ONTD Political

Why Guys Really Hate Being Called ‘Creepy’

8:43 pm - 04/23/2012

The newest cause célèbre for men's right activists (MRAs) has nothing to do with divorce law, "false rape allegations", or the dangers of "sperm-stealing" feminists. It's about the C-word. No, not the ladybusiness one. We're talking about "creep."

As Jessica Wakeman discovered last week when she wrote about a first date gone wrong, the MRAs are up in arms about "creep-shaming." "The ability to label men as ‘creepy' is just one privilege that women enjoy, and a constant source of fear of ostracizing that all men must fear in our society," says one apparently anguished man on Reddit. Creep is "the worst casual insult that can be tossed at a guy" claims Jeremy Paul Gordon at the Hairpin. "Douchebag," "asshole," and "pussy" can't compare, Gordon insists, largely because the charge of "creep" is so much more difficult to disprove. These guys argue that "creep" has a greater power to wound than any other word, and yet it's tossed around with cavalier impunity by cruel women who ought to know better. Thus the campaign (particularly big on Tumblr, apparently) to bring awareness to the ongoing tragedy of creep-shaming.

The word creep has a long history, first as a verb and only much later as a noun. Dickens gets credit for first using "the creeps" in its modern sense in 1849, but the use of the word to refer to someone disgusting or frightening is, surprisingly, less than 100 years old. (Interestingly, while the term "creeper" today is a hipper synonym for a creepy person, its use as a noun is actually much older, dating to the 17th century, when it referred to a stealthy thief.) As an adjective, it shows up regularly in headlines here on Jezebel, most recently in coverage of the dating-spreadsheet finance guy.

Wakeman isn't the only female writer to wrestle with the politics of creep-shaming. Clarisse Thorn has suggested that the use of the word "demonizes men who are honest about their sexual needs," while Amanda Marcotte argues that "creepy" is a "useful, commonly understood term for a set of behaviors that absolutely are a problem." At the Good Men Project, Lu Fong noted that while in her mind, "the weight of the word was never heavier than any other insult I'd shoot back at the boys," she accepted that men found it exponentially more hurtful.

One reason men despise the word "creep" so much more than any other insult is that it isn't rooted in misogyny. Jeremy Paul Gordon specifically compared the term to "pussy," "douchebag," and "asshole." The first two words, when directed at a man, insult him by comparing him either to a vagina or a device used to clean one; their pejorative power lies in the way they feminize the guy who gets called one of these names. "Asshole," as the historian Rictor Norton has suggested, is rooted in a derogatory term for men who allowed themselves to be anally fucked. A man who gets penetrated behaves like a woman and is labeled as feminine — a fate that we raise small American boys to fear more than almost anything else. (This is why, of course, words like "bitch" or "pussy" when used by one man to another, are so much more likelier to lead to blows than "dick" or "prick." Men are unlikely to be enraged by references to their own anatomy, only to a woman's.)

So if fear of the feminine is what gives male insults their power, why then is "creep" worse than "pussy?" The answer is that creep is the only insult that instantly centers women's perceptions. To call a man a "pussy" is to make a comment about how his behavior appears; to call him "creepy" is to name how he makes women feel. If a man wants to disprove that he's a "pussy," all he has to do is act with sufficient macho swagger or courage to make the insult obviously inappropriate. But trying to disprove "creepy" involves trying to talk a woman out of an instinctual response to a potential threat, a much more difficult thing to do. Most men recognize (or eventually learn) that the harder they try to deny their creepiness, the creepier they appear.

At the heart of the "anti-creep shaming campaign" is a concerted effort to discourage women from relying on their instincts to protect themselves from harm. Laying aside its likely etymology, calling a dude an "asshole" is a way of labeling him a jerk. Plenty of people can be jerks without being predatory. On the other hand, calling a dude "creepy" labels him as a potential threat; a creep may not be imminently violent, but there's almost always a sense that he shows consistent disregard for a woman's physical or psychological space. This is why, as Wakeman wrote, "it's a really freaking dangerous idea to twist a woman's open, honest communication about her boundaries/expectations into ‘creep shaming' that victimizes men."

