Creepy: Having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear.
As I have written about previously, it seems we prefer to relegate specific negative descriptions of people to specific genders. For example, men are assholes while women are crazy. When it comes to the creep, it seems we as a society reserve this, what I consider a vague and ambiguous term, nearly exclusively for men.
So today I explore the idea of being creepy while examining just what it means to be labeled a creep.
I first began thinking about the whole “creepy guy” thing when a former colleague of mine; a very sharp, well-educated and progressive minded woman -whom I consider a friend- made the observation on social media that all “older” men are creeps. She wrote that she had a series of episodes when older men made untoward comments and advances on her…therefore concluding that all older men must follow this same profile.
Which, of course, would make the likes of Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, hell, even George Clooney, some of the creepiest among us as decades separate the ages of their younger lovers, but I digress…
I really expected much more from an educated person and, of course, as the target demographic of this stereotype you cannot blame me for being a bit on the defensive, right?
Now, a year later or so, I just read a wonderful blog entry by a female friend of mine, Jean Franzblau, of Cuddle Sanctuary fame, ironically entitled, “In Defense of Creepy Men,” which dusted off the creepy male milieu topic once again in my mind. This very short and readable blog entry -an entry that I would strongly recommend you take a moment to read- refers to the idea that often times certain behavioral signals are frequently interpreted as creepy, when, in fact, they come from a much different place.
I hadn’t thought much about creepy men before…I thought that a creepy man was creepy all of the time. What I learned is that a person can come off as creepy because in that moment he feels awkward. I googled “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m creepy” and got over 19 million results. In Jon Anthony’s article, Why Girls Think You’re Creepy, he explains that creepiness is “much more of a ‘vibe,’ than it is a look.” It comes from a lack of confidence and the need for validation from others.
But wait. A lack of confidence? I feel that sometimes. A need for validation from others? I’ve certainly had experience with that, too. I had no idea I had so much in common with creepy men!
As Jean so artfully demonstrates, it is imperative that we take an educated and critical look at behaviors and make reasonable judgments based on the individual, not the stereotype.
Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control.
So just what are these behaviors women believe to be creepy?
I really wanted to dive into the creepy deep end so I did a little bit of research.
“Creepiness is all about not being able to figure out whether there is a threat,” said Frank McAndrew, Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of a study on creepiness. As I have already mentioned, he asserts that men may be seen as creepier than women because they’re perceived as more menacing.
As a result of this study, creepy traits and behaviors include:
- Standing too close to someone
- Smiling peculiarly
- Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
- Laughing at inappropriate times
- Not letting someone out of conversation
- Displaying unwanted sexual interest
- Asking to take pictures of people
- Displaying too much or too little emotion
- Having bulging eyes
- Having long fingers
- Having pasty skin
- Having greasy hair
- Having dark eye bags
- Wearing dirty or weird clothes
- Licking lips
Creepy? It seems to me that any behavior/trait that we do not understand can simply get thrown into the creepy pile. Any one of these traits and behaviors, perhaps sans the sex stuff, can be the result of any number of legitimate conditions. And if man is too sexual? Tell him to STFU and you are not interested. Rather than throwing him under the creep bus assert some much needed boundaries.
And here is what I am NOT saying: There are no such men that exhibit these traits who have malicious intention. Of course some do. There are some people we should absolutely be concerned about when certain signals demand it. My concern is that we have only two options when pondering one’s creepiness, a legitimate concern or an illegitimate one. A legitimate concern rests in the human propensity to sense fear and danger in the environment due to REAL threats. While recently having lunch in a family bar and grill, a man walked past and the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood on end and I sensed fear. I could not even see his face from my angle, only noticed it was a sleight Caucasian man, probably a bit older than myself, with a cowboy hat and rodeo-like gait. Long story short: My inclinations were correct as he was shortly kicked out of the restaurant for inappropriate words toward a waitress.
However, and this is my primary concern and the one that drives the central idea of this blog, as human beings we have a disposition towards tribalism and when a person, behavior, thought form or new idea enters our life that transgresses our tribal norm, we typically have the same response: Danger. Rather than deal with the nuances of this “danger,” we dismiss it all as creepy and move forward, or, perhaps more aptly, backward.
“But wait Jimmy, you sensed creepy and your perception turned out to be correct.” Yes, yet my inclination was not based on a different type of person (an older white male, just like me), behavior (walked normally), thought form or new idea (we never even talked); it was a purely vibe-filled, guttural like, instinctual reaction of which I had no immediate control. My then rational side can then conclude that rather than calling this guy a creep, he is more likely an alcoholic that needs to check himself into a 12 step. Sensing danger can be our friend, jumping to irrational stereotypes can be our foe.
I would never want to suggest to stymie one’s perceptual antenna of fear, rather make certain this fear comes from an authentic place and not an irrational one.
As I write the word creep I realize the utter mystery and ambiguity of the term itself. We can describe one as a liar, cheat, nice, friendly, mean, loud, quiet, inappropriate, etc…based on a very particular set of behaviors that may lead you to one of the these descriptive conclusions. Yet to define one as “creepy” there are no set and definitive identifiable behaviors that provide a direct correlation to creepy.
Just like all stereotypes, it seems we like to throw the creep term around when we are too lazy to make more nuanced and accurate assessments of human behavior, only to then make rash and ignorant judgments on an entire segment of society because they appear weird to us…which is really just a self-justified form of xenophobia.
In the day and age of political correctness, an age in which we are constantly changing our terminologies in order not to offend, extending olive branches out to traditionally disenfranchised communities and building an overall culture of acceptance, it seems we are fine with liberally throwing out a label to a demographic of individuals who may have exhibited a particular behavior that we can freely and lazily now refer to as creepy simply because we do not understand it, without so much as a bat of the eye from the society.
Defensive much? Yep. As an older, straight, and “privileged” white male it is not often that my demo is the victim of stereotyping, thus it feels a bit odd and disconcerting. However, it concurrently reminds me of the shortfalls of stereotypical thinking that tears culture apart and how I need to be more sensitive to this shortcut way of thinking in my own life.
So, kids, next time you see or feel the vibe of a creep, think again. Perhaps the person suffers from a diagnosis (ie. Aspergers, alcoholism, autism, stuttering, shyness) of which you know nothing about or you are just reacting in fear as you try to make sense of your world.
It’s 2017 and I think it is high time we retire the creepy term in with the faggot, nigger, wop, kike and retard. At one point and time we called all of these once disenfranchised groups creepy as well.
We should know better.