The other night a friend and I were at our local pub. We were having a wonderful time chatting and laughing, when I felt a presence to my right. When I looked over, there was a man leaning against the foosball table, staring at us. His arms were crossed, and he went unblinking, unmoving. I turned to my friend to warn her. She had already noticed, and we tried to carry on the conversation, but his leering was far too distracting. This went on for a few minutes. I looked back at him a couple of times to see if he was still staring – he was – which only seemed to encourage it. My friend and I were too uncomfortable to address it. Fortunately, it was his turn to play and his attention was redirected. Shortly after, James arrived, and the staring man ignored us for the rest of the evening.
Among every woman I’ve spoken to, this quote rings true:
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”– Margaret Atwood
The perception of “creepy” isn’t exclusive to the dark figure in the alleyway. Creepy can appear in the middle of the day, in a crowded cafe. Creepy is what sets off an internal alarm, warning us that we may be in very real danger.
This is for the men who stare too long; for the harmless dude who has no idea what he’s doing wrong, and for all the women who have felt afraid under his gaze.
Not All Men
For those people who resent this article or have a #notallmen mindset, let me clear something up for you. Of course, not all men are predators. But predators aren’t wearing badges, warning us to watch out now, are they?
In other words: of course, not all men are predators; however, we don’t know which ones are. And based on statistics – in the USA for example, a rape is carried out every 1-2 minutes – this fear isn’t irrational. The statistics increase when it comes to sexual violence against BIPOC and trans folks.
Secondly, for people who believe the answer is women shouldn’t go anywhere solo or only go out at certain times without supervision, I say this: you are a part of the problem.
The answer to violent bahaviour is not punishing the victims. That is rape culture at its core! As Dr. Malamuth explains in the podcast episode, Understanding Male Sexual Aggression, there are systems that could be put in place to reduce violence against women, such as teach children empathy from a young age.
Gender roles still thrive in our society, and children are taught how to navigate the world based on their sex. This is a complex issue because
- Gender is a social construct, and
- The general messages received by male children perpetuate toxic masculinity and violence against women
- The general messages received by female children perpetuate toxic masculinity, because we are raised to live in fear
For example, masculinity is still deeply connected to the amount of sexual encounters a young boy/man has with women – the “player” mindset. Yet, on the other hand, young vulva-owners receive confusing messages such as:
You need to be careful when you go out because men will hurt you. But don’t go out without a man because he will protect you.
I’m sorry. What?
Listen, I know this is a larger issue than a two-thousand-word article, especially because it involves society’s perception of gender and gender identity (Support Resources for Families of Gender Diverse Youth), but if you care to make a difference – by difference, I mean help women feel comfortable and safe in the spaces you occupy – these simple suggestions will help!
For the record, there isn’t one woman I know (including myself) who has not experienced the items on this list, or worse.
Why Creepy Feels Dangerous
Before I share my list of what is creepy, it’s important you understand why these things trigger a warning in us.
First, physical violence isn’t the only form of violence. There are certain words, looks, and behaviours that also feel like intrusions. When a woman feels objectified, it tells her that the source of that objectification lacks humanness.
In other words:
If someone is comfortable in making me uncomfortable, I am not safe. My warning system: Unsafe + men = rape and murder.
So, if you want to minimize the creepiness so women aren’t perceiving you as someone murderous, avoid these creepy moves.
Stop Staring, Stop Lingering
Generally speaking, staring is rude and uncomfortable. This is a lesson I learned as a child! So, when women are stared down by men, it feels dangerous, like you’re trying to dominate our space from afar. What’s frustrating about this is, even if we want to address it, we fear setting off a darker part of the man. Ignoring it tends to be the default, which neither brings awareness to the man’s creepiness, nor does it help make us feel any safer.
This is the same with lingering. It is perceived as abnormal behaviour and causes panic and mistrust.
Only look for a few seconds at a time and leave large gaps in between. If you have no intention of speaking to her, maybe just leave her alone?
If you are interested in speaking with her, see if she notices you. Does she turn her attention to you? Does she smile? Does she wave you over? Does she speak to you?
Don’t Move into Our Personal Space Without an Invitation
If you want to speak to us, fine, but keep your distance. If I can smell what you ate for dinner, you’re too close. If I have to take a step back from you, you’re too close.
When someone comes into our personal space, even if they don’t physically touch us, it feels invasive. The people we let into our personal space are people we trust. If you try to move into that space before we’ve invited you, it feels disrespectful and aggressive.