Though the word may be occasionally used unfairly (for example, to describe a physically unattractive guy's genuinely respectful attempt at striking up a conversation), "creepy" serves a vital function. No other word is as effective as describing when a man has crossed a woman's boundary; no other word forces a man to reflect on how his behavior makes other people feel. A guy can disprove accusations of being weak by displaying strength (often in foolish ways.) But a guy can only disprove the charge of creepiness by fundamentally altering his behavior to be more genuinely respectful of women.

This, of course, is why some guys hate the word so much; it forces men to reflect carefully about how they make women feel. No wonder then that so many guys are campaigning against "creep-shaming." After all, the sooner the term becomes socially unacceptable, the sooner men can get back to not having to think about women's boundaries

Source: Jezebel
omg, no men's right's tag? what a tragedy.
I really hate when people complain about being called creepy. Spend your time thinking about what you did that made that person uncomfortable instead of making it all about you, jfc.

spiffynamehere 24th-Apr-2012 03:05 am (UTC)
froda_baggins 24th-Apr-2012 03:33 am (UTC)
Um, no, it's not a "mystical power". It's basic observation skills gleaned from living in a patriarchal system in which it is very tough for a woman to set and maintain boundaries, and those of us who do manage it get lots of crap for it, all the time.
froda_baggins 24th-Apr-2012 03:44 am (UTC)
I am so glad you live in a world where the most important thing you have to worry about is how nice you're being to a few men who may have had their feelings hurt by a woman calling them a creep.

Unfortunately, none of the women I know live in that world.
brookiki 24th-Apr-2012 03:47 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, none of the women I know live in that world.

I know a few who think they live in that world. Sadly, they're going to find out otherwise sooner or later.
ms_maree 24th-Apr-2012 03:49 am (UTC)
they're going to find out otherwise sooner or later

Well, I hope they don't. Some few women are lucky and have a charmed life, and I'm glad that is the case. Saying 'they will learn sooner or later' is getting way too close to wishing people ill-luck for my comfort.
froda_baggins 24th-Apr-2012 04:03 am (UTC)
That's exactly what you implied. My "responsibility" to be "respectful" is just not as important as my own safety and bodily autonomy. Sorry. If I, or a woman I know, misapplies the term "creep" to an otherwise-decent guy, well. Them's the breaks. He'll just have to try to come off less creepy next time.

Schroedinger's rapist.
keeperofthekeys 24th-Apr-2012 03:48 am (UTC)
brookiki TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 03:42 am (UTC)
If you haven't read Schrödinger’s Rapist, then you need to read it. And read it again. And keep reading it until you understand exactly that no, women don't have a mystical power to detect men's intentions and that's exactly why some of us may find behavior that is totally innocuous on the man's part to be creepy. And downright scary.

I'm glad that your interactions with men have been positive to the point that you can have a theoretical discussion of how unfair it is that women jump to "creep" too quickly. Some of us haven't. A lot us haven't. At the very least, some of us have experienced men following us around stores, waiting for us to leave restaurants to make unwanted advances, or that too helpful guy that thinks you need help and will not back off, no matter how much you tell them you're fine and don't want help. And after a while, we start to watch men that are near us, especially alone. Ones that are checking us out, or just getting a little too close for comfort. And we look for exits and we know that even though the attention is making us incredibly uncomfortable and makes us feel downright unsafe, we have to deal with it on our own because people like you dismiss us and our feelings.

I'm glad that your experiences have been good enough that you can chide yourself for thinking a guy is a creep, but a lot of us who do do call men and their behavior creepy aren't doing it because they're not cute enough or because they don't drive a nice enough car or whatever trivial reason you want to attribute. We call men creepy because they ignore our body language, ignore our efforts to avoid them, and act like creeps.
adelheide Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Yep. I've had men assume I'm a “bitch” (they're right), a “dyke” (they're half right), a “whore” or a “cunt”. Snap judgments based on no information other than I don't think they are as wonderful as they think they are. It happens all the time.

