I’ve been following a lot of the conversations in various circles about creeps, both online and in various communities I move through, and I’m really glad that this topic is getting more traction. I know that it’s a tough thing to bring up, for a variety of reasons, but until something gets brought into the light, it’s not going to change. Creepiness ends up affecting all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and it’s especially challenging for male-female interactions. Plenty of women have articulately described how annoying it is for them, though so far, I’ve seen far fewer men talk about how it affects us.
It’s important for guys to be talking about this, too. Given the very scary possible consequences for women when men approach them, I think it’s entirely reasonable for someone to assume that a random guy hitting on her is a possible predator until he demonstrates otherwise. I understand that that creates a frustrating situation- after all, who likes to have to prove their good intentions? And it’s also one of the many ways in which sexism and misogyny make things harder for men. If you want that to change, work to change things. Don’t complain that women don’t assume you’re a good guy. Their reasons for not doing so are useful protective measures in a world that sets them up as targets to be harassed, groped, and assaulted while simultaneously blaming them for it. You’d do the same thing in their shoes.
What Does “Creepy” Mean?
As far as how we can change things, one piece that I think we need to look at is what makes someone a creep. I’ve heard lots of women say things like, “I just know it when I see it,” which doesn’t offer much to work with. Unless we can pin down some of the things that prompt that reaction, it’s not likely to change. So I’ve been thinking about that word and what it means lately, and I think that this video offers a pretty good visual explanation.
Sure, it’s sort of cute to watch a cat inch up every time the camera looks away. And I think that illustrates one of the common ways that creeps act. It’s the constant testing of limits, whether that’s moving into someone’s personal space, touching them without permission, getting permission for one kind of touch and then moving past that, and so forth, that makes it creepy. It’s because they keep looking for ways to creep past the boundaries. It creates a no-win situation for the recipient. If she doesn’t say anything, the creeping continues. If she does, he can claim that he didn’t mean anything, or that she misunderstood, or call her a bitch and attack her verbally or physically. Instead of being up front about it, a creep can push things and then claim innocence when he’s called on it, especially since plenty of people will ask her what she did to prompt it instead of asking him what made him think that was an acceptable way to act.
One thing that adds complexity to this is that slut-shaming makes it harder for women to initiate anything because it makes them vulnerable to being attacked. I’ve spoken with plenty of people who are convinced that men should make the move and women shouldn’t do anything more than signal their receptivity. And even when guys do take the first step, women are supposed to be demure in their responses- if they look too interested, there’s the possibility that they’ll be slut-shamed. So the entire system is set up to teach boys and men to be creeps because we’re supposed to keep inching forward. After all, we’re told that if we don’t, then nothing happens.
That’s one reason we need to stop slut-shaming. When we respect women, regardless of their sexual choices, we create room for different dynamics. Instead of him chasing her, they can each move forward or away as they see fit. Just imagine how different that would make things.
In that light, here are a few things that men can do to not be creepy. All of these assume that you don’t want to be creepy, of course. If you get off on crossing someone’s boundaries, either you need to learn how to play with that within a larger container of consent or you should admit that you enjoy assaulting people. So for the guys who don’t want to be creepy, here are my suggestions.
Managing Sexual Energy
1) Learn how to manage your sexual energy. If you feel attracted to someone or if you feel turned on, that’s yours to deal with. It isn’t anyone else’s responsibility, any more than your feelings of hunger are someone else’s responsibility. Yes, I get that it’s not entirely under your control any more than you can completely control hunger when you see something you’d like to eat. And just as you’re responsible for your responses when you see a hamburger, no matter how hungry you are, you’re responsible for your sexual energy, no matter how hot someone is.
This piece is definitely easier for many men as we get older, whether that’s due to learning some skills, changing body chemistry, or something else entirely. But it can be something that any of us can struggle with, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. I found tantra practices to be especially useful when I wanted to find ways to manage my sexual energy without denying or squashing it. If you’re not woo-averse, you might want to check them out and see what they can offer you. Despite the hype as methods for increasing pleasure and enhancing intimacy (which they can also be), they’re also useful techniques for energetic self-regulation.
Make Consent Part Of Your Approach
2) Instead of imposing yourself on someone else, make it very clear that the interest, desire, and consent of the person you want to ask is important. It’s not all that hard to do. In fact, here’s an easy formula. Start off with a conditional statement like:
If you’re interested…
If you’re in the mood…
If you’re available…
And follow up with a statement of your desire:
I would enjoy chatting over coffee with you.
I’d like to kiss you.
I’d love to go out to dinner with you.
The advantage of this approach is that it demonstrates that your interest is contingent on hers. Of course, you have to actually mean that, but if her desire and consent don’t matter to you, you’re well into rapist territory.
Responding to Rejection
3) Learn how to deal with rejection. I know full well how difficult it can be to take a chance, put yourself out there, and not get the response you want. Rejection hurts. In fact, the distress from rejection and shame is processed in the same part of the brain as the distress from physical pain. Finding ways to cope with that and build some resiliency is crucial, though. One of the reasons some guys lash out and verbally or physically abuse women who turn them down is that they don’t know any other ways to deal with the distress they feel, especially when it’s grounded in their sense of masculinity.
I think it’s also important to learn the difference between unavailability and rejection. Unfortunately, rejection can trigger shame reactions, so learning some shame resilience is part of this process. That’s not a quick fix- shame resilience can take a while to develop. I’m a big believer in therapy for that.
Understand Women’s Experiences
4) Deal with the fact that many women are bombarded with sexual interest, invitations, harassment, groping, and worse on an almost constant basis. That means that no matter how well-phrased your invitation and no matter how considerate you are, there’s a possibility that she’ll receive it differently than you intend. The best response in those situations isn’t to try to justify or explain yourself because that almost invariably comes across as you telling her that she’s wrong. Believe me- that’s not going to help.
Instead, try saying something like, “I’m sorry that I intruded on you. Thank you for telling me.” And then disengage. Instead of trying to prove you’re cool, show her. Actions speak a lot louder than words. And remember that “no” is a sufficient response.
Know When (And How) To Apologize
5) If you slip up (and everyone does), learn how to make amends. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you’ve done something that’s not in alignment with your values or expectations for yourself. But that’s the best way to avoid creating a situation in which resentment takes over the interaction. And trust me- resentment is not conducive to a happy time.
The fact is, sometimes, boundaries are going to get brushed up against or crossed, even with the best of intentions. But if you step forward with care and with attention to the response, it’ll be a much smaller thing than if you go full-speed. And when it does happen, the best response is to acknowledge it, offer an apology, and step back. Depending on the situation, there might be room in the future to try again, but whether there is or not, at least you won’t be a jerk about it.
I don’t think this covers all the things guys can do to not be creepy, given that there are lots of other ways that men creep. But I think it’s a good start and, at the very least, these steps can help create happier relationships. And all of them can be useful at any stage, from an initial introduction to a long-term relationship.
If you’re skeptical about it, try giving it a try and see what happens. Start with #2 since it’s the easiest one to experiment with. I’m willing to bet that you’ll see that the payoff is a partner who feels more comfortable and safer, which is one of the best ways to create a happy sexual connection that thrives. If that’s not positive feedback, I don’t know what is.
The only way we’re going to change the cultural messages that encourage and enable creepiness is by living it. So if there are additional things you think men can do to not be creepy, comment below. Let’s see what else we can come up with.