Log in

No account? Create an account
heart + stomach
Advancing the sum total of human knowledge and endeavour!
The indeterminate 'creep factor' 
9th-Jan-2009 04:43 pm
areyoumymemmyEmmy linked to this article on Jezebel:

When the Nice Guy Down the Street Makes You Uncomfortable, which is a pretty good explanation of the phenomenon when guys can be friendly, nice as hell, and technically do nothing wrong, and nevertheless provoke sentiments in a woman of being subtly harrassed.
I knew exactly what she meant. But when I tried to explain the situation to a male friend, he looked at me blankly. "Does he insult her?" No. "Is he inappropriate?" Not exactly. "He's just being friendly? What's the problem." The 'problem' of course, is that as women we're vulnerable in ways guys can't appreciate.
In some ways I tend to think of my brain as male-like*, and what I mean by that is that I think I think how my male friends think and I can relate in this way: we need rules. We need to have suitable and appropriate behaviours pre-programmed into our repertoire and we need to have a logical system in place to know what behaviours are appropriate and what aren't. It's possible me and my friends are a little weird that way, but social engagement doesn't come instinctively to me, and I don't think it comes instinctively to the people in my social circle.

And yet, I get it too: that weird feeling of being threatened and having my space invaded by a guy who clearly thinks he's doing nothing wrong. And I, the woman,can't quite put my finger on why he's made me uncomfortable.

Which poses a dilemma: how can you avoid being That Guy? If it can be avoided at all.

Note, this completely precludes Nice Guy syndrome, which when I use it, is a self-fulfilling oxymoron, and describes those guys who think that pretending to be a woman's friend is a guaranteed passage into her knickers, and then becomes resentful of the woman herself when it doesn't work. See this XKCD comic, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog , and the godawful "Ladder Theory" website. I have no time for this guy, usually because he's a misogynist arsehole, and I won't be his friend.

Part of it might be that if you turn it on too strong, you run the risk of coming across like you want to be my Nice Guy friend, and because I think the Nice Guy is an arsehole who wants in my pants, you could come across like that. Part of it might be, of course, that women are trained by society to understand that men just don't want to be our friends. Billy Crystal was very adamant on this point: we're not equals, and we can't co-exist peacefully together and every man ever wants to do all sorts of disgusting things to our naked body.**


I mean, the more women are told that men don't want to be our friends, the more we're going to act with suspicion when men act friendly. And when a man acts friendly towards me and I can't figure out any other motivation, it's going to be to get in my pants, and I'm going to be creeped out.

This is a problem on both sides of the interaction, I'm sure. I can tell you right now that much as I wish it weren't true, there is no golden set of rules you can guarantee will make a woman (or indeed a person) you're interacting with not get the creepy vibe, and yet it is entirely possible to build up a friendly rapport that becomes friendship. And yet I have discovered that if I make the effort in my direction, by talking to people I interact with on a daily basis but rarely before have actually met, I feel better about myself, and the creep factor deteriorates. But some men still trigger it.

Incidentally, this isn't restricted to face to face interactions. Some people can creep me out over IM (not you guys, obviously) because they're somehow giving the virtual impression of being in my personal space. And some roleplaying threads are like that: there's a vibe that comes across through the fictional interaction that gets into the OOC space and hits creep. And usually (not always) the player is male. and usually (not always)  the player has no idea that the other player is feeling that way.

I can't explain it. When a guy creeps me out and I try to explain how, I can't find the words. But it's there, the knowledge that at any moment the whole thing's going to get uncomfortable. And the additional lack of understanding that will make it all our fault when it does so.

* I don't know if it's true, or that this is just how I've learned male brains work and women's don't, and therefore I've bought into the idea that I'm a statistical anomaly with no more right to be recognised as a human female as those freaks who read American comics - oh wait, right.
** Except the gays. But they have enough problems.
9th-Jan-2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
I know a guy, considerably smaller and weedier than me who sets off my creep alarm like WHOA! Part of it is his very poor reading, or possibly his ignoring, of social cues, but that's not the only thing. It's definitely physical possibly his stance, his "not quite right" touching or not touching, his touching parts of himself strangely, his love of touching women's hair (ew, just creeped myself out again).