We all have safety zones, and we can’t know what another person’s is until we get to know them. So, if you struggle with depth perception, a general rule would be to stay between 1.5-4 feet away from the person.
If you’re interested in speaking to a woman, let her know. If you aren’t sure how she’s feeling about the interaction, give her the option to come and speak to you later. If she doesn’t take the invitation, leave it alone.
Stop Sexualizing Our Bodies and Conversations (even if it’s a “joke”)
I’m a sex blogger, I love writing and speaking about sex with friends, family, even strangers at times. I have found, however, that men have a difficult time distinguishing between having a conversation about sex (general) and sexualizing the conversation (making sexual remarks about me, or them and me).
This happens on and offline, and both are incredibly frustrating.
Like personal space, information about our bodies is off the table unless we offer it. Asking inappropriate questions, or making inappropriate remarks, means you see us as a body before a human. This is sociopathic and feels dangerous.
Additionally, sexualizing someone and then blaming their work, attire, or attitude on your reaction is called victim blaming, and perpetuates rape culture.
I repeat, if you see a body before a human, there is a problem.
P.S. You may think a sexual joke about us is harmless. It’s not. It is uncomfortable, and we already deal with the same bullshit from other people. Don’t group yourself in with that guy.
Don’t Use Friendship as a Gateway to Sex
Men and women can be friends! Regardless of physical appearance and history of that friendship.
My husband is a perfect example of someone who has platonic friendships with women he has never had sexual relations with. I’m not saying you will never find your friends attractive, that may be inevitable. But knowing how to behave as a friend is not that difficult…
How do you treat friends you aren’t sexually attracted to? Great, practice that behaviour with all friends.
Also, if gaining someone’s trust is your way of “getting it in” with them… Please stop. Finding real, true friendship is already hard enough at this age. We don’t need to be skeptical of the guys we grow to (platonically) care about.
If you really “can’t help yourself,” do that friend a favour and leave them be.
No Means Fucking No and The Absence of a Yes is a No
There’s this thing called “enthusiastic consent” which means looking for the presence of a yes, rather than the absence of a no.
In other words, if a woman isn’t saying yes, it means no. And if a woman says no, it means hell no!
Trying to turn a “no” into a “yes” is called coercion. It’s a crime.
Manipulating someone into saying “yes” is coercion. That is a crime!
Ignoring or dismissing a “no” is a fucking crime!
Forget everything you’ve heard about the “chase.” Women are capable of going after their desires, and do not need your relentless pursuit. Stop thinking we want you to convince us. We don’t. Capeesh?
Recap and Bonus Creep
- Don’t stare, don’t linger
- Don’t move into our personal space without an invitation
- Stop sexualizing our bodies and conversations (even if it’s a “joke”)
- Don’t use friendship as a gateway to sex
- No means fucking no, and the absence of a yes is a no
Some bonus creep behaviour to avoid:
- Stop cat calling, whistling, or making verbal assaults! This is as disturbing as staring and lingering, especially if we’re walking by ourselves. If you really want to have a conversation, do that, otherwise, save the chirping for the birds.
- Watch your body language, as it says more than your words. If you display aggressive behaviour or are distracted or uncomfortable – if you don’t know where to look or how to position yourself – it will throw us off. We are human, chill. A warm smile, presence, and a relaxed demeanor can go a long way.
- Touch can be perceived differently by different people. I know many women that, even a pat on the arm, can trigger something. This may seem extreme but considering every woman I know has been felt up or grabbed (aka, sexually assaulted) in public, physical touch can be worrying.
- Do not adjust, scratch, or pull at your genitals near us. Yes, we get itchy and have uncomfortable positioning too at times, but you don’t see us tugging at our crotch. Save it for the toilets, it is startling!
Create Safer Spaces
Women can’t do this alone. We need male allies.
If you want to help further, pay attention to other men. If you notice they are exhibiting these behaviours, bring it to their awareness.
Also, talk to the women in your life. Ask them what you can do to make shared spaces feel safer. Ask them about their experiences with creepiness. I promise – your sisters, your aunts, your cousins, your friends, your mother – we all have a story.
Thanks for doing the work, friends!
Quean Mo xx
P.S. Male sexual aggression is a real phenomenon. Have reservations about that statement? Check out this podcast episode by a man who devoted his entire career to studying male sexual aggression: Understanding Male Sexual Aggression.
P.S.S. For families of gender diverse children, here is an awesome resource: Support Resources for Families of Gender Diverse Youth