIRES AND AGENCY, imagine. This is because women’s receptiveness and interest is not like lollies at a child’s party that should be shared fairly or not given out at all. This is because women are, in fact, human beings.

    • alphakitty said:

      Oh, and is it just me, or can stereotypically “good looking” guys be the most creepily entitled ever? “I am so studly that the rules about not standing too close and not touching and not assuming anything from your basic politeness don’t apply to me, ’cause you would be lucky beyond your wildest dreams if beautiful me condescended to screw you even if it was all about my pleasure, not yours!” Tell me I’m not alone in encountering that!?

      I’ll tell you, guy paranoia notwithstanding, most women I know are a lot more interested in average-looking guys whose insides make them beautiful than in God’s-gift-to-women types who are pretty on the outside but barely human beneath the surface.

      Yes, there are guys who are gorgeous on the outside AND on the inside; I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy. But the whole idea that the creeper label is snotty girl-code for not-cute-enough is bullshit.

      • JenniferP said:

        I think another reason “good looking” guys might be perceived as getting away with certain behaviors (not being creepy, necessarily, just having women in the friend circle be more relaxed around them) is that when they are interested, they flirt and approach with more confidence and make the attraction explicit. They keep it light and casual, and if the woman says no, they shrug and say “Okay, my loss! Had to ask,” and then they change the subject and go back to keeping it light and casual. Expressing interest in someone is no crime! It doesn’t make you creepy! These guys are being open about their interest and then showing that they respect boundaries.

        They don’t hover. They don’t sidle. They don’t lurk. They don’t “happen to run into” you everywhere you’re going, or drop by your work. They don’t mount a secret, silent campaign of Firthing. They’re not going to drop a sudden FEELINGSBOMB on you or send you FEELINGSART.

        So from the outside it looks like they’re getting away with all kinds of stuff – hugging, compliments, whatever. But it’s like, no, dude, he asked me out 6 months ago and I said it wasn’t going to happen and then he got a girlfriend of his own but we flirt sometimes because he’s my friend and it’s fun to sport-flirt a little bit with a trusted friend. He’s not totally invested in my attention.

      • Awkward Niece said:

        I guess I might be getting repetitive here but WE ARE ALLOWED TO BE SNOTTY! WE ARE ALLOWED TO ONLY LIKE CUTE GUYS! I know you’re not contesting that, alphakitty (or anyone) but I really want everyone to be clear on this: sometimes women prefer men who are more conventionally attractive. This is not morally suspect behaviour! These are pantsfeelings/ladyboners and they are never “fair” and never should be.

      • drst said:

        “I am so studly that the rules about not standing too close and not touching and not assuming anything from your basic politeness don’t apply to me, ’cause you would be lucky beyond your wildest dreams if beautiful me condescended to screw you even if it was all about my pleasure, not yours!” Tell me I’m not alone in encountering that!?

        Nope. I once described a guy I had met at school as “untrustworthy, because he’s really good looking.” (I am happy to report that after I got to know him, he was a fairly decent human being and not creepy.) Conventional attractiveness gives people a pass on a lot of things, and I’ve definitely gotten the “Hey I’m hot and you’re not so me paying attention to you is an act of charity, you ungrateful bitch” vibe from several men.

        Which is the same line of thinking that encourages men to go from “Hey beautiful give me your number” to “you ******* **** how dare you ignore me!” in 1 second flat. We owe it to them to be grateful and pleasant to all of them no matter the circumstances, and drawing boundaries gets us labeled a bitch. It’s just a big continuum of behavior. *sigh*

    • Linden said:

      Yes. In fact, for a long time it worked the opposite way with me. The good-looking jock guys in my high school got a total pass on sexually harassing girls and beating up nerdy guys. For years afterwards, I tensed up around men who were conventionally handsome, and I couldn’t walk past a group of three or more men together without my shoulders going up around my ears.

    • Jenna said:

      “Well, an ugly guy is creepy–a hot guy is romantic’ or ‘an undesirable guy flirting with you is stalking you, a desirable one is pursuing!’

      The guy may be physically perfection, but when he starts disregarding my boundaries, or actually anyone’s boundaries that I am aware of, he drops from a possible 10 straight to a known 2. If I know enough about the guy to not feel safe, I’m as likely to date him as a tiger from the zoo. He may be pretty to look at….over there, behind a barrier, but I don’t want to be next to him, and definitely not alone with him.

