Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Problem with Creepers - by Nadine Thornhill

Recently I was browsing the comment section of one of my favourite blogs. The original post was indictment of men who use creepy creeper tactics in an attempt to pick up women. Being anti-creepy creeper, I was all up on this perspective and I wanted to see what my fellow readers had to say about the matter. The majority of comments were spirited “here here”s from creeper haters, with a the occasional objection from a creeper apologist.  But in all of this one comment in particular struck me. It wasn’t posted on my blog so I won’t copy-paste it directly, but the gist of it was this:

Telling dudes that respect is all they need to do is “have respect” when approaching women can be frustrating. Because it doesn’t always work. Sometimes dudes have sincere respect and women still see them as creepers. It’s not fair!

Now bear in mind that “I’m not creepy” is the official creeper motto. In my experience, creepers have little to no awareness of how creepy they are. Also bear in mind that being respectful is never a guarantee. You can be the most sincere person in the world, but that doesn’t mean that everyone you approach will be attracted to you or want your attention. There’s still got to be some chemistry, which is all about random luck of the draw. You can do everything “right” wooing-wise and the object of your affection may not accept your advances. Sometimes they just aren’t that into us.

But I can believe that cool awesome dudes are sometimes misunderstood and mislabeled as creepy. Because that’s the thing about creepers. They ruin it for everyone. It’s like the time in second grade when three stupid-jerk faces decided to  say the F-word during math and NONE of us got to on a class picnic. That shit is fucking unjust!  So I hear what you’re saying, respectful guys. And I’m sorry. That must sting.

It’s likely small consolation, but if you’re a good guy who’s been unfairly judged as a creeper, it’s not you. And it’s probably not her either. It’s those dang bad apples, spoiling it for the rest of us. Here’s a thing that happened to me.

Many, many years ago when I was new to Ottawa, I wanted a way to make friends and crack into the local theatre scene, so I joined an acting class. As you would expect, most people in the class were fairly outgoing but there was one guy who seemed interesting but quite shy. (For the sake of this otherwise true tale, I will pseudo-name him ‘John’). One evening the instructor assigned John to be my scene partner. After working together for a couple of hours, he began to open up a little and I realized he was actually a very nice person, albeit socially awkward.

From that point on we became friends. John was still fairly shy around the other members of our class, but he would talk and sometimes share a snack at break. Like I said, he was nice. Only a few years earlier, I had been a shy and painfully awkward teenager. I knew how difficult it could be, always hovering on the periphery of the social group, unsure of how to get yourself in. I knew how lonely it could be.

I’d given John my phone number, because that’s what friends do. One day he called me and we chatted. I noted at the time that he seemed uncharacteristically talkative and a little needy but it didn’t really bother me. He phoned me again the next day. Given the exhaustive nature of the previous day’s conversation, I didn’t expect to talk long but again it was a long chat. When he called for a third day in a row, a red flag went up. I’d like to say I was large, in charge and I shut that shit down immediately. But I didn’t. Because I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, just that I was uncomfortable. So I spent about 15 minutes trying to navigate the conversation while simultaneously trying to parse my own feelings.

And then John said something sexually explicit to me. Feelings parsed. I explained to him that he couldn’t say those things and I got off the phone.

Thankfully there was no phone call the next day. Or the next. But the following day, John called again. He immediately apologized. I let him. He began explaining himself, but again I got that icky feeling. Something was off in his voice and  the cadence of his speech. I realized he was masturbating while speaking to me. I promptly hung up.

I felt super-gross. The thought of going back to class and seeing John made my skin crawl. I told The Man of Mans and a couple of other classmates what happened. They were amazing and supportive, collectively making sure that I was never alone and that John couldn’t get near me.  One of my classmates urged me to tell our instructor, which I did.  She was also amazing. Once she heard my story, she immediately expelled John from the class. She suggested that I report the incident to campus police. I was reluctant, but ultimately decided that yes, I would do that, because I was no punk and that’s what the police were for – to protect me and my fellow citizens.

Sadly, I was wrong. When I went to campus police and I told them my story, the first question I got was “Why did you give him your phone number,” followed by a long lecture about how I couldn’t just trust guys like that. “You have to be a lot more careful in the future. You’re lucky this didn’t turn out a lot worse,” the officer told me.

I received the message loud and clear. It was my fault. It was my fault for being nice. It  was my fault for giving him my phone number. It was my fault because I didn’t assume he was a creeper until he did something creepy.  I still felt super-gross and now I had a heaping serving of guilt, shame and stupidity to go with it.

I no longer think what happened was my fault. But I do believe that if I’m ever unlucky enough to be harrassed or assaulted again, I will be held responsible. I think I’m reasonably open to friendship and even mild flirtation with men with whom I feel comfortable. But the moment I perceive anything odd in a man’s behaviour there is a little “proceed with caution” sign that pops up in my brain. Even though my rational mind knows it’s more likely nerves, shyness or some other normal human response I go to the creeper place first, because if I don’t and if I get hurt I will totally get the blame for it.

So, I’m not saying that every woman is afraid of every man. I’m not saying that every woman will reject you or that every woman you approach thinks you’re a weirdo. What I am saying is that if you’re a legitimately cool guy, who approaches women straight up, stay the course – even if you’re occasionally  mislabeled with the creeper title.  We live in a society that teaches women to be eternally vigilant or risk being seen as complicit in their own victimization. And I know that sucks for you.  But it really, really sucks for us.

I’m pretty sure that most people are decent and cool. But sometimes it only take a few creepers to ruin our damn picnic.

p.s. I feel like this post is pretty hetero-focused but since it draws fairly heavily on my own experience, I couldn’t think of another way to frame it.

1 comment:

  1. "...the moment I perceive anything odd in a man’s behaviour there is a little 'proceed with caution' sign that pops up in my brain. Even though my rational mind knows it’s more likely nerves, shyness or some other normal human response I go to the creeper place first" I think I get what you're saying. But I'd like to add that your intuition is sound. There are a lot of decent people out there, and a lot of creepers too. There's a difference between reacting out of paranoia, and honouring your intuition. Since you describe yourself as open to friendship, I'm willing to be that when you get that red-flag feeling, there's a good reason for it. Trust yourself. Thanks for posting.