I do know that I do not go into a room alone with him, and I leave a room if it's just him and me. I sort of acknowledge that it's ridiculous, but I also trust my gut. I mean, I'm 5 foot 10 and weigh more than 200 pounds, and he's probably 5 four and maybe 130, so even on a base muscular level, I'm probably safe. Also, loads of my friends have that slightly geeky "not reading social cues correctly" thing, so it isn't that in isolation, because I can deal with that, in fact, I often like the directness that it engenders. So yeah, I don't know, but maybe we do have a warning system, and maybe it works...

I do know that other of his female friends have tried to discuss it with him, and it has never come to anything, and as far as we know, he's never done anything wrong, but still, my little squid once extant will never be alone in a room with him either.
9th-Jan-2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Ew, I know that feeling exactly, and it's horrible. It's the lack of social cues, like you said - even when I know my body language is screaming 'GO AWAY' as hard as possible without making awkward flapping motions and they don't pick up on it... not good.
9th-Jan-2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
Yes. It's particularly troublesome in the world of furry, where hugs abound. There are some people I'm happy to hug and some I'm just not, for no logical reason.

Also, some people can say 'send me a text to let me know you got home safely' and just sound concerned and caring, while some sound like a total creep and get YOU'RE NOT MY BOYFRIEND! yelled at them.
9th-Jan-2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
>The 'problem' of course, is that as women we're vulnerable in ways guys can't appreciate.

(I realise these are not your words but those of the article.)

Yes, we can, (although don't ask me to put it into words - I couldn't) and it makes us feel pretty damn uncomfortable too to think that we may be making you, our friends and people we care about deeply, feel that way.

Edited at 2009-01-09 17:05 (UTC)
9th-Jan-2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
*g* I tend to assume that if someone is being friendly in a work environment they're doing it because it's their job, regardless of sex; if they're just generally friendly - again, regardless of sex - I assume they're bored and want to talk to someone. So I do my best to be entertaining. No one has ever taught me that men are only doing it to get into my knickers which means that when they *are* I'm vaguely shocked.

Joys of growing up ugly, and all that.
9th-Jan-2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
This is, as far as I can tell, just what I would've said if I was coherent enough to work sentences.
9th-Jan-2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
I'm rather glad it's not just me; I always feel like a Bad Feminist when I fail to be upset by the same things as the prominent bloggers.
9th-Jan-2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
I do too. :) I wasn't going to say anything here because I don't think I have anything at all to add to the conversation. I've heard enough about this that it's clearly a reasonable concern, and it sounds awful, so I don't want to minimize it by saying I don't grok it. I think it's due to a combination of me being naive enough and lucky enough (and, seriously, funny-looking enough) that I haven't been a target for this sort of disconcerting behavior.

And... well, never mind, that's enough know-thyselfing for one comment on someone else's LJ. :) Suffice it to say this attitude doesn't come without its own potential problems, so it's not like I'm saying I'm better than anyone, just acknowledging that my experience is slightly different (though my empathy is very much still intact!) and, well, surely saying that can't make us Bad Feminists, right?
9th-Jan-2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
Right. :)
9th-Jan-2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oh that.


I knew someone once who was exactly this indeterminate-creep guy. He had issues with perception of personal space in others and he seemed to genuinely want to be my friend, but couldn't understand that I found him off-putting. Transgressions against sanity included throwing a slice of grapefruit at me and then claiming he dropped it (this was in seventh grade, mind) and shoving an apple into my face with the exhortation "Here's an apple! Want an apple? Don't you want this apple? It's a great apple! It's so yummy! Don't you want an apple, Susan? Mmmm, apple!" (and this time we were both seventeen, so no excuses about age).

...on reflection, that probably crosses the line from "indeterminately creepy" to "what the fuck GTFO". He had his more indeterminate moments, though.