  42. This. This is the greatest post I’ve read on the subject of creepers. You rock, Captain Awkward. I was going to write a blog post on this subject and you just convinced me not to. There’s nothing I could add to what you’ve said. Go you! :)

  43. jonty himsworth said:

    Great post.
    First off, not all socially awkward guys are intentionally creepy… I got a friend who will burn your ear off about start-up camps and techno jargon and geek this and that and have the more chill people glazing over their eyes with triple layers.on N-U-E (gettit? that’s my graf tag). but if he were to hear of an incident of genuine creep-dom, he would be appalled..
    I don’t know who reads any of this… if it’s just a bunch of girls going :”yeh” then fine… but the point I would like to make: more of us guys need to speak up when we hear off-colour remarks. I think this is a great advice site… brings to the fore all sorts of stuff me and my gang mulll over all the time, but it’s easy to say “male privilege” but it’s also weird being a male surrounded by baboons. I mean this. I am somebody who was brought up by a feminist mother, almost a vehement feminist… so the vocab, the dialect stuff… I’m totally aware of, and there is not a woman WALKING this earth who has ever really thought i was a creep.
    What I want to popularize, is some kind of catchy way, we doods can ‘call out’ other guys without creating a major fiasco. That’s all.
    I am TOTALLY guilty of letting certain fellows get away with sexist comments, hoping they’ll just blow over, then they come back to bite me!
    Case in point: I gotta guy comes past a mural I’m currently working on. Talks about art, is an artist himself, I’ve seen his stuff, it’s actually ok. Prollum is.. he has a dog— and girls stop and gush… it’s a TOTAL PROP to his weird 65 yr old-kinda-past-it ego… but once these girls leave, he’lll say some kind of sexist comment like “The way they pet my dog, it makes me feel like they’re stroking my [male sex organ]… and I’m like… gulp. i mean, he’s a stranger…I’m working in public. I’d rather he split up the view and be rid of him… but I don’t want to make a scene… he’s been just a little bit lewd… what should I say?
    WELL. four encounters later… a girl came along, petted his dog.. looked at my mural… and the dog walker says “what lovely [rhymes with crests] you have,’ The woman was aghast. She looked at me! Like i approve! She ran away from my public mural where most of the time I get wonderful positive feed-back that could feed the world! But this “dirty-ol-man” had scared away one of my passers’ by!
    It was too late! There is already a woman out there who thinks I like hanging out with a guy like this.
    Ok,. ok… I DID then tell him to eff off… stop passing by and hanging…and that talking to women like that is against my values… etc… he LAUGHED! He almost boasted when responding that ‘yeah! there’s lots of people who hate me” like he’s some Hemingway and at least Royalties recompense. But no! He’s just a local nobody, who has a nice dog that girls are IMMEDIATELY attracted to. He comes past my mural because I am on his dog-walk circuit– but he won’t stop anymore…
    Also… doodettes! Be aware that there are old guys with beautiful dogs who are getting a rise out of your response. And that there are people they then say to “Did you see how hot she was! She was practically [insert term here]!” to people like me, who will just stand there bewildered… not at all sure what to say… I mean the guy is 65… he’s never going to be part of some new ‘social group’ you guys are referring to all the time. He’s totally isolated with a dog on the street his only insert into the wider world.
    Doods… I need info on how to say to a dood, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but without causing a fiasco, I need to ask you to let go of that crap.”
    There is no real campaign amongst men, that I know of (ok I’ve heard of the good men project and get their updates, but) to deal with this thing, so that no feathers get ruffled.
    Hearts out.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi Jonty:

      Sometimes just saying “Wow.” or “Really.” in a sharp tone and letting there be a long, awkward pause will do it.

      Or making fun of them. “Really? The dog is an extension of your penis? Do you feel that way when I pet the dog?” (Pet the dog)

      “Oh gross, dude. Gross.” will also work.

      If you need to have a real serious conversation, try “Hey, you’re creeping out the customers. Stop it!”

      And when they tell you that you need to lighten up and that you can’t take a joke say “Yeah, it’s a problem of mine. So you’ll stop?”

      Just something to make fun of them and let them know that you’re not a good audience for that crap.

