On creepiness.

A word on “creepy”: I know it gets thrown around a lot without necessarily being explained, so I’ll take a crack at it.

Creepy" doesn’t have to be a one-on-one thing, or even an attraction thing. People can notice it even without an overt sexual aspect.  

I like to think of it as a Spidey sense women develop under duress. When you’re female, unwelcome male attention kicks in when you’re YOUNG, with no power to do anything about it. Sure, you could slug a classmate, maybe, but not six of them, or the grown men who follow you down the street in their cars trying to get you to come with them, or the mob of boys on bikes who chase you in a pack every time they see you, or the godfather who leers and says inappropriate stuff even with other people in the room, or the guys who scream “Cow!” out the car at you because they can see your (skinny, even!) midriff in the cool new shirt you cut up, or or or … and that’s just stuff that happened to me in the year I was 12. It starts young (no, really, young) and doesn’t go away.

We don’t get to fight back, either. When we complain, we’re told the same things:

"It means he likes you. You should be flattered!"

"Oh, that’s not that bad."

"You should’ve known better than to wear that."

"Well, walk a different way next time."

"just ignore him."

The only way we’re given to deal with it is avoiding trouble, so we get really good at picking up on subtext. Like, REALLY good. “It’s your job to predict the future and avoid it” good. Like, “your life actually depends on it” good. So we learn to see the world through that head-up display from “Predator.” We don’t get the luxury of not noticing stuff.

Someone acting pissed at being lonely is someone who thinks the world owes them something, and that something could be *you.* Someone who casually fucks up group safety is someone who doesn’t mind making their own decisions about your own risk level. Someone who treats strangers poorly has a low baseline for how they treat all people. Someone acting like they have a right to your personal space without checking first or reading your discomfort? Yikes. Even without any overt sexual angle, someone acting entitled and not respecting your boundaries already has too much in common with dangerous people.

In a culture that teaches women to smooth things over and not stir up trouble, where you’re not really given much of a vocabulary or tool kit to identify and call out people who feel like they have an unquestioned right to you or your time or your attention or your body or even your damn SMILE, and where the world tries to slap those tools out of your hands when you try to pick them up, all that’s left is the word “creepy.”

So yeah, we use it a lot. And if a woman says a guy’s creepy, you don’t have to automatically agree with her. But you might want to consider that you’re not seeing what she’s seeing. 


Nothing in this is new, by the way; it’s a consolidation of years of reading and — duh — lived experience. Here are links that’ve informed it, harmonize with it or are generally useful.

Generally useful

"What’s creepy?"

"Ugh, I’m creeped out and don’t know what to do."

"Help, I might be creepy" (not just for dudes!)

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