I think part of it is just overextending your reach. Things that are okay to say between friends are not so okay to say between acquaintances, and not at all okay to say to somebody you just met. And if a guy thinks he's on better terms with a woman than he actually is, creep results.

The overall manner of the guy has an effect, too. Overextending the friendliness-reach isn't so bad in some cases, and I think it can also be a form of flirting, but in contexts where flirting is inappropriate or just unwanted it doesn't work so well, and if the guy is a little bit off-putting to start with he gets a lot more so every time he makes one of those mistakes.

Hmm, this comment turned out a lot more in-depth than I thought it was going to. What do you think? Does my proto-theory match up with your experience?
10th-Jan-2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Do you know you just used your Real Name?
10th-Jan-2009 12:53 am (UTC)

He did, and it was part of the creepiness factor, and I felt that saying "Pyth" or "(name redacted)" would soften the impact of the narrative.
(Deleted comment)
9th-Jan-2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
so I end up with the feeling that I'm less of a person and more of a chance

*agrees to all of the above chances* Or, depending on the guy's self-esteem levels, you're also a chance for him to confirm that only jerks seem to get the girls who are not bitches -- which pushes him into the Nice Guy thought patterns. (This happens to my unfortunate roommate, who struggles quite a lot to break free from the Nice Guy way of thinking.)
9th-Jan-2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
I think a chunk of the encounters that make me uncomfortable come from the fact that the guy is running through his Cute Girl* script. He's not adjusting his words/actions toward me based on how I react, etc and so I end up with the feeling that I'm less of a person and more of a chance.

Oh, yes, definitely. "Genuinely friendly" doesn't use the same damn spiel on everything with tits and a pulse.
9th-Jan-2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
I think men DO understand it, actually, and it's the basis for homophobia. I'm not excusing homophobia, not by a long shot, but that discomfort in someone possibly being sexually interested in you when you're not interested in them is precisely what makes some men uncomfortable with gay men. It's why they don't mind gay women nearly as much.

So, well, if you ever feel the need to explain to a straight man why "I've missed your pretty smile around here" could make a woman feel uncomfortable, all you have to do is ask him how he would feel if a gay man made the comment to him. It doesn't matter if the gay man had sexual intentions toward the straight man or not, the subtext that he MIGHT have that in mind is what causes the discomfort.

I don't think I know what can be done about it. Without flirting, how can we test the waters and see if someone we are interested in likes us back? And by its nature, flirting has to be something that we can disown as harmless interest if the person we're attracted to is not interested. It has to LOOK as if it doesn't mean anything so we can save face. I guess the best suggestion is that flirt once, MAYBE twice depending on how subtle the first attempt was. If you get nowhere, STOP and be done with it or you'll creep people out.
9th-Jan-2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, continuing to flirt with someone who doesn't want to flirt with you is definitely a creepy business.

Trouble is, some men are useless at interpreting the signals they get from women, so they might not realise that their flirting is not appreciated.
9th-Jan-2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
It really is a toughie. I mean, I like flirting and being flirted with. I find it flattering and, as I'm entering the exchange knowing it's going nowhere, I see it as harmless. I hope I only flirt with people who feel similarly, but if I'm not, how can I KNOW unless they say something?
10th-Jan-2009 12:02 am (UTC)
That's the thing. I don't suppose you know the person you're flirting with doesn't feel similarly until it all goes horribly wrong. Like you say, flirting is all about testing the waters, so it's a risky business. It's a gamble.

I myself am an outrageous flirt, but I think I'm good at knowing who to flirt with and who not to. So maybe these "creeps" are just guys who can't easily tell the difference. They're flirting with the wrong people.
9th-Jan-2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
I think it happens between people a lot, not just across the gender divide. I've certainly met people of both sexes who just have something about them that puts me ill at ease. Maybe it's something about their body language, or something slightly out of whack with their social skills and the way they express themselves.

But I can see that the feeling of unease will be magnified when it's a man creeping out a woman. It may very well be that the man is attracted to the woman and it's having a weird effect on his ability to interact with her.