    • Erica said:

      My advice to you is the same as the Captain’s advice in the “my friend group has a rapist!” letter – there isn’t really a way to call people out on their bad behavior so that no feathers get ruffled, because calling people out by definition means you’re not going to “make nice” anymore, you’re going to bring the unpleasantness (that was already part of the situation) out into the open instead of covering up for it.

      And when people have their nice, accommodating social cover-up taken away, and their bad behavior is pointed out in such a way that they can’t hide, they often get nasty toward the person pointing it out. Sarcastic, dismissive, mocking, what-have-you. That’s OK! Creepy-dog-dude may have laughed at you, but he also stopped harassing the women who were looking at your art and heard a strong message that his behavior was not acceptable – so you accomplished something positive.

      Remember that the nastiness is their fault, not yours, the problem is theirs, not yours, and stand your ground.

  44. alphakitty said:

    You know, I’ve reread this thread and the related ones, and I’ve realized even after all this time there’s a huge thing implied in many places but maybe not spelled out as clearly as it needs to be.

    Which is that what creeper behavior is really about is not recognizing that that woman you’re striking up a conversation with/hitting on is a full-fledged person. She’s got stuff on her mind. Even if you’re in an explicitly social setting (e.g., not work or public transit or some place of business), you don’t know what her frame of mind is.

    Maybe she came out in a lighthearted mood and is feeling sexy and flirtatious and would be open to going off with someone she found attractive. Maybe she came out in a lighthearted mood and is feeling sexy and flirtatious but would NOT be open to going off with someone she found attractive, because she’d want to know someone better before that… different strokes for different folks. Maybe she just wants to have a good time at the party/bar. Maybe she’s lonely and would like to find a long term relationship. Maybe she doesn’t know what she wants! (Do YOU always?)

    Maybe she’s had a hard week at work and wanted to be social but doesn’t have the energy to put into dealing with new people, so she just wants to talk to people she already knows. Maybe she’s depressed after a breakup and her friends persuaded her to come out because they were hoping it would cheer her up (or at least get her to take a shower and get dressed!) but it is profoundly NOT cheering her up and she just wants to go home but she’s stuck ’til her ride is ready to go. Maybe she’s worrying about money… or coping with a medical issue… or a family issue… or something at work… the possibilities are quite literally endless, and they ALL are going to affect how she interacts with people, up to and including YOU. And you’re not necessarily going to be able to tell even if it’s bad, because she’ll be *trying* to enjoy herself, or at least give the appearance she is.

    As for the attraction aspect, maybe something about you specifically doesn’t appeal for reasons having nothing to do with creeperdom — you’re a smoker and she hates cigarette smell; she doesn’t care for facial hair (or has a thing for guys with beards); overheard conversation suggests your social or political views are repugnant to her; she’s had a bad experience with another guy in your friend circle and is disinclined to take a chance on you (I don’t think guys realize how often this is a factor… though that does relate to creeperdom, just not yours); you remind her of an ex- or that annoying guy at work; you’re too conformist or too goth, too outdoorsy/rough or too slick; too tall or too short, too fat or too skinny… Maybe you haven’t paid sufficient attention to personal hygiene/grooming?

    Or maybe it is just that indefinable “he doesn’t do anything for me.” Attraction is a function of a zillion factors, many of which the woman has no more control over than you do over who you’re attracted to. She’s not a bitch for not returning your attraction to her; there is no such thing as a guy who is so inherently attractive that a women he likes has a duty to have her heart (or ladyparts) go thumpity-thump with excitement at the prospect of getting to know you better.

    And, of course, as has been discussed a lot in this thread, she has her own history with how man-kind has treated her in the past, and how easy-going or wary that has left her. And she has her own comfort level with hugs, sexual innuendo, etc.

    Sorry. Women are complicated. Just like you!

    The real underlying problem with Creeper-Dudes is that they seem to forget that, and think of women as interchangeable beings who collectively and mean-spiritedly control men’s access to sex (and love), and who have an obligation to be pleasable… as if just by venturing into public spaces, they are proclaiming indiscriminate availability and it is a breach of contract to shake their head and say “no thanks.”

    Don’t despair, though. All that stuff abound boundaries and behavior is, to some extent, about treating symptoms. If you REALLY get that women are people, and that love and sexual attraction are both about magic and mysterious synchronicity, and if you make your social life is about meeting people, and making friends, and having fun, and looking for that Zing but not trying to force it… the boundaries and behavior stuff is actually pretty intuitive. Because it’s all about your behavior letting the woman know that you know she’s a full-fledged person and as such has a right to decide how she wants to interact with you. Even if how she wants to interact with you is to say “no thanks.”

