The cultural currency of creepy encounters.
A woman’s reflection on how women respond to so-called “creepy encounters" with men.
There are three parts to this discussion. All of these points apply to men just as much as to women, but as a woman, I’m speaking from my experiences in the female community.
First, I would like to address a scenario that I cringe at: the over-dramatization of a scene that turns innocent gestures into something creepy or offensive. Often, scenes are just created in the minds of people who are running low on attention.
You know what I’m talking about.
A guy walks up to where your girl friend is picking out some yogurt at the grocery store. She looks at him; he returns the look and casually says, "Hi." with a courteous smile. A few moments later, your girl friend comes over to you with a mock horrified look on her face and a slight giggle in her voice saying, “oh my gosh, that guy over there is so creepy. He keeps following me around and then he tried talking to me super awkwardly and I know for a fact he wasn’t just wanting to talk… ew. So creepy.”
You glance past her at the guy she’s obviously gesturing at. Still in the same isle trying to pick out some milk, he glances up at the commotion and notices other people throughout the store looking at him as well. He is embarrassed and confused and quickly walks away.
This behavior needlessly shames boys and men. It hurts feelings and it results in damaged reputations. Even worse, it takes away from the truly horrifying harassment that women actually experience every single day.
This over-dramatization is really a result of a society that runs off of attention, self-absorption, self-worth issues… I could go on. Without diving into all of that, I’d like to speak to all women: stop doing this. It’s silly and needless. Don’t make something of nothing just to have a story to tell at someone else’s expense. And if your friends do this, stop rewarding them for it.
Here’s the second thing I want to call out: it’s only creepy if a guy you’re not attracted to does it.
Sometimes a man really is trying to make an advance.
He noticed you in the store and pretends to need something near where you are standing. He then glances up and says “Hey, how are you doing?” in a falsely confident tone.
If he's unattractive to you, you freak out, look disgusted and turn away thinking, “creep”.
If you do find him attractive, you shyly smile and say “fine, thanks” and turn away flirtatiously.
It may be an entirely subconscious reaction, but we can try to beat this with conscious actions. If a man puts himself out there in a totally appropriate and reasonable way, we can all react kindly without making him feel like a scumbag for no reason.
Thirdly, and finally, the main point of my discussion:
Sometimes there are experiences that are actually over the line and for all intents and purposes, creepy.
You haven’t talked to the guy in 5 years, ever since you moved away from your home town. But out of the blue, he is constantly messaging you saying strange things like “I need you”, “Can I come see you”, “I’ve always loved you”, “I’m desperate and alone and you’re the only one that can help me”. You tell him you appreciate that, but you just don’t feel the same way, you can’t help him. He persists and eventually his messages escalate.
You are walking down the street and a man steps around the corner, looks you up and down and says, “Hey honey, nice cargo.” You try side-stepping him and he makes a pass at you.
When discussing the uncomfortable or alarming things we’ve gone through with the opposite sex, it isn’t always a sad tale we divulge to our closest friends. It is something that we are almost bragging about while trying to one-up the other person. And others feel bad if they don’t have as crazy or dramatic of a story. They feel devalued.
All people, men and women alike, base their value on the validation they get from others. It’s a sad component of our culture. A specific way this manifests is in the currency of creepy encounters. As women, we feel that if men are giving us attention, we must be attractive and desirable. If a man is acting desperate or unreasonable or praising or body, then we must be even more valued. The currency works with truly sad, real stories and with overly-embellished stories as well. All that matters is that you have had men become desperate and irrational over you.
While this currency is a subtype of the overall messed up system of validation we have, it has a few particular consequences:
It furthers the competitive nature among female friends vying for male attention.
We forget that the man on the other side is a person as well. Pray for him, don’t demonize him.
It makes a truly sad situation something that is almost desirable.
Women may be less likely to immediately seek help in a situation that may actually turn dangerous.
It furthers the need to validate ourselves by the attention others give us.
I have heard my friends sadly state that they haven’t been cat-called on the street, like it’s a reflection of their attractiveness. My immediate reaction is to try to validate them by saying, “No, that’s not it, don’t worry about it. You’re beautiful.” But what if I said, “That’s great! I hope the rest of us don’t either!”
There are real, specific and actionable things I can do to combat the various issues discussed in this article.
I hope that by identifying specific scenarios, it helps others to check this issue in themselves. Maybe it will help young women to treat men maturely and with mutual respect. And maybe it will make some dent in the feeling that self-worth is found in the attention we get.
If you are in a situation where someone is threatening or abusing you physically or emotionally, or you are concerned that harm may come to you, please seek help from a trusted source immediately.