So of course, now I'm wondering how often I creep women out! I hope I don't, but I hope that if I do, they'd let me know.
9th-Jan-2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I'm absolutely confident you don't creep out any of your on line women friends, at least not the ones I know! I could see your being creeped out by me, Miss D, and Misscoollinda, your most vocal on line fangirls, as we squee over every piccy and all, but I'd stop and apologize the moment you seemed not to enjoy it.
9th-Jan-2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
No, I've certainly never been creeped out by you or Miss D or Misscoollinda! You're my friends, and you all have a good sense of humour.

Maybe that's the key to it. I think that for people with a limited sense of humour, flirting must have very different meanings.
9th-Jan-2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
A lot of the problem is, for guys anyway, physical cues are completely alien to us. (i speak for many of my friends as well.) How are we supposed to to tellthe difference between a smile meant to be friendly, and one meant to lure people in? As guys, we don't learn those cues, cause we don't use them ourselves. If we have aproblem with someone being in our space, we're taught to tell them to back off, or get lost. So, if a girl isn't telling us verbally to go away, and is acting friendly, we assume she wants to be friendly.

It sucks even more for those of us who are geeks and have lousy social skills anyways.
9th-Jan-2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
As many of the others who commented, I know that feeling (here via friends friends by the way). I haven't encountered it often, thankfully, but working in a shop makes it somewhat inevitable. Most often it is the invasion of personal space coupled with a certain look in his eyes. Or the eyes directed at a certain part of anatomy... Weirdly enough it is often the smaller men, compared to my own six feet, who give off this vibe. I think it is the sense of being viewed in a sexual way that ticks us off, especially in situations where you don't expect it. A shop or your work is not somewhere where you expect to be assessed in such a way.

My bf, who I explained this to, had a good point: the opposite is also true. There are some people who you feel instantly safe with. But what makes this so? Lack of sexual attention or the same attention but from someone who you are attracted to yourself? Because I never find the creepy guys attractive on any level. Thoughts?
9th-Jan-2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I think for guys, actually, the rule is very simple. Would you speak to a woman like this if she was with her husband? If not, don't speak to her like that full stop.

It's a handy rule-of-thumb: generally, behaviour is not okay, and the creep KNOWS it's not okay, if it stops when you've got a male on your side.

Or, more simply: do they talk to men like that? If not, then it's not okay.

*Sigh* Which is all horrible, and reduces women to being men's property. You're a man, or you're under the protection of one, or you're fair game. But it is a useful insight into this overly-friendly behaviour.
10th-Jan-2009 01:55 am (UTC)
guys can be friendly...and nevertheless provoke sentiments in a woman of being ... harrassed.

But that's not just a guy-girl thing. There are both men and women I've known in my life who have tried to be my friend but who creep me out for no easily definable reason. True, the sexual aspect adds another dimension to it, but the base feeling can still be there.

every man ever wants to do all sorts of disgusting things to our naked body

Am I allowed to be offended or as a man am I supposed to be insensitive to accusations of insensitivity? Just kidding. Actually, most of my friends throughout my life have been female, because I find women easier to talk to, and in most cases I haven't wanted to get into their knickers. I find in general it's harder to get friendly with most guys because there's often an undercurrent of competitiveness that spoils the friendship for me.

Except the gays. But they have enough problems.

Come to think of it, does this work in reverse, because I have known gay guys who creeped me out because they were obviously only being friendly to me to try and get into my pants (and yes I have gay friends they're great people blah blah blah please don't tar and feather me).

In some ways I tend to think of my brain as male-like

Maybe I just this way because my brain is female-like. ^_^
12th-Jan-2009 04:27 pm (UTC) - The Reek of Desperation
Actually, what's setting your chick-0-meter on ALERT is what's known amongst men as 'The Reek of Desperation'.

Sure, a guy can be nice, friendly and tick all the boxes. But if he's desperate, lonely and insecure deep down a woman picks up on those negative vibes.

So there you have it, The Reek of Desperation.
This page was loaded Jan 18th 2019, 1:01 am GMT.