    Because if you act like that, woman-kind will generally like you enough that you will have a chance to get close enough to find a woman who wants what you want, whether that’s just for right now or for a while.

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        I kind of want that on a t-shirt.

    • alphakitty said:

      I forgot — “maybe she is attracted to you but gets all awkward and can’t think of a damned thing to say when she’s around guys she’s attracted to.”

  45. (Hmmm, my comment didn’t take. Apologies for repost if it shows up later.)

    I wish this blog had been around when I was friends with a semi-well-intentioned creeper. We went on a few dates, I decided I wasn’t interested, and he just had to keep. Pushing … The boundaries.

    He stopped when I said I didn’t think I could continue to be friends with him if he didn’t cut it out. So he could’ve been worse. But it annoyed me that he only stopped when he understood there would be consequences to *him*. It … didn’t bother him that he was making me uncomfortable in the first place?

    The thing that haunts me years later is his accounts of relations with other women. He claimed that some women like to be dominated, and they’d be put off if he did all the consent-culture stuff and asked them if they wanted whatever he wanted to do.

    What I pointed out at the time was that not all women are alike. Some might like their guy to be all alpha-dom in bed, but that doesn’t mean all of us do. I got the impression that this wasn’t a big deal to him. The women who didn’t want him to go further would just stop him. Problem solved. And at the time, I thought the biggest problem with his approach was that he made some women uncomfortable and didn’t care.

    Didn’t occur to me until much much later how wrong that approach could go … how he probably wouldn’t even notice if the woman only let him do things to her because she was afraid he wouldn’t stop. Even though he would’ve stopped if asked.

    Bleargh.

    Wonder what would have happened if I’d sent him links to these threads.

    • alphakitty said:

      On not stopping because the woman didn’t protest, when he took advantage of her trust to set up a situation where she wouldn’t be comfortable protesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ1lc6KASWg

      • Elikit said:

        This made me think of the Marc Smirnoff situation: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/books/oxford-american-editor-fired-in-sex-harassment.html?pagewanted=all

        “Then, after insisting that the intern ride back to Conway with him, he asked her if she wanted to hold hands. She declined, he said, saying she’d rather “hold hands with a dead dog.” Still, he told her he wanted to take her to his favorite make-out spot.”

        Despite this, he insists she was cool with his behaviour in the moment.

        She’s stuck in a car in a likely rural area with her boss, who is making advances and controls the vehicle.

        The implication, indeed.

        • I’d read the article about Smirnoff. Hadn’t seen “The Implication.” Eeeesh.

          Are guys like Smirnoff even in denial about their behavior? Do guys like that see themselves in the “Implication” clip?

    • Jake said:

      He claimed that some women like to be dominated, and they’d be put off if he did all the consent-culture stuff and asked them if they wanted whatever he wanted to do.

      Oh ffs. I have no patience with this argument. If you think a woman is playing hard to get, and wants you to push, the proper response should be, “well, sucks to be her because I’m not going to pursue when she isn’t appearing to consent.” If specific women really do want this, then they have a responsibility to communicate that to you with words. And if they haven’t communicated it clearly with words YOU DON’T GET TO ASSUME THAT THAT’S WHAT’S THEY WANT. grrr.

      Sorry, cinderkeys, I know you’re not endorsing this view, but this argument makes me want to punch things.

      • alphakitty said:

        Yes! Holding out for “yes” isn’t just for women’s protection (though that’s ample justification).

        “I’m going for it because I’ve decided she really means yes even though her words/behavior are ambiguous or even negative” puts you at risk for being a rapist, even if you *think* that’s something you would never do and it would make you feel shitty and ashamed long afterward to find out that’s what you’d done, even if there are no social or legal consequences (though there may be those, too).

        If you think a woman really means yes, make her say so… by treating no like no and walking away, or by staying put and arousing her verbally and/or with touch she has consented to ’til she admits that yeah, she really does want that, right now for godssake.

        Or if you have a BDSM thing going on, you *know* you need clear communication around that stuff. Like Jake says, you don’t get to assume that into relationships where it has not been spelled out. It’s not like that’s the norm from which women need to specify they are an exception.

