Don’t you hate it when someone spoil your picnic? (image via stock.xchng.com)

 

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.


 

Comments

  1. Michael Roesler says:

    Just because this post *feels* heteronormative, it isn’t necessarily. Creepers exist in all communities. Its up to the reader to relate your story to their situation and experiences, but its a good starting point. In reality, most people reading this wont encounter this situation regarding a theatre class. You’re just as equally being thespiannormative. 😉

  2. Allan Mackey says:

    Good post. As somebody who leans towards socially awkward, I’m extra-aware and cautious of looking the creeper – though perhaps less so these days. You’re right about the few bad apples. It’s tragic that beginnings are a particularly tough nut these days because of them. (Both with friendships and romantic-type relationships.) Show too much interest/attention, raise creeper flags, don’t show enough, fail to look like you’re interested at all. What could be a sincere gesture could easily come across completely “creeper” because of bad precedent.

    Saddest is that I think it makes us worse as people. I’d talked about this with somebody a few months ago and if you consider courtship in the Victorian or the concept of courtship in general — try anything of the sort today and it’s way more likely to result in doors slammed shut than to be taken as sincere. Of course they also had sword fight duels to the death and guillotines so…

    Also, ew. I feel I should apologize on behalf of all relatively normal guys who understand basic social decorum for your experience and my sister’s current stalker-type and all the other bad apples.

    • Nadine says:

      Thanks for your comment, Allan!

      I can understand why some men feel they have to walk a very fine line when they want show their interest in a woman. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any all-purpose solution to that problem. It’s impossible to predict how any given person will respond to an overture. The risk of being misunderstood is ever present.

      There were definitely some benefits to the olde tyme courtship rituals. Probably took a lot of the guess work out of the whole mating/dating scene. But given that I’m black and a woman, I don’t really yearn for a return to the days of yore. For real – those Victorians would have kicked my ASS!

      Finally, I appreciate and accept the sentiment of your apology, although I don’t think it’s necessary. Just keep being a nice person who respects the whole social decorum thing. And when you see other dudes being gross, feel free to call them out for harshing your game. :-)

  3. Lolita says:

    What did you think telling the police would accomplish? It’s not like he had broken the law. Being creepy isn’t a crime.

    I’m also a bit appalled that your instructor immediately kicked him from the class without even bothering to get his side of the story. For all she knew, you just made the whole thing up. Not exactly protecting her students’ rights to due process, is she?

    • Nadine says:

      Lolita,

      To answer your question, I reported the incidents because John was harassing me. It was against campus policy and it is, in fact, against the law.

      http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/fv-vf/pub/har/har.html

      • Lolita says:

        Yes, stalking is illegal. But according to your story he didn’t do anything that crossed over into criminal harassment. This only happened once, correct?

        It still doesn’t address the fact that he was summarily booted from the class without any chance to speak on his own behalf. After all, you just think he was masturbating over the phone. You didn’t actually know it as a matter of face. And there was no proof of anything. The teacher had no way of knowing that your allegations were true. For all she knew, you just made it up because you had a grudge against him. Problematic either way.

        • Nadine says:

          I can’t speak to how or why our instructor came to the decision to expel John as quickly as she did. I wasn’t privy to the conversation she had with him. I only know that within a day of my having told her what happened, he was gone and I was assured that he wouldn’t be returning.

          I suspect that answer might not be terribly satisfying for you, but that’s how it was. You also seem convinced that my reporting the incidents was inappropriate. You’re totally entitled to your opinion, so I won’t try to dissuade you of it. But since you’ve brought it up, I will explain my reasons for report what happened to campus police, in case their are other readers who have/might find themselves in a similar situation.

          First of all, it’s important to note that reporting is not the same as pressing charges. Reporting is basically telling the authorities, “Here’s a thing that happened to me,” so that it’s on the record. My main motivation for reporting John’s behaviour to the college police was that I felt very unsafe, particularly around campus and *if* I the right to any sort of protection, I wanted to know what my options were.

          I also wanted what happened on record in case:

          a) He had done the same thing to someone else in the past.
          b) He tried to do the same thing to someone else in the future.

          And the big one…

          c) The situation escalated and he tried to hurt me.

          So that was what prompted my decision. Luckily he didn’t hurt me. (Though he did car-stalk me once several months later). So some will say that I was overreacting and he was just a creepy, but ultimately harmless guy. Of course if I hadn’t reported the initial creepiness and he if *had* hurt me, I suspect filing a report and/or pressing charges at that point would have resulted in the following conversation:

          OFFICER: “So you had strong suspicions this guy was wanking on the phone. Why the hell didn’t you say anything at the time?”

          ME: “But officer, I didn’t have a secret video camera by his phone. Maybe he was masturbating. But maybe he rubbing two pieces of lunch meat together while having an asthma attack. I didn’t want to make assumptions!”

          OFFICER: *Lecture about being naive and foolishly waiting until a situation escalates to say anything*.

          That’s why I reported it. Someone else may not have and that’s just as valid. Unfortunately, in these situations it seems you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

          • carcar says:

            I used to volunteer on a phone line. You can *totally* tell when someone is wanking on the phone. There was definitely no lunch meat involved 😉
            Though a small part of me feels bad that he was kicked out of the class, it would have been impossible for you to continue going to that class. Good for you for doing something about it. If it had been me, I probably would have just drop-out of the class and it would have made me the victim.

  4. Lynn says:

    I love this post. I think it’s an extremely eloquent wording of problem we all encounter from time to time. I’ve certainly felt the uncomfortable feeling you get when someone you’ve been nice to starts to press that advantage into an area that is off limits. So very well said, Nadine.

    • Nadine says:

      t bums me out that this seems to be such a prevalent experience. But the silver lining is that every time someone shares a similar story, I feel less guilty and less icky, so thank YOU for your comment.

  5. Weefoot says:

    You need to do a proofread here–the effectiveness of this post is really being undermined by the fact that one has to re-read several sentences to get their sense. Your writing is good; it deserves proofing (start with the caption under the picnic basket).

  6. Ren West says:

    This just reinforces the ideal that we should treat people at face value on an individual basis. Treat a creeper like a creeper, treat a sincerely nice person that’s just trying to say hello in a friendly manner, change that opinion as necessary. Easier said than done of course. This also reinforces the importance of larger social circles. It gives you an “in” in meeting new people, and should hopefully leap over the initial “creeper assumption” we’ve all fallen into. “Have you met Ted?”
    As someone that fairly recent found himself in a city full of strangers, I can very much appreciate the very large circle of people that Twitter offered.

  7. Bret Alan says:

    I’ve never had much sympathy for women who hold a grudge against all men, but I also lack any sympathy for men who give the rest of us a bad name. Life is full of rejection, and it’s disturbing how many men I read about complaining over the inevitabilities of dating, like “rejection.” Everyone gets rejected sometimes, even women, so these whiny guys men need to grow some ovaries and get over it (I’d tell them to grow balls, but it seems like women are the ones who handle rejection better; maybe guys need to just get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and have a good, cathartic cry). It can be good to be rejected, because it can be the impetus for actual self-improvement. If everyone keeps rejecting you… clearly the problem isn’t everyone else.

    I know most over-suspicious women had something happen to them or someone they know, but what is the excuse for creepers?

  8. Meenakshi says:

    Nadine,
    Sadly, your story is one that will resonate with almost every woman who reads it. And the following words in your post, articulate my exact sentiment-
    “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.”