A man being called a creep is going to recover. I've certainly gotten over the number of insults I've been called. Even been amused by some of them, which drives the man crazy. But, by and large, a woman doesn't call a man a “creep” unless he's acting creepy. As in, won't take no for an answer. As in, doesn't respect her boundaries. As in, thinks she should be with him because he's been guaranteed (somewhere) that he will get any woman he wants.

I appreciate that you want a civil society where everyone respects everyone, but that isn't the case. If I call a guy a creep, it's because he deserved it. It may be time for him to consider his own behavior rather than trying to project on me. I'd rather a guy get his feelings boo-boo'd than a woman get raped or murdered because she didn't listen to her instincts.
adelheide Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 04:21 am (UTC)
Politeness in society would be wonderful, but it's not going to happen all the time. These women that you claim have falsely accused your friends of being a creep...do you know their story? Maybe they've been mugged. Maybe they've been stalked. Maybe they've been sexually assaulted. Maybe they over-reacted but maybe they had a reason to over-react. Tut-tutting about the decline of civility isn't warranted unless you know the whole story.
bluebombardier Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 04:24 am (UTC)
I definitely value my safety more than anyone's feelings, man or woman.

So does every woman who calls a man a creep. And yet here you are accusing them of jumping to judgment.
lickety_split Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Based on your tone


The Tone Argument
homasse Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 01:01 pm (UTC)
lol, beat me to it.
thecityofdis Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 02:34 pm (UTC)

art_house_queen Re: TW: Sexual harassment25th-Apr-2012 02:04 am (UTC)
windy_lea Re: TW: Sexual harassment24th-Apr-2012 06:26 am (UTC)
Still, that doesn't change the fact that I see decent people called creeps all the time. Pisses me off. People can be so quick to judge, you know?

Even if you know the person being called a creep very well, it's simply not up to you to decide whether it was fair of another woman to label them that. You may think them decent, their behavior innocuous, but your boundaries aren't my boundaries, and I'm not obliged to hold a referendum before deciding who makes me feel creepy. Honestly, that just seems to fit too well with the idea that women aren't their own entities. (No need to point out that's not what you're trying to say; I'm just telling you how I feel it feeds into patriarchal systems regardless of your itent.)

If a man being called a creep is genuinely being mislabeled, I doubt it's happened often, and he can move right on with his life. If a man has been called a creep several times, yet thinks himself a decent person, he needs to step back and try to examine how his behaviors might be interpreted when you take into account rape culture.

Really, though, I can't even agree with your premise that "creep" is overused. I can't think of even one instance where a woman I've known called a man a creep just because she wasn't into him; it was usually because he couldn't take a hint and kept pressing the matter. And, hey, rejection sucks, but no one's entitled to anyone else's attention, time, love, sex, whatever.
etherealtsuki 24th-Apr-2012 05:56 am (UTC)
Consider that we live in a culture that downplays any physical violation against women, I think women have every right to be wary to any guy that is willing to invade her personal space without a second thought.
kitanabychoice 24th-Apr-2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
It's not a mystical power to feel as though someone is creepy. I once put out a craigslist ad looking for a rideshare for my boyfriend and I to a concert. A man I obviously didn't know called me to ask me about it. The word choices he used and the tone of his voice once he realized he was talking to a woman made me feel uncomfortable and thus I declared him to be a creep. I found him way too pushy and eager to meet me for something as simple as getting paid to drop someone off somewhere. Not all men strike me this way, but when they do, I reserve the right to label them as such.

Besides, what's wrong with listening to your "instincts" anyway? Sometimes they're right. If you're feeling scared, for example, there's likely a reason (or even multiple compounding reasons) why you're feeling scared. It's good to analyze these feelings, but I'd prefer to analyze why I was afraid AFTER I've gotten myself out of any perceived danger.
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