      • Yes, this. If someone isn’t willing to articulate what they want from me, they’re not going to get it, and that’s their loss. (It’s my loss too, I suppose, but not much of one because I find it stressful to deal with people who won’t be clear about these things.)

      • twomoogles said:

        Holy hell, yes! Do people (especially women) sometimes play hard to get, or say no when they mean ‘maybe’ or want guys to chase them? Sure. It’s culturally ingrained that to be attractive to guys women should not be too forward, and it’s *also* ingrained that if a guy really likes her ‘enough’ he will keep pushing. I’ve heard both men and women express this view, this idea that a woman should basically ‘test’ how much a guy wants to be with her by seeming reticent. Also a lot of female friends who say things like ‘I want a guy who will make all the moves/pursue me/be dominant’. It’s absolutely a thing in the media, too…romance novels and romantic movies push this. A woman is with a ‘wishy washy’ guy, but really wants the ‘alpha’ pursuer who keeps insisting she wants him.

        And one way to *stop* this idiocy from continuing is for guys who hear ‘no’ or really anything but ‘yes’ to BACK OFF. The worst thing that happens from that scenario is ‘the woman is disappointed because she really wanted him to pursue her!’ As opposed to the worst thing that happens from misinterpreting it the *other* way which is, you know, rape. Or stalking.

        I really start to seethe when I hear people go on about how ‘all’ women really want someone who will basically caveman them. Uh, no. I do not want this. Nobody I’ve dated has ever acted like this. And bringing BDSM into it is just ridiculous. Most people into BDSM are *extra* cautious when it comes to consent issues. So conflating ‘my girlfriend and I have a consensual roleplay where I drag her off to my cave by her hair’ with ‘all women actually want me to behave like this’ is..just no.

      • No worries, Jake. We’re on the same page. I just wish I’d had the knowledge to say all of this stuff to him at the time.

  46. Yinello said:

    Fantastic article, just like the others. So much quality here.

    To comment on the Aspergers bit, I’m engaged to a guy with Aspergers. I have honestly never seen someone who tries his hardest to not be a creep around women. He knows he has a bit of trouble reading body language and saying blunt things at innapropriate times, but he always asks if he’s bothering people and apologizes and shuts up if they say yes. Most of the time I forget he was diagnosed with it because it’s not a big thing in his life that stops him from functioning as a decent human.

    So the people who somehow think that people with Aspergers are offended by the word creep – they’re not, because Aspergers doesn’t make them act like creeps.

  47. Gazzy said:

    WOW! I just stumbled onto this blog by complete accident and I have to say…GENIUS! Definitely following :)

  48. Michelle said:

    I am on the autism spectrum and while I do have trouble reading social cues sometimes, I make an effort to not make people feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I can’t really tell if people are uncomfortable or not, so I ask them if there’s a problem with how I’m acting.

    Then again, I’m a female and I get pretty uncomfortable myself if I’m physically close to someone, but I’m sure you get my point.

    If not, then the point is that if you know you have difficulties with reading social cues or realizing when someone is uncomfortable, then ask them if they’re okay with what you’re doing. Don’t just guess and risk being unfairly considered creepy.

  49. “Creepy” is what ugly/shy/awkward guys get called for doing the same thing more attractive/confident guys get away with.

    What people who say this don’t realize is that it’s at most superficially “the same thing”. Politely hitting on someone who seems receptive is not “the same thing” as overassertively hitting on someone who’s reading a book while wearing headphones, even if substantially the same words are used.

  50. O'Doyle said:

    Something that I really love about this specific post moreso than the others is that it takes away everything the intentional creeps have to hide behind. Of course, those creeps will ignore this fact. After you rip the bush of flimsy excuses away, they’ll grab the lone tiny leaf off the ground and hold it front of their face screaming “you can see me!” Yes, creeps, we can.

  51. I work in a theatre situation where I’m frequently around nude/semi-nude women. There are many guys that come to shows who are creepers, and I get to deal with them at times (other times I just tell security to get rid of them). Every last one of them is “oh woe is me I’m just misunderstood by these uptight bitches”. I’ve no sympathy for creeper behavior.

    You know a safe way to avoid being creepy?

    Assume that the woman you’re lusting after has no sexual interest in you unless she makes very clear and direct that she does.

    That’s it.

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